A good place to wash.
That’s what one always seems to be looking for when touring round in a camper van. I look out of the curtains this morning at the expanse of loch, a sunless glare amongst the tall trees on the bank, and watch Passepartout bathing on precarious rocks. I count her falling in 3 times, rising each time like a miserable looking beast from the lagoon.
We set off for a mini circuit inside our on-going lap of Britain, looking to circumnavigate the 70, or so, miles of Loch Ness.
The west side road runs straight alongside the notorious waters for about ¾ of the way down, then we’re thrown off the side of the Loch and out back into mountainous areas, further west. We’re happy to see the high peaks again. Unsure how many more we’ll see from now on as we leave the Highlands.
High above another loch, Loch Loyne, we’re inveigled to the side of the road by a crowd of gathered tourists. These are day-trippers – less fit and hearty than the lone walker figures we occasionally glimpsed through north Scotland – and they’re staring at a field full of piled-up small stone shrines. I ask but nobody seems to know why or for what purpose these hundreds of balanced stone towers have been left here. I walk around and peer at a few but they give me no real clues. Memorials I suppose. I see a note wedged under one rock stack “For Fred” next to a whisky bottle. Bottle empty.
I also catch the tailend of conversation of a cagouled Japanese to an inordinately jaunty Scot, who seemed to be on his own personally appointed errand here, doing the rounds, talking to the Loch Ness tourists.
“Really? You’ve seen it?”
“Oh aye. Many times. But the wee beastie only comes out at night…”
We carry on. I watch the loud, maroon v-necked jumpered Caledonia card beaming for a photo in a line-up of trusting Japanese in the camper’s rear-view mirror.
The next Loch we meet, Loch Garry, I’ve read it looks like an outline of Scotland in profile from a certain angle. We stop and I’m sure I can see Scotland lying down there, in bright water, like an ice cube mould, and try to convince a dubious holidaying couple stood on a rock taking in the view. As I push them “Come on, can’t you see it there? Look, that would be Edinburgh, just over there would be John o’Groats..” I realise I’m becoming annoying as the flabby jokster back at Loch Loyne and I re-join Passepartout back in the van.
Up the road, back on the eastern side now of Loch Ness, we pull over to inspect the waters more closely. We sit on a jetty and watch the slight waves of the loch lap over rocks, submerge them, and watch as the rocks writhe back into sight. Nothing more sinister comes out of the oily black-looking water.
The falls of Foyers, off the loch, provide a fairly steep climb down. And up too, so it appears, as we pass a young boy pulling at the arm of his grandmother, sat resolutely on the cut steps.
“I can’t. I’m fucked”.
And so we reach Inverness again, having completed our tranquil gyratory of the loch.
We don’t want to continuing the way we’re heading now – north – which would take us up, back onto the Black Isle we’d passed the day before – as with the Isle of Purbeck hundreds of miles to the south, not really an Isle, a peninsular, but definitely sounding like something out of Tolkein, as many places in this part of the world seem to do.
We don’t want to head over the Beauty Firth, where we had seen the River Ness empty itself from the Loch into the sea, and which, actually, isn’t really that beautiful.
And we don’t want to head south on the A82 which would take us past everything we’d seen on the way up.
We toy with the idea of heading a few miles due west to Elgin to allow the Greek to wreak revenge on the current Earl for his ancestor’s pillaging of the Parthenon marbles but decide instead to get back on the A9 and head south through Culloden (more grisly British history).
For the first time in Scotland we’re on a good, large road. The Far North train line runs alongside us, turning into the Aberdeen line. I had heard a good story once that train drivers are unofficially instructed to go full speed whenever they run alongside a main road. I hope it’s true, but as another ScotRail express flies past our slogged-out van, they really don’t need to with us.
As we lumber and toil up the steep climbs of the road as it passes through the Cairngorms, the previously completely empty road suddenly fills up behind us, snaking back with slow moving traffic. This is worse than tiny roads of the Highlands.
The south-west end of the Grampian mountains – the range which runs up to the north east of the country – including Ben Nevis, gives us deeper trees all around. The trees casting long shadows over the road.
Heather running riot off in the fields, streaks of purple lying at angles all over the hills. We cross stony half-rivers, patiently waiting to be filled by the more customary Scottish rains, like a parched dog standing by its bowl.
At Birnam Wood we pass the point where Macbeth met his witches and everything to me seems fair and nothing foul, and we advance through Perthshire on our way to Stirling.
From Culloden to Bannockburn, from the low point of Scottish history to the high, in one day. The sky blushing purple and pink in the summer dusk as we roll into Stirling town.