We stayed at the Camping & Caravan Club Site near Oban for two nights. Set in a Victorian Walled Garden, it gives wonderful shelter from the westerly breezes making it a haven for humans and midges. We ate our meals outside, basking in the warmth and sunshine and took long walks through the forest right outside the gate. Cycling to the Sea Life Sanctuary was an easy 3 miles each way and we managed to blag our way into their coffee shop, normally only open to paying visitors. It’s not that we’re too mean to pay to go in and see the Sanctuary’s delights – it’s just that we’d only slipped a £20 note into a pocket and if we’d paid for entry we wouldn’t have had enough for a coffee and cake. The young lady at the ticket office took pity on us and let us in but radioed ahead to make sure we didn’t go anywhere other than the café. It was only on the way out that we saw a Tourist Info magazine with a 2 for 1 entry to the Sanctuary. It turns out we could have paid to go in after all and still sunk our teeth into a huge chocolate cupcake.
I love warm evenings on campsites. All the day-trippers are back from their sightseeing adventures, there is a tantalising aroma of barbecues and burning sausages and the inevitable accompanying wine has mellowed everyone. The midges love this time of day too. Sociable little blighters they are. We found it hard not to laugh when a couple walked by, each wearing a complete suit made of anti midge netting. I was alarmed at first until we made sense of what we were seeing – they were like big brown blobs with blurry features and a strange gait, reminiscent of someone who has ridden a horse for miles without a saddle. I decided that a cocktail of Smidge and Avon Skin so Soft was my preferred option but I admired their ability to give not a stuff about how they appeared to others.
There are two main Caravan and Camping Clubs in the UK and they are renowned for putting up notices giving people instructions on how to behave on their sites. The Camping & Caravan Club (C&CC) is by far the easiest going of the two clubs but that’s mostly because we’re comparing it to the Caravan Club (CC), which so rule bound it is almost constipated. The C&CC site near Oban is run by a couple who are friendly and pleasant and make an effort to put up notices with a jaunty, friendly tone. In the washing up room there are two notices. One makes perfect sense “Please close the door otherwise the midges will come in and join you.” The other one had us, and a number of other fellow dishwashers, completely confused. “For safety’s sake, please make sure your step is secured.” We looked at it, we looked at one another, we shook our heads, we looked down at our feet in case our steps weren’t secured – nope… we couldn’t make sense of it at all.
On Tuesday we made the four-hour crossing to the Isle of Tiree. Our home until Saturday is our friend Rhoda’s croft where we are currently pitched beside her market garden and surrounded by more white beaches than you can imagine. Standing beside the van, the expression ‘360 degrees of sky’ comes to mind. This is sometimes called ‘The Sunshine Island’ as it has more hours of sunshine than anywhere else in the UK. They don’t tell you that the sunshine is often refrigerated by some ferocious winds but so far we’ve been fortunate. A ten-mile cycle this morning took us to the only village on the island, Scarinish and back. The remoteness of the island really came home to us as we passed small white crofts dotted, apparently randomly, on the moorland alongside the single-track road. Every car and tractor that passed by waved and acknowledged us … well to be strictly accurate it was the drivers who acknowledged us but you get my drift. After the ferry came in there was a veritable rush hour with at least eight cars passing us as we pedalled along.
Rhoda had suggested The Lodge Hotel as a good pit stop on our way back. Arriving in the bar we met a Yorkshire couple who told us that the barmaid had gone to make them coffee and would be back soon. Sure enough, after a while she appeared and we ordered the same ‘Two coffees please’. I sensed a little reserve when we placed our order – something was definitely worrying her, but what? A few pleasant minutes later another couple appeared and the six of us chatted happily about our experiences of the island (ours so far only being a bike ride, a trip to the co-op and meeting a herd of cows being led down the road by a farmer). The others were old hands, having been here for four days, so we picked their brains and made a mental note to go and see the chocolate shop one day. It would be rude not to – and that’s my excuse etc. etc. Back came the barmaid and the third couple ordered coffees. At this point she was definitely uncomfortable as she disappeared into the kitchen. Coming back moments later, she told them that they had run out of coffee pots. Our two individual pots were empty by then so we offered them to her. Looking visibly relieved she carried them like trophies into the kitchen. We were charmed by the place and its simplicity. Three couples ordering coffee at the same time was clearly an unusual event. Like old friends we bid our fellow travellers goodbye, promising to look out for one another on the ferry on Saturday.
Pedalling back up the nearest thing to a hill on the island, on our way back to the motorhome, it occurred to me yet again that it’s the connections you make on these journeys that give them colour and meaning. Interesting people whose stories are so different to our own, beautiful wild and rugged landscapes, huge cows contentedly munching the grass just feet from the front of our van and getting the chance to meet up with an old friend. From the side window of the van as I write this I can see Shirley working on one of Rhoda’s vegetable patches. She’s been missing her garden and this has been a real gift for her.
All of this and we’ve been here for less than 24 hours. Saying we feel grateful doesn’t really do the feeling or the experience justice.
Note from the Senior Pooch
Boo wishes it to be made clear that the incident on the cattle grid last night had nothing whatever to do with his clumsiness and everything to do with the fact that poodles have very very small feet. He is still not speaking to us since we laughed when all his legs went down the holes in the grid and he was left dangling with his chin on the bar in front.
Note from the Junior Pooch
Poppy wishes to make a heartfelt public apology for eating six of the one a day Dog Dental Sticks and vomiting five times in the van. We’re still not speaking to her.