Scotland.. here we come again, glorious 11 nights away stopping at three sites, Fort William for 5 nights, Braemar in the Cairngorms for 3 nights and Kielder Forest, Northumberland for 2, we’ve been so looking forward to this break and planned on making every day count.
Past few days have been great and have been spent cleaning Pod, shopping for a few days’ worth of supplies and planning our days out around walking, kayaking and hopefully coming across a few of the local sites, love the build-up and can never get tired of planning our little adventures. The main aim of this trip though was to reach the summit of Ben Nevis aka ‘The Ben’..
Early start for us, up at 5am and out of the door for 6. Really do have it down to a fine art now, so much so we hover near the front door before leaving, convinced we have forgotten something. Also a new car for this trip, a Dacia Duster, only took delivery the day before so bit of a new experience driving it, never mind towing something with it too, even if it is little old Pod.
Traffic was extremely light and we were making good time, we stopped at Gretna services for a leg stretch and a quick bite to eat, nothing exciting, just sandwiches made the night before. The weather wasn’t brilliant, very overcast and it insisted on raining on and off on the way up, by this point Pod was filthy due to all the splash back, all that hard work washing, buffing, polishing.. gone.
Arrived on site just after 1pm and as we approached the main entrance we were met by a narrow road and a single set of traffic lights, once they had changed to green and we began the drive towards the site office we were grateful for the lights as there was absolutely no way two vehicles would have passed each other, it would have been a very long and interesting reversing task.
Booking in was easy, we tried to wangle a sea view pitch as the awning on Pod is at the rear, but they weren’t for budging, any awning, no front sea view pitch. Didn’t expect any different but everyone loves a trier. We drove around the site and on the first circuit we found one facing the loch and because of the positioning of the pitches we had a clear view of the loch, hills, sunset and beyond.
The rain had died away and Pod was soon up with the kettle on, you can never beat a nice hot cup of tea once everything is in its place and you can put your feet up to relax, this we did for the next hour or so, just sat, taking it all in, the hills stretching out beyond and around with the loch between us, so still bar a lone canoeist making his way along the shore.
Dinner was eaten, bit of ritual now it seems, our first night on site we treat ourselves to something we don’t eat a lot of at home and on this occasion it was steak. Two small venison steaks on the griddle along with pasta in sauce and a stir fry, very welcome and all cooked on the two ring burner in Pod.
That stuff called rain made a return visit and on this occasion it didn’t appear to be in a hurry to leave, this of course meant we had to rethink our walking of Ben Nevis, we had other things in the pipeline but so hoped at least one of our four days would be good enough to give ‘The Ben’ a bash.
The rain let up for a short while and we took an evening stroll along the beach, we walked through the site and eventually found a small path down to the pebble and boulder covered beach. Cloud had descended, this left no chance of the sunset breaking through and the tide was coming in so the millpond of earlier was not to be seen.
Fabulously welcoming hot showers were had and once back at Pod the weather reports were checked, Ben Nevis was a definite No. So a decision was made to have a lazy morning and head into Fort William for a good mooch round. Least we had our waterproofs with us so all should be good.
Sunday arrived and it just so happened to be the Men’s final at Wimbledon, as we were in Scotland what could be better than to watch one of their favourite sons Andy Murray, hopefully win his 2nd Wimbledon Final, so as walking wasn’t on the cards we decided as part of our mission into Fort William we would hunt down Strawberries and Cream and settle in for the afternoon to watch what we knew would be a great match.
Drove into town and parked in an all day spot for £2, very reasonable. A walk round the town didn’t reveal much as most of the shops were closed, it was Sunday but expected some to be open as it was the holiday season. We nipped in and out of a few specialty shops, one of the best being one for whiskey, as soon as we walked in we were hit with the heady aroma of malt whiskey, all peaty and fire, wonderful. Most made locally and some out for tasting, couldn’t say no, at least LB couldn’t as she wasn’t driving.
We called into the local food shop and there on display were strawberries, cream and meringue, it was meant to be, wasn’t it.. so two huge tubs of strawberries, large container of double cream and deliciously crisp meringues were bought.
Rain continued on and off so after a walk along the sea front we headed back to Pod, just in time to get the chairs and TV positioned, strawberries and cream dished up and the beer opened. Let the tennis begin.. and did it begin. Edge of the seat stuff at times but a brilliant game and worthy win for Mr. Murray, well deserved, the man even brought tears to someone’s eyes.
Dinner consisted of Quorn Chilli and a few beers followed by a walk along the beach, so peaceful and still, all that could be heard were passing sea birds who stopped momentarily on the rocks before moving on over the loch, it sounded almost lonely as they disappeared from view.
Once back at Pod weather checks were done and all looked good for Ben Nevis in the morning, we voiced our plan on our Facebook page and from our followers we received much welcome advice on conditions and the appropriate gear to wear, someone had even gone to the extent of finding the weather chart specifically for ‘The Ben’, how thoughtful is that.
Hot showers were had and once all our gear was checked the alarm was set for 5am and we went to bed hopeful of a good day on Ben Nevis.
We woke with the alarm and automatically looked out of the window, sun was on its way up but it was raining, we’d been promised dry weather so hoped this was just for the first few hours. Decision was made to head to Glen Nevis visitors centre and reassess once there.
Once breakfast was eaten we drove the short distance to the centre and were surprised to see that the car park was empty apart from a motorhome which had parked there over night.
It had stopped raining so paid to park for the day and began getting ourselves ready. Now, we have walked many places, done Snowden and Scafell Pike and we have always dressed appropriately and changed accordingly as we went. For some unknown reason, perhaps a little apprehensive because of the stories we have read, we put nearly every piece of clothing we had with us on, including full waterproofs, we were wrapped up like Christmas Turkeys. Needless to say after stopping every few kilometres to take something off by halfway point we were in t-shirts and trousers.
We were still below the cloud as we crossed a small river using a very nice wooden bridge and as we did so we both wondered how on earth anyone had done this without the bridge, slightly perilous to say the least as it was quite a drop below.
Once over we continued and the higher we walked the near the cloud got, needless to say by the time we reached the waterfall the visibility around us was very poor, little drizzle had also appeared but not enough to warrant more clothing.
The paths were very well made and on our journey up we were amazed at the work that had been done, huge grey bags containing boulders had been dropped off at various points to ease the process but even so we did wonder how anyone managed to move the sizeable rocks into place. It was awe inspiring and a credit to all those involved.
With no scenery to take in and the light rain to spoil our fun we trudged on upwards, it was very much like climbing a never ending set of unmatched stairs, great work out for the thighs and other areas.
After 2/3rds of the way we had passed a few people but nothing like what we had expected and we put this down to our early start. The only thing that really spoilt it for us was the lack of respect shown by other walkers, we say other walkers because we can’t think of anyone else who could be responsible for it.. litter. Attempts made to hide plastic bottle and sandwich wrappers were unbelievable, unsightly pieces of humanity spoiling the highest peak in the UK. Looked up the definition of ‘humane’ :showing evidence of moral and intellectual advancement, sadly it wasn’t present today.
We had passed the zig zags and the rain began to get heavier, we knew we weren’t that far from the top and the temperature began to drop, so we thought it prudent to start putting layers on, including waterproofs.
The cloud became thicker and the cairns began to disappear in front of us, luckily we had a map and managed to navigate to the next few. Low and behold as we reached the peak snow could still be seen, we attempted to put our hands in to leave our prints but no amount of pressure would leave a mark, it was rock hard, on this occasion a little reminder of our presence was not going to be left.
Small boulders were everywhere and we stumbled over them in the direction of the trig point, the temperature had dropped considerably and visibility was approximately 5 metres, great shame to have reached the top of the highest peak in the UK but couldn’t admire the view, that said though we were extremely chuffed with ourselves to have made it in four hours.
This time every piece of clothing went on, just before the gloves were donned the obligatory picture was taken and we then found a little niche to sit in and have a quick bite to eat. We were soon joined by a solo walker and a group of three, we could feel their sense achievement as all had big grins slapped across their faces. Cloud was closing in, becoming thicker so none of us hung around too long and in our own time all started to make their way back down again.
We hadn’t passed the first few cairns when we began to see people making the journey up, the number gradually increased and by the halfway point we had passed quite a few, all asking ‘how far to go’ and ‘is the weather any better’? Without wanting to dampen spirits that already looked sodden we jeered them upwards with words of encouragement but didn’t even attempt to fill them with too much hope concerning the view, we were honest but hoped it would clear for them.
The rain increased and some people on the way up were inadequately dressed, there was no getting away from it. Tried to make sense of it, even excuses but there wasn’t any, especially when we passed a young man in chinos and shirt sleeves, jacked slung over his arm as if out for a Sunday stroll shortly after followed by a man in shorts and crocks with an umbrella and young girls in trainers wearing 99p festival ponchos.
Journey down was hard on the knees but we were still on a high with our achievement, once we cleared the cloud we had the spectacular view down the valley to walk towards, within a few hours we were back at the car park and once de-kitted flopped into the car to drive the short journey back to Pod.
On the way back, couldn’t resist one last picture of The Ben, but her summit remained hidden in the clouds, teasing us.
Those showers were never more welcome and once we’d eaten we didn’t last much longer before collapsing into bed, extremely pleased with ourselves and already planning our next adventure.
Tuesday arrived and neither of us were in a rush to get out of bed, aching bodies and stiff joints prevented any sudden movements and breakfast was eaten re-living our conquering of ‘The Ben’.
Weather looked promising so decision was made to do laundry in the morning and if the weather held take the kayak for a paddle on a nearby loch, laundry consisted of two washers and dryers and we seemed to time it right so with a few return visits to change machines and top up the timer with money it was all done quite quickly.
While this was going on we sat outside and spent the morning chatting with passing people, Pod always get plenty of attention and the thing we have learnt is that you can’t be shy if you own a Pod, people can’t resist talking about or asking for a peek inside. We don’t mind at all so a few days never went by without someone having a look inside, good job it’s easy enough to keep tidy and we are always willing to try and answer any questions they may have, we’ve yet to see another Pod on site so we are more than willing to help with a Podding revolution.
We were even joined on the site by another pod so to speak, it’s big brother you might say. Pictures were exchanged and the pros and cons discussed but obviously we wouldn’t swap Pod for anything, way too versatile and easy to tow, a perfect LSV.
Lunch eaten and laundry put away we were soon on our way to Loch Lochy, the wind had picked up and when we arrived it looked quite choppy, doable but not what we were after today, after yesterday’s monumental event we wanted a more sedate activity.
Drove on a little further and soon came to Loch Oich, surrounded by tall trees it was much calmer and with the sun breaking through the clouds casting shadows on the loch it looked perfect. We pulled into a car park and before unpacking the kayak we checked for a decent launch point, once found within a few minutes we had the kayak inflated, loaded up with the gear and we were paddling up the loch with no particular destination in mind.
As we moved along at a leisurely pace the only noise to be heard was the rhythmic sound of our paddles entering the water as we glided along the shore passing boats sat silently on the water’s edge. They ranged from extremely expensive, smart and pristine to abandoned and half submerged, slowly decaying in the water, much like the old ruined buildings to be seen on the edge of the Loch.
Continuing up the Loch we heard a low but deep rumbling noise coming up behind us, we looked and were amazed to see a C130 Hercules plane heading in our direction, directly along the length of the Loch. As it soared overhead LB fumbled for her camera, doing her best to be quick but also aware one slip and the camera could be dropped and lost for ever in the loch, pictures were taken and it soon disappeared into the distance.
The journey up the loch continued, we were passed by a few yachts and further down the loch someone was attempting to waterski. Heading in our direction were two canoes and as they came within greeting distance they gave out a shout and laughed, they had thought Podding was real. Made us laugh as many seem to think he’s real, even when dangling from LB’s rucksack on the way down a mountain.
Eventually it came time to turn and head in the direction of the car, we checked for traffic and paddled across the loch to slowly wind our way back to our launch point, the water skier seemed to be having great fun even though they were spending more time in the water than on the board. We too had loved our time on the lake, extremely peaceful and very picturesque.
Once back at the car the kayak was deflated, given a quick wipe over and put back in the car, we were soon on our way back to Pod, the kayak is a great piece of kit and absolutely perfect for our needs.
Sun was still out so dinner was eaten with the awning open facing the loch, we’d been lucky with the midges so we were able to enjoy the sunset without any worries of being eaten alive. We had one day left before moving onto Braemar so plans were made to visit the Ben Nevis Distillery just outside Fort William, reviews weren’t brilliant but you surely can’t go wrong with a distillery where the nectar left behind by the angles remained.
Woke to find low cloud which threatened to off load whatever it was hanging onto, after breakfast it brightened a little and we set off to the distillery. It was easy enough to find as it was set back off one of the main roads out of town, the carpark was of a fair size and there were plenty of spaces available.
Once inside we found the reception and two tickets for £5 each were bought, we were also provided with two £5 vouchers which could be used to buy a bottle of our choice from the shop. We were then shown into a small room which accommodated approximately 30 people, already seated were around 6 and all were facing the front waiting for a large to screen to kick into life.
As we waited we were joined by about another half dozen people and at this point a young lady dressed in tartan announced the itinerary for the next hour or so, the tv sprung into action and began to tell us the tale of Ben Nevis whiskey. It was very entertaining told through the eyes of a Scottish giant, educational and informative.
Once the show was over the young lady appeared again and the tour of the distillery began, she lead us through the various departments and stopped at each section to provide us with all the relevant information, she provided it all with a clear voice and a huge smile. She was very knowledgeable and handled all questions well with a little humour thrown in, even a few low ballers shall we say.
Once the tour was over we had the pleasure of sampling a triple blended whiskey, not usually a fan of blends but it was a fiery mix on the tongue, after perusing the shelves a bottle of Ben Nevis single malt was bought using one of the vouchers, any discount is always welcome.
We left the distillery and drove the short distance to the local supermarket, supplies were bought, hopefully enough to see us through our next two caravan sites. Once back at Pod dinner was eaten and we set about planning our departure in the morning, checking travel times we gave ourselves 3hrs driving so as long as we left before 9am we would arrive at Braemar not long after midday.
After a short stroll along the beach we spent our last evening at Bunree looking out over the loch and chatting about our adventure so far; climbing a mountain, paddling in a loch and plenty of sight seeing, it was going by far too fast but over the next few days we had another adventure or two planned ..