Euan had been promising (threatening) me for a few weeks that we were going to walk up a hill, a big hill, a very big hill and that we would be walking for over 6 hours. I tried to hide my "enthusiasm" - fuckin' magic.
I woke up to cracking weather and couldn't wait for Euan (walk leader) to press on with the day……
When Euan finally got out his tent he looked like he had been dragged through a hedge backwards. Pupils like pin heads and a five o’clock shadow. Rough was not the word as he brought his ground mat out his tent for a nap after his sleep - what a shame!
The night before had taken its toll and a more of a relaxed day lay ahead. We ate breakfast, drank tea and coffee and Mike cooked up some nice black pudding. Mike and Bri packed their stuff up and Euan and I set off on foot to discover Gairloch.
We walked along Gairloch beach towards Charlestown harbour, got some lunch and sampled the local hostelries. It was a warm sunny day with hardly a breath of air and we generally watched the world go by. We tried a different hotel that night and chatted to the locals while deciding what to do the next day; Sunday night was a lot tamer.
We checked the unlocked warden's office and couldn't see an honesty box. The wind was blowing a hooly and we walked around the campsite (twice) trying to find a sheltered spot. Scourie Campsite is on the coast, right on the coast, the site drops away into the sea. Finding some cover was difficult as the wind swirled round but I reassured Euan that there was a hotel down the road where we could seek refuge.
We pitched our (kites) tents, got showered and opened a few beers. It was still a gorgeous clear day, but the wind was enough to make your eyes water. My tent was getting a good battering and Euan's was trying to take off like a flying saucer.
A camper van came into the site pulling a trailer and I shouted across about it being "shut". They pulled in and we got chatting to an older couple heading south. There were a couple of Ariel motorcycles on the trailer and the guy and his son had ridden from Lands End to John O' Groats. The bikes were from the 50s/60s with a max speed of about 50/60; it had taken them quite a while to do it. The guy's wife had followed in the camper and they were taking the scenic route home. The guy's son was a writer and he was making his own way home to publish an article on their ride for MCN. The couple told us that they were last to leave John O' Groats that morning and the gate was shut behind them for the end of the season.
We headed to Scourie Hotel and got a bite eat. There were only a few tourists in and we chatted to a couple from the North West coast of the USA not too far from Canada. They loved Scotland and had been many times making friends up and down the country. They asked where we were from and knew the area well having stayed in a local town – East Linton, unbelievable. We chatted to another couple touring on bikes and they had also been in Gairloch the day before; Euan and I had actually seen them ride past. The guy had a Triumph Sprint and had spotted mine on the campsite. They only had top boxes and were staying in B&Bs all the way – wimps. The bar started to empty and only the staff were left; the barmaid was telling us the hotel was closing down in a few weeks for winter.
I had no idea that the north of Scotland was closed all winter.
Once again we woke to clear skies but the wind had not abated. Today's destination was the roll of the dice and after seeing the weather forecast for gale force winds we decided to head south and inland. We stopped in Ullapool again for coffee and then headed off for Inverness. Stopping in Tiso at the wee café we discussed our options and decided that Aviemore was our best bet.
We got supplies from Tesco and stopped at The Old Bridge Inn for a refreshment while deciding where to stay. I phoned High Range campsite and we agreed to stop there as it was the closest to the centre of town. This has to be the worst decision ever made. There was no grass due to being under the trees, the ground was solid dirt (it was so hard we couldn't get a peg in) and the A9 was just over the fence; not very peaceful. Note to self, check site before paying........luckily the guy was fine about it and gave us a refund.
We headed out of town to Rothiemurcus. We had stopped here over 10 years earlier for Euan’s 21st and it brought back a few memories. To be honest the ground wasn’t much better, still no grass, but at least we could get a peg in. The campsite was a lot more sheltered from the gales. We could still hear the wind rustling the canopy but we were low down in the trees.
The only drawback was that it was a 20 min walk to the edge of town. Fine for the journey there in the daylight, but not so much on the way home.
Aviemore was jumping (in comparison to the rest of the trip), some football was on the telly and there was a quiz on afterwards. Just shows you what being south of Inverness and closer to the central belt does for tourism.
After a late night and getting further away from the campsite the pubs finally shut. Euan had the walk leader hat on again and was ready to set off for the tents.
Before he could get out the pub beer garden, the taxi I’d called had arrived. It must've been about 3 miles back - in the dark – would taken us about an hour to walk.
It was grey overhead and we packed up before the rain started with just a snack for breakfast; proper breakfast would be at Ralia cafe. Ralia is not a greasy spoon so any hope of a fatty breakfast was gone. I wondered what was happening to us stopping for numerous lattes and eating (drinking) plenty soup………not one fry up all week.
We left Ralia with the weather forecast to get even worse. As we approached the Pass of Drumochter the hurricane strength winds were accompanied by monsoon rain. I have not experienced rain that heavy that lasted for so long. Euan was concerned that he might get “blown off”. There was nowhere to stop so we powered on.
Finally resting at Kinross services and then getting coffee at Euan’s Nan's it had been an epic trip. Glad we had managed to squeeze one last camping run before the winter.
Words and photos by Ben.