Passing on the 500

Hoy ahoy

We passed a lovely relaxing evening at Knockan Crag, and by the time the sun was setting there were another few campers parked up to enjoy the spot. We marvelled at the fact that our immediate neighbours had a small pop-top van and still managed to sleep three adults and two dogs; it must have been cosy!

We had left the front blind/curtain furled up thinking that it would be lovely to wake up to a bright fresh sunrise. Indeed it would have been lovely, but the weather had other ideas, and the morning greeted us with misty cloud hanging low over the mountains. Once we were awake and had carried out our morning ablutions, there was no reason to hang about so we departed before our neighbours had even begun to stir. We were headed on the NC500 route for Durness, which park4night informed had a nearby laundry facility the same as the one we had used in Morcambe.

As it was still early, and the morning mists lent a mysteriousness to the countryside as we drove through on almost deserted roads, occasionally passing the odd wild camper pitched next to their car but still snuggled up in their sleeping bags.

We were surprised to come across a group of nonchalant red deer grazing by the side of the road, and finding it rather enchanting slowed to a stop in order to capture a photograph. It was only when we drove off and I zoomed in on the pictures that I noted the looks on their faces were somewhat disgruntled, to the extent that there was a definite ‘eff-off’ vibe which kept making me laugh whenever I looked at the picture.

Oh deer!

We made our way to Durness in good time, taking the opportunity to air our smalls on the van heater given the chill outside. We made a couple of stops to take in some interesting scenery points and by the time we got to Durness things were a little busier. The laundry service was a little beyond Duress near Smoo Cave, and we found this with no issue. However, it was clearly a new facility and not yet set up for card payment which left us scrabbling about for enough change to use the service, then finding that we did not have enough coinage to pay the parking fees, which though were a reasonable £1 for an hour, stipulated that the minimum stay was 2 hours. We puzzled over what to do and consulting with google maps for other car parks, put the washing in then moved on to intending to park up in the free car park for Smoo Cave, only to find it to be completely full, but spotted along the road a large lay by so stopped over in that to await the completion of the spin cycle. Mr V stayed with the van whilst I walked the short distance to the public conveniences, and took the opportunity to go down to Smoo Cave itself. We had visited this site over 30 years ago and had the place to ourselves to wonder about to our heart’s content. What a difference those three decades had made though; even this early in the day, there were crowds of people making their way up and down the steps. I reached the entrance of the cave to find that you may no longer just wonder in, but have to hire a hard hat and seemingly go in groups to the underground waterfall part of the cave. Having already experienced it and not having the time to wait, I headed back up the steps and on to the laundry in time to transfer the washing to the dryer. Though to be honest, I was a little concerned as there was a load of clothes in the dryer which was just finishing and no-one around to collect it which left me with a dilemma, if it was not claimed should I fold it or just put it into one of the vacant washers? Just as I was contemplating this a car towing a caravan screeched into the car park to lay claim on the dry washing.

Having deposited our own washing in the dryer for 30 minutes, I walked back to the van, calling Mr V to put the kettle on whilst we waited. Returning to claim our dry washing, the owner of the site had turned up and I chatted with him about the situation we found ourselves in due to the lack of card payment facility. He assured me that he always had plenty of change in the office, which is all well and good, but if he is not there, then that is no help to us! It transpired that this was a new facility that he and his wife had worked on during lockdown and had only been properly up and running for a month, we discussed the pros and cons about his charging rates for the car park for those like us, whose sole purpose for coming was to use the washing machines.

Practicalities done, we travelled on, me folding the laundry whilst Mr V drove. There is only one road around this part of Scotland along the coast, and it forms the NC500 route, so there is no avoiding the traffic by taking another route. It is clear to see why this area is such a draw with the spectacular scenery, however, it is somewhat detracted from by the fact that the road for the most part is single track with regular passing places, so given the popularity of the route, one finds that you are constantly meeting travellers from the other direction and depending on whose side the passing place is on or how many are in the convoy, you are slowing/stopping to pull over and allow space for each other to pass. We travelled a fair few miles with a car and caravan immediately behind us and found that we were more often given priority. On the whole there was a polite and courteous adherence to the mutually acknowledged etiquette, as is the way of human nature though, there are always the exceptions to the rule who will barge their way through regardless of them being closest to a passing place. The going therefore along the majority of this route was slow, until the road became two-way.

We had identified a secluded little parking spot to spend the night, off, but close to the main road and with easy access to walks along the secluded beach and sand dunes. We had noted on the park4night site that this and other in the vicinity had comments from the same person decrying those who used these spots and not the paid for campsite in the area as freeloaders. We suspect that they have some interest in the said campsite.

We had a windy walk along the beach and did a bit of litter-picking of plastic bottles etc, and found that walking around the little headland to the small estuary was warm and sheltered. As the day was drawing to a close and the promised brighter weather had not materialised, we headed vanward for supper. As the evening drew on, the other cars departed until it was just us and the car to our right, and having noted the hostile comment, we were concerned that it was perhaps some officious person keeping track of users, and were glad of our stealth camper attributes.

Another peaceful night was passed, though the day did not greet us with blue sky as promised. We were awake early and got on with our morning routines; breakfasting and tidying the van. It was at this point that we met our neighbour, who turned out to be a lovely lady called Kirsty who had travelled from the Stafford area to attend a friend’s birthday celebration and was taking the opportunity to tick a few things off her things to do before reaching 70 list and had been touring and either wild camping, sleeping in her car or staying in B&Bs. I hope when I am her age I still have that sense of adventure.

We bid farewell to Kirsty (who later passed us on the road with a toot) and headed up towards Scrabster to catch the ferry over to Orkney to visit Mr V’s brother Matthew.

As we were only staying overnight we did not want to go to the expense of taking the van on the ferry, so after speaking to the harbour master, parked her up and headed over as foot passengers. We have been lucky on this and our previous crossing to Orkney to have good weather, as I understand that it can be quite rough at times. As we progressed the promised sun came out and we arrived at Stromness in glorious sunshine. We had a little tour of the back alleys of Stromness on route to see Matthew’s sailing partner and her husband, where Mr V had serious view envy of the view from Sue’s study over the rooftops and harbour with the hills as a backdrop. We took a little walk up the hill behind the old school which gave a panorama and sat in the warm sunshine just soaking up the view before heading back to Matthew’s house where we had our first hot showers since the Lake District and enjoyed a lovely supper before retiring to bed and having to draw the blinds on the still light sky despite the late hour.

We are booked for lunch out whilst here for which I have packed a dress – fancy!

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