It all went wrong.
It all went wrong.
Again, something a bit different today. With Linda’s car out of the running with a dead fan (Car Builder Solutions saved the day by getting the new one to us in Strathpeffer from Kent in 22 hours), I had a passenger - & what’s more, a lady passenger who didn’t grab the seat bolsters every time I went round a corner! I had written a route that went north to Thurso, west to Durness, then south to Ullapool & finally east to Strathpeffer. There was also an option of fitting in the “clashnessie loop” the bikers had recommended, that we’d failed to do yesterday. One of our Number had shortened the route (which is a good thing, the routes are just suggestions) & three cars would be doing each.
Sounds organised - sounds like a plan, yes? It lasted until we got to the end of the hotel drive when one group went right, the other went left, round the back streets & returned to the hotel. It turned out that I’d asked the SatNav to take me to the start point of the route which was in the car park – after we’d left the car park.
Oh how we laughed.
We caught sight of the others on a A9 where a long tailback of cars & lorries was stacked up behind a solitary cyclist. After a while the SatNav said “turn left”, shortly afterwards three cars arrived at the Lairg visitor centre, then another one, then that one went away & returned with a fifth. The sixth had missed the turning & eventually went on to have a nice day at John’O’Groats.
Having rolled along the North coast for a while, we reached Tongue & stopped in the Tongue Hotel for a drink. “Sorry” said the receptionist “we don’t do just coffee”. Slightly miffed as well as thirsty we moved on to Scourie – a lovely spot with a caravan park overlooking a tiny harbour & a beautiful bay. It has a coffee shop which sells lovely cakes – when it’s open – which it wasn’t. By now the “miffed” at Tongue, was definitely moving towards the “disgruntled”, but we walked up the road to the petrol station which did want to sell us some refreshment, but all they had was fizzy pop & chocolate, which just wasn’t the same.
As we approached Ullapool, Linda – who had been taking photos of trees & signposts (I’m being unfair, all the photos in this episode were taken by her & they’re much better than mine – but some were of trees & signposts) announced that the camera was out of battery.
Except that I’m going to Balfarg to visit my son & his family.
A bit of an odd one today, we were sharing our hotel with a bunch of guys on ruffty-tuffty touring bikes & inevitably conversations were struck up. They recommended a loop of road off the main Ullapool to Durness road that I’d looked at several times but never been able to fit it into a route. So we decided to go freestyle.
The plan was simple - head to Ullapool, re-fuel, turn right
heading for Durness, park in the Kylesku Bridge car park, head back towards
Ullapool, but take the first right, after travelling some way, set the SatNavs
for home & follow them. Simple. A fool could do it
It didn’t take long to unravel.
I turned my attention back to the petrol station to see how the Seven in the queue was getting on, but it too had vanished – sort of – Linda (the driver) was bouncing up & down on the pavement waving her arms in the air. I curbed my natural instincts to run away from the clearly mad woman & went to investigate. The blue Seven had boiled over while waiting in the queue & had been pushed to one side. With the bonnet off there was a little coolant left in the header tank, so not a blown hose, the thermostat housing (which are known to crack in Zetec engines) was dry, so not that either. That left the nightmare scenario of a blown head gasket (home on the “trailer of shame”) or a problem with the cooling fan. With the coolant topped up & the engine started the temperature climbed to over 100deg & the fan remained resolutely stationary.
At around this point the garage man came out & asked us to move as the car was parked on the forecourt’s main tank & he had a delivery due (he was quite understanding about it), so the Seven was driven to the other side of the forecourt & a couple of biker types came & helpfully told Linda it was the head gasket & she was going home on a truck. One of the items in Linda’s big box of useful things was a jump wire to remove the fan switch from the circuit, I installed that & still no Breeze. The fan was dead then.
So that was actually one of the least-worst outcomes. I suggested that Linda went “Hot Rod” & drove without the bonnet on, but that idea earned me a wrinkled nose, so we trundled round to the main town carpark in search of toilets & a brave pill before running for home. By now it was pretty clear that the other cars had moved on some time back, so I left a message on the WhatsApp & we headed back east.
So, another adventure was had.
Fully refreshed, we climbed back into the cars & headed out of town. Just as we were pulling away, a couple came past on a trike, which got to the top of the first hill & stalled. We waited patiently making hardly any sarcastic comments over the radio – honest. After only a mile or so the trike pulled over & we headed back east on yet another superb road. Yet more fantastic scenery & very little traffic (& what there was often pulling into passing places to let us past). It made this part of the journey pretty special as well.
As we drove along we would occasionally pass a petrol station & the call would go up “anyone need fuel” no-one did, so we moved on. We three were split up by other traffic & eventually two of us rolled into the hotel car park. But where was the third? Perhaps there hadn’t been any more overtake opportunities & he was 5 mins behind? Ten mins past. Eventually a photo appeared on the WhatsApp group of our errant companion in a layby adding the contents of a petrol can so he could get back to the hotel.
Day 4 always seems to be the day for an adventure, it can only be a random occurrence, but it seems to be the case & this year is no exception. The weather looked to be best to the north east, so the north coast route was selected. It went up the east coast, cut inland to Thurso, along the north coast as far as Tongue, south to Lairg, west to Elgol, south to Ullapool & then east to Stathpeffer.
It was drizzling a little as we prepared the cars, some elected to go hood up, some hood down. Me – I was optimistic & opened the back windows. We set off & almost immediately ran into a rainstorm of epic proportions (again). We headed east & found the A9, heading up the map, past Dunrobin Castle – which frankly I’d assumed to be a literary joke & also past a large number of presumably disused oil rigs stored in the estuary.
We refuelled (well, I didn’t – I was still showing a range of 380 miles) then headed again up the coast, at this stage I was second-to-last playing the role of camera car when the lead driver – who at the time was looking out for a café as we were all a little parched – turned left off the road & called over the radio “I’m not sure this is right?” but carried on - as we do.
Strictly speaking it was a road. It’s shown on a map, it had
tarmac, it had edges & a direction, but there the similarity with the
technical term “road” ends. It had potholes you could lose a sheep in, it had
grassy mounds in the centre that in some places would qualify as an arable farm
– or at the very least “Sites of Special Scientific Interest”. We discussed
going back, but as what passed for a metalled surface was barely wider than one
of our very narrow cars – that would’ve involved seven cars reversing back on
to an A road. So on we went, and on. After about four miles we were rewarded
with magnificent views
– which was nice, but one of the Lotuses was dragging its’ front number plate under it – which wasn’t. At this stage the fear was that this “road” went all the way to the north coast, but one of our number noticed that down in the valley – a couple of thousand feet below – was a van travelling at a decent speed, so there was a road a fair bit better than the one we were on. Zooming the SatNav out suggested that yes the thing we were on would meet a road worthy of the name, so after taking in the magnificent views, we carried on. This time I led on the basis that the Cactus has more ground clearance & was obviously expendable.
But this was the very north of Scotland, so the “A road” was single track with passing places, but that was OK because there was no foliage on the centreline & the tarmac was almost entirely flat & in fact, present.
It is possible that I selected this as a route, but I do tend to check what I’m calling up, so it is perhaps more likely that the SatNavs decided that as the track cut off a corner, it was a better option.
It wasn’t. But, what’s a road trip without an adventure?Arriving at the very nice Farr Bay Hotel, we were initially flummoxed by the parking arrangements, but after circumnavigating the place, we found a way into the car park. It was a small place & we must have made up 75% of the clientele, but it all looked very nice & we placed our order for cake & coffee, which arrive after only maybe 50 minutes. By now the sun was shining brightly & it was warm – proper tee-shirt warm.
As we passed through Elgol heading for Ullapool the heavens opened. At Ullapool we turned towards Inverness & there was a brief respite from the rain but it assailed us again in waves. But it wasn't all bad news – I had a steel roof & glass windows, so was warm & dry.