Home British Summer 2012
  
 
 
 
Site Menu
Home
About Us
MagBazPictures
What is New in 2017
What was New in 2016
Countries Articles (879)
Current Travel Log
Cycling Articles (98)
Fellow Travellers (78)
Logs & Newsletters (169)
Looking Out
Motorhome Insurers (33)
Motorhoming Articles (120)
Photographs
Ramblings (48)
Readers' Comments (770)
Travellers' Websites (42)
Useful Links (64)
Search the Website
Contact Us

Photos
A Great British Summer 2012 PDF Printable Version E-mail


A GREAT BRITISH SUMMER 2012

Travels and Re-Equipment through May, June, July, August and into September.

After winter in the Greek Peloponnese we had motorhomed back, through Italy and France, for a ferry from Cherbourg to Rosslare in the Republic of Ireland. Click the following links for an account of early May in Ireland, following our return from a winter and early spring in Greece.

For this Journey, click: 14 Galleries and Slide Shows of the Great British Summer 2012

Mid-May 2012

Holyhead, Anglesey to Pontfadog, Ceiriog Valley, North Wales – 116 miles
Open all year. Small CL-type site with electricity, shower & toilet. Tel: 07974  828124. No internet (and no Vodafone signal). GPS: N 52.93941   W 3.12599

After a smooth 2-hour crossing from Dun Laoghaire (Dublin) to Holyhead on the 'Stena Explorer' fast ferry, the congestion in Holyhead came as a shock. With nowhere to stop, we could only join the busy A55 along the north coast of Wales. It was necessary to slip off onto the old A5 in search of petrol, before rejoining the dual carriageway A55, which led east over the Menai Bridge to the Welsh mainland.

Just before Chester we turned south on A483, past Wrexham, then took B4500 through the border town of Chirk and along the lovely Ceiriog Valley – an area we know well. Shortly before the village of Pontfadog (with post office/shop, garage and pub) there is a peaceful unmarked CL-type site on the right, next to some holiday cottages. We had rung owner Phil earlier, as only 'Orange' mobiles work along the Valley.

To Oswestry Camping & Caravan Club site, Knockin, Shropshire – 16 miles
Open all year. See www.campingandcaravanningclub.co.uk   €16.05(members' age concession rate) inc electricity and free WiFi. N 52.78309Ί   W 2.94137Ί

By lunchtime Phil had not called by (as promised), we couldn't phone him and it began to rain. Cancelling a planned cycle ride, we decided to move on to a site with phone signal and internet. So we drove back through Chirk, then south on A5 past the market town of Oswestry to an excellent C&CC site (on the right between Knockin and Nesscliffe).

We were soon welcomed by Alan & Gail and re-enrolled as members. Non-members are accepted but pay an extra £7.10 per night, so it's worth the annual membership fee of £40 if spending time in the UK.

Using the free internet, we caught up with emails and phone calls and settled into a period of 'arrangements'. Luckily, it was Friday – the day the fish & chip van calls at teatime. Recommended! We also made good use of the laundry and the book swap shelves.

To Wingfield Arms Pub/Camping, Shrewsbury, Shropshire – 6 miles
Open all year. €17.50 inc elec. No internet. N 52.73073Ί   W 2.84200Ί

We moved on just 5 miles along A5 towards Shrewsbury, then left on Holyhead Road (signed Montford Bridge). Less than a mile along, on the right after a short bridge over the River Severn, is the Wingfield Arms pub/restaurant/campsite where we had arranged to meet old friends, Mike & Flo, for Sunday Lunch. The pub proved to be a good choice, though we can't say the same for the attached campsite, with very basic facilities.

The Receptionist for the campsite greeted us with 'You didn't say it was an RV, the fee for those is £22 a night'. We reminded her that when we booked by phone (and paid in advance), Margaret had specifically asked for hard standing and stressed that we had a heavy motorhome, 8 metres long. 'You should have said it was an RV' came the reply! 'Perhaps you should have asked, if you discriminate against them' we answered, asking why we should pay £4.50 a night extra because we had an American motorhome. 'They use more electricity, with heating and air-con'. What, both at once?! It certainly wasn't hot enough to use the air-con and, if it turned chilly, we would use a small fan heater, just like any other van or caravan might. Only when we threatened to leave was the surcharge lifted 'as a favour, on this occasion'. There won't be another – next time we'll meet from the much friendlier Club site near Oswestry!

However, the pub (under a different management) had excellent food with a Sunday Lunch Carvery that was generous and very tasty. It was great to catch up with former motorhomers Mike & Flo, now settled in Shrewsbury. We reminisced at length, with good memories of many a winter together in the Greek Peloponnese, at Camping Aginara Beach and Camping Ionion Beach.

To Briarfields Touring Park, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire – 100 miles
Open all year. See: http://www.briarfields.net/page2.htm.  ACSI off-season card €16 or £14, inc electricity and free WiFi. N 51.89471Ί   W 2.13408Ί

As usual Scott & Jo at Briarfields, along with Darren & Martin, the Motorhome Medics less than a mile away, made Cheltenham an excellent base for all the work we had planned to do. Indeed, they made the work possible and Martin made a major contribution at a key stage in one of our projects. Buses into Cheltenham, Gloucester or even Oxford run past the campsite gate – free with a Senior Bus Pass! It's a short walk from camp to a good Harvester restaurant, B&Q or Asda and we know our way round the area for any other shops needed. Over the years, Cheltenham has become our UK base and 'home from home'.

We had a number of aims, all achieved during a 3-week stay. The 1991 2-berth Compass Rallye caravan, which had faithfully and truly followed our Sprinter van some 6,600 miles (10560 km), almost the length of Norway and back through Sweden during the summer of 2011, had given us something of a taste for that way of life. The search for an update led us to Golden Castle Caravans, not a couple of miles from Briarfields, where we chose an ideal replacement: a 2001 2-berth Bailey Ranger caravan, which is literally as-good-as-new.

The only problem when we used our white Mercedes Sprinter van to tow the old caravan to Norway last summer had been the negative reaction of some campsite managers in England, to whom a White Van = a commercial vehicle = possible gypsies (although that latter word was only used after prolonged questioning). We had also checked the situation in France and Ireland as we passed through recently in the motorhome and found a similar tendency there. Explaining that we weren't 'gypsies' but 'travellers' seemed to make the situation worse!

We thought of replacing the Sprinter van, retrieved from winter storage, with a conventional towing vehicle, perhaps a Land Rover. But no other vehicle could replace the Sprinter as a tower (of strength), bike shed, store, workshop, changing room and, as a last resort, a place in which to sleep and cook. Darren of the Medics suggested that we turn it into a campervan, which would retain and improve all its uses and make it acceptable to campsites with racist tendencies.

Bearing in mind the new DVLA definition - that a campervan, motorcaravan or motorhome is one if it looks like one – Medic Martin (ably assisted by ParaMedic Barry) fitted rear windows, an awning at the side (which we collected from Marquis Motorhomes Service Dept at Tewkesbury) and a bike rack on the rear door, which will free up the interior when needed.

As well as buying a list of accessories for the new caravan, we dropped into PC World to replace our printer/copier and were tempted by a Kindle, which is proving a great addition to our equipment – though when either of us will have time to read the complete works of Shakespeare ...?

June 2012

The site became busy as our stay extended over the Diamond Jubilation and school half-term. As good Republicans, we avoided the camp 'Street Party' (complete with Karaoke) by Sprinting up to North Wales for the first weekend of June to stay with an old friend, Angela, at the Slate Mine in Glyn Ceiriog. With her TV beyond repair, we escaped watching the watery Royal Flotilla on the Thames. Instead, we enjoyed walking Holly (black Labrador), playing Scrabble round the Aga and feasting on a take-away from Chirk Tandoori. On our way back we called on Mike & Flo in Shrewsbury, donating our old laptop and printer to Mike's Computer Corner at the community project.

Back in Cheltenham we retrieved the old Compass caravan from its storage on a farm near Bishop's Cleeve (Store4Caravans). The Medics and Briarfields gave us the time and space needed to remove all the fitments and accessories before trading it in, while Golden Castle's salesman, Evans Love, made a thorough job of preparing the Bailey for its long and winding road. Evans told us that when his brother Justin was married, it was featured in the local paper. 'Justin Love ...'!

At long last we were ready to take to the road. The Flair motorhome, which had once again given us shelter for several months and safely carried us 2,000 miles (3200 km) via France, Germany, Switzerland and Italy to a winter in Greece, then home again for another 2,500 miles (4000 km) through Italy, France, Ireland and Wales, was left with the Medics for some TLC and a service (of thanks).

Issues relating to Margaret's mother's estate (one year on since she died aged 96 in a rest home near Blackpool), problems with our own house in Huddersfield, and a desire to meet Brian, an old friend living on the North York Moors near Pickering, resulted in a route zigzagging north with our new improved Sprinter and Bailey. We had joined both the Caravan Club and the Camping & Caravanning Club, for a wide range of sites and CLs.

To Mt Pleasant Farm, Wood Nook, Honley, W Yorks – 167 miles
Open all year. Caravan Club CL (under Holmfirth). £10 inc 10-amp electricity. No facilities except tap and waste disposal. No WiFi.

The first long journey towing the Bailey caravan went well. Mostly motorway (M5, M42, M1) as far as Barnsley, then west through Holmfirth and Honley, both busy with traffic lights and road works. The farm is on road B6108 between Honley and Meltham, with an hourly bus passing to either town. We settled on the hard standing behind Mrs Oddy's house, in preference to the adjacent field.

Peter & Ruth entertained us at their Huddersfield home the following evening, with a splendid Chinese Banquet for Four (which would easily feed double that number) and good conversation into the early hours. Barry and Peter were colleagues for more years than either care to remember and they have remained staunch friends.

Over a couple of very wet days we spent more time in Huddersfield, with the agent managing the rental of our former home there, as well as browsing the excellent Oxfam bookshop. We also visited Holmfirth, with its wonderful old ironmongers and Ivy's Cafe, straight out of 'Last of the Summer Wine'. Near the village of Shepley, in the tiny accessory shop at Goodalls Caravans, we found good advice, a spare Whale water pump and the friendliness for which Yorkshire (Barry's native county) is famous.

To Beechwood Stables, Thornton-Cleveleys, Lancs – 74 miles
Open all year. See www.beechwoodstables.com. Caravan Club CL (under Poulton-le-Fylde). £12.50 inc 10-amp electricity. Free showers. Free WiFi.

With better weather, sunny and breezy, we had a pleasant Sunday morning , driving across the Pennines on the M62 into Margaret's native county.

At the former Beechwood Stables, Dave Miller has created an excellent CL. Each hard standing pitch has its own tap and waste water drain, and there is also a grassy field though this was waterlogged. The site is opposite a Garden Centre with a good cafe and buses run past the end of the lane into Blackpool, Poulton, Cleveleys or Fleetwood – all Margaret's home turf, being a 'Sand-Grownun'  (born in Cleveleys).

An appointment with Autographix in Poulton resulted in beautiful blue and grey external graphics on the Sprinter. Many thanks to Tony Bolton and his son Ian for a very professional job - and for proving that Lancashire folk are just as friendly as those in the Republic of Yorkshire! New wheel trims completed the Sprinter's transformation into a campervan until time and opportunity allow us to tackle the interior.

More shopping resulted in more screwing and glueing in the caravan: a knife rack, toothbrush holder, mirror, waste bin, CO and smoke alarms ... it's beginning to look like home. Our washing was done at Windmill Laundry (who also dry-cleaned the caravan curtains), while we enjoyed prize-winning haddock & chips at nearby Seniors.  

Margaret also spent time with her brother, as well as the agent and solicitor handling their mother's estate.  

Whilst at Thornton we Sprinted over to Leyland, home to the shop and workshop of Paul Hewitt, the excellent engineer who made our touring bicycles some five years ago. We were able to report that the wheels, like our stories, still ran true. All we needed was new brake blocks – perhaps we should just keep going!

On our final day the rain turned into a monsoon causing flooding in inland Lancashire and Yorkshire, not to mention the adjacent camping field. Sadly, this caused havoc with the afternoon arrival of the Olympic Torch in Blackpool – the first time that torch arrangements were cancelled!

To The White Swan Pub/Camping, Newton-on-Rawcliffe, Pickering, N Yorks – 143 miles
Open 1 March-31 Oct. www.newtonwhiteswan.co.uk . Private campsite behind pub/restaurant. £16 inc 10-amp electricity and free showers. No laundry, no WiFi (and no Vodafone signal).

The deluge had eased though it was still very windy. We took the trans-Pennine M62 beyond Leeds, then past York on A64. The annual Cyclists Touring Club York Rally was taking place on the Racecourse and we might have joined them if the weather had not been so awful. Too muddy to camp, too windy to ride, too wet to enjoy. On via Malton and Pickering, then north up to the pub in Newton, opposite the village green. The grassy site was almost full but we had booked ahead (essential if you want one of only 6 hook-ups). There are no shops in Newton, though the tea-shop next to the White Swan sells eggs and we can recommend the pub's evening meals (especially home-made steak and wine pie with chips and veg).

We had come to this corner of the North York Moors to visit another old friend, who lives just beyond the village. Brian gave us a memorable experience next day, when he played with the Bilsdale Silver Band at a summer fete, held in the grounds of Bransdale Lodge, to raise money for the local school, church and air ambulance. The Lodge lies at the head of a closed loop road in the vast, remote and hauntingly empty Bransdale. We enjoyed the music, the BBQ and the cake stall – and strolled down to visit the old stone church while the children's races took place. The lovely day continued with a visit to the home of Brian & Pat's 6-week old grandson, Sweet Baby James, followed by Pat's chicken stir fry for the whole family.

Brian also provided use of the internet and washing machine, while Barry cycled along with him to his allotment – source of jam and chutney and a good exchange for our Greek marmalade. Thanks again Brian for all that.

On our last day we drove the Sprinter (minus caravan but with bikes) through Pickering and Helmsley to the North York Moors Visitor Centre, near the top of Sutton Bank high on the A170. Like the car parks in both those towns, parking at the Visitor Centre was an expensive Pay & Display (£4 for over 2 hrs – overnight not allowed). After a picnic lunch (though there is a cafe), we cycled a towards Osmotherley along the ridge track that is part of the Cleveland Way, through forest and out onto the open moorland at over 1,000 ft. Marvellously empty, with never a walker or cyclist to be seen. We met only sheep and a lone Curlew, swooping low and emitting warning calls. The Visitor Centre bird tables attracted a variety of tits and finches, as well as pretty Siskins.

On the way back to Newton we checked out 2 campsites near Helmsley. The private 'Wrens of Ryedale' in Beadlam had space at £17 (no internet), while a CL with facilities in nearby Nawton was £5 less.  

To Cherry Tree Park, Nawton, Helmsley, N Yorks – 14 miles
Open all year. Camping & Caravanning Club CL (under Helmsley). £12 inc 10-amp electricity (and hot water in kitchen). Coin-op shower. No WiFi (nearest in Kirbymoorside Library).

With Sprinter and Bailey descending towards Pickering we met Brian, valiantly cycling home from band practice in a downpour, his tenor horn case on his back! It was a brief farewell, parked on the narrow road. A motorbike anxiously stopped, fearing an accident had occurred when they saw a cycle laid on the verge. Thankfully not.

Just as you enter the village of Nawton (east of Helmsley), turn left down Station Road at the campsite sign. The site is on a large field on the left, after Station Cottage and just before Cherry Tree Barn. We settled in, with the whole place to ourselves, and paid the friendly  farmer, who lives at the Barn.

This was a good base for further exploration of the Moors. On a wet afternoon we drove over Sutton Bank - a route that does not allow caravans on the 25% (or 1 in 4) descent - to Thirsk. Parking in the central market place is free for the first hour and there is also a large Tesco supermarket/fuel station opposite Lidl. On the return journey we made a scenic detour to see Byland Abbey (English Heritage site with entry fee, closed Tues and Weds). Then up to the free car park above High Kilburn, from which we climbed 151 strenuous steps to look down on the White Horse cut into the precipitous hillside by a 19thC schoolmaster and his pupils. The view over the Vale of York is stunning. We drove on, up the steep narrow road past the N Yorks Gliding Club HQ, rejoining the A170 at the top of Sutton Bank. Another minor road took us steeply down past Rievaulx Abbey and into Helmsley, where we picked up some well earned fish & chips.

Next day came more heavy showers – and a motorhome that got stuck on the soft field and had to be towed into place by Farmer Sleightholme (he has a nearby village named after him) and his tractor. We had a 20-mile circular cycle ride, south past Nunnington Hall (National Trust), a 17thC manor house and gardens on the banks of the River Rye, by which time we were soaked. We dried out as we climbed the hill into Hovingham, where we took coffee in the bakery tea rooms before returning via Slingsby (past a C&CC site), East Ness, West Ness and Wombleton. Home for lunch, just before the next downpour.

It's good having time in the caravan to read, sew or bake, without the distraction of internet or TV. We do watch an occasional DVD on the laptop – currently working through the 6-film set from Ireland. So far we've seen 'Cromwell' and 'Curious Journey' (about the 1916 Easter Rising).

A second cycle ride from the campsite was a 16-mile loop through the quiet hills. It took us through Kirbymoorside to Gillamoor (where a long remembered tea shop had sadly gone), then up Bransdale, over a cattle grid and onto the sheep-grazed moors. We turned round when rain threatened, descending via Fadmoor. This has been Britain's wettest June since records began (with a similar report from Sweden), while friends in Greece and Hungary are experiencing extreme heat waves, with temperatures in the high 30s C. After lunch at the campsite, we drove back through heavy rain into Kirbymoorside to drop a couple of items in at the charity shop we'd noticed, raising money for Children's Hospices.

July 2012

To Brown Moor Caravan Club Site, Hawes, N Yorks – 85 miles
Open 18 March-2 January. See www.caravanclub.co.uk. Members only Club site. £18.80 inc electricity and showers etc. WiFi £5 for 5 hours total (valid 12 months). No Vodafone signal!

On a wet Sunday morning we watched the farmer tow the neighbouring motorhome off the sodden field onto the lane, then it was our turn for the tower to be towed! Thankfully we were soon on terra firma, resolved not to use grass sites again this 'summer'.

With A170 to Thirsk closed to caravans over Sutton Bank, we had to take a longer route: north from Helmsley up Bilsdale to Stokesley, then southwest on A172 and A684 via Northallerton. Just past Morton-on-Swale, we stopped to lunch in a layby after a bridge over the River Swale. The rain stopped and we looked forward to an easy drive along the 684 to Hawes. This was not to be!

At the A1 crossing we found the onward A684 to Bedale closed by road works, with no advance warning and no diversion signed. Barry turned round with difficulty, opposite a garden centre. The SatNav was totally confused and we used the road atlas to find an alternative minor road, south to Londonderry and across the A1 to Exelby. Here we met a long traffic jam caused by a serious road accident, with police and a crane at work! Cars easily turned round and left, we could not. Half an hour later the road was clear, we headed for Bedale but found access to the 684 again blocked by road works! At least a diversion was indicated – up the A1 to Catterick, which we could have taken earlier had we known. These are the joys of travel!

We finally circled back to join the A684 at Leyburn, via Catterick Garrison and a back road through Barden and Bellerby. The last leg of the journey was our reward: west into the Yorkshire Dales National Park, through Aysgarth and into Hawes in Wensleydale - those green-remembered hills, to misquote A E Housman (and Dennis Potter). Entering Hawes, turn right on the minor road for Hardraw and the large Caravan Club camp is on the right after less than half a mile. The site was almost full but we'd booked a place and were pleased to see the pitches are all hard standing. There are the usual excellent Club facilities and the WiFi code allows you to log in and out at will, on more than one laptop (though not both at once!), until the total time has been used.

The first morning was drizzly but very warm: time to catch up with laundry and internet. After lunch it was a 10-minute walk into Hawes, one of England's highest market towns at 860 ft/260 m, on the Pennine Way and the River Ure. Market day is Tuesday. We made for the Wensleydale Creamery (www.wensleydale.co.uk), which was saved from closure in the 1930s and has developed into a major tourist attraction, with shops, cafe, museum and viewing gallery. We skipped the museum (with entry fee) but did enjoy free-sampling the many varieties in the specialist shop. Cheese has been made in Wensleydale since 1150 and they are good at it! We bought 4 wedges - Wensleydale with Cranberries, Wensleydale Blue, Coverdale, Double Gloucester with chives and onion. If only the caravan fridge was bigger!

We also looked round the intriguing rope-making shop and factory of Outhwaite & Son, established in 1905. It was fascinating to watch both the machinery and a skilled ropemaker at work producing bell pulls, banister ropes, dog leads, equestrian ropes etc, and we were only sorry that we didn't need to buy any of these at present. The Ropery is next to the Visitor Centre and Dales Countryside Museum, housed in the former Hawes Station.

Another good find was a pair of walking boots for Margaret, in a sale at Three Peaks outdoor shop on the main street. These were put to good use the next morning, when we tramped along part of the Pennine Way to Hardraw, meeting only sheep. It was actually warm and dry! You can pay to pass through the village pub and walk to Hardraw Force waterfall, but we thought the path would be dangerously slippery and we've done that a time or two before. Instead, Cart House Tearoom (open March-November, www.carthousehardraw.co.uk)  provided excellent coffee and home baking. The Old Hall campsite behind the cafe is only suited to tents or small campervans and has no electricity. We returned to Hawes on well marked footpaths, climbing up to Simonstone (where we actually got a Vodafone signal and made contact with friend Dan in Scotland), then down through Sedbusk. The farmer we met was bemoaning the rain, as his sheep were too damp to shear and the hay too wet to mow.

Though we don't generally like busy campsites, we really enjoyed our short stay at Hawes – the village, the moorland walk and the good internet connection. Not least, we caught up with a good deal of writing, sending a 'Before and After' circular to friends and updating this log.  

To Moffat Camping & Caravan Club Site, Scotland – 85 miles
Open all year. See www.campingandcaravanningclub.co.uk. Club site (non-members welcome for extra fee). £11.25 inc electricity and showers etc (member Age Concession rate and current special offer.) WiFi £2 for 24 continuous hrs or £10 for 7 days.

We left Hawes on another drizzly morning, heading north over the Pennines into Cumbria along the B6259 to Kirkby Stephen. Saw a delightful red squirrel running along the road near Outhgill. From Brough we took the A66 along the Eden Valley, joining M6 at junction 40 near Penrith. By lunchtime we were past Carlisle and over the Scottish border, taking a break at Gretna services.

About 30 miles into Scotland, we turned off the motorway (A74M) at exit 15 for Moffat, a compact market town less than 2 miles away, tucked into the hills of the Scottish Lowlands. The quiet campsite is just through the town centre, signed right from A708.

During a short stay at Moffat we walked into and around the centre, exploring the narrow back streets of single end houses. Outside the sheltered housing for ex-RAF members, a friendly 85-year-old told us that he could trace his family living in Moffat back to 1750. Earlier records were lost in the '45 Rebellion.

The Co-op supermarket (with excellent local strawberries) is literally 5 minutes' walk from the campsite, next to the tourist-oriented Moffat Mill Shop & Cafe, busy with coach parties. Other shops and post office are on the High Street, along with a couple of hotels offering discount meals for campers. This is serious sheep country, with a statue of a Ram outside the town hall and an annual sheep race in August! Market day is Monday and Friday, plus a monthly Farmers' Market. We might have stayed longer outside the monsoon season!

To Luss Camping & Caravan Club Site, Loch Lomond, Scotland – 99 miles
Open 29 March-5 Nov. See www.campingandcaravanningclub.co.uk. Members only Club site. £12.97 inc electricity and showers etc (member Age Concession rate and current special offer.) WiFi £2 for 24 continuous hrs or £10 for 7 days.

Returning 2 miles from Moffat to A74(M), it was north for Glasgow on another showery morning. The motorway took us slowly round the busy city to Erskine Bridge, where we crossed the Clyde and continued north on A82. This dual carriageway bypasses Dumbarton and reaches the foot of Loch Lomond at Balloch. The road narrowed for the final 8 miles along the west side of the Loch to the conservation village of Luss, where our campsite was signed on the right, tucked behind the Lodge Hotel on the shores of the Loch.

We'd arranged to meet our good friend Dan at this site and found him already settled on the next pitch. Soon we were sitting in his motorhome, catching up, eating pizza and salad, making plans and watching an excellent film (Tarantino's 'Inglourious Basterds'). The Hotel put on a 10-minute firework display at 10 pm, clearly seen through the roof light. It was quite a welcome!

Sadly, the 'Holiday Services Team' at this 'Friendly Club' site were not so welcoming, forcing us to move to a boggy midge-ridden pitch when we extended our stay.

It was a 5-minute walk into the village, the seat of the Colquhouns who were holding a Clan Gathering to coincide with the Luss Highland Games. However, the games were cancelled due to the waterlogged ground (this was the weekend of the sodden British Grand Prix at Silverstone.) A few men strolled about in kilts and a skirl of pipes came from the church, where a wedding was under way. The neat rows of cottages were built by the Laird about 150 years ago, to house workers in the mills and slate quarries.

A third of the way up Loch Lomond and easily accessible from Glasgow, the once pretty model village is now overrun with day-trippers. It offers them a Visitor Centre, one store/post office, numerous souvenir shops and cafes, and boat trips from the Pier. It was also the setting for a popular Scottish TV soap 'Take the High Road', the title taken from Andrew Lang's well known song 'Bonnie bonnie banks o' Loch Lomond' (our version: 'Soggy soggy banks o'Loch Lomond'). Written after the 1745 rebellion, it is about 2 Jacobite Highlanders in Carlisle jail: one to be executed (he'll take the low road – and be in Scotland first) and one to be released (the high road).

The Loch, with the largest surface area of any British lake, is set in rich agricultural land, studded with islands at this southern end. Linking the lowlands to the highlands, it provided a route between settlements long before roads were made. There are early archaeological remains on the islands and shores, and Luss village church is dedicated to St Kessog, an Irish missionary who brought Christianity to the area, settling on the island of Inchtavannach. His body was embalmed with sweet herbs, giving rise to the village name: Gaelic Lus = Herb. The present stone church dates from 1875 but the graveyard is much older and we found the two 7th or 8th century slabs with simple crosses near the gate and an 11th century Viking hogback tombstone.

The rain barely stopped during our 5-day stay. The happiest campsite residents were the ducks, swans and oyster catchers, all of which had young broods. Our neighbours made the mistake of feeding the swans, who then became quite a nuisance, banging on the caravan windows with their beaks and hissing. The other pest was the infamous Highland Biting Midge, Culicoides impunctatus (or Meanbh-chuileag – Biting Fly – in Gaelic), thriving in the warm damp conditions. They are small enough to get through mosquito mesh! 'How I hate these Scotch midgets' complained a Dutch camper!

It was too wet to explore on foot or by bicycle, though a variety of Luss Village Walks are signposted and the West Loch Lomond Cycling Route from Balloch to Tarbet (27 km or 16.5 miles) runs past the campsite. See www.lochlomond-trossachs.org for more on this National Park. The A82 continues north for 9 miles, past Inverbeg (where there is a hotel with take-away fish & chips) to Tarbet. That name indicates a place where boats could be dragged from one waterway to another: in this case for 2 miles to Loch Long, giving access to the sea. From Tarbet onwards, the A82 is much narrower, following the Old Military Road to Crianlarich. The very minor road on the east side of Loch Lomond only goes half way up, then below Ben Lomond becomes the West Highland Way long-distance footpath to Fort William.

On a wet day we drove with Dan through Tarbet, past the north end of Loch Lomond for lunch at the famous Drovers' Inn at Inverarnan, about 17 miles from Luss. This genuine stone hostelry dates from 1705, claiming 'Over 300 years of hospitality'. With kilted bearded barmen, burning fire, original dark beams and smoke-blackened walls, it had a delightfully authentic atmosphere. The several rooms were stuffed with Victoriana: sepia photos, stuffed birds, animal trophies and heavy furniture. The food was excellent, ranging from full breakfasts to toasted pannini to our choice, Angus Steak and Guinness pie, served with rich gravy and plenty of fresh vegetables. You can also spend the night here, up a creaky flight of stairs. 'Haste Ye Back' said the sign.

Another good meal was cooked in the caravan, on our wedding anniversary: stuffed chicken breasts wrapped in bacon served with red wine sauce and pasta, Wensleydale Blue cheese and biscuits, and a box of Lily O'Briens Dessert Chocolates from Ireland. It's only once a year after all!

On yet another drizzly day we took Dan into Dumbarton, 15 miles south. We began by parking (free) at the Castle at the foot of Dumbarton Rock, which guards the north bank of the Firth of Clyde. We decided against entering to climb to the top of the Rock (£3.60 each for over 60's - and over 500 steps), though there must be a good view down river of the far shore and distant hills, while up the Vale of Leven lie Loch Lomond and the Highlands beyond.

We learnt that the present Castle can't be dated, as bits have been added and removed every century. The hilltop, a natural strongpoint, had been inhabited long before the existing castle was built. Legend has it that St Patrick was born at Kilpatrick at the foot of Dumbarton Rock. Kilpatrick was also the western end of the Antonine Wall, c 144 AD, erected by the Romans to contain the barbaric Scots. Built of earth and sod, it held for about 50 years until it was abandoned in favour of the stronger line of Hadrian's Wall, built of quarried stone to the south, which remained the northern outpost of their empire.

Dunbreaton (Fortress of the Britons) became the capital of the ancient Celtic Kingdom of Strathclyde, stretching from Loch Lomond deep into Cumberland. Savage Norse raiders attacked the castle itself in 877, took it and ravaged the land. Arkil of Northumbria settled there and built a stronghold in 1070, escaping Norman pacification of the north of England which left that area a desert. During the 11th C, the remains of Strathclyde, including Dumbarton and its castle, became part of a unified Scottish kingdom under Malcolm II.

As an essential stronghold in the west, like Edinburgh in the east, Dumbarton castle was gradually strengthened. William Wallace was imprisoned here before his execution in London. From here also, the 6-year-old Mary, Queen of Scots, sailed to France in 1548. Dumbarton and Edinburgh were her last strongholds until Dumbarton fell into the hands of her enemies in 1571, sealing her fate. It played a part in the Civil War, when it was in Parliamentary hands, and saw battle again after the Restoration. After the 1745 rebellion many Jacobites were held here on their way to trial in London, Dumbarton, like much of the Lowlands, being strongly anti-Jacobite. A long history then, though sadly the Leven estuary, draining Loch Lomond and the Vale of Leven, is now a place with poor housing and the detritus of dead industry.

At the very foot of Dumbarton Rock across the Clyde lie the great shipyards from which the merchant navy and the Royal Navy and ships of half the world once slid quietly down and into the sea. Now those yards are deserted and rusting and the only surviving crane, The Titan, has been turned into 'Scotland's Most Unique Attraction', complete with Visitor Centre and a lift to the top. 'Relive Clydebank's proud shipbuilding past, only 15 mins from the Riverside Museum, open May-Oct, Friday to Monday. £4.95, Seniors £3.50.' Visit www.titanclydebank.com (we didn't).

We all restocked at the shopping centre in Dumbarton (Asda, Morrisons, McDonalds, etc) and had a good lunch in the nearby 'Frankie & Bennys' superior American diner.

Thanks to Dan for the loan of 'The Lonely Lands' by Tom Atkinson (Luath Press, 1995), one of this local author's series of thoroughly insightful guidebooks to Scotland, the source of much of the above historical information. 

To Oban Camping & Caravan Club Site, Barcaldine by Connel, Scotland – 71 miles

Open 29 March-5 Nov. See www.campingandcaravanningclub.co.uk. Club site (non-members welcome for extra fee). £13.75 inc electricity and showers etc (member Age Concession rate). WiFi £2 for 24 continuous hrs or £10 for 7 days.

From Luss we drove north on A82 to Tarbet (after which that road becomes narrow and awkward). Turning west on A83, we skirted the top of Loch Long (sea level) before climbing gradually northwest through Argyll Forest Park, past a Forestry Commission campsite. Dan's motorhome was waiting at the busy Rest and Be Thankful car park (17 miles from Luss, altitude 870 ft/264 m). Attempting to join him, we discovered the limitations of caravan parking and reversing on a hillside. It was the first time we'd had to unhitch to turn round. Enough said. We took our coffee break a little further along in a nice empty level layby!

The onward road descended gently through Glen Kinglas to sea level, meeting Loch Fyne by a popular Oyster Bar and Fish Shop at 24 miles. It was 8 beautiful miles round the head of the Loch to the Royal Burgh of Inverary, where we turned north on A819 up Glen Ary. This road rose to 675 ft/205 m at 40 miles, then eased its way down to the head of Loch Awe.

At 46 miles we turned left on the wider A85, which parallels the railway round the top of the Loch, past Cruachan Power Station at 52 miles. Here you can stop at Hollow Mountain Cafe/Visitor Centre and take a tour of the hydro-electric works inside the hillside. We lunched in a layby a mile later, then continued alongside the River Awe up the Pass of Brander, Ben Cruachan rising out of the mist on our right (wonderful names, redolent of the Highlands).

After Taynuilt, with historic iron works on Loch Etive, we reached Connel Bridge at 64 miles, where Loch Etive meets the Firth of Lorne. The A85 runs south from here to Oban but we crossed the bridge to North Connel and continued up A828. The combined villages of Ledaig and Benderloch, 4 miles from the bridge, have a post office/store, cafe/bookshop, fuel and well stocked caravan/camping accessory shop. There is also a Caravan Club site (North Ledaig), while our Camping & Caravanning Club site is 3 miles further on, past the Scottish Sea Life Sanctuary, at Barcaldine. Both sites are listed under 'Oban'.

This is a much friendlier C&CC site, enclosed in a large sheltered Victorian walled garden, which once supplied vegetables. The WiFi card purchased at Luss works well, there are no midges, we are next to Sutherland's Grove (Forestry Commission woodland with walks) and the part-finished Sustrans Oban to Fort William Cycleway runs past the gate. It had even stopped raining and the sun was making a rare appearance. Well pleased, we had an active week here, joined by Dan for some of the time.

Rev Murdoch MacKenzie of Connel

By what must be more than coincidence, we had an email from the Rev Murdoch MacKenzie inviting us to visit him in Connel if by any chance we passed that way! Murdoch and his wife Anne had played an important part in Barry's past, when they were all working in Madras (now Chennai) in India, but they had not met for 39 years and Margaret only knew them by name and reputation. A very moving reunion was held at the house where Murdoch and Anne live in 'retirement', though we quickly learnt that a Minister of the Church of Scotland serves throughout his life. We had tea in the charming garden, dinner indoors and a long evening of wide-ranging, challenging and rewarding conversation.

Returning from 12 years of missionary work in India, back in 1978, Murdoch and Anne made the journey overland with their 3 children (then aged 8, 10 and 12) and we were fascinated to see the logbook that the whole family made at the time. Margaret has typed Murdoch's account of their adventures on a journey that can only be dreamt of today – see http://www.magbaztravels.com/content/view/1338/30/. We also offered to help Murdoch and Anne set up a website, in which they could publish their words and photographs. This is still a work in hand, which will develop into a splendid resource: see www.murdochmackenzieofargyll.com

Among many other projects, Murdoch and Anne are involved in Summer Lunches at Connel Church Hall (Tuesdays and Thursdays for 10 weeks of summer), raising money for their church. We went along on the following Tuesday, found Murdoch on the door (£3.50 each), with Anne and others serving. The food, home-made and donated, comprised a choice of 4 soups, rolls and butter, scones and jam, fruit cake, tea or coffee, and all delicious. The hall was almost full, with local regulars and passing tourists. It was good to sit and talk with 2 very senior gentlemen - Donald a retired bank manager ('all this would never have happened in my day ...') and John, who talked about his work as a marine biologist in Oban at a department of the University of the Highlands and Islands. Afterwards we visited the church, St Oran's, which celebrates its 125th anniversary next year. It felt very peaceful, with sun filtering through the fine stained glass windows.

Cycling

With dry calm weather, we had 3 short rides from the campsite:

Ride 1, 26 km/16 miles - Round the head of Loch Creran. Direct access from the campsite to Sustrans Cycle Route 78. North on this cycleway (good tarmac path) through Sutherland 's Grove to meet A828 by the new bridge over Loch Creran. Follow the old main road for a 6-mile anticlockwise circuit of the head of the Loch, extremely quiet now that traffic takes the bridge.

We spotted a pair of Grey Heron, though not the otters that Dan had seen. Also noticed seaweed gathered and hung on the fences to dry. Barcaldine used to have one of only 2 factories turning Kelp into industrial products (beer, jellies, explosives!) Now the locals appear to live on tourism, with B&B and cafes everywhere, except round this bypassed loop.

At Invercreran (just a name on the sign at the head of the Loch), we extended the ride by turning right along Glen Creran for 3 miles to the end of the bitumen in the forest at Elleric, from where 2 footpaths run over the hills to Loch Etive or north to Ballachulish. A Pine Marten ran across the path (they apparently prefer deciduous woodland!) It was extremely quiet with just a few isolated private houses, two of which looked like a converted school and chapel.

Returning to Invercreran we followed the hillier north side of the Loch to the new bridge, crossed its cycle/foot path, then rode home on Cycle Route 78. An excellent ride with no main roads (10 miles return from camp, plus 6 miles extension).

Ride 2, 35 km/22 miles – North along Loch Linnhe on Sustrans Cycle Route 78 towards Ballachullish, and return. As Ride 1 to the new bridge at Loch Creran, cross the bridge and follow the cycle route, which is sealed and off-road the whole way.

We passed the famous Creagan Inn (all day meals), continued through Appin (with an optional detour we didn't take, to Port Appin, from where ferries cross to the small island of Lismore in the mouth of Loch Linnhe), then followed the shore of the Loch north from Portnacroish. On this beautiful route, partly on a former railway line, we were astonished to meet almost no other cyclists. We turned back at about 10 miles, after passing the dramatic Stalker Castle on its tiny island.

Ride 3, 21 km/13 miles – South via Barcaldine Castle to Benderloch, and return. Warning: Sustrans Cycle Route 78 south from Barcaldine to Oban involves some sections on main roads A828 and A85 (www.sustrans.org.uk/sustrans-near-you/scotland).

Leaving the campsite, the cycle route south is poorly signed (turn left at once out of the camp entrance before reaching the main road). Missing this, we rode a short way on A828 until we met the cycle path just before the Sea Life Centre. After the Centre, there is an unavoidable 3 km stretch of hilly A828. Then a choice of route to Benderloch: on a separate foot/cycle path alongside the main road or a longer deviation on a quiet side road past Barcaldine Castle (now a luxury hotel). We took this moderately hilly loop.

In Benderloch we visited the Pink Shop general store/Post Office and the adjacent Ledaig Leisure (the Caravanners It Store/filling station/garage). Both are well stocked and open 7 days a week in summer. Coffee in the cafe/book store over the road was welcome. There is free parking here, from which you can walk to the beach or tackle one of 2 steep walks leading up into the forest below Beinn Lora (leaflet 'Explore the Forests of North Argyll' available and see www.forestry.gov.uk/scotland). We returned to our camp along the cycle path and main road to the Sea Life Centre, then on Sustrans  Route 78 (via B845 and a cycle way along the edge of Barcaldine Forest). A good circuit, though including a section of busy main road each way.  

Taynuilt Highland Games

A new experience for us, the Annual Highland Games were held on the sports ground in the village of Taynuilt on a fine sunny Saturday. Entry £6 (£3 for Seniors), parking free, programmes £1. www.taynuilthighlandgames.com. The magnificently attired Pipers contrasted with brawny competitors in the 'Heavy Events' -  throwing the hammer, putting the shot and tossing the caber – who wore the kilt as an afterthought over their athletic gear. Wee lassies danced Reels, Highland Fling and Sword Dance, each with a number pinned to their skirt for the stern-faced judges. The Oban High School Pipe Band arrived to open the afternoon session. The field was ringed in stalls, marquees and an incongruous Bouncy Castle. We did enjoy the spectacle, along with burgers from the Oban Mountain Rescue stand and home-made cakes from the Village Hall tent.

We learnt that Highland Games originated over 1,000 years ago as a means of selecting and recruiting staff for the Clan Chiefs and Kings. The fastest runners were needed in battle, the strongest men for bodyguards, the most gifted pipers and dancers for entertainment in the Castle. In peaceful times, neighbouring clans would match their champions in competition. So the mixture of athletic events, song and dance became the tradition at any gathering, market or horse fair. After the failure of the 1745 rebellion came the repression of the Highlanders (their arms, bagpipes, kilts, games, language, clan names) for half a century. They gradually re-emerged to be romanticised under the patronage of Queen Victoria. Today it seemed that Highland Games are maintained for tourism and the resurgence of Scottish nationalism.

Oban

Driving 13 miles into Oban with Dan, we found the town (known as the Charing Cross of the Highlands) extremely busy with tourists and travellers. Caledonian MacBrayne (www.calmac.co.uk) operate ferries to the Inner and Outer Hebrides and the waterfront was hectic. Most of the Pay & Display car parks had height barriers and all were full. Armed with a map from the campsite, we drove through to the retail park on the south side, with free parking and a range of stores: Lidl, Aldi, Argos, Homebase, Tesco (with fuel) etc. After ticking off everything on our shopping list (including a small printer and disk drive from Argos) we left Oban to the crowds. For sight-seeing, it would perhaps be better to take the hourly bus from Barcaldine.

To Glencoe Camping & Caravan Club Site, Glencoe, Scotland – 23 miles
Open 29 March-5 Nov. See www.campingandcaravanningclub.co.uk. Club site (non-members welcome for extra fee). £13.75 inc electricity and showers etc (member Age Concession rate) - rising to £22.45 on 20 July (high season). No internet but free WiFi in adjacent National Trust Visitor Centre cafe.

It turned to rain again as we moved a short way north to Glencoe. An easy drive for 18 miles up A828, past the Creagan Inn and Appin, to the bridge linking South and North Ballachulish at the entrance to Loch Leven. Here we turned east on A82 through Glencoe village. Turn right for the National Trust Visitor Centre and the Club campsite, a mile or so after the village. This site is in a magnificent setting, only 135 ft high but ringed in wooded mountains.

Entry to the Visitor Centre's viewing platform, cafe and shop is free (9.30 – 5.30 daily). The charge for non-members to see the 'Living on the Edge' exhibition, detailing Glencoe's flora and fauna, geology and history, was waived for those staying  on the campsite. We duly visited and especially enjoyed the short film about the famous Massacre in 1692. See www.nts.org.uk/Property/Glencoe-Dalness and www.glencoe-scotland.net and www.discoverglencoe.com.

Next day we drove up Scotland's most romantic glen, past the turn for Glen Etive, then the famous King's House Hotel, to the Glencoe Mountain Resort & Ski Centre, 12 miles along on the right on a windswept hillside at 1,200 ft/365 m. The Centre is open year-round, though we weren't tempted to take our bicycles up on the chair-lift to ride back down the track. A new development around the large bleak car park is accommodation for campers, with tepees, microlodges, campervan hook-ups (£12 a night) and tent plots. The site has toilets and coin-op showers and the whole thing is a Blot on the Landscape, though we can recommend the sausage and bacon sandwiches in the cafe! See www.glencoemountain.com.

The West Highland Way long-distance footpath skirts the Centre and continues past the 17th century King's House Hotel, one of the oldest drovers' inns in Scotland. It now has a smart restaurant, climbers' bar and rough camping for tents along the stream behind. We used its car park to leave the Sprinter van while we cycled down Glen Etive and back up again.

Cycling

Ride 1, 43 km/27 miles – Down Glen Etive to head of Loch Etive and return. This ride took us from the King's House car park (at over 1,100 ft/333 m), along a mile of the old road to the start of Glen Etive (at about 850 ft/260 m), then down the wonderfully scenic glen until the road ends in a small car park almost at sea level. It was harder coming back! The wooded glen was quiet and empty, save for an occasional house (the grandest once belonged to the James Bond author, Ian Fleming) and a few Red Deer. The weather was perfect this day, cool and dry with only a light wind.

Ride 2, 40 km/25 miles – Clockwise circuit of Loch Leven. From the campsite a woodland footpath led us to Glencoe village, from where there is a cycle path to the Ballachulish bridge (Sustrans Route 78 continues south to Kentallen and – eventually - Oban). We detoured through Ballachulish village at 3 miles, with a Co-op shop and Visitor Centre/Cafe, where we learnt that the local slate quarry operated from the 1600s until 1955. After crossing the bridge 2 miles later (with the footpath to ride), we turned right along B863 which follows the quiet north shore of Loch Leven to the village of Kinlochleven at the head. Very welcome coffee and warm scones at the pub, opposite a strange building called Ice Factor, which claims to house the world's biggest indoor ice climbing walls and the UK's highest indoor rock wall. The nearby Information Centre/Library exhibition 'The Aluminium Story' describes how hydro-electricity was used here to smelt aluminium a century ago. The return ride along the south side of Loch Leven to Glencoe was more hilly with an initial sharp climb. In Glencoe village we stopped to photograph the 'Massacre Monument', a memorial cross to the MacDonalds slain in 1692, then returned to camp along the woodland footpath to avoid the busy A82.

On our last day we drove north to Fort William (15 miles away). At the head of Loch Linnhe in the shadow of the highest mountain in the British Isles, Ben Nevis (4,409 ft/1344 m), it is the largest town in the Highlands and marks the terminus of the West Highland Way and the start of the Great Glen Way. Entering the town on A82, past the harbour and the old fort, we turned into the An Aird retail park next to the railway station. Here there is 2 hours' free parking at Morrisons (with fuel) or at Lidl. There are also Pay & Display parks (including one for motorhomes/caravans) charging only £1.50 for the whole day – free after 6 pm and on Sundays, though overnight sleeping prohibited. From here it was a short walk to the pedestrianised and cobbled High Street in the old town centre, with a kilted wedding in progress at St Andrew's church.

To Resipole Camping & Caravan Park, Loch Sunart, Acharacle, Scotland – 31 miles
Open April-Oct. See www.resipole.com. £19 inc electricity and showers etc. Free WiFi throughout site.

Heading north over Ballaculish Bridge on A82, it was just 9 miles to the sign for Corran Ferry, on which we crossed Loch Linnhe to Ardgour. It runs every 20 minutes (half-hourly on Sundays) carrying pedestrians and cyclists free of charge. Cars and light vans cost £7 and the caravan was an extra £9.50 (cash price, with a surcharge for cards!) Ten minutes later we were following the A861 down the west side of Loch Linnhe, then over to Strontian. After this small village the road narrowed (single lane with passing places) for the final 7 miles along the hilly north side of Loch Sunart. The privately run campsite is on the right overlooking the loch, 5 miles before the next village, Acharacle. It seems popular with sailing and fishing people in semi-permanent caravans, as well as tourers and tents.

The weather changed every day during a week here, with wet days spent on-line to catch up with our website and emails and to develop the new site for Murdoch.

Walking

Ariundle Woodlands: One fine afternoon we donned our boots to explore the dense Sunart Oakwoods (www.sunartoakwoods.org.uk) that clothe the hillside right down to the water's edge. Starting from the Forestry Commission car park just past the Tea Rooms in Ariundle Woodlands, a mile north of Strontian (signed right from the road that leads to Polloch), we followed a track along the bank of the Strontian River, returning through the woods past the site of an old croft. This area could be described as Scotland's rain forest, the ancient oak woods rich in mosses and lichens covering every log and boulder in different shades of green. These trees once provided pit props and charcoal for smelting lead from the nearby mines. The circular route took about 1.5 hours. See www.moidart.com/strontian-walks for this and other walks.

From Polloch by Loch Shiel: We drove the narrow road from Strontian to Polloch, which passes the turn for Ariundle Woodlands after a mile, then climbs rapidly above the oak forest onto bare moorland grazed by sheep. About 3 miles along (upwards of 500 ft/150 m) there are signs of the old Lead Mines that were worked through the 18th and19th centuries.

The metallic element Strontium was isolated in 1808 by Sir Humphry Davy (of miner's safety lamp fame) from the mineral Strontianite, which was named after the village where it had been discovered in 1790. The Strontian Mine was reworked in the 1980s for Baryte for North Sea oil drilling but is now a roadstone quarry, visible from the top. The road steepens to 1 in 4 before the summit at 4 miles (1,140 ft/345 m), then descends through Glen Hurich past Loch Doilet. This Forestry Commission land is a complete contrast to the blasted heath, with graceful larch and birch trees forming a green canopy over the road. There is a car park on the way down at 800 ft/245 m, with a short flight of wooden steps to Loch Doilet viewpoint, but we found the trees had grown too tall to see much of the water!

After bridging the Polloch River, the road ended in a parking area at Polloch, down at 55 ft/16 m, after 8 challenging miles from Strontian. To our surprise there was a small hut displaying photos and information and a selection of art and craft work for sale. Paintings, knitwear and souvenirs were on offer, with a request to leave small change in a box or call at the nearby house to pay for larger items! Such trust. From here you can walk (or cycle) about a mile through the forest to Loch Shiel and climb to a viewpoint (which we did) or continue eastwards along the south shore to Glenfinnan, 16 miles away (which we didn't). It was an incredibly remote and beautiful spot, especially as the woodcutters were not at work harvesting conifers on the hillside on this Sunday afternoon.

We also used our bicycles to explore the Ardnamurchan Peninsula, new territory for us both.

Cycling

Ride 1, 24 km/15 miles – To Strontian and back. A short but strenuous ride as the narrow A861, originally built by Telford, rises and falls constantly along the north shore of Loch Sunart. With the added hazard of needing to pull over into the next passing place whenever a car looms ahead or in the mirror it's hardly an A-road! Most drivers were patient, though not all. On the way from our campsite to the village we turned into a Forestry Commission car park and took the path to a Wildlife Hide by the loch shore, though the otters and seals were obeying the sign (Hide!) We followed a footpath linking this to the next car park along the road, then continued to Strontian. The village has a friendly seasonal Tourist Info next to a small supermarket and cafe, where we had coffee, as well as a post office/store with petrol pumps and a hotel/restaurant. We discovered Sunart Camping and Bike Hire, a new site at the back of the village, which looked good: www.sunartcycles.co.uk and www.sunartcamping.co.uk. As well as bicycle hire, they carry out repairs and will even come to collect a cyclist with a problem. A useful service: tel 01967 402080 or 07967 030664.

Ride 2, 24 km/15 miles – Kilchoan to Ardnamurchan Point Lighthouse and back. We drove  22 miles to Kilchoan, a lovely route. At Salen, 2.5 miles northwest of campsite (and half way to Acharacle), turn left along B8007, a single track road that follows the north shore of Loch Sunart. At Glenborrodale (10 miles from camp), just past the private Ardnamurchan Castle, there is an RSPB reserve with car park and signed walk. Glenbeg, 2 miles later, has a Visitor Centre (and not much else). Another mile on, at Ardslignish, the road left the coast to climb inland, avoiding the cliffs, with a view of Mull across the water and cattle being herded on the beach below. It reached 550 ft/170 m by Loch Mudle, the wonderful views now reaching the jagged skyline of Skye beyond the smaller islands of the Inner Hebrides: Muck, Eigg and Rum. Descending to the coast at Kilchoan, we parked the Sprinter at the Tourist Info, ate a picnic and mounted the bicycles, which had travelled safely inside.

Kilchoan, guarded by Mingary Castle (built by the MacDonalds in the 13th C), is a tiny port from which Caledonian MacBrayne (www.calmac.co.uk) cross to Tobermory on Mull. Before setting off for the lighthouse, we rode down to the quay to watch a boat come in, disturbing the fishermen at the end of the pier. The Tourist Info in the local community centre (open till 5 pm, closed Sundays) includes a cafe, doctor's surgery and gym. Fairview Campsite (campervans and tents only) near the ferry is open all year. Ardnamurchan Lighthouse at 56Ί43.62 N, 6Ί13.56W is the westernmost point of the British mainland. www.nlb.org.uk

The ride northwest to the lighthouse (20 km/12.5 miles return) involved 3 climbs through sheep pasture and woodland. Follow B8007 to Achnosnich, then left on a well-signed road to Ardnamurchan Point. It's single track with passing places the whole way and we came to curse the motorists in their usual rush, including 2 large German motorhomes which were far too wide for the road and forced us into the ditch. Barry also had problems with his gears, which didn't help! But it was worth the effort to reach another –ernmost in such a beautiful location. Rewarded with Mackie's ice creams at the lighthouse cafe, we walked round the 120 ft/36 m high granite lighthouse, built in 1849 and still operating. The exhibition inside cost £6 (Seniors £3) but all other access was free and the view extended beyond Skye to the faint smudge of the Outer Hebrides.

After riding back to Kilchoan and a welcome coffee, we drove to camp with a short detour from Salen to Acharacle, to pick up excellent haddock & chips from the Highlander Cafe/Takeaway. The perfect end to a memorable ride. (Barry's problem was a broken chain link, which he identified and replaced next day.)  

Ride 3, 18 km/12 miles – To Acharacle and back. A short ride along the hilly single-track A861 to the next village north. Acharacle, smaller even than Strontian, has an internet cafe/post office/store, the Highlander Cafe/takeaway and a hotel. We rode as far as the Church of Scotland Parish Church, with its old manse and cemetery. Inside we met two good ladies of the parish, busy polishing and flower arranging, who were pleased to see visitors. We learnt that this was one of the 32 'Parliamentary Churches' designed by Thomas Telford in the 1820s for a fixed price of £1,500 each (including Manse).

Intrigued, we checked out Thomas Telford's Parliamentary Churches, as well as Acharacle Church and Strontian Church.

Ride 4, 34 km/21 miles – Lochaline to Drimnin. We drove through Strontian and turned right on A884. This single-track road follows the southern head of Loch Sunart before turning inland to climb to 900 ft/270 m, across moorland where we spotted a few Red Deer. Then it descends to Lochaline, 20 miles from Strontian, where Loch Aline meets the Sound of Mull. The village has the usual post office/store and a restaurant, with a cafe by the Pier from which Caledonian MacBrayne (www.calmac.co.uk) ferries cross to Fishnish Pier on Mull. A quiet side road B849 follows the shore of the Sound for 10 narrow miles northwest to Drimnin, providing an excellent ride with only gentle climbs and wonderful views of Mull rising across the water.

We parked the Sprinter less than half a mile along B849 by Kiel Church and cycled from there to the end of the road at Drimnin beach. Take your own refreshments as there are no tourist places the whole way along – just the odd house, a curious rock wall called the Wishing Stone and a ruined castle standing out in the water. The road was so quiet that we saw our first Pine Marten running along it!

Back at the car park, we found the Kiel Church (of Scotland) open and also looked round its extensive cemetery, the Burying Place of the Maclachlans and other clans. Although the present church is only about 100 years old, it is believed there has been a church on this site in Morvern since the time of St Columba in the 6th C. A small stone cottage next to the church originally built about 1780 as the Schoolmaster's house, was later used for meetings of the Church Elders (the Kirk Session) and is known as the Old Session House. Today (freely open) it houses an amazing collection of Celtic gravestones, mainly from the 14th to 17th centuries, intricately carved with patterns and figures but lacking any inscription (as most people could not read). See www.macinnes.org/kiel/session_house/index.html and www.brand-dd.com/stones/other/morvern.html.

August 2012

To Linnhe Lochside Holiday Park, Corpach, Fort William, Scotland – 45 miles
Open 15 Dec-31 Oct. See www.linnhe-lochside-holidays.co.uk. £21 inc electricity and free showers (a bath costs £2). WiFi £6 for 24 hrs, £15 for 3 days. Book with debit card to avoid credit card fee. (Note: Show the 'Visit Scotland Caravan & Camping Parks Map2012' – available free at Tourist Offices – on arrival for a 5% discount, refunded in cash if already booked. Price paid then £19.95.)

A wet start to August! Rather than returning to Corran for the car ferry, we took the slightly longer route to Fort William via Glenfinnan. The single-track A861 took us north through Acharacle before climbing over moorland. After 10 miles we reached the top before a 1 in 10 descent to sea level at Kinlochmoidart at 12 miles, where the road widened to 2 lanes. Quite a relief! Then another 1 in 10 over to Glenuig and the Sound of Arisaig, after which our road followed the coast past a fish farm, the Pipers Burn Marine Harvest, where we saw swans and grey heron.

At 24 miles in Lochailort we turned right on the busier A830, the road which parallels the (sometimes steam) railway from Mallaig to Fort William. It was a lovely drive, despite the rain, along the north shore of Loch Eilt, then up to Glenfinnan at 33 miles. This is the site of the famous railway viaduct (not visible from our road), with a station where you can eat in a 1950s dining car. We did pass the Visitor Centre and Monument, with crowds of umbrella-wielding tourists.

Reaching the north shore of Loch Eil, we followed it to Corpach (5 miles before Fort William), where the Holiday Park is signed on the right over the railway line. It's a large terraced site sloping down to the Loch, with chalets and caravans for hire, as well as touring and camping areas. Naturally the chalets are on the waterside, while we are at the back under pine trees, shedding their needles. The well-stocked shop bakes its own bread (at a price).

Once the caravan was settled in, we drove to Fort William's busy shopping centre to refuel and restock the cupboards, with free parking at Morrisons or Lidl.

Site WiFi worked well enabling us to update this log, book the next campsites and catch up on emails and history. Learnt that the town first grew up around a fort built after the English Civil War and named Fort William after William of Orange, while the town was called Maryburgh (after Mrs William of Orange). The fort was later used to suppress the Jacobite uprisings and the town renamed Fort William after 'Butcher Cumberland', William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, who brutally put down any Jacobite allegiance.

The weather was fine and sunny for our stay, with 2 good cycle rides:

Cycling

Ride 1, 40 km/25 miles – From Clunes along Loch Arkaig and back. Started by driving from Corpach to Neptune's Staircase (a series of 8 locks on the Caledonian Canal, where it meets the tidal Loch Linnhe). There is free parking, a cafe and plenty of yachts to watch manoeuvring for 1.5 hours through the flight. The Great Glen Way footpath follows the east side of the canal and forms a level cycle path. However, for a quieter and more strenuous ride we continued on B8004 to Gairlochy, then took B8005  (both single track roads) past the Cameron Museum to a Forestry Commission car park at Clunes.

Leaving the van here, we cycled through forest (past 2 more car parks), then along the switchbacking north side of quiet Loch Arkaig until the woods gave way to open moorland. Greeted by waves from the few tents and caravans camped on private plots by the shore, some with a boat moored alongside, we met hardly any traffic and no other cyclists. Once back at the van, we returned to our camp via Spean Bridge and the faster A82, collecting welcome fish & chips in Caol (signed left off A830).

Ride 2, 14 km/9 miles – From Glenfinnan by Loch Shiel and back. (This ride was curtailed because of the extremely rough stone and gravel track.) We drove 12 miles on A830 to Glenfinnan, where we declined to pay £2 to park at the National Trust Visitor Centre (which does not include entry to the Monument across the road!) Note that a large sign about the need for a ticket has some very small print, explaining that this is for entrance to the enclosure round the Monument in order to climb it. You do not need to pay to approach the Monument for a photo or to take an (unsigned) footpath to the head of Loch Shiel. Said Monument, leaning slightly, is topped with a statue of Bonnie Prince Charlie, who sailed up the Loch in 1745 to meet 1,200 Highlanders rallied there (or so it is said).

Less than a mile back on A830 we'd noticed a minor unsigned lane (just west of the railway bridge). A little way along we found a place to park, by a footpath sign pointing to Polloch (16 miles) – a spot along Loch Shiel that we knew from our stay at Resipole a few days earlier. Our aim was to cycle to Polloch and back but the Forestry Commission track was unsealed and proved far too rough. After cycling a few miles along the hilly bank of Loch Shiel we turned back, fearing broken spokes.

The short strenuous ride did provide some good photos, looking across the Loch to the Monument and the Glenfinnan railway viaduct beyond.

To Kinlochewe Caravan Club Site, Achnasheen, Scotland – 106 miles
Open 25 March-3 Oct. See www.caravanclub.co.uk. £19.20 inc electricity and showers etc. No internet. (Non-members welcome at £29.20 a night, or join on-site.) No tents.

Passing through Fort William, we took the A82 northeast for 12 miles to Spean Bridge, driving under the massive bulk of the Ben Nevis range. The highest mountain in the British Isles, Ben Nevis (4,409 ft/1344 m) is no Alpine peak and not very spectacular in summer, devoid of snow. (Our mate Rod climbed the Ben by the track from Glen Nevis: how we admire his stamina and perseverance on that long slog.) We passed the turn-off for the gondola cable car up to the Nevisport Centre but were not tempted.

At the junction with B8004 shortly after Spean Bridge, we parked by the dramatic Commando Memorial, unveiled by the Queen in 1952 - a statue of 3 commandos surveying the landscape from a height of 440 ft/275 m. Here they trained in 1940, their motto 'United We Conquer'. A newer memorial nearby was a confused mixture of individual tributes to the casualties of more recent wars (mainly Afghanistan) and to former Commandos who died in later life and had their ashes scattered here. There were too many casual noisy visiting tourists (including a German coach party) to feel the atmosphere of this wild landscape.

The A82 continued northeast following the fault line of the Great Glen, which bisects the Highlands. The succession of lochs was linked by civil engineer Thomas Telford's Caledonian Canal, opened in 1822. Our 2-lane road was busy on this fine Saturday morning, being a popular tourist route to Inverness.

At 22 miles we crossed the bridge between Loch Lochy and Loch Oich. At Invergarry, 4 miles later, A87 turned off for the Kyle of Lochalsh but we kept on A82 through Fort Augustus, a small town at 33 miles at the southern end of the monstrous Loch Ness. With a depth of 788 feet (240 metres) and a length of about 23 miles (36 km), this Loch contains the largest volume of fresh water in Great Britain. Continuing up Loch Ness, highland cattle posed for tourists in the fields until the land gave way to pine forest.

In Invermoriston at 40 miles we had a break in a free car park, next to the Millenium Village Hall. This offers toilets, drinking water tap (a lone cycle tourist filled his bottles) and lunch on Tuesdays to Thursdays. It was a short walk back to the Old Bridge over the River Moriston, built by Telford in 1813. What an engineer he was, known to us for the Llangollen Canal aqueduct in North Wales.

Further along Loch Ness, 2 miles before Drumnadrochit, there was free parking at Urquhart Castle. We walked down to photograph the 500 year old ruin, though it was difficult to get a view without paying the entrance fee (£7.40 or over 60s £5.90 each)! In Drumnadrochit (tourist town complete with Monster Museum) we turned off A82 at 53 miles. The A833 north was soon climbing a 15% gradient (from 275 ft to 875 ft/265 m), the Sprinter protesting slightly as it hauled the caravan up, before cooling on the descent.

At 65 miles, turning on A862 into Beauly with its old Priory, the altitude was just 35 ft. On through Muir of Ord, home to a Distillery, and left onto A832 which crosses a narrow 'Weak Bridge' (7.5 ton limit) before joining the wider A835 from Inverness at 73 miles. We had lunch in the next layby, luckily, as the car park for Rogie Falls at 77 miles was full.

After Loch Garve we took A832 at 81 miles, reaching the village of Achnasheen 16 miles later. Over the final 9 miles to Kinlochewe, the road climbs above 500 ft/150 m along lonely Loch Croisig, reaches 792 ft/240 m at the top of Glen Docherty, then sweeps down past a viewpoint looking out to Loch Maree. Heights given for cycle tourists – we've pedalled this way before.

In Kinlochewe there is a very well stocked post office/store/tea rooms, opposite an upmarket hotel/restaurant, as well as a filling station/shop next to the campsite and the Whistle Stop Cafe just round the corner along the Torridon road. The small Caravan Club site was delightful, with a brand new heated shower block and friendly wardens. A butcher's van calls on Tuesday and Friday mornings, a fishmonger on Thursdays – and what a setting, below the Beinn Eighe range! The Beinn Eighe Nature Reserve Visitor Centre is less than a mile north (free entry, gift shop, signed walks, no cafe).

The weather was fine with a cool wind; cloud settled on the peaks but no rain. We had 2 quiet days with 2 good rides – and no distracting internet!

Cycling

Ride 1, 36 km/23 miles – Along Glen Torridon to Annat and back. A wonderful ride along Barry's favourite Glen (beating Glencoe into 2nd place), with memories of his younger days climbing the 3,000-footers: 7-peaked Liathach, long white-ridged Beinn Eighe, the curving sharp ridge of Beinn Alligan, as well as Beinn Dearg, Sgorr Ruadh and others. In those days it was enough to put the tent up by the road, take water from the stream and steer by compass. How sadly things have changed.

A rolling single-track road, with a max height of 385 ft/120 m, riding into a head wind from the campsite (starting at 125 ft). At 10 miles, down near sea level, we passed the Countryside Centre by the turn for Torridon. Another mile to the village of Annat on Upper Loch Torridon, where we called on Isabel, a relative of our friend Murdoch MacKenzie. Living in the house originally built by her grandfather, Isabel has a wonderful view of the loch. We were welcomed in for 2 hours of good conversation, tea and home baking, despite arriving as strangers. In the nearby Old and New Graveyards we paid our respects to other members of the MacKenzie family, before riding ahead of the threatening rain - the returning climb made easier by a good tail wind.

Ride 2, 30 km/19 miles – From Poolewe to Cove and back. Drove 20 miles north on A832 along Loch Maree to the little harbour at Gairloch, once a fishing port producing dried salt cod for export to Spain. Now shellfish is landed, again largely for Spain, and there were vans selling dressed crab, lobster and mackerel. Several boat trips were on offer, promising a resident dolphin pair in Loch Gairloch bay and possibly porpoises, seals, Minke whales or puffins, depending on time of year. At £20 pp for the longest 3-hour trip, it's a much better deal that the Whale Watching Cruises we saw (but didn't take) in Norway last summer. However, we'd come to cycle so, after a good value lunch in the Harbour Lights Cafe (home-made jams, chutney and baking, by a Yorkshire couple), we considered the B8021 single-track road from Gairloch to Rudha Reidh Lighthouse (now a private hostel). It looked busy with traffic going to the holiday lets and 2 campsites (and Gairloch's car parks were full), so we drove on 6 miles to Poolewe.

This is a smaller village than Gairloch, with empty free parking at the Visitor Centre (next to a Camping & Caravanning Club site). We'd just missed the weekly Tuesday morning market at the Centre, which also had a WW2 exhibition. Leaving the Sprinter van here, it was an excellent cycle ride along the much quieter B8057, following the coast up the west side of Loch Ewe. We rode 4 miles along the hilly single-track road to Inverasdale, a further 4 miles to Cove and another mile until the road ended at a poignant Russian Convoy Memorial surrounded by the concrete remains of anti-aircraft gun emplacements. We passed only the occasional house or sheep farm, and a small campsite in a lovely location at Firemore Beach (no electricity or facilities: £2 a night or £10 a week in the Honesty Box).

From Poolewe we drove back via Gairloch, which has fuel, shops, choice of eating places, golf, library, Heritage Museum (April-Oct, closed Sundays), a vet ... Apparently popular since Queen Victoria's visit!

To Ardmair Point Caravan Site, Ullapool, Scotland – 61 miles
Open May-Sept. See www.ardmair.com. £20 inc electricity and showers etc. WiFi £1 for 1 hour, £5 for 24 hrs (from first log-on) – but only if pitched very near Reception.

At  Kinlochewe the butcher's van (from Gairloch) called at 9 am, also selling bread, fruit & veg. A useful service, though the bananas we bought were expensive and quickly went brown – not everything travels well!

We returned on A832 Achnasheen to Garston (25 miles, altitude 330 ft/100 m), then turned north on A835 along Strath Garve, climbing gradually to the Aultguish Inn ('dam good food'), sited below the barrage at the foot of Loch Glascarnoch. Continuing along the loch, then the smaller Loch Droma, the scenery became emptier, more dramatic. The road remained high (up to 1,000 ft/303 m) before a steep descent alongside Loch Broom to the fishing and ferry port of Ullapool at 57 miles.

We checked Broomfield Holiday Park (www.broomfieldhp.com), the campsite near the harbour (£21, coin-op showers, WiFi extra, Reception closed till 5 pm). Unimpressed, we drove a further 4 miles north to Ardmair Point, where there is a campsite/cafe (and nothing else – even the phone box has been disconnected!) Bread and mouth-watering cakes are on sale, all at eye-watering prices.

The site was busy, with a line of close-packed vans facing the beautiful bay and a field (mainly tents) at the back. We squeezed onto a sea-view pitch, though were unable to connect to the single WiFi antenna, despite moving nearer to Reception when another place became free. The site is under new management this year, with a promise to improve all the facilities.

It was only 3 or 4 miles back to shop in Ullapool – though we couldn't recommended cycling there, via a stiff climb on the narrow busy A835. Rather, we drove back to explore the town, with free parking at Tesco or on the adjacent public car park. It's a popular resort, offering local boat trips as well as Caledonian MacBrayne ferries (www.calmac.co.uk) to Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis. The Tourist Office was very helpful, with an interesting guidebook to the area and a CD with information and Scottish music – both free. For a change from fish & chips, we had a truly excellent meal at the 'Essence of India', by the entrance to Broomfield campsite. This award-winning Indian restaurant is open daily year-round, noon-2 pm and 5-11.30 pm. Take-aways are available but it was a great treat to be waited on in a stylish dining room. Highly recommended (the best we've tried outside West Yorkshire!)

The weather remained dry and warm – in fact, we're told it hasn't rained up here since Easter, while England has had record rainfall from May to July – and we caught the sun on a good ride.

Cycling

Ride 1, 48 km/30 miles – Past Stac Pollaidh and round the Coigach peninsula. From Ardmair we drove 5 miles north on the narrow hilly A835 before turning left onto the single-track road running below Stac Pollaidh, signed 'Achiltibuie 15 miles'. Leaving the van at the first car park, a short way along, we donned shorts and midge repellent for an excellent ride, with gentle climbs.

We began by passing below the mountains of Cul Beag (2,538 ft/769 m) and the jagged oddly formed Stac Pollaidh (pronounced Stack Polly - 2,020 ft/612 m). A larger car park further along gave hill walkers access to Inverpolly Nature Reserve. After Loch Lurgainn and Loch Badagyle (with fly fishing), we didn't take the right turn for Lochinver (10 hilly miles away, 'unsuitable for caravans'). Our onward road was now quieter, along Loch Oscaig to Loch Raa, a magnificent stretch with the imposing ridge of the Ben Mor Coigach Nature Reserve inland.

At the next junction (10 miles from our car park) you can turn left directly to Achiltibuie (with post office, school, village hall and youth hostel) and the eventual end of the road, or – as we did – ride a 5-mile loop round the tip of the Coigach peninsula. Conditions here were perfect, with zero traffic and some of the best coastal scenery in the Highlands. After Achnahaird we climbed to a viewpoint 330 ft/100 m above the shore, ideal for a picnic lunch looking down on the Summer Isles and across to the distant Outer Hebrides. Down through Altandhu to Polbain, where the tranquil owner of a delightful little craft shop served coffee and shortbread in her garden. She recommended a local boat trip round the Summer Isles, with 30 mins ashore on the largest of them – the only one inhabited (population 3: a young couple with a baby!) Completing the short circular route, we returned to our car park, enjoying 10 miles of tail wind. If only motorists would learn to give way to bicycles as readily as they do to other cars.

To Invercoe Caravan & Camping Park, Glencoe, Scotland – 129 miles
Open all year. See www.invercoe.co.uk. £21 inc electricity and showers etc. WiFi £1 for 1 hour, £4 for 24 hrs, £6 for 48 hrs, £15 for 7 days (from first log-on) – good signal throughout site.

Southbound now, we returned down A835 through Ullapool (with its Saturday morning market) before the steep climb inland. Despite the warmth and sunshine, the snow poles were already in place along the highway. From Garve we retraced our outward route via Muir of Ord to Drumnadrochit on Loch Ness, again taking a break in the free coach park at Urquhart Castle after 63 miles.

On down the Great Glen along A82 through Invermoriston to Fort Augustus, where a Highland Piper entertained the visitors in the Pay & Display car park. Crossing the lock bridge at the foot of Loch Ness, we continued via Spean Bridge to Fort William at 112 miles. Despite the crowds, parking at the An Aird retail centre next to the railway station was easy, with 2 of the car parks dedicated to motorhomes and caravans. The fee was a flat £1.50 (free on Sundays or after 6 pm, though overnight sleeping prohibited). A very convenient place to eat lunch, watch a game of shinty on the adjoining sports field and shop (Lidl or Morrisons).

The final 15 miles down Loch Linnhe, past the Corran Ferry, brought us to Ballachulish Bridge, where it was left for Glencoe. Rather than returning to the Camping & Caravanning Club site by the National Trust Visitor Centre, we turned left on B863 in Glencoe village to a friendly family-run site a mile along, on the side of Loch Leven.

We're impressed by the extra touches here, with a free iron in the laundry and 'Midge Eaters' installed round the site, which have destroyed over 4 million of the pesky things so far this year (estimated at 281,000 to the ounce)! The recycling bins include one for plastic bottle tops, sent to Stornoway to be made into fishing nets. Furthermore, it is less expensive than the C&CC site in high season and – more importantly – has the WiFi we do need to work on our own website, as well as the website being set up for Murdoch. Although busy, many campers are leaving this weekend since Scottish schools re-open next week, a fortnight or so earlier than English ones.

We had a full day with Murdoch and Anne at their home in Connel, enjoying their hospitality and resolving some of the problems inherent in creating a website. It was good to see them again and fascinating to watch the DVD that Murdoch had made about the Macdonald Collection, which we hope to put on-line.

In the event, we were delayed in Glencoe by problems with both the caravan and the Sprinter. For the caravan, we called on the services of David Wright of www.scottishcaravanservices.co.uk. He arrived next day with a well equipped mobile service unit, removed the wheels, checked, cleaned and readjusted the brakes (one of which had not been working properly). David found that the bearings were worn and should be changed as soon as possible but the nearest supplier, in Glasgow, said they would take 3 weeks to deliver. He also told us that the tyres were due for replacement. We'll be taking this up with Golden Castle Caravans of Cheltenham, under the one-year warranty.

The Sprinter van, which had developed a small oil leak, was taken to the local Chisholms Garage in Ballachulish. Their man James found a hairline crack and sealed it with liquid metal, which appeared to work, though in the process he found a more serious problem with leaks from 2 of the 4 injectors. New seals were ordered from Inverness but in the end proved impossible to fit. Both leaks, oil and air, are likely to get progressively worse and could cause serious problems on the road. Aleady we could smell the burning oil as it dripped onto the exhaust pipe and turbo-charger.

Poor James worked hard and didn't like being defeated. After talking to our own garage (Motorhome Medics), we decided to make our way slowly south, aiming to get everything fixed back in Cheltenham.

Nevertheless we enjoyed the week at Glencoe, with some good weather for cycling, walking and blackberrying. One morning the mixture of sunshine and showers produced a perfect rainbow over the Loch, reflected in the calm water, where a flock of Canada Geese joined the swans and ducks. The Co-op store in Ballachulish was good for shopping (and gave Cashback, in the absence of a bank or ATM). We can also highly recommend the 'Frying Scotsman' fish & chip van, which came to Glencoe Village on Saturday evenings!

Walking

A woodland path, starting opposite the campsite, led along the stream and into Glencoe Village. Return along the road for a circular walk.

An easy walk with information boards round the old Slate Quarry at Ballachulish. The quarry, which closed in 1955 after almost 300 years of operation, employed the whole village, sending slate by ship to roof the houses of Glasgow. There's an interesting display in the Visitor Centre/Cafe opposite the quarry entrance.

Cycling

34 km/22 miles – Anticlockwise circuit of Loch Leven.We repeated our earlier ride round Loch Leven, this time anticlockwise. From the campsite it was 7 hilly miles to Kinlochleven, where we again enjoyed tea and scones at the pub opposite the Ice Factor (which claims to house the world's biggest indoor ice climbing walls and the UK's highest rock wall.) Behind the Ice Factor there is a campsite (for tents) alongside a hostel with private en-suite rooms, popular with West Highland Wayfarers. The Information Centre/Library exhibition 'The Aluminium Story' describes how hydro-electricity was used to smelt aluminium a century ago.

We returned along B863, which follows the quieter north shore of Loch Leven, then rode the cycle/footpath across Ballaculish Bridge and back to Glencoe. A very pleasant 2-hour ride.

We also had more articles to edit for our website (the Rudds following Alexander the Gt to Turkey) and for Murdoch's; emails to write; good films to watch (thanks to Dan); and the 'Guardian' arriving daily on the wonderful Kindle. With laundry etc, up to date we were finally ready for the road. Our original plan was to take a ferry from Scotland (Cairnryan) to Northern Ireland but, unless the Sprinter performed well, we would head directly to Cheltenham.

To Blair Drummond Caravan Park, Stirling, Scotland – 75 miles

Open mid-March to early January. See www.blairdrummondcaravanpark.co.uk. £24.05 inc electricity and showers etc. WiFi £5 a day, £20 a week (from first log-on).'Caravan Club affiliated' site (but no discount for members!)

Back on the A82, we drove east for Crianlarich. Two miles from Glencoe Village we passed the Camping & Caravanning Club site behind the National Trust Visitor Centre. A mile later there is a large free car park on the left (signed for the walk up to Signal Rock), popular for overnight motorhome parking. Then the road began to climb more steeply, past a small waterfall and scenic lay-bys full of photographers, reaching 1,000 ft/303 m at 8 miles. A line of hikers plodded determinedly along the West Highland Way, which runs by the King's House Hotel at 12 miles and the Ski Centre a mile later.

On we climbed across bleak Rannoch Moor, snow poles standing ready, to the summit at 15 miles (1,148 ft/348 m). Turning south on a zigzag descent, with a break in a lay-by at 20 miles, we could now smell fumes from the oil leak in the Sprinter engine but there was little point in returning to Glencoe. James at the Ballachulish garage had done all he possibly could. A82 continued through Bridge of Orchy (down at 700 ft/200 m) then Tyndrum, busy with tourists at the Green Welly Services at 30 miles.

At 36 miles in Crianlarich (540 ft/160 m) we took A85 for 16 miles, climbing to over 700 ft/200 m again before Lochearnhead, then continued south on A84 to Callander. This popular tourist town was heralded by Kilmahog Woollen Mill - 'Big Scottish Breakfast, Coaches Welcome'. The main road ran straight through Callander, past the Rob Roy and Trossachs Visitor Centre, at 65 miles.

Four miles after the village of Doune, a private road on the left leads to the Blair Drummond campsite: beware 3 speed bumps! It is inside a former walled garden on the edge of the Blair Drummond Estate and Safari Park. It was a relief to settle in, log on to the internet, ring Motorhome Medics for advice and let the engine cool down and stop dripping oil.

Next day we drove into Stirling (7 miles away). On the way in along A84 there is a Park & Ride, with a bus to the Castle, then a large Sainsbury's (with fuel and cafe) about a mile before the town centre, next to McDonalds. We shopped and lunched there, then continued through the centre, past Tesco (multi-storey car park with height limit), to another shopping centre with Aldi, Farm Foods and B&M Bargains. The Sprinter is still leaking a little oil, kept in check with a strategically placed washing-up sponge, changed every 50 miles!

Back at the campsite, Barry installed a new browser 'Chrome' on the laptop, which seems faster than 'Safari'. Margaret made a tray of Raspberrry Bakewell using fresh Scotch raspberries: delicious.

Leaving the caravan at Blair Drummond, we drove over to visit fellow motorhomer Dan, parked 30 miles away at Duck Bay on Loch Lomond, just north of Balloch. We had a great day together, joined for dinner by Dan's mate, George. It was lovely to put a face to that name and we got on well, with excellent conversation over stuffed spuds, pasta bake, garlic bread, Danish pastries and ice cream. Thanks, Dan, we'll miss you.

To Aird Donald Caravan Park, Stranraer, Scotland – 117 miles

Open all year. See www.aird-donald.co.uk. £18 inc electricity. No card payments, cash only. Showers £0.50. WiFi £3 for 2 hrs, £10 for 10 hrs (not continuous: can log on and off).

On the last Monday in August (a Bank Holiday in England but not in Scotland), steady rain set in as we drove to Glasgow on M9 and M80. Rather than returning directly to England down M74, we decided to head for Stranraer (where we'd already booked a campsite, ready for the Cairnryan-Belfast ferry) and see how the Sprinter fared when towing again. The M8 led us safely through Glasgow and over the Clyde to exit 22, then it was M77 and dual carriageway A77 to Ayr.

Continuing southwest on the now narrower A77, through Maybole, we reached the coast at Turnberry. A gale blew off the sea, while the monsoon-like downpour was causing flooding in the fields and sometimes across the road. Lunch in the caravan in a large free car park overlooking the sea, south of Girvan, was a welcome break. This would be a good overnight spot, though not today buffeted alarmingly by the wind.

It was a relief to reach Stranraer, about 7 miles south of the new Stena Line ferry terminal at Cairnryan (Stranraer terminal was permanently closed earlier this year). The large (12 acre) campsite lies about a mile east of the town centre, signed on the south side of A75. It was still pouring heavily as we drove slowly along the flooded entry lane. After checking in, the owners' son noticed that we were dripping oil on the concrete and suggested we move onto a gravel pitch. No ferry for us, then! We finally resigned ourselves to going 'home' to Motorhome Medics in Cheltenham.

The signs 'Mind the Black Cat' and 'Duck Eggs on Sale' indicate the friendliness of Aird Donald's resident owners, Margaret Cassie and her husband, who built the camping over 40 years ago on the site of a former army camp. There are also 4 red squirrels and dozens of rabbits at large. The new WiFi system wasn't working properly but we did get a refund.

Next day the rain stopped (though still very windy) and we walked into Stranraer and around its compact centre. It was sad to see the once bustling ferry terminal now abandoned and the effect this has had on the town. We changed our remaining Scottish money into English notes at the Royal Bank of Scotland (after a refusal at another bank!) and Barry had his annual haircut at a 'Traditional Barbers', run by a young lass who did an excellent job. The Arches Cafe offered a daily special for Seniors: roast chicken lunches all round!

On Charlotte Street we visited the Castle of St John, a medieval Tower House dating from around 1500 that eventually became a Victorian prison. There were informative displays on each of its 4 floors, linked by steep spiral stairs, and a spectacular view of the town and Loch Ryan from the roof top - and all for free. Open Tues-Sat in June to September.

Stranraer Museum, in the old Town Hall on nearby George Street, is open all year (except Sundays), also free of charge. It had interesting collections on local history, from Stone Age to World War II, as well as art and photography exhibitions upstairs. More on both these sites at www.dumgal.gov.uk/museums.

From Stranraer it is 22 miles south, down the Rhinns of Galloway peninsula, to the Mull of Galloway lighthouse: Scotland's most southerly point. In the circumstances (poor weather and an ailing van), we shall reluctantly save that for our next visit.

To Braids Caravan Park, Gretna, Scotland – 95 miles

Open all year. See www.thebraidscaravanpark.co.uk. £18 inc electricity. Showers £0.20. Cash or debit card (3% surcharge for credit cards). No WiFi.

Heading east on A75, we crossed The Machars (low hills of the Southern Uplands, max 340 ft/100 m) to Newton Stewart at 24 miles, then south down the Cree estuary and round the coast past Gatehouse of Fleet at 40 miles. Turning northeast, A75 passed to the north of Dumfries via a series of roundabouts at 70 miles, crossed the River Nith and followed the Galloway Tourist Route to Gretna. Turn right onto B721 at 94 miles and the campsite is a mile along Annan Road on the left, just before the centre of Gretna Village.

It was an easy 10-minute walk into Gretna Township (as distinct from Gretna Green of runaway marriage fame, which lies 1.5 miles to the north). In search of internet, to send a letter to Golden Castle Caravans, we found the Library closed (Wednesday). At the Post Office, the assistant suggested we try Tourist Info at the 'Gretna Gateway Outlet Village', less than a mile further along Annan Road across the roundabout (just a mile north of the English Border).

This proved to be one of those conglomerations of discount outlets, its huge car park full, crowded with shoppers looking for Christmas decorations in August. The TI did not offer internet but suggested the Costa Coffee cafe. They did not have internet either, but said their customers picked up WiFi from the neighbouring Carphone Warehouse! We sought permission from the nice lady in CPW to sit outside (minus coffee) and finally sent off our email. While there, we did have a small shopping spree, at M&S, the Cadbury Store and the Works Outlet (books and stationery), where M found a lovely new illustrated biography of Leonard Cohen: Alleluja!

Next day Gretna Library, in the former Village Institute, was open with free WiFi (that didn't work with our laptop) or use of their computers (which did). We had a happy hour in there, chatting with the friendly librarian and learning about the history of Gretna.

Starting as a temporary settlement of wooden huts in 1915, the township was created by Lloyd George's ministry of Munitions to house most of the 30,000 workers (many of them young women far from home) at HM Munitions Factory Gretna. The development, designed by the best town planners and architects of the day, included hostels, central kitchens, laundry, bakery, garages and workshops, offices, cinema, dance hall, medical facilities, shops, bank, school and churches – everything needed to keep the volunteers at their vital work. Gretna Barracks was also home to one of Britain's first women police forces, who looked after the female workforce. Many of the buildings are still in use (eg The Gables Hotel, next to our campsite, was the residence of the Senior Medical Officer) and the library has a very thorough free leaflet 'Gretna Garden City Heritage Trail' for a walk through time.

For more on the creation of Gretna, visit the Devil's Porridge Museum at nearby Eastriggs: www.devilsporridge.co.uk, as we shall do next time. All much more interesting than mock weddings over the blacksmith's anvil to amuse the coach parties at the 'world famous smithy'!

To Delamere Forest Camping & Caravan Club Site, Cheshire, England – 149 miles

Open all year. See www.campingandcaravanningclub.co.uk. Club site (non-members welcome for extra fee). High season £22.65 inc electricity and showers etc. (Mid-season Member Age Concession rate from 2 Sept: £16.05) WiFi £2 for 24 continuous hrs or £10 for 7 days.

The last day of August dawned fine and bright, after Britain's coldest August night on record (with clear sky, full moon and frost in Gretna). It was just 2 miles round to the M6, heading south: Welcome to England.

We passed Penrith at 32 miles, then climbed gradually past the exit for Shap, reaching the motorway summit of 1,036 ft/314 m at 42 miles. Taking a break at Tebay Services, 4 miles later, the altitude was 750 ft/227 m; by the time we entered Lancashire at 69 miles it was only 200 ft/60 m. Forton Services, where we parked for lunch at 84 miles, was very busy. Tonight (last Friday of August) is the switch-on of Blackpool Illuminations and traffic was pouring onto the M55 as we passed its exit at 95 miles.

Continuing down M6 to exit 20a, we then took M56 westbound for 10 miles to exit 12. It was another 5 miles, south through Frodsham on B5152, to Delamere Forest Park with the C&CC site entrance on the right, just before the railway bridge and station. The campsite was full, being the last weekend of school holidays; luckily, we had booked a pitch and were sited right by a 'kissing gate' into the forest.

The good news was that a fish & chip van (Tues and Friday evenings) came and – even better – a pizza chef arrived on Saturday evening, making various pizzas to order in a wood-fired oven in his 1972 classic Citroen van!

September 2012

We'd chosen Delamere Forest in order to meet Brian, an old pal of Barry's from their days in Madras, now back in touch thanks to their mutual friend, Murdoch MacKenzie. Brian was driving over from his home in Warrington to visit us at the campsite, so Margaret went to inform Reception, who could direct him to our pitch. Oh no they couldn't! Visitors' cars are NOT ALLOWED into the campsite - they must park at the railway station and walk in. Rules are rules.

We went to investigate and found a small unmarked area of rough ground on the Manchester side of the station, as suggested by Reception. If you cross the railway and park at the Chester side by the ticket office and station cafe, there are threats of wheel clamping except for customers. Beyond that is an expensive Pay & Display parking. We duly had to phone Brian a warning and meet him at the entrance. But we did have a good afternoon, catching up with each other's lives over tea and walnut muffins.

On our last day at Delamere we drove back into Frodsham to shop (Morrisons). When the rain eased after lunch we set out for a walk in the Forest but all the paths were so boggy and churned up by horse-riders that we had to give up and leave it to the rabbits and grey squirrels. Campers in lighter footwear were actually stuck in the mud.

Return to Briarfields Touring Park, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire – 100 miles

Open all year. See www.briarfields.net. ACSI off-season card €16 or £14, inc electricity and free WiFi. N 51.89471Ί W 2.13408Ί

We drove 13 miles via A556 and A533 to Middlewich, then 2 miles on A54 to M6, Junction 18. We lost count of the roundabouts! After that it was straight down M6, with a break at Keele Services at 31 miles, and M5 to exit 11 for Cheltenham. It was a very hot day, which did nothing to improve the Sprinter's oil leak!

Arriving at Briarfields early afternoon, we settled gratefully onto the familiar campsite, which has become our base. During a 3-month caravan tour of Northern England and Scotland we'd avoided England's wettest summer, renewed old friendships, revisited favourite places and done some good cycling. Now it was over, both caravan and Sprinter needed attention and we were in the right place for that.

The next 10 days were filled with emailing, website management, cleaning, shopping and planning, as we moved back into the Flair motorhome, leaving the Sprinter van in the capable hands of the Motorhome Medics. Darren and Martin had already prepared the Flair for its next tour, with a thorough service etc, a new awning and replacement rooflight.

The Bailey caravan had begun to show signs of a leak round the door, along with other issues identified in Glencoe, so we took it for inspection at Golden Castle Caravans where we bought it in May. They did accept responsibility under the Warranty and agreed to fix everything (including the rain-stained carpet), though nothing could be done until the end of October. That problem (like many others) was solved by arrangement with Motorhome Medics, who will retrieve the caravan from its storage farm and return it once the work has been done. What would we do without them?

We finally put the caravan into store, booked the DFDS Dover-Dunkirk ferry and set off in the Flair, destination unknown. It felt good.

(continued at: Motorhoming Europe Autumn 2012)