Wednesday, 23 September 2009

The Road Less Travelled

Here goes, we are looking back over the summer we spent in our Airstream in the Scottish Highlands and Islands. I had anticipated some good scenery and some bracing sea air but I never guessed it was to be the high point of our travels so far.

We decided to make the first leg take us from Keswick to Oban. The ferries to Mull depart from there and that was to be the first destination of our island-hopping.

The first half of the drive north couldn't really have been any easier. Once on the M6 you're on one of those uplifting routes which gradually loses fellow motorists to the cities and towns along the way until you hit the open spaces and the roads less travelled.

We did have a mini hitch when we wanted to stop at services and make some lunch. On our first attempt we followed the signs towards caravan parking and found ourselves driving around a very busy CAR PARK! No big spaces for caravans or trailers. If there had been room to manoeuvre we might have tried to take up two spaces, but there wasn't. Instead we did a circuit and moved on. At the next stop the caravan area was basically a grass verge with room for three or four vans. We refuelled our tums and got back on the road.

Bypassing Glasgow is simple and the scenery just gets better and better as you drive up the west side of Loch Lomond. It feels like you're really starting out on a proper trip. For us it was starting to look like a proper wet trip. As we progressed northward alongside the loch it started to pour with rain. The further north we went the narrower the road became. Add to that road works, a temporary and bumpy road surface and what seemed like buckets-full of water being thrown up at the windscreen whenever another vehicle passed us. When we arrived at the campsite we were told we should have turned off and taken a detour to avoid all of that. Ah well.

The site in Oban was large and affiliated to one of the clubs and had the benefits of helpful staff, immaculate facilities, hook-up etc. Most of the vans were in rows facing the sea. Luckily for us we were pitched on the side, angled and staggered so that we could simply enjoy the sea view without having to look at the white box terraces. The only downside was that the loo disposal point was so far from our pitch that the 14 litre cartridge had to be transported in the car.

A bonus was that fellow Airstreamer, Andrew, arrived the following day. He was also on a Hebridean trip of his own and while we would be doing our own things, we would make a point of meeting up along the way. Like us, he knew where he wanted to visit but the final details were to be confirmed.

In between planning we had some walks on the beach and cheered on Andrew as he took to the sea with his kite board.

Pete and I took a look around Oban on a Sunday in what was probably low-ish season and I suspect we didn't see it at its best. I can comfortably add it to my list of 'functional towns'. This town's main function seemed to be as a starting point for island hoppers. Although I can recommend the view of the harbour and of Mull and surrounding islands from McCaig's Monument. The monument is like a massive folly in the shape of an ancient amphitheatre. Apparently it was going to be a museum and library but it was never finished. What stands now is the external circular structure with a park in the middle of it instead, and the great view.

We found an excellent guide book about hopping The Hebrides in the Oban branch of a well known high street book store, got some chips and mushy peas, ate them while walking the streets and protecting our dinner from the circling seagulls then popped in to the ferry terminal to make enquiries and book our tickets. Unfortunately this is where things started to hiccup.

There is only one ferry company operating between the mainland and the Hebrides. Just think about the disadvantages of any monopoly and apply them here. The most obvious one being, no choice. What they say goes. And what they said was that since our trailer is longer than 8 metres, by 25cm they would be charging us as a commercial vehicle. So instead of our Island Hopper ticket costing us around £350 it was going to be closer to £700. I could have cried. Our plans seemed quashed in a moment. It was too much, impossible to justify. Even if it weren't I wouldn't have wanted to let them get away with such an arbitrary hoick in fees, an extra £350 for an extra 25cm.

We returned, deflated, to the trailer to rethink our plans. Scotland is overly endowed with beautiful places which we had not yet seen. We would simply enjoy them instead. We would continue heading north and work our way around the coast.



Andrew said...

Oooh... getting a mention in your blog makes me feel famous at last! Aye, it was a nice time (for me) although the frought memories of your plans grinding to a halt are all suddenly flooding back!

John said...

Yes Tracey, the West Coast of the Highlands is beautiful. We were last in Oban over 40 years ago (tenters & towing a bass boat (similar to a Shetland double ender). Will always remember sitting on the shore of Kerrera and contemplating going back to work the next day. Looking forward to the next leg of your journey.