We have embarked on our first proper tour of the year. Twelve days in this fine land of Scotland. The first difficulty was making the choice of where we would go. If you haven’t toured this wonderful country you might be surprised to know that there is so much choice you could stumble at the first hurdle. Sea or mountains? Sheltered or wild? Populated or deserted? Campsites or wild camping? Then there’s the other question; what do you want to do while you’re away? Play golf? Walk for miles? Climb Munroes? Cycle? Swim?
After a lot of discussion we decided to return to two of our favourite haunts. Findochty (pronounced Finnechty) on the Moray coast and Arisaig on the West coast with a drive across country passing through the Cairngorms between the two. Now that we live in the south of Scotland we also decided to stop en route in the city of Perth at the Scone Camping and Caravan Club site to break up the 225 mile journey to Findochty.
On the subject of what we wanted to do while we were away we met our usual dilemma – we wanted to do it all, except for the Munro hills. We like to walk but not vertically.
This is where our trailer came into its own – we put our bikes, awning tent, golf clubs and electric trolleys inside plus our wetsuits for good measure and hitched her up. If the trailer had imagined that she was a garden shed it would be understandable as she hasn’t moved since we parked her up at our new place, other than a brief trip to see Bill our local motorhome service man to get a bike rack fixed inside. We were relieved and delighted to find that she runs as smoothly as ever behind the van as we bowled up the motorway to Perth.
The club site at Scone near Perth makes a delightful stopover. It sits right next door to Perth Racecourse and no doubt it is a lively place on race days. When we were there it was sleepy and sun dappled and we enjoyed a full day of strolls along the side of the course to the river bank and a bike ride to the nearby village of Scone. If we had stayed longer we would have cycled into the city to sample its delights. Deciding on the bike ride meant getting the bikes out of the trailer, of course, which also meant moving stuff around to make the exit clear. A man wandered up to us as we approached the trailer with keys in hand and a determined look on our faces and asked us what we kept in there. He said that they had been laying bets on the possible contents – we opened the side door to let him peak inside and he went off determined to lie to his friends and tell them we had a shetland pony in there.
The new electric bikes are simply wonderful, making the very steep cycle to Scone easy and painless, at least that’s true once I remembered that I had to use the gears as well as the electric assistance. People assume that there is no effort involved in riding an electric bike but this is a myth. You only get power assistance when you are pedalling and the more effort you are putting in, the more assistance you get. So there is no possibility of freewheeling uphill but the weight of the bikes makes going downhill a bit of an adventure.
Amazingly, just before we left Perth, we discovered that Shirley’s oldest friend Morag and her husband George were also visiting Findochty. Quick as quick things we made arrangements to meet up for a meal in the pub that evening. It was a lovely surprise to get together and we spent the evening eating local fish and chips, chatting and laughing, finishing off with a walk along the coast with three happy dogs. Morag and George’s dog Harris is a lovely laid back golden retriever, currently in training to befriend people with dementia. Part of the training is to get the dog to put its chin on the person’s thigh and sit quietly. Harris does this well although he does drool a bit. Morag put his working dog coat on so that we could sneak him into the pub while we ate. We wondered which of us might be considered to be the one in need of befriending and after a bit of discussion we decided it could be any of us.
Findochty consists of a few rows of old fisherfolk’s houses, a village shop, a post office and pharmacy, a pub, a harbour and an old fashioned campsite. Its many appeals to us include the incredible sea views right outside the motorhome window, the occasional view of passing dolphins, the peace, the simplicity and the golf course next door. The campsite offers free golf to up to four people a day. I don’t want to say that too loudly in case the place fills up with golfers and we don’t get to play.
The next morning, after some confusion as to whether the day’s allocation of golf tickets had been used or not, we set off to the course pushing our trolleys up a steep bank that leads to the eighth green right above the campsite. We ducked and dived past all the golfers to make our way to the club house, considering that this route was marginally less dangerous than walking down the main road that doesn’t have a pavement. Strathlene is a links course with amazing views out to sea from almost every hole. We played the first ten holes then pushed our trolleys back down the hill to have brunch and check on the dogs before wandering back up to finish the round. In the end we played 21 holes, mostly due to the fact that we’d found ourselves back at the 8th when we got back on the course. It was a stunning day, hot sun cooled by southerly winds and the tang of sea air making our skin tingle.
We finished the round with a long cold drink in the club house then trudged our way back along the course, got stuck on the wrong side of a ditch, got rescued by a friendly local golfer who lifted our trolleys and clubs over the ditch – but left us to leap over it on our own – and staggered back to the van. Our fitbits told us we had walked more than 8 miles and our feet agreed. Very little sound was heard from this van that night … even the dogs settled for a short walk on the coastal path and a long sleep.
Today is our third day in Findochty and we decided, after walking the dogs over the coastal path and through the gorse on the edge of the golf course, to do the unthinkable. Please don’t tell Poppy and Boo but we went for a big walk without them. They are a very well loved pair of pooches but occasionally we like to take a walk without a) keeping an eye on Poppy in case she takes off after a deer or a rabbit and b) shouting at Boo for his constant humping of Poppy’s back leg. Boo was divested of his spherical appendages at a very early age but he appears not to know that his humping days are over. Of the various comments and advice we have received about this unfortunate and embarrassing habit, here are a few gems: ‘It’s not randiness it’s dominance’, ‘It’s a poodle thing, they all do that,’ I knew a labrador that humped its owner’s leg every day, at least yours only does it to the other dog,’ and ‘Are you sure the vet didn’t leave a bit behind?’. The vet is non plussed, Poppy is fed up of it, we’re a bit embarrassed and Boo? He doesn’t give a fig. He just merrily humps Poppy’s leg, tail or even her head at every opportunity. He is nearly ten, in human years heading for seventy. We’re hoping that Poppy will soon realise that she is younger, fitter and in a prime position to take over the leader of the pack position and turn on him so that he learns his lesson. It isn’t looking likely at the moment – she just runs along on three legs dragging a small elderly black poodle behind her.
So, back to the long walk. We set off along the coastal path to Portknockie, around two and a half miles away, with the intention of stopping for breakfast at The Fly Cup, a delightful little café tucked in amongst the rows of fisher’s houses. There are a number of these small fishing villages along this coast, all settled round small harbours with rows of neat terraced cottages rising up the hillside from sea level. The Fly Cup is a lovely little place, serving a range of simple foods including a massive cooked breakfast. We settled for this, although the Cullen Skink was also a strong contender. This local speciality is a real treat, made with smoked fish, potatoes, cream and sometimes leek or onion. Being before midday and our first food of the day, we decided that Cullen Skink, although delicious, was a step too far and we chose the more traditional but less healthy alternative. The food was excellent, the service personal and pleasant and the environment attractive with the work of local artists on display on the walls. All of this caused us to procrastinate a bit before setting off on the next two mile leg of the walk to Cullen but eventually we set off on our merry way, full of food and relieved that in Cullen there was the promise of a bus back to Findochty. We walked along the old railway line, now part of the coastal walk, looked at the dead flat golf course running right behind the beach and hoped our destination wasn’t much further. At one point we decided that we had walked too far along the path and should have gone down to sea level, forcing us to retrace our steps for almost a mile before realising we’d been right the first time. All this hesitation and havering meant we had to get a wiggle on to make it to the bus stop in time for the once an hour service. We made it just in time and sank gratefully into our seats watching the long miles of our walk flash by in 12 minutes before being deposited back in Findochty where our two little dogs waited patiently for our return. I don’t think they suspect a thing.
Watch this space – Shirley might get into her wetsuit yet.