I love the Highlands, as a “regular” visitor over the last ten years due to family living between Oban and Fort William, I have been used to driving up and down from Essex / Cambs border. But it’s since my first motorhoming trip in March 2017 that I fell in love with the freedom that motorhoming in the area affords you and quite how relaxing and restorative time spent in the great outdoors and wilderness is. My last trip was in October 2017 together with my Partner, M. We’d been dating for 2.5months when we planned the trip and although it was one of the most wonderful holidays of my life, being limited to the southern Highlands was my only regret given that six months earlier I had covered the NW up to Durness and really discovered my spiritual home. Now, with a little under two weeks between leaving my old job and embarking on a new one and various family commitments constraining the time available, I decided with the usual unwavering support from M that the best way to rid my system of the previous job and prepare myself for the new, was to return to my “happy place” and this time show M the spectacular places I had explored in my previous van “Harry” whilst on my own journey of self discovery 2.5yrs ago. With us both having endured a decent amount of work stress and the usual challenges of normal life, it was just what we needed. Unfortunately, due to said work commitments, M could only join for four days. Not sure “work commitments” was true or whether she just didn’t fancy the thousand mile round trip to Inverness and back! (note: she did actually have work commitments, but I wouldn’t have blamed her for wanting to miss travel up and down!). I do hope you enjoy reading (and for those who find my prose a little boring, I’ve included some snaps!). Although the journey practically starts on 25th November, I had a head start! Due to problems with the fridge, a week or so previous, I had taken our faithful “Carrie the Concorde” to Premium Motorhomes in Doncaster for remedial work. This 130miles having given me a head start. Prior to the trip, not to be shamed by the much newer vehicles in their parking lot, Carrie got a good wash and some well deserved TLC.... Monday 25th November 2019 Daughter dropped off at school, I “ran” for the train - well as best as you can with two suitcases. Not my usual style when I have a motorhome in which most things are normally packed. But we hadn’t actually planned this trip until last week, so Carrie being up in Doncaster meant packing suitcases full of clothes, walking boots, towels, sheets.......and most importantly........the Nespresso machine and capsules! Trains from Cambridge to Peterborough, Peterborough to Doncaster and a short £15 cab ride to Premium, I was delighted to arrive a full hour earlier than anticipated, which was going to give me a head start on the trip north. Following a quick handover - fridge evidently working perfectly - I filled with water, went to set off, before being waved down by one of their Tech’s. “Your offside taillight is out, mate” came the cry.... B*gger. Just what I didn’t need. A bit of fiddling, a new bulb and a quick check and it was working again. Phew! A quick WhatsApp to M to let her know I was en route North (she was in Frankfurt on a work trip) and I set off. My joy at leaving at 1400 quickly dissipating with the realisation as I joined the A1M that I hadn’t eaten! Eeek. I had been in such a rush to get going that the last time I ate was with little one before the school run at 0730. Darn. I pushed North but eventually had to give in just 90mins into the journey by stopping at Wetherby services and filling both my stomach, fridge (which actually wasn’t fixed as it was now at 11degs C!) with food and the gas tank with 50l of LPG. Myself and vehicle brimmed, it was time to make up for lost time. As I returned to the vehicle, I noticed the rear taillight was out again. Never mind, don’t have the time now and I have the top marker, so all good (fingers crossed). A1M North to Scotch Corner, A66 west, M6, A74M North - a well trodden route for me and thankfully reasonably easy today. Rain battering the van all the way, but the traffic mercilessly light save for the usual heaviness around Carlisle. With Carrie set to 60mph on the cruise against the GPS satnav, we both fell into an almost meditative state as the miles ticked by. With an ETA of 2030 showing for Port Appin, all was going swimmingly until just south of Glasgow. A big accident had blocked two lanes and lost me over 40mins. Then, as I was driving the M8 through Glasgow, I overtook a cop........would the missing taillight provoke a pull? I winced as I drove past. Nothing. Phew! Running short of fuel and needing a wee, I finally stopped just short of Loch Lomond at Dunbarton and lifted 70 odd litres of fuel for the 270miles since leaving Doncaster. At this point my ETA had pushed out and I was feeling seriously weary. The drive ahead was only 90miles or so and some of the most wonderful driving roads which at this point I would be itching to get stuck into if I were in my Porsche, but the thought of the next two hours or so left me cold. However at this stage it was time to dig deep and make the last push. It would be such a shame not to see my Aunt & Uncle this evening after all the hard work getting this far. When you think about the word “hustle” in motoring terms, you’d be forgiven for your mind drifting to a spirited Sunday morning drive along well-sighted, sweeping corners, undulating, favourite roads in, say, a hot hatch, little sports cabrio, or perhaps even a junior super car. It’s not however really synonymous with driving a 9m long, 2.4m wide and six tonne vehicle along the challenging (unlit) road that runs along the waters edge of Loch Lomond between Tarbet and Crianlarich! Notoriously tricky even in daylight in a normal saloon, it is my least favourite section of the drive to the Highlands on the west side. I admit that its widening at certain sections in the last ten years has helped avoid wing mirror scrapes, but its width is far from generous and corners tricky to judge. As luck would have it, at 2030 on a Monday evening, I met only six vehicles. The downside being, four of these were HGV’s! That said, at least HGV drivers understand the challenge of driving this route and slow down to avoid unpleasant comings together - unlike the majority of Toyota Aygo drivers, who I am sure think their vehicles are both invincible AND 3m wide.....driving as they do down the centre line of the road. Nevertheless, in spite of all the challenges, “hustle” is exactly what I did. Guiding Carrie almost telepathically along the winding roads from Tarbet through Glencoe and finally on to Port Appin, where I finally arrived, bewildered, exhausted and very happy to a wonderful welcome from my Uncle and Aunt as well as a (quite frankly) mental Labrador; reminding me that she has never forgotten who was her first Master. After an hour or so of chats over a couple of tins of ale, bed was calling (in the van) and I settled down to a wonderful night sleep. Tuesday 26th November 2019 The plan had been to set off for a mini adventure to towards Skye before picking up my better half from Inverness on Thursday evening. I was, however, talked into staying another night at my Uncle & Aunt’s place. In fairness, it didn’t take much to persuade me. I was tired after the drive and it is great spending time with them. On top of that, being at their gloriously cosy house with stunning views. This decision turned out to be spectacularly good and bad in equal measure. The benefit of staying put and not having anything on was the chance to address a few bits on Carrie which have bugged me for a while. Firstly, we set to to sort out that pesky offside rear taillight. With a bit of fiddling with the bulb holder, my Uncle had it working. Next job - the ancient (and broken) plastic door catch for one of the locker doors. I’ve had a replacement for this since week one of owning Carrie (now well over two years!), but never seem to have the time. Today I managed to remove the old broken clips, clean the surfaces, inject a little waterproof mastic into the holes and around the new clips and fit the replacements. Next up, the shower rail in the bathroom which has been duck taped to the shower wall since a ski trip earlier in the year where it broke away. Out with the Silkaflex and shower head rail bonded to the wall again. Job done! A bit of a vacuum inside and a general tidy and I was very happy with what we’d done. At this point it was time for a nap and then later on, dinner. I was treated to a truly delicious venison steak at the local pub followed by a quick nightcap to put the world to rights before my departure for the hills the following morning. What a lovely way to start my hols. Hit the hay at 23:30. So much for the bad decision to stay...... Wednesday 27th November 2019 Oh, I spoke to soon. My day started unexpectedly early; waking suddenly, fumbling for the light switch. It was obvious at exactly this moment that my world was about to go catastrophically wrong. That unmistakable feeling of your body hating you. Not two minutes later was the washing up bowl the recipient of my (previously wonderful) venison steak. The time: 0020. It was to be a very long night; my hourly reminder of dinner continuing well into the early hours of the morning. Eventually, battered, bruised and exhausted, I drifted into an uninterrupted sleep at 0800. It was clear, my plans for travelling were as wrecked as my body. If only I’d left yesterday as planned! Thursday 28th November 2019 More or less recovered (or so I thought), I set course for Aviemore. Not really sure what I was going to do there, I figured it was (sort of) in the direction of Inverness and not having visited before, I thought I’d do so whilst waiting childishly excited for M, who wasn’t due to arrive until 2035 at Inverness Airport. The day was essentially spent with me aimlessly driving in order to find a suitably lovely spot to eat lunch and chill out. First stop though, a campsite. With one toilet cassette brimmed, I wanted to start the travels with two empties. I also needed some water. I headed over to Craegan Station - a little campsite east of Appin where I’d been reliably informed the owner was a pleasant and helpful chap. As I turned up, he was on site and we negotiated £5 for me to drop my toilet and grey waste and top up with fresh water. Not only a really friendly guy, a stunningly beautiful site which I’d have no hesitation in recommending or staying at in future. Once serviced - two empty toilet cassettes and 250litres of fresh water on board, I headed up to Fort William. An uneventful drive until about two miles south of town, when a logging truck came around the corner..........on my side of the road! Ordinarily, in a car I’d have had enough room to swerve without incident. The problem with Carrie’s long wheel base is that as I turned deeper into the apex to avoid a coming together with said lorry, there was a terrifying screech of rubber and jolt of the body - Carrie’s nearside rear axle had mounted the pavement and then dropped down with a thud in the blink of an eye. Cursing the lorry and shaken, I cautiously steered the next few miles into Morrison’s car park to check for damage. Thankfully nothing more than a scuff to the face of the tyre and the suspension was all intact. (Phew). Loaded with shopping my meandering drive took me out through Spean Bridge, Roy Bridge, Aviemore, Carrbridge (for more fuel!) and out to Tomintoul; no offence to the inhabitants, but this truly is a sh*t hole! By the time I stopped for lunch, it was getting dark and I’d found just a normal lay-by in the Cairngorms; nothing special and with hindsight a clear sign my heart wasn’t in it and I probably wasn’t quite well enough yet. Anyway, with evening approaching and being a couple of hours from the airport, I set course on some hilariously dark, wet and wild roads to meet my beloved. Upon M’s arrival, I swung around the back of the Courtyard Marriott hotel (no parking for oversized buses!) and we set course for a little parking spot I’d found on Google Maps which showed promise. However, prior to that, an important stop at the petrol station. Much as I often encourage a “safety wee” from my daughter before a long journey, the same goes for Carrie prior to a trip into the Highlands; or rather a “safety splash” (refuelling) such are the relative paucity of fuel stops beyond the major towns and Carrie’s consumption of diesel, which on a regular day would’ve made George Best look like a moderate drinker, let alone when hauling her six tonne body up 15% gradients! Two and a half hours later, we find ourselves 15miles North of Ullapool at a little parking spot for Kockan Crag Natural Reserve. Two other motorhomes are parked up, giving us the usual feeling of “safety in numbers” which is always nice to get when turning up somewhere at 2300 without being able to get a feel for the suitability / safety of an overnight stop which you can judge in daylight. Exhausted from our travels (and no doubt my food poisoning still), we hit the sack and enjoy a wonderfully restful sleep.