“Welcome to Scotland” the road sign exclaimed as we crossed the border from England to Gretna, near the Firth of Forth. It was a pleasant day – quite warm and reasonably sunny and clear which was great as we were looking forward to seeing Scotland in all its abundant natural beauty.
Now Scotland does not necessarily have the best reputation when it comes to the weather and on this particular day it lived up to its infamy! Within minutes of crossing the border the sky had turned a steely grey and before long it was raining so hard that we could hardly see a thing.
Despite the weather we found a great place to stay the night – the Carmichael Visitor Centre located in the Scottish Borders between Lanark and Biggar.
Everything was closed up when we arrived that evening in the wet and misty weather but the following day the sun had broken through and we discovered that although the farm shop was closed that day, fortunately, the Carmichael bistro was open for business.
After experiencing our first Scottish cooked breakfast including black pudding, oatcakes and haggis, we had a chat with our hosts who told us that the whole complex was run by the Carmichael Clan.
The name Carmichael is derived from the Church built here in 1058 and dedicated to St Michael. Later, when surnames became necessary in the thirteenth Century, the residents became known as CaerMichel (Caer=fortress or stronghold).
As we were leaving we saw a notice welcoming us to take a look in the outbuildings and to our great surprise we discovered the most amazing array of wax figures depicting famous Scottish figures throughout history!
We learnt later that the waxworks were originally displayed in an Edinburgh museum and these are the only wax models now on display in Scotland.
From the ancestral lands of the Carmichaels we made for the popular tourist destination of Fort William and were enchanted by our first glimpses of a Scottish loch – the renowned Loch Lomond – the largest lake in the United Kingdom and an area of great beauty.
The A82 follows closely the shores of Loch Lomond and the views were spectacular despite the now cloudy weather.
Soon we were entering the Highlands where the views became ever more dramatic and where we soon seemed to be surrounded by majestic mountains and tranquil lochs.
We reached Fort William, the home of the highest mountain in the UK, Ben Nevis, in the late evening but because in the summer it stays light until well after many people’s bedtimes we still had time to drive round the top of delightful (and small) Loch Eil – a sea loch that opens into Loch Linnhe.
After a lonely drive along a mostly one-track road during which we saw no cars but plenty of sheep and a few deer, we arrived at the Inn at Ardgour on Loch Linnhe where we parked for the night.
After a hearty breakfast at the Inn we crossed over the loch to Fort William on the tiny car ferry.
Our next destination was the Isle of Skye which is connected to Scotland’s northwest coast by bridge.
The countryside on the way to Skye was beautiful – think purple heather, movie set villages, dramatic mountains and a fairytale castle – but the weather was not exactly wonderful. Leaden skies and heavy clouds dominated the landscape.
Our first glimpse of the Isle of Skye was of more mountains and the road bridge linking Kyle of Lochalsh on the mainland to the island.
Once a toll bridge, there is now no charge to travel over it to and from the Isle of Skye thanks to pressure brought to bear by local activists.
Skye is famous for its rugged scenery, dramatic vistas, cute little villages and heroic castles and it did not disappoint.
Naturally, being such a stunning destination there were many tourists and lots of traffic – including people like us in campervans.
Unfortunately, some of the drivers were less than competent. On our first afternoon we had one rental van veer over to our side of the road while the driver was negotiating a bend in the road (we think he must have been distracted by the view) and smashed our offside wing mirror so hard that the plastic case shattered as well as the glass.
This made driving difficult as we obviously don’t have a rear view mirror and having a left hand drive vehicle rely very heavily on that mirror.
Fortunately we found a garage in the town of Portree who gave us a “temporary fix” which allowed us perfectly adequate vision although it didn’t look pretty!
We left Portree and the crowds behind to explore some of the wilder parts of Skye.
We hiked up through sheep paddocks to an iron-age fort (or broch) (the small fort) – the best known, the best preserved, and the most accessible of the 50 or so brochs on Skye.
There was not another soul in sight as we explored the ruins and marvelled at the stunning views over Loch Bracadale. Then it was back to the van for a delicious gin and tonic and some dinner before passing a peaceful night parked away from the crowds and with perfect views.