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On advice from fellow campers we set off from North Uist's Balranald campsite for the beaches lying a1sx2_Thumbnail1_photo-146.JPGoutside the RSPB nature reserve. We went across the crofters' fields which were studded with tiny wild violas and on to the dunes, which overlooked what I can only describe as beach perfection. The ideal combination of white sand, turquoise sea, rocks and dunes, complete with wheeling sea birds.

 

Down we went onto the beach for a gentle stroll and round a rocky outcrop came a man with three very fat black Scottie dogs, all consumed with the need to get up close and personal with Jinty, who of course was having none of it. They ran at full pelt, or waddle, and he barely broke into a trot, taking avoiding action which meant that they didn't get within 20 yards of him.

 

We just kept on walking, having left them far behind, and didn't see another soul, just glittering sea, soft a1sx2_Thumbnail1_photo-145.JPGwhite sand and rocks twinkling where the sun caught on crystals.

 

Eventually, at the end of the third sweeping bay the birds around the rocky outcrop became very agitated, swooping down on us a la Hitchcock's Birds. We were clearly too near to nesting sites, so turned back for a leisurely walk back, paddling as we went, getting back to the campsite in time for a late picnic lunch sitting by the Romahome.

 

I hereby declare this the best beach encountered so far on our Highland and Island Grand Tour. There, I've made a pronouncement and also elevated our trip to a Grand Tour. Ideas above my station maybe?

 

While Jinty was snoozing in the van and resting up his poorly paw after our morning walking on the beach (it's a dog's life I'll tell you). I hopped on the trusty unfolded folding bike and set off to see if I could find the folly which is pictured on the front of the OS map for this part of the world.

 

A lovely breezy, sunny afternoon, ideal for cycling. You only notice just how hilly these narrow roads are when you're trying to pedal uphill to the passing point when there's a car patiently waiting for you. I"m sure the car driver was surprised to see just how red my face was after all that exertion. Some people seem to be able to do all sorts of physical activity, even aerobics and running, and still keep looking cool and calm. Not me.

 

Anyway, up and down, past disinterested sheep and cows, with the heady scent of the massed arrays of birds foot trefoil in the fields wafting by me, and eventually the folly came into view, built on an island in a small loch. It was apparently built with the aim of providing work for local people.

 

b2ap3_thumbnail_photo-144_20140402-165646_1.JPGI do like a folly, and a folly on an island would be an especially good spot in a folly spotters book. A folly on an island that's also on the cover of the OS map would I'm sure be worth at least double points. Can you tell I always had "I Spy" books when on holiday as a child?

 

A ruined cottage stood on the shore of the loch, typical of many ruins to be seen on the islands. What a perfect place for a holiday home. Some attention required though.

 

All set for the ride back to the campsite for tea and chocolate cake, which I shared with Jinty. He ate it lying down in the sun and pulled some corking faces when the buttercream icing got stuck to the roof of his mouth. A very uncouth whippet. 

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Setting off bright and early from Kirkbride campsite on South Uist, we headed north through the flat a1sx2_Thumbnail1_photo-114.JPGwest coast of the island, crossing the causeway onto Benbecula and then the causeway to North Uist. We stopped at Chairinis at the site of a battle between the MacDonalds and MacLeods in 1601, which was the last battle fought in Scotland using only swords and bows and arrows. The battle took place because one of the MacDonalds divorced his MacLeod wife. Sixty Skye MacLeods set off to North Uist to wreak revenge and were chopped to pieces by only 16 MacDonalds, The site is known as Ditch of Blood, for obvious reasons.

 

I went around the houses (or crofts) a bit finding Balranald campsite, which is just past the RSPB visitor centre, but soon got settled in, with Jinty resting his poorly paw in the sunshine by the Romahome. After a cup of tea and a cheese scone or two we set off for a walk round the nature trail, about 6K, but on lovely springy grass, taking in flower strewn machair, white sandy beaches, small lochs a1sx2_Thumbnail1_photo-115.JPGand views out to uninhabited islands. There were lots of birds.....lapwings, oystercatchers, and I think a fulmar, although most sea birds tend to look similar to the uninitiated (i.e. me)

I chatted to a local woman walking my way, and, curious about what people do on the islands asked her about her life. She was a very happy woman, with her husband away at sea for 28 days at a time while she was running a B & B on Uist in the summer and spending the winter in southern Spain. She was looking forward this afternoon to greeting her guests with home made scones and then cooking herself a steak for tea, accompanied by a glass or two of wine, and the final of Britain's Got Talent on the telly with no moaning from anyone about anything. As I say, a very happy woman.

Before setting out on the walk I was particularly keen to spot the Great Yellow Bumblebee which was in the RSPB leaflet, and spot it I did, and spent a pleasant half hour trying to photograph one, which is a1sx2_Thumbnail1_photo-116.JPGmore difficult than it sounds as they're so big they pull the flower over and then dangle upside down beneath it. Photographing one buzzing about in flight was an impossibility, so I just did the best I could.

 

 

There's a coffee and cake kiosk on site and I succumbed to a big piece of chocolate cake and an equally big cup of coffee. Good job I'm not here for too long, with cake on tap. The cool breeze which had been with us most of the day disappeared in the evening, and it was fleeces off, sitting in the sun reading a book until it was time for a walk on the ubiquitous white sandy beach before bedtime.

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Getting out of the Romahome on our third morning at Kilbride campsite, South Uist, I noticed that Jinty's paw was really swollen and that he was limping badly. He needed a vet, especially as it was Friday, with a ferry booking for Monday morning. Thank goodness for iPhones. I discovered that there is only one vet covering Barra, Eriskay, Sputh Uist and Benbecula, and by that I mean literally one vet, not one practice with a few vets. I rang soon after nine, to be told that they were fully booked. After some wheedling, helped by the fact that the receptionist has two whippets herself, they agreed to fit us in if we could be there for about 2.30.

 

As Jinty wasn't in a position to enjoy walking, we just went for a short stroll above the beach before heading north for Benbecula, with a vague plan to explore places that didn't require much walking. The sign to the ruins of Flora McDonald's birthplace was up a very narrow track so I gave that a miss and headed off to Lochboisdale, on the east of the island. No white sandy beaches here, just lochs galore dividing up the peat bog, with a backdrop of treeless mountains. Lovely cafe/post office/ general store/Internet hub, with seating outside, so that was our lunch stop.

 

a1sx2_Thumbnail1_photo-111.JPGNext stop was the Kildonan museum, which is one of the best museums I've been to, bringing to life the old crofting ways with lots of old photos and household artefacts. I particularly liked the skirt which had been made at the turn of the century for somebody's 16th birthday, using wool dyed using lichen and flowers, hand woven and hand made. I bought some hand knitted woollen socks for a friend who's watering my plants for me while I'm away. They come complete with a length of wool for darning holes.

 

I drove right up South Uist and then over the causeway to Benbecula, eventually finding the vet's after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing. We were a bit early so sat in the sun in the garden in the hope that Jinty wouldn't get too stressed, but he caught a whiff of the vet smell and started to cry. Meanwhile the vet came out to the garden to treat a lamb somebody had brought in a box. Eventually we went in, saw the vet and came out with some antibiotics and anti-inflammatories, which will hopefully sort him out.

 

 

 

a1sx2_Thumbnail1_photo-110.JPG Like Barra, South Uist is predominantly Roman Catholic, and driving back to the campsite we passed several roadside shrines to the Virgin Mary, reminding me of roads in Greece or France, especially with the clear blue skies.

 

 

So, not our preferred mode of whippety wanderings today, but hopefully Jinty's on the mend and we've seen things we would have missed if we'd been walking those white sandy beaches again.

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Another beautiful South Uist morning, so before heading off for a walk I decided to do a bit of washing and hang it on the fence behind the Romahome. Smalls duly washed and hung I put the kettle on again for another cup of tea while Jinty continued to snooze on the grass. He jumped up suddenly and stared expectantly at the long grass. I saw something scuttle and started to poke about in the grass. The man from the next door Romahome said " Have you seen one of the rats? They walk along that wall all the time." Rats! With my washing now hung the other side of the ratty grass I'm going to have to walk through it later on and risk nasty ratty toe nibbles. The man next door assured me that Jinty would deal with any rats, but I know that he'd just look quizzically at them, and maybe raise a paw like a pointer.

 

a1sx2_Thumbnail1_photo-109.JPGTime to go for a walk, this time heading for Eriskay, the island joined to South Uist by a causeway, where the ferry docked yesterday. Starting off on the grassy path above the beach we looked down on huge rocks interspersed with small white sand beaches, and beautiful azure sea. When the path ran out we had to walk on the road, round a sea lock and then onto the causeway, where there was a sign warning about otters crossing. This got my hopes up for an otter spot, but they'd clearly already done their tricky road crossing for the day.

 

On into the village of Eriskay, and a sign for a shop, which are few and far between in these parts. The shop sold a bit of everything, and it seemed as though I'd bought a bit of everything when I tried to fit it all into my rucksack. We went then to the Am Politician pub, which looked like a big bungalow, and sat outside for lunch and a Guinness. The name of the pub commemorates the wreck of the SS Politician in 1941, which sank with its cargo of 20,000 cases of whisky, forming the plot for Compton Mackenzie's book Whisky Galore, and the film of the same name which was filmed on the island of Barra.  

 

a1sx2_Thumbnail1_photo-108.JPGNow we just had to walk back, but this time with shopping, and with the sun getting hotter and hotter. Needing some respite (that's my excuse anyway) we popped into the Hebridean Woolshed, which is within a historic walled garden. Everything is hand knitted or woven by Denise Bridge  and she grows all her own produce and sells any surplus. So, I left there with even more shopping to carry (eggs, a freshly cut lettuce and a hand knitted cardie) thankfully not too far back to Kilbride campsite.

 

The washing was still attached to the fence and if there was a world record for unpegging I would have beaten it. No nasty ratty nibbles and washing safely retrieved. A great end to a lovely South Uist day.

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The first little foray to the beach across the road from Kilbride campsite on South Uist nearly ended in disaster. I was keen to spot more dolphins, and unbeknownst to me, Jinty was keen to get back and forage for sandwich crusts left for the birds by the people in the tent next door but one. The end result was that as soon as I let the silly whippet off the lead he did a runner, or more of a fast determined walk down the middle of the road. It's a good job the traffic here is pretty slow and people are used to silly animals, usually sheep, walking in the road. Two cars stopped for him, thankfully.

 

Regrouping, we set off for a proper walk up the coast, and I made sure I kept his lead on for long a1sx2_Thumbnail1_photo-104.JPGenough for him to forget about anything else but running on the beach. I keep going on about the white sand and turquoise sea in the Hebrides, but that's what it's like, white sand as far as the eye can see.

 

We walked on the Machair path, on the flower spangled grass just above the beach, going round one bay, then the next, till I spotted a small island, joined to Uist by a causeway. A quest then, to get to it and climb the grassy hill. On getting closer I could see a jetty and a couple of vans on the island, with a fishing boat moored out to sea. It must be used to bring in the catches and get them off to market.

 

We cross the causeway, first making sure that there's plenty of leeway tide-wise, and climb to the top of the lush green hill. Brilliant views all around, with the sea every shade of blue imaginable. Small blue flowers I'd never seen before were growing in patches all over the hill. Nothing like it in my Observer's book of wild flowers. Must look in my big flower book when I get home.

 

Heading back, I decided to walk along the beach, and ended up wading through a very wide stream, a1sx2_Thumbnail1_photo-105.JPGgetting tangled in seaweed, panicking at the thought of creatures nipping my toes, and then screeching, before trying to calm myself by chanting "it's only seaweed, it's only seaweed". Jinty just looked on in his non-plussed manner and I was very glad that the beach was deserted.

 

After that I felt the need to stop for a drink at the Palochar Inn. I asked for half a Guinness, but the barmaid misheard and poured a pint....or maybe I just looked in need of a pint. I brought my pint out to make the most of the sunshine and a cyclist came out shaking his head, saying that he had very happy memories of coming upon the pub by chance twenty year ago, when it was an old fashioned place, had wanted to recapture those times and was very disappointed with the "improvements". I have to say that I wasn't impressed by the large screen TV blaring out opposite the bar. However, the setting is perfect, looking out over the white sands of the west coast of South Uist.

We got back to Kilbride campsite without further incident, apart from seeing an old man from the house next to the campsite wheel a wheelbarrow containing a folded up old carpet across the road from his house before dumping it on the beach. It seems to be the done thing on these islands, with some of the beautiful beaches having ancient farm trucks and other junk poking up through the pristine white sand. So, I had a dilemma...should I challenge the dumping man or leave him to it? What to do? I decided to adopt the non intervention in other cultures strategy used by Captain Kirk and Mr Spock on Star Trek, on the basis that I'm the interloper. Still wondering whether I should have said something though.

 

Anyway I went off to use the brilliant brand new shower facilities before cooking up a mean jacket potato in the Remoska oven, and topping it with tuna and salad. Perfect!  

 

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I'm very practised these days at packing up the Romahome and moving on, so after our usual constitutional on the white sandy beach opposite Croft Number Two campsite, a quick round of popping things in cupboards, locking the fridge, turning of the gas and unhooking the hook-up, we were off, a short drive to Ardhmor to catch the ferry to Eriskay.

 

 

 

 

 We were, as usual, very early and so were first in the ferry queue. Information panels said that the jetty's

a1sx2_Thumbnail1_photo-100.JPG an otter haunt, so we lounged about on the grass in the sunshine, ostensibly otter spotting, but in reality just sunbathing. Eventually the ferry came into view, a small one this time, no cafe or posh seating for this forty minute hop.

 

 

 

Cars and vans were packed in like sardines, and we were off, with me as ever keeping my eyes peeled for dolphins. None to be seen, but plenty of guillemots, gannets and cormorants, and dozens of seals basking on the rocks off an uninhibited island.

 

We pulled into the jetty at Eriskay, a small island joined to South Uist by a long causeway. The ferry was so jam packed that I had to wait for the van next to me to drive off before I could get into mine. Then off onto single track roads, through the main settlement on Eriskay, which looked an interesting little spot. I wanted to get to the campsite so carried on through.

 

 

a1sx2_Thumbnail1_photo-102.JPGKilbride campsite is only four miles along the road, facing south over the Sound of Barra, towards Croft Number Two, the site we were on last. We snuggled up to another Romahome, an old HyLo one with a split back door which I really coveted. My van's usually dwarfed by all the much bigger ones so it felt good to have an enclave for very small ones. 

 

 

 

Jinty settled down in the sun on his blanket while I sorted the van out. Just as I settled down with a cup of tea, gazing out to sea, I at last spotted dolphins, at least three of them. They'd come out of the water a couple of times then disappear for a few minutes before reappearing further along the bay. A great start to our stay on South Uist!

 

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A tricky start to our second day at Croft Number Two on Barra, with Jinty heading back to the campsite from the beach, barking (which he very rarely does) and running away when I try to get him back on the lead (which he usually only does when he's found an illicit bone). He then ran into the garden of the owners and did his business on their lawn. Rather embarrassing!

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Another walk from the campsite, heading to a beach on the west of the island next to the airport, via the long beach across the road from the campsite. It was fascinating watching the clouds swirl around the islands as we went....Barra has the white beaches and turquoise seas of Barbados, with the added drama of weather.

 

a1sx2_Thumbnail1_photo-96.JPGJinty was very pleased with himself when he found a tennis ball on the beach, and he ran at least twice as far as I walked. Walking through the village on the common land studded with daisies, buttercups, primroses and birds-foot-trefoil, bay after bay opened up below us, each with white sand, thrift-fringed rocks and the bluest of blue sea.

 

A small plane flew over us, and sure enough it was on the runway, aka the beach, when we got there. A coach party had gathered to watch the spectacle of the plane taking off from the beach (apparently Barra airport is the only airport in Britain where scheduled flights use the beach as a runway). Off it went, a tiny Flybe plane, seating maybe 10 people at most. Very Barra!

 

Opposite the airport was a path through the white dunes to the completely empty mile long beach on the west coast of the island, facing out into the Atlantic. It was warm enough to sit and enjoy our picnic and then have a little lie down in the hazy sunshine. If only Jinty wouldn't dig holes right next to me every time I lie down on a beach! Then sandals off, trousers rolled up and into the sea, walking the length of the beach with cold waves washing over a1sx2_Thumbnail1_photo-98.JPGmy toes. Rather disconcerting to see that I've acquired leopard print style tanned feet by wearing walking sandals all the time. Hmmm.

 

Wending our way back it got warmer and warmer and by the time we returned to the Romahome we were both desperate for a drink so after a pot of tea for me and a big bowl of water for Jinty we were happy to sit by the van in the sunshine, admiring the ever changing view of the sea and the islands whilst being serenaded by skylarks as they soared up into the sky until they could no longer be seen.

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First full day on Barra in the Outer Hebrides after a great night's sleep in the Romahome at Croft a1sx2_Thumbnail2_photo-91.JPGNumber Two, which is next door to the most northerly house on the island. We started the day with a short stroll on the beach, feeling cold in the chilly breeze. Back to the van for breakfast, looking out through the back door onto the beach, sea and mountains.

 

Time for a proper walk, heading along the beach for the white sand dunes gleaming in the distance. I walked and walked. Jinty ran and ran. We walked along the dunes and beyond, ending up at a jetty projecting into the turquoise sea. We then headed inland towards the cemetery in the spread out village. All Barra houses are detached and set in a good plot of land, presumably because they're crofts. Walking up through the village I could hear corncrakes croaking and creaking away amongst the long grass and wild flowers, but didn't see one, even though my eyes were well and truly peeled.

 

The cemetery also contains the remains of an ancient chapel, which is a1sx2_Thumbnail1_photo-94.JPGclearly still used by people remembering family members who have died.  Seeing the unusual headstones and images in the chapel reminded me that Barra is predominantly a Roman Catholic island. We walked back along the beach and were ready for a rest.

 

Never one for prolonged rests I decided to see if I could unfold my brand new folding bike which has been perched on the passenger seat throughout the trip. Not being blessed with any technical skills I've been worried that if I get it unfolded I might not be able to fit it back in the Romahome. Using the step by step pictorial guide I manage to get it looking like a bike without any floppy bits so decide to go for a spin, leaving Jinty to continue his snoozing in the van (if there's anything that whippets are better at than running, it's snoozing).

 

b2ap3_thumbnail_photo-93.JPGI soon got the hang of the bike, despite the fact that the small wheels seemed to wobble more than big ones, and  that it's several years since I last rode a bike of any description. Thankfully there's not much traffic on the roads and I was soon hurtling along (on the downhill sections anyway) enjoying the combination of the wind in my hair (through the ventilation holes in my very becoming bike helmet), being able to see more because of added height, and still being able to take in the sounds and smells which you miss when driving.

 

I'd driven in the Romahome past the tiny airport on the way to the campsite, but hadn't spotted that the runway is on the beach. Signs instruct people not to go on the beach when the windsock's up. I don't think there's a very frequent service....the airport was closed when I went past.

 

I really was in need of a rest by the time I got back to the campsite and it was warm enough to sit outside the van, enjoy the view and listen to the skylarks as they soared higher and higher overhead. before settling down for another peaceful night's sleep in the van.

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After two weeks with family in the cottage on the Scottish mainland it's time to head for the ferry to a1sx2_Thumbnail1_photo-84.JPGBarra, but there's plenty of time after giving the cottage the white tornado treatment and loading up the Romahome  to stop off at Arduain gardens on the way to Oban. It's a hidden gem tucked in by the sea, with flaming azaleas and rhododendrons, clusters of ponds with huge gunneras, and lots of winding paths lined with bluebells and geraniums. Flowery scents wafted over us as we meandered round in splendid isolation as we went in at 9.30 as the garden was opening.

 

Time to head for Oban, get some lunch, stock up the van and get in the a1sx2_Thumbnail1_photo-85.JPGqueue for the Barra ferry. Takeaway fish and chips sitting overlooking the harbour was an ideal meal to share with a hungry whippet. The only part he's not keen on is mushy peas. Feeling in need of a walk after that we headed up the steep climb to McCaig's tower, the folly modelled on the coliseum in Rome, which overlooks Oban harbour, with magnificent views over to the island of Kerrera.

 

Now for the ferry queue and as ever the slight tension around the drive onto the ferry. It was fine and this time there was single file parking on the ferry, snaking round the central pillar. This is a five and a half hour crossing so I take a1sx2_Thumbnail1_photo-86.JPGJinty up and up to the top deck, where he settles down on his blanket and sleeps as the boat sets sail.

 

We pass Mull, with Tobermory looking like a toy village as we sail on by and out into choppy water and go on and on and on, past some smaller islands until the Hebrides finally came into view, bathed in golden evening light. The port at Castlebay looks unlike anywhere I've seen before, with a castle on an island in the middle of the bay and a few houses spaced out at different levels round the bay.  No time to stop and look as it's nearly nine o'clock and I've a campsite to find....Croft Number Two, Barra. Thankfully I had detailed directions.

 

All roads on Barra are single track, sometimes with sheep on them, so by the time I'd made my way to the most northerly point of the island, passing stunning white beaches and a tiny airport, it was getting on for ten o'clock. I hooked up, put the kettle on, and was greeted by the campsite owner's son with a bag of freshly baked scones which went down a treat. The skylarks were still singing as I took Jinty onto the white sand beach opposite the site for a gallop before bed. Even he thought the journey had been worth it! 

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Up bright and early in the cottage by the loch for a day trip from Oban to Mull, three adults, three young children, a whippet and a poodle, aiming for Tobermory to take in everything Ballamory. A very different experience traveling with three children and two dogs, but still no dolphins spotted, despite all the extra pairs of eyes on the job.

 

 

a1sx2_Thumbnail1_photo-81.JPGDocking at Craignure we drove to Tobermory along a mainly single track road with major roadworks. By the time we got there it was nearly dinner time and we decided that the Les Routiers listed fish and chip van by the harbour was the best bet, sitting on the steps round the bottom of the clock tower. This was obviously the favoured patch for a young seagull, which needed regular shooing so that we could eat our delicious fish and chips in peace. We looked for the famous Tobermory cat and the otter which are said to frequent the harbour, but were unlucky. Our three year old wanted to knock on the doors of the brightly course houses to see if the real Ballamory people were inside. He had to make do with seeing somebody who could have been PC Plum patrolling the seafront in a police car.

 

 

Lots of handy shops along the harbour, including one which had the loveliest raspberry coloured wool throw, which is now ready to snuggle into in the Romahome. 

 

 

We found a gorgeous woodland park on the way back to the ferry port, where everyone could have a run round amongst the bluebells before joining the ferry queue and spending a pleasant twenty minutes watching our fellow passengers gather. The ambience was shattered when Jinty decided to be sick, just as we were waved at to go onto the boat. Lovely....not!

 

 

a1sx2_Thumbnail1_photo-82.JPGOn to the ferry again and up on deck with sandwiches, which again attracted seagulls which were following the boat, wheeling and swooping as we threw them the odd crust, much to Jinty's annoyance. He was even more cross when I held up some bread at the side of the boat and a seagull came and took it from my hand.  

 

 

Back on the long and winding road from Oban to the cottage (all roads round here are long and winding) and a clean up of the manky sick ridden van before settling down for a quiet evening taking turns with the nit comb....yes, we brought nits with us on holiday....the joys of life with young children!

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The holiday cottage for the middle part of my Highland and Island Romahome adventure is three miles from the village of Kilmartin, which is at the heart of some of Scotland's finest prehistoric sites, and after visiting the excellent museum and even more excellent cafe in Kilmartin we decided to spend a day exploring some of the standing stones, burial cairns and cup and ring carved rocks in the surrounding area. So, on a beautifully sunny day and armed with a picnic, three adults, three children, a whippet and a poodle set off in the big VW van.

 

 

First stop Temple Wood and Nether Largie for a series of huge standing stones with sheep grazing around them, and a beautiful bluebell wood containing two large burial cairns, going back around 5,000 years. With b2ap3_thumbnail_photo-79.JPGopportunities to get into burial chambers, climb trees and generally run free, everyone was happy.

 

 

Back in the van for a short drive to Dunnadd fort, a high point jutting up out of totally flat Kilmartin Glen, with a steep rocky walk up to the top for our picnic. A flat stone at the top of the hill has a carving of a footprint (size 6) which is believed to have been used in king making ceremonies. With children prone to teetering on the edge we made our way down again and set off for another foray, this time to Achnabreck to see what's said to be the finest set of ancient rock carvings in Scotland.

 

 

This was a lovely walk through woodland and up to a panoramic view of Lochgilphead, but we were a bit disappointed, having come prepared with paper and wax crayons for making rubbings, to find that the rocks were behind railings, to be seen but definitely not rubbed. After much speculation about what the carvings are all about we set off back to the cottage where it was warm enough to eat outside in the garden and to stay out there well into the evening watching the birds and the changing light and occasionally wafting midges.

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a1sx2_Thumbnail1_photo-72.JPGOff with the family, three adults, three children, a poodle and a whippet to the Crinan Canal, all piling into the VW van. As ever in Argyle, most of the way was on single track roads, this time with the added frisson of a heavily laden large van occasionally crossing the canal on narrow bridges with large "weak bridge" signs. We were surrounded by water, with the canal on one side and the sea on the other.

 

 

 

 

Finally arriving at Crinan, where the canal joins the sea via a sea lock. Lots of lovely boats in the harbour formed between the first two locks, barges, sea going yachts, and even a steam boat, all surrounded by pretty whitewashed cottages. The canal was built to provide a short cut for freight carrying boats, saving them the long and treacherous voyage round the Mull of Kintyre. Now it's used by pleasure boats rather than freight.

 

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Time for a walk up the towpath, past nesting swans and a fabulous view across the estuary, with repeated calls of "keep away from the edge!" to stray children. The canal gradually turned a bend, creating shelter from the wind for us to settle down and tuck into our picnic....cheeses and pickle sandwiches all round. 

 

 

 

 

a1sx2_Thumbnail1_photo-74.JPGBack to the village, past the red and white mini lighthouse, for tea and cream scones for the adults and ice cream for the children, sitting outside the coffee shop overlooking the harbour. Perfect home cooked scones, crispy on the outside and doughy on the inside, with a big blob of thick cream and strawberry jam. And all with a lovely view and sunshine!

 

 

Stopping off at a nature reserve on the way back, we walked through a wood and out onto the peat bog. The children (and adults) were suitably frightened by the large faces up in the trees. We didn't see any hen harriers or deer but we did see our first red squirrel, which brought back memories of the Tufty Club (showing my age now). I didn't realise at the time that Tufty, that road safety guru squirrel, was a native red one. I'm afraid I was reminiscing about the delights of the Tufty Club to an unappreciative audience. 

 

Back to the cottage for more playing in the garden, punctuated by the usual daily visit to the rope swing in the bluebell wood.

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Up at five on our last day on Islay on our big Romahome adventure. There didn't seem to be any point lying a1sx2_Thumbnail1_photo-66.JPGthere awake so up I got and made the last Islay breakfast, the usual muesli, prunes and yoghurt and lots of tea. We had a last walk on the beach, unhooked, locked the fridge and shut off the gas and we were off round the huge bay to Bridgend and then down the ramrod straight road to Port Ellen. We were first in the ferry queue. No reversing onto the ferry for us!

 

 

Plenty of time for a little mooch round the village, with the Romahome safely parked at the front of lane one. Fishing boats were moored in the harbour, being made ready for going out. We walked round to the soft sandy beach and Jinty was delighted to have the chance for a bit of stick chasing. With all the the sheep and cows around on Islay he hadn't had much chance to run off the lead, but he made up for it this morning, and did a victory roll on the beach where he barely touched the ground, more of a somersault really.

 

 

Back to the van to wait and wait and wait (we were very early). When the man came to check us in I asked about direction of travel onto the ferry and he assured me that we'd be going on and off frontwards. Hurrah! Now I could relax, read my book and look forward to the voyage.

 

 

a1sx2_Thumbnail1_photo-70.JPGA bit of a hoohah getting on the boat....we weren't first on as they were picking and choosing to get low vehicles onto the mezzanine floor first. This is then lifted up and everyone else goes in underneath. We were 15 minutes late setting off because they were struggling to winkle everyone on board. The Finlaggan is the poshest boat I've been on so far, with fancy decorative displays and lovely big windows. Very wet outside but fabulous views of the wake behind us, clearly showing where the boat has turned a corner in the sea. On past the paps of Jura, two of the peaks swathed in clouds, and brightening up as we get closer to Kennacraig on the mainland. 

 

 

 

A break from camping as we meet up with family (two adults, three children ranging from two to eight and a little black poodle called Missy) at a cottage near a loch in mainland Argyle. As Jinty and I arrived at the gateway in the Romahome we had to wait as sheep and lambs were being moved, and were asked to back up a bit as some stragglers came along being helped along by a sheepdog. Crunch!! Backed into a dry stone wall but thankfully only a scraped bumper to show for it.

 

 

a1sx2_Thumbnail1_photo-57.JPGUp the track, over the cattle grid and to the farmhouse, set in an enclosed garden within a 900 acre estate. It's an idyllic spot, with a stream running beside it, a bird table and blazing azaleas flowering all round the garden. Just a short walk from a small loch, whilst behind the house is a bluebell wood complete with an amazing rope swing, a tree house and climbable trees for any ability level, from two year old to granny. Behind the woodland are open hills, giving views of Loch Awe, the longest fresh water loch in Scotland.

 

 

Only the area immediately surrounding the garden has livestock, (chickens and goats) so dogs, children and everyone else can run free for a fortnight along with the cuckoo calls for company during the day and the owl hoots in the evenings. Plenty of time to walk, play in the garden and perfect rope swinging techniques, climb trees, watch the birds, eat lunch outside in the garden, play every variation of ball game known to humankind, fish and paddle in the stream, ride bikes, sunbathe, and throw stones in the loch. And plenty of time for Jinty and Missy to chase sticks, chew sticks, fall out over who has the best stick, chase stones into lochs and generally have a good doggy time.

 

 

Much spotting of red squirrels, tits and finches of all types on the bird table, and butterflies, fluttering in the garden, woods and the hills beyond. It's good to sleep on a proper bed for a while and sit on comfy sofas and be able to use the shower without trecking over a field to get to it, but good to pack up again at the end of the stay and head off in my now battle scarred Romahome to Oban and beyond, to the Outer Hebrides!

 

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Lovely sunshine for our last full day on Islay, and determined to get to a beach on the wild west coast of the a1sx2_Thumbnail1_photo-53.JPGisland, so set off on foot from the campsite, heading across the peninsular to Kilchiaran Bay. We were walking on a single track road with passing places, climbing up out of Port Charlotte, past some very handsome Highland cattle, some the traditional ginger, some brunette and some blonde. All very gorgeous, as were the

clumps of cowslips.

 

 

 

 

Up and up, past sheep, some in the fields, many on the road, and almost all with lambs in tow. Up to Gearach forrest, where it was surprising to see signs warning people to keep out because of deer culling using high velocity rifles. Even more surprising further along to see another Gearach forest sign suggesting that holidays in the forest lodges offer "holidays to remember in 1,000 acres of unforgettable forest"  Couldn't help chuckling at the thought....."off you a1sx2_Thumbnail2_photo-55.JPGgo and play in the forest children...remember to look out for the hunters with high velocity rifles!" Holidays to remember indeed!

 

 

 

Above the hills a bird of prey was soaring on the thermals. Was it a golden eagle? I couldn't tell, but it was truly magnificent as it surveyed the area from on high. 

 

 

I kept getting a glimpse of the sea and started to go downhill and passed Kilchiaran farm, complete with very young calves in the fields. A path past a ruined chapel led down to the beach, a beautiful rocky cove with a river and waterfalls running into it, pebbles, sand, and sun-warmed rocks. A perfect place for a picnic. We shared cheese and pickle sandwiches, Jinty as always convinced that he didn't get his fair share. Plenty of time for searching for the perfect pebble ( I couldn't decide and ended up with three clanking in my pocket) and throwing a stick or two before heading back to the campsite, with bright sunshine all the way. 

 

 

 

a1sx2_Thumbnail1_photo-54.JPGIt was nice enough when we got back to sit in the sun beside the Romahome, enjoying a book and keeping an eye on the sea hoping to spot a dolphin or two. I'm sure they all leap about like mad when I'm engrossed in my book and play at underwater swimming every time I'm looking. Can you tell I'm miffed at not seeing any?

 

 

So, time to get ready for moving on tomorrow, with an early start to make sure that I'm near the front of the ferry queue to make sure that I don't have to back up onto it like the people I saw a couple of days ago. Early to bed and very early to rise I think.

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The day dawned bright and breezy so I decided to nip across to Jura, a ferry trip of about ten minutes from Port Askaig, my port of entry onto Islay. Port Askaig was extremely busy, with separate queues for the Jura ferry and the mainland one. The big mainland ferry was already boarding, and to my horror, as we began to move forward, those cars at the tail end of the mainland queue were being instructed to turn round and reverse onto the ferry to fill up the last available spaces. I'm feeling anxious just writing this...what if I'm at the back of the queue when I'm heading back to the mainland? I know that I couldn't reverse onto a ferry for love nor money. I'd have to wait for the next one. So, an ultra early start on ferry day to make sure I'm at the front and not the back.

 

 

a1sx2_Thumbnail1_photo-48.JPGAnyway, first I've got the ordeal of driving onto the smallest boat ever, the one that's chugged up to the quay and put down the narrowest gangway I've ever had to make my way over. I did it! And after a choppy crossing I did it again at the other side and drove onto Jura, onto the only road on the island, which runs along the east coast from bottom to top, and is single track for most of the way. It's very wild country, all owned by five huge estates and used mainly for stalking red deer.

 

 

I drove straight to Craighouse, the small village which is the main centre of the island, with a Spar shop, a school, a pub, a church, and of course a distillery. All this with the backdrop of the three mountains known as the paps of Jura and the sparkling turquoise sea.

 

 

a1sx2_Thumbnail1_photo-52.JPGWalking through the village and investigating various jetties piled with lobster pots, the road ran alongside the shore, with small sandy beaches looking out onto the Small Isles, one called Goat Island, home for wild goats, and one called Useless Island, presumably because it's useless. Most of the houses are old cottages, many with Gaelic names. One fairly newly built house had an engraved stone nameplate by the front wall... The Newhouse. I suppose it makes it easier for the postie to spot.

 

 

We came to a sign pointing inland saying "cemetery" and decided to investigate. The track went up and up, passing by some ruined cottages and renovated houses, eventually reaching the cemetery, with a stream on two sides of it, set amongst the blazing yellow gorse. There were some ancient stones with Celtic carvings alongside others from the 18th 19th and 20th centuries. An older couple were a1sx2_Thumbnail1_photo-50.JPGtidying one of the graves and said that these days they know more people in the cemetery than their living family and friends.

 

 

Back down to the village for some soup and a pot of tea at the Jura Hotel. Everyone who came in was talking about a recent wedding in the village, clearly a good bash. Heading back to the Romahome we passed a Royal Bank of Scotland mobile bank, parked up by the Spar shop and it later joined the ferry queue going back to Islay. I don't know how often it goes to Jura, but it really struck home for me the real remoteness of this very large but sparsely populated island.

 

 

We were near the front of the ferry queue but by the time it came there were too many cars, vans and mobile banks to fit on, so quite a few people just had to wait for the ferry to come back forty minutes later. The wind had whipped up and the turquoise waves swayed us about on the short crossing back to Islay, which now feels like a metropolis in comparison to neighbouring Jura.

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Islay is an island of many peninsulas and points, always something to aim at when walking. Rhinns Point is at the southernmost tip of the peninsular with Port Charlotte on it and is an area renowned for basking seals. Learning from my previous experience with catching a bus for the return part of the journey, (bus sailed past and we had to walk all the way back in the rain) we caught a bus down to Portnahaven, with aim of walking back along the same route. 

 

 

b2ap3_thumbnail_photo-42.JPGFirst there were seals to spot, and sure enough two big fat grey seals were basking on the rocks in the bay, with many more in the water, watching us intently as seals do. We walked round to Port Wemyss to get a better view of the lighthouse on the small island of Orsay, just offshore. The lighthouse was designed by Robert Stevenson, of Stevenson's rocket fame. More seals lolling about on the rocks, not looking at all comfy. Lured uphill by a number of small signs with hand drawn pictures of cups and saucers and pieces of cake we finally reached a sign which said "closed today, cake tomorrow " What a disappointment!

 

 

After checking out the map, decided on a change of plan. Plan B:- Head up a very minor road towards Lossit Bay, eat picnic amongst the dunes, walk back to Portnahaven and catch the bus back. Sounded good at the time.

 

 

A lovely road with hardly any traffic, climbing quite high to skirt Ben Cladville. At one of the highest points we came upon two young women with binoculars and the telescopes used by serious birders, focussing on something very high up and far away. They said they were from Aberdeen University and were investigating the colouring of the choughs. Looking choughs up when I got back to the van it seems that they're quite rare, bigger than a jackdaw, all black with with scarlet legs and a long curved scarlet beak. See, they could just have looked in my Observer's Book of Birds!

 

 

a1sx2_Thumbnail1_photo-46.JPGThe cattle grids on the road didn't have an opening gate for livestock i.e. Jinty, so I had to lift the great lump over the fence each time, tie him up and then go round via the grid and untie him. Not that Mr Wimpy Whippet would go off worrying sheep...he just stands there looking worried. 

 

 

I kept getting glimpses of the cove I was heading for, but had to go down a farm track and on past the farm to find a way across the fields to the bay. We negotiate another couple of cattle grids with Jinty balancing on the edges and go past the farmhouse. There's a faint "hallo!" from an upstairs window and I go back to talk to the farmer. She warns me not to go through the fields as there's danger of the cattle stampeding and trampling us, particularly with a dog, adding that on the news yesterday there was a report of a couple being trampled to death by cows. My saviour suggested a different route, which unfortunately didn't include a beautiful bay with dunes, but did have woodland chock a block with red deer grazing next to the path. We got quite close to them before they galloped off into the trees, and there was even a fawn.

 

 

The safari didn't end there. Back on the coast road we passed a field with a donkey (I just love donkeys) and a white horse. The grass in their field was very sparse so I spent some time feeding them the lush long grass growing on my side of the fence. All the while, Jinty was doing his very best to get as far away from them as possible. And then... two fields with exotic creatures in them, probably llamas or alpacas, with very long necks, pom-pom hooves, and big eyes. Bizarre....

 

 

 

b2ap3_thumbnail_photo-47.JPG Following a sign to a burial site we had a short detour, finding a magical spot....a small cemetery in the middle of a field, with a separate section containing ancient Clan Donald carved stones. A lovely place to sit for a rest and to enjoy the peace.

 

 We were both glad to see the campsite only a couple of fields along, and trudged back to the Romahome with very tired legs. Time for a cup of tea (me) a drink of water (Jinty) and a well deserved lie down before tea.

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Port Mor campsite, on the edge of Port Charlotte on Islay, is set above the beach, with all electric hook up b2ap3_thumbnail_photo-38.JPGpitches looking out to sea. The campsite is community owned and run, with football pitches, changing rooms and a cafe on site. The facilities are kept immaculately clean....always a bonus.

 

 

We pitched up and went for a wander down to the small beach, exploring the rock pools and looking out for dolphins (not in the rock pools you understand, but out to sea, where they're supposed to be in abundance) As ever, not a fin or snout to be seen.

 

 

 

 

 

There are two pubs in Port Charlotte and the Port Charlotte Hotel is the one with live traditional music on Wednesdays and Sundays. I thought I'd give it a whirl, so after tea cunningly prepared in my Remoska multi function table top oven I set off to walk the half mile or so into the village, leaving Jinty to snooze in the Romahome.

 

 

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The sun was still shining and the sea, as ever, looked glorious. The music hadn't started when I went in but it was pretty full. I stood at the bar for a while with half a Fenlaggan ale, a local Islay brew. Four young men were at the bar and at first I thought they were speaking Gaelic, but no, they were Dutch. Why are Dutch men so common on Islay? It's a mystery.

 

 

I pulled a spare chair from one of the tables over to a vacant floor space just in time to see the musicians setting up in a corner of the bar. Three men with several instruments between them...piano accordion, banjo, penny whistle and either a ukelele or a mandolin. After a bit of tuning up they set off, with tunes that really deserved to be danced to. No dancing, but a lot of foot tapping ensued.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 b2ap3_thumbnail_photo-39.JPGNot wanting to walk back in the pitch dark I didn't stay too long. On the way back the birds were giving their best for the last songs of the day and the smoke from each house's chimney with a fire burning had its own distinctive smell, maybe peat, maybe a particular wood. Time for a last walk to the beach with Jinty before it's time for bed in the oh so cosy Romahome.

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Moving on from Kintra Farm after a last gallop on the beach, I parked the Romahome in the car park of Laphroig distillery, and after a quick turn round the shop, aka the visitor centre, (very tartan, very eightsome reels)  we set off on foot along the rugged coastline, with the gorgeously smoky Laphroig smell wafting along with us for a short while.

 

 

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The incoming and outgoing ferries from Port Ellen could be seen, looking like toy boats making their way over the sparkling blue sea. Yes, the sea and the sky are blue and it's not raining, spitting, drizzling, or doing anything remotely wet. The next distillery along this stretch is Lagavulin, with the characteristic pagoda chimneys and a tall industrial chimney reminiscent of Lancashire cotton mills. A strong malty smell was on the breeze here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

b2ap3_thumbnail_photo-35.JPGOn past sheep and lambs, with their alternating low and higher pitched bleating as the lambs checked in with their mums. As ever there was the constant trickle and rush of water as streams and rivers made their way to the sea. Bluebells were just coming into bloom and the road was lined with violets and primroses.

 

 

Ardbeg was the final distillery in this cluster, and this one has a cafe. I tethered Jinty to a picnic table and went inside to order coffee to drink outside. When I came back out a man was sitting at the table with a glass of whiskey. He said that he was from Quebec, Canada, and had been to Edinburgh, Glasgow and St Andrews and was now sampling all the Islay distilleries. He described his drink as tasting the same as the air here smells. So, if you're wanting a single malt tasting rain-washed, fresh, salty and slightly flowery, Ardbeg is the one for you. If you like a visitor centre (shop) with really posh ladies toilets, Ardbeg is also the one for you. 

 

 

b2ap3_thumbnail_photo-34.JPGMaking the most of the lovely weather I decided to carry on up the coast, just for fun. Rocky promontories, small sandy coves, it just went on and on. I discovered that wellies, which I've been wearing all week in an effort to at least have dry feet, are not ideal for longer walks, so decided to turn back before reaching the stone cross at Kildalton. The joy of walking and of retracing steps is that you see things from a different angle and have time to really appreciate beautiful views and the smaller things like flowers and birds. Not to mention smells and sounds.

 

 

However, all those steps in my wellies really made my feet hurt and I was relieved to get back to the Romahome and fish out my walking boots, ready for the drive round the island to Port Charlotte, and last few nights of our Islay stay at Port Mor campsite. On the way there was the added fun of silly waving and tooting at another Romahome driver as we passed on the road (it wasn't just me, they were doing it back) It's the first time I've seen another Romahomer out and about, so it was definitely worth a wave.

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Wonderful night's sleep, sole occupants of the beachside campsite at Kintra Farm on Islay. Grey clouds through the skylight, so stayed in bed a little longer and after a leisurely breakfast hopped down onto the beach for a walk, with full waterproofs as the rain had started again and looked set in for a good session. The aim was to walk the whole five miles of beach, past the airport, to the rocky outcrop at Laggan.

 

 

a1sx2_Thumbnail1_photo-29.JPGPassed a dead lamb and then a dead sheep whIch weren't there yesterday and managed to cajole Jinty to go by them, tempting him with his ball and sticks to chase. We waded across the river and then were set upon with an aerial attack by a gang of sea birds. It was Jinty they were most cross with, one after another dive-bombed him, and then one swooped at me, just missing my head. They were beautiful creatures, like very big white swallows, slim and sleek with long forked tails and beady eyes intent on their prey...us! As we moved on up the beach they lost interest in us and left us alone. I checked them out in my bird book back at the van and came to the conclusion that they were terns, either common or arctic. They must have been protecting their nesting site on the beach or in the dunes.

 

 

 On we went up the beach, Jinty chasing his ball, and both of us getting wetter and wetter. I ended up carrying Jinty's coat over my arm like a handbag after he somehow managed to flick it off, get one leg through the neck hole and trail the rest of it through the sea. We were defeated by another river, deeper and wider than the first, definitely an over the top of the wellies kind of a river. On a warm sunny day it's no doubt delightful to paddle across it, but it was a river too far today.

 

 

a1sx2_Thumbnail1_photo-32.JPGOff back to cosy up in the Romahome. When the rain stopped in the afternoon we went off to explore the rocky end of the beach, poking about in rock pools and watching the waves crash over the rocks. At least that's what I did. Jinty found an old bone amongst the pebbles and proceeded to eat it, keeping just out of my reach until he'd licked his lips after swallowing the last bit. Bad dog! 

 

 

Ferocious winds overnight had me worried about the van being blown over, and hailstones and heavy rain rattled against the windows, making for a less than restful night. The following day was spent watching the weather approaching over the sea, and dashing out onto the beach for a run about in the intervening sunny periods. It's a truly magnificent camping spot, although I'm very glad I'm not in a tent. Indeed, if I was in a tent I wouldn't be in a tent because it would undoubtedly have blown away. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

b2ap3_thumbnail_photo-30.JPGVerdict on Kintra Farm? Situation outstanding, facilities OK with toilets and showers. Brown water a bit off-putting. Would I come again? Definitely!

 

Time now to stow everything away in the Romahome ready to move on to Port Charlotte on the other side of the island for yet more whippety wanders.

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a1sx2_Thumbnail1_photo-26.JPGFirst in line for the ferry at Lochranza at 7.30, waiting to get onto the smallest boat ever. Surely there's not enough room on it for a Romahome? Of course there is! Drove onto it with aplomb and stood for the short half hour voyage looking out over the cold grey rain spattered waves, with Jinty looking miserable because of the cold. One of the crew, a whippet lover came over to swap whippet tales, and it was soon time to hop back in the van ready for the dash to Kennacraig to catch the Islay ferry,

 

 

This part of the trip was the cause of anxiety. Only twenty minutes to get across the Kintyre peninsular and I turned the wrong way off the ferry and then had to find somewhere to turn round on the single track road. I  could see that the ferry was in as I got to the highest point and hurried on to get in line just as embarkation began.

 

 

a1sx2_Thumbnail1_photo-25.JPGThis was a much bigger ferry and I decided to leave Jinty in the van and risk another seasickness incident. He was relaxed and cosy and I knew he'd be stressed out on the ferry for nearly three hours. I'd been so bothered about getting to the ferries on time I hadn't thought to put a book in my rucksack so had plenty of time to observe my fellow passengers. A high proportion of men were on the boat, with many of them in groups and some speaking languages which sounded vaguely Dutch. Many of them tucked in to a full Scottish accompanied by a bottle of Budweiser. What's taking them to Islay? Fishing trips? Walking holidays? Whiskey tours? Golf? Who knows.     

 

 

Safely off the ferry and after only a couple of u-turns on single track roads, at Kintra Farm on the Mull of Oa, a strange sounding place at the south of the island. This is a working farm full of free range sheep and lambs, with equally free range camping spots amongst the dunes, overlooking the most spectacular beach complete with waves being driven a1sx2_Thumbnail1_photo-27.JPGin by very high winds. I'm the only camper and I have to go and choose a pitch and then pin a ticket on the site map showing whereabouts I'm pitched. We walk round first to try to get the optimum pitch which combines the perfect sea view and shelter from the strong on-shore winds. I compromised the shelter element of the equation for the view in a not to be beaten vista up the beach which stretches for several miles.

 

 

There are toilets, a shower, and water which must be boiled and is slightly murky looking. We pitch up and I manage to light the gas fridge for the first time (I've always had electric hook-up before) and while there's still a glimmer of sun we set off down the beach. Jinty's so pleased to have a proper run and I'm pleased that I've still got my wellies on when we have to wade across a river as it runs into the sea. As we get back to the Romahome the rain starts again so we tuck up warm and watch it through the window, occasionally having a read of the paper or listening to Ian Banks' book Raw Spirit about his travels round Scotland on the quest for the perfect dram, all this punctuated by the bleats of passing sheep, the cries of sea birds and buffeting of the van by the wind.