Sunday, 17 August 2014

Road to the Islands Part 5: Highs and Lows

May 2014

'What is your favourite Caravan Club Site?' is a question I am often asked. It's one that, until now, has proved impossible to answer. I like so many of them, and each for a different reason: There's Morvich, High Onn, Cirencester, Fairlight Wood, Crystal Palace, and many more besides.

Finally, I now have a firm favourite. That favourite Caravan Club Site is also the Club's most remote, most relaxed, and arguably one of its most beautiful sites, Altnaharra in Scotland. It's 20 miles to the nearest shop, and while the main 'B' road skirts the site, you'll be lucky to count more than three cars passing in an entire evening. 

 Pitches border Loch Naver ('Loch Nabhair' anns a' GhĂ idhlig) and are surrounded by Munros, Corbetts, and Grahams - rich diverse Scottish names for what in boring English we may refer to as 'mountains and hills'. Call it what you like, it's stunning. 

 An enjoyable few days was spent here, discovering the nearby clearance village, and learning a little more about The Clearances at the Strathnaver Museum in Bettyhill. It was at this museum I had a very interesting chat with a Gaelic speaker about the language and the local attitudes towards it - more on that in a later Blog Entry. 

Whenever the sun shone, I'd be out with my camera. It was almost an addiction, it all just seemed too beautiful not to capture. 

However, all good things must come to an end, and I decided to arrange a trip to take in Cape Wrath on the next leg of my journey. 

John o' Groats is well known as being the furthest popular and accessible point on mainland Britain from its Cornish cousin Land's End. The South West to North East Axis is the popular one. By far less popular, but of more interest to me, is the South East to North West Axis, Dover to Cape Wrath. I'm a Dover lad you see, so it seemed fitting to make the trip to the furthest point from my home town. 

Cape Wrath is reached by a passenger ferry and then a minibus service across MOD land. I booked my place on the trip with the minibus operator who assured me that there was ample room to park the caravan while I was on the trip, and told me that I should turn up at 1pm for my booked trip. 

The trip to Durness, nearest town to the ferry to Cape Wrath, was not a happy one. With the Airstream in tow I was stuck behind a tag-axle Buerstner motor caravan (I remember it well) driven by the kind of selfish toerag that gives leisure vehicles a bad name. For the best part of an hour, I missed the lovely scenery as I was staring up the backside of this twitty twonk's ugly bus. A queue of cars (well, about three) built up behind me and I pulled over to let them pass on the single-track road, but still Buerstner Bar-steward refused to let me pass. A rental motor caravan caught up with us. I let him pass too. He then must have lost his rag with Numpty Features as I saw the reflections of flashing lights in the Buerstner's back panel after a while. After what felt like an eternity, with my teeth gritted and my nerves frazzled, Meanie Moho Man FINALLY allowed the rental motorcaravan, and me, to pass. I think the word 'Halle - bloody - luliah' may have emitted from the base of my stomach. Loudly. 

Still, I made it to the pier in time. But there was nowhere to park the rig. There wasn't even the space to park a car - the car park was jammed full. I continued to the turning area, but had to unhitch the Airstream in order to turn it around. I blessed my Motor Mover. 

Sadly, as the turning area was on a slope, the 'van rolled back until the brake fully engaged, which in turn snapped the breakaway cable. Ugh. 

With blood pressure reaching stratospheric heights, I got the rig turned around and now wondered where I was going to park it. Meanwhile, the ferryman was sitting in his van oblivious to my plight. I banged on his door. 

'Excuse me, I'm booked on the 1pm tour. Do I have time to park my rig down the road and get back in time to get the ferry?' I asked. 

'There's no point, you won't get on.'

'No, I will, I booked in advance you see.'

'But you still won't get on.'


'Well, I can take you over, but there's only one minibus and he is absolutely overwhelmed. You see those people on the jetty on the other side of the estuary? I took them over this morning and they are still waiting. You won't get on.'

'But...but...I've booked! I've come all the way from Dover for this!'

'I feel for you, I really do. It's a disgrace and it's not good enough. We have tourists coming from far and wide and are always turning them away. It's an embarrassment, but until we get a second bus there's nothing more we can do.'

'So what shall I do?'

'Complain to Visit Scotland.This is a disgrace and it's shameful. Visit Scotland need to get this sorted out.'

My heart sank. I'd booked! But then, I had booked with someone who told me that there was plenty of room to park the rig, which there was not. I didn't want to abandon my pride and joy in a layby somewhere while I took a ferry for no reward other than waiting about on a jetty all afternoon. I sloped off. As I passed the layby at the end of the road about half a mile away, its entrance was blocked anyway by a JCB being loaded onto a lorry. This, as my Mum would say, 'put the tin hat on it.' I skulked off to the next layby, where I pulled over to have some lunch and fit my spare breakaway cable. I was disappointed, but all the signs were saying; 'Don't go'. One of the important things about travel, and about life, is to listen to the messages you're getting and change your plans accordingly. Sometimes, it just isn't meant to be, and it's obviously not mean to be for a reason. You may never know what that reason is, but it's best to just go with the flow. That's exactly what we did, and as Dougal Dog and I continued with our journey, we turned a corner in more ways than one.