A drive through the Cairngorms, heading south-east toward the rolling hills of Fife on Scotland’s East Coast, became part 3 of our honeymoon road trip.
We’d enjoyed the majesty along the A82 through Glencoe and up to Ben Nevis, then meandered along twisting, narrow roads on the Isle of Skye before ending up back on the mainland at Loch Ness.
This road trip takes us over the Cairngorms and Britain’s two highest roads and on to the delights of Scotland’s eastern shoreline. But just before setting off, we spent a morning with our binoculars doing some monster hunting…
Living in a van by Loch Ness
Steve Feltham has spent most of his adult life hunting for the Loch Ness Monster. He parked his van one day by the loch – way back in 1991 – and never left!
Steve’s intriguing stories can be found on his website ‘Nessie-Hunter‘ and here’s a little video where he shows the inside of his van that’s been his home for 30 years now…
We spent a morning on the loch with fellow tourists, eagle-eyed and ever-hopeful of a glimpse of something out of the ordinary. But, as usual, Nessie was hiding somewhere in the 750 ft deep waters. Nonetheless, we enjoyed the boat trip on ‘Deep Scan‘ up and down part of the 22 miles of loch.
The weather was good and the waters not too choppy and our guide, Alistair, was very informative. After the customary look around the souvenir shops back in Drumnadrochit (a place worth visiting for the name alone!) we decided to hit the road again.
We’d wild-camped the night before with many other vans in a car park in the village, only noticing in the morning light the ‘No Overnight Camping’ sign. Nobody else seemed to have seen it either.
To the Cairngorms and Britain’s highest roads
Driving north on the A82, we soon reached Inverness. This is usually the starting point of the now famous North Coast 500 route. However, our plan was to head south-east from here, so we made our way along the A9 toward the Cairngorms.
We cut across country toward Speybridge then joined the A939 to Tomintoul. This is a place Hobo Trudi’s parents had visited way back in the 1970s and we were keen to retrace their steps through this area, renowned for its wilderness – and whisky!
Little did we know that the Cairngorms are actually the highest mountain massif in the British Isles, with Ben Macdui (at 4,296 ft) second only to Ben Nevis in height.
The thing about the Cairngorms is that, rather than go through the glens (as you do along the A82 at Glencoe or the Nevis range), many of the roads here actually go over the mountains. There are long, uphill stretches, making it a bit of a slog for old vans like ours and we were down to second gear once or twice.
Wild camping in the Cairngorms National Park
It was about here that we started wondering where to wild camp for the night. We’d looked for a couple of spots a bit earlier around Tomintoul, close to woodlands, but they didn’t feel quite right.
That’s one of the things about wild-camping – you can spend hours driving about, looking for the best spot. If you’re not careful, daylight hours pass by and you’re left looking for a safe place in the dark. Not ideal.
So, to avoid that possibility, by late afternoon we pulled over into a large layby and decided this would do. Not a bad view for supper…
The road was fairly quiet and we spent a lovely evening relaxing, even braving the plunging temperatures to get out for a few minutes and gaze up at the stars.
After all, this is a dark sky park area. Wrapped up in a blanket together and with a hot chocolate to keep us warm, we enjoyed the night sky without any artificial light pollution.
Indeed, Hobo Gav had been keeping an eye on his ‘Northern Lights’ app in the hope that we’d be in for a show tonight but, alas, it wasn’t to be. The atmospheric conditions weren’t quite right for it. However, it was dark enough to marvel at the vastness of the Milky Way – before Gav got too cold and crept back into the relative warmth of the van.
Making new friends at Balmoral
After a good night’s sleep we set off fairly early and soon joined the B976 then the A93 westbound toward Balmoral. The van had conquered the two highest roads in Britain!
But passing the castle car park, Gav slammed on the brakes. Was there a problem? He did a U-turn and sped back.
There was a van just like ours parked in the car park!
See, up to this point (August 2019) we had yet to see another VW Cree on the roads – anywhere! We joked that we must be ‘the only Cree in the village’ and wondered if we’d ever get to add a picture of another one to our Vintage Vans and Motorhomes gallery.
As it turned out it wasn’t a Cree, but a Cherokee instead, almost identical in design but with different colours and a different layout inside. No matter, we spent the best part of an hour with Gary and Ellie talking about our vans!
Deciding not to have elevenses with the Queen on this occasion, we hit the road once more, continuing south through Blairgowrie in the direction of Dundee.
The Tay Bridge Disaster – not this time!
By now the roads had mostly flattened out and it felt as if we were free-wheeling toward the East Coast.
One of the reasons we’d headed this way was to cross the Tay Bridge, scene of a terrible disaster in 1879 when a huge storm blew the wooden structure – and a travelling train – into the water below. 75 people lost their lives.
Gav had read this story to his young son, Isaac, in a Ladybird book years before. He was relieved to hear that we’d made it safely across!
Thus, having traversed the River Tay, we pressed on through the historical town of St. Andrew’s, passing the links golf course, before continuing down the A917 through the coastal villages. Crail and Elie, in particular, looked charming and with more time we would have stopped to explore. Indeed, the region of Fife in Scotland demands a proper look next time.
After a long day, we were pleased to have found Forth House Caravan Site along the St. Andrew’s Road (the A915). We had a great view over the Firth of Forth and everything was spotlessly clean, including the showers.
Border crossings and home turf
Before breakfast the next morning, Trudi spoke live on BBC Radio Suffolk about wild camping and motorhome parking problems. She told show host, Mark Murphy, that we’d had no problems up here in Scotland. It’s certainly different to what we had been used to back in Suffolk (and England as a whole).
Back on the road, we crossed the Forth Road Bridge over the Firth of Forth, then negotiated the busy outskirts of Edinburgh (the A90 then the A199) before joining the A1. North Berwick had been mentioned as a nice place to wild camp but we continued east then south and were soon crossing the border back into England.
Our honeymoon could have ended here. Leaving Scotland behind – and all she had given us – was tinged with sadness. England seems so humdrum in comparison.
However, determined to keep the magic alive we trusted our instincts and found ourselves at Redshin Cove, a geologists delight just south of Berwick-upon-Tweed.
We found a long, gnarly, sea-weathered branch washed up on the beach. Weirdos that we are, we took it all the way home with us and it’s now attached to the ceiling in our living room!
After a couple of hours marvelling at the rocks in the cove, we found a campsite – one of those busy, security type places that we hate – but it would have to do. It had been quite a drive from Fife and we needed to rest.
Tomorrow, the van would ensure the magic lived on when we crossed the causeway onto the holy island of Lindisfarne. But that’s a story for another day!
For more info about the Cairngorms take a look at the excellent Snow Roads website.
Remember to check out parts 1 and 2 of our honeymoon road trip…
And the spectacular loch-strewn drive from Ben Nevis to the Isle of Skye
And if you’re not sure about the laws and regulations, check out our wild camping page