AN ACCOUNT OF BOB AND MARCIA’S TRIP TO SCOTLAND IN APRIL 2002
FRIDAY 19th April 2002 time 20.30
‘SEVERE DISRUPTION TO ALL SERVICES IN AND OUT OF EUSTON DUE TO A FIRE ON A BRIDGE AT WEMBLEY’ was the message on the indicator board as Bob and Marcia arrived on the concourse clutching large holdalls, duvets, pillows, pills, plastic bags, walking sticks, shoulder bags, hats and picnic bags, ‘typical’ thought Bob ‘bloody marvellous’ as he and Marcia settled into a cosy corner on the concourse - the only spot acceptable to Marcia amongst the rubbish, both were fully expecting to spend the night on the concrete with the rest of the dropouts.
Fortunately it was not to be as the indicator board soon changed to ‘SLEEPER TO INVERNESS NOW BOARDING’. Coach M compartments 21/22 turned out to be a space 4 feet by 7 feet which boasted two bunks (athwart ships), a sink unit with hot and cold water, two mirrors, hanging rails, shelves, a variety of lights, a ladder to climb onto the top bunk and a hammer to break the window if you couldn’t open the door once you’d wedged yourself in between your bags, cases, etc, etc.
Dead on time at 21.10 the diesel electric up front applied a portion of grunt and got everything moving in the required direction, it was just about dark by this time so Bob and Marcia following a quick visit to the bar car and finding it full plus a very (very) short game of I spy, spent the next two hours finding all the necessary items for a comfortable night, Marcia chose the top bunk and Bob didn’t complain.
Transportation sideways at anything between 10 and 100mph plus rolls, shunts, lurches, sways and bounces together with a cacophony of noises from the power unit, passing trains and pressure surges in and out of tunnels are not the greatest aid to sleep, however they were nothing compared with the the oiks next door who returned from the bar at 01.45 laughing, joking and crashing about with not a thought for anyone else, who, to all intents and purposes were in the same room.
At 02.30 after much thought on the best way to solve the problem, including murder, Bob, expecting at least a fist through the thin wall, shouted at the inconsiderate bastards, the response was a mild ‘ercha’ and then silence.
Following another 5 hours of simulated rocket flight plus a variety of crashes and bangs when parts of the train were disconnected and sent on their way during the early hours, Bob lifted the window blind at first light to reveal that the countryside was going backwards, he was quick to realise that the train had done a 180 in the night or that maybe they were on the wrong train and on the way to the South of France. He was somewhat relieved to see a few stations trundling by with names like Pitlochry, Blair Atholl and Aviemore – sounded a bit French to Bob but Marcia definitely spotted some Scotch mist so it had to be Scotland.
Bob wasn’t convinced, his uncertainty was increased as the waiter brought in a cold croissant for breakfast, Bob recognised the croissant, he had seen it before on the Blue Train to Marseilles in 1964 when the same croissant was served and went straight out the window, no doubt an enterprising Jean had found it and sold it to an unsuspecting Jock.
Disembarkation at Inverness followed by a Jeep ride to www.sharpsreliablewrecks.co.uk depot at Inverness Airport went without a hitch. Mr Hamish Sharp himself introduced Bob and Marcia to the camper, which was at first sight very impressive; it was an Autocruise 2000, based on a Peugeot chassis with a 2-litre turbo diesel engine. It had central heating, toilet, shower/wash facility, fridge, cooker, fly screens, two double and a single bed, radio, TV and swivelling (captain’s chairs) for driver and front passenger. Mr Sharp introduced Bob to all the systems, levers, pipes, chemicals, hoses, switches, locks and buttons in about three minutes flat and bid the pair happy holiday. Bob and Marcia were no strangers to campers and camping life generally, but Bob felt a touch uneasy about the lack of time spent on familiarisation as he headed out of the yard. Nevertheless the pair of them were looking forward excitedly to the week on wheels.
The first stop was Tesco Express to stock up on all the essentials for the week. Then with the sun peeping out behind the clouds our intrepid pair headed down the A82 alongside Loch Ness heading for a campsite some 90 miles away in Glencoe. A photo stop alongside Loch Ness together with the first of many onboard picnics was enjoyed by all except Nessy who failed to appear for the crusts.
By now Bob was getting used to, and enjoying driving the beast, which responded well on the hills and corners. Approaching Drumnadrochit during a particularly bendy bit the TV left the table and rolled on to the floor, Marcia of course had failed to secure all loose items which was one of her duty’s, ‘driving too bloody fast again’ she cried as Bob went into another hand brake turn thinking that a week without Coronation Street and East Enders is a price worth paying.
On through Port Augustus, Invergarry and Fort William they drove, tempting glimpses of magnificent hills (including Ben Nevis) appeared and disappeared in the steady lowering clouds, the impressive display of daffodils flanked the roads brightening up an increasingly gloomy landscape.
On arrival at the Campsite in Glencoe village (www.invercoe.co.uk) the camp warden said ‘och aye the noo parrrrrk weever yer leek thartl bi eleven fifty perrrr neet’, Bob’s homework had included a brush up on Gaelic so he was able to understand.
The pair chose a spot overlooking a rather pleasant loch and parked the camper. The rain was now driving down vertically in earnest now, clouds scudded across the hills roundabout, which, in one sense could be rather picturesque if you have time to enjoy it but not when there is work to be done like hooking up to the power point and topping up the fresh water tank. The rain slowed to a steady drizzle by evening and Bob and Marcia donned their wet gear, which was a long way from being colour co-ordinated (their children would have disowned them if they could have seen the sight), determined to check out the local area. This turned out to be a visit to the local Spar store, for a few tomatoes, Bob considered buying a map of the area and plan a hike for the following day but a glance at the contours on the Ordnance Survey persuaded him otherwise.
Marcia, always keen to see what’s just round the corner or just over the hill, led the pair alongside a raging torrent threatening to swallow them up never to be seen again but fortunately they came across some children throwing rocks and bikes into the river who directed the pair back to the village. There was obviously a secretive meeting going on in the small village hall that evening as a strange looking individual with a skirt on tried to avoid Bob and Marcia’s glances as he chatted into his mobile phone and disappeared into the hall followed by a stream of equally furtive types emerging from the Glencoe Hotel and heading for the village hall carrying odd shaped leather cases. Bob and Marcia politely exchanged pleasantries with the natives and hurried back to the campsite.
‘The fridge isn’t working – I told you not to drive too fast’ cried Marcia as she considered what to do with £50 worth of perishables ‘now what’ she sobbed ‘it’s all your fault’, Bob fiddled with the switches and buttons, read the instructions (in that order) but failed to get it working on any of the sources of power which included 12v, 240v and the on board butane gas. Bob considered that the neighbouring caravaners were bound to be knowledgeable about these thing and went knocking on doors, not so, all he got was ‘och aye the noo ahd harv ta scrartch mee heed aboot thart wun’ however persistence paid off and a friendly fellow camper suggested that the camper was parked on a sloping pitch, sounds bloody daft to me thought Bob but moved to an adjacent pitch and had no more fridge problems ‘bloody obvious’ said Bob. He then tried to get the TV working – not a glimmer ‘probably no TV signal in this Glen’ suggested Bob ‘they’ve got TV in all the other vans’ said Marcia ‘Yeah but I expect they haven’t been playing football with theirs’ retorted Bob ‘I think I’ll have another Guinness’ ‘You’ve had one already’ insisted Marcia, Bob thought of many things to say but said nothing because after all it was 10pm, time for lights out.
03.00am, the rain and wind drowned the snoring but the continuous buffeting took its toll on what otherwise would have been a peaceful night. Sunday dawned quiet and grey but nonetheless a mesmerising view of the hills greeted the pair as they peered under the curtains. Following a standard camper’s breakfast of everything on toast, the pair settled down to read their books which they had bought in case it should rain – it was raining.
The sudden lull in activities and jobs to be done allowed Bob to read all the instruction leaflets on board and familiarise himself with all the systems, which enabled him, much to Marcia’s delight, to get the TV working, fortunately Marcia was able to watch the omnibus edition of Coronation Street and East Enders for which Bob received many brownie points. Meanwhile Bob stared out the window marvelling at the cloud formations as they adhered themselves to the peaks roundabout. Gradually the rain eased allowing the pair to enjoy an evening stroll in the soft mountain air along the shores of the adjacent loch.
Following another night camping under a waterfall and buffeted by gusts of wind howling up and down the Glen, Bob emptied the on board toilet (in the rain), topped up with fresh water (in the rain), tucked away the hook up cable (in the rain), paid the warden (in the rain), topped up with diesel, changed into dry clothes and headed off to the Isle of Skye.
The drive to the new Skye bridge, via Loch Lochy, Loch Garry and then the A87 through the Kyle of Lochalsh was approximately 100 miles of beautiful scenery, the sun shone through the clouds- occasionally- highlighting many spectacular water falls, the rivers and streams swollen by the previous days rain. The Glens were littered with sheep and their newborn lambs, which made Marcia, feel just a touch broody. Following payment of the exorbitant toll over the bridge, Bob pulled into a visitor centre in Broadford and attempted to contact a couple (George and Sandy) who were friends of Marcia’s brother who had lived near Dunvegan on the Isle of Skye for some years and no doubt would be able to assist with local knowledge and identifying a campsite. The helpful young lady in the visitor centre gave Bob details of a campsite in Dunvegan, which also sounded worth a try.
Unable to contact George and Sandy, Bob and Marcia decided to head straight for the campsite at Dunvegan, which was another 20 or so miles. The Cullin Hills renowned for being some of the most spectacular scenery anywhere beckoned in the west, but time was now pressing and the need for a break was overdue. The campsite at Dunvegan is sighted on a windswept promontory overlooking the small harbour with distant views out to the isles of Uist, at first site an ideal location but the wind howling in from the North Atlantic when colliding with a high sided vehicle can be a shade uncomfortable but nevertheless our adventurous couple looked forward to another night of damage limitation. There were few other campers.
The next morning following another night of simulated rocket flight, Bob and Marcia took a stroll into the small town of Dunvegan to check out facilities, Dunvegan had an unsophisticated and workmanlike air about it, unlike Glencoe village, one or two shops which sold everything plus a parade of up market shops aimed at tourists who like to dress up in their Clan uniform and a fascinating (to Bob) shop run by a hunting enthusiast who obviously had a passion for all things militaria including Afghan rifles, world war one and two rifles, sub machine guns with ammunition and uniforms to go with it. Bob considered buying his two-year-old grandson a souvenir .303 Enfield bolt-action rifle but Marcia suggested that a Bob the Builder dumper truck might be more appropriate.
Opposite the shops was a FOOTPATH sign, which Marcia could not ignore, it pointed up into a very dark sinister looking wood, she took Bob by the hand and the pair started up the track leading to heaven knows where, after about half an hours steady climb they came out of the darkness and found themselves overlooking Dunvegan Castle, a grey, drab, sinister looking pile which nonetheless beckoned. On reaching the entrance they were accosted by a jolly northerner who did a good job on selling the pair tickets to take a boat ride to see the seals. Marcia only agreed to go if the waves were less than 1.5mm high and the wind was no more than force 0.
The boatman assisted the elderly pair aboard his rowing boat (with an outboard) and headed out to seal island, all the seals appeared bored and hungry ‘when’s feeding time’ enquired Bob ‘when the tide comes in’ replies the boatman politely refraining to follow it with ’stupid Sassenach’.
The view of the castle from the boat was even more sinister and even more beckoning. Another convincing argument that the pair were old age pensioners enabled Bob and Marcia to get a concession on the entrance fee. Dunvegan Castle was anything but sinister from the inside, it is the home of the McLeod Clan chief and his young family, has a 1000 year history and has many stories to tell, Bob and Marcia thoroughly enjoyed the visit.
The hike back to Dunvegan ended at the Dunvegan Hotel in time for a for a dram or two, ‘you wouldn’t happen to know George and Sandy’ enquired Marcia, the barman produced the local paper and showed Marcia a picture of George on the front page who had been inundated by his neighbours sheep and had corralled them up and was offering to sell them back to his neighbour for £50 each. What a great idea thought Bob why didn’t I think of that. Bob and Marcia visited George and Sandy later that evening, but George was unable to chat as he was besieged with reporters and TV crews who also thought that he was on to a winner. The following day George made it in to The Daily Telegraph (Scottish edition) no less. Bob and Marcia left with the satisfaction of meeting a local celebrity.
The camp warden, who lived on site in a caravan surrounded by garden gnomes and souvenirs from his earlier days as a clown, peered out of his caravan and wished the pair a good night as they returned to the camper, his long johns flapped violently on his washing line, fortunately they were down wind from the pitch which Bob had carefully chosen.
Another night of ferocious wind and rain prompted Bob to consider heading for the East Coast where the weather promised to be a touch less vicious. The plan for the next day was to head northwest to Lochinver, a small resort on the west coast of Sutherland, which had been recommended by some Scottish friends as ‘the place to see’.
Bob and Marcia efficiently made all things ship shape, paid their dues to the camp warden, who was now wearing his long johns, which had not benefited much from a night in the wind and rain and drove out the campsite under a steadily brightening sky.
The route off the Isle of Skye took them around the island via Portree and back to the bridge - and another toll fee. A short diversion enabled the pair to visit Eileen Donan Castle, a spectacular castle on the shores of Loch Duish. The weather by this time was becoming sunny and warm and the visibility up and down the Glens and Lochs was gin clear. A photo stop followed by a visit to the Castle and another picnic on board the camper was a fine start to the long drive to Lochinver.
Bob and Marcia had travelled a fair bit in recent years, including a month in a camper in Australia, visits to California, The Great Lakes, Corfu, Venice, Aberdeen, The New Forest and Oxshott Woods, all of which had fine scenery to offer, but in their opinion the pair agreed (which was unusual in itself) that the next few hours heading North to Lochinver via the Wester Ross Trail rivalled anything they had seen, the blue skies, excellent visibility, lack of traffic, rocky chasms, towering summits, swollen rivers and streams, bleating lambs, the silence, the panoramic views over the lochs and forests and a myriad of spring time colours was more than a touch intoxicating.
A final photo stop in Ullapool, another spectacular drive alongside Loch Assynt brought them to the small town of Lochinver. The Shore Caravan Site in Achmelvich is about 4 miles from Lochinver along a very narrow and precipitous track designed for donkeys and goats, fortunately nothing came the other way, Marcia breathing a huge sigh of relief made a mental note to walk on the return journey.
The campsite right on the beach is ‘an idyllic spot indeed’; it is a grassy area in amongst rocks with a white sandy beach that would rival anything in the South Seas. Bob and Marcia basked in the warm late evening sun on the sands and watched as one or two bathers frolicked in the surf, Marcia couldn’t resist dabbling her feet in the surf. On returning to their camper, Bob spotted a seagull walking round the camper with one wing dragging on the ground, the camp warden said ‘take no notice he’s a scavenger he’s only looking for sympathy and a crust’, Marcia took pity on him and named him Cedric the Seagull, he knew he had found a soft touch.
It wasn’t long before the clouds rolled in, the wind got up and the rain returned, Bob got another soaking while trying to top up the fresh water tank in a force 10 gale.
The following morning the sun crept up over the rocks illuminating the scene, the weather forecast promised some good hiking weather. By 8am (which surprised both of them) Bob and Marcia were fully booted, kitted and provisioned up and striding out of the campsite walking sticks thrashing in all directions determined to put a few miles in to who knows where. Bob decided it would be a good idea to walk the 4 miles or so back into Lochinver. A friendly native indicated that a there was a good track over the hills, he pointed to a distant loch as a waypoint. Bob was without a map or compass and hoped that the native knew what he was talking about.
Sure enough a rocky track appeared to the right and after a mile or so lead the pair straight through the middle of a field full of grazing Highland Cattle complete with large sets of extremely sharp looking horns. Marcia was unaware that she was between Bob and the spikes but Bob considered that her greater love of animals would help if they should become inquisitive. The track led the pair higher and higher, at various points it required a rock scramble, Bob quietly checked his mobile phone for a signal – just in case. Following a picnic halt behind a rock the pair strode on over the hillocks and rocks, the path was fairly well marked and seemed to be leading in the right direction. Sure enough as they breasted a hill Lochinver appeared below bathed in weak sunshine. The descent to the town was the most difficult bit and began to take its toll on Marcia’s knees but bravely she strode on, said nothing and hoped that there would be a bus or preferably a taxi back.
Feeling extremely pleased with themselves Bob and Marcia arrived in the town and decided that they had earned a ‘nice cup of tea’. The Lochinver Larder which was on the edge of town turned out to be everything Michael Winner said it was, the pies were their speciality, they came with a variety of fillings – savoury and sweet – and were definitely worth the £4.25 each, they can be ordered on line at www.btinternet.com/~piesbypost (cheaper by the dozen) the pie maker told Bob that they made 35,000 last year not a bad recommendation – definitely worth a trip to Scotland – mouth wateringly good.
A leisurely stroll down the High Street and an even more leisurely wander round the impressive visitor centre and Bob and Marcia were set for the trek back to the campsite, Marcia still hoped that a bus would appear but agreed to walk provided it was on the road. The 4 ½ miles back were achieved in reasonable time with only one stop for a foot massage.
The last evening in the camper was spent polishing off all the provisions left over including four Guinness, one bottle of wine, bread, cheese, pickle, chilli, baked beans, salad, pineapple and macaroni. Bob and Marcia now thoroughly at home on their wheels felt that maybe life on the road would be a good way to spend their retirement provided the wind eased just a touch. Bob, who now had acquired a great deal of campers knowledge, parked the camper nose into wind in the hope that the camper would ride easier in the wind and rain and allow a reasonable nights sleep.
The next morning Cedric the Seagull looked even more bedraggled having barely survived another night of battering, Marcia felt that he would be much better off if he allowed her to take care of him but he had other ideas, he spread his wings gracefully and lifted off for a final flypast leaving a message to say thanks for nothing.
The pair drove out of the campsite somewhat reluctantly and headed back to Inverness via the A837, Bonar Bridge (a final picnic) and a stop at Safeway’s to top up with diesel. Marcia now thoroughly confident in Bob’s driving ability fell asleep for the last few miles, which was fortunate as the wind and rain experienced when negotiating the exposed bridges over the Cromarty Firth and the Moray Firth nearly swept the camper and all its occupants out into the North Sea.
On arrival at the depot, Hamish himself was there to greet the pair as they arrived feeling quite pleased with themselves having got the vehicle back in one piece, Marcia particularly was expecting a little praise for her efforts with the dustpan and brush, not so, ‘agggh weeel tek kerrrrr o thart Jock heerr ll tek yer bark ta toon’ and with that threw all the bags into the jeep. Jock dropped Bob and Marcia at Inverness station at about 5pm, which meant a wait of about 3 1/2 hours for the train. Despite many enquiries as to waiting rooms, left luggage facilities etc. Bob and Marcia consoled themselves with a cup of tea on the cold and windy concourse, they didn’t find out that there was a cosy waiting room with comfortable chairs and free Spring Water until it was almost time to board – if you ever find yourself on Inverness Station with hours to kill its next to the ticket office, but none of the staff or locals know of its existence.
A pleasant couple of hours in the dining car enjoying haggis, tatties and neeps as the hills and lochs drifted by the window singing ‘will ye no come back again’ was a fitting end to Bob and Marcia’s Scottish experience.
Copyright © 2002 Bob Jones