Apologies for this epic blog post. A few days in the highlands without wifi has again meant a fairly sizeable post to catch up on things. Buckle up…here we go…
Tuesday, June 30
These are the voyages of the Road Ship Enterprise. Our mission…to boldly go where no short and tall Tasmanian touring cyclists with imperfect navigation skills and questionable fashion sense have gone before…
Captain’s log, road date June 30, 2015. I sat on the bridge of the Road Ship Enterprise, looking out the windscreen at the world ahead that was waiting to be explored, and wishing I had a two-toned one piece jumpsuit in my wardrobe and trichorder on my belt. Number One was at the controls, masterfully steering the ship at warp speed. “Warp 2,” I instructed, “Number One, engage!” With a dramatic burst of thrust, we were off…!
(Note to reader: No, I am not suffering from delusions of grandeur by declaring myself Captain, but as it is known from witnessing Captain Kirk, Picard, Janeway and others at the helm of various Star Trek ships, the Captain doesn’t take the controls, it’s the Captain’s job to just sit around and look out the window, while Number One takes control of the ship. So Steve has that important job and I just sit up front!)
OK, I’ll leave the Star Trek references there because I think my various TV, movie and literature references so far are taking me a little too close to the edge of full blown nerdy geek territory! Not that there’s anything wrong with that! (whoops, another TV reference there…sorry Seinfeld!). With our van having Enterprise emblazoned on the side though, it was a reference just waiting to be made!
The day started for me with a leisurely 11km run along the road in Inverness, while Steve continued his slumber and snorefest. It was an overcast but warm morning, so it was really nice for a run and I happily plodded along the road, around the suburbs and in whatever direction I felt like heading. My return forced the snoozing Steve to join the land of light and movement, so we were up, breakfasted and then hit the road to drive into Inverness centre to find a bike shop to service our two-wheelers. As luck would have it, the last place on our list was happy to take them and would have them tuned up in a few days. So we went back to the van, collected the bikes and rode them back up to the shop, up a steep street that felt like no hill at all, without a load. We left them in the safe hands of Penny, who took notes on what was to be done and then we set off to have a little roam around Inverness before we hit the road.
We strolled through the town, over the bridge and saw the castle.
Then we pottered about before heading to a cafe for elevenses. We found a nice little organic cafe that had a tasty selection of elevenses fare and we settled in, Steve with his ginger beer and brownie and myself with my cup of Earl Grey and vegan chocolate cake. I’m not normally a cake eater and don’t eat it at home, so I don’t have an extensive reference system for cake quality, other than the couple of pieces I’ve had at other vegan friendly cafes we’ve discovered on this trip, but this cake today was about the best cake I’ve had, vegan or otherwise. It was amazing! The rest of the menu looked fantastic too, with some delicious sounding lunch options that I would have sampled, had we been staying. When I went to the counter to pay, I said to the man, “That’s about as good as it gets!”
“The cake was alright was it?” he asked.
“It was sensational!” I replied.
Well, he clapped his hands and spun around on the spot with a huge grin! I think he was pleased his baking expertise had been appreciated!
“Are you vegan?” he asked.
“I am indeed,” I said, “and we have nothing like this where I come from.”
“We usually have about six vegan cakes on offer but we’ve been so busy, they’ve all just gone.”
“Well,” I said, “we’ll be back in Inverness in a few days, so I’ll definitely be back and try and work my way through the menu!”
“I look forward to seeing you again,” he said.
It was another super dooper elevenses treat! Yet another note to catering and cafe establishments…we Vegies are not an inconvenience, we are an untapped goldmine! Once again, here was a little place, offering good quality, organic and vegan food options, and they were selling out! Vegies and Omnies alike can appreciate tasty, well made food, so just get with the program Tasmania!
Our attention then turned to Steve’s requirements. Steve is again in search of a radio so he can pedal and listen to The Ashes cricket, after discovering that the fancy radio he bought in Birmingham and was assured would be “perfect” for getting coverage of the cricket all around the UK, doesn’t actually pick up the cricket station at all! So that was a complete dud. Consequently, we are still radio hunting. We called into an Argos store and discovered a new form of shopping that I really hope doesn’t get traction at home, because it was like nothing I’ve experienced and I thought it was all a bit ridiculous. We went into the store to find that, despite it being a store in a shopping centre, it didn’t actually have any stock on the floor. Instead, there were a series of computer terminals and catalogues. So the system is this…go to the computer terminal, use the touch screen to search for the item you want in the various categories shown, look at all the pictures, find the item you want, write down the reference number for the item, then go and wait in line at the counter, give the reference number to the person at the counter, who will then give you a ticket with a number so you can go and stand in another line at the collection point, look at the screens and wait for your number to come up, go to the counter and collect your item! All of that, instead of just walking in and picking something up off the shelf! As it turned out, Steve asked to look at the radio he’d chosen before buying it and after being shown what it was and what it could and couldn’t do, Steve decided it wasn’t what he wanted. So the system leaves someone looking at screens and waiting in two lines and handing over tickets to various people, all to find the item isn’t what they want after all! That could have been discovered in two minutes if the item was on a shelf! I didn’t understand that form of shopping at all! I hope that system doesn’t arrive down under!
We strolled back to our four-wheeler, climbed abroad and set the coordinates for the general direction of Skye. We passed more rolling green hills, towering mountains and beautiful lochs. It also happened to be a sunny day! Hear that…a SUNNY day! It actually came out really warm (which was both nice because it was warm, but disappointing because we could have been pedalling in nice weather for a change, but weren’t), so today, if only for a day, it was a glorious summer’s day!
Along the way, we saw a sign for Rogie Falls and decided to call in for a look. It was a short walk to the falls, along a path through the forest and it was gorgeous. These falls are one of the best places to see the salmon run upstream and jump up the waterfall, but they head upstream from July to August, so unfortunately we were just a little bit too early to see the fishy acrobatics.
We walked across the bridge, through the trees and walked down to the water’s edge. We both dipped our feet in and Steve pulled a face, then I put my feet in and I pulled a face! It was freeeezing!
We walked back to the van, gathered up our lunch supplies and sat at a table under the trees. It was a lovely spot and for the first time we actually went looking for a spot in the shade! In the SHADE! Because it was SUNNY and HOT!! How simply splendid!
We rolled along, taking in the scenery and I think what struck me the most was just the sheer scale of everything. We thought the scenery had some similarities with New Zealand, but it was certainly like nothing we have at home, just the sheer size of it all – the hills, the mountains, the sky, the horizon, the lochs, everything was just so vast and huge. It was simply stunning. The size and scale also included some hills we drove up…they were doozies and we were quite glad we hadn’t tackled them on the bikes!
Our pitstop for the day was Balmacara, just three miles from the Skye bridge. We have a nice, peaceful little campsite with the huge and impressive Loch Alsh just across the road. Shortly after arriving, guess what happened? Can you guess? What’s the pattern been so far? All together now…it rained! Oh well, it was still warm, so a little precipitation could be dealt with, especially in the shelter of the Road Ship Enterprise!
Tomorrow we’ll cross the bridge and explore the Isle of Skye and I fully intend to amaze and delight Steve with my tuneless and ear curling rendition of that famous song. In fact I think I’ll start practising now, so here’s a warning, cringe worthy noise about to commence…
Speeeed bonny boooooat like a bird on the wiiiiiing, ooooover the seeeea to Skyyyyyyye…
Wednesday, July 1
Well, sadly, it has happened, I’ve had my first experience with mean, nasty, vicious, unwelcoming and unfriendly locals. This group seemed determined to make things, particularly for me, as uncomfortable as possible. I am of course, speaking of, none other than…midges! I knew about midges and we’d been told about midges and been asked if we’d been “eaten alive yet” but so far we hadn’t encountered any…until last night. Our campsite was swarming with them. They’re such wee things, teeny tiny little flying things, but man-o-man do they pack a punch when they bite! I am covered from neck to toe in red lumps and spots where they have feasted on my flesh! They may be small but boy do we feel it when they bite! They are not friendly. They are not nice. Those ornery critters are mean and persistent and down right vicious! We’ve been told that insect repellent has no effect on them and the only thing that deters them is a particular brand of moisturiser! Go figure! We are now in search of this miracle lotion!
After tumbling out of the van this morning, scratching and itching and having breakfast, while scratching and itching, we packed up, which I did one handed while scratching and itching, and set off towards the Skye Bridge, myself in the passenger seat scratching and itching and counting the new set of polka dots that had appeared on my legs, hands and neck! I was the local all-you-can-eat buffet for the McMidges clan!
As we drove along I commented again on just how big everything appeared, the enormity and vastness of the landscape is really striking. The drive over the bridge gave us spectacular views down the loch and then as we drove onto the island, things just got better. What an absolutely stunning and beautiful place. It was a clear day, so Skye just shone in all its splendour.
We drove into the town of Portree, which was a lovely little village on a hill with a harbour below. The streets were quaint and the views over the mountains and across to the cottages dotting the hillside, were gorgeous.
We left Portree and hugged the coastline, which gave us magnificent scenery with sheer cliffs, waterfalls and views across to the small islands.
Being regular viewers of the British program Grand Designs, with Kevin McCloud, we decided to go in search of a house that had appeared on the show a few years ago. A couple, Indi and Rebecca had built a turf roofed, larch clad house on Skye, that caused a bit of a stir at the time because it was a distinct departure from the traditional white stone and slate roofed houses that are the norm on the island. As we rounded a corner, the scenery began to look familiar and sure enough, just up the road we spotted it.
It was a really interesting design and we both really liked it when it was on the show. The turf roof almost nestled the house into the landscape and the views were amazing. Kevin McCloud has said in an interview, that of all the houses he’s seen while doing the show, this is his dream house and he thinks of it often. He said his idea of the perfect house is this one, along with its magnificent view. Indi and Rebecca were still there, so it obviously hadn’t been sold on and they had now opened a small cafe and gallery for Rebecca’s art work, so we popped in! We had a cuppa and a lovely chat to Indi who asked when she brought us our drinks, “Is that an Australian accent?”
“Yes,” we said.
“Which part,” she asked.
“Oh,” she smiled, “we very nearly moved to Tasmania! We lived in the Blue Mountains for a while to be closer to Bec’s family in Sydney but we’d really wanted to settle in Tassie, except for the added distance away from family. We really liked Tassie’s seasons and varied landscape and peacefulness.”
She even called it “Tassie” which showed she was familiar with the little place and one of Bec’s paintings on the wall was of a Eucalypt, with the stringy bark peeling from the trunk. It was a little reminder of Oz! She asked us where we were headed and she told us about some beautiful places to see in the North of Scotland and got out a map to show us the route. She was so nice and friendly. She also hoped we would have nice weather for the remainder of the trip.
“It’s been terrible this year!” she said. “It’s usually quite warm from March and then we have the lambing snows, where it snows for two weeks during lambing season and then it comes out warm again. This year though we haven’t had the warm, we’re only just starting to get a little bit of spring weather now.” So the feelings about the weather are not just ours and not our invention!
Just as we were leaving, Bec appeared and greeted us too. It was such a beautiful spot as well and we sat at the window of the small cafe looking out across the highlands and water and it was simply tops!
We drove on along the coast and stopped with a view across the water to sit and have some campers’ lunch.
We continued on with our leisurely tour of the island, saying G’day to the free range cows and sheep, who wandered about the island and waving to the passing drivers as we gave way to each other on the narrow, one-track roads.
So that was our day, just a peaceful circumnavigation of Skye and meeting some lovely friendly people and marvelling at some spectacular scenery. More than once I exclaimed, “Wow!” as we rounded a bend or came over a rise in the road and saw yet another magnificent mountain or sparkling loch or vast and impressive landscape. It was all just beautiful. I loved it. Skye was my sort of place. Well, I say that now, it may not feel quite like that in the middle of winter, but today, it was just magic. We’ve parked the van at a tiny and very basic, VERY basic campsite in Lochcarron, which is actually called The Wee Campsite. So we shall have another night in our “metal tent” and then continue heading further north into the highlands tomorrow, before returning to Inverness to collect the bikes. Scotland sure is giving us some magnificent scenes and experiences and being in the “wilds of Scotland” has been brilliant. Now…I just need to declare war on the armies of midges that are massing at the camp and already beginning their brutal assault on my exposed skin! Unfortunately I think I am powerless against their might and weapons of extremely sharp and bitey teeth. I surrender you small but savage barbarians! I surrender, so LEAVE ME ALONE!!!! ….Ow! They obviously ignored that plea!
While I scratch, I will sign off with a further collection of some of the scenery from the Isle of Skye.
THE BLACK MIST
Thursday, July 2
“Zone leader to Red One, come in Red One.”
“Red One receiving.”
“Status report on Target.”
“Target has exited the shower block, skin is primed, ankles exposed and is now adopting an outdoor seating position. I have a visual Zone Leader, I can take the shot.”
“Hold steady Red One. Team status?”
“Red Team in position. Gold Team in reserve. One hundred and seventy four troops standing ready.
“On my say so Red One.”
“Received Zone Leader. I still have a visual, I can take the shot.”
“One shot possible Red One, or multiple shots?”
“Multiple shots Zone Leader, many many many multiples.”
“Ready Red One. GO, GO, GO!!!”
Aaaaaaahhhhh, gerroff! Leave me alone! Just as I was about to sit down and make myself an early morning cuppa outside the van, so as not to disturb Steve’s continued slumber, the black mist descended…the swarm of midges came in on attack formation and surrounded me! I swiped and slapped and flapped my arms to no avail. I swiftly left the kettle and Trangia and made for the cab of the van. I opened the door, leapt inside and shut the door behind me, only to see that dozens of the nasty little critters had flown in with me. I slapped and swiped and then clapped my hands to try and squish as many as I could before they could sink their fangs in. They are inescapable! I got a few but they got me too, many times and I have lumps and itchy bites on my legs, arms, hands, neck and face! Grrrrrr to the midges!
When I heard Steve stir, I prepared to make my getaway. I put my hand to the door and in a burst of speed, jumped from the cab, spun around, opened the sliding door and flew into the back of the van. Then I spent some time clapping and flapping at the black mist that had followed me inside.
“We can’t have breakfast here,” I told Steve, “they’re everywhere! When you’ve had a shower, we’ll just have to drive somewhere else and have breakfast.”
So Steve flapped and swiped his way to the shower block and on his return, we jumped into the cab and set off in search of a parking space where it might be safe to venture outside to light the Trangia. We stopped down on the main road through Lochcarron, however as it was beside the Loch, we thought we were probably still in midge territory. We stepped outside to do some recognisance.
“They’re heeeeeeere,” said Steve, and promptly made for the cab once again. We continued driving and eventually stopped at the top of a hill, away from the water, but…beside trees. We tried again. We did manage to get the Trangia lit and we did get a cuppa made, just as the black mist arrived. I beat them off as I cooked my oatmeal and then fled to the safety of the cab again, where we sat and finally had some breakfast. Fair dinkum! It’s like something from a B Grade horror movie, being chased by the black mist that comes in for attack and no matter where we are and where we go, it finds us!
We eventually headed off into the highlands and to add to the swarms of midges that were following us, it was now also raining! Well, that’s what the van’s for I suppose and at least we had shelter from the rain and sanctuary from the invading midges. We drove through mountains and beside more lochs and took in more of the vast and impressive scenery. We stopped beside Loch Maree and then Slattadale, which gave us views down Loch Maree and across to the mountains. The grey sky and cloud over the mountains provided quite a mystical scene.
The village of Gairloch soon appeared and we drove into the small harbour, which looked quiet and unspoiled, with the boats sitting peacefully in the water. I love the scenes of the tiny cottages nestled into the hills and how they sit there dwarfed by the mammoth hills above them. We stopped on a hill, looking out over the mountains and had a quick elevenses in the shelter of the van.
On we went, up we went, round we went, down we went…the winding roads continued and we weaved around lochs and up and down hills, dodged oncoming cars on the narrow single-file roads and braked for sheep that appeared suddenly around corners. Highland driving at its finest! With the weather starting to clear, we were wanting to get out of the confines of the vehicle and as luck would have it, we were presented with Corrieshalloch Gorge. Steve manoeuvred the van into the car park and then took a leaf out of the “European Guide to Creative Parking” which we’re sure every motorist in the EU follows, because we’ve seen some very unique parking decisions on our travels so far. Steve edged the van into a space and then decided to just edge the wheel a little over the space beside us. Unaware that Steve had acquired a copy of the above guide, I informed him, “You’re over the line.”
“I know,” he said, “that’s so no one parks there and I’ve got more room to reverse out.”
Aaah, I see. I think that was from Chapter 4, Page 92 of The Guide!
We walked down to the gorge and looked down from the suspension bridge and it was a reeeaaally long way down! So nice to see it in all its natural glory though and not cluttered up with bungy jumping platforms, even though it would have been a prime spot for that!
The coordinates were then set for a return to Inverness. We’d had a phone call to say the bikes were ready and could be collected, so we decided to head back to the big smoke and retrieve our trusty steeds. We returned to city driving, parked the mighty van and walked up the hill to the bike shop. The weather in Inverness was about ten degrees warmer than the highlands and it was time to put on a t-shirt again! We’d hit the twenties in temperature! The bikes’ niggles had been fixed, wee problems sorted and bugs corrected and they were ready to continue the journey. One of the men who worked there asked me if we were touring and when I explained what we were doing, he asked where we were heading next.
“I think we’ll go south,” I said, “and chase some nice weather.”
“It’s been terrible here,” he said.
“Oh, well we’ve had some pretty dodgy weather so far on the trip, but the last few days have been magic,” I said.
“These have been the only three days of good weather we’ve had all year.” he said, to which I laughed. “No, I’m serious,” he continued, “it’s rained and been 10 degrees all through May and June and they’re usually our best months, but it’s been terrible this year, so these three days have been the only warm weather we’ve had. You came at the right time!”
Once again we had confirmation that our opinion of the weather we’ve faced is not simply our perspective, it’s how it is!
Our steeds were positioned in their mobile stable again and secured snuggly to the wall before we hit the road and headed for a campsite at Bunchrew. We chose a spot slightly away from the water and went on full scale midge alert. They’re here, but there’s fewer of them, so hopefully we can put up some sort of defence. Also…what did we find in the little campsite shop? A bottle of the miracle midge deterring moisturiser. I have covered myself liberally! Even if I still get bitten, I will at least have red lumps and spots all over very smooth skin! We have a picnic table next to the van, so we fired up the Trangia and had another dose of luxury of sitting at a table again to eat. Just as we finished though…pitter…patter…pitter…patter…PITTER…PATTER…PATTER…PATTER…POUR!!! Down came the rain, it poured and poured! We sought shelter in the van again and sat in our cramped little space and listened to the rain pounding on the roof of the van.
So the day was spent with some driving, some scenery admiring, some exploring, some midge fighting and finally being reunited with our trusty bikes. As we were motoring along, I felt compelled to pen yet another poem, this time on the topic of the constant and persistent midge menace! So here is another poor attempt at a literary sign-off. I give you my poem…The Midge.
The midge is a wee but ornery beast
Who looks for bare flesh on which to feast.
Oh, ho! it smirks with a glint in its eye
And with evil intent it begins to fly
towards the plump flesh of its hapless victim
who’s unaware that McMidge will soon be inflictin’
a chomp and a chew from midge dentures so mighty
prepared by midge colleague dental Doctor McBitey.
There is no escape from this well trained midge gang,
They attack with stealth and a sizeable fang.
There’s nothing to do but accept our fate,
We’re not the smart species, we’re simply midge bait!
Friday, July 3
PATTER…PATTER…PATTER…PATTER…It continued all night, pouring on the roof of the van, but I guess it was better than pouring on the little tent and at least we emerged dry this morning. The rain had cleared overnight and a mist now settled over the river, which made for a picturesque early morning view.
The bikes were settled comfortably in the van and we hit the road early to head south to Glasgow. After a few days in the highlands it was time to head to a city and a hotel because: 1. We needed wifi, 2. We needed electricity and 3. We needed to retreat from the front line and recover from the endless midge attacks.
Our first stop was to be Loch Ness. Our route took us along the banks and we stopped to stroll along the water’s edge. Regardless of its fame, it’s probably one of the prettiest lochs we’ve seen on our travels around Scotland. The trees and forests that flanked the edge and the stillness of the water created a beautiful scene. Would this beautiful, tranquil and peaceful scene suddenly be broken by thrashing and a bubbling of the water as a strange creature emerged from the depths to swim gracefully towards us and confirm the myth once and for all, purely for the benefit of two Tasmanian tourists? Would it? Would it? No! The water remained still and the loch continued to guard its secrets.
We decided to do a one hour loch cruise, to get up close and personal with this stretch of water. As we waited in line to board the boat, we got chatting to two couples who were travelling together. They were from Sydney, so we compared travel stories and chatted about the various places we’d been. Then, when we were sitting on the top deck, another couple arrived and began chatting to the Sydney foursome and it turned out this couple were from Penrith. The lady then offered to take a photo of the Sydney four and then began chatting to us and I said we were from Tassie and she told us about her enjoyable trip down there many years ago. Then she also took our photo. She was a lovely lady. It also turned out that the entire upper deck of the boat was occupied by Aussies! The cruise was great, just a slow, pleasant chug up the loch and back, and we could take in the scenery around us. The commentary told us that the loch is so big, the entire population of the world could fit in it three times over! There’s also more water in the loch than all the rivers, lakes and canals in the whole of the UK combined. It’s a pretty big puddle isn’t it! The commentary also completely debunked the whole idea of Nessie and said the most likely theory was that the sightings that have been genuine (because some have obviously been fakes) were probably sturgeon. Apparently this particular type of fish can grow to huge sizes and live for hundreds of years. The biggest one that’s been caught was twenty six feet long and two hundred and forty years old. So maybe there’s just an enormous great fish frolicking about in there somewhere and has been there for a couple of centuries, appearing every now and again for entertainment value.
After a morning of cruising and sitting peacefully on a slow moving water craft, while gazing out at serene waters and epic forests, we were obviously exhausted! Time for a lunch break. We called in to the little town of Benderloch and strolled a quarter mile down to the beach, where we perched on a bench and had lunch. While we were there, we were again amazed at the resilience of the residents of the great United Kingdom! A family walked along the path and on to the beach, three small children, dad and as we heard, Biscuit the dog, who came over and said hello to us with a wagging tail. Well, the little girl, who looked to be about five years old, was in nothing but bathers and off she went, straight into the water, leaping about and jumping and laughing. Now, the sun was shining and it was a little bit warm, but the wind was really blowing on the beach and it was a chilly wind. It wasn’t stopping her though, she was having a splendid time in the freezing cold water! Good on her! Biscuit the dog tried to join her a few times and she ran full tilt into the water, spaniel ears flapping, took a few bounds then did a swift about turn and headed back to dry land! The water temperature obviously took a bit of getting used to for a sensitive little spaniel such as her. She didn’t give up though, she sped about the beach, ears flapping, then headed back into the waves to join Rosie, as we heard the little girl called, who jumped and squealed happily as Biscuit ran towards her and then…nope too cold…headed back to the beach after a couple of brave splashes. This went on for some time and Biscuit eventually made it out to the laughing and squealing Rosie and we just sat there, watching all this happening and smiling and laughing at the theatrics of the little dog and how much fun they all seemed to be having despite it being less than perfect swimming weather!
As we neared Glasgow, we drove past Loch Lomond, so we were able to look at the famous bonny, bonny banks. I had to test my reflexes to snap a photo as we sped past in the car, trying to catch a gap between the trees to catch a picture of the loch.
After a few hours of travelling, we eventually drove into Glasgow and found our hotel, where we will have a couple of nights to hopefully catch up on those things that require wifi and electricity, before continuing our onward journey. As we drove in though, we also saw quite a few electronic signs up on the highway with weather warnings displayed. Yes…just because we’ve arrived, the Met Office has issued a “yellow warning” for strong winds, torrential rain causing disruption, hail and minor flooding! We’ve done it again! We’ll do our best to explore Glasgow a bit tomorrow, hopefully on the bikes, but we may again be stopped in our tracks by wild weather. There’s a definite pattern here! As we drove along, I looked up weather in some of the other places we’ve been or may head to eventually. The temperature in Ghent is high twenties and thirties, it’s mid-thirties in Rome and Berlin, in fact it’s 35C all week in Rome. Steve wants to be there! I hope the hot weather holds out for a few months and doesn’t go dodgy just as we arrive. For now though, we shall brave the Scottish weather, whatever that may be and happily roam and explore a new city and see what we can discover. G’day Glasgow, nice to meet you, what have you got to offer!?