The Grand Tour: Fife and Beyond

Ramblings of an inveterate cyclist

It was April and very warm, as I remember. I made my way over the Tay Bridge, the rivers waters today truly were indeed silvery. I was in no hurry to go anywhere so parked up at the old harbour of Broughty Ferry, alongside two other motorhomes, I really think the councils around Scotland are missing a trick by not creating proper stopover for motorhomes as you see in almost every city and small town in Europe. Simple parking spaces, (motorhomes only, no other vehicle not even caravans) some villages will only have two or three spaces, all with a plug-in for electricity and water. You can only stay for three nights maximum and not set up anything outside the vehicle, picnic tables awning and the like. These are a blessing for local businesses, shops, restaurants, bringing in much-needed tourist euros, but alas town planners in Scotland are still using clay tablets.

I visited the castle and museum just across the harbour from where I was parked, I needed to see it having just finished the trilogy by Nigel Tranter, The Master of Gray, (Lord and Master the Courtesan Past Master) and like the 16th-century story, that uses the castle as a backdrop, there is a lot to take in, one visit is not really enough.

I love the little town of Broughty Ferry, possibly the shops that do it for me, many still individuals and not chain stores, as if this is just how it has been for the past 100 years, shops handed down generation to generation.

Early morning mist hung around for a while, so I headed over to Wetherspoon’s for a coffee and the use of their five-star toilet. I cycled off towards Monifieth and then B961 to visit the Souterrain Ardestie at Mains of Ardestic, then on to Carlungie Souterrain just over the busy A92 at Newbigging.

These are Iron Age earth houses or souterrains as they are sometimes called, and found along much of eastern Scotland. Carlugie is around 40m long and one of the most complex you will find in Scotland. It was discovered in 1949, quite by accident while ploughing and excavated during the following two years, revealing about eight stone dwellings. I believe they are also found in Ireland, Cornwall and Brittany.

The weather was still holding and it was a pleasant, run over to Monikie Reserve, for a picnic lunch, before returning by Barry Mill.

This site has seen several mills over the years going back at least to 1539. The one present on this site was commercially operated until 1984, then refurbished and ran by a trust, now listed ‘category A’ watermill. Saved from closure in 2009 by local support and the securing of external funding, and now operated under the stewardship of the National Trust for Scotland.

The mill comprises of three stories, meal floor, a milling floor and a bin floor at the top.

I just loved my trip to Barry Mill, not only very educational but the mill’s tranquil setting, alongside the Barry Burn, makes it a bit special.

Back along the A930 and my temporary home on wheels, proving you really do not have to travel far from home to enjoy some beautiful cycling country. A visit to Wetherspoon for a burger and a pint, it’s gid tell yir ma’.

Next morning all packed, I travelled up the coast to the Victoria Park, Arbroath, (if you do not know the name of a park, call it Victoria, 99% of the time you will be right).

The seafront is perfect for the camp-a-van man to spend a night of three, And you will need them all, for there is much to see. Here again, the bike was pressed into service.

In the town centre, you can get your smokies, or if you prefer great fish and chips, to eat in or best whilst sitting by the Harbour.

A visit to the Lighthouse Museum is recommended to learn how the Bell Rock Lighthouse was constructed on a slither of treacherous rock only viable at low tide. Then for me, the crowning glory, the ruins of the Abbey, so synonymous with the Declaration of Arbroath, Scotland’s contract that makes its people sovereign and not king or queen.

Back to the van and put the dinner on. I sat out on the rear step of my van, listening to the sea beating rhythmically against the seawall, just feet below me, as the sunset over my shoulder, some times life is just this good.

The A92 whisked me into Montrose, I parked down by the dock gates and walked up to the High Street to buy milk and morning rolls.

I had no intention of doing anything strenuous today, the adrenalin of the first few days was wearing off.

I cycled out to the airfield museum, I had read a poster that said they were holding an open day. An old Meteor (meat-box), was sitting as I entered the gates, these were the aircraft that flew from RAF Laarbruch (in Germany) on aerial reconnaissance when I was serving there, funny they seem to have shrunk. There was much to see around the old hanger and wooden building, these would have served as offices in their time. One I remember laid out as a typical home of the 1940s – I did ask if they had asked permission from mum before taking all of her furnishers.

Home and I put Le nozze di Figaro on the DVD player, but mostly just listening to the music, going over the past days, and how far I had come in such a short distance.

Next day, I cycled around Montrose Bay crossing at Bridge of Dun, on into Barnhead and out to the lighthouse at the point, then back into town. I always visit the library, there the notices tell you all you need to know about what is going on during your visit and yes, there was a notice that took my eye.

A talk by a local historian on the architecture of Montrose, I had already seen some beautiful building including an arts and craft house down by the academy, this may be worth a visit tomorrow afternoon. It was well attended, mostly, OAP, free tea and sandwiches always brings them in. “How many people will it take to get the projector to work?” well I counted five. The show was mostly slides of buildings in and around Montrose, of every shape and size, seems this was a prosperous area at one time, reflected in some magnificent architecture.

Packed up and off the next day I travelled up the A937 to Laurencekirk then making my way inland to Fettercarin and onto the B974 for Banchory in Royal Deeside. I loved this road, up and down what are really the foothills of the Cairngorm Mountains and on into Banchory.

I parked at the falls at Feugh Bridge and cycled in to town, not an exiting town to visit, I think they may have a demographic problem here. Picked up some food at the local Co-op I headed back to the car park, made a pot of tea and moved quickly on, first Aboyne then a beautiful run along the valley to Ballater, where you get our first real look at the Cairngorm Mountains.

I turned off at Bridge of Gairn and up Glen Gairn for Gairnshiel Lodge, difficult enough today but much more so in the winter. I’m sure, you will have heard on the news from time to time, how the road from Cock Bridge to Tomintoul is closed to traffic due to heavy snowfalls, well this is where I was heading. There is still an old-style AA box (it could well be an ‘A’ listed building by now) at the junction of the road off to Gairnshiel Lodge and the A939 Tornahaish road, the one I would be taking. Just passed the junction I pulled into a lay-by, for a bite to eat.

It was such a lovely day, and not a soul in sight, I felt as if I could have been the only person left on the planet, after the past few days, this was sheer bliss.

Now high up in the wilderness I pulled over for the night, on the only little flat spot for miles around and with the only tree I had seen that had not been planted by man. The wind had been rising from around 7 o’clock that evening, a front coming our way. It was about 4 am when I was rudely awakened by the violent rocking of the van. The only way the van would fit on the level ground was to reverse it in off the road, now sitting broadside to the prevailing wind it was taking a battering. I popped out of bed and put on the kettle, quickly scurrying back under the duvet until it was singing long and loud. I sat there, duvet up to my chin and a large mug of tea in hand, watching the dawn break over the mountains. First the outline of the ridge, then snowfields came into focus before the whole panorama was exposed. I could easily have been on the moon so deselect was my surroundings. Like Jesus before me, we go into the wilderness to find our soul. I hastily packed up and headed for the hills, literally,

The Lecht, another mighty climb. Just outside Tomintoul, I found a picnic point so I pulled in and made myself at home, bath time, change of clothing and a hot meal with the little wood-burning stove doing a sterling job. My next stop would be Inverness.

Inverness is a city I love and from the various posters around town there will be plenty to entertain me over my stay here. I had parked up out at the mouth of the river on the opposite side to the dock.

It would be quiet out here. Although I enjoyed driving the van, by the time I had reached my destination at Inverness I was pooped. I climbed into my bunk at around 8 o’clock that evening, with the intention of reading a book, next thing I remember was being wakened by bright early morning sunshine streaming in through the van window, I had managed to sleep right around the clock.

I had been to Inverness a good few time over the years, normally I would press my bus pass into service and stay at the Youth Hostel just outside the city centre. At Wetherspoon’s I went onto the internet and found that there was a bus running down to Fort William, it would get there in time to catch the connecting bus down to Oban, same on the return trip, one bus would wait for the other. Sounds like a plan. I hot-footed it around to the bus station in time to see my preferred bus pull into the traffic, ho-hum. I found a bus going more or less on a circuit of the ‘Black Isle’ so the day was wiled away on a magical mystery tour, I needed time away.

I had now spent three days in Inverness, time to move on. Again the weather could not be better, a fine day to see Loch Ness in all its glory. I was getting the decks squared away, everything in it’s place a place for everything, just like being on my boat. Storage space is always at a premium on sailing boats, so you find a place for everything, and always put it back there when you have finished with it, that way you know were to find the thing in an emergency, not that there was going to be an emergency of that calibre in a camper van, but a good habit to get into.

The waters of Loch Ness was like a mirror, Achnabat inverted in her waters. I stopped off at Urquhart Bay, by the old castle ruin, it was a bit early for a stop, but I was in no hurry to go anywhere. Then Fort Augustus, where I parked the van and cycle along the length of the Caledonian Canal as far as Bridge of Oich and back, no boats going through the canal today. Lunch, then cross to the south shore of Loch lochy, all a-board for Fort William.

I did stop at Fort William, but by then I was wearing for home and I picked up the pace from there on in. The pap of Glen Coe, pulled us into the glen the Three Sister standing tall on our port quarter. It’s a fair climb up the Coe, but nothing like over the Lecht and Tomintoul, which the old lass had handled with ease. These roads now so familiar to me and I was soon bowling along for Crianlarich, Loch Earn, Crieff, Perth, Dundee and on into St Andrews.

Next day, going to the shops for milk and bread was as much as I felt like doing, these trips really take it out of me now, I need rest days more often, I simply do not bounce back as I once did. I have all I need at home and more, I know that still, I will always need this time away, just as I need oxygen. I had to give up my boat simply because it became too much for me to sail single-handed. The time may come when I will have to give up on driving, hopefully, that time will be a long time in coming, still, I have my bus pass.

Life is much the same for man and chimpanzee – a one-way ticket with no guarantee.     

Some other places visited along the way

  

Beach at Montrose
Pepperpott Castle
Lighthouse out on the point at Montrose
Aberlemno Stones

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