Introducing the words of Andrew Woodhouse, guest blogger, photographer, Dad, baker and incredibly handsome husband of TMK’s far north correspondent.
Our work gets in the way of holidays. When the weather is fine people want photographs taken. It is a fact of life we have come to accept and adapt to. Consequently, we tend to have a few days away as often as we can during the summer holidays. This means that we don’t go too far from home, but since we live in the most beautiful, dramatic, inspiring and lyrically wonderful part of the world that isn’t a hardship.
This year we decided to go camping. Well, sort of. We wanted to go wigwamming. Wigwams aren’t, as you might expect, big pointy Native American tents. Those are tipis. A wigwam is a big wooden hut. Perfect for camping without any of the erection problems.
We had wanted to spend a few days in Applecross then move on up to Gairloch for a few more but as per usual problems arose. A German magazine asked us to provide photos for a piece they were doing on the Loch Ness Monster. This was to be in the middle of our holiday, but we made changes. A night in Applecross then a day or two in Drumnadrochit, then a few days in Gairloch. Problems solved. Wait, Sands Caravan and Camping in Gairloch had no wigwams available. That meant we would have to pitch a tent. I could foresee erection problems looming, especially as we didn’t have a tent.
Friends came to the rescue, as friends do, and lent us a tent. It was a Tesco tent last used at a local music festival then stuffed into a bag and left in a shed…with mice. Hmm, shouldn’t be any problems then. Just in case, I decided to have a dry run of putting it up. I hadn’t put a tent up for a year and that had been under the supervision of my eldest daughter who had just completed her Duke of Edinburgh’s course and was therefore an expert at camping. This time it would be just me and there were no instructions with the tent. I didn’t want to turn up on site and expose any erection failings to other campers.
On a bright, sunny and windless afternoon I unpacked the tent, erected it and had it stowed neatly away again in less than an hour. I felt particularly manly.
Applecross is pretty. It is also interesting to get to. There is Bealach na Ba or Pass of the Cattle to negotiate. North West Scotland’s answer to those twisty, windy, alpine roads. From almost sea level to 2053 feet in series of hairpin bends. Great fun for a driver but not so much fun for the passengers. Lucky there is a gentle descent to Applecross as our children were looking a little green.
We spent a night in the Applecross campsite. The wigwam had all we needed. A roof, walls, a floor mattresses and electricity to keep our laptop going. It had been loaded with films that our children could watch to satisfy their electronic image addiction.
I should say that our daughter is game for most laughs. She will take part in all the strange things we get up whether it’s photographing alpacas to running around on a beach pretending it’s warm and sunny at Easter in Skye for another photo shoot. Nothing really fazes her. Our son however has a suspicion about the unknown. If something is new it may not be good and is not to be trusted. There will be complaining and non co-operation and sometimes fear. The next time he goes to or does the same thing he is a grizzled old veteran and is utterly relaxed, even enthusiastic but that first time can be tricky. The worst case scenario is that something bad may befall him on that first time. For example football training, somebody kicked him deliberately and that was the last time he was seen there. There was no chance of him going back. If he doesn’t like something he really doesn’t like it and there is no going back. Until he rewrites history, tells everybody he loved it and can we do it again? Can we?
We were kept fed and watered by the Applecross Inn and the Walled Garden Cafe. Both are highly recommended. There is also a beach called Sand. Imaginative, I know. It is a vast flat expanse of …sand with a huge with an enormous bank of…sand… looming over it. Great fun for children and dogs, and those who really like …sand.
The beach at Sand. The moon jellyfish were everywhere this summer
Our son enjoyed all of this. He is a keen fan of eating out and barbecuing as is his sister, as were our dogs. Our children like the act of barbecuing but are uninterested in the outcome. They lick the tomato sauce off their crispy sausages then feed the dogs the rest. Hence the canine enthusiasm for outdoor cooking. The weather was nice enough for us to eat outside at the Inn so they could don their leads and join us for dinner there too. A rare treat. For some reason the dogs were unexpectedly well behaved. Our senior dog didn’t drag the table that her lead was attached too across the garden to meet and greet other diners and our junior dog didn’t pee on anybody’s feet. Remarkable. We basked in the praise for their behaviour from other diners and shared our dogs disapproving looks at other tables with less well behaved dogs.
Our daughter demanded the biggest chocolatiest muffin at the Walled Garden Cafe and after eating the marshmallows off the top didn’t want it anymore. I fought the sparrow for it and won.
Wigwams got our families seal of approval. Everybody enjoyed the ease of use and comfort of camping in something that didn’t flap at night. As the mattresses covered almost the entire floor there could be a higgledy piggledy sprawl of sleeping bags at night.
Our visit to Applecross was all too brief. We had work to do at Loch Ness.
The boys attacking Urquhart Castle with a trebuchet while Kate supervises.
Loch Ness (just checking in case Nessie IS in there)
After a fascinating day learning all about why and how Nessie doesn’t exist and a much less fascinating day spent editing photographs for sending to Germany we were back in holiday mode.
Sands Caravan and Camping which is in …Sands… (not everywhere up here is called that, honest) near Gairloch is a favourite of ours. It has a beautiful beach, excellent facilities and a new home baking filled cafe.
We had a lovely pitch not too close and not too far from the ablutions block (immaculate and spacious with loads of showers) and only about 30 yards from the beach. Sands beach is beautiful. A long gently curving bay with dunes at the back and a beautiful view back over to our home island of Skye to the front. Perfect for watching sunset and having a barbecue, which is what we did.
It rained that night. The sound of rain on the tent was restful and pleasant. The pools of water at either end of it well less pleasant but minor. We said it added to the fun of camping, the children were sceptical. The dogs even more so. They really didn’t like the tent we had push them in at night like horses into the stalls at the beginning of a race. They were quite happy to spend the rest of their time at the campsite snoozing in the open boot of our estate car watching the world pass by with a drooping sleepy eye or on the beach running happily and sniffing things industriously.
Rosie had a specific reason for coming to Gairloch. She wanted to visit a beach at a place called Mellon Udrigle which wasn’t too far from the campsite. She had wanted to tick it off her list for a long time and she was taking her chance now. Mellon Udrigle looks out over Gruinard bay to Gruinard Island which is famous for being infected with anthrax during the Second World Was as part of a biological weapons testing program. Some poor sheep were taken onto the island to play the part of desperate cruel Nazis. Bombs containing anthrax were then detonated. The sheep died after a couple days. The scientists then went away happy that their test had worked leaving the island thoroughly contaminated until 1986 when decontamination was undertaken. This took 4 years.
The beach at Mellon Udrigle (I just like saying the name) is spectacularly beautiful. There are mountain rising from the horizon, clouds rest on their peaks and the sea seems to wash their feet. Rocks horseshoe the beach sheltering it and calming the sea. Blues seem bluer, light seems sharper and smiles and laughter felt easier. We had one of those wonderful, fun and invigorating for the soul days on the beach at Mellon Udrigle. Rosie felt vindicated in her desire to visit.
Mellon Udrigle beach. For somewhere way past the back of beyond it was quite popular
As we smiled laughed and skipped our happy way back to the car one of our dogs had a terrifying attack of the runs right in front of a small boy who had stormed off from his parents in a determined and protracted huff. This may have taken the shine of his efforts. I tested how long I could hold my breath trying to clean up the dogs efforts which were considerable. Rosie had become inexplicably engrossed in some urgent task with the children. I failed to smile, laugh or skip as I deposited the bag into a bin. Biological warfare had returned to the area.
After another night under canvas, or polyester, our son was beginning to express dissatisfaction. Was it that the Chinese carry out we had the night before had too few spare ribs? Maybe it was that second breakfast at the on-site cafe had sachet tomato sauce instead of bottle sauce for his bacon roll? Maybe it was the lack of TV? It had been 2 days since he last held a remote control. Anyway, he soldiered on and seemed to enjoy visiting another vast and beautiful beach with spectacular and interesting views but he repeatedly asked if we could go home as he wasn’t enjoying camping as much as the rest of us. We agreed and it was decided to go back and pack up.
On returning to the campsite the weather decided to turn and after being dry all day it started to rain so we had the fun of packing away a soaking wet tent. Need I say when I said we that implies that there was more than one person involved in the packing bit. There were plenty of us taking pegs out but numbers diminished at the folding and stuffing a large wet thing into a small bag stage of the operation. We bade farewell to the campsite, some with more regret than others.
Once home our son dashed into the house looking and searching desperately until he found what he was looking for, just where he had left it. There was a click and the TV sprang into life. A small boy sighed contentedly and clutching his precious remote control, got comfy on his couch. His sister went off to the play room to make sure her dolls hadn’t been too lonely, his Mum started to make him his dinner and his Dad struggled in the rain to empty the roof box.