Friday, April 20, 2018

A Wee Camping Trip In The Highlands Part 7 - Wild Camping In A Blizzard

As much as I love animals, you'd think I'd know a little bit about horses, but I didn't. I was sitting there, looking through the snow-covered windshield out at the pasture and the solitary horse standing at the fence staring at me. He was covered with a blanket and seemed to have a little stable to go hang out in. Why was he standing there at the fence staring? Was it because he wanted a little bit of company? Was he curious about what kind of idiots would park here for the night in a snowstorm? Was he hoping I had an apple in my pocket? I then heard a gravely noise that meant a car approaching. I couldn't imagine what was coming up next.

We somehow made it out of the skirts of Glasgow by some of the best teamwork of driver and navigator the world has seen. Driving on the left is not as bad as I thought...Pam just kept yelling "stay left!" and that seemed to work pretty well. The country had pretty much given up on traffic lights and gone to using 'roundabouts', which is a pretty exciting concept when you add in lost tourists from foreign countries and big trucks. Thank God Scotland does not seem to have many Fast and Furious drivers. We would see a roundabout coming up and I would start my mantra "look right, stay left, look right, stay left", while Pam shouted encouragement along the lines of "watch out!".

I was starting to feel okay about the van, which made me feel like I was a charter bus driver, from the gear shifting, the sounds, and the way I sat in front. I would sometimes make a little joke, "Next stop, Loch Lomond!", but Pam was too busy worrying about my driving to laugh. Driving on the left wasn't so bad, and these people seemed to be pretty relaxed drivers, so things started looking up until we reached the Loch Lomond area. One thing to note here. Driving in Scotland is like driving around the Grand Canyon in the States. It isn't like suddenly you have arrived at the Grand Canyon, more like you drive by it for a day. Loch Lomond was like that, it seemed to go on forever, a giant long lake, surrounded by snow-capped mountains that seemed close and climbable. It almost felt as thought I was looking at it through a zoom lens. It was all way too close...but not near as close as the cars driving by me.

We had been warned that "Once you get past Loch Lomond, you'll be fine!" or "You might want to drive the freeway instead, the Loch is kinda narrow...". Somehow that didn't quite sink in the way it should have. I was thinking, an old windy road that took perhaps a bit longer to drive, not a 60 mph extremely narrow two lane crowded blacktop with no shoulders on the side and more logging trucks than I could shake a stick at...add in a giant heaping of blizzard, and you had me and Pam for a large part of the day. All I can really remember is me driving 30 mph, 10 cars queued up behind me, wincing every time a semi truck passed me by inches and Pam telling me that I was still driving too fast. Once I ducked a little too much when a truck went by and a left tire went off the pavement and I realized how much trouble I could be in. I wasn't driving my little car at home and this thing could easily go sideways. Pam redoubled her efforts to get me to drive a little safer, however she did not go as far as to volunteer to take over.

We were also looking for a town or grocery store, and were still too green on the trip to know that finding a grocery store in the highlands is not so easy. We came to a small grouping of old buildings, one that was lit up and I gladly pulled over, wondering if we could just camp right there until some time when there would be no traffic. It was a tiny old grocery store and it was right next to the road. I was literally parked in front of the door and afraid to move the van anywhere else. As small as that van was, it seemed huge everywhere I put it. We bundled up and ran quickly inside the store to find something out of the past. Every nook and cranny had food, snacks and more. I thought I might be content to hang there for a real long time, except they were getting ready to close the store. There was a nice young guy with red hair, tall, thin, around 16 years old, working the register. Pam asked him where the soup was, and he just looked puzzled like she had spoken in Japanese. We were starting to realize the folks in Scotland could not understand us if we spoke fast. The reverse was true as well and when he answered, Pam turned to me and said "What did he say?" A woman about our age came out of the back and rescued us. She had quite a bit of experience with foreigners and helped Pam find some good stuff to put in our mini-fridge in the camper. Pam and her struck it right off and the conversation veered off into life in the highlands and taking care of our parents, etc. Pam inquired about a good place to eat and the lady wasn't sure. "I never get to eat out, I'm always working!" But, she did point to a pub a couple of buildings down and said that she heard it was good.

We hurried down to the place in the blinding snow storm that seemed to be building and quickly found ourselves in a 'locals-only' kind of bar that happened to serve food, if you liked it fried. That worked for me, and I soon had Bangers and Mash with a 1/2 pint of their cheap stuff, sitting side by side with Pam looking out a giant window that had a view that most people would pay a million dollars for. This falling down old place with about 5 people in it besides us, looked out of Loch Lomond and an endless vista of mountains that looked as if you could touch them. The food was good, and by the way, Bangers and Mash is mostly sausages on top of mashed potatoes...goes really good with beer. I could already feel my health declining and I'd hadn't been in the country 72 hours.

We came out of there feeling rested and ready to spend our first night of 'wild camping'...that is because Scotland has a law that you can camp anywhere you want, as long as there is not a 'no camping' sign in place. Free instead of $40 a night for a campground. That was perfect for me, and soon I found the perfect spot. There was a pull-off on the left side for some kind of trail and I took it. Seconds later, I was looking at a horse in a fenced in area, and a farm off in the distance. It was getting too scary to drive and I was excited about sleeping in our new home on wheels.

Pam fixed her suitcase and checked out the kitchen stuff while the horse and I watched each other. Then a car pulled up to the fence and an old woman got out with horse food and I realized that the horse wasn't really there for me, it was feeding time. The lady paid us no mind, she'd probably seen it all before and was glad she was going back to her warm fire in the hearth at home......while I struggled to get the heater to work as I saw the temperature dropping on the inside thermometer. Good thing we brought the serious sleeping bags... 

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