Thursday 24th April
The thing about being located where we are on the Coast is that we can see the rain coming about half an hour before it arrives, the Mountains that stretch along the Coast suddenly disappear from view as if they have been wrapped in a thick grey blanket. Fortunately we had already eaten and cleared away the pots so I still had time to walk to the shower block and get back to ‘Big Momma’ before hearing the first light drops on the roof. However, the gentle pitter patter soon turned to more frequent drops but I think that these raindrops had been eating the Scottish delicacy of ‘deep fried battered Mars Bars’ because they were heavy, very heavy and they soon turned from a gentle ‘pitter patter’ to a more menacing battering on the roof and windows, followed by a consistent torrent of flowing water off the back off the van and onto the plastic bicycle cover, noisy or what !! It was a dreadful night on the TV and we were not in the mood for watching any of the numerous films that we had on DVD. Shazza elected to take her mug of coffee to bed and read her book whilst I sat up and finished drafting and then publishing my latest blog post. That done, and the rain still hammering down, I too retired to bed and finally finished reading the book that I had started a week or so ago, although for me to finish a book is an achievement in its own right.
We both fell asleep to the sound of the rain hammering down on the roof and then the subsequent waterfall effect from above our heads as it gushed over the rear of the van !! Shazza was already up when I awoke at 08:00am, she has been suffering with an aching neck and shoulder for a couple of days and when she woke up at 04:00am she couldn’t get back to sleep. I asked her if we were still going out and she confirmed that we were, so “Where to ?” Was my next obvious question and she told me that we were going for a trip in a ‘Gondola’ ! that I wouldn’t need my walking boots or rucksack and we would be eating lunch out today so no picnic or flask of coffee required but I would most definitely be requiring my camera !! Whilst having my morning shower I just kept thinking ‘Gondola, Venice’ but no, surely not !! Perhaps she had got a special deal on an ‘Easy Jet’ Flight, day return Glasgow Airport to Venice, yes it was possible, Glasgow was just over Fifty miles away but we would need to get a ‘wiggle’ on if we were going on this kind of day trip !! I was still questioning the wisdom of my thoughts about ‘Venice and Gondolas’ when I returned to ‘Big Momma’ and I knew from her casual attire that we were not going anywhere as flamboyant as ‘Venice’, I was intrigued but she was giving nothing away. We pulled out of the Campsite and headed ‘North’, not Glasgow then !! Being the passenger for a change, I was able to enjoy the fantastic scenery.
We drove to, and through, ‘Fort William‘ and on the way out I saw a BP Service station that sold LPG at just under £0.70p per Litre, this was on our route out on Monday so a perfect place to stop and top up, although I didn’t think we really needed any gas at least we would arrive with full gas tanks and they should see us through the four months.
Seven miles outside of Fort William, on the A82 towards Inverness, Shazza turned off in the direction of something called ‘Ben Nevis Range’. It was a huge outdoor activity centre that was ‘Open All Year’ and you could do everything from Mountain Walks, Zip down High Wires, Mountain Biking, Snow Boarding & Skiing, although the latter only when weather conditions permitted e.g. Snow !! but we were here to go on a ‘Gondola‘ that would carry us up the Mountain over Six Hundred Metres where we would exit and get to view the great ‘Ben Nevis’ mountain range, the clue was in the name of the activity centre.
It took Fifteen minutes for the Gondola to climb to the upper station and if we wanted to go any higher we would need to walk, or in winter we could bring our Ski’s (If we had owned such things) and use a chairlift !! Once we had exited our Gondola we checked out the immediate area, there was the ‘Snowgoose Restaurant & Bar‘, the mandatory tourist ‘tat’ shops but purchases not ‘compulsory’ and a board that identified the different Mountains that made up the ‘Ben Nevis Range’ and several walks. Shazza had not anticipated the ‘walks’, she thought that we would get up to the top and there would be a viewing area to take photographs so we were not wearing appropriate footwear, however, never one’s to let such ‘minor’ issues inconvenience us, we set off on our first ascent !!
Of course we then had to make our way back down again ! With no picnic lunch or flask of coffee I didn’t have to convince Shazza that we needed to buy a coffee from the ‘Snow Goose Restaurant’ and perhaps a toasted tea cake as well ?
After being fed and watered it was time for the big one ! No not another Chocolate Muffin, but the next, slightly longer walk to a viewing point where we may, subject to the cloud height, get sight of the highest peak of ‘Ben Nevis’ itself !!
Although all the ‘Easter’ tourists had long since departed, we were not alone in the Mountains and we met a nice lady who was on holiday from South Africa. She told us that although she had seen snow on the mountains before she had never actually touched it until she came to Scotland, she also confessed that she was so excited that she actually rolled in it, but we have been sworn to secrecy about that !!! Although there were more mountain trails we could have explored, time was knocking on and we were getting ready for lunch so after a couple more photo opportunities we made our way back to the Gondola station.
But our ‘Shazza Expedition’ was not over yet, next stop ‘Fort William’ for lunch. The wardens on our campsite had told us that The town was ‘Motorhome’ friendly as far as parking was concerned, there was dedicated parking for Motorhomes right next to both ‘Aldi’ and “Morrison’s’ supermarkets and they believed that it only cost £0.80p for the whole day !! Diesel was also available at the Morrison service station (but no LPG, although the BP service station I mentioned earlier was only a few minutes drive away) and the parking area was just a couple of minutes walk away from the town centre. Although we were in ‘Wuxly’ we decided to check it out as ‘Fort William’ appeared to have it all for the travelling Motorhome community, Parking, Fuel, LPG and good shopping opportunities, this sounded too good to be true.
We parked in the area that Motorhomes and Caravans were permitted and walked the two-minutes into the town centre. Personally, I was a little disappointed with Fort William as a town, perhaps in peak season when it is a bit livelier it may have a different ambience but to me it was just like any one of a number of towns we had already visited and as non-shoppers it held no attraction for us. We looked around for suitable eating establishments, nothing fancy, but nothing really jumped out at us. To be honest I had a bit of a yearning for a Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) but when we checked our mobile devices we discovered the nearest was over fifty miles away in Inverness !! We nearly settled for a traditional ‘Fish & Chip’ dinner but then saw what looked like a nice pub that served typical traditional bar meals at reasonable, non-inflated tourist prices. We both ordered Steak & Ale pie, Chips and Peas but actually we were quite underwhelmed with it. How can you get something so basic and simple so wrong ? Oh well, at least it gave Shazza a break from cooking duties for an evening. However, had we have known that we were going to have such a scorching hot day and evening, I would have suggested buying some BBQ food and I would have gladly slaved over a hot grill whilst Shazza served up copious amounts of falling over juice.
We returned to the campsite and ‘Big Momma’ by mid-afternoon, the campers that had not ventured out on day sightseeing expeditions were all sat outside their respective ‘Gin Palaces’ enjoying yet another Scottish heat wave. It wasn’t long before I too had the sun chairs out and had assumed the horizontal position with glass of falling over juice in hand ! I remained there well into the early evening, with clear blue cloudless skies and the sun still high in the sky.
I hadn’t really given it much thought until I saw this ship, but I remembered that ships of all shapes and sizes could cross from the North Sea to the Irish Sea through the Caledonian Canal from Inverness on the East Coast of Scotland, through Loch Ness, Loch Lochy and Loch Lihnnie and out, right past our front door like the ship in the picture. The canal system that gave access into Loch Linnie was located just North of Fort William at a place called ‘Corpach’. I suddenly had an idea for perhaps another ‘Eric Expedition’ before we departed here on Monday, however I knew that Shazza had tomorrow earmarked as a ‘Domestics Day’, her the laundry and interior of the van and me designated not just washing ‘Big Momma’ but ‘Wuxly’ too !! But that still left Saturday and Sunday………………..