Ram jammed to the brim with Texas style pancakes, we set off aiming for Strathy Bay, with the intention of stopping at Melvich Bay first as we'd read so much about this beautiful place. But, in typical Calamity Shane style, we, well I, drove straight past it.
You see, everything on the official NC500 map looks like vast distances in between but there's not. Because on the map it only depicts the Highlands but in ones head it's the entire land of the Scots! So as you meander along you suddenly find you're 20 miles past where you were aiming for.
As you can guess we missed Melvich Bay and we pulled into a random car park at the top of a hill to check what went wrong. As luck would have it, we were parked up at a cracking viewpoint across an endless sea of Scottish heather. Gently waving in the wind, this purpleish sea was mesmerising. The scent of the heather was delicious and made me think of wild spells cast upon those that wouldn't cross a palm with silver for a handful of it. Yeah, just call me an old romantic... Actually, just call me a romantic. I'm not actually old yet!
In the corner of the car park was a walled garden named Field of Hope, setup by The Marie Currie Foundation. A peaceful place to sit and remember loved ones claimed by cancer. Wild grass hides beautiful butterflies whilst crickets sing their song and bird chatter rises from the nearby fauna making this the perfect place for contemplation.
We left the van and went for a short walk deep into the heather covered fields, being careful to stay on the path that had already been trodden by thousands of visitors. In the distance, wind turbines wob wob wobbed and added to the already surreal experience. I like wind turbines. They fascinate me. I know many think they are a blot on the landscape but to me they signify a future. A future of clean energy, of advanced technology, flying cars and teleportation.
Fully refreshed we headed back to the van and we set off, continuing along the windy roads and just drove, once again wondering where we'll end up next or what sights could possibly beat that one!
We soon saw another signpost that looked promising "East Strathy" in faded letters adorned the sign. I hung a sharp right and started up what quickly turned into a worryingly narrow bit of single track, broken edged tarmac and huge potholes.
"Perhaps there's nothing here" Kerry said, hoping I'd turn around. I had a sudden bout of selective deafness and accidentally ignored her and continued driving. The track seemed to really be going nowhere, one moment it seemed we were headed for a dead end at a farmhouse, but alas it meandered straight by and headed for the hills. Literally. After what seemed like weeks, we eventually appeared in a carpark. Opposite another graveyard, much to Kerry's bewilderment. We'd seen dozens of graveyards on this trip, so many it became a standing joke in the van. I'd pretend to be all surprised at the sight of another graveyard and Kerry would look at me like she wanted stuff my own cheese sandwich in my own face hole. I must say though, I've never seen such beautifully manicured graveyards. Every single one was immaculate! Even the ones that were dozens of miles out in the open vastness of the Highlands!
Anyway, we jumped out the van once more and wandered over the top of the hill to be greeted by yet another gobsmackingly stunning view! Crystal clear sea, perfect clean fine sand, and blue skies! But how do we get down there? There were many paths, so I decided on the most direct one. Straight down. It was at this precise moment I remembered that my 46 year old legs didn't like running down a near vertical sand dune. They actually don't like running at all if I'm honest... There were a couple of moments that I was sure I was going to be eating crunchy sand for the next few hours, but it never came. Kerry also discovered that gravity was stronger than her and was pulled down the dune at a speed faster than a greased cat on a marble floor with her legs doing a similar action as the greased cats legs! This amused me very much and I laughed from the belly for several minutes causing me to fart once or twice.
Face plant situation averted, and with Kerry also safely at the bottom, we climbed up and over a deceptively large dune before heading off to the right and the edge of the bay. Because there were rocks. Big massive gargantuan rocks. Which also meant caves. I found one small cave, which delighted me. I had it to myself too as Kerry went wandering off to find some aquatic life in the pools left by the receded tide.
I made the usual weird noises that fully grown men make when alone in a cave, scared myself and left pronto. I quickly caught up with Kerry and explained about the bear that tried to steal my honey...
We climbed some escarpments, wrote in the sand, frollicked in the sunshine and started to make our way back to the van.
Back on the road and only a few miles down, I saw a sign that pointed us to a rest area. Coffee was well needed by this point and my stomach was constantly growling at me for food so i made the turn and found a little carpark next to a little bridge. A fenced off, crumbling bridge, but still...
I made coffee with the Aeropress and used some delicious coffee I'd picked up at a roadside shop from Firth Coffee Roasters. I won't bore you with the specifics of the coffee but my God, it is insanely good!
We went for a gander at the bridge to see of it was accessible at all. It wasn't. In fact, it looked pretty damn dangerous. Mother Nature was most definitely claiming this one for herself. I did dare Kerry to cross it but rather sensibly declined. I don't win many dares with her, but this one was an absolute win, even if it was such an outrageous dare to begin with!
The next portion of driving took us all the way to the Kyle of Tongue and its causeway. We had nowhere to be, no particular itinerary to adhere to which is why we drove for such a distance. Well, it looked far on the map. Probably only 20 miles or so. We tried the local campsite but of course it was full. I asked if we could service the van to which the answer was yes but after a quick check, water was a plenty and the loo was half empty so we didn't go there. Instead, we found ourselves on an incredibly breathtaking stretch of road that spans across the Kyle of Tongue water. I was gobsmacked, as the low stone walls gave an unobstructed view out across the vast expanse of water in both directions and so felt like we were driving a boat not a Transit van!
Even more amazingly, there was actually a carpark halfway along, and no restrictions either! What an incredible night this was going to be!
And indeed, it turned out to be quite the night. Shortly after we'd got settled, it seemed like the rest of the world wanted to join us. One by one the car park filled up with vans, motorhomes and even an entire family of car campers! The car campers amused me as I watched them haul the children out, then dozens of bags and car seats and bits of equipment. then a blow up mattress appeared, a pump started and up the bed went. It then went into the back of the car, followed by several quilts and blankets and then 2 adults and 2 children followed suit! All of their belongings were left outside under a tarpaulin. It was a beautiful sight really, people meandering about, idly chatting to each other about the days adventures or tomorrows excitements. Kids running around like loons, stretching their little legs and throwing pebbles, first into the water then at each other until the parents intervened.
We clambered into bed quite early after we'd eaten so we were bright and fresh for the morning. Sango Sands was the next day, and it was going to be a most excellent day!
That day I learned that I could run down sand dunes faster than I ever thought I could and that you should never take honey into a cave because of the bear.