Summer is here…well some days anyway and there have been some genuinely hot and sunny days this past week. Hands up who’s moaning that they can’t sleep at night?! The perfect climate should be warm and sunny during the day, but nice and fresh at night (particularly if you are THAT age!), so we can all get some much needed rest!
Course summer, to lots of people, means it’s time to take a trip somewhere different – maybe somewhere familiar, maybe exotic, maybe in a tent or caravan, luxury hotel or even a cowshed! Self-catering has certainly changed!
We begin to plan our holidays almost immediately after returning from the last one. We both have a level of wanderlust (mainly of the photographic sort!) and look enviously at these people who manage to travel the world in their camper vans, but, like most people, mortgages, jobs, family commitments all pile up to put a halt to that dream. So here we stay, happy with our lives, but always waiting for the chance to get away from everything if only for a few days.
Over the past few years our big summer holiday has evolved into an annual roadtrip. I have to admit that our first one filled me with dread as driving is hardly a relaxing pastime and the thought of having to continuously unpack every night seemed equally unrelaxing. Imagine my surprise when not only did I enjoy it I absolutely loved it! There is something so exciting about stopping in different places every night. Journeys seem much shorter when you don’t need to come back the same route and different scenery every night leads to thousands and thousands of photographs (well for us anyway – we do like to use our cameras!).
After flirting with a European train ‘road’ trip (there must be a better name than that!) we opted once again to travel ‘oop’ North to Scotland. We love Scotland almost as much as our cameras! The maps came out and we tried to work out a route covering lots of places we haven’t yet been.
As you may know if you are a regular reader, we lost ‘Dad Fletcher’- Joe -in October and although he had reached the grand old age of 88, it has still been a difficult and sad time as we have all felt his loss. As with any difficult period of your life you look to the past, reminisce about your childhood, peruse your ancient slide collection (slides! Who uses them now? they were the ultimate Saturday night treat when the projector came out and it was family slide show time!). At this point it became apparent that our 2019 roadtrip should be a journey round the memories and favourite places of Dad – who loved nowhere better than Scotland.
So, summer 2019 will see us set off on ‘Joe’s Journey’ retracing some of his many steps across Scotland – playing a round of golf, eating fish and chips and famously ordering ‘Steak tartare’ in an exclusive restaurant without fully understanding what would arrive! Cue raw steak served with a raw egg and he was quite a fussy eater! (We definitely won't be recreating that!)
We will travel up to St Andrews, journey through the Cairngorm National Park, make our way up to the Black Isle with a few detours and then go cross country along the banks of Loch Ness to Spean Bridge and finally the Mull of Kintyre. If I can get to the Mull of Kintyre without Paul McCartney and Wings constantly singing that song in my head, it will be a miracle – go on admit it - didn’t it pop into your head too the minute you read it?!
So, what do we pack for a Scottish roadtrip in the summer hols? Top of anyone’s list should be bottles of Smidge – the midges can be horrific, and you learn very quickly to keep everything covered and smothered with Smidge! We have cream for if (or when!) you’re bitten, and it goes a bit yucky! Buffs, which apparently can be used in umpteen different ways as hats, neck scarves etc but usually for us it’s to cover everything up and keep you midge safe! Clothes from sunglasses, shorts and t shirts to winter woollies, hats and gloves! Snacks and drinks for when you can’t find anywhere to get food. An in depth knowledge of every remote tea room (always good to support the local economy and if you're like me you'll come away with some beautifully crafted item you don't really need but just loved!) and the location of any toilets (sometimes a little few and far between!). Do not rely on just finding any, that will definitely not happen! Cash for when they don’t take cards and your ethical shopping bags as Scotland has always been a leader in cutting plastic bag use. Make sure you have planned your route and warned everyone you may be out of contact for periods of time – big mountains, no signal!
But, don’t let any of that put you off for what you will get in exchange is well worth all of it. Scenery unlike anywhere we have ever been, glorious sunsets, mountains, forests, the sea and did I mention the sunsets? Wildlife spotting and wildlife not-spotting (married to a birdwatcher you soon become accustomed to standing round for long periods of time with nothing at the end of it, but then every so often you have a magical experience watching dolphins play as the sun comes up and nightjars flying as the sun goes down), bagpipes, kilts, lots of shortbread, butter tablet , macaroon (I still will not believe that this was ever made of potato!) and of course Scotland’s two national drinks – whiskey and Irn Bru!
We will be looking for Nessie, as we have on more than one occasion, and I still believe that we will one day see her! We are spending the night in Cromarty just so we can watch the sun go down across the bay of broken oil rigs; we will be visiting the tree we planted for Dad in a forest near Drumnadrochit; Balmoral, Glenlivet, St Andrews and a stay in an old lifeboat house are all on our route. We will be taking thousands of photos and we will no doubt be boring everyone of our 4000 followers on Instagram with them for months!
Will we want to come home? Maybe not, but where would we go for our holidays then?
'We're gonna get to that place
Where we really wanna go
And we'll walk in the sun
But till then tramps like us
Baby we were born to run'
Watch out for more of 'Joe's Journey' in a few weeks.
There’s nothing that typifies the type of holiday we love more than single track roads - especially ones with grass in the middle of them - running through stunning scenery with a new vista at every corner and , of course, plenty passing places just in case you meet a fellow traveller coming in the opposite direction!
For the last couple of years, with our regular trips up to Scotland, we’ve grown well used to driving on a variety of roads that in a map book are usually the ones indicated by a dotted line. Not that these are the only types of road up in the highlands – there are some fantastic “normal” roads – usually in really good condition – real blacktop stuff - and which, because of the lack of traffic, actually bring back some long forgotten memories of when driving was a pleasure - not the nose to tail bedlam it can be these days.
And don’t think single tracks are just B roads or unnamed roads – significant chunks of A road in the highlands – Sutherland and Caithness in particular are single track too – always interesting meeting a coach or truck coming the opposite direction midway through a deserted glen.
This may all sound a bit off putting, it can be, but with a bit of sense and patience it all becomes second nature and hugely enjoyable.
Go to anywhere with a lot of single track roads – take our holiday destination this year Mull as an example - and you usually find a lot of guidance for how to drive on single track roads. Don’t ignore it – it is a big thing.
There are some basic rules and etiquette.
Use the passing places – they are, in the main, sign posted and spaced frequently and unlike some of the horrendous and claustrophobic English country lanes penned in by stone walls, you can usually see far enough ahead to make a decision where to pull over.
Don’t park in them! They are there to be used as a passing place (the name is a bit of a giveaway) so, no matter if it’s the best view ever don’t park in one to take a photo as that will be the time when a truck is coming the other way and meets a bus or something and you’re in the middle being cursed at in Gaelic. This has never happened to us. We have however done some cursing (in English) at some idiots who thought that a passing place looked like a good spot for a picnic as a tractor bore down on us.
There are some places that are extended and will fit a few cars in, but the majority just won’t or can't so don’t!
Always take note of any passing places you’ve just passed. This is invaluable if you have to reverse into one especially if you meet something on a bend or the occasional drivers who use their own rules and make you reverse uphill whilst steadfastly refusing to back up about a meter to a passing place on their side of the road (a real life example from this year!).
Always use the places on your “side” of the road ie the left – you may get some people that swerve into places on the other side of the road – very confusing and dangerous. Often a driver will wait on the road near a place with enough room for you to drive into it and pass them. So don’t think no space on my side and keep bearing down on the other driver. Use your spatial awareness – and manners (and indicators too).
Also use passing places to let other drivers overtake you. If it’s a local they’ll be comfortable on the road so let them past. Indicate and pull into a passing place that has a clear view of the road ahead so they can see there’s nothing coming. They’ll thank you for this, usually the emergency indicator double blink. We had several coaches pull over for us this year as well as us pulling over for various vehicles – more often than not the postie!
Always say thanks – usually just by a wave of the hand and also acknowledge anyone thanking you. You don’t need to be too elaborate with this, just stick to the familiar hand up rather than some sort of elaborate hip-hop handshake routine. We noticed quite a lot of camper van passengers undertaking this duty whilst their partners focussed on keeping themselves on the road. Probably a wise option on some of the roads with eye boggling narrow widths.
Oh and if you’re using SatNav double the length of time it tells you to get somewhere. The roads all are 60mph however to be honest if you attempted this speed you’d either be in with a chance of being world rally champ or in intensive care. 60mph isn’t a target - drive safely and also enjoy taking your time with journeys through some of the greatest landscapes on earth, whatever the weather. Plus, as you will have picked up from some of our photos, some of the 4 legged "locals" also like the roads (and are hefty too - especially the coos!) and they definitely don't understand passing places!
Finally, there is a sense of driving comraderie that I haven’t experienced anywhere else. It’s almost as though we’re all in the shared challenge of driving on the roads together so let’s look after each other. Weird but you can sense this. Maybe an extension of the lifestyle and pace of life up there?
So it is simple really and also the roads aren’t that tricky or challenging...... in the main. There is a well-documented exception though that we drove on in 2016 as part of the early stages of our North Coast 500 trip - the fearsome and rightly notorious Bealach Na Ba. Rising over 2000 feet, over a mountain, with hairpin bends a-plenty and gradients over 1 in 5 in many places. All single track and with many passing places. More on this unforgettable experience can be found on our NC500 pages.
Seriously, not for the faint-hearted but a stunning summit view and to be honest if you can do this you can do anything. Or so we thought until the day we took the coastal road around the north of Mull – but I’ll pass on that one till another time.
How will you remember the summer of 2018? (Doesn’t it feel like it’s finished now!) long hot sunny days, nights when you can’t get cool and definitely can’t sleep, a lovely staycation in the good old UK..aah those summer nights...
Not sure I remember a similar long period of hot sunny weather and it's hard to remember when it first started. We were in Nethy Bridge at the end of May and the weather was already scorching. It seems to just have gone on and on since then with record temperatures, office workers demanding to wear shorts, warnings for people to avoid beaches in Cornwall, road surfaces melting and surely everyone having the best holidays ever in this glorious weather.
We were days away from a hosepipe ban up here in the North West with the scorched earth look the new norm for gardens, but then something happened. Along came the rain, torrential at times, bringing flooding and general gloom. Friend’s family weddings disrupted by storms in Wales washing away their marquee and reception – the same storm blowing away another friend's tent in the middle of their family holiday leading them to declare they were “never camping again” and then it was time for our much anticipated summer break.
Now I’m sure I’m not the only one who sees their future holidays through those proverbial rose tinted glasses! Long hot summer days, meals outside, glasses of wine and freshly prepared food, walks by the sea, climbs up mountains and sunsets lots of sunsets. All captured on our cameras and ready to post on our Instagram (@MWGU50 if you don’t already follow us!), Facebook and here.
Imagine our surprise as the big day loomed and we checked the forecast – Clouds? Rain? Gales? That couldn’t be right, that’s not our holiday! What should we pack? Shorts, woolly jumpers and hats? Probably better take the Smidge (those Scottish midges are very unpredictable and like to chew on one of us!)
We set off on our summer 2018 Scotland road trip (all roads seem to lead us there!) late at night in torrential rain making the drive up the M6 to Lockerbie a stressful time. The rain was so hard we couldn’t see in front of us (use your lights people!) and the required nip to the loo stop resulted in us getting soaked (from the weather that is!). We arrived to our first stop to find a balcony overlooking Annandale Water with a lovely walk round the lake which would all have been perfect if not for the rain!
Never mind, we’re always optimistic day 2 would surely be better? Indeed it was as we journeyed a couple of hours higher up to stop for lunch beside some nuclear subs (that was a really sobering moment as we ate our mozerella salad and realised how close we were to weapons of mass destruction). Sun's shining, Loch Long is beautiful, time to get the cameras out – cue torrential rain part two and a hasty retreat to the car. In Arnie’s words “I’ll (or we’ll) be back”!
Never mind (again!) lets continue our journey to our next stop in Inveraray – lots to photograph, time for a walk, admire the scenery… but we were met by that all too familiar rainy day sight in the UK. Steamed up shop windows, tourists wandering aimlessly in their anoraks, queuing for cups of tea in quaint little tea shops and the sad sight of children who would rather be doing anything other than this. There was a brief period of sunshine, so (excitedly) out came our cameras, for about five minutes til the heavens opened again! After a lovely evening meal at the Samphire Restaurant, we ventured out again to admire the clouds rolling across Loch Fyne – should have known better as they rolled above us and I am sure you can guess the rest!
Day 3 – this wet weather tale is nearly complete – the trip to Mull. Our plans had built in time to explore Oban before we caught the ferry to Mull, but once again torrential rain saw us spending a very long time shopping and drinking coffee in Tesco followed by lunch in a very steamed up car on Tesco car park! This is hardly holiday inspiration for you I am sure!
The ferry to the Isle of Mull was supposed to be (in my holiday dreams) us basking in glorious sunshine on the top deck capturing bird life, ships and the beautiful views with our cameras. Instead we had to empty our case to find some warm jumpers ( a vest top, long sleeved t shirt, hoodie and a coat and I was still cold!) just to wait in the queue and the boat trip was something else! I’m sure hardened seamen would disagree, but it almost felt like we were on the Poseidon adventure! Waves crashing over the boat, wind howling round your ears, rain and spray soaking you! We were real sailors (!) staying on deck outside the whole trip, mostly by ourselves, watching ghostly ships pass in the mist and finishing our day soaked to the skin, freezing cold, but strangely exhilarated by the whole experience!
Arrival on Mull in the late afternoon to dark skies and heavy rain, single track roads and one shop en route (hence the large amount of time spent in Tesco Oban!) 30 minutes to our destination along the side of a stormy loch past free roaming cows and sheep who watch your every move and the final stretch of road to our holiday cottage on the slopes of Ben More looking like a scene from a horror film! No mobile signal since we left the ferry, very dodgy internet in the cottage, weather forecast for the week rain , rain and more rain.
Here comes the summer?
Life and other