We packed up and left Loch Ness in a steady downpour – very atmospheric, easy to imagine Nessie poking his (or her?) head up from the depths to check on our departure. We've got the setting up and departing down to a fine art – I packed the car and pulled down the awning while Frances sorted the caravan and made lunch – but the rain slowed our progress, seeing us finally getting away at around 11.00am. We headed into Fort William with the original intention of ascending the cable car rather pointless given the low cloud, so we parked up and went on a victualing mission. Once completed we made to set off to our destination, a campsite at Camusdarach between Arisaig and Mallaig on the coast near the beach made famous by the film Local Hero.
As we pulled out of the car park, a mechanical clanking from the nearside caravan wheel spelled disaster – we limped back into the car park, and as we did so the car horn started sounding uncontrollably. I pulled up and tried to see what was going on. There was no sign of anything dragging on the ground around the van, and there was no sign of anything untoward under the bonnet in relation to the horn. I thought about what could be going wrong – actually, I heaved a sigh of despair, and then thought about what could be going on. It must be either a wheel bearing or a dislodged brake component causing the mechanical noise, as it was very much related to the wheel rotation. And it must be something to do with the immobiliser on the car, no doubt related to the torrential rain. I thought about jacking the caravan and taking the wheel off to investigate, but given that I’d snapped the jack the last time I'd tried this (I’ve subsequently replaced it) and that we had full breakdown recovery for the car and the caravan I thought I might leave it to the experts. Frances got on the mobile and called the various agencies to organise roadside help...on a Sunday...in Fort William....in the rain...and so the long wait began.
After about an hour, the car recovery guy came out - he took a quick look, declared the horn problem linked to the immobiliser, and so disconnected the horn – simple, yet effective. And then off he went. Several hours and one family visit to MacDonald’s (well, it's almost Scottish) later, the recovery truck appeared for the caravan, having driven all the way from Perth, about two hours away. He was instructed not to assess the problem, just to recover us to a local Caravan Club site, and leave the assessment until the morning. And so ensued the precarious task of getting a big, laden caravan onto a relatively small flatbed recovery vehicle. Winches, straps, ramps and a good deal of pulling and pushing later it was safely in place. A very disheartening sight, our home for the next three months on the back of a truck, limping to a caravan site about 10 miles down the road. He set us down on our pitch and left us to make camp. At least the rain stopped, just long enough for the midges to appear! Heaven.
Frances, who couldn't stand to see the caravan coming down the ramp for fear of imminent disaster went off to explore the site, and came back with two cups of tea for she and me and two lemonades for the kids from a very kindly onlooker – and believe me, there was no shortage of those!
We woke to find ourselves in a beautiful spot – the nicest site so far, right on the water’s edge – this is a tidal loch, unlike Loch Ness. The Caravan Club recovery people made contact and organised a mechanic to come to assess the problem, who arrived around 10.00am – yep, the same guy who'd come out to fix the horn. He took a quick look, jacked the caravan, span the wheel and sure enough the noise recurred (I’d privately feared that it was all in my imagination!). He took the wheel cover off, and the problem fell to the ground – the metal cap covering the wheel hub had come off. Clearly it hadn't been properly refitted when replacing the tyres. A two minute job, one I could easily have done myself.
Oh well, at least we're somewhere nice today, not in a car park in Fort William - we're at the Caravan Club site Bunree at Oichen. We've decided to stay on today and tomorrow, and then given the forecast for more rain for the rest of the week, to head back early. We'll visit Frances' Aunt Jane in Thirsk on Wednesday on the way home, hopefully staying at a nearby site for the night.
We've had a useful day of recuperation and admin, with Frances talking to removal companies, insurance companies, garages, caravan repairers, and our letting agent and builders who've been working on repairs to our house in Sydney.
Meanwhile the kids have had a great day, mucking around on the campsite with other kids, going fishing on the shore, riding their bikes with increasing bravado and the consequent regular visits for first aid. I can still hear the feral rabble as the light fades, sounding much like the Lord of the Flies.
We'll head off for a day trip to Arisaig tomorrow – hopefully a fishing trip and a bit of beach time (we'll take, and need our wetsuits!).
And then aim to be back in time to get the awning down before the rain sets in again, with an early start on Wednesday and hopefully a stop in Glencoe.
Despite a tough day yesterday, our spirits are good – we're having fun, the caravan is very comfortable, the awning works really well (other than the rain-induced collapse the other night), the car pulls the outfit well, the bikes are a great asset, and the equipment we've brought is just about right. And Scotland, in spite of the rain, is magnificent. One thing I haven't mentioned thus far but should have done is the enormous number of motorhomes and campervans of all shapes and sizes (ranging from large through enormous to behemoth!). And so many European visitors – more European plates than UK – on Skye in particular – campervans, cars, caravans, motorbikes, even a very fancy sidecar outfit clearly for a family of four (one child using a booster seat) complete with towbar! They all clearly appreciate the majestic splendour of the Highlands and Islands as much as we will when time blurs the detail of our memories of this trip.