Adventures in Brora

Gandalf the VW is at his most motherly point of this trip. We’re parked up a stones throw from the sea, and it’s glorious. We can hear the waves crashing and smell the salty seaweed as we watch the Artic Turns overhead.

You could be forgiven for thinking that we’re actually in a prison camp with this huge fence and barbed wire; however the reason for the maximum security is that this campsite, a Camping and Caravanning Club Certified Site called SeaBreezes Caravan site, is a former World War 2 Listening Station. In fact it was so top secret that it doesn’t even appear on the map. 40 people from across the UK were stationed here and it was used throughout both World War 2 and the Cold War before being decommissioned in 1986.

The views to the sea are unrivalled and we fell in love with this place as soon as we drove onto our pitch.

Our journey here today was let’s say, stormy! The weather in Inverness as we passed through was so bad that the coop we tried to visit had closed as their roof caved in, B and M bargains had sewerage coming up under the store as the storm drains overflowed and Aldi was evacuated due to flooding inside! It was so bad I honestly thought “sod this, let’s go home!” But then my northern stubborn genes kicked into action and errands finally complete, we made our way north to Brora into more bad weather.

Apart from…. Unbelievably with just 10 mins of our journey remaining, someone switched off the rain tap above, sucked the grey and black clouds out of the sky and we rolled into Brora with not a cloud in the sky and blue skies above us. Absolutely insane and very lucky, as we were DREADING a wet set up!

We celebrated with an emergency bbq (always have meat in the freezer to knock up an unplanned BBQ) which was delicious and enjoyed some outdoor relaxing time after being cooped up inside yesterday. Honestly we could have been in Greece (perhaps the temperature was a touch lower!)

Sunday

Sunday dawned with a dodgy forecast but we were thrilled to wake up to bright blue skies. In fact it was really quite warm! We had a lazy morning enjoying the view before deciding to have a leg stretch around the village of Brora, following the Village Historical trail.

Brora is a really beautiful little spot on the very north east of Scotland. The river Brora meets the North Sea and as such Salmon fishing was once one of the main industries here.

We saw an old Ice House which used to be used to keep salmon cold, and the oldest house in the village, the oldHarbour master’s house which also included an original barometer on the outside dating from the late 1700s.

In the late 1800s, the arrival of the railway here and the beautiful beach brought holidaymakers and as such large villas were built.

We stopped for a drink in the Garden room, part of the hotel marine, one of the for-mentioned villas, and then went for a drink or two, including sampling the very local whisky, at the Sutherland Arms.

It was interesting sat outside there in the glorious sunshine watching the traffic (a lot of motorhomes and Campervans) travelling on the A9/NC500. There were loads and none were stopping here. Please do, it’s a lovely village with some nice little shops and a great pub. Don’t ignore this beautiful Stretch of coast!

We had an early dinner; the weather was sublime- and we enjoyed a smoked haddock and salmon lemony linguine with fish brought from Buckie on our journey yesterday. Ooph, it was delicious! Recipe here

We then did something that we’ve never ever done before! Used a campsite washing machine and washed our bed linen, towels and some underwear as we’re running short!

Keith made a makeshift washing line from bungies and we let the campsite name (Sea Breezes) work it’s magic!

What a lovely day we’ve had!

Monday

After crashing out quite early last night, we slept really well but Monday soon arrived, and we felt sad about it’s arrival. It’s our last full day here – and indeed in Scotland for a while.

We decided to have a cooked breakfast, and do a coastal walk to Golspie, a 6 mile walk that hugged the coastline all the way. We timed our walk with a return journey via either train or public bus – this is fiddly but manageable as they are quite sporadic (although more available than where we live in Norfolk!£

The first section of walk was slightly rocky underfoot and we found ourselves concentrating more on our step than the view. But we kept plodding along and it became an easier path the further we went.

Unlike the South West coastal path the gradient is very low, most of the path is on field edges and so no mass ascents to worry about.

The Sandy beach turns into pebbles and about 3 miles in we saw possibly 70 seals having a little sunbathe. What a remarkable sight- it was a joy to watch them from a far for some time.

Round the next bit of headland we went and were faced with a wonderful vista – the stunning Dunrobin Castle- which in our opinion transported us to Bavaria and then France.

Dunrobin Castle is the most northerly of Scotland’s great houses and the largest in the Northern Highlands with 189 rooms. Dunrobin Castle is also one of Britain’s oldest continuously inhabited houses dating back to the early 1300s, home to the Earls and later, the Dukes of Sutherland.

The coastal path goes right behind the castle so we were treated to amazing views. You can easily visit the castle from the path we were on however it doesn’t allow dogs into the grounds so we just enjoyed the view.

By now we were only 2 miles from Golspie, and as the weather was looking moody, we picked up our pace, arriving into Golspie just ahead of the rain.

We grabbed a quick drink at the Golspie Inn before making our way towards the train station, but instead Intercepting a bus heading our way for just £3pp.

By the time we reached Brora and Gandalf we looked like drowned rats as the rain had caught up with us, but it didn’t matter- we’d really enjoyed the walk – route found here.

We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening chilling and watching Breaking Bad which we are utterly hooked on! As the sun set (much later than down south- it’s still light at 10pm), we have enjoyed watching the lighthouse across the water wake up. The lighthouse is Tarbet Ness Lighthouse and looks like this

Not my picture – taken from Wikipedia

Isn’t it amazing how effective just one bulb and lots of reflectors is.

Tomorrow is our big journey home. In a bid to avoid traffic jams we are planning on leaving mid afternoon rather than first thing and travelling into the night.

So with some time to kill tomorrow we’ve hopefully got one more adventure up our sleeve!

Tuesday

Tuesday travel day dawned overcast but dry. Despite our long day ahead we decided to get up and on, Keith being keen to get the kit packed up on the dry. No rain was forecast but the second we’d closed the boot, the heavens opened. Top tip, never trust the weather forecast and if it’s dry on pack up day- just get on! We’d been having some issues with our bike cover – and which I’ll cover on a separate post when it’s resolved 😳 so that delayed our departure a touch but it felt good to be able to take our time and not rush to a time schedule of “oh we really should be on the road by now”.

We did however roll off the site at 10:30, waving goodbye to the very friendly and hard working owner of SeaBreezes. We made our way an hour and 20 mins south to the outskirts of Inverness- our destination to “hang out in” until later in the day was Chanory Point – on the Black Isle. Chanory Point is reportedly one of the best places in the world to see wild dolphins. Access is tight; as the name suggests it’s at the point of a rather slim bit of headland – the road leading to the car park is single track with a golf course on each side and with holiday traffic and the bin man causing havoc, getting there wasn’t quite as stress free as I’d have hoped. But- we persevered and we’re rewarded with bagging a car park space immediately. Which was good because the best time to see the dolphins, I’d read – was 2 hours before high tide, and the clock had just crossed that marker!

I’m not lying, I actually RAN from the van to the beach whilst Keith sorted paying etc out, and therefore couldn’t believe my eyes (through the binoculars which I’d hastily grabbed) when less than a minute after looking I could see a pod of dolphins about 100m out having the time of their lives.

Keith soon caught up and we spent a good twenty mins or so along with a significant number of others admiring these beautiful creatures playing blissfully in the Moray Firth.

I honestly could have stood there all day, and have already eyed up a caravan park for future reference to stay at along with a boat trip I want to take. Here’s a slightly bad video which doesn’t capture the moment properly but gives you an idea. (Look near the white boat)

Around 1pm we decided to make lunch in the car park – a large plate of spaghetti bol to keep us going through the night, and around 3pm we hit the road- stopping at Halfords Inverness to try and rectify our cover problem.

Our journey home took just over 10 hours with us taking 2.5 hour driving shifts. The roads moved freely and the journey was actually really pleasant indeed and rather scenic, passing through the Cairngorms and then the lowlands and the Pennines. We’d far rather this approach to a near 600 mile journey home.

We have had the most amazing trip- Scotland’s East Coast has been everything we could have hoped for and more. Stayed tuned for a debrief post with some hints, and a summary of our trip in a few days- but for now it’s time to get the washing on and get my “Bridesmaid” hat on as I’ve the honour of being a bridesmaid my best friend this weekend near Coventry.

Until next time

Lx

Adventures in Edinburgh

Thursday

Gandalf the VW has today crossed the Scottish border for the first time in our ownership. We love travelling to Scotland and always look forward to our annual pilgrimage “ooop north”.

Our first stop , and home for the next three nights is Mortonhall Caravan park on the outskirts of Edinburgh, a city which draws us in time and time again.

Following our three nights off grid in Whitby this site seems huge in comparison! We last stayed here 10 years ago and it looks like not much has changed apart from perhaps growing in size and now including glamping options such as shepherds huts etc. It’s a great location for visiting Edinburgh and beyond, but pricey at £35 pn. Having said that our pitch (although not all pitches) is large and fairly private, and we made full use of the hot showers and washing up block today! Endless hot water always is a treat after a few days of using the kettle for showers!

Our journey here was really smooth, helped by the decent weather which again wasn’t forecasted. Taking the A19 as far as Morpeth really cut out the nastiness of the A1 around Newcastle. We even went in the Tyne Tunnel, £1.90 and a first for us!

We stopped for provisions at Asda at Dunbar , confidently located directly on the A1, and our final stop was at a farm Shop at the gates of our campsite; Edinburgh Farm Shop situated in Mortonhall Garden Centre. The farm shop was well stocked and the owner was so knowledgeable about his local cheeses and meats. We stocked up before checking onto our pitch and setting up camp.

Tonight’s dinner was a delicious BBQ, which included the best sausages I’ve ever tasted, a pork and haggis sausage and buffalo beef burgers served with local potatoes and roasted courgettes and tomatoes. We had an after dinner cheese board, courtesy of Highland Fine Cheeses in Tain. These cheeses were exceptional!

We have a feeling it won’t be the quietist of sites here, there’s already been a fair amount of walking across our pitch and we can hear noise and ball games despite it being 9.35pm we shall see! However we are thrilled to be back in Scotland sampling her finest culinary delights.

Friday

Well last night wasn’t the quietist of nights, up until 11pm there was a constant hum of chitter chatter, kids screaming and balls being kicked. We had a number of pitch invaders too- one who got the sharp end of my tongue as they nearly demolished our sun canopy, almost tripping over our guy lines as they ran through across our pitch.

Having said that, it did quieten down after 11 and remained quiet until gone 07:30 this morning, so we did end up getting a decent nights sleep.

We enjoyed a cooked breakfast on the cadac before jumping on the bikes. Today’s plan was to see some hidden Edinburgh gems. We come to Edinburgh quite frequently as Keith’s cousin lives here, but this weekend he’s away cycling around the Hebrides so we’re on our own. This is the first time we’ve had bikes with us so we decided to cycle from Mortonhall to the Royal Observatory to enjoy the fine view over Edinburgh, before picking up the John Muir way, a 192 long distance path that runs from Falkirk to Berwick and through Edinburgh.

The first highlight of the trail for us was the tunnel which runs underneath Holyrood Park; the Innocent Railwaiy tunnel. The Innocent line, was a horse-drawn railway line connecting St Leonard’s and Dalkeith. Completed in 1831, it was Edinburgh’s debut railway, and its tunnel is one of the oldest in the United Kingdom. We really enjoyed our cycle through this!

Next up, the John Muir way exits Edinburgh through the subhurds, on a decent off road path skirting below Arthur’s Seat and out towards Musselburgh. We particularly enjoyed the section alongside Bruntstane Burn.

At Musselburgh, and it’s picturesque harbour, the JMW follows the sea all the way to Prestonpans.

It’s really beautiful and we saw seals along the seafront and beach. The weather was holding off – we’d had some drizzle as we left the Royal Observatory, and it had become a pleasant day.

We continued into Prestonpans, really enjoying the views and the smells of the sea, and paused for a refreshment stop at the Goths at Prestonpans. We shared a 2 course set lunch (we only really wanted a snack) but our haggis Bon bons and grilled local haddock was absolutely stunning- and a steal at just £10.95.

By this point we’d clocked up 15 miles from the campsite (10 from the centre of Edinburgh) so we turned back and retraced our steps until Musselburgh where we then broke away from the John Muir Way and followed quiet B roads back to Mortonhall Campsite. What a cracking day!

(Our route today in purple)

We stopped for a drink at the (almost) on-site Stables Bar which was really very nice and not like a clubhouse at all, before settling in for the evening on site.

You can tell it’s a Friday – lots of new arrivals today, the site is HEAVING. More people brings more noise, and therefore we would NOT recommend this site to anyone who wants some peace and quiet. It’s quite a contrast to where we stayed at the beginning of this trip and I’m itching to return to the tranquility of our beloved CLs (luckily the rest of the trip is made up of solely CLs!)! I’ve never heard a campsite so noisy – Keefy thinks some of the European sites were like this and perhaps he’s right but for UK campsites, this hands down is the most noisiest. Location however is excellent!

Here’s to hopefully silence at 11pm 🤞

Saturday

Saturday dawned damp and drizzly so we enjoyed a lie in, not getting out of bed til gone 10am. The campsite did quieten down around midnight last night but if you’re after peace this one perhaps isn’t for you!

We had a light breakfast before boarding the number 11 bus to Edinburgh City: conveniently situated right outside the gate to the campsite.

The location of Mortonhall campsite really is exceptional- 45 mins later and just £1.90pp each lighter (and dogs free!) we were disembarking in Edinburgh City centre. We’ve been to Edinburgh many times before, in fact I lived here for a month back in 2007 when I came up to play for a fringe show and Keith’s cousin lives here (although he’s currently cycling around the Hebrides) so today wasn’t really a tourist day as we’ve done most of the attractions this wonderful city has to offer. We did however enjoy a walk up Calton Hill for a lovely view of the city, and we also witnessed the daily 1pm canon fire from the castle (purely by fluke might I add!) – a historic event which happens daily to allow the sailors at Leith to synchronise their watches.

We took a leisurely walk to the bottom of the Royal Mile (cannon gate) and enjoyed a beer at Kilderkin and haggis neeps and tattles, which whilst being delicious had to be sent back because they were atone cold in the middle… twice!

We then had a drink at Holyrood 9c which has to be the most dog friendly place we’ve ever been- Jazz even got treats brought out on a silver platter!

We enjoyed a walk up the Mile, although it was much quieter than normal. The Fringe festival will run this year but doesn’t start til next week. The tattoo is cancelled. We felt it was much quieter than this time last summer which surprised us both.

We just love the architecture in central Edinburgh, and our favourite area is around the Grassmarket area in Old Town.

It was around here where we had a very strange experience this afternoon.

We were sat in Bow Bar, a pub in the old town that we’d picked because of its sheer dog friendly ness. Not long after we got our drinks, Jazz had a really funny turn. He usually is absolutely happy as Larry in pubs and will sit for hours either watching the world go by or sleeping under the table. But this afternoon, in this specific pub, he suddenly shot out of the way of the table and then started shaking extremely aggressively and uncontrollably. It was terrifying and no matter what we did to try to calm him he would not stop and kept trying to pull out of the bar.

We both started to panic, worrying he’s been poisoned or something awful, so left drinks and got the heck out of there. As soon as we got outside and off West Row, he calmed down and returned to normal. We were obviously relieved but decided to monitor him so sat elsewhere for sometime and he was absolutely fine. Something had clearly spooked him. A few hours later we were still trying to make sense of it and we learnt that West Row and that specific area that the bar was was once home to Major Tom Wier who was executed there for bestiality. Neither of us are sure what we make if that to be honest but it gave us goosebumps- even more so when hours later Jazz refused to walk back up West Row! Strange or what?!

Despite our strange turn of events we enjoyed our day pottering around Greenmarket – it’s always great to be in Edinburgh and we always like a city break when we can.

We caught the bus back from Princes street around 8pm and spent the rest of the night chilling. Happy to report Jazz is absolutely fine still.

Tomorrow it’s time to move on up north again! We’re always a bit sad to leave Edinburgh l, and whilst this campsite isn’t my favourite of our trips, the location is just superb, so if you are looking for a cheap way to enjoy a city break this is really a very convenient place to stay. Just bring ear plugs in the school holidays!

Adventures in Stonehaven

Adventures in Stonehaven 

Ruby the VW is parked up on the now dry Stonehaven Caravan and Motorhome club site. We’re just on the outskirts of Stonehaven, on the East Coast of Scotland underneath Aberdeen. The site is a standard C&MC Club site, although after the last few nights of being surrounded by terrific views, we can’t help but feel a bit ‘meh’!

The purpose of our visit here is to visit the quaint harbour and the hidden gem that is Dunnotter Caste. The campsite is ideally located for both of these – just a short walk to the harbour and a little further to the castle along the coast path.

As its Friday we decided to treat ourselves to a nice fish meal in one of the pubs here. Seeing as the campsite facilities were open we also decided to treat ourselves to a long hot shower beforehand so I decided to declare it a date night, and therefore I even put some make up on for the first time in over a week! 

We walked along the sea front to the harbour and enjoyed a nice meal in The Ship Inn. Cullen Skink to start and Haddock and chips for main, both of us enjoyed the meal and the view out to the harbour. 

After dinner we took a wander around the harbour and enjoyed looking at all the fishing boats before heading back to Ruby for an earlyish night; the weather had turned a bit cooler on the coast and all our excitement of the previous days had begun to catch up on me!

Saturday dawned not quite as bright as the weather forecast has suggested, but no rain which meant our 10th day with no rain during the day. Hurrah! First job was to extract a tick on Jazz’s eye lid. Thank goodness I had my tweezers! We donned our walking books and set off again back into the harbour area, stopping for lunch at The Seafood Bothy – which we’d eyed up last night. They are a converted horse trailer which sell posh seafood lunches for takeaway – and all the seafood comes off their own boat. We ordered two lobster wraps, for collection in half an hour; just time to nip and try a pint of lager in The Maine Hotel bar; 6 degrees north. They brew their own lagers and ales. In fact we’ve noticed more and more local lager becoming more of a thing on this trip. It was very nice and refreshing.

The lobster wraps were delicious. Whilst we were enjoying them the fisherman (and assuming husband of the lady in the trailer) asked us what we’d gone for, when we told him he said “good choice, I caught those lobsters less than 20 hours ago!” Great!! 

After lunch we set about our walk to Dunnottar Castle. The first bit out of the harbour was very very steep! But once up on the cliff top it was a fairly easy walk and we were rewarded with lovely views, especially when the castle came into view. 

On Wednesday, after all the rainfall, Dunnottar Castle suffered a landslide which resulted in them closing the castle. Saturday was its first day reopening and we could see the damage caused as we descended to the entrance of the castle. 

Dunnottar Castle is a hidden gem, let me tell you! We LOVED our visit so much. There is absolutely loads to see including some amazing bread ovens that have survived since the 1400s, an original cistern, brewery! Also some of the walls and chimneys that have survived all these years were just incredible, considering their position on the coastline and the years and years of battering they must have endured.

The Scottish Crown Jewels were hidden here from Oliver Cromwell’s army in the 17th Century. We spent a good few hours here exploring the nooks and crannies, before making our way back along the coast path to Stonehaven. It took about 45 minutes the way each way from the harbour.

We stopped for one last beer on the front before walking back to Ruby via what should have been the Coop. Although. We got distracted by the Carron Fish Bar and its huge sign saying that it had ‘won the best fish and chip shop in Scotland award 2020’ and also ‘top 10 in UK’. I’m sure that it will come as no surprise that we changed our meal plans and went for our second haddock and chips in 24hours! The Carron Fish Bar was also the birthplace of the deep fried Mars bar but Keefy drew the line at me having one of those. We had a very quick walk back to Ruby to be able to enjoy our fish and chip supper with a nice glass of white at Ruby. 

All too soon our trip had come to an end. We’d covered lochs, mountains, city and seaside in 10 days and we have had an incredible time! We can’t believe that just 4 weeks ago we were feeling flat and wondering what we could do/where we could go for Summer that wouldn’t just feel like we were doing a 2nd best trip (We’re supposed to be in Yellowstone right now) This reignited our love of Scotland (the weather helped) and we are excited to plan a return sometime soon we hope. 

Until Next time

(which won’t be long as we’re off again this weekend) 

Lx 

Adventures in the Cairngorms

Tuesday 

Ruby the VW Campervan is parked up on the side of Cairngorm mountain, at the ski centre just near to Aviemore. We made our departure from the Loch Tummel campsite this morning reluctantly; where else will we get a pitch with a view like this?! We needn’t have worried, we followed the road toward Tummel Bridge which was stunning, huge line trees lined the road and every now and again the trees would break away leaving stunning loch views for us to enjoy. 

We made a stop at Tunnel Bridge to see the old picturesque Pack Horse bridge, dating from the 1700s and sites on the old Military Road.

We followed the Old Military toad over Glen Garry towards the A9. The scenery was just spectacular and I was giddy with excitement, I’ve REALLY missed the mountains during lockdown!

We followed the A9 all the way to Aviemore where we made a quick stop to refuel with both diesel and food and drink. We soon found the deli and got ourselves local cheeses, scotch eggs, sauce rolls, all the Cairngorm gin I could find and fit in!

We then, with the help of the Search for sites app, found our way up to the Cairngorm Ski area car park, sat almost at the top of Cairngorm mountain in the UK’s highest car park, which was to be our home for the night.

Luckily for us the weather had held out up until this point despite a  terrible forecast and we enjoyed the scenery immensely on our ascent. 

Also luckily for us, that weather changed immediately after we had set up and the heavens opened literally to the second that we’d finished swivelling the seats and unloading food boxes etc off the end onto the front seat. We batterned the hatches down and spent the next 15 hours being battered by a terrific and absolutely TERRIFYING thunderstorm. There was a slight lull about 9pm where we got some nice pics (above), but the rest of the night was absolutely terrifying. I was awake the entire night with Jazz- Keith managed to sleep through the majority. 😂Our neighbours kept their pop top up and survived somehow?Ive never heard such loud bangs and the light show was just incredible even if I was peeking out the side of the duvet whilst reading about Faraday cages. Eventually I fell asleep at 6am for two whole hours and 8am we had a phone call from our next site, Stonehaven. They’d flooded overnight and basically had to close. What on earth would we do next? Our battery was almost flat after a night wilding, running the fridge cool box and lights most of the night; it was 40 degrees in the van and only just 9am yet we couldn’t open the door or windows due to swarms of wee beasties; yes, the after the storm came the Great Scottish Midge. Argh! 

Wednesday 

So what did we do!? Well; after a slight panic and a brief “that’s it, shall we go home?” we pulled ourselves together, hit the phones and asked for some recommendations on the wonderful VW CamperChicks FB page. Who am I kidding,  before all of that we literally abandoned our side of mountain retreat in 5 minutes flat! Ruby was covered in midges inside and out, so my answer was to drive downhill as fast as possible with all the windows open and hope they get blown out! It worked. Boom! In doing this we nearly lost our food boxes too but happily they and us survived to tell the tale and eventually (2 minutes later!) we found lower ground with NO midges and were able to have a sneaky freshen up shower and then a regroup over a midge free bacon sarnie.

Now I’ve recounted the sorry saga it doesn’t sound anywhere near as dramatic as it felt at the time but at the time we were stressed, tired and fed up. Once we sat down with our cuppa we learned that a terrible train accident had happened in Stonehaven, leaving 3 families mourning loved ones; that also helped us find some perspective.

Plan B was hastily formed; and thankfully the local Covid lockdown in Aberdeen made the Ballater Caravan Park have some available pitches for that night. Plan for the night sorted, we cracked on, we would sort tomorrow out later. 

We had a stop at Carrbridge, just about 15 minutes out of Aviemore to see the amazing pack horse bridge, said to be the oldest surviving in the highlands, before grabbing a coffee and taking the scenic route across through Tomintoul and over to Ballater. The drive was just incredible- we had awesome weather and the views were just magnificent. 

The striking purple heather was prominent for as far as the eye could see. It was Heather so nice to see (sorry!!) The Cairngorms really put on a spectacular show for us.