I found that I couldn't breathe when I opened my eyes in the morning. There was a strange scent in the air, a kind of heavy musty stale smell. I could feel eyes burning holes into the back of my head quite fiercely. I turned to look at Kerry and I instantly knew that an attack of the curry farts had ensued all night. It didn't help either that the diesel night heater had mysteriously turned itself on and was warming the stale farty air and churning it around the van like the mist smouldering out from a witches cauldron. Or was that actually from a witches cauldron and Kerry had been busy casting spells to silent my bubbling guts.
Either way, I made my excuses and legged it to the toilet block to try and relieve the built up pressure in my intestinal system.
We were ready to leave quite early this time as a long day of hunting down shit to do lay ahead. We were aware there was lots of visitor and tourist stuff over the next 50 or so miles.
We both showered a few times, taking full advantage as we were not likely to be stopping at a campsite for at least the next night. Toilet emptied, wastewater poured away, freshwater topped up and van engine warmed up, we set off.
The sun was still shining although behind us the weather was dire. We were reading reports of people abandoning their trips and heading home as the weather was so bad. Yet here we were, basking in all the warmth and sunshine! But it did make me very aware of how diverse the Highlands weather system is.
We left Ullapool behind us and headed for the hills. After what felt like days we finally saw a signpost that promised thrills: Corrieshalloch Gorge National Reserve. We made the turning just in time and with a little screech of the tyres. And from Kerry's mouth. My brakes really don't like having to be used. That's Transit vans for ya!
We found a parking space in the very full lay by come car park and went off to explore.
It turns out this is where the huge rope bridge was that crosses the gorge that everyone wanted me to cross. A little bit of poo came out as we got closer but then I grinned massively. You see, fate was on my side that day. Due to the sheer amount of visitors that had trodden across it this year, it had to be closed for repairs and was deemed dangerous. As if it wasn't already bowel emptying, vomit inducingly dangerous already...
Anyhoo I'd gotten away with making myself look like a fool by literally shitting myself whilst crossing it. I mean I would have crossed it regardless, but I really didn't want to. Shame.
We trudged along the top of the gorge, the bottom so far down it was impossible to see. We walked the mile or so to the end of the trail which looped back on a separate path, the entire outbound length giving us little teasers of what lay beneath but not enough to quite see the actual water that had carved this gargantuan piece of natural art. The car park was heaving when we returned with cars queueing on the road for a space, so much to my bemusement, we decided against making coffee and went about our merry way to save ourselves getting lynched. We meandered along, stopping every now and then to feast our hungry eyes on the visual delights that seemed to appear around every corner.
As we came around a slow corner I spied a bridge with a huge set of rapids thundering under it! There was a space off the road too that I was able to squeeze my van into. Turns out there was a reason the space was there and that was because of the huge crater like axle deep hole that was sat there innocently disguised as a puddle. The puddle was no match for my new BF Goodrich All Terrain tyres though and the van just pulled itself straight out. We found a little dirt path next to the bridge that took us down to the water's edge. The river was slow and lethargic, tricking you into a false sense of security. There was a tight bend just before the bridge that forced the water to speed up and thrash its way over the rocks and boulders that had been previously washed down there by mother natures invisible sorcery craft.
I had a little play on said boulders, risking everything for a video and a few photos. But I was careful, and no slips, trips or falls were had. Had I slipped though, Kerry was under strict instructions to make sure she rescues me at all costs. Thank you Achnasheen Falls for not taking me to meet thy maker.
Back in the van and away we went, trundling along the A832 still, we eventually stumbled across a cafe in Gairloch. Well, it basically went like this: Screeeeeeech! Bang crash smash! Cooooofffffeeeeeee!
Whilst consuming enough caffeine to restart even the deadest of hearts, we checked out the map and a couple of guidebooks from the cafe and like true discoverers, we found that there was a beach just a stones throw away with a car park too!
As we strolled along the fine sand of the beach in Gairloch Bay, we looked out to sea and felt very small of a sudden. Being cocooned in a small space for so long makes you forget just how big the world is. This beach was huge, with vast open views towards Never Never Land. The water was absolutely crystal clear. As Kerry discovered, it only looked about 3 inches deep but she soon found herself up to her waist in the liquid glass. I however saw many creatures swimming about. A 3 legged crab just dossing around like it owned the place. A multitude of jellyfish, bobbing along like kings of the sea. I'm positive there were many sea snakes too but Kerry said it was just seaweed. Which it wasn't. Definitely sea snakes.
At one point, I thought Kerry was going to attempt to swim to Iceland. I did try and tell her the shop was shut and frozen food is rubbish anyway. She was miles out. Really loving it. Eventually, she came back in, fresh looking and rosy cheeks. I was insanely jealous of her lack of fear. Even more so at her ability to actually swim. I can't swim, well I can but I'm terrible. I have to put so much effort into swimming that I exhaust myself and usually end up drowning to death anyway.
After we'd dried off, as I did go in up to my shins so I could make the same claims about swimming in the sea, we started to make our way back to the van when Kerry spotted an actual sea monster sunbathing on the sand! It was a Lions Mane jellyfish and it was absolutely ginormous! I'm not even lying, this thing could've eaten a small but tasty child in a jiffy! "And we were in that f-ing sea!" I screamed. I mean said loudly. I don't scream. Often...
After some interweb googling I discovered that this mammoth of the sea world was actually a youngster and pretty small compared to the 120 foot long 8 foot wide daddies! I was a little sick in my mouth and a little bit terrified. Never am I going in the sea again!
Back at the van and covered in fine sand, I whipped out my portable battery operated shower and set it up so I could watch Kerry shower. I mean keep guard. Disappointingly she did that trick only women can do where they shower with a towel on not exposing so much as a bit of thigh. Good move my master, good move. Impressed, I left her to dry off and made coffee in the van and got ready for the next adventure of the day, which hopefully wasn't as dangerous as this sea.
Yet another sign promising a waterfall had us swerving off the road and up a dirt track to a lovely out of the way car park. I contemplated saying to Kerry about stopping here for the night but alas, it was only early afternoon so I didn't. Instead, I followed her up a short path to be met with a roaring noise and a cool spray of water. There was a viewpoint that let you peer around the bushes at the glorious Victoria Falls. Well, I'm sure they are glorious in the winter when they're at full capacity and the water is raging. Right now though the water was a stately and refined trickle in comparison. I was still awestruck, and a little excited as I spotted a tiny track leading up the side of the fall, presumably to the top! I grabbed Kerry's hand and dragged her to the top of the falls and out onto the so smooth, flat boulders that stretched across the tumbling river. "Ha! Bet you can't do this in December!" I shouted! We took a few photos and took a slow stroll yet again back to the van.
Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve was well signposted and hard to miss. I definitely missed it. After I performed my best yet 24 point turn on a dirt track I quietly slid into the car park and reversed up to the water's edge. Well, the edge of the wall that stopped you dropping 10 feet into the water anyway. "I am driving no more" I proclaimed like a true hero. "Unless there are signs that state no overnight parking. Then, I shall drive just a little bit more." I jumped out and went to the back to get the levelling ramps and waved at the people in their tent on the stones below. I wondered if they would wake up in the morning on the other side of the lock.
Knackered, Kerry made me coffee and I set the van up once again. We went for an explore but didn't venture far. We didn't need to really, this was such a beautiful area and we were allowed to stay one night according to the info board so we checked out the tourist pod and read about the history of the area and how it all started, millions of years ago.
Dinner was the rest of the previous nights' curry which was a pretty bad move. It rained hard during the night so we were unable to open a window and as my insides protested once again at the spices and heat, it made for another unromantic night.
We sat and watched other campers turn up and set up for the night, and a 4x4 with a pretty elaborate rooftop tent setup and outdoor kitchen. I watched mesmerised as tonnes of equipment appeared as if by sorcery seemingly from nowhere. I was impressed by the perseverance of the campers and their 2 children as doing that every night and then in reverse each morning must get on ones tits somewhat!
We settled down for the night and spent a while in bed chatting about the adventure so far and how we wished we could spend a couple of months doing it. We had so far just skimmed the surface of what lay beneath the rich history of the Scottish Highlands. Neither of us wanted to ever leave this beautiful land. There's something about it that just makes you feel human, significant in a way that matters, despite the fact you're just a tiny speck of dust floating around in the dark space of the universe by comparison. It's hard to explain so forgive me if I sound like I'm high! I can only suggest that you go and experience it for yourselves.
It took me a while to get to sleep as I kept wondering about the tent below us on the Loch shore. My biggest wonder was "What if they floated to the other side during the night? How long would it take them to notice they were on a different side of the Loch when they woke up?" But then my mind drifted to "In order to sleep, first we pretend to sleep" and away I drifted.