Northern wanderings, new van, sunny hillsides

An August trip up the North West coast of Scotland.

Poor Vangelina, the month began with me trying to sell her to fund a bigger van in order to create another custom camper, but bigger. Vangelina must have not wanted to be moved on so easily and her gearbox bearings gave up the ghost, so selling as a camper was not an option I chose to strip out everything I had put in and part-ex her as a plain van for a bigger van. I took a risk on a high-ish mileage MWB high top Movano – henceforth called Mo Farah – and bought a big white van that is a former fire brigade mechanics van. As we had a trip up north planned I took the van to be checked over at my local garage where they informed me that it was very well looked after and has a recent new engine and a brand new turbo, so high mileage worries be gone, I am fairly confident in Farah now.

Buying a van on Monday and leaving for a big trip on Thursday was always going to be a challenge, but I do enjoy testing my limits, so I got stuck in. A half day at work on Thursday was followed by a half day of labour, stripping out the greasy ply took ages, the screws were well chewed up and the grease made everything super slippery. Luckily the grease and oil also inhibited rust, so Farah is in great condition after I spent a few hours with some heavy duty degreaser breaking my back and ruining a big pile of old towels. She is going to make a nice home. Once clean I used the same stick on insulation as in Vangelina (some of it was recycled from the old van) and put back the side panels but the floor was too greasy to use, I got some ply from a mate and chucked that in for now but it will be cut to fit soon. Another friend kindly gave me some lino that is the perfect size for the floor of the van, for now it is just chucked in, so curls up at the sides and is a bit annoying but once the ply floor is cut I will cut that to measure and seal the edges. The panels from the old van were screwed on for extra storage and insulation and all my camping kit chucked in the back, we were ready to roll, this was 3pm on Friday, so 24 hours late but only having the van for 5 days I was happy enough with that!

Messy but functional

Adventure time… The original plan was to drive the A82 up from Glasgow, through the beautiful scenery of Glen Coe and up to near Fort William on Thursday, but having our time cut short we decided to save that for another weekend and instead hotfooted it to the A9 and took the boring but faster route straight to Ullapool to start the northern tour on Friday. Arriving in Ullapool I was hungry from all the hard labour and driving so food was first port of call, having got recommendations from my bike forum we ended up in The Ferry Boat Inn, I had a really good steak, I felt a bit bad for not having seafood in a seaside town but this soon faded when I tucked in, steak and a pint was just what I needed. Being classy, late and skint we spent the first night sleeping in the van in a car park near the supermarket. I had transferred the bed from the old van, removed the legs and chucked it on the floor of the new van with the thinking that the slightly raised slats would still offer some flex and support, I was wrong, it was like sleeping on concrete only less comforting.

Beach breakfast

Waking with sore necks and backs, I was being cursed by my better half so we freshened up and hit the road to find a nice spot for breakfast. A quiet pebble bay caught our eyes and we pulled in and unloaded the cooking kit. I love outdoor cooking and eating and this location took that to another level, we had the sea before us, it was quiet and we had a day of adventuring ahead. After filling up on breakfast and skimming some stones (I lost) we loaded the van and headed north. The road that takes you north from Ullapool is lovely, there is nothing bad to be said about the scenery in Scotland, it was a beautiful start to the day, twisting through valleys and over hills, stopping for scenic photographs and looking for interesting things to see and do. Passing a funeral I questioned if everyone from the North West of Scotland was present, I was pretty much correct, we left the main road to head to the ferry for Handa Island, a beautiful spot known for wildlife, but once we got there discovered that the ferry was closed due to the local funeral. Ah well, it was nice to see it from afar and maybe we will re-visit when we take the A82 portion of the trip later on.

Anchor slime
Jetty to Handa Island

Driving on north we visited Sandwood Bay, parking in the John Muir Trust car park and taking the 4km walk to the beach is a must do, just go there and do it. The walk itself is pretty nice with a few sandy bays and some typically scenic Scottish hills to entertain your eyes, but breaking out around the last corner the view is spectacular. Go there, run in the dunes, walk on the beach, climb on the rocks. I want to go back and camp there to enjoy the sunset next time. This time we had to make do with running in the dunes, walking along the beach and lying in the sand for a short while before heading back to the van to carry on north to Durness for dinner.

Sandwood Bay
Sandwood Sand
Sea stack

Durness has a campsite and we were in need of real showers so that made our decision for us, arriving far too late for a clifftop spot with the amazing view we found a quiet spot to park and made a beeline for the pub and restaurant. Walking makes me hungry and thirsty, but after being fed and watered (beered?) my energy levels plummeted and I needed sleep, lots of sleep. This time the van was not as noticeably uncomfortable, I was either getting used to it or just so tired it no longer mattered, I think it was the latter.

Plans for Sunday were the Smoo Caves and Cape Wrath since I have no idea if or when I will be this far north again and who doesn’t like an excuse for a trip on a boat?! A short drive back the way we had come in to Durness is the jetty from where you catch the Cape Wrath Ferry, a little wooden boat with capacity for about ten people. We shared our boat with a few people including a couple with bikes, I felt a bit jealous of their prospective adventuring on the other side. Thankfully it was a short and smooth crossing, I don’t fancy that boat in rough water! After the short boat ride there is an hour long bus across the military road to the lighthouse and cairn at the very North West of Scotland, with lovely views there and back it was a worthwhile trip. I had been hoping to see some puffins or other wildlife but aside from a few seagulls there was nothing, but the view alone is worth the trip. We had an hour to spend before the return bus ride so had a bit of exploring over the peat bogs and cliffs, took some photos and tried not to get blown away. I think that sounds a bit boring but I enjoyed it and am certainly glad I made the trip, I don’t think I will go again unless it is to stay at Cape Wrath for a bit, but it was a great experience.

Cape Wrath Lighthouse

Deposited back on the banks after our return ferry crossing we set off back through Durness to the Smoo Caves where Colin Coventry is stubbornly digging out caves and finding some great history behind the underground waterfall. If you go you should do the tour, for £4 it is fantastic, Colin is knowledgeable and enthusiastic and creates a brilliant atmosphere, plus it looks cool and you get to go in another little boat.

Smoo caves

Following the cave tour we headed off for food, the cafe we were recommended was closed as it was Sunday but we found a nice pub just along the road and filled up on fish and chips before continuing the trip eastwards. Lots of driving was the call of the day as we had a goal of reaching the Moray Firth as we wanted to spend Monday at Culbin Forest near Findhorn as there is a brilliant walking trail with a fantastic lookout tower with stunning views for miles. We stayed the night in the woods at Clootie Well, hoping to investigate the area in the morning. I am so glad we didn’t investigate in the dark, this place was thought to possess healing qualities so people used to tie a handkerchief of a sick relative to the trees to help heal them. These days is looks like a horrible post-apocalyptic laundry yard, it was creepy!

Clootie Well
Clootie Well

Culbin forest was beautiful though, we hope to go back and complete more of the walks there, as it was really peaceful and isolated, but for now we did the Hill 99 Trail to leave enough time to get home and ready to get back to work on Tuesday, boo! On the way in to Culbin Forest we spotted some happy looking free range chickens so stopped on the way out and bought a dozen extra large eggs from a funky vending machine next to their fenced area, and they were very good eggs, if you’re passing (and not vegan) I highly recommend buying some, happy chickens do indeed make tasty eggs!

Culbin Forest lookout tower

A final stop in Nairn for fish and chips before the drive home. Sunshine, salty chips, fish and sea air, what’s not to love?! Homewards… that’s what… Here’s to more adventures, soon I hope!

Nairn fish and chips before home


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