Scotland Plus

15th June 2021

After spending a big chunk of time in England and Wales it was time for a change of country again. We had planned on trekking all the way up into the Scottish Highlands for many weeks and to do the famous NC500 (North Coast 500 miles). However with a little bit of persuasion I carried out some research into midges and discovered that they were in fact monsters, horrors, devils and would most likely destroy a Scottish visit way before any bad weather puts it at risk. Begrudgingly I accepted that this would have to be done another time, and probably Apr/May next year-but who knows. We did decide to have a little trek into the country though and being happy that the little bleeders do not have any jurisdiction on the Lowlands of the East of Scotland. 

First stop was the rather scenic and industrious Eyemouth, a small fishing village just a few miles over the border. Once again the Search for Sites app had identified a parking spot overlooking the small harbour. Not really a parking bay and kind of potentially in the way but it seemed fine and after watching enormous seals swimming just feet away in the harbour and clambering onto the rocks, we decided that we must stay the night. We spent many an hour just sitting in the front seats watching them come and go. And to see fishing boats arriving back into the harbour with what appeared to be big catches- tracked in by dozens of gulls. A short walk round and an ok meal in the Contented Sole restaurant and we were set for the night in the knowledge that we may be in someones way in the morning. However at 7am we looked out of the window and noted a very bright 40 foot trailer reversed right up to our bumper followed by two large tractors towing water bowsers on trailers. ! Ooops. Sorry. Well we never want to leave a bad impression about campers/motorhomers so I stepped out to speak with the very Scottish, very young truck driver. “No problem, no you are not in the way” and he insisted we did not need to move. He did spend the next 20 minutes telling us about his job whilst he filled up the 12 enormous lobster tubs in the trailer. He uses a wide hose via a pump room and fills these tubs, each of  which are about the size of a family jacuzzi, with sea water. He will then travel across to the Isle of Skye to collect lobster or crab and then take them across Europe to the Balkans. Apparently Brexit has not affected the opportunities in Europe despite horrendous paperwork. Once we had managed to peel ourselves out between the truck and tractors we headed north again. 

Eyemouth disaster heroes

Next location was probably our favourite of the trip so far. North Berwick. We ended up spending two wild nights here along with another 7 or 8 motorhomes/camper vans. Parked on the sea front with the beach immediately to the front we had a view right along the sand towards the pretty town centre about a km away. This part of the beach is a bit rocky in parts but easily accessible. We sat at 10pm the first evening watching the beautiful sunset – the longest daylight day being close and being further north meant that the sun only went down from 10pm-4.30am and even then it doesn’t really get dark.

We decided it would be easy to set the alarm for 4.15 and have a look for a sunrise of equal quality. Unfortunately there was no great sunrise. Fortunately however we were amazed to watch a pod of dolphins playing around ahead of us, about 200metres offshore. About 7-8 of them going back and forth for several minutes before moving away.

Dolphin surprise

Amusingly… we noted a group of three teenage lads out on the rocks who presumably were there for the sunrise (though clearly didn’t notice the dolphins). As we got back into bed and settling back to sleep we heard the three lads walking past our vans, banging each one on the back panel and shouting “Gypsy” before marching off.!!  This so really made us laugh, us two, getting called Gypsy’s…. cool…!  Maybe not so funny for the other occupiers sleeping in the other units. 

Later that day we climbed up the strange North Berwick Law which is a conical hill sprouting out over 200metres high against an otherwise flat area. In the evening we were invited by a newly arrived couple in the motorhome parked next to us, to join them on the beach to watch the sunset. We gratefully accepted, after…… going for a swim in the sea. ! It was damn cold but not the gripping icy cold of the North Sea. – This is the entrance to the Forth River and surprisingly warmer..just. It was about 8pm but we managed a proper full-on swim for a good 20 minutes or so and survived. Barely shivering at all. Actually that’s a lie, it took me a couple of hours to get warm, partly due to us sitting on a camp chair on the beach with the neighbours. Nice folk but with no idea how to keep a fire pit burning…! And incidentally…. their average sized motorhome had a full sized domestic washing machine and separate dryer plumbed into the boot. ! 

North Berwick

The next morning we had another rude awakening at 5.30am. loud tapping on the door. “OMG..! What’s going on”- nothing there. More tapping. “It must be the side window”- No. We checked everywhere, heart rate bouncing but could see nothing. Somewhat shocked we could not work it out, until later in the day, it happened again. This time I noticed a sea gull outside at the front. He was catching sight of himself (herself) in the reflection of the black bodywork of the front bumper and was tapping on it trying to get a reaction..! Who would have known it. Funnnnnneeee..

So what with the great weather, good walk, amazing view and a swim in the sea this was a terrific find.

18th June and we had a planned three nights at a temporary pop-up Camping and Caravanning site at the grandly named Drum Estate at Danderhall just south of Edinburgh (£8.50 per night with water supply and toilet disposal). As always happens, we had a huge 50 acre field to park in. “Park anywhere you like” says Jim the steward – damn….That makes it so hard…we must have driven round the field a dozen times checking the slope, the sun position, the wind direction and the correct door position. Much prefer it when they say “Park there and don’t move”- Of course, we still got it wrong and missed out on the brilliant evening sunshine… doh. !

The next day we caught a bus from just outside the site and into Edinburgh. The weather however had taken a turn for the worse and we only had chance to grab a coffee, visit a few shops and look at a few views before the rain came. We managed to duck into the Booking Office Wetherspoons before the deluge arrived..and remained for a long while. “Ok, so we will have to take the opportunity of celebrating Father’s Day a day early.” say Michelle. Had a couple of drinks with dinner and posted a picture on Facebook. My daughter Angela saw this within minutes and texted “what table are you on?” – “19” we replied. Within ten minutes we had a collection of shots, shorts and cocktails appeared on the table that she had ordered through the app from back home in Somerset..! Wow, what a brilliant idea. Never thought of doing that. Thank you Ang and Luke.

Once the rain had stopped we staggered out and for some crazy reason decided to walk up and around the Arthurs Seat hill 250 metres high overlooking Edinburgh City. Panoramic views of the whole city and across the Forth river made it a worthwhile trip. Once back at ground level it was getting late so we just had time to grab some tea and another pint….. back at the same Wetherspoons before catching the late bus back. Heathens. We missed all the historic, artistic, tourist highlights of the nations capital by sitting in Spoons most of the day. Ho hum. As we were packing up to leave the site I decided to give Derek the Drone a short flight to take pics of the mansion house aware that this was an organised event and probably frowned upon. Within seconds of taking off near our pitch the steward Andrew suddenly appeared on the footpath alongside walking his dog. He decided this was a good time for a chat but hadn’t seen Derek. Well he was a bit dull and kept talking whilst Derek was hovering in the field behind 30 metres up awaiting Andrews departure. However after getting bored for a full five minutes I gently moved Derek forward and closer to Andrew…just hovering slowly out of his view and eventually got lower and lower until he heard it and looked around like searching for a manic mosquito. He suddenly saw it and said “Is that a drone?” “Who’s is that ?” “Hope it’s no one on site as drones are banned on these events” and kept looking round the field whilst I stood two feet in front of him quietly pushing the controls and lifting Derek away and out of site. Michelle was watching this from inside Ruby and we both burst out laughing when Andrew scampered away hunting down the offending drone pilot… Doh. !

Shhhhh… behind you!

21st June found us arriving at The Kelpies at Helix Park at Falkirk. The Kelpies are huge 30 metre high sculptures of horses heads rising alongside the canal. Most impressive bits of artwork which are worth a visit through the day or into the evening when they are lit up. Car parking is pretty impressive but for us, more importantly they are motorhome friendly. To park through the day is essentially £5 but overnight another £10. Looks kinda expensive initially but there are toilets, security fences and gates and a great place to spend two days.

Whilst walking round the site we kept seeing signs for the Falkirk Wheel and a small picture below it. “I can’t believe that they have a big wheel and yet they cannot even put the picture of the wheel on the sign”- says I. More than once. I had it in mind that this was just one of those pop-up big wheels to give tourists a ride above the Falkirk skyline. Then a short while later whilst walking alongside the canal I had this big flash back to something I had read a few years ago. Oh my God….that Falkirk Wheel. A massive marvel of engineering on the canal where a whole canal barge or two are lifted 50 metres up to meet the next section of canal. The barge, the water, the whole lot just scooped up and released at the other end. Wow. Must see. So we jumped onto the trusty bikes for a 5km ride to see it. An easy ride along the canal (though a bit ropey on the scenery front) and our timing was bang on, being able to watch narrow boats being taken both up and down. A true marvel of engineering.  

Falkirk Wheel time lapse

Next day, after a leisurely start we headed off back into England and into Kielder Water, a reservoir in Kielder Forest, Northumberland. I had wanted to really check out that the story of midges being horrors was true and I knew they were infamous in this area. Oh, and the location is also terrific and scenic too.

22nd June- Kielder Water has several areas for parking. Large parts are a bit confusing and we initially thought that the whole reservoir was inaccessible however we eventually arrived at what amounts to be the reception area (Kielder Waterside) where all things are managed. Unfortunately overnight parking here was not permitted but there are two or three other locations where there is a £10 overnight fee. Toilets of high quality are available but little else. Strangely we did not realise you can drive over the dam and neither did our Satnav which also chose to ignore the size limits we have added to prevent us going on tiny roads. The satnav took us past the dam, down a small road, then down a smaller road and then onto a smaller road. ! Through a field of sheep and past a farm gate that we had to open and drive through. As I have faith in the satnav I stupidly kept going whilst Michelle kept her head down…Eventually we came to a narrow humpback bridge which would likely have caused Ruby to lose some panels so it was agreed that turning around in the sheep field was the only option. Not great, but quite entertaining… “I am surprised you drove on so far” says the good wife…. “so am I” – says the dopey driver..! After some backtracking the £10 site was found and pretty fine. A good view of the reservoir and tucked into the trees out of the wind. This did mean however that the little bleeders – midges- could attack, attack, attack… Now, we do have fly screens all round Ruby so we were not too badly off… until… the nice chap from the Kielder Water security team, comes over to check we have a ticket and stands talking with the door wide open. ! The midges all dived in through the door and filled every corner of the interior. Bugga !

How to deal with midges..

After some time we decided to resolve this by going for a twenty minute walk after dishing out a generous amount of fly spray inside Ruby. And of course crazy Mich had to walk round outside randomly squirting fly spray at groups of innocent midges along the route..! Thankfully it worked and we slept soundly and safely. The next day we drove back round to the prettier location of the Kielder Waterside before offloading the bikes and riding the terrific footpath/cycle track round the reservoir on Lakeside Way. Now, we knew it was a long ride, 40km but we didn’t realise that long parts of the track were through the Forest, up hill and down hill for many miles. We discovered that we gained sufficient elevation (545 m)  to have ridden half way up Mount Snowdon in addition to the 40km around the track…! You beauty. God that was hard work. But most satisfying. 

That evening we returned to the same car park for the second overnight stay.  About 10pm we had a visit from a different Kielder Water security chap and despite him being a nice guy we left him totally outside “Sorry to leave the door closed but…” – “yes, I am being bitten to hell out here” he replies laughing and pulling his hood up and face mask on.. ! He then tells us we have to leave as we are not allowed to stay overnight. “What! we have a ticket, look” We say- “You can’t stop overnight, there are two other car parks you can use, but not here”. “No, no, no, no – we slept here last night, and Carol in the office told us to park here- and your mate said it was ok last night when he checked us out”. Anyway our parting comment was something like “well put it this way, we are not moving so you will have to tow us away”- at which point he decided that it will be probably be fine for us to stay. He then moved across to the only other motorhome in the car park and made him move.. !  Ooops. But, another good nights sleep for us. Next morning Mich took the wheel and we left the midges to suck someone else’s blood and we headed south again…

We spent two nights at the Nurseries Caravan Park to utilise some electric ready for a busy week ahead. This site was pleasant enough and was selected due to its proximity and ready access into York by bus. However the weather had taken a turn for the worse so we put York onto the back burner until another day/week/month/year as we saw no value in paddling through the water and gloom around the city and spending the day in another Wetherspoons! We would rather do it justice another time. 

The next day, the 26th June was a bit more exciting…brother Jez was having an early birthday drink with a couple of mates in Garforth so we made plans, with a little help, to surprise him and turn up. Firstly we had to find somewhere to spend the night nearby and thanks to our wonderful Search for Sites app we discovered that the Gascoigne pub would allow us to park Ruby at the bottom of the car park. So on the day we pulled in, quietly reversed into the bottom corner of their huge car park and went to see the duty manager Mel who was most welcoming “yup, no problem, park where you want”- We did say we would eat in the bar (Hungry Horse) but she wasn’t really worried either way. Great stuff. We were surprising well hidden for such a big motorhome. And yes, we did have dinner in the bar..

Tucked away at the Lord Gascoigne pub Garforth

I have to say it wasn’t the best car park we have ever slept in but as I know Garforth so well from my many years of childhood I knew it to be safe. Trouble was Michelle would be left there for the afternoon/evening whilst I engaged in a pub crawl with Jez and Co. We did manage to have a walk through the Main Street for a while, grab a coffee and show Mich my grandads old house nearby in the morning. Thanks to inside information I knew that Jez was sitting outside the Blakes bar at 3pm so I wandered over asking “Is anyone using this chair?” He looked up, said “no, that’s fine, take it” and continued his chat. Then did an amazing double take as it suddenly clicked. “What are you doing here? You are supposed to be in Scotland…” Brilliant, big hug to my little bro followed by far too many pints in far too many pubs with Paul and Nig who I have also known and got drunk with several times in the past. I think it was a mighty great night……. ! Mich suggested I was a tad unsteady when I wobbled back down the large car park to Ruby around midnight. I think she actually quite enjoyed some peace and quiet tucked up in Ruby without me chattering and getting in the way. We had further surprise plans to get involved with on a few days later so in the meantime we headed off (No I wasn’t driving..!) to a parking spot at a place called Barnby Dun, just north of Doncaster for a couple of wild camping nights. Unfortunately again this was not one of the best. The actual parking spot was good, immediately alongside the River Don and canal but our attempts at a long walk were disappointingly tricky and disjointed and the area was a bit scruffy. Never mind. Can’t win ‘em all. 

Barnby Dun canal bridge

Next day we headed back towards my parents home in Pontefract and parked in the street opposite their house. Proper wild camping this..! Two nights here meant we could celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary with a tasty lunch at the Kyte restaurant nearby.

Happy Anniversary

And the following day we hit Jez with another surprise with a secret Hawaiian (Tiki) themed birthday party at his house. Poor guy came home from work, midweek and had to put up with noisy drunken dudes taking over his bbq and eating all his food. ! He seemed to cope all right though..! Twas an extremely good night with epic organisation by Vikki. 

So here endeth the second half of June and we were running head-on into July… Its been a pretty busy kinda month. 

Did you know.. Midge season in Scotland is typically May until September.

Midges begin to emerge usually mid-late May. These are typically the non-biting boys. When the biting females arrive in early June the season truly kicks off. They mate, the female lays gazillion eggs and the males die off..!  Seven days later the eggs mature after thriving on blood…often human. So the biting midges are the females and they need your blood after literally sawing into your skin with their tiny gnashers. Buggers. 

There is indeed a Midge Forecast…. https://www.smidgeup.com/midge-forecast/

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