A good place to wash.
That’s what you always seem to be looking for when touring round in a camper van.
I look out of the curtains of the van this morning at the great expanse of Loch Ness, a sunless glare amongst the tall trees on the bank, and watch Giristroula bathing precariously perched on rocks close to the shore.
She’s got a good location, that’s for sure.
As a sip my tea, I count her toppling and falling at least 3 times, rising each time like some miserable looking beast from the lagoon.
We set off for a mini circuit inside our larger, on-going, lap of Britain: looking to circumnavigate the 70, or so, miles round Loch Ness.
The west side road runs straight alongside the notorious waters for about ¾ of the way down, but 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 head southwards and leave the Highlands.
High above another loch, Loch Loyne, we’re inveigled to the side of the road by the sight of a curious 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 all staring at a field full of piled-up small stone shrines. We pull up to have a look too.
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. Home-made memorials I guess, is my conclusion.
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 a cagouled Japanese is having with an inordinately jaunty Scot, who seems to be on his own personally appointed errand here – doing the rounds, talking to the Loch Ness tourists.
“Really? You’ve seen it?” the Japanese says.
“Oh aye. Many times. But the wee beastie only comes out at night…”
We get back in the van and carry on. I watch in the camper’s rear-view mirror as we depart. The loud, maroon v-necked jumpered Caledonia card beaming for a photo in a line-up of slightly bemused, trusting Japanese.
The next loch we meet, Loch Garry, I’ve read in my guide book 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, set in the bright water, like an ice cube mould.
I try to convince a holidaying couple stood on a rock taking their photos.
They are doing the habitual double photograph relay: one of them up on the rock posing, then handing the camera over and the other one taking the same place up on the same rock. Then the inspection of the picture. The disappointment. The handing back of the camera, the smoothing of the hair, getting back up on the rock again, the fixing of the same smile.
I say to the couple. “Can you see Scotland outlined in the lake?
No? Come on, can’t you see it? Look, that would be Edinburgh, just over there would be John o’Groats…”
As I push and badger, I realise I’m becoming as annoying as the flabby jokster back at Loch Loyne and I re-join Giristroula back in the van.
We reunite with Loch Ness and, having looped round the bottom of the loch, find ourselves travelling on the ‘up’ road, on the eastern side now. We pull over to inspect the waters more closely.
We sit on a jetty and watch the slightly rippling waves of the loch lap over rocks, submerge them, and then watch as the rocks writhe back into sight again.
Nothing more sinister comes out of the oily black-looking water.
The Falls of Foyers, just off the loch, entails a fairly steep climb down – lowering ourselves into the bowl of thick green nature to see the waters and the – fairly anaemic really – stream of a waterfall trickly down over the rock cliffs.
It’s a difficult climb up again too, so it appears, as we pass a young boy pulling at the arm of his grandmother – the old woman sitting down resolutely on the cut steps.
“I can’t,” she’s wheezes at the imploring boy.”I’m fucked.”
We carry on heading up the east side of Loch Ness, and eventually reach Inverness once again – the tranquil gyratory of the loch completed.
We don’t want to continuing the way we’re pointing now – north – which would take us back onto the Black Isle we’d passed the day before – as with the Isle of Purbeck or the St Ives Island hundreds of miles to the south, not really an isle. The Black Isle is actually peninsular – certainly sounds like something out of Tolkein anyway. As many places in this part of the world seem to.
We don’t want to head over the Beauty Firth either, where we had seen the River Ness empty itself from the loch into the sea yesterday. And which, despite it’s name, is not as beautiful as you’d imagine: charmless long bridge, tool hire warehouses and kitchen showrooms on roundabouts and Inverness Caledonian Thistle’s stadium sat, just a good goalkeeper’s punt away from the firth.
And we don’t want to head south on the A82, which would take us past everything we’d seen on our way up through Scotland.
We toy with the idea of heading a few miles due east 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, later 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, just to goad the car drivers. I hope it’s true.
As another ScotRail express flies past our slogged-out van, they really don’t need to flaunt rail’s superiority with us.
We lumber and toil up the steep climbs of the road as it passes through the Cairngorms. The previously completely empty road suddenly filling up behind us, snaking back with obviously annoyed, slow-moving traffic. No hooting though, which surprises Giristroula
“They’d be honking endlessly if we were in Greece,” she remarks.
“Do you know what the smallest thing in the world is? The very smallest thing in the whole world…? It’s the time, in Greece, between a traffic light turning from red to green and the person behind you beeping.”
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 runs 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 as we advance through Perthshire on our way down to Stirling.
From Culloden to Bannockburn – from the low point of Scottish history to the high – in one day. And the sky blushing purple and pink in the summer dusk as we roll into Stirling town.