Winding our way north, it’s difficult to decide what to include in the journey. The original plan was to more or less hug the east coast, so we decide to stick to the plan for now, from Seaham, hooking left through Newcastle (to avoid the toll-tunnel) and on to dip a toe in the sea at Whitley bay. We did catch a quick glimpse of ‘Rusty Rita’.
Next up Bamburgh castle and holy Island. The castle’s nice enough, having had millions spent on it’s restoration in recent years, in certain places it looks quiet modern. You can see why places like that cost a fortune to keep, sitting high up, facing the blast of the north sea, you can just about see the erosion taking place.
So far this trip we have avoided overnight parking costs, with the help of apps like ‘Wild Camping’ and ‘Camper-Contact’, plus ‘car-park’ spotting using ‘Maps.me’ we should be able to keep off the UK and Scottish campsites for most of the circuit. What we can’t always avoid is the noise from other car park users, dog walkers, other MoHo’s and teenagers with nowhere else to meet…it’s always a compromise, but it’s cheap. In Scotland, there’s an overall law that allows overnight parking and ‘camping’ just about anywhere there’s common land or land cared for by the local council, so we shouldn’t have any trouble in Scotland.
We had an afternoon pootle around Bewick-on tweed, the town that’s changed nationalities more times than any other, England & Scotland have been handing the town back and forth for centuries. A nice enough town, but perhaps it’s more affluent days are behind it. Pushing north, we did attempt Edinburgh castle, but the hordes people queuing for tickets put paid to that, we will just have to admire it from the outside, for now. As a consolation prize, we did get to park almost under the 4th rail bridge. Planning meeting 43a kicks in and we find ourselves heading (contra to the last plan), inland and end up just north of Perth. Having no wish to see Dundee or Aberdeen, we push on north up the A93 into Caingorm country. A beautiful stretch of road and country from Blairgowrie to Breamar, winding it’s way past Balmoral House, one minuet driving through forests of pine and oak and the next over rolling hills covered in heather. The landscape changing every 10 miles, reminiscent of Norway, then North Yorkshire, then Finland, add a little add a bit of Wales and you’ve just about captured it. We find Ballater and with it the beginnings of ‘The Whiskey Trail’ of north east Scotland… this is single malt territory!
We chose Glen Grant as (my) our first distillery visit, purely because I’d never heard of them. Based on the river Spay, along with heaps of other world class (well known) distillery’s, this one only charges £5 per head for a tour, with tasting of 2 whiskeys. The distillery is ancient, unfortunately now owned by an Italian company and they ship loads of it out to them too. It was unusually a nice sunny day, the distillery had some lovely grounds behind the working buildings and some (long tall stories) about the original owner stashing bottles of top notch whiskey all around his grounds in little safe boxes, ‘popping out’ on sunny afternoons for a walk around the gardens and coming home a little worse for wear. A very nice ‘personal’ tour, and a very nice bottle of 10 year old was bought for later enjoyment.
Spayside Cooperage was also just up the road, a working factory with tours, the skilled guys on the factory still floor producing and repairing American oak barrels for the whiskey industry. The next morning, the rain set in again, we seemed to be living in a cloud. Just up the road from Glen Grant distillery, ‘the woollen mill at Knockando’, who claim to have the oldest working multi-spoon-spinning machine, from 1860, originally powered by the water wheel and stream running down the side of the mill. Volunteer enthusiasts work hard on this equipment, keeping it running every day for the tourists to see. They’ve all kinds of ‘carding’ and weaving machines too, some made a century ago, others just a few decades, an interesting tour if you like Victorian machinery.
Lovely though this area is, even in the rain, we must push on, a quick visit around the transport museum and old Scottish ‘Bus’ exhibition (also in the rain) and we press on to Inverness and Loch Ness. The relentless rain finally subsided, (we read a sign that tells us “today’s rain, is tomorrow’s whiskey’) and after a sunny walk around the very pleasant town of Inverness it’s off to see if we can find Nessy.
A good few years ago, I remember seeing a TV program about a bloke who made it his life-time ambition to spot Ness3ie, Steve Feltham has been sitting here at Dores, on the banks of Loch Ness since 1991, he’s still here. The converted library/ MoHo he lives in is long past drivable, he’s got solar power, a log burner, now an official address, a council tax bill to go with it and a killer view straight down the length of Loch Ness. He seems happy enough, sitting on his porch every day looking down the Loch, producing little air-dry clay models of Nessie for tourists to buy and having a chat with anyone interested. There’s a car park next door with ample room to park up and take in the view, but there’s still no sign of Nessie.
All our sleepover spots are listed, mostly with photos in ‘My Maps’