Tuesday, 21 May 2013

We're off! Week One

Day 1 May 15th  

Home to overnight stop in Abington at a farm site called Lettershaws Farm.  Set off in pouring rain -cheered by a brief period of sunshine as we entered Scotland but arrived on the site in pouring rain.

The site is set within rolling hillsides and with a stream running through the site. Would look fab in glorious sunshine but a little bleak viewed through rain splattered windows!  Late news flash! -the sun came out for an hour or two in the evening-we were able to take a short walk over the grouse moor and by the stream.

Graham by said stream. Whilst at the site we saw - Meadow pipits, swallows, black grouse, lapwings and a heron fishing!

The view from Rex!

Decided to review our sites -will put reviews on uk campsites website when we get home as we chose our sites by researching on that website. We will give Lettershaws Farm 7/10 -the site location was glorious but the toilets and shower areas were a little worn and rustic! Basic and just tolerable for an overnight stay in our opinion. We would still recommend the site though -as the photos show the unique location-just minutes from the motorway.

Our very first long distance drive proved uneventful. Stopped in a rest place for lunch. Those who know Graham will be interested to know he had a van prepared wrap containing hummous, couscous and falafel!
Carol drove Rex for the last hour and quite enjoyed the experience-felt like a proper trucker! - well nearly!  Looking forward to Day 2 -as we will be staying in the Rothiemuchus forest estate in the Cairngorm national park.                            

Day 2  May 16th    

Left Abington in sunshine and showers but sun came out as we arrived in Stirling. Took the Park and Ride bus from the outskirts to just a few minutes walk from the castle. The castle visit was interesting. Glorious views at 360 degrees angle from the castle. The Palace part has been extensively renovated - reproduced to look as it would when originally built by James V! After a lunch in Rex-you guess! we headed for Rothiemurchus campsite -arrived in sunshine!

Carol enjoys a welcome cuppa after a day travelling.

Time for a van prepared dinner and then research -what to do tomorrow!

Day 3 May 17th    

Had a fantastic day today. The weather forecast was not too promising but we were lucky to have fine and often sunny weather all day!

In the morning we took the Cairngorm Mountain Railway to the Top Station where we walked the rest of the way almost to the summit (see photo, Loch Morlich in the background, we are camped about 6 miles from the loch).  We arrived in sunshine but the clouds arrived as we ventured on to the mountain.

    We ventured on ....

Graham couldn't believe the number of skiers and snow boarders up there at this time of the year and vowed to come back for a cut-price skiing holiday. They really seem to have got their act together with the number of runs that were open.

After our expedition up Cairngorm mountain we drove on to Loch Morlich, pulled in for a photo-stop and found this fab picnic spot for lunch.

Graham took opportunity to perfect his birding skills but later realised he'd left his bird book on the picnic table.

After lunch we visited the RSPB Loch Garten Ospey Centre. We were fortunate to see the female on the nest incubating 2  eggs when the male flew in with a fish for the female who then flew off to eat her fish lunch whilst the male settled on the nest. The male had gone out hunting at 10:20 and only returned when we turned up at 3pm so we were dead lucky! 
Just for the record today we also saw siskins, geenfinches, pied wagtails, coal and blue tits and hundreds of chaffinches. Graham also spotted a treecreeper and on the lake, a grebe or diver of some sort (see what happens when you lose your birdbook).

The views around the loch through the forest were also stunning.

Day 4 May 18th

Today it rained all day! We had already decided yesterday we would cycle to and circumnavigate
Loch An Eilein - and  so we did! The scenery was stunning even in the rain. The area round Rothiemurchus is criss-crossed with cycle paths shared with walkers, a bit like a massive centre-parc so it is easy to bike everywhere. We had lunch in the cafe at the Rothiemurchus centre and then returned to Rex where Carol watch several episodes of Antiques Road Show and then Pointless on the TV (just like being at home then - Ed.)
Actually the cycling is quite fun!
A misty view of Loch an Eilein.

Rating for Rothiemurchus campsite - 9/10. Lovely pitches amongst the trees within the forest.
Good shower block - we liked the fact you had a loo,basin and shower in the shower room and plenty of space to change. Easy access to lots of walking and cycle trails.

Day 5 May 19th

Set off today for Brora our next stop over. Stopped over in Inverness for provisions (and diesel £1.35 - good choice, diesel north of Inverness is £1.44) and then made our way to Dornoch. Dornoch proved to be a delightful genteel victorian town. We drove on to the beach car park and prepared a picnic lunch and walked a short distance to the edge of Royal Dornoch golf course where we found a bench overlooking the beach on one side and the 16th green on the other.
Unfortunately on the beach there was a drama - both a whale and dolphin had beached and there was a team of wildlife rescue volunteers all around the scene -we think both mammals were dead. As we ate our lunch we watched many American golfers with their caddies accompanying them play the course. The weather was warm and sunny in complete contrast to yesterday.

We continued on the scenic coast road to Brora to the Caravan Club site where we are staying for 2 nights. What a fab place - manicured lawned site overlooking a golf course by the sea. The two people in the background are golfers.

Just arrived on site - sunshine-quick get the chairs out!

We enjoyed a pre dinner stroll across the golf course to the extensive sandy beach - where we watched gannets diving for fish and arctic terns flying around their nesting site on the beach showing off their fishing skills to potential female mates. And where do arctic terns spend their winter - the arctic?  No, actually it's the Antarctic. They fly 10,000 miles to here in April and then fly all the way back again in August after breeding. Why are they not called Antarctic Terns?

Millionaire's beach

Rounded off the day with a pre dinner drink or two sat in the evening sun - bliss!    
After dinner the weather remained so glorious and light we had another walk along the beach -it was still light at 9.30 pm!

Day 6 May 20th 

Today was bike-round-a-loch day again, loch Brora was quite remote, very different from the lochs in the Cairngorm NP. Cycling along we disturbed a massive raptor which flew out of the trees clutching a snake. I think we disturbed it having its lunch. A wild Osprey maybe? or an Eagle? Speckled brown, muscular and seemed much bigger than a buzzard. I remember thinking at the time.

We had a picnic lunch underneath trees overlooking the loch. The ground was carpeted with wild primroses, anemones and violets - so pretty.
We returned back just in time as the afternoon was windy and showery. Once the sun came back out we took another walk to the beach for further gannet and tern viewing.
Dinner for us was haddock and chips, biked over from downtown Brora by Graham the delivery boy on 
Carol's electric bike for speedy return of our "fish supper".

Rating for Brora campsite - 9/10.  Fantastic location with access straight on to the golf course and beach. Good shower facilities.Friendly wardens.

Day 7 May 21st

Set off today for Thurso.

Stopped off on the way at Helmsdale - a coastal village with a recommended local museum called Timespan - which told the tale of the village from ancient times -concentrating on crofting life and the impact of "the clearances". Had a storytelling room with avatar media technology which we couldn't fully understand how to use! The coffee shop and gift shop were good though!

North of Helmsdale and off the main A9 (which is single carriageway), the road becomes single track and speed drops to 30-40mph, partly because of the road and partly because of the views.

The road to Thurso, railway on left side of winding river, our road on the right.

Half-way to Thurso there is Forsinard, and an RSPB site, which is in the railway station. Actually it is the station. The train just happens to stop there, but no-one gets on or off. We went on a RSPB guided walk- were a little perturbed to discover we were not expected to see birds! - but we were shown the "largest and most important" bogland in the world-receiving detailed information regarding various sphagnum mosses and litchens. The weather was cold and drizzly and we left the group after an hour and a half still examining litchen and headed back to Rex.

We continued the drive through the Flow Country until we reached the main road to Thurso

On arriving at our luxury B&B - The Marine - Ritchie the proud owner showed us our room -on throwing open the bathroom door to show us the facilities he was dismayed to see the shock in Carol's eyes as the expected bath did not materialise -" Oh did you want a bath...we have just given our only room with a bath to another couple a little earlier...are you gutted!" After delivering this devastating blow Ritchie then dashed off to get us a dram of whisky and homemade shortbread-but we think he  does this for all his guests! We took this in a small comfortable sitting area overlooking the sea and Scrabster harbour.
Bath disappointment aside, The Marine is a lovely B&B run to a very high standard that we would thoroughly recommend. After recovering from the non-bath we showered and went out for a lovely meal in a local restaurant.

Tomorrow we catch the ferry to the Orkney Islands!  



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