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Skerray wild camp

Today has turned into something rather special.

We leave Durness under leaden skies but there is a hint of brightness on the horizon that draws us on towards the east. Cliffs and islands off this most northerly coast of Scotland give way to the vast expanse of Loch Eriboll as we turn south along its shore and follow it for eight miles to the point where it shrinks to just its feeding river.

Loch Eriboll

Loch Eriboll

The heavy rain shower and sudden drop in temperature can’t spoil our wonder at this enormous sheet of silvery splendour and now we are gazing back at the west side of the water as we head north once more. A couple of challenging climbs warm us up again and the rain gives up and passes away behind us.

We plunge back down to yet another sparkling loch, this time Loch Hope, and then begin to climb to a much higher wilder place where heather and rock replace the vivid green grasses of the lowlands and deer peer down at us from their vantage points above.

Down we go again

Down we go again

Cloud wraps around us and steals the views for a while. We are lost in a mysterious small world, shrunk to just the next thirty yards or so and the occasional pair of car headlights emerge from time to time like the eyes of some eerie beast approaching from the gloom. It’s cold and wet and we are relieved when we feel the ground begin to fall and finally after an age of speeding through the fog we emerge into a wonderland of sunlight glinting off the waters of the Kyle of Tongue as we race across the causeway and head for the village and a welcome break.

Fuelled by tea and cake we continue on the single track main road towards Bettyhill but we peel off north on a road that feels as if it is taking us into a different level of remoteness. We are surrounded by grey rock, auburn heather and the ground sparkles with water everywhere. White fluffy tufts of cotton grass give away the fact that this is boggy ground, wholly unsuited to a wild campsite but that’s fine as we don’t want to stop just yet. The road rises and falls and weaves between the rock knolls and then we begin to descend. We are heading for the coast but it keeps itself well hidden until suddenly, like the curtain going up on some sensational drama there is sea and huge, huge cliffs right there in front of us. And this is our home for the night. It’s a dramatic wild place but with a small solid harbour nursing half a dozen tiny boats in its strong stone arms. We find a patch of grass and pitch the tent and then we just stare and stare at the wonder of it. There are sand martins nesting in the small cliffs next to our pitch and a heron is fishing the shallow water on the beach. Oyster catchers peep, peep their piercing calls against a backing track of the sea as it repeatedly swooshes onto the pebble shore just a few feet from the door of the tent.

Home for the night

Home for the night

The sun has finally won the day and pours its bright, colour filled light on blue sea and red rock cliffs. We sit in the porch and gaze in wonder at the scene and contemplate another day that will stay with us forever.

Cousins galore

I’m sitting in the most idyllic situation on a Camping and Caravan Club site at Ravenglass on the Cumbrian coast. It’s been a tough hilly day and that may be contributing to just how good the beer tastes. Pasta is boiling on the stove while I do a bit of catching up and Gill is doing her Pilates exercises in the tent. There is a constant chorus of song birds and crows providing audio backing while rabbits and lambs provide visual entertainment. It’s all a bit Watership Downish to be honest. The fact that the sun has shone all day may also be playing it’s part in my general feeling of well being. Just wait for the first blog at the end of a day of persistent rain and it may have a different flavour to it.

We’ve had a great start to the trip with fine weather and nothing to spoil the mood at all. As I cleaned my teeth on the morning after our first camp (well I was flossing actually) I was engaged in conversation by another camper. Within five minutes I had been given his name, address and phone number with a promise of whatever help we might need when we eventually get to South Wales. It was a bit awkward with me standing there holding a piece of half used floss but Mike’s attitude was typical of everybody we have met so far. There are lovely people out there folks, go and meet them at every opportunity.

Our second night was spent with my cousin Jane, her husband Peter (who cycled out to meet us) and their culinary genius of a daughter Emily who produced a fabulous three course dinner. Needless to say there was wine and beer too and heaps of warm and very fun filled conversation. We did it all again over breakfast (without the alcohol) and then it was off to visit another cousin, Margaret in Dalton. We soon knew that we were approaching the edge of the Lake district both from the spectacular views and the huffing and panting as we took in the first hills of what was to be quite a hard day for our unacustomed muscles. Yet another cousin, Veronica arrived and we had a lovely time drinking tea and being shown around the extensive garden by Margaret’s husband Dennis. I particularly liked the story Dennis told of my Uncle Teddy replacing the petrol engine on his cement mixer with an electric one from a washing machine. Now that is recycling.

We arrived in Ravenglass to great drama. Some poor chap has gone missing, presumed drowned and the entire emergency services of Cumbria seemed to have descended on this quiet little seaside village. There were even TV crews, all a surreal contrast to the peaceful haven of our nearby campsite.

For those who like these things we’ve covered about 140 miles so far. I say about, the cycle computer has packed up already so we will be calculating mileage from our maps until we get it sorted. Here are a few pics from the first three days

Silverdale

Siverdale

Cousin Jane

Cousin Jane

Millom

Millom

Morecambe boats

Morecambe boats

Chicken attack!

Chicken attack!

Idyllic camp at Ravenglass

Idyllic camp at Ravenglass

 

Moving house

I love the questions people ask us about our trip. “Where will you stay?” crops up quite frequently and has, on occasion, been followed by “will you have an electric hook-up?”.  That, after we have told them that we will mainly be camping. Goodness knows what they think we carry in our panniers.

Well the answer to the first question is very definitely, we will be camping as much as possible to keep the costs down and because we like camping. Yes you read that correctly, we actually do like to sleep in a small space with nothing more than two bits of thin nylon fabric between us and the elements. It’s as close to sleeping outside as you can get without having to worry about getting wet or cold. People talk about, ‘getting close to nature’. Well most of the time we are just two zippers away. The sounds of animals and birds, rain on the fabric, wind whistling in the trees and distorting the shape of our shelter and even the smells of the outdoors are all so close from inside our little cavern.

"excuse me, this is my pitch"

“excuse me, this is my pitch”

What was once known as the ‘bell end’ but is now, more often referred to rather pretentiously as the ‘vestibule’ of the tent has been home to beetles, hedgehogs, a robin, and once, rather alarmingly, a horse’s head. That last experience probably brought me a little closer to nature than I was comfortable with. (Aren’t they big?) Gill wasn’t with me at the time or she might have been put off camping for good. When we aren’t hosting local fauna it’s just magic to open the flysheet zip in the morning and be greeted by a glorious sunrise or a world turned sparkling white with frost.

With the kettle on, we relish the prospect of a lovely cup of tea whilst watching the world wake up from our morning campsite.

Of course there are occasions when a nice bed and breakfast might be preferable. Pitching the tent in heavy rain isn’t much fun and the same goes for packing it up in the wet. We once spent an hour huddled inside with all our gear packed and ready to go while we listened to the rain hammering on the flysheet. So loud was it that at times it made conversation difficult, and we gave ourselves several deadlines to get out and load up all of which passed without further discussion. What people who don’t camp or work outdoors don’t realise though, is that rain that goes on for hour after hour is actually very rare. Showers of varying lengths are much more common and easier to deal with.

Pitching the tent in normal conditions is very easy. It takes little more than five minutes between taking the tent off the bike and putting the kettle on from the comfort of our cosy little home. Complete with arm chairs and radio four. I loved it when we were assailed by a caravan dweller one morning who complimented us on our camp craft. “I watched you pitch your tent last night and I said to the wife: they’ve done that a time or two before haven’t they?” It’s so easy and convenient and unlike a hotel there’s no need to worry that the wallpaper won’t be to our taste.

Occasionally we will use a hostel or a Bed and Breakfast to avoid really bad weather or to catch up on washing and chores that don’t come easy on a campsite but mostly we will camp. We will also be using a web based organisation called Warm Showers which is brilliant for all sorts of reasons but that deserves a post all of its own. In the meantime, in case you are wondering, this will be our bijou residence for ninety percent of the time:

Room with a view

Room with a view

With a different view every day of course.