We started the drive south from John O’ Groats late in the afternoon and were scouting around for places we could park up for the night. As we travelled south east, the wind really started to howl. We were following the coastline so we were very exposed to the elements and we soon realised we needed to find a sheltered place away from the coast to sleep. We spotted some trees that were accessible by a car park right off the main road so we headed there. This was a truly beautiful spot for us nestled in between the trees at Skelbo Wood. The car park is Forestry Commission and there is a lovely short trail marked all through the woods for a post dinner wander. We snuggled in and had one of the most peaceful nights sleep we’ve experienced on our trip.
The next morning, Inverness was in our sights.
We had had a not so nice urban camping experience really early on in our trip and we were both a little nervous at the prospect of three nights in the heart of Inverness. We talked about it, and agreed it was worth paying for a campsite so we could park safely and enjoy a hot shower so we booked in at Ardtower campsite. We absolutely cannot recommend the site enough if you want some home comforts for a few days. Modern, clean facilities, a heated toilet block with amazing power showers, wifi and a laundry room – we described it as a campsite hotel. Very reasonable pricing for what you get and run by really lovely people. We were so glad we had decided to book in. We spent the afternoon catching up on laundry and RuPaul’s Drag Race on Netflix.
The next morning, we walked into town to meet our friend Trickey. It was about an hour walk to Velocity – a bike cafe which we had been told did the best coffee in Inverness. After a good catch up and multiple flat whites, we headed towards the bus station for an adventure to Loch Ness. We had wanted to walk there from town but after speaking to the very helpful staff at the station, we were advised it was too dangerous to walk next to the fast main road to Loch Ness, so we opted for the bus instead. We hopped off early at Drumnadrochit and walked to Urquhart castle in the sunshine. We didn’t realise we had to pay to get in so we had a nosey from the car park, said hello to some dogs and pottered back towards Drum. After a swift pint, we caught the bus back to Inverness and went in search of some local ale. We sat in the secret garden of the Black Isle Brewery and Prue and Trickey sampled a couple of their brews and we spent the rest of the afternoon chatting.
Sunday was all about getting into the Cairngorms. We met early to set off following a path from Ruthven Barracks. This took us slowky climbing up the side Beinn Bhuidhe, then descending through some woodland, over a river, through an RSPB reserve before rejoining the track back to the start. After a good few hours walk, we were all ready for a coffee and cake so we headed towards Aviemore after a recommendation for the Mountain Cafe. We hurried to the entrance only to be met with a gargantuan queue all the way through the cafe, down the stairs and into the shop below. We were all feeling a bit tired at this point and almost turned back to Inverness. Prue found one place to try that sounded good not too far away, The Druie cafe in Rothiemurchus. We headed there and ended up having some of the best cake of our careers. A definite must stop if you’re in the area. After a quick stop at the picturesque Loch Morlich, we drove back to Inverness for dinner. It had been a lovely weekend and so nice to see a familiar face on our trip. It was really great to share a couple of days with our friend and include him in our adventures, albeit briefly. The next morning we dropped Trickey off at the airport at an ungodly hour, then it was time to carry on.
We made the decision to spend a few more days exploring the Cairngorms as we knew we hadn’t scratched the surface, but there was one snag: it had started snowing pretty heavily that morning. As we had experienced in Loch Lomond a few weeks prior, our van gets pretty unpleasant in sub-zero temperatures, so we bit the bullet and booked a hotel. The room ended up being in a separate building from the main hotel itself, which meant we could park Red just outside the hotel door. This was so perfect because we could still cook our meals in the van but eat them in a warm room! Prue made steak stew and we fell asleep listening to an owl mumbling outside. The hotel was in Kingussie, so we had lots of walks close by. After a hot breakfast, we donned many layers and headed out into the blizzard. We had planned to hike to the summit of Creag Bheag but on the summit approach the weather really turned on us. The wind howled and the snow was so heavy it was covering up any traces of a defined pathway. We both stopped and had to make the decision to turn back. Without visibility, it would be all too easy to put a foot wrong and slip, and no summit is worth risking your safety for. We enjoyed a walk back through the snowy forest and headed to the hotel for a warming cuppa and a cosy afternoon.
The following day we chose another hike from the hotel and had a lovely day walking past Loch Gynack, through more woodland and across the moor to reach the village of Newtonmore before heading back towards Kingussie. We both really liked the town and found it a really good spot to explore from. That being said, the snow was melting and we wanted to move on so we checked out of the hotel and got back into Red. We drove to Rothiemurchus Forest and did a lovely trail through the trees before moving to the RSPB hide at Loch Garten. Here you can see a pair of Ospreys that have been nesting at the site for over ten years, and we were really lucky to get a glimpse of them.
After this, we were at a bit of a crossroads. Either we continue south and head to Edinburgh or we head back up north and get a ferry to Orkney. We drank many cups of tea and talked it over at length and decided we didn’t want the Scottish leg of the trip to be over just yet. We booked our ferry for the following morning and started the drive back the way we’d come. We kipped over at our faithful spot at Skelbo Wood and then headed to Gill’s Bay early the next morning to catch our ferry to Orkney.