… please don’t get the wrong idea.
Most motorhomers use their vans for touring – that is after all what they were designed for – and in contrast caravanners tend to take their vans to a chosen place and stay for days or even weeks. We like to use our van for both things, occasionally getting the urge to hunker down in a favourite place and settle in. Silversands in Arisaig is a place we love so much that it was easy to make the decision to return here, just three weeks after our last visit and stay for two weeks.
Some places are so special, beautiful and unspoilt that we have some reluctance in sharing them too widely in case they get swamped with tourists. On days like that we forget that we’re tourists too.
Before I go on to describe our new adventures in this wonderful place I’ll share a story about another wild and wonderful place that was affected by some well intentioned sharing. We used to get an occasional article published in one of the well known Motorhome magazines. I wrote the text and Shirley provided the photos and we would earn a little money to fund our motorhoming habit. On this occasion the article was about a fabulous simple campsite on the Atlantic coast of the Outer Hebridean island of Harris. We had a wonderful stay there, enjoying the long, long days of June and walking on the site’s private beach. The sunsets were spectacular and we felt that we’d had an almost mystical experience. A year later I read on a motorhoming forum that the site was mobbed. When asked why it was so busy someone had said ‘Oh, there was an article about it in Practical Motorhome’. We never could decide whether this was a good thing or not.
So back to Arisaig; our friends Melanie and Biz offered to look after our flat and our dogs so that we could have some time without any other living things to take care of, other than each other of course. We left Melrose after hitching up the trailer with assistance from Biz and Melanie and drove off in bright sunshine, heading north for our first stop for breakfast at Dobbies on the outskirts of Stirling. We resisted their cooked breakfast and cream scones and stopped at the back end of their carpark to make our own breakfast of homemade muesli and coffee. We didn’t feel too guilty about this as we must have spent hundreds of pounds on their culinary delights over the years – our fear that we would put on extra pounds of the flabby variety helped us resist on this occasion.
It’s a long drive to Arisaig from Melrose, especially as chunks of the route are on narrow roads and over Glen Coe. We filled up with diesel at the Green Welly Stop in Tyndrum and headed towards Glen Coe into glowering dark clouds and eventually heavy rain. After a while we managed to overtake the storm but as we drove onto the campsite it caught up with us. The deluge was spectacular and we could barely see to park the van but it didn’t last long and we were soon on our pitch and putting the kettle on.
Our friends told us that the sunshine at home in Melrose persisted through the week just as the rain and wind did here in Arisaig. Somehow we managed to play a few rounds of golf in between and sometimes despite the showers.
The golf course became increasingly wet and spongy but our spirits were amazingly unaffected by the dreadful weather. There is a tangible feeling of peace here at Silver Sands that the Scottish weather can’t spoil. We’d brought two raincoats each and we put them to good use. There is some truth in the expression that there is no such thing as wrong weather, just wrong clothes.
On our third day we hit on the idea of taking the train into Fort William to explore the shops, have lunch out and escape the rain. Karen, the lovely joint owner of this fine site, very kindly gave us a lift to the station and supplied the phone numbers of the two local taxi firms to pick us up at the end of the day. The rail route takes you over the viaduct that is famously featured in the Harry Potter films and is also the route of the steam train The Jacobite, popular with tourists and Harry Potter fans. We pulled up alongside the steam train in Glenfinnan station en route and tried to peek inside to see what comforts were on offer. Unfortunately the windows were steamed up and we could see nothing except dejected faces and cameras hung around necks. We felt a bit sorry for them, deciding that our plan was probably just as good … or perhaps more accurately cheaper. Pulling into Fort William we made our way to the single door that was in use for the whole train. This plan meant that everyone was attempting to reach the small area by the door and inevitably meant that some of us ended up in the stretchy connecting bit between carriages. Whilst in this position we somehow accidentally managed to repeatedly shut the conductor of the train in his little cubby hole. A door kept pushing open into our path and we, unaware that he was in there trying to get out, kept pushing it shut again. We just thought a cupboard door was loose and flapping as the train trundled into the station. Eventually a small voice said “I’m the conductor, let me out!” but even then we couldn’t work out what was happening and gave his door another hefty shove whilst Shirley tried to keep it closed with her foot. Eventually realisation dawned and we let him out, looking a bit forlorn and bedraggled. He forgave us but not before telling us, slightly peevishly, that there was nothing to do in Fort William except go on a pub crawl. We laughed at what we thought was his little joke, got off the train into a freezing downpour and headed straight for a pub that served food. He wasn’t far wrong.
Fort William is rich in outdoor shops and we quickly found a pair of plastic pants – I mean waterproof trousers – for Shirley from one of them and two pairs of summer trousers for me from a charity shop. After that we looked at the time and realised it was two hours until the train home and went for coffee and cake. At this point, thinking she was planning ahead, Shirley called the taxi companies and found that one had no car available and the other was in Glasgow. It was then that we seriously wondered what kind of madness had made us think this outing was a good idea. Although it was now only half an hour until our planned train we discussed the fact that Silver Sands is almost three miles from Arisaig station and we contemplated walking it for about thirty seconds before discounting the idea as sheer madness. Who knew what terrible weather conditions could befall us as we trudged along the road? Our next brainwave involved going to the bus station to enquire whether any buses went on past Arisaig to our little corner of soaking wet paradise. “Oh yes” said a kind lady “but that bus doesn’t go for another two hours. Come back and ask Alison, the bus driver, and she’ll take you there. Be sure to ask though – it’s a request stop.” Being of the age when bus passes are supplied for free travel in Scotland made the thought of the additional enforced two hour wait more attractive but first we had to decide how to pass the time. You guessed it… we went to another pub. We bought a Scotsman newspaper and a biro and sat down to do the cryptic crossword and share a Wetherspoons pizza. Somehow we managed to make that and two soft drinks last for almost two hours before returning to the bus station. Just in case you find yourself in this dilemma I should be clear that the bus station in Fort William is actually a row of parking spaces behind Morrisons. It was no longer raining but the narrow road had all the features of a wind tunnel and we were frozen by the time Alison and her minibus arrived. She was a bit confused when we called her by name but recovered enough to agree to take us home. Before long a string of strange and unlikely characters had appeared, each with their own request for places to be dropped off. For a few minutes I was worried that this little bus would be shuttling all over the wilds of Highland Scotland and we wouldn’t get back until three days hence but I need not have feared. This wonderfully comfortable little bus dropped us right at the gate one hour later and then did a three point turn and disappeared in a cloud of dust. The whole event had a faintly magical, Harry Potteresque quality to it.
We usually recommend places to visit when we’re touring. On this occasion we can’t – if you come here and it’s raining we suggest you stay put and play cards. Fort William is the wettest place in Scotland and you can sample its indoor delights in about half an hour. On a sunny day it might be much more appealing but after numerous times passing through the town we have yet to see one. Two big appeals in the town are a Lidl and an Aldi. When we drive through we always stop at one of these. Friends who are aware of our Lidl addiction have pointed us to this merry little song.
After four days on site we decided to take advantage of an hour or two of potentially dry weather to cycle into the village to buy a few essentials. We had just turned out of the gate when the heavens opened and we were lashed with ferocious showers. Arriving at the Spar shop in Arisaig literally dripping down to our socks and peering through glasses made opaque with a mixture of raindrops and the steam that covered them the moment we stepped into the warm shop, we expected at the very least a word of sympathy from the staff. Not one person commented on our bedraggled and drookit appearance. We can only assume that it’s a common sight around these parts.
In the meantime a dilemma had descended on our friends Melanie and Biz. They had been given the offer of a lifetime and needed to leave before our planned return home. Quick as quick things we came up with a plan to meet them half way to retrieve the dogs so that they could be free to leave a few days early. More on this in the next episode but we’re pleased to report that the weather has now turned, magnificent sunshine has surfaced and we won’t have to go out into massive rainstorms to walk our two furry friends in the mornings. Perfect timing don’t you think?
Just as I was writing the last paragraph, a little round man wearing a sleeveless vest and baggy shorts suddenly ran past the van shouting that there was a stag in the field. Actually I thought he was speaking German but apparently that’s what he said. Shirley was out like a shot and got this fabulous picture.