Thursday, May 3, 2018

A Wee Camping Trip In The Highlands: Part 13 - Pam Meets A Coo

We woke up to a rainy morning once again at the Ben Nevis campground, and unfortunately, I figured out that our fantastic new van had a TV that worked and spent the next hour watching the BBC equivalent of Good Morning America, while they looped the same 3 stories over and over. I imported photos, and made breakfast while Pam was getting the best sleep of her life..or she would have if I hadn’t been mucking about. I turned off the TV after a bit and my new entertainment became watching the nearby family of 4 stuffed into a VW Campervan, two young boys running all around in the wet morning, getting chores to perform while the Mom fruitlessly tried to tidy up the van. The Dad was most interesting. He was a burly young guy, with a full beard shot with pepper, an old sweatshirt, shorts and flip flops. I did a double-take there. Two things you do not expect to see in Scotland. One is sunglasses, and the other is flip-flops. I was sitting in my van shivering with the heater on and boots with Smartwool socks while he was fooling around with the outside of the van in beach clothes. If this was spring in Scotland, I was gonna need better clothes!

We got going at 11am as usual. Pam has this preponderance to not quite leave somewhere. I’ve not yet figured it out, but it goes something like this…Let’s go! Start the car, put it in gear, start rolling, and “Wait minute, I forgot something!” I was absolutely sure it would happen in the doorway of a castle, at the next crowded grocery store, and probably getting on the plane to eventually leave Scotland.

This time, we had the map out, knew where we were going, somewhat, and proceeded to head into the unknown, seeking castles and the Isle of Skye. In a way this part of the trip was like the Grand Canyon in the USA. There was a sign at some point that would say you have arrived, but truly, the sights were all along the way. The traffic was lighter, but not light enough, and I got yelled at plenty. I was doing 30 mph in a 60 mph zone, with about 10 cars behind me until I could find the next pullover so they could pass me. Really, there is no way in the world that van could go 60 mph down that road with me in it. The road was about wide enough for 2 Mini Coopers to pass each other and that was only if there weren’t any potholes. There was an abundance of potholes…and semi trucks, and other campervans. Every time one passed, I flinched as if their side mirror was going to hit me in the face. At least nobody in Scotland seems to have caught the road rage…yet.

Our first really scenic stop was an old cemetery that Pam spotted on the side of the road. We spent over an hour there. It was the site of a very old church from the 1400’s, with walls still standing. Apparently this was the home spot for the Highlander Clan McCrae and there were many monuments erected for members of the extended family. We spent almost all of our time reading the grave markers that went from the early 1400’s to now. The whole place was on a hill that overlooked a large loch, with beautiful snowcapped mountains in all directions. Standing there, it was the first time I could see how a person might brave the cold to put a paddleboard in that water. It wasn’t the water, it was being there and looking all around yourself.

Down the road a ways from the cemetery, was the Eilean Donan castle. This was our first castle and I was a little bit disappointed. It is very impressive looking, and everything about the place and the grounds is first rate, but my first impression was that somebody had built a miniature of the castle. It was more like a mansion in the USA, built to look like an old castle. This was a clan house, built in a strategic location, not a fort built to hold an army. Then as we went through the tour, we found that the real castle had been blown up by invaders, and that in 1922, a descendant of Clan McCrae spent 20 years remodeling it. So in American terms: it was a teardown, and they got a pass on the taxes by using some of the original walls.

It did look really old, and there wasn’t a billiards table and big screen TV inside, so we could pretend that we were looking out of the ramparts and seeing 50 viking ships rowing up the pass and wonder which sword we should use.

After we left the castle, and came over the big bridge to the Isle of Skye, I started wondering how the day would end. We had no idea of where to camp or even get groceries. All we saw were B&Bs in little houses that looked hundreds of years old. We saw several pull-offs where people seemed to be camping and I was excited for a minute until I saw the people there. We pulled over into one rest area that was loaded with campers, kids, and clothesline setups that were full of drying clothing...I still haven't figured out how anyone expects to dry their clothes in the rain..There were tons of kids and toys all around. This did not have the look of "let's pull over and rest a bit". Some men came around to get a good look at us, while having their arms folded across their chests in that universal not-welcome sign that I had no trouble recognizing.
I don’t really know the look of a gypsy enough to say, “Hey, there’s a gypsy”, but my gut feeling was…  “Paddle faster, I hear banjo music”. Pam felt the same way and we decided right there, that we needed a campground that night.

We stopped at a pub in Sligachan and had dinner. Pam had fish and I had the Sligachan Beef Burger. Pam questioned the bartender about what kind of beef that was and the Scottish bartender had to get an interpreter to explain that it was a cow from Sligachan. While Pam was figuring out our dinner, I was worrying about the night to come. There was a campground across the street and it appeared to be nothing but a parking lot for $30 and we needed groceries to boot. After that heavy dinner, we sped on to Portree, the capital of Skye, where we found a small grocery store. The drive through that town was an adventure all by itself. It was a place best meant for walking and shopping, with a pub about every 15 feet. We spotted a small grocery co-op in the middle of town, with no apparent parking anywhere nearby. I was also noticing there were no other motorhomes around anywhere. I was going about 10 miles an hour, bouncing on little narrow cobblestone streets, dodging potholes and after about 15 minutes, realized that we had better turn around because I had no idea of where the road went. We finally turned around I breathed a sigh of relief that at least nobody else was driving down this small road, until a fuel tanker truck came barreling down towards us. I froze right there and he drove up onto the sidewalk to avoid hitting me. Now, besides groceries, I needed to find a bathroom  and a change of clothes. We ended up getting a parking space on the edge of town and walked back to the grocery store. For some unknown reason, the store was full of Japanese tourists and everybody was loading up on food.

I considered just staying the night in the parking lot, but for some reason the gypsy thing was in my head. That story about the gypsies spraying chemicals in the vent was still haunting my mind. I’m sure that was a made up story for tourists…but still.

I got my google maps working and found there was another campground way off the beaten path down an old road in the middle of Skye. We drove for 45 minutes and found it. It was beautiful, the owner was great, and we met some really nice people from England while we chatted up a long hair Scottish “coo”  that had wandered down to the fence of the campground so the kids could feed him the grass that is of course, always better on the other side of the fence.

No comments:

Post a Comment