Friends Reunion: Scotland Campervan Tour 2021 Part Two

I mostly close my eyes and ears to the news while we are on the road but the Friends reunion did catch my eye. When we travel we carry every episode from every series of Friends with us on a flash drive and have watched them over and over. I know they are corny and sentimental but each time I am swept along and involved in the lives of those six close friends, laughing and crying at their ups and downs. I really hope that any update sees the characters staying friends. I love my own few close friends, each one is precious and a gift. I missed being able to meet up with them during lock downs so the second part of our Scotland trip was particularly special for the reunions.

From Morvich we travelled further north to Ullapool where we had a date with two old friends [we have known one of them since our murky school days!] They were staying in a self-catering cottage in the town. We managed to get a front row seat at the Ullapool campsite and the temptation is to sit looking over the loch and watch the boats, the wildlife and the stunning sunsets. Instead we scrubbed up, shook out some half-decent cleanish clothes and turned up at their cottage with a chilled bottle of prosecco. We were all heading for a night out in a restaurant, something that used to be almost routine for the four of us but that we hadn’t done together for over 15 months and I was giddy with excitement [Friends fans can imagine what Phoebe would be like].

The prosecco bubbles fitted the mood perfectly and we were on a high as we walked the short distance to The Ceilidh Place. We first discovered this Ullapool institution in the early 1980s, it is marvellous that it is still going strong and it was perfect for our reunion as three of us had been there on that first visit. The Ceilidh Place is a cafe, restaurant, bookshop, arts venue and accommodation. Three delicious courses and lots of laughing later I waddled back to the ‘van in time for the last vivid colours of a west coast of Scotland sunset. This was one of those memorable evenings.

I can walk up mountains but as soon as I hit the steep sections I slow down and plod, breathing heavily. My partner meanwhile is more machine than human and doesn’t seem to notice the gradient. Consequently I spend a lot of time walking on my own, watching him disappearing into the distance. It was, therefore, more than joyful to have two wonderful days walking on some of the hills around Ullapool with our friends. Their pace matches mine when the contour lines get closer together and in between gasping for breath we chatted and laughed, catching up on news and making more memories.

Unexpected and spontaneous socialising is fun too. When a fellow MMM and Campervan Mag writer and Twitter friend said she was also in Ullapool I jumped at the chance for a face-to-face meet up. Felicity and her partner Andrew arrived with a generous bottle of red and, once we’d found the spare glasses at the back of a cupboard. we settled down to get to know each other better.

Next stop was Gairloch and Sands campsite on our slow journey south. This large rambling site has pitches among the sand dunes and looking over the bay; you are free to choose the spot that suits. We practiced tai chi on the soft and warm sand under a blue sky and paddled through the gentle waves. In Gairloch we had great tasting coffee and delicious cakes from Mountain Coffee, a cafe with a cool vibe. Browsing their bookshop a couple of books caught my eye, one for me and one as a gift. Gairloch’s museum is worth a visit too.

Kinlochewe will always be a special place. Firstly because the scenery is superb and secondly because it was the last place we stayed in before Lock Down One. Returning to this highland village was emotional and a pleasure and to be there on hot sunny days was a bonus. We thought we might take the Blue Bus out for the day but instead found walks from the site, climbing the Pony Path up to Meall a’ Ghiubhais through a landscape of grey rocks and lochans and paddling in the river in the sheltered glen at the Heights of Kinlochewe.

At Spey Bay we had another reunion and a pre-arranged meet on a pretty section of the Speyside Way. Our friend lives in Fochabers, just a few miles along the River Spey from Spey Bay where we were camping. Together we pottered through the woodland and by the river for hours with no sign of a red squirrel. Later that evening he sent a photo of one he had seen just minutes after we left him! The next morning an osprey circled over the van, much to the consternation of the common gulls nesting nearby, so we didn’t feel too hard done by.

In the good weather the hills were popular but not crowded. We climbed a Munro above Newtonmore and had a lovely day on Meall a’ Bhuachaille above Glenmore. We spent a day walking through the varied woodland of Rothiemuchus Forest but still didn’t see a red squirrel. We were gradually heading south and our time in Scotland was nearing an end. Our last nights in Scotland were spent cooled by a fresh breeze at New England Bay near Stranraer in Galloway. Being back on the road, exploring new and familiar places and reconnecting with old friends and making new ones has helped me make small steps on the way to recovering from those lock downs.

Aubergine & Pine Nut Pasta: 30 minute Campervan Vegan / Veggie Cooking

I love the rich, slightly smoky flavour and the soft texture of aubergine. Aubergines are so useful in curry dishes, they are fantastic roasted and of course ratatouille is a classic and delicious summer stew.

This is a quick pasta dish that is great in the campervan and might not even take 30 minutes to rustle up. The nuts give it a tasty crunch and the chilli adds a hint of a kick. It feels a bit decadent as pine nuts are not the cheapest of the nuts and seeds and you could substitute cashews or almonds, pumpkin or sunflower seeds or whatever you have in the cupboard really but pine nuts are good.

Ingredients for two people

  • One aubergine, stalk removed, sliced and diced
  • Glug of olive oil
  • 100g nuts or seeds of your choice
  • 2 garlic cloves crushed
  • 200g cream / yoghurt / crème fraîche / sour cream – you can use vegan or non-vegan versions
  • 1 or 2 fresh chillies de-seeded and finely chopped. The number will depend on your taste and the type. You can also use a sprinkling of chilli flakes
  • Fresh parsley chopped [optional]
  • Your favourite and usual amount of pasta, I use penne

Method

In a wok or pan heat the olive oil and add the aubergine chunks. They will quickly soak up the oil. [You can sprinkle the aubergine chunks with salt for half an hour, rinse and pat dry before you cook them to reduce the oil they take up but this is a nuisance in the campervan.] Keep the aubergine chunks moving so they don’t stick to the pan and allow them to brown slightly and soften then add the pine nuts or other nuts / seeds you are using and allow these to lightly toast.

If you have another ring it is time to put your favourite pasta into boiling water now.

Add the crushed garlic and chilli to the aubergine and season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir well, frying everything for a minute more.

Add the creamy substance you are using and warm through on a low heat. When the pasta is cooked, drain and stir through the creamy aubergine mixture with the fresh chopped parsley, if you have this. Serve and enjoy, maybe with a good Italian red wine.

Our Scotland Campervan Tour: 2 Weeks & A Daily Cuckoo

Cuckoos are probably the easiest bird to identify by their call but I’ve never seen one in the feather and a sighting has been on my wish list for a few years. My bird-watching partner doesn’t hear too well and they have to be close before he can catch the gentle sound of a cuckoo’s call, even with his hearing aids in. I tell him when one is around but it is sad that he often misses this distinctive sound of spring.

We pack everything for trips to Scotland. The shorts are mixed in with long trousers and t-shirts squeeze in with jumpers. It’s just as well really as May in Scotland can give you three seasons in one day! There is little certainty about what weather will greet us each morning with temperatures ranging from freezing to balmy. Campers need to come to Scotland prepared.

In the before Covid-19 world we would usually travel to Europe in May and June but with that off the agenda Scotland is our next favourite destination. Travelling through a UK that is now trying to find a way to live with Covid-19 [as we realise that a world without Covid-19 isn’t an option in the short and medium term] is interesting. So along with our three season clothing we packed reusable masks and hand sanitiser. Below are some highlights from our first couple of weeks touring this wonderful country.

Moffat is normally just a quick halt on our way further north for us. We visit our favourite cafe, Cafe Ariete and buy some delicious pancakes from the bakery. On this trip we decided to take things slowly and spend a couple of days here and it turns out there is more to the town, although we did visit the cafe and bakery! We had a great walk up a hill for views over the town, explored it’s pretty streets and treated ourselves to excellent takeaway wood-fired oven pizza from a business handily placed by the campsite.

The walk along the old railway line and onto the shores of Loch Tay from Killin is full of surprises. From the bright-pink blossom in the cemetery to the ruined castle; the evidence of beavers in the wetlands to the banks of bluebells under the trees and the open views to the mountains across Loch Tay, there is so much to enjoy. I blushed with embarrassment when the Killin campsite warden recognised me [and the Blue Bus] as an MMM writer. We had a riverside pitch and sat by the ‘van watching a pair of oystercatchers on a nest and sandpipers flying by. While we were here we took the ‘van out to the Ben Lawers car park. Ben Lawers is a great walk but my walking partner wanted to bag a couple of brutal big Munros nearby. The highlight of the day for me happened back at the car park, not because all the exhausting walking was over, but because a cuckoo flew in front of us and obligingly sat on a signpost waiting to be identified. Although I had heard cuckoos every day on this trip, this was the first time ever I had seen one!

Glencoe was as stunning as it always is and the weather was fine enough for a walk. The only other person on Beinn Odhar was a charming and chatty man from Scotland’s central belt. He had worked for a travel firm for over 20 years and, after six months of furlough due to Covid-19, had been made redundant. The country is packed with tales of people who have unexpectedly become job seekers in the last 12 months and the plight of each one breaks a tiny chip off my heart.

In Fort William we hit the shops before heading up to Morvich. It is many years since we’d last been on the shores of Loch Duich. We had driven up to the area in an old Vauxhall Viva that got us north but couldn’t quite make the trip home and we came back in an AA breakdown lorry with the Viva riding in shame on the back. Fortunately the Blue Bus is made of tougher stuff than an old Vauxhall!

In nearby Ardelve we found Manuela’s Wee Bakery, a treasure trove of bread, cakes and other goodies. If I lived near here I would quickly get very fat! Manuela’s has a cafe too and a garden with a collection of human-size wooden houses straight out of a fairystory. Make sure you visit when you’re in the area.

From the campsite we climbed A’ Glas Bheinn, a steep craggy mountain above Morvich which gave us views across to Skye. On another day we drove to Letterfearn and walked by the Loch, stopping often to admire the view to Eilean Donan Castle. In the woodland we walked through bluebells and marsh marigolds to a ruined broch. The stones were mostly still in place to a height above the door, including the heavy triangular lintel. Inside we climbed between the walls up the steps for a higher vantage point across the loch.

On this trip we have stayed on club sites, independent sites and overnight car parks. The campsites all had a different take on Covid-19 restrictions. Some promoted common sense, some haven’t opened their facilities at all and the Caravan and Motorhome Club continue with their band system. Every day on their sites I meet a baffled camper outside the toilets wondering what to do with a band! It is certainly a great conversation starter and maybe the club has a secret mission to bring us all together via friendship bands.