Priscilla, Queen of the Laybys

Well, Priscilla and I have now spent a couple of nights together and I have to say things are looking good between us. Our first trip was over to Ullapool to scout out the area as a base to cycle from. Looks good! Free all-day car parking near the ferry terminal should be fine for a few hours out on the bike and the nearby public loos with a shower facility mean that I can avoid the campervan equivalent of a bed bath to clean up afterwards. There’s also loads of convenient off-road laybys for overnighting, so no need for site fees 🙂

After looking over Ullapool we pootered back eastwards to lay-up close to Rosemarkie on the Moray Firth so that I could get to Chanonry Point early the next day to view the Moray Firth dolphins (parking at the Point is next to impossible for late arrivers). I got further east than anticipated and overnighted at the Clootie Well near Avoch in a small forest car park. It was quite spooky due to the cloots hanging from the trees. These are rags left by folk seeking for their ills to be cured; they provide an eery backdrop in the dark.

Priscilla at rest (at the Clootie Well)
Priscilla resting quietly at the Clootie Well

The car park was quiet other than for the owls hooting through the night and the local dogging fraternity (… only joking, to the best of my knowledge no dogging occurred even though the car park bore a striking resemblance to that of the ‘Camping’ episode in the TV show ‘Not Going Out’ where Lee, the show’s chief protagonist, tried to prove his manliness by joining his mates on a camping weekend in the middle of a dark, spooky forest that turned out to be … you’ve guessed it … a dogging hotspot).

So no ‘canines’, but the dolphins were around the following morning porpoising gently rather than putting on a proper show for us, and the sun, although welcome, was in exactly the wrong place to photograph them. Still, it was a splendid situation and I can recommend the Rosemarkie Beach Café for a late brunch.

Dolphins swimmin porpoisefully at Chanonry Point
Dolphins swimming porpoisefully at Chanonry Point, photographed directly into the sun

The second trip was to overnight at Ballater. Free parking in the village centre provided the base for a 40 mile ride from Deeside across to Donside via Glen Gairn and the Old Military Road. The first 12 miles included some very steep ramps (see ‘Bring back the birch’, May) and due to the excess baggage that I’m still carrying there were a couple that I had to push up rather than pedal. After that the worst was over and there were some terrific downhill runs before stopping for coffee in Bellabeg; itself winding down quietly after the weekend’s highland games at the Lonach Gathering. The return leg to Ballater via the Muir of Dinnet Nature Reserve was altogether easier even though the hills at the start of the day had rather knackered me. Still, it wasn’t work and the sun was shining so I didn’t mind. I strongly suspect that this may become a favourite cycling route

Muir of Dinnett Nature Reserve
Muir of Dinnett Nature Reserve

Another lay-by, another night. A bit noisy with passing traffic this time, but up with the lark for a bacon butty breakfast in Ballater and a supposedly gentle ride along the 10 miles of tarmac to Loch Muick. Well, under normal circumstances it would have been gentle, even if it is mostly an uphill drag along the glen; however, yesterday’s hills had been more tiring than I thought so it was a bit tougher than it should otherwise have been, but coming back? Glorious! Downhill all the way (in a good way, unlike post-middle-age life generally)!

So, that’s a couple of trips out with Priscilla and two great successes, both helped by the arrival of a little bit of fine weather. We really do live in a beautiful part of the world (it helps when the sun is shining) and to be out and about breathing in the freshest of air and looking at the most splendid of views is truly invigorating – especially when everyone else is at work!

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😎 Former scientist, now graduated to a life of leisure; Family man (which may surprise the family - it certainly surprises him); Likes cycling and old-fashioned B&W film photography; Dislikes greasy-pole-climbing 'yes men'; Thinks Afterlife (previously known as Thea Gilmore) should be much better known than she is; Values decency over achievement.

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