Day 22, Towyn (20th August)

Day 22 - to do list; find great bargains, win money (yes I said money!) and have a great day with the Grandparents.

We both woke up after having yet another night with a proper bed - this was truly lush, I mean compared to the freezing cold floor of a van it felt like a 5 star hotel even though the beds were smaller than the width of my shoulders. My Grandma woke up earlier than us and was so kind to make us egg and soldiers - the best breakfast ever!

Followed by a few hours of photo editing I brought up the idea that we should all go and play cash bingo. Now I bet that you are thinking ‘wow this guy is suuuuch an old man’ - well you are welcome to think this, but when I was younger, during the time that myself and my siblings went away to the caravan we all loved going to the prize bingo area in the arcades; there was something exhilarating about winning tickets to exchange for little bits and bobs. Any way, back to the cash bingo story… Both Grandparents and Cath were up for it,  therefore we embarked on our bingo mission towards Rhyl.

“BINGOOO!” an old man in a wheelchair yelled, you would think by the emotionless expression on his face that he had just told everyone that someone had died instead of just winning over £200… We had arrived at a very large bingo hall, equipped with everything you need; a bar, a bingo caller and a crowd of oddly smelling old people (apart from you grandad and grandma, you smell great!). We had purchased bingo cards and a drink each and we were ready to play!

With numbers being called far too fast for Cath and I to keep up with we completely fell at the first game. This occurred a few more times until our 4th card - it was a full house meaning that we were looking for all the numbers to win £100. It was quiet as everyone dabbed their cards with their markers. 5 minutes in and Cath said to herself under her breath ‘I think I won?’, to the shock of both of us my grandma grabbed Cath’s hand and yelled ridiculously loud “BINGOOOOOOO OVER HERE!” - I think everyone nearly had a heart attack, on the upside though Cath had won!

This wasn’t the only win of the day, after leaving we walked into the town centre to get some lunch. My Grandparents know how much I love my deals and finding free things, so they took us to a bakery called ‘The £1 bakery’ - as stated in the name everything was £1. I was in heaven, from chocolate brownie to cornish pasties there was so much to chose from! (I get very happy and excited when I find cheap food or great deals ok?… I’m not odd). With the day nearly over we went back to the caravan, relaxed, had some bangers and mash then head to bed. This wasn’t the typical ‘Road Trip/adventurer kind of day’ but it was one that was full of doing fun things; good enough for me!

 

Day 21, Manchester to Towyn (19th August)

With minds clear from yesterday’s worries this morning was incredibly more enjoyable. Today we would leave to continue our journey down south towards Cornwall.  Our next stop - my Grandparent’s caravan in Towyn, North Wales.

The weather was a little gloomy with patches of light rain every 20 minutes or so - this was no issue as we weren’t going outside much today. Something that I realised with the transition of moving from sleeping in a van to a house with a proper bed was the little things that one has to do in a day - from getting changed to showering, life was obviously so much easier in a house with proper facilities to do so and more space etc. When I had a think about how easy it was to do these things it really makes you appreciate the little things like much more. It sounds a bit silly if you haven’t experienced something like living in a confined space, but imagine this - it’s raining like no tomorrow and you want to go to the loo BUT you currently live in a van. You don’t want to pee in a container  because it may spill so the only option you have is to go outside (I forgot to mention that you are in the middle of nowhere so you can’t go in a public loo!). In a normal house you could just get up and walk to the loo without fighting with the torrential rain, but when living in a van you have to put your waterproofs on, go outside, and pee the direction the wind is going as if you don’t - well, you get your own piss all over you. Now a number of you are probably thinking ‘well don’t live in a van then you mug’ - in response I would say ‘brilliant point good sir’, but one thing that I have learnt through living in a van is to learn to appreciate what you have. You may be able to learn this lesson through another method rather than risking peeing all over yourself but this turns out to be the way that I am learning it and it seems to be working…  

Hitting the road after lunch, consisting of simple but tasty ham sandwiches, we managed to miss a lot of the traffic. We arrived at the caravan site to find that my Grandparents weren’t there - turns out that they were ay the horse-races… I forgot to actually tell them what time we would be arriving so this is totally my fault. Any way, we decided that we would leave the van outside the caravan and skateboard into the centre of the seaside town to look around the shops.

We got back and my Grandparents arrived just as we did. During the evening we bought fish and chips from the local chippy and walked down to the game arcades. I found it really interesting how the whole place had changed - these arcades were where I spent my childhood when I was at the caravan, running around playing on the 2p machines being eager to win the next toy that would fall off. The view that I had as a child to win the tackiest toy from these machines is something that I sadly no longer own. I looked at the 2p machines with no interest what so ever; no matter how much you believe that you will never grow up as a child, these views are sadly always wrong…. Despite saying this one thing that I have maintained as a child from those days (as well as my weirdness and curiosity) is that I still love to have biscuits and a glass of milk before going to sleep at the caravan! 

Day 20, Manchester (18th August)

DUN DUN DUUUUUN! RESULTS DAY!!!

This day was no normal day, it was the most dreaded day of the year. With worried minds neither of us slept very well. Waking up at 4:30am Cath was eager to see her results - myself on the other hand I just wanted to sleep, I was ignoring the fact that three results were sitting in my email inbox waiting for me to open them. Cath tried and tried again but had no luck getting into her results page to see if she had been accepted into her chosen University - Bangor, North Wales.

After worrying for 2 hours and trying every five minutes to get into her email Cath finally broke through and opened the email… Whilst this was all going on I was in bed watching videos on YouTube like the supportive boyfriend I am… Just joking I did try and help calm her down!

With Cath’s well dissevered successful results she was ecstatic to get into Bangor University - WOOO! Myself on the other hand I had still not opened my results. It wasn’t that I didn’t care, I just knew that I didn’t need my results to get into any UNI as I don’t think I will be going. I eventually gave up and opened the email as I really wanted to see what I achieved in my Photography grade.

D for Geography, A for Film Studies and an A* for Photography - I was pretty happy with myself, my mum on the other hand was frustrated. First of all because I forgot to tell her for a few hours after I found out and also because both her and I knew I could have revised more for Geography. Despite this both of us were very pleased with my Photography grade - I had spent many hours after college sitting in a photography class room with music plugged in working away with my sketch books. Some of you reading this now may be thinking to yourself that Photography and Film are ‘doss’ subjects and a waste of time, but for me Photography is something that I am ridiculously keen about and am working hard to get to use it for my future career - so for me, I didn’t waste a single second working on my photography and Film A-Levels.

With the important bit of the day out of the way I spent the next 6 hours relaxing in the sun, writing this blog and editing my photographs. To celebrate, Kev took both of us out for an evening meal after picking up Elliot from nursery. The evening then concluded by us all watching Toy Story and then heading to bed. It was a surprisingly an exhausting day for doing nothing! 

Day 19, Loch Lomond to Manchester (17th August)

As the days counted down towards both Cath and I’s A-Level results we were getting a little worried. We had planned that we would be in Manchester at Cath’s Uncles just incase our results didn’t go as planned. Our results day was on the 18th August (tomorrow) meaning that we had to drive down to Manchester.

One very vivid image I have of waking up on this morning was when I opened the back of the van to stumble out to this mans very confused facial expression. I smiled at him looking rough as I always do when I get up with my wild ginger hair pointing in all sorts of directions. “You stay here overnight?” he asked, in which I replied “Yup, beautiful isn’t it” whilst looking out to the Loch. As we talked, bit by bit he unpacked a blow-up kayak from the boot of his car. When he had blown it up I helped him carry it over the wall to the side of the water. In the time following saying goodbye as he paddled of into the distance I decided in the spur of the moment kind of thing that I would go for yet another swim. Getting changed into my sodden, oddly smelling wetsuit due to the other nights swim was the only bad aspect of this idea; the water was actually quite refreshing after getting used to it.

Because Manchester was over four and a half hours drive, Cath had to hurry me out because I was enjoying myself too much. I stripped the wetsuit off in the middle of the road as there was no other space I could change and we started the first leg of the journey. I volunteered to do the first half as Cath prefers driving on motorways, as in her words, she thinks she ‘bosses them’.

We only had a brief stop at the services to change who was driving – it was here where I was tempted to spend over £10 on food. Normally on road trips to Northumberland with the family I would buy us all (I say ‘us’ but in the end I normally eat them all) a 12 pack of doughnuts, but this time as we were on a budget I managed to walk away.

2 hours later we were nearing the outskirts of Manchester - we were both quite excited to get there as it meant that we could shower - the water from the mornings swim had made me feel like I smelt of dead fish. ..We were very lucky with the journey on our journey - there was very little traffic so we just flew down the motorway.

On our arrival Cath’s cousin, Elliot (who is about 4) ran out the house to say what I thought was going to be a hello. “You have to buy me ice cream!” he looking up at me before I could even get out of the van. “Hello to you too!” I replied, he repeated himself and then ran round the other side of the van to hug Cath. It turned out that Elliot knew exactly what time the ice cream truck came round every day and it was nearing the time of its arrival when we turned up!

During the evening that followed we had an amazing BBQ that Pam and Kev (Cath’s Auntie and Uncle) cooked up. As well as being treated with this amazing feast we had a double bed made up for us and offers open to use a washing machine. If there is one thing I have learnt from this trip it is that clean clothes are a god send! With our bellies full, and clean clothes we then went to bed with the daunting day that lay ahead us…. Results day.

Day 18, Loch Lomond (16th August)

This particular morning was a very slow one. It was one of those mornings when you set an alarm the previous night, with the thought that you will get up with the sunrise so that you can use the day, then when that terrible sound rings at 5am you just switch it off and just think to yourself “screw this, I’m sleeping”. If I’m honest this is actually something I did when I was at school – set an alarm to catch my train, then when it goes off in the morning thinking to yourself “sleep is definitely more important than education” and sleeping in (apologies to Mum and Mr Griggs!).

When we did surface from our deep sleep (due to the tent acting like an oven once again), we were on the ball and managed to be packed up and ready to leave surprisingly very quickly. With the sun shining on our 18th day of our road trip we hit the road near 11am  to find a Loch to go swimming in.  Whilst looking for a Loch to swim in I felt as if we were both acting out the story of Goldilocks and the three bears, but instead TobyCath and the three Lochs.

We first drove and parked up at the Trossachs (near a place called Brig o’Turk – cool name aint it) but decided that the place where we walked to the Loch side was a bit ‘manky’ – dirty still water which just didn’t look too appealing at all to swim in. With this we moved onto the other side of the Loch (thinking that this would be better); we parked up, walked down with all our stuff and walked into the water. With the Loch water looking ‘cleanish’ we paddled in a little further – I looked down and saw things which just made me straight away turn around and get out.

A knife, broken glass, bottles, glasses (as in spectacles) half a rotting fish and a collection of other delightful objects. Here we were thinking that this would be the place for us to enjoy a swim, but no – someone thought it would be a brilliant idea to chuck in bits and bobs of their unwanted possessions. WHY?! I just don’t get it, who would throw a KNIFE where families sometimes swim…. People confuse me greatly… Mini rant over.

With the annoying thought that we were wasting the day because we couldn’t decide where we wanted to swim, yet again we moved on to the neighboring loch. This particular Loch was one in which we were just so hot and bothered that we just went for it. With the water only a little manky it was ‘just right’.

With the first day’s challenge complete, we were faced with another; where were we going to sleep. We really didn’t want to pay for a campsite this night as we knew we could find somewhere with a little bit of looking to park up and sleep at. We followed the Loch road around a few small towns until we realized what we had actually done was drive in a large circle to near where we slept the previous night in the campsite with the good shower hooks. I was driving at this point and decided to carry on driving. Even though the signs indicated ‘Dead End’ I kept going because I had a funny feeling that there would be somewhere nice down this road – for once, I was right!

Where I had taken us was down a narrow single road track to a large hidden Loch, surrounded by trees on all sides it was just beautiful. It was here where we decided to set up camp as it were. Cath (yet again) cooked an amazing meal; a bean tomatoe sauce vegetable dish thing with bread (probably the best few words to describe it!). With this dish still hot in the pan we walked it down to the Loch side where we sat and watched a truly stunning sunset. It was about half way through our dinner where we met David and three other mad but lovely ladies.

David was a guy we met on the Loch when he came in from kayaking all day. After talking for a bit we found out that he was a Museum conservationist (I think that was what he said), but either way he was a very nice guy who sat and drank his beer with us whilst we all watched the setting sun. When David left with his very cool red Land Rover Defender, along came 3 women who we also managed to talk to. All three were from Glasgow and all of them came to the Loch to go for an evening swim. They said that they all did it when they had time. When they arrived they all got changed into wetsuits then just walked straight in and off they went. This interested us both enough to get ourselves changed into our wetsuits and follow in after them. For the 4th different spot we had swam in during the day it was definitely the best. With the views of the towering mountains and the setting sun lighting up the clouds with a pink tint it was one of the most enjoyable evenings of the road trip thus far. 

Day 17, Glencoe to Loch Lomond (15th August)

We only stayed one night in Glencoe before it was time to move onto another location. Our next location was down in Loch Lomond, quite a nice drive as it wasn’t too far – only an hour. With a stop on the way to eat the leftovers of our dinner from the previous night; homemade burgers made by Cath, we went on driving beside the Loch on its long windy road.

The moment we arrived in Loch Lomond, which was the next destination where we planned to stay, we instantly regretted not spending more time in Glencoe. You can’t change something when it has happened, and I really believe in trying not to regret anything but it is so very hard!  Any way, the reason why we thought we should have stayed longer was because where we drove to in Loch Lomond had a byelaw in which no one (not even in campervans) were allowed to camp on the East side of Loch Lomond, so you had to stay in a registered campsite. We looked for campsites but yet again, we got rejected from a few, one without any explanation – I just found it rude and upsetting.

With the lack of finding a campsite on the East coast of the Loch, we decided to drive a little further (in order to get outside of where the byelaw affected) to the Trossaches, to find a place where we could sleep on the side of the road, meaning free accommodation – this was a very big fail. We drove for over an hour to get to somewhere in which we thought we would be able to park up and sleep, but instead found roads which had no where in which a car could legally park – only bloody passing places. By this point we were both pretty shattered and gave in on the idea of sleeping on the side of the road.

As time went on I recalled a campsite we passed roughly 20 minutes back; we retraced our steps and only just found it after driving past it a few times. Not only were we accepted into the campsite, but after a look around we were very pleased that it had really nice showers – when I say ‘really nice’ the only thing that it had that made us happy was the amount of pegs that it offered, many campsites we’d been in before had only 2 pegs to hold all of the things you take to the showers (it is the small things in life which makes us happy!). 

Day 16, Skye to Glencoe (14th August)

Today was the day we sadly left Skye, we woke from our surprisingly comfortable sleep in the cold van, packed up from our middle of nowhere camping spot and once again hit the road. Today was the day we headed for Glencoe – neither of us had been there before but I had heard good word about it being really picturesque with the towering mountains and the small log houses dotted around the area – ideal for photography.

We didn’t really want to leave Skye – this is exactly what we said after leaving every campsite we went to. Although Skye was something different, its pure beauty is just unique and the memories there hold something special to me, but you never truly know what you will find down the road so its good to keep going to explore new paths.

Three hours of shared driving later and a stop off to look around Fort William, we found ourselves in Glencoe being refused to enter some campsites due to our van being ‘unsuitable’ and not being a proper ‘campervan’ we eventually stumbled upon a campsite a few minutes drive from Glencoe called ‘Red Squirrel Campsite’. We were first unsure on whether we wanted to stay there because of the cost (it wasn’t expensive at all, it was just that we are people that like to save when we can!) but something drew us into staying there. I don’t know if it was the odd hand painted signs everywhere or the odd looking reception which looked like a passport control box – all that I can say is that I am deinfetly not going to judge a book by its cover again!

The campsite was amazing. From the trees to the man made swimming pool river it was definitely one of the best campsites I have ever been to. With trees being everywhere you looked it was great for us to relax in our hammocks, and after looking around we managed to find a river out the back of the campsite which a section of it had been dug out deeper so it was a swimming pool – genius! Within 30 minutes of being in the campsite we had to try the swimming pool so we got changed and went over. Whilst we were slowly… actually I should say ‘pathetically’ entering the water a young teenager came out of know where from behind us and started to talk to us. “Cold isn’t it! I’ve been in there the whole day!” We talked to him a bit and found out that his name was Cameron – as time went by talking about his Gaming YouTube channel he went off for a brief few minutes and then came back running over and dived into the pool. We had both spent 20 minutes getting in the water to waist height whilst Cameron just dove in… We looked really pathetic…

By the time we eventually got in we found it so cold we only stayed in for 5 minutes… the definition of wimps. 

 

Day 15, Skye (13th August)

The feeling of waking up to beautiful bird song is a magic one, the warmth of being reenergized and ready for the day is something quite spectacular. Day 15 of our Road Trip was nothing like this at all. Being woken up to the sound and feeling of a large lorry driving past the van wakes you up alright, but unfortunately with the thought that you think you have wet yourself from being scared – I like to call this emotion “nearly shitting your pants”. If this wasn’t enough to wake up to, stepping out of the van held another surprise. However lovely to wake up to no rain, it really isn’t a pleasing experience stepping out the back of the van and landing in a muddy puddle. So here I was, day 15, in the middle of Skye, standing in a puddle with the worlds worst bed hair, looking as if I had been sleeping in a bush… Although saying all of this I was glad of one thing; not being robbed in the night and still being alive.

A bowl of cereal later and we were on our way to Isle of Skye’s fairy pools. The Fairy Pools in Skye are a chain of crystal clear waterfalls and pools that are all linked together through a river. With high winds, rain and freezing cold water (now thinking about it I really don’t know why) but Cath and I decided to go for a swim - after a couple of days with no shower it may have been that which made us warm to the idea of going in.

The tourists that saw us were definitely shocked. “So there I was walking through the beautiful Skye mountains following many other people in a tourist group admiring the beautiful views that the Fairy Pools had to offer. When out of know where came along two crazy half naked people swimming in the pools! One looked like a drowning red squirrel whilst the other looked like a drenched sloth!” As many tourists walked by they had to take a second look at us – those who didn’t went on whilst the others stood and watched us – we had a little audience! 15 minutes of freezing later and it turned out that we had attracted other people to go for a dip too – one of which was Finish (I think), after exchanging words on how bloody cold the water was he rumbled in his bag and pulled out a hip flask. After swigging one large gulp down he then offered me some explaining that it was from the Island and was 15 years old; I didn’t catch what spirit it was but that following evening I swear I could still taste it.

After saying goodbye to our Finish friend we ourselves went on back to the van to dry off and change into warmer clothes. In the time following this we hit the road in search for a café to grab a drink, edit (and write this) and most importantly to charge our gear. We just about managed to find a little coffee shop of the road near Broadford (the South East of Skye). We arrived around 3 o’clock, ordered some coffees (and a salmon bagel – I just really fancied one!) and used all the plug sockets that were on offer to us. In between editing photographs and replying to emails Cath and I talked about what we were going to eat tonight and where exactly we were going to sleep.

3 hours on and the women behind the till was starting to close up – it was getting near 6 and we were the only ones in so we thought we would leave before she may have got annoyed that we only bought £2 coffees and one bagel, and had used a lot of electricity. As we packed up she noticed we were leaving and asked if we would like the bread in the baskets near the till; “It only just gets thrown away at the end of the day any way” she explained. We obviously said yes – I am a big fan of anything (I mean ANYTHING) that is free. Whilst sorting out the bread she chucked in the last two chocolate muffins, two croissants and the remaining sandwich in the fridge as well. With big smiles on both of our faces we thanked her profusely for all the food and left. 

Whilst the sun started to set we went on to our next unknown destination. Driving down a side road of a side road we then luckily found a beautiful secluded spot sheltered by some large boulders where we spent the night. With no phone signal and unfortunately no wind to keep the midges of us we sat and enjoyed the wonderful surrounding scenery until it got dark and we decided to head to bed. 

Day 14, Skye (12th August) –

If you were wondering from the Blog entry yesterday, we did finally find a campsite – it was a flooded one, but as we were in the van we managed to blag a place in the motorhome section of the campsite for no extra cost, which luckily for us was made of gravel so it didn’t flood. The great thing about this particular campsite was that it had many plugs which were free to use to charge various things – I was over the moon when I managed to grab four of the plugs – I know what you are all thinking, but I wasn’t being selfish as there were around eight other plugs that people were able to use but only three of them were in use – so it is was ok!

I did manage to charge a few things before they closed the previous night, but I went over there when they opened in the morning so that I could charge my other electronics like the laptop, portable power chargers, camera batteries and alike – it was a nice feeling that I could edit a few photos and write this blog to catch up over the past few days!

The rest of the day consisted of driving around nearly the whole of the Isle of Skye and failing to find a place to sleep – although a little stressful, it was a great day! We drove from where we were staying (just outside Portree) past the Old Man O’store and up through to the North of the Island – it was a lovely drive with what we could see (which was hardly anything due to the rain!).

After driving through the beautiful Uig Bay we decided we wanted to head onto Dunvegan – this meant that we had to head back down South towards Portree. Whilst driving South this is where me met our new friend, Kevin. We met Kevin at the side of the road when driving – he was hitchhiking and just managed to catch us as we nearly past him because he was covered by a road sign – we saw this flailing arm come out of know where so we stopped to see what was up. He explained to us that he missed a bus from his house to Portree, so he then attempted to cycle there (this would have taken him nearly a whole day) so he asked as we had a big enough van to get his bike in the back, if he could tag along with us. We said no and that was that… Just joking, we welcomed him with open arms and took him where he wanted to go.

After being made to feel like very good people we drove North back on track to Duvegan… I would love to say something along the lines of  “We got there with the weather looking beautiful and shining down on us. We parked up, went to a cute little café where we had tea and scones” – it was nothing of the sort. We arrived with the heavens pouring down on us (no sun in sight) and after driving around for a good 20 minutes, we found that there was next to nothing to do. I think the most exciting part of Dunvegan was using the public toilet that they had in the parking lot…

With it nearing almost 7 o’clock we just wanted to find somewhere where we could park up, cook and sleep. We did see a campsite when coming out of Dunvegan but we decided not to go there as we wanted to save money – we then drove on through the night to find a place to sleep at the side of the road… 

Day 13, Ullapool to Portree, Skye (11th August)

During the early hours of the morning I woke up quite a few times – I am not very sure why but some part of me thinks it was due to the fact that I was a little worried about getting floated away in the torrential rain. I know exactly what you are thinking “how silly, that would never happen!” – well you are wrong!... Well not 100% wrong, I didn’t float away, but other things did!

When I woke up for the probably near the 15th time, I decided to check outside and see if my worries were true. Whilst still half asleep I struggled to pull the side door of the van open, but when I did I looked down to both of Cath’s flip flops floating like little sail boats in a very large puddle. When I say puddle, just try to imagine one that is over 4 metres in diameter – that is what we woke up to! Like the ninja I am, I grabbed my keys, opened the front door and swung like Tarzan to the drivers seat in order to drive us to a dryer part of the site. With one stall of the van (I am blaming that on the wheels getting stuck in the rain, not my bad handling of the van) we were just about out of the swamp we woke up to, and I drove us so that we were less than a few foot from the dry entrance of the toilet/showers. Thanks to my heroic actions of the morning, we managed to get ready and sort through the van with minimal rain attack.

So our quest continued – we were on the way to the magnificent Isle of Skye. Through drenched roads, winding turns and fogged up windows we made it at around 3 o’clock. Skye has always had a place in my heart. The reason for this is because when I was 16, me and one of my best friends went on a two week expedition walking to raise money for a Sensory room back in Cambridge. It was probably the most difficult two weeks I have ever been through, both mentally and physically but it still held such amazing memories. So this is the reason why even when I went over Skye Bridge I was super ecstatic that I was back on the Island.

At Cath’s annoyance (as I was driving) I took us to many places before we even managed to step out the car because I wanted to re-visit some of the places on the South side of the Island where I walked.  After taking Cath on an unwanted tour we drove to am East coatal town, Portree, to stock up on food for diner and look for a campsite to stay in for the night. All I wanted to do was go to a campsite which didn’t flood! 

Day 12, John O’Groats to Ullapool (10th August)

Waking up to feel as if you are in an oven is never a good feeling – but unfortunately it was exactly what we had after our nights sleep in John O’Groats.  Despite saying this, after quite a number of days of rain and wind, it felt werdly pleasant to wake up feeling like a pie in the oven as this can only mean one thing – sun! So the good weather had come at last, sadly, unknown to us at the time of departure, we were going to step back once again into the shadows of rainy clouds as we headed (for our first time during the 12 days) down South, from John O’Groats to Ullapool.

The journey was as you are probably imagining – windscreen wipers being used at full pelt, music turned up so that you can actually hear it over the rain bashing the van and of course, driving on near to being flooded roads. Even with these poor conditions, our hopes were high (well as high as they could possibly be with the weather) as we were heading to the picturesque West coast town of Ullapool!

On arrival despite the wet weather, it was quite a site. After parking the van a few streets from Ullapool’s port we walked down to the peir to admire the beautiful mountains that surrounded us. Most people would associate wet weather with terrible views and cold feelings, but what we saw seemed as if it had been painted with the most detailed brush. The clouds looked as if they were made out of candyfloss (grey candyfloss), which covered the mysterious tops of the surrounding mountains. If I was to describe it in one word it would be pulchritudinous (big word for me to use I know!).

From having our eyes enlightened by the views that Ullapool had to offer, we headed back in the van down the road to our campsite…Well actually I shouldn’t call it a campsite, the words ‘swimming pool’ resembles it better!

Whilst Cath was cooking yet another scrumptious meal, I was battling with the weather to make some attempt to stop the rain from ruining our meal. Armed with two tarps, zip ties, pegs, rope and a bag of pasta (used as a weight not to eat) I am proud to say I bossed protecting our food station.

A few hours on we were in the van in bed listening to the soothing sound of the rain pattling on the roof. It was lovely listening to the rain when sleeping, apart from the worrying thought that the rain hadn’t stopped through the whole day meaning that there was a large possibility of waking up under water – even in the van! 

Day 11, Loch Ness to John O’Groats (9th August)

Day 11; another windy night had been passed with an 100% survival rate - I was happy. Although the tent was wet from the nights rain (which is a bumber as when anything gets wet it is very hard to dry in the van) we were heading onto John O’Groats which was exciting as neither of us had been there before.

Before hitting the 3 hour drive up North I stopped by Vannessa’s office to show her the photos that I had taken during the two day stay. Even though I hadn’t shown her my portfolio or agreed on what kind of style she wanted, she was very happy with the images so she let us have our stay for free – WOO! £32 still in our pocket! With job one completed, we left the campsite and drove to a local garage. The reason for this was because over the previous few days the van seemed to be leaking oil…. I know, not good. So as any other teenager does when in trouble I phoned my parents, in this case my Dad as he is the vehicle know it all in our family so I was sure he would have the answer. After describing the issue he told me that it would be best to one, keep an eye on it incase it worsened, and two, go get some more engine oil as it was getting low on the dip stick. With new oil in hand I poured it in and we were off.

The journey to John O’Groats is an interesting one. From the rough area of where Perth is a series of winding coastal roads take you on a journey which feels ever lasting. As well as this trip where you feel as if you are missing birthdays the houses appear to get lonelier the further North you get. By this I mean they kept on getting further and further apart, until points when there where miles on end from one house to the next. Many of the ‘houses’ we actually saw did look scarily abandoned. I can see why this is in fairness, as who really wants to live in an area where Dominoes can’t deliver to you!

So here we are, driving along this twisting and turning road, with me thinking “what happens if we run out of food!?”, then getting further worried when realizing that not even overly greasy takeaway pizzas would be able to save us. Just as I was about to lose hope for the life of my stomach it seemed as if we had managed to teleport to what seemed like the Bee Hive centre in Cambridge. From Aldi to Poundland there was this huge row of chain stores that just seemed to have grown up out of nowhere. Both Cath and I were actually quite shocked as to where on earth these shops came from, but we then managed to get over our confusion and amazement to carry on the journey.

20 minutes later we found ourselves surrounded by one café, a campsite and about 4 small shops; we were delighted (that we had eventually made it) and also a little disappointed when we found that this was actually John O’Groats. I mean there is really nothing to do there, the most you could do was have a drink in the café, have your photo taken in front of the sign and if you wanted to be a really touristy tourist you can go on a boat tour. I am not saying that it isn’t a beautiful place – if you haven’t been there I would recommend it for sure, just I wouldn’t plan to stay there for more than 2 days tops!

By now the wind had dyed down a lot which made putting up the tent a little easier, and the sky was clear which meant that when the sun set it really did look stunning. It sure was a lovely way to end the day – dinner in hand whilst watching the sunset lit red horizon.

 

Day 10, Loch Ness (8th August)

It had been 10 days since we left to head on our road trip and we had luckily survived the night’s sleep with only two occasions when the tent collapsed due to the wind. Unfortunately for me, I was the only one to wake up on these occasions so I had to prop the poles back up at ridiculous times in the morning.

When the morning sun came around Cath woke up with tonnes of energy, whilst I on the other hand felt like a zombie - nothing that a cup of coffee couldn’t sort out though, so all was good! So the plan for today? – well, do what we had been doing for the rest of the trip – anything that we wanted. As this was the only full day that we had in Loch Ness we agreed that we wanted to go down to the Loch and see it in its full glory (and try to spot Nessie of course).

After a look round one of the local villages we went down a forest path which we first believed would lead us to the Loch… One hour later - nothing. It turned out that we were actually walking to a river in the complete opposite direction from the Loch; you may be thinking “what fools can’t read a map”, but in our defense the map that the walk provided was very poor quality! When this realization came to us we turned around and headed back to the van to see if there was another route to the Loch. Once again it was my phone which saved us; Google Maps provided us with the answer – a park up back at the campsite, walk along the road, through some fields and a small section of wood and BOOM, we were there.

With both of us happy that we made it to the Loch we were happier still when we found that the place we were at was disserted and had a beautiful wooden mooring platform which was perfect for taking photos on. During our little photoshoot (after a tasty lunch made by Cath of course… I am not very good at making food see) Cath noticed a boat which appeared to have crashed into the rocks not too far from where we were – this was of course our next adventure for the day.

A walk through an entangling forest and a brief moment where Cath nearly lost her walking boots in mud, we found the crashed boat. It looked as if it had been there for a number of years; with a broken boom, a flooded cabin and faded paint I wouldn’t be surprised if it was from a disaster movie!

The evening was then followed by another of Cath’s tasty meals, hot showers and then of course the usual being terribly scared when going to sleep, because of the fear about your tent flying away in yet again, horribly strong winds!

 

Day 9, Kirknewton, Northumberland to Loch Ness (7th August)

Day 9 of our road trip, and it was time to leave the beloved bed that we had been sleeping in over the past few days – t’was time to head to the great Loch Ness. As we were trying to continue our rein of free accommodation, the day before I phoned up a campsite near Loch Ness and asked if they would be interested in exchanging services – campsite facilities for photography. After failing at interesting two campsites I actually had a call back from one expressing that they misheard me and they were interested. The lady I spoke to sounded as if she was royalty – with her very well spoken tongue she used words which I had never heard of before, but none the less she was interested, so we headed on our way to go and meet her.

After the long, wet and windy drive we arrived. With my recently ironed shirt (as I wanted to present myself in the best light, so I didn’t actually look like I was living in a van) I went up to the reception to meet her. 10 minutes of waiting later and suddenly a storm of energy bounced into the room, hearing her first before actually seeing her she fired questions at the man behind the desk; “John (I don’t actually remember his name, but lets call him John), there is a large motorhome outside with a trailer, please tell me that they don’t expect to get that on their pitch”, without a word in edgeways John couldn’t even reply before other questions where flung his way – “… we are not letting any more motorhomes in, ok? Only people with tents!”… It may have been five questions later but then John managed to say something, whilst pointing towards me, “This is Toby, he said he phoned you and you wanted to see him?” With a deep breath she turned around and shook my hand, “Lovely to meet you Toby! I am deeply sorry at how hectic it is here, I know I said I wanted to see your portfolio but please pitch up and come back tomorrow morning to see me as I am very busy.” So that is exactly what we did, we went off to the comment of her saying to some other customers, “I shouldn’t have built a campsite here, I should have built an ark, we would have made so much more money!”.

With those amusing few minutes of meeting Vanessa, Cath and I had smiles on our faces as we set up the tent in the pouring rain. After cooking and eating our diner we headed to bed with the worry that the 50mph winds wouldn’t take our tent away…

 

Day 5-8 Kirknewton, Northumberland

For these next few days I have decided to merge them all into one entry of this blog. The reason for this is that from the 3rd to the 7th August we stayed in Northumberland with my Mum and my sister. The days consisted of exploring different paths we hadn’t adventured down before, visiting the local towns and in general just relaxing. I could go through every day and explain each and every little detail of what we did, but I think that would be just a little bit boring, so these following paragraphs contain the most vivid memories from the few days in beautiful Northumberland.

One of my most memorable moments over the last few days was watching as Tommy (one of our dogs) nearly ‘topping off’ a children’s sand castle with one of his homemade castle decorations, but I will tell this story a little later on as I have a few other amusing and memorable moments which occurred before this. One of which does actually include Tommy…

After a great nights sleep in probably the comfiest bed I have ever stayed in, I stumbled down the stairs to talk to my Mum who was outside reading her book with a cup of tea, whilst every nown again looking up to see the birds (as per usual). I grabbed my cereal and sat outside with her whilst occasionally throwing the ball for the dogs. After a while like usual Tommy (the older dog out of the two) would get tired and when he next got the ball he would decide to do his usual ‘victory lap’ around the garden with his head held high because he was proud he had caught the ball. In the mean time whilst Tommy was parading around, Ru (the younger one) just sat there with his tongue hanging out cooling off from the chase of throwing the ball around. With it being summer and in Northumberland, the midges were out – which none of us liked, not even the dogs. While my mum and I pulled our sleeves down to at least stop our arms from being eaten alive, the dogs had another technique – to eat them. Whilst Tommy sat down and just occasionally snapped at a few flies going past, Ru decided to run after them snapping as they tried to fly away. 

So, back to the beginning story with Tommy being a pain and nearly ruining a child’s

 day. We, that is Cath and I, were on Bamburgh beach with the two dogs whilst my mum and my sister were on a boat trip looking for puffins. We both decided that it would be nice to take the dogs for a walk along the beach. As usual I took my camera equipment so I could see what I could get, whilst I was setting up my things, Cath was throwing the ball for the dogs. 15 minutes on Tommy was getting tired so decided to go for a little walk rest  – so it had seemed. When Cath turned around, it appeared that Tommy had made his way to a sand empire that a child had made, instead of just admiring the great work, he then decided that he didn’t like it how it was, and chose instead to improve it with his poo on top. By the time he was about to unleash his décor Cath had made her way with a panicked run towards him to grab him away just in time. When Cath had brought him back we looked around to see if there was anyone looking at us in horror, to our luck the only people that saw were a family a little while away – we still hope to this day that it wasn’t theres. 

 

Day 4, Robin Hoods Bay, Yorkshire to Kirknewton, Northumberland –

The morning in which we left our first campsite was on Day 4 of our trip. In an odd way it was saddening to leave; the stunning views both mornings and the kind people made it feel as if we had been there for much longer than we actually had. Despite saying this it was just the right amount of time to leave the small bit of haven, due to the amount of exploring we had done in the previous days – we felt as if we knew the area well by now.

Just before heading off on the road towards Northumberland we said goodbye to Jess and her owners, and passed over the photos which I had edited during breakfast to the campsite owner, Jill. It must have been around 11 when we left he campsite to head on our way.

The place we were heading to was in Northumberland’s National Park - my Mum has been staying there for a number of years now every so often in school holidays. She usually rents a Cottage in the College Valley for a week or so; with lack of signal, no WIFI and the smallest TV imaginable (this is where you expect me to say “it feels like hell”) it is actually one of my favorite places to go away. The lack of Social Media, any kind of News and no TV to get drawn into, makes it an amazing place to just get away from it all, whether it be work or alike.

When we arrived at Kirknewton (the entrance to the most tranquil valley ever), within the 20 minute drive down the valley from there to the cottage, we were surprised at how many people we saw. I mean during the whole 20-minute drive there were at least 10 people – this may not appear many, but when we usually book and go in October time we see no one nearly through the whole week! I suppose we had never been in Summer before, so it was bound to be a bigger attraction when the sun is shining – not that it was! 

Day 3, Robin Hoods Bay –

4:45am - my alarms ring, and the battle to turn on the ‘snooze’ button begins. Even though I did want to get up at that time I failed to and slept in for another few hours. You may be asking yourself why on Earth would I get up that early – well it’s because I wanted to try and capture the sunrise coming over the horizon; I failed miserably at this.

I think it was near 9 o’clock when I surfaced from my deep sleep. The sun was beating down on us heating the tent up like an oven; it was time to get up. As climbing out of the tent I was greeted with the pleasing site of our sports news neighbors packing up to head home; yay! No more unwanted golf news! As our neighbors departed we sat down to eat some very tasty (I’m being sarcastic) UHT milk with our granola cereal. After showers and just general getting ready I set off around the campsite to get the photographs that we could exchange for our stay. When coming back we decided to go around the coast to a town called Ravenscar. We chose this place as we could view it from our campsite whilst having our breakfast - it just looked as if it would be nice to go for a walk.

We had a look around for free parking (being on the tight budget that we’re on) and managed to find a picturesque parking space on the side of the road. As we stepped out the van a very excited man told us about this trail that led him to some seals basking on the rocks at the end. He showed us a collection of his pictures – we were sold. As Cath hadn’t ever seen seals in the wild before she was very ecstatic for going down. With our packed day bags we headed past the RSPB visitors center, down a dust path and through a golf course. Walking over a small mound we could see the winding path which would lead us to the seals. To our disappointment the tide had come in, meaning that the seals had gone out. Cath then chose to sit on the edge of the cliff watching the North Coast of Yorkshire, mixed with me sitting down with her and taking some pictures of the scenery it was a relaxing way to end the afternoon.

After walking back we drove back to the campsite with a stop off to get some food from the neighboring town of Whitby. One thing that we found was useful and fun, was that on abandoned roads which had at least some decline we would turn the engine off, and then just roll down. I don’t know if it did save any fuel but it’s nice to think we saved a few pennys!

On arrival to our campsite we spotted that we had new neighbors in space of where our old ‘radio’ friends were in the morning. As driving down the track to our spot we noticed that they owned a dog; a very playful and young one as it seemed. Whilst getting out of the car we were amused by the fact that she seemed to get distracted very easily; first by her lead which she resumed to try and play with, then secondly by rolling around on the grass and finally by the wind, this was the point she started to try and eat the passing air! From talking to the owners, who were a couple from York, we found out that the dogs name was Jess and she was only 1 year old, which explained why she must have gotten distracted by anything and everything that moved.

The evening was followed by a tasty hot meal which contained spaghetti with an array of vegetables and meatballs lovingly cooked by Cath. I was hoping earlier in the day that when the sun set the sky would be clear enough to see the stars, but sadly for us the clouds had swept in meaning no stars for us. Due to the lack of stargazing and no neighbors to talk to as they headed down to the local pub, we decided to head to bed to get refreshed for the drive to Northumberland the following day.

 

Day 2, Coventry to Robin Hoods Bay, Yorkshire –

Day 2 of our road trip involved us all getting up before Katie’s Mum arrived to take her out for a meal. As Katie is a UNI student both Cath and I understood why she was very eager to get out – most likely because she wanted to eat something else besides cheap pasta and Uncle Bens Rice.

So we all got up for 8am to meet and greet her Mum. Whilst talking to her she was entertained by the fact that we were sleeping in, and I quote, “that thing outside” – as if sleeping in a white panel van is odd! We chatted on for a little while longer whilst all of our stomachs rumbled as Katie had run out of food to give us for breakfast. We soon left, and as Katie went on her way to go for a meal, Cath and I went off to try and find an Argos where we could buy a car stereo.

It luckily only took us a few wrong turns and Google Maps to help us find the store to answer our music problems. £30 along the line we were very happy customers with our brand new radio. Now, the only hurdle was to fit the damned thing.

Step 1: Ensure ignition is off.

Step 2: Remove the negative node from the car battery.

These are of course the instructions that came with the Radio – “no problem I said as I lifted the car bonnet”… 10 minutes of struggling and we still couldn’t remove it.

As tension grew between Cath and I as we tried to remove it, we both realized we were getting ‘hangry’ (the feeling that you get when you are angry because you are hungry) – with this realization we headed down the road to a shopping centre to grab some breakfast.

Whilst on the way I spotted a Halfords, so turned in to see what they had to help us fit the Radio. I left with a radio antenna convertor (helpful) and the advice that I should get a new radio (not so helpful). Whilst Cath headed in to buy some breakfast I gave in and just fitted the radio whilst avoiding getting electrocuted by being very careful with the leads. Job done; food had been bought and we had a working CD player.

After 3 hours of driving we were nearly in Yorkshire. With no definite plans of where we were going to stay (or even where we were actually heading) it occurred to us that it might be nice to stay in a campsite instead of up a hill for the next few nights. With my laptop in hand I researched possible campsites we could stay in. I found one which looked very nice around 5 minutes from a place on the coast called Robin Hoods Bay. As we wanted to save as much money as possible I phoned them up and asked if I could exchange some of my photography of their campsite for the use of their facilities for a couple of nights; to my surprise they were actually interested! With that great news we continued through the winding roads of Yorkshire to our now known destination.

Later on we arrived at our campsite and met a lovely lady, named Jill, who we spoke to on the phone. I showed her some of my work, she approved and she then led us to our pitch. After unpacking our tent and sorting out our van a little we explored the bay and the surrounding area. From then on it was a relaxing evening which involved us cooking our dinner, meeting our neighbors (who had a very loud radio on spurting out the Sports News) and then heading to bed. As I listened to the unwanted sports commentary I was very happy with the day as I knew we had good music for the rest of the trip.

 

Day 1, Cambridge to Coventry –

 

Our very rough route, kindly planned by Cath, included the first stop being in Coventry visiting a friend of ours, Katie. With the dilemma of the tires arriving many days late, Katie had been expecting us every day from the first day that we had planned to leave; it probably seemed to her that we were putting off seeing her!

Even though we were on the road 3 days late, we were still leaving which was an achievement. Cath and I split the drive up there as it was easier that way and meant that we both had time to do some work, edit and relax.  Luckily the only issue with the van and the journey was that the CD player in my van didn’t work; this may seem like a small issue but a road trip with no music is just unacceptable in my eyes. We had the radio to accompany us but there were very few songs which were actually enjoyable to listen to. At one point, we even had the torturous sounds of Justin Beiber hit our ears, luckily this didn’t last long as I turned the radio off as quickly as I possibly could.

I think it was near around 8:00pm when we arrived at Katie’s house. The evening was followed by dinner and a long game of Travel Scrabble which Cath had found in her bag that she got second hand. Admittedly I really do love playing Scrabble but at the small board and letters we were playing at it was interesting to say the least. Whilst playing I was using the internet to look up the cheapest in car CD player I could find – having your own choice in music when driving is a key I think when on a Road Trip.

As the time went on I was loosing dreadfully at Scrabble; whilst Katie’s and Cath’s lowest scores were 12, that was my highest, I thought I was doing well until I had a look at the scoring… Even with my low scores my hopes were high as I had found a relatively cheap car Radio from Argos for £30. At around 11:30 we decided to head to bed. Even though it was the first night of our Road Trip we didn’t actually stay in the van, as we got offered to stay in the house we thought we would take the opportunity to have one more comfortable nights sleep before heading into the un-bedded van!