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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Scottish Highlands & Cairngorms National Park, Scotland, U.K. – March 18-20, 2012

More Pictures Here!  (But remember, it is Winter so the trees are bare and the heather has not flowered.  Can’t imagine how stunning it will be in a few months.)

Surely the painter who named all the earthy colors did so while sitting in Scotland.  Driving through the Highlands you discover a patchwork of colors likely seen on any palette:  The Raw Sienna and Burnt Umber hillsides sprinkled with Davey’s Grey rocks;  the pastures of Hooker’s Green dotted with white sheep; and, when the clouds part, a sky so completely Cerulean Blue it makes you wonder if you have ever seen a blue sky before. 

Was that description too artsy?  How about envisioning endless rolling hillsides running up to snow-packed peaks, with towns nestled next to rushing rivers or calming lakes?  (And let’s not forget the scotch!) Scotland has the beauty of Switzerland (and you know I love Switzerland) with the rustic feel of Spain topped off with the friendliness of Italy. 

Unfortunately, it has the weather of Iceland.  (Indeed, Dalwhinnie is tied with Iceland as having the coldest average temperature at 6° Celsius.)

But it wasn’t only the scenery that marked Scotland as our first Must Return location; we just didn’t get to see as much of it as we would have liked.  As I mentioned before, we have been somewhat stymied by the time of year (not a lot of caravan parks are open yet this far north) and the inflexibility of Curry.  There were so many tempting roads leading into the valleys of Cairngorms National Park that we would have jumped on in the Pepper (after detaching Salt, of course) but could not even attempt with Curry. 

As for the drive up, we left Faskally and headed across the Glen Spean area of A86 (a Must See) and over to search for Nessie in Loch Ness.  Alan had hunted up a couple of caravan parks that advertised “Open March to September” so we thought we were safe.    But apparently “Open March” really means somewhere near the end of the month; one place we stopped at opened the following day (19th) the other opened on the 23rd.  So we had a nice long drive around Loch Ness before heading to the site that advertised, very definitively, “Open All Year”, at Granton-on-Spey.  (A reminder:  All our camping sites are further described in the Campground page at the top of the blog.)

Now the town of Granton-on-Spey doesn’t rank terribly high in the cuteness category, but it makes up for it with its useful stores (butcher, baker, money maker [bank]) and welcoming people.  We took many a long hike from the campground up into the hills, crossing pastures, meeting horses and tiring out The Noses before heading into town for a half of Best.  Okay, a full of Best.

It was during one of these morning walks that we met some fellow travelers and fell into a conversation.  I felt like I hadn’t spoken to someone in such detail for ages!  Then I realized what it was; they were English and not Scottish.  Therefore we could actually understand what they were saying thus making for a much more interesting conversation.  It was from these nice people that we learned the European description for what we are doing—it is not a Holiday but a Gap Year.  (Incidentally, the Europeans are not shocked at all that we are on a Gap Year.  It seems traveling abroad for a year or more is much more common over here.)

If it wasn’t for S&P’s imminent arrival (or so we hope) we would have stayed much longer.  There is a fantastic system of trails that link the towns throughout the valley and we were disappointed that we did not get the opportunity to hike to any of them (bussing back, of course.)

We are on our way down south now, one night in Edinburgh at the gorgeous Edinburgh Caravan Club site (the US had a lot to learn about RV Parks) and two nights planned in the Lake District.  Including a quick visit to the Airstream dealer. 

Upcoming postings include a Scenic Drive of the North York Moors National Park (if I can ever get a strong enough internet connection to get it uploaded) and details on adjustments we are planning for Salt’s evolution from a US Travel Trailer to a European Caravan.