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Tuesday 29 August 2017

The Highland Games And Other Scottish Jigs

Things don’t get off to a great start with the closure of the Thelwall Viaduct on the M6 causing traffic chaos. We try to drive round it and end up on the M56 which eventually leads us to Widnes which seems to be undergoing a complete rebuild. So we get stuck there instead. It’s a change of scenery I suppose.

So it’s a good job that I have got a new gadget for the car to play audiobooks, one that connects via Bluetooth to my new phone. It works a treat and we listen to Fatherland by Robert Harris which seems to do a god job masking all the car’s rattles.

All this means we don’t travel as far as we had hoped on the first day and end up at the C&C Club site Moffat again. As I’ve also booked one of their sites for tomorrow night we should perhaps have joined up but we say that every year.

The Black Bull pub, which was boarded up last time we visited, has reopened but seems to do only pies, albeit a wide range, and Theakston’s ales. So not very Scottish but it will have to do.

After breakfast in Moffat at the Green Frog, which is a sort of garden centre café, we continue our trip north and make it to Nairn where we camp at another C&C site at Delnies Wood.

The Braeval Hotel’s Bandstand bar seems to be the go to destination for food and beer. On it’s board outside it claims to have nine hand pumps but inside I can only see four pumps serving three beers. Trade descriptions act?

The next day we head to Elgin, around thirty minutes away, so that L can chalk up another parkrun where she beats Olympic rower Heather Stanning on TeamParkrun day. Heather, it has to be said, doesn’t try too hard and tailwalks.

Then it’s back to Nairn for the Highland Games where I am one of the attractions in the Half Marathon. Sadly I injury myself (calf again) during my warm up. I decide that the best thing to do would be to pull out completely. Then as things improve slightly after a few stretches I decide to jog the first mile. The first mile is uncomfortable but bearable, so I give the next mile a go, then I give the other eleven a go. My conclusion, as I hobble home home in two hours exactly and then can’t walk afterwards, is that I should have pulled out.

In the evening, we head to nearby Cawdor and have a really good meal at the Cawdor Tavern, along with beers from Orkney.

Then we move camp to Ullapool on the west coast and Broomfield Holiday Park close to the town which enables a tour of the local pubs on foot. We sample the Seaforth, the Ferry Boat Inn and the Argyll Hotel. We get local ales in two of them but the Ferry Boat serves us beers from Nottingham and Devon. Then we head back to the almost on site Indian Restaurant for a very good curry.

Monday sees us get the Caledonian Macbrayne ferry over to Stornoway on the Isle Of Lewis. We plan to stay two nights at Laxdale Holiday Park just outside Stornoway but this turns into three due to the wet overnight weather which kept leaving the tent soaked and the lack of anywhere else exciting to go.

Lewis is pleasant but, compared with the rest of the Hebrides, rather dull. Once you’ve done the standing stones at Callanish and the Blackhouse village at Gearrannan, there’s not really a lot else to see.

Stornoway is also rather limited for food options and horrific for beer, aside from the Hebridean Brewery Tap called the ‘Edge O' the World’ bar but even their beers are a bit of an acquired taste. L does acquire the taste for their Berzerker strong ale at 7.5%.

The first night we eat at the very nice, but terribly named and also terribly slow, Digby Chick. Good food though. The next night, the Crown Inn doesn’t want us and nor do many other places but in the end we get an excellent meal at The Lido. On the third night all that is left really is the Thai Café, so we go there. Meal times seem to be strictly until 9pm every night and this seems not negotiable, you wouldn’t even get a coffee after 9pm. If they think you’re likely to loiter beyond 9pm you won’t get in in the first place.

Road trips to Port of Ness and the island of Bernera yield good scenery and a beach session for the dogs but not a lot else. Port of Ness is famous for the Peter May books but they’re hardly living off his name.

Another road trip, this time to Uig, yields more Peter May associations with some of his chessmen dotting the landscape. We take in two coffee shops, a museum and the Abhainn Dearg Distillery (Red River in English). From where we take away a bottle of ‘spirit’, which is a whiskey under three years old.
This is a new distillery, only founded in 2008, and it looks just like a collection of disparate farm buildings which is why we drove straight past it (several times) without a second glance. It is the first distillery on the Outer Hebrides for almost 200 years and apparently the first legal one.

On Thursday we move camp to Harris and stay at the same camp site at Horgaboost as on our previous trip a few years ago, where you leave payment in a brown paper envelope. We eat at the Harris Hotel in Tarbet where they have Skye beers in bottles but not on draft. There used to be a pub next door called the Isle Of Harris Inn that did sell them on draft but this has now gone and looks like it is being turned into a house.

After yesterday discovering the first distillery in the Outer Hebrides for almost 200 years we now stumble across a second one. Build in the what I think was the ferry terminal car park at Tarbet is the Harris Distillery. It was only opened in 2015, so they haven’t yet managed to produce even a spirit let alone a whiskey. They do however have gin and why not, I’m getting quite into my gins.

The next day we take the ferry across to North Uist, via Berneray, and head to our usual camp site, Moorcroft near Carinish. Where we promptly come under midge attack, which is actually a first on these islands.

We stumble across the Harvest Food & Writing Festival which is being held across the three islands of North Uist, Benbecula and South Uist. Unfortunately it is not well publicised and hardly anyone else stumbles across it. It does include a beer festival (all bottles) at the Westford Inn but not Saturday’s half marathon, which could have done with any extra publicity it could get.

We had always intended to hit the Westford for food, as we have been there before, but the new owners struggle to fit us in or so they say. We eventually get a table at 8:15pm, hardly late and the place is emptying fast but as I’ve already mentioned, everyone around here turns into a pumpkin at 9pm. They insist we book for 6pm tomorrow.

The next day we head to Lochmaddy for the finish of the Two Islands Half Marathon which I wanted to do but I haven’t yet fully regained the use of my calves after Nairn. The race has been hastily rerouted this year due to the tragic death of an islander on Berneray. The whole race now stays entirely on North Uist with apparently a midge affected start in the middle of nowhere. So perhaps a good one to miss.

Later we head down to Benbecula to check out the literary offering of the festival but it isn’t that exciting. So we are incredibly punctual for our 6pm booking at the Westford Inn but no one else is. We could have had the 7pm table or the 7.30pm table... They need to stop taking so many bookings.

On Sunday it’s back to Lockmaddy to get the ferry to the other Uig on Skye. We tentatively drive off the ferry expecting the campervan gridlock and ‘Skye is Full’ signs that the media have warned us of. We drive along the very quiet north coastal road to see if there is anywhere to stay. Dunvegan with its castle looks a possibility but it’s not the ‘full’ signs that drive us away, as there aren’t any. There just isn’t really much there at all, so we keep on driving until arriving, as usual, at Sligachan.

We don’t feel the Sligachan Hotel it’s quite the cosy place it was back in the day but any port in a storm as they say and stormy it is certainly becoming. We pitch up and the pub actually appears less busy than usual. Their beers are now from their own Cuillin Brewery rather than the Skye Brewery. I try a few, a Harris Gin and a special 'non peaty' Talisker whisky. So all in all a very Scottish night.

The next day, the high winds make packing up quite interesting but at least it keeps the midges away.

After we've packed up we revisit Broadford for a full Scottish. Where, once settled in the café, I sort of forget what time the ferry from Armadale is probably because I was doubting whether it would be running, due to the wind, anyway. There is always the bridge but the half hour crossing to Mallaig does cut quite a bit of driving time out.

In the end we make it there with a few minutes to spare and the ferry is running on time. Back on the mainland we head for Roy Bridge and Bunroy Park camping where we stayed two years ago. The Stronlossit Inn is just across the road and the Caledonian Stag goes down very well.

Then we’re heading home via the Green Welly stop at Tyndrum where I get hold of a bottle of Benromach whiskey which was the one local to Nairn, from Forres, that I didn’t get hold of when we were there.

By now we’ve finished the excellent Fatherland and are onto a second book, Andrew Gross’s The One Man, but the less said about that the better.

(Tuesday 29th August)

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