A meeting with Vera on the Bonny, Bonny banks of Loch Lomond

Mrs Slaw and the pooches set off for their morning constitutional from the Ben Nevis Campsite. They happened upon an open gate right at the bottom of the site. Ever the opportunist, Mrs Slaw quickly snuck through, furtively looking over her shoulder. The other side of the gate was a bit of a workman’s site; skipping past the machinery she found a little path that ran right along the river Lochy. It had been a frosty night (this is Mrs Slaw’s summer holiday for goodness sake! Wistful memories of that lovely new bikini for St Tropez fleetingly passed by) Mrs Slaw dug her hands deep down in the pockets of her Rab down jacket and wished she’d put her gloves on. It was all worth it though as she looked out over the river through the rising mist, at the heady heights of Ben Nevis broodingly towering over her.

Ben Nevis brooding over the misty Lochy

The holiday is coming to end. The Slaw’s Scotland Road Trip taking in the NC500 is now heading south. However, this morning has a western detour. It was a quick ‘off’ as there is a train to catch! The Jacobite Steam Train runs twice daily from Fort William to Mallaig and crosses the very picturesque Glenfinnan viaduct. A location used in the 1969 film Ring of bright water, but more recently, and famously, for the Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter movies. Mrs Slaw did her research and contacted the train operator to find out the times the Jacobite crosses the viaduct.

Helga arrived in plenty of time at the Glenfinnan visitor centre and a good job too! By 9.45am the car park was full. Slaw had made his plans to fly the drone over the viaduct to film the steam train. However, Mrs Slaw spotted the sign; ‘No drones’ 😢 Under the sign was another one though, that said ‘Permissions ring Alistair’ and a phone number. The call was made and a meeting arranged. Slaw was sweating a bit now as time was ticking by. Alistair arrived in his cow-muck green Landrover, dressed like a Scottish Laird in checked flannel shirt, green jumper and plaid knee breeches. Licence shown, insurance checked and questions from the drone code of conduct correctly answered. £10 admin fee duly paid and Alistair directed Slaw up the Glenfinnan Estate road to a large field from where to fly his drone. Whether Alistair is the Laird or the game keeper, someone is onto a good racket!

There were hoards of people climbed high up the hillside overlooking the viaduct for that ‘perfect’ shot. Looking backwards to the viewpoint from the visitor centre it was also packed. No pressure Slaw then to get that ‘perfect’ shot! The train was heard in the distance chugging as only steam trains can and a melancholy whistle sounded, echoing down the Glen. All around, the air was electric. The anticipation palpable. The Jacobite came into view from the right hand side; beautiful, shiny black engine and sleek red carriages. Snow white plumes of steam billowing from the engine perfectly suspended parallel to the carriages. It was majestic and stunningly framed in the nook of the Glen.

Jacobite steam train on the Glenfinnan viaduct

The Glenfinnan monument is on the Loch side of the road. An imposing structure at the head of Loch Shiel to commemorate Bonnie Prince Charlie. ‘Speed bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing…’ (as we sung in school) On this site he raised his standard to recover the throne for his exiled Stuart ancestors in an arduous and unfortunate enterprise that ended at Culloden.

The Glenfinnan monument

Prince William had obviously had a veritable feast while mummy was taking photos. As Helga was travelling along the shores of Loch Linnhe, the Cottingham Cowgirl started crying. Mrs Slaw looked behind to the dog shelf, where the pooches travel in style in their harnesses and usually on a velvet blankie (currently travelling on a yellow and pink beach towel as Prince William puked on the velvet blankie 🤦🏻‍♀️) Prince William was looking very sorry for himself with something green and slimy hanging from his beard 🤮 The Cottingham Cowgirl had had enough and had jumped down away from her disgusting big brother (technically 1st cousin once removed 😜) Mrs Slaw set forth whilst Helga was still travelling. Her years as a coach hostess came into play as she held her own walking down the aisle looking for baby wipes, while Slaw looked for a suitable place to park. Mrs Slaw dealt with the offending item on the bench seat that Prince William had feasted upon. Some sort of tree nut? When will he learn? Mrs Slaw spends a fortune on grain free dog food with 65% animal ingredients for his delicate little tummy and he delights in filling his boots with cr*p then deposits it all over Helga 🤦🏻‍♀️

The incident dealt with, Helga continued on her route south. The drive through Glen Coe was stunning; reminiscent of the Slaw’s USA road trip through the canyons.

Glen Coe heading south.

The destination was reached; the Ardlui Resort at the head of Loch Lomond. Helga missed the entrance to the touring site and pulled into the hotel car park to be greeted by her predecessor! Our Vera! Would you believe it? These blogs have mentioned the Slaw’s beads and barefoot days many times and they regularly fondly reminisce about ‘our Vera’. She was reluctantly sold six years ago for a bigger van. She served the Slaw’s well. Taking them to France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, Switzerland and Italy. Visiting the F1 GP in Spa and twice to Monza. Mrs Slaw was practically in tears! So emotional. What was even better was that the current owners love her just as much.

Our Vera

Helga parked up in her Loch side pitch. The most expensive pitch of the holiday. £35 per night, but the views of Loch Lomond are to die for!

Ardlui Loch side pitch

A few aperitifs in the hotel were consumed. Mrs Slaw was still quite emotional after reconnecting with V. The rosè was flowing! The conservatory was the second choice of seating as the recommended decking with views over the Loch was sodden from the lashing down rain. Not forecast on Mrs Slaw’s app 😡 The conservatory was cold with a through draught. So Slaw asked for our table this evening to be in the bar area. As expected the carpet was a tartan check. What was confusing though was the eclectic mix of decor. Quite fitting was a wall of taxidermy. A fox, an eagle, a large fish, and a stag. There was a wall of local history with old photos of the hotel. Then, seemingly out of sync two walls of Art Deco esque with striped wallpaper and mirror plaques with leaded flowers. Make your mind up Ardlui!

Mrs Slaw perused the menu. Mussels in a white wine, cream and garlic sauce. Ooh! Her favourite ❤️ But, after last night’s debacle with Mussel-gate in Banavie, Slaw was very happy when Mrs Slaw chose the Cullen Skink. Mrs Slaw was happy. Slaw was happy. When ordering, there was a wobble though. Mrs Slaw ordered the lamb and asked for it pink. The waiter said, he hasn’t got that option. It’s either medium, medium rare or rare. Mrs Slaw tried to explain those are steak options. She wants the lamb ‘pink’. In previous establishments she’s asked for it pink and the chef has sent it crozzled because those who ask for it pink send it back when it’s pink because it’s got blood in it 🤦🏻‍♀️ Mrs Slaw quite happily eats steak tartare so when she asks for rare or pink she means it! The main course arrived. It looked good and was beautifully pink. Sadly the meat was cold though. Mrs Slaw dare not sent it back for fear of it coming back crozzled. Very strangely it was served with onion rings, field mushrooms and a tomato. Not what Mrs Slaw is used to!

Heading South from the NC500

It was a clear night last night and Mrs Slaw was stargazing through Helga’s bedroom roof light. A myriad of twinkling lights shining hues of blue and pink that lulled her to sleep. It was night 12 of the Slaw’s Scotland road trip in the motorhome taking in the NC500.

Day 13 was a lovely sunny start in Dornoch. Mrs Slaw, Prince William and the Cottingham Cowgirl enjoyed a pleasant morning constitutional to the beach. Only a 10 minute walk from the Dornoch Caravan and Camping Park. Today is tinged with sadness though as it is the day the NC500 is completed. However, there are still four days left of the holiday and the weather forecast is promising.

Dornoch beach.

The drive south from Dornoch takes you over the Dornoch Firth. There are very pretty views to the right, of mountains in the distance and to the left looking back you see the full vista of the miles and miles of sandy beaches. It’s a fairly unremarkable stretch of road along the Cromarty Firth to Dingwall. However, a very fast road compared to those of late. A crumpled shell of a car, tied up like a birthday present in police tape, had its resting place in the ditch as a reminder to other travellers. One lady did not take heed and performed a very dangerous manoeuvre behind Helga, which very nearly resulted in her making a garage out of Helga’s bedroom! Slaw gestured rudely to her out of the window as she sped past 🤬

Helga turned off the drag strip just before the Cromarty bridge and took the Moray Firth Tourist Route to Dingwall. This is the official NC500 route. Mrs Slaw had identified a picnic table icon on the map just out of Dingwall and earmarked it for a brunch stop. Sadly, although there is a very pretty picnic area at the end of Ferry Road, it’s not really suitable for large motorhomes. Back on the road to find a better place, Mrs Slaw directed Slaw to a Forestry car park. Slaw declined as he thought it was a bus stop 🤦🏻‍♀️ Helga ended up parked in the services at Tore for Slaw to make sausage and egg butties. Mrs Slaw was quite happy observing two very buff loggers attending to their flat bed trucks 😜 All too soon, Helga crossed the bridge in Inverness with a view of the castle and the NC500 was complete! Helga had covered 575 miles. The official route is 516, but Helga had a few additions to Badachro, Firemore, Sheigra etc.

Inverness, the end of the NC500

Wester Ross is definitely a place that the Slaw’s will return to. The North and East did not hold the same delights for the Slaw’s and it’s a case of ‘been there done that’; however, the elusive NC500 T-shirt in a size less than large is still to be found 😉

The final leg of the holiday has now commenced. Wending our way down through the Highlands and Lowlands and back to God’s own county, Yorkshire. Helga hugged the shores of Loch Ness, seemingly not wanting to leave this beautiful area. The route passed through Drumnadroicht; a hive of activity with bars and cafes with their outside tables full of holiday makers enjoying the sunshine. Loch Ness’ waters are a deep cobalt blue. Stare at them for a time and who knows what you will see? The Loch follows the Great Glen Fault that was formed around 430 – 390 million years ago and cuts diagonally from Fort William to Inverness. Loch Oich was the next Loch en route. The waters were so still and tranquil. The images reflected in perfect symmetry. The waters so clear, Mrs Slaw was tempted to go for a swim.

Loch Oich

Fort William is the stop for the night. The Ben Nevis Holiday Park is aptly named with superb views of the Nevis Range, including oor Ben. All facilities are open at the time of the visit. It’s a very well set out site with hardstandings, lush green grass and pretty trees affording shade. There was a conundrum though, Mrs Slaw was directed to pitch 15. Pitch 15 was duly located, with a marker for pitch 15 and also a marker for pitch 16 on the same pitch? It was also the last pitch on the row, but the leaflet showed 15 and 16 as separate?? After a bit of head scratching, Slaw decided that as the pitch was next door to 14, it must be 15. God help the poor beggar who arrives to pitch on 16. It’s seems it’s like platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross. Everyone knows it’s there, but no one can find it 🤣

Helga in the shadow of Ben Nevis

This stop was chosen for the Neptune staircase locks on the Caledonian Canal. The lady on reception told Slaw it was a 15 minute walk to the locks. She lied. It’s 30 minutes. Mrs Slaw knows because she timed it! The locks were not as photogenic as the locks at Fort Augustus according to Mrs Slaw. But there was some interesting artwork lockside. Mrs Slaw thought it was a urinal from afar 🤣🤣

Neptune’s Lock artwork

Slaw had done his research for the area and booked a table at The Moorings Hotel next to the locks. Mrs Slaw chose mussels and Prosecco and Slaw steak and San Miguel. Mrs Slaw waited, just waited, for the complaints from Slaw. It started. A disdainful look. A smacking of the lips. A sniff of the drink. Oh no, here we go! Slaw even argued with Italians about how Peroni should taste (see my blog Tre Laghi in un giorno) how will a Scots lady serving Spanish beer fare? He had his drink replaced and seemed content. Oh dear, Mrs Slaw’s food arrived. It looked magnificent. However, no receptacle was brought for the shells. Mrs Slaw had to ask. A bad sign. A few mouthfuls in and it wasn’t good. Mussels served in a white wine and cream sauce should have garlic as a flavouring in the opinion of Mrs Slaw, and believe me she is a bit of a seafood connoisseur. These were flavoured with tarragon! Yes, really 😱 In addition, the pancetta (yes, really!) was fatty and the baguette extremely dry. Mrs Slaw is an expert mussel eater. Using a shell to extricate the others. Wait! No finger bowl had been brought. Even worse. Mrs Slaw had to ask again (take cover!! The pocket rocket could be about to launch!) Luckily for the hotel, no one came to ask how the food was, and when the plates were cleared, no one asked how the food had been. Slaw ushered Mrs Slaw out very quickly and The Moorings Hotel lived for another day!

Mussels served with no shell receptacle or finger bowl.

Chocolate, cars and a cave on the NC500

Hurrah! A West Coast sunset was achieved. Slaw and the Mrs stayed on a Crofter’s campsite last night in Sheigra, deep in the Scottish Highlands, on a clockwise NC500 road trip in Helga the motorhome. So called because she is a big German girl 😜

It was a beautiful day spent mostly sunbathing and snoozing surrounded by sheep. Slaw was feeling very smug as the day was organised by him. There was nothing in the colour coordinated folder with activity notes stuffed in plastic wallets, carefully, methodically and time consumingly compiled by Mrs Slaw in the weeks prior to their NC500 road trip. Oh no, this a manly thing. A macho ‘leave it to me’. Planning is not needed. Slaw came up trumps. Mrs Slaw was happy. This makes Slaw happy. It’s so much better when Mrs Slaw is happy!

The sun disappeared over the cliffs at Sheigra. Fellow campers trooped up the hillside to get a better view; like sheep following their heaf, staying together for protection. Mrs Slaw had another glass of wine and Slaw sent the drone up. It was beautiful!

Sunset over Sheigra

Drone put away, Slaw set up his next gadgetry (he is Mr Gadget); the camera and tripod to photograph the night sky. Oh dear. Some very inconsiderate campers arrived in the dark and started to pitch their tent with their headlights on facing straight at Slaw and his camera! A lot of chuntering, muttering, huffing and puffing, stomping and swearing took place until the offending lights were extinguished. Peace resumed. Mrs Slaw wrapped herself in a blanket and lay back in a reclining camping chair with another glass of wine (well, she is on holiday 😉) The sky was superb! Layer upon layer of twinkling stars. The harder you looked the more you saw. Shooting stars flashed across the vista and the Milky Way was clearly visible. Mrs Slaw was not Rosie Probert in the darkness of the darkness to forget she was ever born. Mrs Slaw felt reborn and revitalised, and snug under the blanket with wine.

The night sky and Milky Way over Sheigra

After yesterday’s beautiful sunshine, this morning broke with a sea fret. Mrs Slaw took Prince William and the Cottingham Cowgirl for their morning constitutional up the hillside to the top of the cliff. It was slippy underfoot and Mrs Slaw daren’t let the precious pooches, aka the explorers, off their leads for fear of them jumping off the cliffs like Lemmings 😱 Even with the sea fret, the raw beauty of the Crofter’s campsite was clear to see. Wild, bare; just perfect. Leaving was very difficult. More so, as it was the last stop on the magnificent West Coast.

Sheigra Crofter’s Campsite

It was only a 20 mile drive this morning from Sheigra to Durness on the North Coast. Once on the road, Mrs Slaw drew forth the colour coordinated folder and informed Slaw of today’s activities. A visit to Cocoa Mountain and Balnakeil beach, before arriving at Sango Sands campsite, then a walk to Smoo Cave. Slaw smiled good-naturedly.

The landscape has now noticeably changed. Gone are the lochs and glens. Gone is the heather and the bracken. It is now a rocky desolate landscape. Helga arrived at Cocoa Mountain. Mrs Slaw was salivating. One ginormous, famous, hot chocolate topped with molten milk and white chocolate, and a side of chocolates later, Mrs Slaw was uber happy 🥰

Cocoa Mountain’s famous hot chocolate

It’s just a ten minute walk down to Balnakeil beach from the hot chocolate shop. It was a hairy walk though as there are no footpaths, it’s a single track road with passing places and The ‘Big Ball Rally’ came through. A dozen or so supercars ‘doing’ the NC500 in a weekend and this was one of their stops. Mrs Slaw was rather taken with the Aston Martin 🤩 Slaw got talking cameras with the camera car man, who spends his time suspended in a harness from the car taking photos of the supercars 🤪

Sango Sands campsite is extremely busy. Mrs Slaw tried to book a month ago and all electric pitches were already booked for the Saturday. We could have left it to chance for a first-come-first-served non electric pitch. It was too much of a risk for Mrs Slaw, so we booked the Sunday electric pitch. Slaw got chatting to Helga’s neighbouring motorhome driver at Sheigra last night. He had experienced negativity on his anti-clockwise route on the North Coast. He had tried to free camp in one area near Durness and was moved on by a local. He ended up free camping in a car park and was rudely awoken by cars beeping their horns at 6am. Mrs Slaw is glad she spent hours researching and booking on sites in areas of hostility!

Durness doesn’t have the allure of the West Coast for Mrs Slaw. For her, it is reminiscent of a Yorkshire East Coast holiday resort. However, Mathers Shop is worth a visit. Donnie is a dog lover and always has a treat for them. He prefers dogs to humans. A good choice! Donnie has a good selection of NC500 stickers and pin badges too. The difference is the beach. Oh my! It is simply stunning.

Durness beach

It’s a nice headland walk up to Smoo cave from Sango Sands. Local farmers have placed bales of hay along the road to prevent people from free camping on the machair. This is the first place on the NC500 we have seen anything like this. It must have been bad for the locals to take this step 😢 Smoo cave is accessed via a steep descent down the cliff side on a good path with handrails. Due to Covid, the tours aren’t taking place, but you can still access a part of the cave over a quaint wooden bridge. The colours of the stone are magnificent!

Access to the inner sanctum at Smoo Cave
The inner sanctum at Smoo Cave

Mrs Slaw made full use of the facilities at Sango Sands. Another velvet blankie washed after Prince William puked again! He will eat seaweed and sheep sh*t 🤦🏻‍♀️ Only £2 a wash here, as opposed to £4.50 at Ardmair! The shower blocks are clean and plenty of hot water. The pub is open on site and a table was booked for 6.15pm. Only two-hour slots are allowed and the Covid rules are strict; but that ensures your safety. A couple of drinks later, Slaw and the Mrs got a takeaway from the Sango Sands Oasis restaurant. Surprisingly very good. Tomorrow, the route takes us across the very top of Scotland and gin is involved!

Knockan Cragg, Ardvreck and Lochinver

Mrs Slaw was rudely awakened this morning by a gennie! Half asleep she was rattling the window blinds, peering out in all directions, trying to work out where the noise was coming from.

We are now on day 7 of our Scotland road trip, taking in the NC500. Last night we camped at Ardmair Holiday Park just north of Ullapool. It’s a big site with all facilities open. It was also full. Mrs Slaw was ready to kill whoever was running the generator before 8am! Then the generator rode past; it was a man on a motorbike. A very inconsiderate man who had run his engine, with occasional revs, for over five minutes. Mrs Slaw wished him well as he passed, with a gesticulation that could have been mistaken for an insult 🤬

Now wide awake, Mrs Slaw took Prince William and the Cottingham Cowgirl for their morning constitutional along the beach. It wasn’t much fun for their little paws as it’s pebbles and not sand. The sort of pebbles that are great for skimming and pebble art. The bay was calm and a Calmac ferry glided serenely into Ullapool from Stornaway. A brave campervanner, who had free camped in the lay-by outside of the site, was having a dip in the bay.

Ardmair

We left the site and headed north up the A835. We have three more days wending our way up the West Coast before heading east along the very top of Scotland. Our first activity today was a circular walk around Knockan Cragg. It’s an interpretive trail including sculptures and poetry, places to sit and admire the view and a treasure hunt for children. It was steep in places and an older couple behind us gave up and turned back. We continued and were rewarded with stunning views over Assynt.

Knockan Cragg

Next stop on today’s itinerary was Ardvrek Castle, keeping north on the A837. A haunting ruin on the shores of Loch Assynt. It is apparently haunted too 👻 It was the seat of the MacLeods and has not been occupied since 1672.

Ardvreck Castle

It was very busy with tourists and trying to get a photo without anyone in was tricky. It was also sad to see where people have camped near the ruins, flattened the machair and burnt the grass with fires. Prince William and the Cottingham Cowgirl had a great time exploring the ruin.

The explorers

Time for a bite to eat. We called into Lochinver and sampled the delights of the famous Lochinver Larder – pies! Slaw had lamb and Mrs Slaw the steak and ale. The short crust pastry was superb, the steak succulent and the ale very tasty in the gravy. Two more pies were duly purchased for tomorrow. All served from a converted Leyland DAF truck! Lochinver has a few shops; a butchers specialising in venison, a convenience store, gift shops and a petrol station.

Lochinver Larder

Our last stop before the campsite for tonight was Achmelvic Beach. It’s a hairy drive down from the B869. We parked in the car park (sodden with grey clay mud which is now all over the carpet in Helga 🤦🏻‍♀️) Slaw was not happy. Not with the state of the car park, but with the ‘ne’er do wells’ that were sitting in an old Hymer staring at him. If you’ve read my blog ‘To aire or not to aire’ you’ll understand. Ne’er do wells are always lurking ready to pounce! These ones were waiting for no one in the car park so they can break into Helga while we are at the beach. Bear in mind there were lots of other vehicles in the car park and none of them like Helga, lit up like a Christmas tree, flashing neon alarm lights saying ‘come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough’. So, it was a quick stroll over the machair to the beach to take some photos then back again. Wow! It is positively Maldivian with talcum powder white sand and crystal clear azure blue sea.

Achmelvic beach

Our campsite tonight is Clachtoll Beach just above Achmelvic. We received the best welcome of the whole holiday so far. Tom and Andy greeted Mrs Slaw by name and showed her round the facilities. She was giddy with excitement! An upgrade to an electric pitch! Oh joy, she can use a hairdryer and straighteners! There was visions of Chrystal Tipps making an appearance tomorrow. Also, a Wi-fi area. Even more joy! Mrs Slaw can download her new book to her kindle (a task she thought she had completed at home but obviously failed 😢) As this blog is written, the sun has set behind the clouds yet again. The famous west coast sunset alludes Slaw once more.