Picture the scene. It is dark and the wind is whipping around the campsite and heavy showers rush across the site in flurries. The showers and toilets are cosy and warm but there is a frozen camper standing at the outdoor washing up sinks wrapped in fleeces, cagoule and a hat. As they run the tap the water is whipped across the sinks as it is caught by the wind and under their breath the washer-up is cursing the campsite owner that has saved money by constructing dish-washing sinks that are open to the elements.
We like to camp all through the winter and in all sorts of weathers. In winter we like to spend some time at a campsite with warm facilities that we can use in comfort and many sites fit this bill but let us down when it comes to washing up. An all too common design for campsite dish-washing facilities is to have a roof but be open to the elements. This has the advantage that you can stay dry in the inevitable rain [unless it is windy too] but even wrapped in layers the biting cold of the wind is tough for whoever is on washing up duties.
I understand outdoor washing up sinks in hot countries but in England, Scotland and Wales it seems optimistic at best. Yes, of course we can wash up in the campervan and given these outdoor facilities we often do but this isn’t the point. When we are on a campsite with facilities we like to use them and rather resent having to boil the kettle in the ‘van for hot water and do the dishes in our tiny sink when there are perfectly adequate sinks provided if only they were indoors. We start to wonder why we pay for sites, we might as well be wild camping on these inclement nights [and often do this too].
There must be an off-the-shelf campsite facilities block that all these different campsites purchase as we see these outdoor sinks so often. Or have these campsite owners never been camping themselves and so have never experienced the dish-washer agony? We are so relieved when we arrive at a site, check out the facilities and find a room [with a door] [and ideally a window to watch the world from] for washing up in. This luxury on a campsite is worth paying for!
A selection of campsites [not exhaustive] we have found where the dish-washing facilities are indoors:
Mr BOTRA and I have visited Scotland at Easter most years since 1981 [apologies if I’ve told you this before but it does tell you something about me]. I love going to Scotland and having been so often I am used to the variable Easter weather and the need to pack for every season. On previous trips we have had both heavy snow and warm sunshine [shorts and t-shirts needed] and every weather in between. This year’s holiday was no exception.
We used to go to Scotland for a week but now we are retired [yippee] we can go for longer. An early stopover was the lovely Sunnyside Campsite in Arisaig; we scrambled over the rocky bay in evening sunshine watching an orange sun go down behind the islands of Rum and Eigg. Only a few days later we reached the top of Fionn Bheinn [933 metres high] in low cloud and snow and getting no outstanding view for our efforts. This was particularly annoying because walking up the mountain we had been mostly in sunshine and had needed sunglasses to deal with the glare from the snow. It took a long time to get out of the cloud on the descent but once we had visibility again we relaxed throwing snowballs down the steep slope. We moved across to the Black Isle and on a dull cloudy day decided on an easy walk up Cnoc Fyrish a small hill [just 453 metres high] with a folly above Alness. As we climbed up the paths it started to rain and even on this small hill the rain became snow as we got higher. At the summit [again no view] we were in a winter wonderland and we played in the deep snow and built a snow robot that waved at us as we left the hilltop. A few more days later we were in shirt sleeves as we walked over the Corrieyairack Pass. Next a cold snap rolled in and we were wrapped in every layer we owned and still felt the sharp chilly wind as we looked around the impressive Linlithgow Palace on our way south.
We had perfect weather for a stunning short walk from Blair Atholl in to Glen Tilt. From the car park we followed attractive paths through woodland, stopping to watch agile red squirrels high above our heads. We emerged at a view point with a panoramic view along the glen. It was so peaceful and sunny here we kicked off our shoes and practiced our tai chi forms on the soft grass and in the fresh air before walking back down to the village with its splendid white turreted castle.
This year [as a birthday gift for our son] we booked a wildlife guide for a four-hour wildlife watching trip for us and son and daughter-in-law to give us a better chance of confidently spotting golden eagles. We spent a morning with John from Highland Nature based at Nethybridge and we experienced dramatically changing weather in the four hours we were out. John proved to be an excellent guide who took us to Strathdearn along the river Findhorn and revealed all manner of wildlife to us. As we set off it started to snow heavily and there was little visibility as we watched red squirrels scampering up and down the pine trees. We stopped to see golden plover and other waders by the river before continuing to the head of the valley. Stopping in the car to watch some sikka deer on the hillside we were entertained by a large horse in the field next to the road that was desperate for some attention. We wound down the windows to get a better look at the sikka deer and the large working horse insisted on putting its head through the window, blocking our view! We also spotted red deer on the hillsides and a group of feral goats sheltering in woodland. The mistle thrush I managed to catch a photograph of [above] was singing on a fence post as we drove down the single-track road. At the head of the valley John spotted a mountain hare on the hillside and we watched it through the scope quietly nibbling the surrounding grass that was showing through the snow. The snow shower eventually moved on and the valley was transformed by blue skies and sunshine in to a magnificent landscape blanketed in snow, bright in the sunlight. We saw a couple of golden eagles [helped by the younger and alert eyes of our daughter-in-law] making their way over the mountains, as well as a red kite, a goshawk and a peregrine falcon. On the river we watched a dipper marking its territory with song and the common gulls that nest here wheeled overhead. It was a fascinating and wonderful morning and I learnt so much from someone that is regularly out watching the local wildlife.
Okay, I admit it, I laughed when Anthony sank to his waist in the soft snow near the top of the Corrieyairack Pass, silly me as minutes later it was me that was floundering in the deep snow. Frustratingly, the snow would take our weight most of the time and then without warning one of us would cross a particularly soft and deep patch and down we would sink. Walking on this unpredictable surface was hard work and really not what we needed on a long day of 33 kilometres of walking but the sun was shining and I was achieving an ambition so didn’t complain.
We were tackling the Corrieyairack Pass, a remote old route that stretches across the Monadhliath Mountains in Scottish Highlands. In 1731 General Wade was responsible for constructing military roads across Scotland to enable troops to move quickly around northern Scotland and the Corrieyairack was part of his route from Fort Augustus, on the shore of Loch Ness to Laggan and Ruthven Barracks. It is now so long ago that I can’t remember when I first noticed this old road on a map but from the moment I did I knew I wanted to walk this route one day. This was the day.
We had left our campervan at 07.00 on a glorious morning, the mist hanging in the valleys and the promise of sunshine in the air. Our cheerful taxi driver told us stories about living in this part of Scotland and joined us in gasping at the beauty of the mountains reflected in the loch as he drove us to Garva Bridge where we intended to start our walk. From here it is 28 kms to Fort Augustus and 500 – 600 metres of climbing. The tarmac road continues a little beyond Garva Bridge to Melgarve where there is a tidy bothy with a fire and a wooden sleeping platform and a room called General Wade’s office. Cars are not allowed beyond Melgarve and we got in to the stride of the walk from here enjoying the isolation and peacefulness and the feel of the sun on the back of our necks as we took turns in spotting red deer on the hillsides. We had packed our rucksacks for survival in wintery weather but it was so warm we could have walked in shorts and sunhats.
Today the Corrieyairack is also crossed by pylons and these giant structures punctuated most of our route. At each stream I found what remained of the old stone General Wade bridges; a few of them are intact but many are gone. At Allt a’Mhill Ghaibh we had been expecting to have to paddle over the burn and were pleased to see a new wooden bridge had been constructed. By the corrie that gives the pass its name the route becomes steeper and General Wade constructed the road in a series of zig-zags. In early April weather after heavy snow the week before these were under a few feet of snow and so we tackled the hillside directly rather than taking the easier graded zig-zags.
The top of the pass is at 770 metres (2,526 feet) above sea level and this exposed spot caught the wind and the snow was frozen and shone blue with ice crystals. We needed some of those layers we had been carrying here while we admired the view. This was breathtaking; snow-clad mountains stretched from left to right to our north and we struggled to take it all in, looking for any familiar shapes among the multitude of mountains. I posed for a photograph grinning at having achieved the top and tried to take in the beauty and the remoteness of where we were.
We had some difficulty route finding from the top with so much snow underfoot but in the clear conditions we headed left and eventually picked up signs of the familiar old road running parallel with the pylons. After the excitement of climbing up the pass our slightly longer descent could have felt a bit of an anti-climax but the Corrieyairack had kept some surprises for us.
We were delighted to spot three mountains hares in total; one sat by the old road, its long ears twitching alertly as we froze and watched before it scented us and hurried away. The hares were still in their white winter coat and soon disappeared in the snow. Once we were off the snow the route finding was once again easy and here there were wooden posts beside the track to mark it. With no one around we sang old songs as we descended and the panorama of mountains slowly disappeared. We stopped to rest by one of Wade’s stone bridges and on the bridge at Allt Lagan a’ Bhaihne we met the only other people we had seen since Garva Bridge, four cyclists on their way over the pass. I asked them where they were from, ‘Holland, said one, ‘You keep saying that,’ said another sitting opposite and explained, ‘We’re not from Holland we’re from the Netherlands.’ They asked about the snow conditions at the top and told us about their Scottish coast-to-coast route.
On the lower slopes of the Corrieyairack we saw red grouse flying low across the heather and nearer to Fort Augustus strips of heather were being burnt, the acrid smell didn’t encourage us to stop and rest. The end was in sight as we got our first glimpse of Loch Ness spreading out to the horizon. It was now the early afternoon and starting to cloud over after the bright blue start to the day as we passed the pink Culachy House.
The last section in to Fort Augustus is a pretty walk by the river and through a peaceful old burial ground. We arrived in Fort Augustus very tired and in our weary confusion failed to notice the bus stop and therefore watched the 15.12 bus to Inverness drive by. At Fort Augustus’ main bus shelter we checked for the next bus and found we had over an hour to wait. As we were dallying a tourist from Taiwan approached us for help and even in our befuddled state we managed to sort out her public transport needs (ask any of my friends, I missed my vocation as a travel agent). We watched three boats climbing up the series of locks on the Caledonian Canal and decided we had time for a drink before catching the next bus. On entering the nearest pub the bar man recognised two exhausted walkers and suggested a pint each, how could we refuse. In Inverness we feasted on chips in the amazing and popular Charlie’s Cafe, a real greasy-spoon of a place with motorbikes on display above the tables and started to revive.
The 18.45 train from Inverness got us to Newtonmore at 19.45 and we walked back to the campsite in the dusk. Every single muscle in my legs ached but despite the pain I was happy, I had at last walked over the Corrieyairack Pass.
We used Gerry’s Taxis in Aviemore and he was on time and friendly.
We stayed at Invernahavon Campsite near to Newtonmore. They have some lodges and cute wooden caravans as well as pitches for tents and motorhomes.
We walked a total of 33.5 kms. Garva Bridge to Fort Augustus is 28 kms (Melgarve at the 6 km point, the top of the pass at 12 km, the hut at Blackburn at 18 km and you reach the road at 24 km). This took us eight hours to walk, other people could certainly do it in less time. From Newtonmore Railway Station we had a further 5.5 kms to walk back to the campsite, this took us an hour.
We were at a travel show recently and began to daydream about what we might do if we didn’t have to live on our budget and had a bucket-full of money to spare. We have a good and happy life spending our £24,000 a year, we travel around Europe in our campervan, socialise, eat as much ice-cream as we need and go to the cinema and concerts pretty much when we want. Our frugal lifestyle isn’t exactly impoverished and we are content with the life we have because it is the one we chose. Although I find it hard to put myself in the shoes of someone who doesn’t need to watch the pennies [after 40-years of thrift] I have pushed myself to have fun playing the what-if game? So … what if a premium bond win or a surprise inheritance suddenly gave us an extra £10,000 to spend, what do I think we would do with it?
Topping up the contingency fund
No surprise here, we might be really boring and just add this to our contingency fund but that isn’t really playing the game is it?
Turns out if we had a chunk of money I would mostly want to use it to do something we certainly couldn’t do without the money and this is travel to see far-away friends. We have dear friends in the USA and in Australia and spending time with them would be such a wonderful treat. We have the time now and it is really only the cost of the flights that stops us packing a suitcase and going. Unfortunately, our current budget doesn’t quite allow for this trip on top of our European trips in our campervan.
The other trip that is hugely expensive but that I have on my wish list is taking the campervan to Iceland on the ferry [over €3,000 for 2018] but what a trip that would be; in my dreams we would spend a month or so touring around Iceland, just imagine …
3. A new home?
I am comfortable living in the less wealthy side of town where our neighbours are hard-working individuals who don’t go to work in suits but often leave early in the morning in a high-vis jacket; I like living alongside these down-to-earth folk. £10,000 wouldn’t be enough to make moving home worthwhile but double that might have us considering buying somewhere in the posher [and more expensive] part of town. We certainly wouldn’t be buying an expensive house boat on the River Thames.
4. A shopping spree?
Even with money to burn we wouldn’t start buying stuff. Would we buy a new campervan I hear you ask? Our current Devon Tempest works really well for us, is only three-years old and has done just 26,000 miles; this hardly merits replacement.
In my dreams I have enough money to be able to give a chunk of cash to one or more of my favourite local charities, helping them to be financially stable, and still have enough left over to shower my friends and family with gifts.
These might be harmless musings but it has spurned me on to start calculating the cost of my dream trip to visit our faraway friends. Having under-spent on our £27,000 budget by £3,000 in 2017 I might hang on to this dream by just a tiny thread. If we under-spend again in 2018 it might become a real possibility in the future.
Cameras are such an individual choice and fortunately today there are plenty of options out there to suit everyone but I am not the only person that wants high quality photographs from a compact camera. I now own a Panasonic Lumix DMC TZ100 and think it is the perfect camera for the active traveller I am. This camera is a million miles from the first camera I owned as a young teenager; this was my dad’s Kodak Brownie that he had been given in the 1950s and I was over-the-moon to have my own camera. Once I was earning money I splashed out on my own 35-mm SLR camera, a Canon AE-1, apparently the first SLR with a microprocessor and a model that sold very well. I bought different lenses for my Canon over 25-years and loved using it and it took beautiful photographs but by the 1990s we were taking back-packing holidays more and more and a bulky 35-mm camera with its associated lenses was taking up too much room in my rucksack. Although I still loved taking photographs, it got to the point where I would deliberate whether I really wanted to take my camera out with me.
My first digital camera was bought in 2005, it was a second-hand Fuji that was still fairly bulky but I was quickly sold with the convenience of digital over film. Never again would we lose a roll of film because someone had set the postbox alight [such as our precious wedding day photographs] or even have to limit the number of photographs I took. Digital was the way forward for me; I could take as many photographs as I wanted, see them immediately and edit them in the comfort of my home on the computer.
By 2008 I had moved on to digital compacts and owned a Canon and an Olympus before upgrading and buying a Panasonic DMC-TZ40 Lumix just over four years ago. At this time we were still saving up to retire and I thought the £200+ I paid for this camera was more than enough for someone who was trying to be frugal. In this effort to save money I had not anticipated how important photography would become in my emerging career as a travel writer. I loved using the TZ40 but it didn’t always perform as well as I would like. There is a lesson here that sometimes being frugal can cost you money rather than save it and less than three years later I took the plunge and paid £550 for my Panasonic DMC TZ100.
I know there are more expensive cameras out there and although every camera is a compromise in some way, I now feel I have the camera of my dreams. Although I am sure I could get even greater quality out of a more expensive camera, the TZ100 delivers great quality photographs, gives me flexibility to change settings, has more features than I will ever need to use and is small and compact and so is never a nuisance to carry on a walk. I chose the Panasonic because of the positive reviews, for the good quality large viewing screen that I can use even in bright sun and because of my positive experience with the TZ40. Staying with Panasonic brand also meant I could use the camera immediately as much of the functionality was familiar.
With this little gem of a camera by my side I can no longer blame the camera for poor photographs; I only have myself to blame for any hopeless shots.