I mentioned that our friends Melanie and Biz had been given the offer of a lifetime and needed to hand the dogs back to us half way through our two-week trip. They had been given the opportunity to go to the Austrian Grand Prix with VIP tickets. Clearly this was not a gift that could be refused and we were happy to make arrangements to meet them half way at the Tyndrum Green Welly Stop and do the doggy change over. We hadn’t taken two things into account when we chose the changeover day. One was the Royal Highland Show in Edinburgh; an event that turns the approach roads into something similar to the M25 at rush hour. The other was that half of humanity seems to congregate at the Green Welly Stop on summer Saturdays. Despite these two obstacles we managed somehow to meet up and park near to one another. The dogs and their numerous necessary accessories were soon in the van and we were in the fish and chip place across the road having lunch and chatting and laughing a lot. Fish and chips and laughter – a drug free prescription guaranteed to fix almost anything. On our return through Fort William we stopped at Aldi (see previous post for a song to sing at this point) and the second week’s food was soon in the fridge, along with a few beers of course.
Life on Silver Sands campsite is like being in a small community. Everyone seems to happily share the love of the outdoors, the views, the peace and the simple life. Chatting in the washing up room with visitors from Germany, meeting other golfers and Bruce the Newfoundland Pup who already weighs nearly 10 stones dragging Jimmy his owner around in the still blue waters were some of the highlights but the most important bit was just living slowly and enjoying the beauty all around us.
The site leads to its own beautiful beach where at low tide a wide expanse of white sand splits the blue waters of the bay giving you two choices of places to swim. This leads me to the next part of the story.
The Saga of the Wetsuits
A few years ago we decided that our adventures on tour would not be complete without the purchase of wetsuits. We imagined ourselves visiting the beaches of Scotland and swimming in the cold northern waters without a care in the world. That was before we discovered what instruments of torture these things can be. We should have realised what we were getting in to (I mean that literally) when we were in the changing room trying them on. After Shirley, in an attempt to help me into mine, almost tipped me out through the curtain into the shop because the damned thing wouldn’t pull up high enough for me to get my arms in, I should have known. Worse still was the ignominy of discovering that I needed a man’s suit because my hips are smaller than my chest followed rapidly by the discovery that this fact meant that I had a small empty pouch at the front … I won’t say more. Finally, after getting into the suit and feeling pleased that I could in fact breathe the pleasant assistant (aka Mme Dominatrix) told me that if I could zip it up reasonably easily it was a size too big. These things are cruel – very, very cruel. So, it will be no surprise to hear that we’ve worn them about three times and the thought of them makes us consider not going swimming at all, choosing a G&T and a good book instead.
However it became very warm at Silver Sands in our second week. The sun was beating down, the sands were bleached white and silver, the water was a deep blue and completely still so we went for a paddle. The water was cold but very inviting so we agreed to get into our wetsuits. I had a spring in my step as I went to retrieve them from the trailer because we’re both at least two stones lighter than we were when we bought them. Getting into them should be a breeze, I thought cheerfully. We went into the Screenhub utility tent to get changed, sharing the space with a table and chairs, two sets of golf clubs on their trolleys and various bits of camping detritus. If you’ve tried to get into a wetsuit in a small space you can probably imagine the scene.
In this case however it was made worse by the incredible pickle I got into getting into mine. Shirley wiggled her way neatly into hers and I zipped it up the back for her with all the huffing and grunting that is inevitable with these things. Now it was my turn – it went wrong from the moment I started. I couldn’t get my feet into the thing and certainly couldn’t get it to pull up my legs. Heaven knows what anyone walking by would have thought. “It’s stuck! I’m stuck! It won’t move! Why is it so sticky?” Followed by grunts and heaves from Shirley who was trying to help me but by then was baking hot in the tent, in the heat, wearing winter weight neoprene. After a ridiculous amount of struggle and effort I was in the suit but couldn’t move my arms at all and it still wasn’t zipped up. Shirley heaved and pushed and sweated and I moaned and groaned. We should have realised when I said “Why is it sticky on the inside?” and if not then we should have known when Shirley said “Strange, your zip flap is on the outside! It makes it nearly impossible to zip up.” Yes we should have known – the damed thing was inside out! The vinyl patterns on the knees and elbows were on the inside sticking to my skin and I was trapped. The zip that was difficult to pull up because the suit was inside out was stuck because Shirley couldn’t get at the slider to pull it down. Thank goodness she was a midwife and is good at getting things out of awkward places! After a few minutes panic I was released and got back into the suit the right way out. Not that this made it particularly easy but at least I could get it past my knees without losing consciousness. We didn’t have a mirror and we certainly didn’t take photos but that didn’t stop me feeling self conscious with my arms still held stiffly at my sides because we’d forgotten to use Suit Juice (self explanatory lubricant) and any attempt to shift the sleeves higher up my arms was met with stubborn resistance. I was also embarrassingly aware of the empty pouch at the front …
Finally we went into the sea. If you haven’t worn one of these things there is something else you should know. It takes a few minutes but eventually the cold water hits your skin. You have to put up with that for a few moments until it warms up, trapped between your tender parts and the neoprene. The other thing you should know is that unless you wear neoprene boots and gloves your extremities get numb quite quickly especially if the water is very cold. It was lovely floating in the blue water in a deserted bay (we never did work out why no-one else was on the beach but I could guess) and before long the suit released its grip on my arms and I could hitch it up enough to actually move them in a semblance of a swimming action. There’s one question that I really need answering. How do people actually stay afloat in these things? Whenever I tried to swim my bum went up and my head went down. Shirley was helpless laughing when I appeared from under the water, spluttering and saying “Help! My head parts keep sinking!” I should add that Shirley looks great in her suit and swims without a problem. I’m only a little bit jealous…
Exploring on the Bikes
The day before we went to pick up the dogs we took advantage of our freedom by setting off along the coast to explore. We passed the wonderful white beaches, waved as we went by Ben’s beach from Local Hero and followed the thoughtfully provided bike track to the village of Morar. As we cycled along in the sunshine The Jacobite steam train puffed by, making the trip strangely reminiscent of the film the Railway Children. I fantasised about a sequel called The Railway Pensioners but had to admit to myself that it didn’t have the same ring to it. In Morar we found a hotel that advertised coffee so we decided to give it a try. A coach had just drawn into the car park and about 50 French passengers were being ushered into the hotel so we hesitated until they disappeared inside. As we entered the lobby we were astonished to find it deserted. All evidence of the busload of tourists had disappeared and the place was all new paintwork and echoing silence. Eventually a lady appeared from behind a door and looked at us. We looked at her and she looked at us. Then, for want of anything better to say we asked if we could have coffee. She looked puzzled for a minute and then said “You want coffee? Finish?” It seemed that these were the only words of English she spoke and we honestly wondered if she was one of the tourist party, then she disappeared after pointing in the direction of the bar. We went in there and found half the French party ordering pints of Scottish lager so we waited patiently. After a few minutes she came back with two coffees, served with all the grace of Julie Walters in the the two soups sketch and left. We drank the coffee, paid the barman and used the loo then scarpered. Strange …
To be absolutely fair, we have noticed that local businesses in this remote part of Scotland are struggling to recruit staff. Many of the people who work here are from Eastern Europe and the service they offer is hard to beat. They usually speak excellent English and work very hard in the tourist and service industries. This was the first time we have encountered someone working in hospitality who didn’t speak English. It can’t have been easy for her but at least she made us a decent cup of coffee and added a shortbread biscuit for good measure.
Thirteen nights passed all too quickly at Silver Sands and we felt sad as we packed up all our belongings on the last day. We also felt completely relaxed, warmed by the sun and pretty fit after riding our bikes and playing golf once or twice almost every day for two weeks.
For us, Silver Sands is a place that soothes our souls and gives us space to breathe and let the hours and days wash over us. We’ll be back.