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Monday, March 19, 2012

Isle of Arran to Killin, Scotland, U.K. – March 14-17, 2012

As it is with all travel, some experiences don’t live up to your expectations while other, seemingly innocuous experiences turn into fantastic memories.

The Isle or Arran falls into the former category; I would rank it up there with Iceland on the marketing scale and the experiences were much the same.  They are both islands, they have incredible scenery and wonderful hiking, but neither lived up to their marketing material when it came to picturesque towns or gourmet restaurants.

Both nights on the island we stayed at the functional Lochranza Campground (and golf course) and managed one hike.  Most people hike up Goat Fell (the highest peak on the island) but we decided to hike the Gleann Easan Biorach trail mostly because it started about ¼ mile from the campground and wound its way along a river and back into a valley.  I love a good valley hike!

It started out as a great hike but quickly turned to a slog- and bog- fest.  The recent rains (and snow) had left portions of the trail in deep quicksand-like mud.  We often sunk to depths over our boots and the dogs were black up to their stomachs.  Not being in this for torture, we turned at two miles, returned to Curry, got cleaned up (washed the dogs in the outside shower) and hit the Arran Malt Distillery tour.   Following the tour (and tasting) we loaded up on two bottles; one that was finished in a Port cask for me (it is a delightful apricot color and a bit sweeter than the others) and a more traditional single cask number for Alan.  We made it back to Curry just in time as the rain and wind set in for the night.

It was a long and mostly sleepless night with Curry swaying around in the wind (these European motorhomes are so light it doesn't take much to make them move.)  So we were up early and ready to hit the ferry.  A quick stop at the local bakery in Broddick garnered us a delicious loaf of multigrain bread and two sweet pastries. 

Now, a side note here:  There are lots of great reasons to travel in the off-season (like touring a castle by yourself) but it is much more difficult in a motorhome as most of the camping areas are closed.  So we knew we wanted to head to the Highlands but couldn’t find an open campground along the way until Killin.  In Killin, after a long day that started on a ferry and involved many highways and by-ways including the busy traffic through Glasgow, we decided the caravan park that was open just did not look comfortable enough so we backtracked to the very comfortable looking Bridge of Lochay Hotel.  And this became a prime example of a destination that exceeded our expectations.

The Hotel itself was charming with a large sitting room where guests mingled, cocktails in hand, around the fire before enjoying their gourmet meal in the restaurant.  For our dinner, we had to sit in the “back bar” so The Noses could participate but we were cozy next to the wood stove and perfectly happy with our homemade pumpkin tortellini and Scottish beef fillet.  The presentation too was gorgeous and the service perfect.

After a great night's sleep, two long, hot showers and an equally delicious breakfast of free range eggs and porridge (Alan is still practicing how to pronounce that after being given a lesson by our waiter who was sure he kept saying, “poached egg”) , we set off to hike Sron A’ Chlachain, a one mile trail straight up the hill overlooking Killin and Loch Tay (apparently the hearty Scottish do not need switch-backs.)   The hike provided us with stunning views and a great way to work off that delicious meal.

Leaving Killin we headed north toward Loch Ness and had no stopping spot in mind other than to find a caravan park that was open.  If the road doesn’t give you a heart attack, the views will along the A827 between Killin and Aberfeldy surely will.  And if you are in the area during the right time of year (which seems to start April 1) there are two excellent caravan park options one in Killin (Margowan) and one in Aberfeldy.  Both are pretty parks with nice big gravel pitches and sit along a river within easy walking distance to town.  If either of these had been open we would have stayed in the area much longer.

As it was, we continued north and when the clocked chimed 4:00 it was time to carpe pitchem:  We have an agreement that if we are on the road at 4:00, we must take the first open caravan park we find--no debating.  So we stopped in Faskally at a completely serviceable caravan park.  The following morning I discovered another unexpected joy:  It had a great trail along the river that I enjoyed in the frosty early morning sun with The Noses.


-        As I mentioned, most caravans use a cartridge system for their black and grey water, but we are finding quite a few places that are starting to put in “Motor Home Dumping Points” which, at a minimum, allow you to drive over and dump your grey tank water down a sewer connection.  Still hoping to find one that accepts the same process for the black tank.  Salt time is near!
 - For hiking, most people rely on "OS" Maps (Ordinace Survey), they are easily found at all tourist information sites (for a small fee.)