Holly the motorhome was SORNed for four months during the lockdown. We thought she wouldn’t mind after our dash through northern Spain and France to get home before lockdown but she’s a grumpy old girl and registered her objection with a dead starter battery. As soon as she was on the road we got her serviced and MOTd and began to make tentative plans for a couple of quiet trips in Scotland.
Most people we know share a similar dilemma. Should we get out and about while we can, given that there is a rumbling undercurrent of worries that another lockdown might be on the horizon, or should we just stay home and stay safe? We decided to take a middle road and go to a couple of sites we know well, where we’re certain that their Covid preventative measures are the best that they can possibly be. Motorhoming has many advantages in the current climate. You can enjoy healthy outdoor pursuits and a change of scene whilst living in your own little bubble.
Our first wee trip took us just forty miles up the road to Roslin on the outskirts of Edinburgh where we returned to the site we refer to as our second home. Slatebarns Caravan Site is nestled just yards from the famous Rosslyn Chapel and offers a beautiful lush, green, quiet space that seems far away from the big city. Amazingly it is just a bus ride from the centre of Edinburgh with all it has to offer. It’s a site we can recommend wholeheartedly. Pamela, who owns and runs the site, is friendly, helpful and full of information about the local area. Facilities are good, there is plenty of space and it is safe and quiet. The big appeal for us is that it’s near to family and friends and on this trip we could spend a few days meeting up, eating out and happily seeing some of the special people in our lives face to face. After months of not going out for coffee, lunch or even ice cream we made up for it in five days of splendid indulgence.
A couple of weeks later we set off to our ultimate dream destination in Scotland. Silversands campsite just outside Arisaig. I’ve written about this wonderful place numerous times on this blog – we love it so much we can’t stay away.
Our journey North was unexpectedly eventful. Our plan was to drive to the Green Welly Stop in Tyndrum where motorhomes and caravans are welcome to stay overnight. With amazing generosity, the owners allow up to two nights of free parking on their huge, if sloping, car park. There are shops and eateries and you can walk a bit of the West Highland Way before tucking into amazing fish and chips at a splendid café across the road from the car park. We were zipping merrily along, feeling full of delightful excitement at the thought of 12 nights at our all-time happy place, when we stopped to change drivers. Pulling into a layby we quickly swapped seats and Shirley began to edge out onto the road. There was a noise …. a scraping, groaning miserable sound that couldn’t be ignored. I jumped out and walked slowly round the van and trailer looking for some tell tale sign of trouble. It didn’t take long. The tailpipe of the exhaust system had dropped onto the road and we had no idea whether the whole lot was about to follow. We were bemused. Only two weeks before she had passed her MOT with flying colours. Our insurance comes with AA cover so we got the phone out and, after finding the only spot in the van that had a signal, asked for help. “It’s very busy today on the roads,” said the nice AA man, “It may take a couple of hours.” We accepted this without complaint. With a comfortable space to relax, our own loo and a fridge full of cold drinks we were confident that we would be fine. The views from the windows were exquisite, the sun was beating down and we settled down to relax. And we would have been fine, except that the two hours turned into four and the evening light began to dim. It was obvious that we would be driving in the dark to Tyndrum. The dogs were restless, time began to drag and the very helpful app that the AA supplies, intended to give a time frame for your rescue. told us nothing other than they didn’t know anything. Finally a man from a local garage phoned us to say that the AA had asked him to come out to help. He arrived half an hour later, lay down beside the van, yanked the offending dangly part and broke it off. “There you go!” he announced cheerfully, “Just get that fixed when you get home.” We asked, rather forlornly, if it was safe to drive and he replied that it was fine. If only we’d known, we could have done that four hours previously and been on our way.
Pulling into the Green Welly Stop at 11 p.m. we tried to park up quietly so as not to waken the other motorhomes’ occupants but they had just laid new gravel and the sound of six wheels and 4 tons rolling in was enough to waken the dead. Before long we were settling down, heads lower than our feet because we didn’t feel that it was fair to try to put the back wheels on wedges when we’d already announced our arrival so anti socially.
The next morning we were on the road in good time ready to enjoy a completely new experience. We spent a whole morning in Fort William in full sunshine and warmth. I can honestly say that in many years of visits this was the first time that we had spent time here without heavy rain or dark brooding clouds. Fort William is a surprisingly pretty place in the sunshine and we enjoyed a stroll around Lidl – regular readers will know this ranks highly in our list of ‘things that make us go oooh!’ – and then wandered into town to do the obligatory outdoor shop tour. In Fort William you can get anything you might ever need to explore the wilds of Scotland in all weathers. Our haul included two new t shirts and a bottle of Smidge. The young man at the counter, a local lad, told us that the midges are swarming in the evenings. So here is our Health Warning: Do not approach the Highlands of Scotland in summer without a ready supply of Smidge. It really does keep the dreaded Scottish Midge at bay.
The road from Fort William to Arisaig is narrow once you leave the town and head into the wilds. We encountered some very selfish driving coming the other way with large vehicles, including huge trucks and cars and caravans, coming around corners at speed and on the crown of the road. We were a bit shaken by the time we arrived on the approach road to SilverSands There is a point on this road where you get a sudden magnificent view of the blue ocean, the white sand and the small islands of Rhum and Eigg. It’s like a sudden shot of tranquilliser – peace and beauty flashes in front of you for a split second at the same moment that you realise you have only a couple of miles to go.
We were met by a smiling Karen … well we think she was smiling under her facemask. We’re always so happy to see her and to receive that wonderful Highland welcome. In other years we have been met with a hug but the New Normal has changed everything. Instead of a hug our arms flap up and down helplessly not knowing what to do with themselves. We were quickly on our pitch, the trailer reversed into place and the big utility tent that we used instead of an awning placed right in front of the door to the van. This year we have brought our large safety gate and a cobbled together strip of net and bungee cord to make the outfit dog tight. After years of motorhoming with the frustration of trying to keep the dogs inside and miserable or outside on a tie down and miserable, we thought this would be a great solution. Boo looked around with a look of mild bemusement and lay down. Poppy set about a tireless inventory of hidden spots from which she might escape. After about ten versions of the Great Escape we finally managed to more or less Poppy proof the joint.
So, Silversands – for us it’s a magical spot where we experience the kind of total relaxation that is almost impossible anywhere else. Silversands campsite has its own white beach, almost all pitches look out onto the water and it offers the simplest of life’s pleasures. It’s three miles to the nearest shop, a well equipped Spar, and the Traigh Golf Course is across the road. Other than that it offers swimming, walking, cycling or kayaking if you bring your own and very little else. In the summer holidays children play on the beach, swim in the safe water, and turn a gentle shade of brown. A truly old fashioned campsite with all your basic needs met and none of the additions many sites put in to draw the crowds and empty your wallet. Karen and John, the owners, have obviously realised that a warmth of welcome, simplicity and beauty are enough when nature has supplied such an amazing playground.
We have country memberships to the Traigh Golf Club and we always spend a lot of time on the course. It’s a challenging wee course with lots of twists and turns, gorse bushes and a spectacular water hazard that involves a long drive or a lost ball. I usually lose two balls on every round and have discovered that the green keepers find balls, wash them and resell them in the tiny clubhouse to help with the struggling club finances. I’ve probably bought my own back numerous times. Visitors play regularly in the high season and we’ve found that we had to dig deep to stay patient on occasions when your game is held up by a family of four where only two know how to play and none of them seem to understand the etiquette of golf. It’s worth it though when you stand on the 3rd tee and look out at the sea and the islands. There used to be a sign there that said, “Is there anywhere else in the world you would rather be?” Easy question …
There’s a practice ground at the golf course and the other evening we went up there with two clubs and a few balls so that I could practise my swing. Shirley is a much better golfer than me so she offered to walk the dogs on the beach while I practised and then come and join me. To my amazement, once she came back with the dogs, I hit a ball about 80 yards and Poppy took off after it, picked it up and brought it back to lay at my feet. She did this about ten times until we decided that she was exhausted and brought the whole crew back to the van to drink lots of water.
You might have read before about the horrible habit our elderly dog Boo has of humping Poppy’s back leg at every opportunity. We’ve been advised that it’s not a sexual thing – it’s either a display of dominance or simply a bad habit. Poppy obviously thinks this is part of ‘normal life’ as he’s been doing it to her since she was 8 weeks old. The night after our discovery that we had a pocket sized ball retriever in the pack we set off again for the practice ground. Poppy was obviously ready for her task and raring to go. Boo on the other hand was ready for something else. I hit the first ball, Poppy took off like a rat out of a trap and Boo shot after her. Given that he’s in his late 70s in human years the speed that he took off at was nothing short of amazing. The trouble was that he grabbed Poppy’s leg about halfway to the ball. Poppy the pocket rocket was briefly stopped in her tracks until she set off again on three legs, dragging an elderly poodle on the other, picked up the ball and dragged him all the way back again. We didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Her determination was astonishing. Boo on the other hand, lay down and looked at us disdainfully as though the he’d been forced into hard labour.