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20180727 Bealach na Ba

Depending who you ask, or rather where you read, the Bealach na Ba, the steep twisty road between Ardarroch and Applecross, is either not for the faint-hearted and never to be traversed by the inexperienced driver, and especially not by anyone with a long vehicle, or it’s a walk in the park and people have driven monster motorhomes of at least 9m long without an issues. For me starting from Ardarroch, with a 7.5m long Fiat Ducato motorhome on the morning [around 0900] of Friday 27 July 2018, it was very easy. Admittedly the traffic was light; with only a few cars coming towards me, and only a few coming up behind - which of course I let pass at the plethora of passing places. Given the same road conditions I think I could have easily travelled in a much longer vehicle. The key seems to be to look ahead, look behind, plan your passing places, be courteous and aware, and at tight [hairpin] turns remember to take *really* wide turns. I’ve no doubt that on really busy days, and especially with ignorant numpties fore and aft, matters would have been far more stressful and unpleasant. In fairness I did start the route with some trepidation… before I chose to give it a go I’d reasoned that it’s best to let such idiots clear off and have their accident elsewhere. I guess this works for usual driving around town and on the motorways too. It is also worth bearing in mind that there are clear signs that improvements are being carried out on a relatively regular basis; there were clearly relatively recent additional areas of crushed stone / tarmac / concrete to widen some road parts and various passing places, and of course shiny new galvanised barriers in numerous areas. Perhaps last year without the benefit of the barriers my trip could have been a whole lot more bottom twitchy… With a moderately sized parking area at the top I was able to capture some stunning shots of the distant layered hills and mountains. None of these have been edited [and perhaps they should have been I hear some of you cackle]. Here’s a short clip of the first part of the trip up. I'd planned to record the whole of my #nc500 trip... but even with a 64Gb card I found that I only managed a day with the NextBase Duo HD... yes I should probably have turned off the other lens since in the motorhome there really isn't much happening of interested for the rear camera. And I've only this short clip [edited here] thanks to the awful suction window mount wobbling so much that it set of the devices auto-protect function and therefore didn't auto-wipe the file. For breakfast we found the Apple Cross Inn had introduced a trailer shop outside going by the catchy phrase “Applescross Inn Side Out”; I’m sure some one thought it clever. But selling only hot drinks, sandwiches and all manner of ice creams, it really didn’t hit the mark for me this morning… Seeing the shiny trainer and tacky sign I’d rather been hoping for a bacon butty, or sausage in a role, even an fried egg sandwich, but no. I chose a salmon sandwich [which at £5.00 I was delighted it tasted really nice] and a more reasonably priced coffee at £2.00; I’m pretty sure I was given the next two people rations of coffee grind too - I diluted it later with a cold one I had in the motorhome which improved it mightily. Heading north out of Applecross and towards Shieldaig we were blessed with some great views over enchanting bays and beaches. Had I not been driving this behemoth, and not on of limited travel time, I’d have surely stopped for a few hours, or just parked up and stayed. While it had been raining most of the day, when we reached Shieldaig the clouds parted and we had a few moments of glorious sunshine. Stopping in Nanna’s Café I had a packet of crisps, chocolate Brownie and soya cappuccino. And without any WiFi or 3G signal for the entire area I was able to log into theirs and update my maps, itinerary and routing. Out of Shieldaig and heading north to Poolewe the rain laden clouds tumbled over the Beinn Eighe mountains and made a great shot. It was approaching 1700 now and I was beginning to think about stopping for the night. However I really wanted to find somewhere with either 02 or Three 3G/4G, or  some WiFi so that I could upload photos to Instagram and update this blog. While there was a Caravan and Motorhome campsite at Kinlochewe where we popped in for a tank service and an adjacent petrol station for fuel, there was no decent signal so we moved onwards. Loch Maree is between Kinlochewe and Poolewe and we stopped for a while to stretch our legs and check out whether we wanted to stop over. Whilst it was pleasant, there were a lot of other cars and motorhomes and so we moved on. Poolewe passed by and I pressed on to Little Loch Broom where I found a large parking area with stunning view up the loch and out to sea; so this is where I parked up for the night.

20180726 Skye Tour

The waking scene at the side of Lock Cluanie was stunning. After a brief stroll along the gravel shoreline with Tam, and a bacon sandwich breakfast we were off. First stop was Dornie Castle where we directed to the far end of the car park. This looked great as it was almost entirely empty, particularly down our end where there were probably 50 or more clear spaces. The Fiat is around 7.5m long so we took advantage of the empty car part and tucked in one corner taking up three spaces; well out of the way and obstructing nobody. However, before I’d even taken the key out of the ignition some official on day release from his knitting class came hobbling over claiming that we can’t park like that, it must be between the lines. Politely pointing out that I was likely rather too long, he was quite insistent. I didn’t argue and swiftly  did a three point turn and now sat squarely between the lines of 1.5 parking spaces [they were clearly drawn out of motorbikes and side cars as there would be few cars that could fit between the lines here]. He seemed happy enough with this but felt the need to point out that we were now rather compromising the flow around the car park because our nose was around 2m longer than the allocated space. Un- phased by this he moved on; clearly happy that he’d got his way. What started out causing no-one any harm at all now needed warning signs, stop go boards and a special passing place all of its own. The Pillock. Having the unfortunate disposition of handling fools with a very sharp tongue I was mighty impressed that I simply smiled at him as he walked away. Perhaps the BetaBlockers that I’m trialling for my migraines are having a side effect… With a brief photo of the Castle [I really didn’t want to leave the motorhome in such a stupid position for long] we headed northwards to Skye, firstly passing over the bridge to Letterfearn. The scenery around Skye is wonderful; stunning view around every turn and over every rise. Skye deserves a holiday of its own; driving around the perimeter doesn’t really do justice to the views and the walking opportunities that are available. Following last nights first attempt of wild camping, beside Loch Cluanie, I was excited to find another little gem; this time on the A896 just north of Ardarroch and on the bank of the river Carron which feeds into the Loch Carron - once again we had the place to ourselves. Although I did have to clear up after some filthy tyke who had clearly turned out their car door pockets and under seat voids [which perhaps says a little about my door pockets and under seat spaces from time to time too… cough…]. On Friday Morning I woke to this scene as the sun rose… lovely way to start the day…

20180725 to Morvich and beyond… 

I left Strathclyde Caravan Park a little later than initially planned.. around 1000. Work emails and calls disrupted the morning - how it is that the two or three most awkward projects of the last few years all chose to start the fortnight I’m away… incredible! The road from Strathclyde Country Park was motorway [M74 and M8] up to A82; this started off being a fairly wide single carriageway in both directions, but quickly turned into a much narrower road that had me twitching every time a lorry or coach the size of a moderately sized town bundle around the next corner in the middle of the road heading for me. It seems I wasn’t the one freaked by these events… many a time I saw the similarly oversized motorhome in front pull up sharply as they were faced with an on coming vehicle of all together more solid construction and bolder disposition than the plastic lanterns we were driving. After a brief excursion to Argos in Fort William to buy a pillow [I really couldn’t face a second night of a scrunched up fleece as a make-do pillow], the scenery really started to pop my eyeballs… The first scheduled stop was a little waterfall called “The Meeting of the Three Waters” near Ballachulish, PH49 4HX. When I arrived it was crawling with other tourists, all gabbling away with excitement in their own tongue. Everyone seemed happy, if somewhat isolated in their each of their own bubbles. The approach to Glencoe from the south on the A82 was stunning… What’s more is that the adjacent Claymore Filling station is likely the most well equipt hardware store and shop that I’ve ever seen. perhaps with the exception of the Wells BP garage in Aldershot, which is like a mechanics tool shop and hardware store. There is also a really cracking fish food restaurant next door; this goes by the name of ‘Glencoe Gathering’ - tasty fish and chips with spiced mushy peas and [peculiarly] seaweed… which was actually rather nice! Glencoe itself is a lovely little place… chocolate box scenery everywhere… As we reached Ivergarry [PH35 4HJ] on the A82 the police had closed the road. Flagging us down the chap explained that there was a wide load just about to come through and we could wait up the road a few minutes for it to pass. Popping into the Glengarry Filling Station [PH35 4HL] to top up with diesel, the cashier told me that the wind farm blades were about to pass by. The three blades approached in convoy a few moments later; these things are huge! The turning onto the A87 really marks the first official part of the #nc500 / #northcoast500 on my trip. And the scenery was not going to disappoint. Stopping when it was safe to do so [ie finding a parking area the size of a small out of town Sainsbury’s for the Fiat] I was blessed with stunning view towards Loch Garry and the Inchlaggan valley. A little further up the road I found Loch Cluanie and decided to wild camp for the night:

20180724 Grantham to Glasgow

I was packed and under way by 0830 [actually I don’t recall what time it was, but earlier sounds impressive]. Heading into Grantham first to pick up the parcel that was in quarantine with the Post Office following Custom’s demand for tax on the replacement Galaxy Note 8 phone case… Thanks Punkcase for not paying the import charges again… even though you promised me faithfully [for the second time] that you had! Regrettably on opening the package [£21.60 lighter mind!] I found only one of the two cases I’d bought… despite the shipping and customs label claiming that the teeny weeny Jiffy bag [other padded postal pouches are available] contained both items. With picture sent of the received item and pouch to the sender, they quickly followed by questioning which of the two cases I’d received [look at my email and picture Sherlock!]. Heading up the A1 I was on my way to Glasgow, my first self elected stop on the way to the start of the [official?] NC 500 [North Coast 500 mile round trip from Inverness], I joined the masses on their way to work; likely they were annoyed that this 7.5m long behemoth was in their way as they screamed past at around 90mph while my JustGo Fiat Ducato Motorhome laboured and wheezed up 60 [on a dual carriageway] at a glacial pace. Yesterday, on my return home from collecting the motorhome at Bedford, I found it rather like hoop trundling [look it up!] in a gale, over rough terrain; at the time I’d written this off as me gaining experienced in driving such a top heavy beast [the 7.5 tonne lorries I’d driven between my plethora of moves over the years were a doddle in comparison]. However today, with the 44T trucks thundering past at 60mph in a 50mph zone [and otherwise playing leapfrog with one-another at 1mph difference] I was beginning to feel a little seasick. As they zoomed past, the tail end of this 7.5m long yacht was sucked towards the passing truck, which increased in attraction as they individually waddled past the Fiat nose… [caring not they they were holding up the mightily important Audi, BWM and Volkswagen drivers in their 300BHP tractors]. Something didn’t feel right about this motorhome…. I surely needed an advanced RYA certificate to pilot this thing [Royal Yachting Association] and was feeling that my 1988 surfboard proficiency certificate was somewhat inadequate. A quick search online found an ATS Euromaster in Sheffield [yes folks, I’m anally retentive about my tracking and wheel balancing!] and after a brief chat with the operative on the phone to clarify that they had access for Motorhomes the size of the Millennium Falcon, I was booked in. They found the tracking out by 2 divisions and the tyre pressures unbalanced side to side and incorrect front to back. Neither they nor I were convinced that these relatively tiny discrepancies were of significant consequence. And cheerily we were all right; they weren’t… on the journey from Sheffield to Glasgow I was buffeted to and fro whether I was overtaken or overtaking by anything larger than a small three wheeled shopping trolley with a dodgy castor and tartan coloured fabric. This thing has clearly inadequately balanced suspension; thanks Fiat… now I know I’ll never own one! Feeling justified that I’d packed sufficient undergarments this the trip, I pressed onwards; hoping that the creases in the steering wheel from my gripping on for dear life would recover in the following days of searing heat that the MetOffice cheerily reminded us was expected - a soiled drivers seat and ruined steering wheel would have ruined the return of the £1500 deposit for this thing! Thankfully [depending on ones frame of reference] a 60 minute A1 road closure due to an accident [which was completely absent when we were finally under way] gave me time to recover. At 1945 I pulled into the Strathclyde Park’s Caravan and Motorhome Club’s site and set up as far away as I could from the wee delights obviously resident in many of the already present caravans; scooters and footballs are always warning signs that over-excited bipedal juveniles may be present, of which I am violently allergic. Parking many hundreds of yards away from my local camping peers and their nearest signs of offspring, I felt chuffed at my pitch. Only for this to be ruined within moments as two of the little darlings chased their even more over-excited terrier around on scooters, up and down the empty thoroughfare.  Smiling politely I locked the motorhome doors and wandered with Tam [b/w border collie - regrettably Pogo is ill with pancreatitus] towards the lake; apparently just beyond the trees on the horizon. Passing a closed [or perhaps defunct… I wasn’t sure] amusement park I found  the lake and began wandering around the circular route as the sun turned the few remaining clouds into red and orange neon lights. In the distance I heard a repeated thwack, thwack and eventually worked out the noise was a group of at least teenagers throwing stones at a plastic marker for the circular life-raft to the side of the lake. Rightly or wrongly I pressed on, they were off the path and I could easily pass without getting too close to them. I need not have worried though…. on seeing me a steady stream of youths appeared from the hedge on the other side of the path and scooted off ahead, quickly followed by the thwacking teens now in the foreground. Stepping over and around a few neatly closed clear self-seal bags with green fuzz inside I had a rough idea what they were up to… although they were well ahead of me now I turned back towards the camp site and, with the first nips of midges [tomorrow I will be better prepared] I opened a bottle of Faustino VII Rioja that my friend Annette Lesley gave me before I left and clattered the keyboard for a hour or so [I’ll check the spelling and grammar in the morning dear readers… my Rioja glasses say that everything is fine tonight…].

20180721 - Collecting the Motorhome

So I’m collecting the motorhome from Bedfordshire on Monday 23 July. Which means I need to find transport from Grantham to Bedfordshire for 0900 ish to arrive before my allocated pick-up time. The train route from Grantham seems a little torturous… Train from Grantham to London Kings Cross, walk from Kings Cross to St Pancras,  Train from St Pancras to Harlington. Around 2.5 hours! Here’s hoping that I bring all the necessary paperwork with me on the day… one heck of a round trip if I need to provide more proof of ID!

20180714 - North Coast 500 [nc500] holiday is only just over a week away…

We’ve just confirmed our booking for the Motorhome for the next few weeks; picking it up on Monday 23 July from Bedford; really excited :) In theory, this is what we’ve booked…. https://www.justgo.uk.com/4-berth-twin-bed-motorhome-hire.html https://www.justgo.uk.com/pdfs/specs/vehicle-spec-2018-4-berth-twin.pdf To give you an idea of the scenery; here are some Instagram links of photos to whet your appetite… I’m drenched with excitement! https://www.instagram.com/explore/tags/northcoast500/ https://www.instagram.com/explore/tags/nc500/ I plan to post not only photos, but videos and drone footage from my DJI Mavic Pro as well… this is going to be one exciting trip! Here are some popular links: https://www.alongdustyroads.com/posts/2016/6/27/guide-things-to-know-driving-the-north-coast-500-nc500-scotland- planning https://theworldpursuit.com/north-coast-500/ https://independenttravelcats.com/north-coast-500-road-trip-planning-guide-nc500-route/ https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/united-kingdom/scotland/articles/North-Coast-500-Does-Scotlands- Route-66-live-up-to-the-hype/ https://www.carthrottle.com/post/i-drove-a-subaru-brz-500-miles-around-the-scottish-highlands-and-it-was-epic/
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