A Week in Scotland
Saturday 28th October
Cleared and organized the van today to prepare for it’s longest trip yet!! Well attempted to, wasn’t quite as well done as I was planning due to Dayne’s ‘it doesn’t matter’, ‘just stick it there’ and ‘it’s fine’ attitude but it was definitely a big improvement. So that was it, van packed and ready to go, setting off in 12 hours…….until the oil leak, masses of oil blackened the pavement outside the flat. Turned out it was a reasonably easy fix, if you had the right tools, however it was almost midnight and all garages would be shut the following day. Trying not to act too disappointed, I figured this would probably mean postponing the trip a few days.
Sunday 29th October
Fortunately I was wrong, because as usual, by 10am the following morning Dayne had come up with a solution and we were on ready to go by 11!!
Leading up to the week away Dayne organized loaning an inflatable rib from his Uncle, along with a 4hp engine, so we could explore some of the Lochs and hopefully take it out to Fingals cave and the Treshnish Isles, off the coast of the Isle of Mull.
After collecting the somewhat dodgy looking equipment near Bangor, and roughly attaching the rib to the roof we continued on. Although Dayne does about 99.7% of the driving I did contribute around 2 hours of driving before almost writing the van off and swapping back to my usual spot in the passenger’s seat. The original plan was to stop at Maryport to watch the sunset, however due to some hefty traffic on the way up the sunset had been and gone, so we extended the drive another 3 and a half hours to camp at Kilchurn Castle. As we neared the castle even in the dark you could see the shapes of the breathtaking landscape unfolding around us. Lochs and mountains flowing alongside every road. Along one particular road the woods became thicker, engulfing us in tall pine trees, signs began popping up everywhere to warn of deer in the road. My excitement grew as I noticed a few sets of eyes in the trees. As great as this was Dayne had already seen 2 actual deer and a massive stag on the side of the road, that I had somehow missed. Then finally one appeared right in the middle of the road before darting back into the trees, luckily for me, as we were minutes from turning off for the castle. We pulled up in the car park, flipped out the bed and settled down with some Netflix on the ipad, ready to start the full force of adventures bright and early.
Monday 30th October
The insulation in the van served us well as it was a very frosty morning.
We got up bright and early, jumped out the van and walked down to Kilchurn Castle. The scenery was spectacular, finally we could see the incredible landscape Scotland had to offer.
The castle lay in the middle of a Loch, standing elevated above the water, it looked ominous before us.
We followed the long path down to the foot of hill and trudged up through the mud. Unfortunately there was no way in, although I was convinced, despite Dayne’s doubts, that I could fit through a small window round the front. After 2 or 3 stubborn tries I admitted defeat and we headed back to the van to set off for Oban.
We arrived early for the ferry and went to collect our tickets, I was supposed to have pre-booked these however, like I often do, I had got distracted and forgotten so we ended up in the reserve queue. As the ferry filled up it looked unlikely we were going to make it on, which would have meant a 4 hour wait till the next one, but fortunately we were squeezed on right at the end. The weather was good so we had a smooth crossing over to Mull, arriving in Craignore.
We decided to take advantage of the calm seas and set off round the coast to find a good spot to deploy the boat. Eventually we found a good enough place and off loaded all the equipment. We carried it all down the shore, as bits of the slightly dodgy looking engine flew off here, there and everywhere.
‘It’s fine, we’ll just no more nails it back on and stick some gaffer tape over it.’ Dayne reassured me. Feeling quite the opposite, I swiftly did up my life jacket. We then clambered in and Dayne rowed us out deep enough to try the engine. He then handed me the ores and I had the simple task of keeping us out of the seaweed. However, this didn’t go too well as I did not have rowing experience of any kind, apparently I should have mastered the skill just by watching Dayne for the past 5 minutes, but surprisingly, I had not. We drifted back into shore several times until I stopped trying to paddle and resorted to using the ores along the seabed to push us out.
Finally we stayed out long enough to get the engine up and running, gaffer tape holding strong, we headed out into the Loch. The engine worked great, we were all set to head out to Fingals cave and hopefully spot some basking sharks, but the weather was beginning to turn and the waves were picking up.
With about 3 miles of open sea to cover we decided to just have a play around the Loch and head back into shore to carry on our adventures on land. We packed away all the equipment and headed back round the coast.
On the drive we stumbled across Eas Fors, a truly stunning waterfall that flowed straight over the cliff edge into the sea below. This powerful feature fitted in perfectly with the dramatic landscape that surround it.
Our next stop was Salen Bay to check out a collection of abandoned fishing boats.
They stood just off the main road, 3 of them leaning upon one another, old ropes and fishing nets cast away with them.
We climbed on and had a look around them before continuing round to Aros Park.
In the evening we headed 2 miles down the road to Tobermory, a lovely romantic fishing town on the North coast of Mull. The harbour was filled with colourful fishing boats, illuminated by fairy lights along the waterfront. The main street along the harbour had an impressive amount of different styled restaurants, with at least 5 or 6 to choose from. We got something to eat and then spent the night at the Aros Park Lookout Tower.
Tuesday 31st October
The next morning we didn’t rush up as it was raining heavily. Around 12, the weather was starting to clear so we decided to catch a boat to Iona, a small island of the coast of Mull. It should’ve taken over 2 hours to get to Fionnphort, however due to Dayne’s constant need to drive unnecessarily fast at all times, we arrived in just under an hour and a half. The combination of Dayne’s speed and Mull’s windy, uneven and bumpy roads made it quite an uncomfortable trip, not to forget the almost head on collision with a land rover. To avoid this ‘land rover man’ swerved into a sign on a grassy verge at the side of the road, so all was well.
We boarded the fairly small boat, expecting to pay to cross over to Iona, but it was a free travel day, which was a nice unexpected surprise. The crossing was brilliant, due to the stormy weather, the boat was getting thrown up and down through the choppy waves, some of them even came over the front and sides of the boat. A massive wave threw itself right at Dayne causing his entire left side to be completely saturated, I somehow managed to stay dry as, very conveniently for me, Dayne basically acted like a human umbrella. The crossing finished too quickly, after only 4 minutes we had arrived at Iona.
Despite the storm all around the little island flowed beautiful turquoise water.
A very wet Dayne and I hopped off the boat and started making our way round the island.
We had a look round some of the ruins then headed over the moors. It was a rather boggy hike through rain and fog but was worth it for the view and the photographs we were able to get of the highland cattle roaming around us.
Due to the storm the ferries were stopping so we headed back to Mull and spent the evening in a pub in Craignore before camping alongside Duart Castle.
Wednesday 1st November
We got up bright and early and went to explore Moy Castle. The plan was to then go on to climb Ben More but the weather got progressively worse, so we decided to get the ferry back to Oban and do some more adventuring on the mainland on the way to Fort William, ready for Ben Nevis the following day.
Standing over Oban was McCaig’s Tower, a large coliseum like structure. The tower was commissioned by John Stuart McCaig, a banker for the Royal Bank of Scotland, to serve as a monument for his family. It was designed by J.S McCaig who had a great interest in Greek architecture. The monument also provided work for local stonesman who erected it between 1897 and 1902. We had a good look round and couldn’t resist having a cheeky climb up into some of the archways.
After visiting the tower we started for Fort William. On the way we stopped at Dunstaffnage Castle and Castle Stalker. Both were incredible, definitely worth a visit.
Once we arrived at Fort William we got some munch in a Brewers Fayre, where I also taught Dayne to play Lay Down Rummy, which has become quite a competition between us. We then finished the evening off with some bowling and headed back to the van, feeling ready to face Ben Nevis in the morning.
Thursday 2nd November
We awoke to clear blue skies and crisp air, couldn’t have chosen a better day to conquer the mountain. After loading up with snacks and Morrisons salads boxes, we started our climb.
The constant incline was causing my legs to cramp almost non-stop, Dayne however was having no trouble, casually strolling ahead of me like it was nothing. The Steall falls run alongside the mountain for a while, which were somewhat distracting, up until we had passed it. By the time we reached the summit I was virtual dragging myself along. Trying my best to keep enough of a pace that Dayne was still in sight meant I got to the top within 3 hours, so that was pretty good. We spent an hour at the summit, enjoying Babybels and staring out at the magnificent view.
The sky was so clear it was unbelievable how far you could see. It made all struggles completely worth it! The hike down was easy but still challenging enough for me. Dayne took off down the scree cliffs and made it down 9 km in less than an hour, choosing to stick to the standard path I took a little longer. Although I wasn’t down as quickly as Dayne it did mean I got to see the awesome sunset on my way down.
When I finally reached the bottom we headed back to the Brewers Fayre for another evening of Lay Down Rummy before getting an earlyish night, as we had a long drive to the Isle of Skye the following day.
Friday 3rd November
We both awoke with throbbing muscles, calves and thighs destroyed by the previous day’s exercise. A Mcdonald’s breakfast helped build our strength ready to continue the adventures.
Not far from Fort William we made one of my favourite pit stops of the trip, which was to see the Harry Potter Bridge (Glenfinnan Viaduct). We’d passed loads of viaducts on our way through Scotland but this was one of, if not, the greatest! I was so glad we got to see it!
We drove on to the Isle of Skye and headed slightly out of our way to the Fairy Pools. At first they were somewhat underwhelming, they didn’t even seem to equal half the waterfalls we had driven past on the way. As we walked closer, we began to see why they were so popular. Huge mountains wrapped round the valley where the collection of pools and waterfalls flowed. The water was so beautiful and so powerful, gushing through the valley.
The more we walked the more stunning each pool and waterfall became, it was definitely worth the detour.
We left the Fairy Pools as it started to get dark and drove further North to spend the evening in Pontree. This was a quiet town, filled with pubs and restaurants. We had a game of Lay Down Rummy in one of the pubs and then got a Chinese from the Fat Panda to eat down by the harbour. We decided to camp next to Mealt Falls, which flowed straight into the sea out of a loch on top of the cliff. It was the furthest North we’d been, and was most definitely the coldest. Through the night the weather was horrendous, the van felt like it was going to blow over the cliff, or that we would at least lose the kayak.
Saturday 4th November
By morning all the clouds had blown across the sea and we awoke to another beautiful day, van and kayak still in tact. Once Dayne had done his usual climbing into ‘out of bounds’ areas, this time to get a close up of the waterfall and Kilt Rock, we left the Isle of Skye for some urbex inland.
Alongside Loch Ness lay an abandoned mansion with a dark past. Previously used by Aleister Crowley to perform some pretty dodgy rituals, it had since been purchased by Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page, but the horror stories continued with most of the residents that managed the property for Page meeting bad ends. The house was again sold on and before long mysteriously burnt down. We were eager to get inside and see what remained. To see 360 footage from inside follow the link – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AQZgwZzVpk0&t=5s.
Once we’d finished checking the place out we started making our way towards Edinburgh. On the drive I was scanning the map for places to go and found the only wild reindeer herd in the UK. It was only 10 miles out the way so we decided to go and visit them, we even got to feed some!! To get there we went through a really cool little town called Aviemore. The main street was full of adventure gear shops down both sides, with a traditional sweet shop, bakery and chippy thrown in. We spent a few hours there getting some gear and having a look around, fed the reindeers and then carried on down to see The Kelpies.
The Kelpies are located in Falkirk not far from Edinburgh, they are the largest equine sculptures in the world. Built as a tribute to the horses the used to pull the canal boats, they stand 30 meters and weigh 300 tonnes each. We arrived to see them at about 8pm so they were all lit up and looked absolutely incredible. As it was the night before bonfire night we were also surrounded by 360 degree fireworks, which made our visit even more amazing. We spent about half an hour watching the fireworks and looking round, then headed into Edinburgh for a carvery and some Lay Down Rummy.
We played for a few hours, then drove further South to camp alongside the Leaderfoot Viaduct.
Sunday 5th November
I awoke gutted that today was the end of the trip. Scotland had been such an incredible place to explore, I really didn’t want to leave. The holiday wasn’t completely over as we still had a couple of stops to make. We got up and had a walk round the viaduct, then headed down the road to see the Melrose Abbey. Melrose was a nice town with a lot of history surrounding it. We had a browse round the Abbey, got some breakfast and started the long drive back to Pembrokeshire. Driving back on bonfire night was pretty cool, we got back into to Wales at the perfect time to see loads of firework displays as we drove through all the different towns. We made one last stop to drop off the boat, then continued the final stretch of the drive whilst planning our next adventure.