We bid a fond farewell to Morag after a leisurely breakfast, and headed out of Elgin towards Aberdeen on the A96 before lunchtime. Once we were out on the open road, Mr V found a convenient place to pull over so that I could have a go at driving. So far he has driven all the way, and when I suggested that I could do a stint when we were on the motorways going towards the lakes, his ‘thoughtful’ pause told me everything I needed to know about how confident he was about me driving the van on narrow, twisty unfamiliar roads. However, he acknowledged that I do need to gain experience at driving the van so we agreed that when we were on the more straightforward A-roads, I should give it a go (I have previously been behind the wheel but only briefly).
I confess that it was initially daunting driving such a long vehicle, however, once I got used to the gears, which were like stirring porridge, and the fact that the rear view mirror is no use, therefore it is wing mirrors only – it was not actually too bad. You do have to get used to the fact that there is absolutely no nippiness about her, and it is a case of slow but sure; but you know, there is something liberating about not rushing, sitting high on the road and letting the other road users zoom on ahead.
The weather had predicted rain, and sure enough it came. We had decided not to visit Aberdeen itself, I have spent some time there and we had peddled through it a couple of years ago. Instead we identified a forest stopover outside of the city where we could park up and take a walk under the canopy of evergreens, which would offer some shelter from the weather. Parking up in the afternoon we donned our walking shoes and waterproofs to head out into the forest. Though it was clearly relatively busy with mountain bikers judging from the car park, the forest itself was peaceful with any sounds muffled in the mist that hung over it. Despite the lack of sunshine, our walk was lovely. We headed for the high point which had a folly tower that you could climb – I am sure that there are lovely views from the top, but alas, not today!
The afternoon was late by the time we had completed the full circle of the forest, so we had a warm supper and settled down for the night, which was extremely peaceful given we were the only vehicle in the clearing. The next morning was a little brighter and we had a little walk after breakfast before setting off – we had thought to find a shortcut to the tower and see what the view was actually like, but could not seem to quite make it.
We drove south and headed for the little town of Stonehaven (which for some reason we have to say in a soft Scottish accent as Stoney-Haven). We had stopped here for a welcome break when cycling from Aberdeen a couple of years ago and found the same cafe where the infamous apricot jam incident had happened. We revisited and again ordered tea and scones, making sure that the jam was anything but apricot!
After our refreshment, we decided to move onward and towards Montrose, and then took a short detour to Lunan Bay. This was a place we had rested for the night on our previous peddle and had intended then to take the walk to the bay on what was then a lovely evening. However, such was our exhaustion after the never ending hills on route, we had never actually set eyes on the Bay. We felt it was necessary to rectify this given we had the opportunity today. Though the sun was not shining, the bay itself was still lovely, with high dunes surrounding it which are rich in flora and fauna. We walked the length and along the small estuary, taking in what remains of the Red Castle, before heading back to the van for coffee and lunch. Just in time as it turned out as the heavens opened as the kettle boiled.
On leaving Lunan Bay, we drove the short distance to Arbroath, where we had identified a sea side parking areas to spend the night so we could peddle to Dundee and back. We had found Arbroath to be a charming town when we last visited, and we had promised ourselves that we would return and sample the famous smokies. Wandering around the harbour area, we identified the entrance to the smokehouse of M & M Spink, down a short alleyway, and procured a pair of smokies for our supper. Next stop was the chip shop for an Arbroath fish supper.
Smokies are hot smoked haddock, and authentic smokies are only produced in and around the town of Arbroath. They are delicious, the smokiness has a lovely rich flavour and the colour is muted, unlike the garish yellow hue of what often passes for smoked haddock in supermarkets. Replete after our feast, we snuggled into bed whilst the weather closed in; the rain lashing down and the sea was crashing against the shore, but we were cosy in our little van.
The next morning the rain had abated, but not as early as forecast, so we had a leisurely morning before prepping for our ride out. The peddle to Dundee was a lovely flat ride along the coast, which for the most part was on dedicated cycleways.
We recalled the friendly gestures of refreshment from the community of East Haven left for cyclists, though these have had to be suspended no doubt due to COVID restrictions, however the area was still lovingly maintained and the art in the loos (twinned with a loo in Pakistan) was still something to behold. There was the new addition of a memorial to Airedale terriers who served on the front line in WW1.
As we peddled through the town of Carnoustie, the station named Golf Town, made it clear what this place is famous for. Indeed the Women’s Open is clearly imminent given the preparations that were busily underway.
Though the sky looked leaden, there were areas of blue and we even saw some sun, we were fortunate to remain dry until almost back to the van, and then it was only a short shower, which once cleared, left the day lovely.
Before moving on we took some time to visit the Signal Tower at Arbroath, which we (I) had not realised was the signal tower for the Bell Rock lighthouse which is 11 miles off shore, with this new knowledge, I scoured the horizon and as the day was now so clear, could just about make out the lighthouse, which is a magnificent feat of engineering.
We packed up the van and made ready to move southwards again, heading for Stirling and are staying in another lovely forestry spot, just outside the town of Bridge of Allan. Scotland are piloting a scheme called Stay the Night in many of their sites, which allows for camper vans to park overnight so long as they are self sufficient. Though the road to our stopover was a little narrow and windy, and Sam got a little hot under the bonnet tackling the hills, it has been worth it, with a lovely peaceful woodland area to stay where we have had a relaxing evening and even ‘showered’ so are feeling fresh and sweet smelling before our ride to see the Kelpies tomorrow.