The North West of Scotland is famous for its beauty, its changeable weather and its midges. The sorry truth is that the warmer it is, the more the midges come out to play. Fortunately we had stocked up with Smidge in Fort William so we were relatively safe from their wicked, itchy ways.
I mention the warmth because, to be honest, there haven’t been many times when we’ve been overwhelmed by the heat this far north. To our amazement, we were bathed in sunshine for twelve days of the fourteen we were there. We have come home looking as though we’ve been in the South of France. In the meantime the Scottish Borders, where we live, has endured virtually constant rain and five days of thunder storms. There is no accounting for the weather which is why we decided before leaving to invest in another item of camping gear.
The trouble with going for a two week trip to the northern wilds of Scotland is that you really have to pack for every season. This is normally not such a big problem because we take just a few items for each season, going especially light on the beach wear, and use the site washing machines regularly. On this occasion our much loved Silver Sands site could not open its usual facilities because of the restrictions brought on by the Covid pandemic. Karen, the lovely joint owner and delightfully welcoming host, apologised when we booked and explained that we could only have the basic facilities of water, waste, loo drop and electric. We’re more than happy to be self contained, as we have a good shower and toilet facilities on board, but what we don’t have is enough room for two weeks worth of clothing for every season. So we took the advice of our long term motorhoming buddies Katherine and James and bought a small twin tub camping washing machine. We have resisted this purchase for years, thinking that it would take a long time to recoup the outlay and even then, where the heck would we find a space to put it in the van? Now we have a trailer the latter reason was defunct so we only had to decide that it was worth spending the cash. We’re only talking £140 here – not a small fortune but, as I’ve admitted before, I’m a Yorkshire lass now adopted into Scotland and married to a true Scot so we need to be sure it will be good value for money.
It turned out that it was a very fine purchase indeed, partly because we could do three loads of washing from the comfort of our own van and partly because we caused endless entertainment to some of our fellow campers. They clearly judged us a little eccentric. It is years since I’ve used a twin tub and Shirley has never had the pleasure so we had a few scary moments when the machine threatened to take off whilst spinning. We got the hang of loading it eventually. The process was efficient if time consuming, the washing was easily dried and we felt the kind of satisfaction you get when you bake your own bread … we were an essential part of the process rather than just shoving the washing in and waiting for it to be ready.
Playing golf at our ‘second course’ Traigh Golf Club where we are country members was a mixture of very good and awful. Shirley was very good and I … let’s draw a veil over that. Nonetheless we both enjoyed a game just about every day. We’ve been visiting for several years yet we still stopped to take in the view and gasp – sometimes for breath after carrying our pencil bags up the steep hills and sometimes in awe of our surroundings. If you’re a golfer this is one course you really should add to your bucket list.
The Wetsuits … on or off?
You might have read about our visit here last year when I got into a proper pickle trying to get into my wetsuit. These things are really not for the faint hearted. Once again at this fabulous site, with its private beach and shallow calm water, we were tempted to struggle our way into them so that we could swim in the sea. It was very hot on the day we decided to attempt our swim and once again we struggled with winter weight neoprene and hot bodies. This time we were more successful, partly because we remembered Suit Juice. Suit Juice promises that getting in and out of your suit will be easier. This is a very relative term – getting into the suit becomes slightly more possible but no less grunt worthy and getting out again is ok until you get to your ankles. A long length of neoprene that has to pulled away from your body whilst negotiating the inevitable corner that your heel forms is still a complicated manoeuvre. Fortunately we had remembered our swimsuits this time so we didn’t need to hide in a hot utility tent to take them off. The site has a very handy outside shower to rinse off the suit and yourself and, incredible as it might sound, the cold water was warm because of the heat of the sun.
So, back to the swim. As I’ve mentioned before in these accounts, my wetsuit is a small mans size due to the fact that my hips are not in the least womanly and a woman’s suit leaves me with empty lumps at the sides. What it doesn’t allow for is boobs. On the other hand it does provide a small pouch for the parts that men have and we don’t. This means that avoiding the empty lumps at the side leads to an empty pouch at the front and a squashed chest.
Shirley’s suit is a medium ladies and it fits her perfectly. I am only a little jealous … actually I’m a lot jealous. My misfit suit renders my arms pinned to my side due to the bits of my upper body that take up too much room and causes me to feel not a little self conscious with the empty pouch at the front. Despite all this we enjoyed our swim and once the water soaked the suit I could hitch mine up enough to be able to move my arms, which is always a bonus when trying to swim and stay alive.
On the Tuesday of our second week our friend Mary came by to join us for three nights. She arrived in her little Hymer A class and got tucked into a corner at the back of the site where she had uninterrupted sea views. She was very lucky to get this spot as the site was fully booked for the rest of the season. A small corner at just the right moment was all she needed and she settled down to enjoy the views. On Mary’s second day the temperatures rose and we began to look for ways to cool down. Incredible for Scotland but it’s true – we began to wish for normal regional temperatures. In the end we decided to go into the sea in our swimsuits. I don’t think I’ve done this since the 80s and even then I was in Majorca.
Mary is used to cold water swimming and put us to shame by striding into the sea. I stood up to my knees whimpering for a while before edging in a fraction of an inch at a time. I generally don’t believe Shirley when she tells me that the water is lovely but as the two of them were swimming happily about I felt I had to join them. Guess what? It really was lovely.
After a while I carried Poppy into the deeper water to try to get her to swim. As she hung reluctantly under my arm her little legs were already doing the doggy paddle and once in the water she swam doggedly back to Boo on the sand and looked at me with undisguised disgust. I tried it again a few minutes later and she did the same thing. The third time she hopped out of my reach and started digging wildly, effectively making a screen of flying sand to keep me away. Boo was allowed to stay dry because of his arthritis but he was suspicious and kept me at a distance until we were safely back off the beach.
Outside the Gates
Just before we left for this trip we saw a news report about wild campers in some of the beauty spots in Scotland. To our horror we recognised Traigh beach, right beside Silver Sands campsite. As a general rule a little wild camping in tents and strategic parking of motorhomes does no harm and most people who are experienced campers or tourers know how to leave a place with no sign that they were ever there. The impact of Covid with the lack of possibility of safe cheap travel abroad and possibly the sensation of having been trapped at home for months on end has brought on a massive influx of campers and not enough spaces on proper sites to place them. The first thing we saw on arrival was the entire single track road that follows the coast filled with nose to tail motorhomes, vans, cars and motorbikes.
This rendered the road impassable as the passing places had been used for parking. Any visitor to the Highlands of Scotland needs to be aware of passing places. When they are not left clear the entire road system can come to a halt. And it did. The local bus got stuck. Some numpty who decided to use this road instead of the big fast road nearby in his huge car and caravan caused another car to have to drive with two wheels up a grassy slope and almost topple over. Horns were blowing, tempers were fraying and still people sat beside their tents on the beach barbecuing and drinking without a care in the world. There are no public toilets on this normally quiet part of the coast and we were left wondering where the tent campers were depositing their waste. We were soon to find out. In a small copse of trees close to our campsite we were appalled to discover a toilet roll hanging from a branch and little piles of toilet paper, presumably with deposits underneath them.
All this led me to think about the nature of being an insider or an outsider. We were safely tucked into our lovely position, on our favourite campsite, enjoying the occasional socially distanced chat with other equally fortunate people. We had our own beach, the very best in care of the public facilities so that the risk to health was minimal and a true sense of peace and tranquillity. Not 100 yards away people were ignoring health advice, living in conditions that even without the virus were a risk to health, sitting close together and clearly not able to wash their hands and yet there was an alarmingly festive atmosphere. Grass verges smelled of urine, dogs roamed unchecked, we saw people wandering up into the golf course to look for a quiet place … I’ll leave the rest unsaid. It was easy to feel angry, superior and judgmental but a little part of me saw this as a sad metaphor for life. We were the fortunate ones.