This (rather long) blog is the diary of our journey north after visiting all the family and friends we could manage to meet up with. It may (or may not) interest you ! We were Badgering of course, taking our time and just enjoying the view as it were. And it will help us recall things we want to remember, with links to farm shops, campsites and the like (may help other motorhomers too …)
There are a few photos here, but lots are at : click here
We decided to spend a couple of nights at a campsite near Leek in Derbyshire, as we wanted to go across the country in order to head up through Northumberland.
As we headed up the M5 we saw signs for a Farm Shop. On the motorway. We had gone into the Waitrose in Bristol to get a few supplies, but it really wasn’t a great experience – not enough room for all the people trying to shop there and difficult to find anything we really fancied, so had done a very basic shop and hoped to find better on our travels. And this Farm Shop sign was spotted. So nothing ventured nothing gained, we turned in and parked. And it was amazing. If I had enough storage I could have bought meals for a month !! Sadly that wasn’t possible, but we got some of the best bangers we have ever had and fabulous pork chops – Gloucester Old Spot in both cases, great vegetables and the odd treat or two in the way of interesting crisps and just a little chocolate. Oh and just a couple or three bottles of wine and a couple of local beer !
So now set up for a day or three we went merrily on our way.
The decision to stay a couple of nights in Derbyshire wasn’t for exploratory purposes, it was to get some work done and also quite a lot of washing ! So it was important – nay vital – that we found somewhere that the satellite dish would connect for our Internet. This is not easy in Derbyshire, believe me. I had done some phoning around and had found, for example, a delightful looking site but it was set in an old quarry and there wasn’t a cat’s chance of getting a signal. We had settled on a Camping and Caravan Club site at Blackaw and soon found a pitch with a good view of the sky despite trees and rocky outcrops, so that was us settled for the day. We both got lots of work done, and lots of washing too (slightly marred by managing to leave three of Mark’s socks behind .. naturally none of them paired up, so he now has three odd socks). This was a pain because he hadn’t really packed enough pairs in the first place so shopping will be needed ! We had a relaxed couple of evenings with excellent food (brilliantly cooked of course) before heading on our way.
Driving in the peak district is lovely – the views are amazing but the roads are not the widest in England, and there are a lot of motorhomes around, to say nothing of lorries and more lorries. We have become unused to such heavy traffic living on Orkney.
It got near lunchtime and there was a brown sign pointing to the Yorkshire Sculpture park … and for once it actually had the distance on it (see my later complaint when we followed on near Edinburgh that didn’t !). So we followed it and found ourselves driving into the park – we parked up and had some lunch then set off round some of the areas of the park … which is enormous. It was a lovely afternoon and we really enjoyed it. So we were a bit later arriving at our next destination but that didn’t matter a scrap …
And off we went to the Beamish Museum for the day. We were a bit downhearted on arrival as the car park had about 15 coachloads disgorging their passengers, but in fact once you get in it’s so enormous you are not really aware of the people. And it is highly recommended. It’s really interesting – a very long day with lots of walking but well worth it. Our only disappointment was the fish and chips which were very highly rated on Tripadvisor and other sites. I guess they must have been having an off day – they boast that they cook the chips in beef dripping, but my guess is that it wasn’t hot enough because they tasted of grease, and the fish was desperately overcooked. So most of it ended in the bin which was a shame. It is a lovely building, all beautifully tiled and they use wood ovens, but … not for us I fear. I think it must have been a bad experience “on the day” because I know a lot of people love it !
Mark had promised me the experience of the A68 up through the Northumberland National Park – he drove down that way and assured me it was an experience. So the next day off we went to Jedburgh first – interestingly even the girl at tourist information couldn’t find much to encourage us about Jedburgh and it really isn’t the most impressive little town the in the world. But we found a couple of food shops for essential supplies and a very nice café. We decided against exploring the jail and headed on our way to the aforementioned A68. And Mark was right – it’s amazing ! The road goes up and down like a switchback with more “blind summits” than I have ever come across in my life. It was real “heart in my mouth” time as we went over them because you can’t see the road ahead and as you go over a lorry or car just appears from nowhere. Great fun. And really lovely scenery again.
We crossed the border at Carter Bar and now turned right so that we could motor up the coast, stopping at Berwick for the night. We stayed at Ord House Park – there is a bar on site, but to Mark’s disappointment it only had one beer on tap and it was one he disliked, so we retreated back to Badger for a nice craft beer bought en route. Not a park I would want to stay at in high season I suspect, very big and obviously catering to children which is great if that’s what you want but … we don’t ! We thought about staying a couple of nights but decided we would rather move on – that’s the joy of a motorhome and “no particular place to go” … you can just move on when you are not too keen on the view !
As we went past Edinburgh the next day we saw a sign for “Scotland’s Secret Bunker” … brown signs are great but I wish they would indicate how far away the place they are pointing to is ! We went off the motorway for about 10 miles looking for it, then decided to stop for lunch and try and find it on the map. Well, it wasn’t anywhere NEAR, so we gave up, had lunch (yummy things we had found at a farm shop) sitting on the beach at Kirkcaldy and went back to the motorway north in disgust. That will be done on another trip (it sounds really interesting!)
Another stopover, at Pitlochry this time, which gave us the chance to wander into town and buy some new socks for Mark. There is an all year round Christmas shop there, so we bought our now traditional baubles for each of the “children’s” hampers – well I know they are all grown up and gone but they will always be “the children” to us !!
And now it was decision time as we headed north up the A9. Were we going to turn left at Inverness or carry on up the A9 and the east coast. And we let the weather forecast decide as we had promised ourselves. And the forecast for the west coast was great so … across to Ullapool we went – and I found a campsite that sounded idyllic !
Out beyond Stac Pollaidh, a favourite climbing mountain of my father’s, there is one called Port a Bhaigh. I think poor Mark thought the single track road would go on for ever (it was only 15 miles really) but it was worth it. A delightful site, right on the sea, overlooking the Summer Isles. AND with an excellent bar/restaurant, the Am Fuaran on the other side of the road. A real bonus. Locally caught squat lobsters, scallops, langoustines. Deeeeelicious. And fish and chips for lunch the next day. A lovely place for a two night break and it’s open all year ! They do have wifi, but it only works really in the facilities area, so we were glad that Badger’s satellite was able to pick up a signal … not a totally brilliant one, especially when another van parked and put his (non internet) dish up and basically smothered ours. But the view was so lovely and we were so well settled we couldn’t be bothered to move and decided work could wait for another day. We had a lovely walk instead!
So – onward and upward. Back along the single track road and back to the main road to head up to Durness. I say “main road” but a lot is unfenced so you have to be aware that you may meet sheep at any time, lying in the road (which is nice and warm) and sunning themselves. And of course a lot of it is single track with passing places, so if you want to get north quickly I recommend sticking to the A9 !
We stopped for an espresso (yes, we even carry an espresso machine, and to relax and admire the view along the way, then stopped off at an excellent shop in Scourie for some essential supplies (we had run out of wine AND beer which was very worrying), and camped up on the top of the cliffs at the Durness site. Our neighbours were a very interesting couple from Australia who had been travelling all over Europe – the had come over and bought a cheap, small van rather than renting one, and had already been offered nearly 3 times what they paid for it ! They were heading south so we recommended the site we had come from and later heard that they went there and had loved it !
Next morning we went to the “craft village” nearby to start with, and had the joy of finding Cocoa Mountain – we recalled it had been featured on Dragon’s Den – and decided to try their hot chocolate … which was HEAVENLY. And chocolate topped croissants. Oh my word. If you are in the area do make sure you visit them !
Then we set off along the North coast, ambling gently. Our neighbours had recommended what they described as a “pottery” along the way, saying it was easy to find – and it was. And so worth finding. But no pottery this. A ceramic artist called Lotte Glob. Such such beautiful inspiring ceramics. And so sad that I just couldn’t afford them. Go and see them. … they are amazing !
We stopped to admire and photograph the magnificent Farr Stone – a Pictish rectangular slab in the churchyard in the hamlet of (guess where ?) Farr, just outside Bettyhill I find these Pictish stones totally wonderful and enjoy seeking them and their mystery out when I can.
Our plan was to take it very gently and have one more overnight in Scotland but in the end it wasn’t to be – the Caravan club site on the North Coast was closed for the season (so early to close and really annoying) and although we found another site near John ‘o Groats we decided that staying so close to the ferry was just silly so … we went down to Gills Bay and they were able to fit us on the boat and we had the calmest of calm crossings (always to Mark’s relief) and after a brief stop in Kirkwall to fill up with fuel and empty the grey water and the Thetford, we rolled back home to a pair of very happy-to-see-us cats, a mountain of post and a relaxed evening under our own roof.
What a fabulous holiday !
And now we can settle down and relax – or maybe not as we were asked to go to Switzerland for meetings the next week. Maybe after that comes the relaxation and the settling in for winter !!