“Look at you, you’re all relaxed. A totally different person.”
“Huh? What are you on about?”
“You, ya numpty!” As soon as we get away from Aberdeen you become a different person. You’re the chill, laid back dude I met at the beach. I like that guy.”
“Yeah, me too.”
Steph’s spot on observation comes as we drive along the A96, somewhere between Inverurie and Huntly. We’ve traveled this stretch of road together a few times in our explorations of Scotland, branching off to visit various castles and whisky distilleries. This time, however, our destination is a bit farther afield, and should be several orders of magnitude more epic – the west coast of Scotland.
For both of us this will be our first journey to the west coast, a state of affairs I regard as shameful and embarrassing – more so for Steph of course given that she’s from Scotland and the west coast is a mere four hour drive from Aberdeen. I mean, how the hell do you let that happen?!
Moving on then…..
We breeze through Fochabers, past the famous Baxters store (been there!) and suddenly I’m in virgin territory, farther north in Scotland than I’ve ever been. Ahhhhh…..my shoulders drop even more: Raw exploration of territories unknown, never knowing what dangers lye around the next bend or where your next meal will come from – this is the shit I live for man!
Steph nails a pothole, sending reverberations of metaphysical angst and ineptitude throughout our sad little VW Polo and almost spilling my Red Bull. I snap out of my Sir Ranulph Fiennes fantasy and continue to take in the new scenery as we roll into Nairn. Glancing at the map I see that Nairn appears to sit ever so slightly west of Aviemore, my previous point of western-most exploration in Scotland.
Ahhh…..virgin territo…..oh, never mind.
We find our way to the sea just in time to watch the sunset over the Moray Firth and the Black Isle, casually strolling all but alone along the soft sand beach. It’s a gorgeous scene but we can’t linger too long, not this time anyway. There is still the matter of where to pitch our tent for the night.
“Keep going west a bit? Find whatever we find?”
Not ten minutes later and we’re pulling into Delnies Wood Caravan Park, ready to relax and crash out for the night.
“Are you members of The Camping and Caravanning Club.”
“Uh, no mam.”
For my American friends, this amounts to roughly $35 for the two of us to pitch our little backpacking tent and sleep here for the night.
“The gate will be closed at 23:00 and re-open at 07:00. We cannot have any cars moving about between these hours because of the children. You understand.”
“Oh, of course…..the children and all.”
I dwell too much on the wallet raping we just received and have trouble nodding off. Of course it doesn’t help that we only have one sleeping bag and it’s a cool night, but I’ll be damned if I’m paying $600 for one in Scotland.
“Sun up on a cool sweet morning.”
My singing always has this effect on Steph, but I can’t help myself.
“Wakey, wakey baby!”
“What time is it?”
“It’s daylight time.”
“Answer the question.”
“I hate you.”
Porridge and hot chocolate down the hatch, tent packed away, Steph showered, and we’re out the gate at 07:01.
“If you had gotten up earlier with me, or skipped showering like me we could have been away on time, and not a minute late.”
It doesn’t take long and we’re at, and quickly through, Inverness. I’m sure we’ll be back this way and see the city properly some other time, but for now we’re both content to just pass through.
Just beyond Inverness we leave the A9 for the A835 and things quickly change. The scenery has abruptly morphed from the rolling hills and developed towns and villages of the east to, well, something else altogether, something which cannot readily be captured by my meager command of adjective laden sentences.
“Holy shit, pull over!”
And that, my friends, pretty well sums up the rest of the days drive. Our linear progress slows to a crawl as we stop to take photos of, gawk at and just exist in the mind blowing landscape of the Highlands. We’ve stopped looking at our watches, stopped worrying about where we have to be or what we have to do, and started just being, right here, right now.
That was our plan going into this wee trip, to not rush anything, to take however much time we need to see and do whatever the hell we want to see and do. I’m calling it the ‘not-a-plan-plan,’ and so far it’s working perfectly.
Eventually we turn off of the A835 and onto the A832, but even for a map geek like myself this information is of trivial importance. Fair enough, we are going somewhere(Gairloch, actually), but – at the risk of sounding like a dirty hippy – right now we’re all about the journey…..
And so it goes for the next umpteen miles until we finally find our way into the sedate seaside village of Gairloch. We pitch the tent at the Gairloch Caravan & Camping Holiday Park – much less expensive, and no creepy mention of “the children” – and set out for a wander.
“Do you hear that?”
“What? I don’t hear anything.”
Most, if not every, village (town, city, suburb, whatever) I’ve even been to has a persistent noise, an artificial hum of energy which never shuts off. Sometimes it’s obvious, like car traffic or heavy industry; other times it’s just a low level buzzing, perhaps a compilation of so many refrigerators, televisions, boilers and the like all running continuously. But here there is nothing. As I said, sedate.
Suddenly, without warning, an invisible plague is unleashed upon us, descending silently from the heavens like a U.S. Air Force drone strike: midges. Okay, without warning isn’t exactly true. I mean, we are in western Scotland in August, and it is approaching dusk, all of which adds up to perfect midge conditions. Oh, and the little bastards are quite visible, and really more of a nuisance than an actual plague. I guess what I’m saying is the entire first sentence of this paragraph is pretty much just bull shit, a lame excuse to drop a reference to global current events so you might all find me to be more clever and worldly. So sue me.
We tough out the midge invasion for sunset and a while beyond before finally meandering our way back to the tent, ready to rest up for tomorrows strict itinerary of going wherever the hell we want to go and doing whatever the hell we want to do whenever the hell we want to do it. Exhausting stuff I tell ya.
Per usual I am up before the sun, ready to wander a bit on my own with the camera. No singing for the wife today. Occasionally a light breeze moves by, just enough to push the midges away, but for the most part the infestation is still full on. Once I get into “camera creep” mode (what Steph calls it), I really don’t notice anything else. This is the one time when my near paranoid hyper threat assessment observation of the world is dialed down a bit. Unfortunately, I’m convinced this will one day lead to my being mugged, murdered or run over by a car, thus justifying my normal state of (paranoid) hyper vigilance.
From a photographic perspective the sunrise is nothing to write home about, which makes me feel a bit silly for having composed this daft sentence. Psychologically though, being up and out, wandering the mean streets of Gairloch since just past 04:00, alone with my thoughts – and perhaps more importantly no thoughts what so ever – the morning is perfect. It’s as if the colon of my mind – you know, the place where all the bad shit builds up – is being given the most thorough of cleansings. I’m talking the full high pressure hose and wire bristle brush colon cleansing, followed by an ass crack waxing and anal bleaching. Ahhhhh, bliss.
Hmm, I smell a future tourism ad campaign for Gairloch and the rest of the Highlands based around my colon cleansing and anal bleaching metaphor. Brilliant!
The day, and entire weekend, goes by in that weird simultaneously fast but yet slow motion way in which holidays always seen to. We stroll and wander, play in the sea, eat, drink and generally be merry. The details aren’t even that important, although I should mention that the Myrtle Bank Hotel serves up a perfect fish n chips – and has an amazing whisky selection – and the Mountain Coffee Company is a funky little café with nice (if a bit pricey) drinks and sweets. We both agree we’ll be back on future visits.
We stop nearly as much on the way back to Aberdeen as we had coming to Gairloch, taking a slightly different route and relishing the opportunity to explore a bit more of the Highlands. Reluctant as we both are to return to the daily grind of home and work we also know that soon – next weekend in fact – we’ll be loading up the Polo and heading west again. Where to you ask? Let’s just say the Skye’s the limit.
And now, a few more random, just for fun pics from the trip.