Around Scotland In Eight Days

Eight years ago this July, I embarked on a road trip with my boyfriend (now husband) round Scotland. The journey was planned out meticulously around tent stops and wine rations, taking in most of the Highlands and some of the Islands, attempting to circumnavigate the country (the bits we hadn’t yet seen, anyway) over eight days. Here I will exclusively share with you for the first time the actual travel diary I kept during the trip! – consisting of no more than a rough notebook and a Polaroid camera. Discover what I made of the remote scenery, the wildlife, the geology, the history, the tourists, the bars, the hangovers, and the midges: from run-ins with the locals, to singing Led Zep with the Belgians….. This is a Scottish summer adventure that has it all!

* * *



JULY 2007



[‘Bofore’: Even the cellophane wrapper around my brand-new diary couldn’t spell]


11.06pm. Lochgilphead.

In the tent – à la jazz, schmoove-wine-groove-bar, with mozzie stick burning, lantern and two plastic beakers of Sauvignon Blanc.

A cautious start to the trip, with a post-prandial walk along Crinan Canal & tow-path, to the Cairnbaan Hotel (3 miles), whereupon 2 x G‘n’Ts (or Pints), then 3 miles back again. Plenty of Northern European interest here – Norwegians / Swedes / Germans / Poles. Weather fine and settled, but mist forming on the homewards leg of our pub jaunt. Midgy – fairly.


[Cairnbaan Hotel on the Crinan Canal. Popular with international yachters.]


8.03pm. Staffin, Trotternish, Skye.

            Woke at 7am after a Baltic night’s sleep in LGH, got up at 7.20. Managed to stick to schedule and got packed up and left site by 9.15 – only 15 minutes late! From there, passed through Arduaine (Ar-dwayne), Kilmelfort, Oban, over a couple of ugly bridges and to Fort William. Drizzle there as per usual. Spent our allocated 1 hr stop there shopping. New sleeping bags, new socks, new stove, Polaroid film (see front page) and supplies.

From there, headed west via Glenfinnan all the way to Arisaig and Morar beaches. Stopped to stretch our legs at the beaches and was/were appalled by the dictatorial tone of the ‘Save our heritage’ signpost telling us not to “jump off the sand dunes” – eh?!? I didn’t get where I am today by not jumping off sand dunes.

Eventually got to Mallaig. Fustier than I recalled. Many tourist tea-rooms and traps. Saw a scallop ‘hand-diver’ – or should that be a ‘hand-dived-scallop diver’? – for the avoidance of doubt. [Editor’s note: Pedantry lives, eh?]

Had coffee from a mobile van and smelt the fish. Caught the 1500 hrs CalMac ferry from here to Armadale – a mere 25 minute crossing, of which 10 were spent investigating the ferry, and the remaining 15 were spent downing a can of Tennent’s lager (an extortionate £2.15 per can!) off the poop deck. Sun came out briefly. David saw a jellyfish in the water.

Ferry hit land at Armadale, and we disembarked onto Skye. Sleat – “The Garden of Skye” – aye, whatever. Plenty of buses, coaches, foreign tourists and “luxury” hotels.

Drove all the way up from Armadale in the south to Staffin in the north (Trotternish), in a convoy more or less, via the tourist traps of Broadford and Portree. Got followed the whole of this 60 mile journey by a big black shiny JEEP, which, when we finally pulled in at Staffin campsite, pulled over also – and followed us. He pulled up alongside us and wound his window down.

“Oi! Just thought I’d let you know your brake lights aren’t working – at ALL!!

Oh dear. David very worried.



[Author – me – in bed in new sleeping bag, reading about a far more impressive adventure. OH well]




8.56pm. Staffin, Trotternish Peninsula, Skye.


Woke at 7.30ish after a warm night’s sleep in our new sleeping bags – almost too warm!

Got up, went for shower, and it was absolutely baltic! – Freezing water, no hot left. Meanwhile David toyed with his broken car (brake lights) – to no avail. Eventually got our stuff together and went for a walk, leaving at 10.30am.

Walked up-hill to Quiraing – stunning views – then followed the signposted path to The Needle, The Prison and The Table – great basaltic columns protruding from the heath. It weren’t half eerie up there. Crows cawed and seabirds whirred, high up in the grey, mist-shrouded heights. It was like Frodo et al going forth into Mordor. The sheerness of some of the cliff faces up there was quite dramatic; quite dizzying.


The mist and cloud hung low, grey, over our heads as we traversed the cliffside. – Appreciated superlative views from the summit we reached – scanning as far North-West as Harris and all the small islands in between. People up there in jeans, for feck’s sake. (Foreigners.)

Then the cloud came down quite quickly, and I needed a loo stop, so we made a speedy descent. Passed some other similarly-lost walkers, and we exchanged directions, then we scrambled down a heather slope via two lochans onto the Flodigarry Road…..


[View from our ‘basecamp’ – Staffin – showing the behemoth task ahead of us.
(Note tableau: we walked atop this.)]


Stopped at the ____ toilet(s) to relieve my chomping-at-the-bit bowel and David tried to get a juice at the ‘Pieces of Ate’ sandwich bothy, but it was already shut.

On the long road back, we passed J1 NKG (black Jeep man) again – twice in one day! – and we both laughed. Then onto the Staffin stores for stocks + supplies for tonight – namely 3 bottles of Jacob’s Crack wine (heavily overpriced in this ‘Wee Free’ community) – which we are drinking now.

Had hot showers, thank the Lord, on completion of our 7 hour walk (got back at 6pm ish), and then dinner of sausages, bacon, Mexican beans, mushrooms, and new potatoes.

And Dave fixed his car!!

El-carismo-repairing-brake-lights [Dave repairs the bust fuse in his pride ‘n’ joy, el Carismo.]

* * *

Just had a visitation from our “tent neighbours” – two, I think, Germans, the girl with long ginger hair – telling us we might want to move our tent if we were staying any longer as “there was a mouse, digging holes under our tent!” – they had a hole in their tent.

P.S. Our ‘table-crate’ is an upturned red crate, + due to the angle of the earth, is wedged up with two carrots and a box of matches. At least it keeps the wine glass level!





9.00pm. Ardmair, 3 miles north of Ullapool.


Currently under grey and windy skies in the bay of Ardmair, just north of Ullapool.

Today passed through some of Scotland’s most stunning scenery, namely Loch Maree, Gairloch, Poolewe, Gruinard, … the whole of Wester Ross, basically. Who would live anywhere else?

Got up reluctantly after a Jacob’s Creek-induced hangover and slowly packed up without breakfast. Stopped under Skye’s Old Man of Storr…


[Diagram of the Old Man of Storr]

…to have muesli for our breakfast. Drove the long haul down to Kyleakin at the south-east tip of Skye, and then nipped over the Skye Bridge to Kyle of Lochalsh.

Thereafter we drove north up past Strome Ferry, Loch Carron and up the Bran Valley, all following the railway line over the barren landscape. Our first main stop was Gairloch, where – off the harbour pier – we saw a grey dappled seal. Awrf-Awrf!! It popped its head up to see us.

Then we found the frankly ridiculously paradisiacal township of Gairloch proper – where we found a prize-winning Fish ‘n’ Chips takeaway; so we had a haggis and sausage supper on the rocks. (No; literally – on the rocks of the beach.) Seemed like a great place; nice beach and mountainous backdrop.

Gave Inverewe Gardens, NTS, a miss – as it seemed fully saturated with large coaches and bus trips …Another day. Loads more exciting scenery after that, all the way to Ullapool.

We picked up groceries from the then-Safeway-now-Somerfield superstore, inc. 2 x bottles of superior grade “rotwein” (zwei, bitte!), then followed a host of VW campervans northwards to this site – mainly Germans and Dutch, driving badly.

Went down to the shore – less than 50m from the tent – to see the tide coming in – and a CalMac Ferry going outwards again to Lewis – and David saw an otter. It was eating a fish on the rocks.


[Otter pic…to follow]


A very calm place, although the campsite is a little busy with the sort of campers we don’t like. Mist came in and blew away and now it’s just grey and windy and damp.

For dinner we had a barbie of spare ribs and sausages, plus flavoured rice.


[View from the beach in front of Ardmair campsite. Views out to Summer Isles and CalMac ferries (not pictured). Great skimming stones]






9.10pm. Clachtoll, Assynt.


The day started with a dull thud as opposed to a start, because of a difficult (“challenging”) night’s sleep on a 4º slope; I had my head on the up, David had his head on the down: he lost feeling in his feet; I suffocated with lack of fresh air in the tapered-off end of the tent.

First we backtracked on our great tour of Scotland, to get further supplies at the safe haven of Ullapool before heading North. This time forgoing wine for the lighter refreshment of bottled beers.

Our first step northwards was Achiltibuie, a long row of incomers’ holiday homes these days. Really the preponderance of SUVs and 4x4s “up north” these days has gone beyond the point of a joke: w@nkwagons are everywhere up here. We strolled along Achiltibuie beach where there was a view south-east-wards to the Summer Isles, and the stench of rotting flesh. A few steps further revealed the malodorous whiff to be a forlorn, half-decayed seal carcass. I, feeling carsick along Single Track Road already, almost barfed.

We skipped the Hydroponicum, along with the upmarket-sounding ‘Summer Isles Hotel’, and headed on to Achnahaird, where dunes and sand abounded.

The views of the mountains were teasing, big monsters rising out of the mist and rain, but looking colossal and demonic all the same. We had lunch on the stove consisting of a bacon roll and a tin of soup, het up, before the rain started to threaten. All the way we were running away from the peeps we’d seen at the previous campsite.

Thereafter a lengthy, tortuous drive led us northwards via Lochinver (Loch Inbher [in my pidgin Gaelic]) to the false anticipation that was Achmelvich. The temperature by that stage was about 18ºC, and it was blue skies and scorching. However the campsite wrecked the whole bay with its presence ~ and the presence of skegs! – so we moved on. Too many skeggy people: like Blackpool or Sandyhills. The water in the bay was turquoise and blue and the sand was white, but the addition of about 100-odd-folk – all campers – in tents and static caravans, just ruined it. So we moved on.

We came to Clachtoll, a beach with similarly aquamarine colours, and great white sand, yet less of a ‘theme park’ in the camp site. It was still blue skies.

We were immediately apprehended by the owners – Jim ‘n’ Ishbel – two Weegie expats who lived in “the beige static wi’ the flag on it” – who couldn’t stop talking. They gassed and gassed, and were overly-friendly, and were your stereotypical Weejes.

“Haw, the weather’s been naw bad, but we’ve got the sunbed in the caravan to top this up!”

– they were perma-tanned.

Sunbathed on the beach and people were sailing and swimming and surfing. – Overly popular with families here. Grrrr. Now rain has set in for the evening. Boring couple sitting in car in silence to our left.



* * *



 Spell your name in Gaelic! 


Annie Copland = Ainní Còphleanndh

David Shannon = Démhaid Schànaon





10.30pm. Clachtoll campsite, Assynt.


Rather dehydrated these days, having been drinking mainly wine, beer and tea on our camping holiday.

Here at Clachtoll we awoke at the much later time of 8.20am which indicated that we had a day off and were not chasing the trail, for once. A day off. It was good…


[Here is Clachtoll beach at sundown]


We got up later than usual, and it had rained all night, and was still raining, so we decided to take a quiet morning and do our laundry. This we did.

After some time reading our books under canvas, we had lunch and then went for a walk along the cliffs to Stoer Point, seeing the stack that was The Old Man of Stoer along the way. The weather out there was dry but windy and breezy. Old Man of Stoer was about 200 ft out of the ground…who would climb it?

We bought supplies at Loch Inver and then had dinner, consisting of potatoes and sausage casserole. After denner we went out to the point and saw two seals and two dolphins off the coast!


[David Addendum:] …We also saw a sheep… he may have been called SHAUN!!


Figure-on-Clachtoll-beach[A figure on the beach, wobbly camera due to red wine consumption while dolphin-watching, at Clachtoll]




We akowe   at the god-awful hour of 6 . 2 5 a. m. ~when we my alarm had gone off, in C lachtoll canpsite.   I hated it.

I let the alarm ring fur a few hours before I decided to wake up proper.

I felt tired.   Urghh ! 6 . 25 a.m.

Eventuially we got On the roood and after about an hour or so mee we passedd a car that was not anoordinary car – it was an 4×4 Audi estate .

i.e. Jeanie & Davidd !!!

[Editor’s note: – the author’s aunt and uncle, from the southern shire of Bucks., England, who were up on holiday fly-fishing.]


º º º


[NOTE: …Diary entry for this day aborted due to pissedness and tiredness, in about equal quantities. Also discovered just how hard it is to write at half past midnight after having had too much to drink.]


[The story resumes the next day….]


…Anyway, we saw the Audi pull over – presumably to let us charge past – at which point we ground to a halt and pulled over alongside them. Four stunned faces as we realised who each other were, then we all hopped out, at a layby just outside the ‘Oykel Bridge Hotel’ and exchanged pleasantries and holiday stories. What a laugh!

Then we drove off.

We had decided to cut our northward/homeward trip short, which meant we would miss out the northernmost east coast – Wick, Thurso, etc – well, we had to claw back time given that we’d spent two ‘extra days’ having rest days.

So we hit Bonar Bridge, then curved south. Over here on the east coast the weather was entirely different – warm, clear(ish) blue skies and sunny. We pulled over at a layby on the south side of the Dornoch Firth and had a coffee. And a pee.

From there it was southwards through the Black Isle, noticing the propensity of JOG-LA [John O’Groats to Land’s End] cyclists and walkers on this busy stretch. So much more traffic here on the east strip.

We passed through Inverness, missing out Tesco – the familiar “Gateway to a holiday in Sutherland” – basically as it was all boarded up. Though not because of going bust; more likely a new Superstore Extra on the edge of Town.

Which David has rebranded, “Nessco”. Quite witty for him.

Reached Loch Ness and, predictably, it was up to the Nessballs in foreign tourists. It got me thinking: though visually and mythologically impressive, it’s not my favourite loch. It is more quantity than quality.

We arrived at Drumnadrochit – again, heaving with coach tours – and shuttled on out of it to Lewiston, where a casual farm and horse stables awaited us. The “campsite reception” was a stable yard, complete with stables full of horses. It was only midday – the “campfield” was nearly deserted apart from us. A proper “camp” of Scouts or girl guides was in a lower field, doing their own thing.

The fields surrounding us were wide rolling paddocks full of friendly horses. It was scorching hot.

We went into Drumnadrochit for an outdoors pub Sunday lunch, plus a couple of pints of dodgy-looking local real ale from “Fiddler’s”. Then we went for a walk down into some horsey fields and some alder/ash woods, where we found an abundant understorey of redcurrants, blackcurrants, raspberries and gooseberries, all growing in the wild. We had handfuls of this great wild fodder, our first fresh fruit in days.

Back at the campsite, it was hot, hot, HOT! Shorts + t-shirt weather. More campers arrived. These were; two girls in their twenties, with walking poles, walking from John O’Groats to Land’s End; a dysfunctional “special” family (all female) with strong N-E accents and arguing (loudly) almost continuously; and about six or seven noisy German bikers. So much for our quiet campsite!



At 4pm, we had red wine for starters, then we hastily cooked chicken curry for dinner, so we could just as hastily escape the noisy co-campers. A pregnant hippy who looked like Kerry Mangle from Neighbours played with her kids in the yard.

After dinner we decided to escape all this by heading back into Drumnadrochit. First we went back to Fiddler’s and had a bottle of Côtes-du-Rhône, outside, just watching the tourists going by. After this, it started raining and we watched a great big rainbow with some mac-wearing Yanks. Then we went along to ‘Blarmor Bar’ – David’s old haunt – which is where the locals evidently all gather. It was just a large room with a bar at one end and a large sports screen at the other.

In one corner were a bunch of men all staring at us – the bikers from our campsite! Then the locals started asking us where we came from and what our names were – very friendly. An old guy – pissed as a fart and laughing all the time called Robert, or Robbie, was there with a younger, large, tall guy called Calum. Robert thought I looked like Calum’s sister:

“Naw, no’ really. Ma sister’s a lot uglier.”

Robert thought I looked like a young doctor. His “partner” was Fiona, a blonde woman who had a guitar. She was chatting to the Belgians. ( the bikers)

They asked her to go and get her guitar, so she disappeared and went somewhere to go and fetch it. The Belgian who was trying to play the guitar then tuned it, but one of the tuning keys was broken so there was a delay while people rummaged around for pliers to grip and turn the key so it could be tuned.

First up was the Belgian’s choice, “Blackbird” by The Beatles. Then more Lennon/McCartney nos. Then random songs of their choice. We all sang along. The guitar guy was good, but we were all quite pissed after swilling pints of 80/-, so none of it made any sense.

Then I started singing, this time with Robert on the guitar. He loved Led Zeppelin, and “hated aw’ that Arctic Monkeys pish!” – so we got on well. The fact that he kept holding my hand and kissing it only made it even funnier.



[The infamous ‘Blarmor Bar’]


God only knows what we sang, but according to David they all loved it. He (Robert) whispered in my ear,
“I tell you what Ah love. Motown. Motown’s brilliant.” – Aye. Again we agreed.

People young and old came and went from this bizarre hole, and no-one seemed to mind each other. The Belgians kept staring and crying out for more songs that we could do:

“Ve don’t want this ROCK! What ve need is a bit of Joe Satriani!” – So when I started humming the first bit of ‘Surfing With The Alien’ they just about fell off their barstools with excitement.

A new face came over to leer, – I mean, chat – with us. He was a New Zealander this time, by the name of Dave. He had dark blond pubey hair on his head and freckles. He looked slightly dodgy, but still a good laugh. He was now a local of Drumnadrochit.

I tried to buy a round of drinks from the barman (cheeky, young guy, who was swilling back cans of John Smiths himself) with my plastic Switch card, to which all I got was, “This is a CASH bar ONLY !”

– but in a cheeky, friendly way.

This went on and we were getting pisseder and pisseder, until the barman turned the lights off to indicate closing time; i.e. he’d had enough. When we didn’t all drink up our pints quickly enough, he turned the bar lights off (usual trick – it didn’t work), and then, quite deftly I thought, yelled at David,

“Oi! Your pint glass has got a hole in it – here, have THIS!!” – upon which he thrust David (and everyone else who needed one) a plastic pintpot – i.e. for taking our beer home with us.

This worked. We duly decanted our pints into the plastic pots and drunkenly started assembling at the door. Robert kissed me on the cheek and shook hands for about the hundredth time, like I was his long lost niece.

We hung around for the Belgians but they were being very slow so we staggered on up the hill to the farm on our own. Neither remembers this.

Once back, I tried to start completing the diary but I was getting so frustrated with trying to grip the pen properly and to spell commonplace words and to make the sentences fit on the lines that in the end I gave up. Being pissed and trying to complete a travelogue is a sorry combination.

* * *



Inverness to Rockcliffe via Aberdeen.


“Hangover” does not even describe the condition with which we woke up this morning. I was hallucinating with the constant rain tapping on our tent and the voices of mental-family arguing about how to pack up their tent.

I went for a pee and it was grey and miserable, akin to the way I felt – and I nearly got into the wrong tent on my way back. I was still ½ asleep and loads more tents had seemingly pitched up all around us while we were out last night with the Belgian bikers.

Slept in till about 9.45, then had showers. On the way back from the shower, singer-Belgian came over to me and said, “Scuse me. I need to ask you a qvestion. Hev you got any Aspirin? – Becoss my head hurts very much…” – I stifled a snigger and then fumbled around in my backpack for the yet-untouched first aid kit – and then gave him all my paracetamol. He looked rough. The JOG-LA girls got underway in immense downpours. Jings.

We packed up in the grey mist and rain and first went back into Inverness and then to Cawdor Castle.

– But wait! Before this, and still in Drumnadrochit, we stopped off at the village Co-op to get some restorative hangover foods for our breakfast, and I joked, “Huh! Wouldn’t it be funny if we go in here and see those guys we were singing with from last night?!”

We whizzed round the wee shop buying crisps, coke and muffins, and I just had my hand in my wallet getting some money out at the till, when – grip! – I feel a hand grab hold of my right arm from the shop door…

“Hiya! – heh-heh-heh!” – i.e. ROBERT! From last night. I laughed aloud in a kind of Father Ted, through-gritted-teeth, way. Minutes later (it was 11am ish), he brought his purchases to the till – 8 bottles of San Miguel. I beamed sheepishly.

I was just about over that when we got into the car to pull away, and David goes, “Oh look, there’s whatshisface, the guy from last night!”

– I looked up, and – argh! – there was pube-head-and-freckles the New Zealander Dave, skulking into the shop at exactly the same time.

We gave him a big wave. We again smiled and laughed through gritted teeth. We began to feel like we might be being…watched.

* * *

Cawdor Castle – once we eventually got there – was a fine piece of stately-home-meets-gardens, again in the rain. It was home to the Campbells I think, or the Lord and Lady Cawdor, or something. The best bits were the archaeological finds in one of the cellars, the old kitchen (where we both tossed a penny into the real well and made a wish – mine was for this hangover to go away), and the “amazing” maze of holly. Must take a patient gardener to trim that thing.

After lunch in Cawdor Castle, we sped along past Nairn, Elgin, Findhorn… these sorts of places…in a thick pissy grey soup of MIST and rain to Fochabers, and then on, and on, down the A96 to Aberdeen. The only real stop was a much needed pitstop in the ASDA of Huntly for snackettes and the use of their “cleaned every 60 minutes” toilet facilities.

Thereafter the road seemed to go on forever, and we worried we’d left too much to drive on this, our last day. It was 4.30 when we hit the outskirts of Aberdeen. Dalbeattie granite’s prettier…or was it just the drab weather dulling it? Who knows.

Then the dreaded A90 all the way down the flat(ish) eastern seaboard to Dundee, and Perth, and at a place near Auchterarder, near Forteviot, we stopped on the banks of the river Earn for a well-Earned (hah! get it?) break and our dinner of a Pot Noodle. The valley was bright and a train ran through it.

Then past Cumbernauld, Glasgow, onto the M74 and then possibly the quietest bit of the road so far – that motorway – on to Beattock. I drove some of this way back. As we were both falling asleep through sheer tiredness.


[Evening skies at River Earn: every cloud has a silver lining]

[Me at the helm – looking very worried! [Editor’s note: Actually, you look asleep.]]


Stopped briefly in Dumfries for petrol, and then the final stretch to Rockcliffe, completing our ‘circumnavigation’ of Scotland and having done   1175   miles.


Hestan was in sight at last which meant that our journey was over.




 Never stop adventuring

– Annie –


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