Oh what a night! Late September, in the motorhome. Not as The Four Seasons sung, and a night to remember for all the wrong reasons. It was windy and rainy when Slaw and the Mrs left the bar on the Sango Sands campsite last night. They were camped at Durness on the 10th night of their Scotland road trip taking in the NC500. Mrs Slaw retired to bed with Nick Dawes and Slaw stayed up uploading his vlogs (really good 4G in Durness). Now, if Mrs Dawes is reading this, she’ll know Mrs Slaw wasn’t physically in bed with Nick, but had in fact taken a copy of his book to bed. ‘Calling the fat pillock’s bluff’. The story of Nick’s ride from Lands End to John O Groats ‘Cycling Britain on a twenty five quid bike’. It’s a really good read. The inevitable happened though (sorry Nick) and Mrs Slaw fell asleep.
Mrs Slaw was rudely awakened by Slaw about 2am just coming to bed. She was not amused 😡 Even less amused to hear Prince William baying like a banshee in the wind when he was let out for a last wee 🤬 It was mighty windy out there now. The wind had really got up and was not just buffeting Helga, but thumping the hell out of her. 50mph gusts threatening to knock her over, or so Mrs Slaw thought 😱 Slaw was soon snoring like a goods train and Mrs Slaw had no chance of sleeping 😢 Then at 3.30am there was a massive crash! The wind had blown over the campsite bins and glass recycling. Although it nearly jolted Mrs Slaw into next week, Slaw slept the sleep of the dead 💤 Ear plugs in and Mrs Slaw managed a fitful sleep until morning came around all too quickly.
The sunrise over Sango Sands was lovely. A lone surfer rode on magnificent breakers, disappearing every so often like a bath toy in a bubble bath. Mrs Slaw walked back through the campsite and witnessed the devastation that the wind had wrought. Tents were ripped into shreds and waved gaily in the morning breeze like Morris Men’s handkerchiefs. Forlorn tenters looked on in despair; cold and dejected. Mrs Slaw is glad her days of tenting are well behind her.
The first activity in the colour coordinated trip folder, Mrs Slaw’s pride and joy, is a visit to the Rock Rose gin distillery in Dunnet. An 80 mile ish drive from Durness. Not long into the journey and Slaw was really wound up. Helga had only travelled five miles and had already lost 15 minutes of travel time. Slaw was following two motorhomes who were obviously, and in no way to be condemned, enjoying the drive and pootling along at 25 mile an hour around Loch Eriboll. What they failed to do was take notice that Slaw, who was right behind them, was travelling faster than them. The single track roads are very clearly signed ‘Use passing places to permit overtaking’. Eventually, they did pull over and allow Slaw through. Calm was restored!
Helga crossed the Kyle of Tongue bridge and Castle Varrich was prominent on the hillside. Its ruin silhouetted against the brooding sky. The landscape had changed again. A flat landscape. The purple heather has almost lost its vibrancy and the muted pinks appear lost in the autumnal browns and oranges. Through the Borgie Forest Christmas trees lined the road casting bluey green hues into the light. Helga was now following the North and West Highlands Tourist Route. The moorland roads akin to Saddleworth Moor, near the home of Slaw and the Mrs. It felt comfortable and homely. Wind farms are now visible in the distance. A sign of the impending civilisation to come. Here was the first sign of negativity experienced on the NC500. Mrs Slaw had lost sleep before the trip, reading reports about the pi**ed off locals with the hoards of tourists caused by staycationers. The blog ‘St Tropez to John O Groats’ explained more of these fears. It was in Bettyhill that this was first seen. A sign at the side of the road ‘GO HOME! ISOLATE’. The first experience in 380 miles of the NC500. Mrs Slaw shook herself off, took a big breath and continued enjoying this wonderful road trip from the self-isolation of Helga.
The next section of road gives tantalising glimpses of sandy coves along the coast. Armadale, Strathy, Melvich and Sandside to name but a few. Fields of cows and sheep became more regular. Farms dotted along the road. Civilisation came back into view. Green, lush, fields and golden, spiky fields full of new bales. This is where the second negative sign was seen. A very large sign in red, on a building in Forss ‘ PLEASE RETURN TO YOUR HOMES…….’ It was passed in a flash, so Mrs Slaw was unable to read the next words. Not a bad thing really, as she now had visions of the flaming torches and pitchforks round the next corner!
Thurso appeared grey and sprawling under a visible mist. Huge, curling waves crashing into the bay, keeping the mist constant, like a 1980s smoke machine in a disco. Just along the coast came Dunnet Bay and the first of today’s activities. A visit to Rock Rose Gin distillery and a North Coast Tales and Tasting session. You are welcomed by a delightful herb garden where many of the botanicals are home grown. Mrs Slaw was drawn to catnip, evoking childhood memories of Mr Hector’s garden at Hade Edge.
The distillery has had to diversify their tours to be Covid safe and have ingeniously created ‘boat houses’ for couples to sit in while enjoying the session. The tales encompass local history and folklore and keep you spellbound with tales of Selkies, Pictish beasts and Vikings creating the swallower in the Pentland Firth! Three tastings are included: NC500 gin, Rock Rose Navy Strength gin and a coffee vodka made with holy grass that smells like a hay meadow on a hot summer’s day.
After the tastings, it was time for activity number two. A visit to Dunnet Head, the most northerly point on the British Mainland. True to form, it rained. There weren’t many seabirds when we visited, mainly kittiwakes floating on the thermals, up and down the huge rock faces.
The final activity for today was a visit to the world famous John O Groats and the signpost. Slaw and the Mrs queued up with the other tourists like only Brits know how, for the obligatory selfie with the signpost. Not much time was spent there as it was still raining. A very short drive up the hill to the Seaview Hotel. A motorhome stopover. Helga was parked up in the car park and Slaw and the Mrs spent an enjoyable evening in the bar having a meal. Decent quality and prices. Slaw treat himself to a barrel stave printed with key places on the NC500. As this blog closes, the rain is rhythmically beating on Helga’s roof and Mrs Slaw is hopeful of a better night’s sleep!