Tomorrow my big girl will be a big 8. And the best birthday present came a bit early, in the form of our first ever trip in a (hired) campervan. I'm not quite sure where her infatuation with campervans comes from, not that I don't understand it, after all it smells of adventure. So we went up to Perth (with a stop en route to watch the solar eclipse through a thick layer of cloud) to pick up our campervan from Big Tree Campervans for 3 days and off we went, without a plan and the Highlands right in front of us.
We didn't stop in Dunkeld - I love this town so much that we probably wouldn't have left if we had, and we didn't find the picnic place I had in mind, so by the time we had lunch, we were in Pitlochry where the fish ladder that we had stopped to see was unfortunately closed for the week. Not to worry, the birthday girl was loving watching the fishermen and soon was found digging for worms (pst, the fishermen didn't want her worms, but fortunately she didn't notice).
Having had 3 recommendations for a campsite in Aviemore, we decided to head there. A quick stop for a food shop and an outdoor jacket (we had filled our small car with stuff, but had managed to forget the birthday girl's jacket which really is kind of essential). Our first night was spent at Glenmore, a camp in the forest site, with owls and woodpeckers to keep us company at the lochside beach, to the backdrop of the snow covered Cairngorms.
The next morning, after a fun filled trip to the beach (it involved water dam building, tree planting, making a see saw, balancing on logs, duck and dog watching), we surprised Cubling with our newly hatched plan for the day: visit Loch Ness. She had done a massive show at school last year all about Nessie and we knew this would be a winner, and so it was. The weather was amazing, blue skies and the first warmth from a tentative spring sun.
We had lunch at Urquhart castle car park, and probably didn't get thrown off because it was off season. The visitor centre was arranged in a way that there was no access to shop, cafe or toilets without paying in, but thankfully they let Snowflake use the toilet anyway, and I shouldn't grumble as they left us in peace to cook up our lunch. Next stop was the Loch Ness Experience, another money making endeavour, which wasn't really worth the price tag. The girls were engrossed in the cave like set and videos with special effects, and clearly enjoyed it. But £8 for adults/ £5 for kids to watch 6 short videos and for the privilege of entering a massive souvenir shop? (not toilets again by the way) I wasn't convinced and wouldn't recommend it unless your child has done a school topic on Nessie.
We decided to head for the Loch Ness Shores campsite south of Loch Ness, which we later found out has only been open for 19 months. The road took us through Fort Augustus, which is a beautiful and sleepy place at this time of the year, and a stunning road through the mountains, past peat bogs, mountain lochs and stunning landscapes, possibly the most spectacular scenery of our trip. The campsite is located in Foyers, which is a village carved into the mountain, with an upper and lower part to it. The following day we would explore the breathtaking waterfalls and the cosy cafe at the waterfall with seriously good food and incredibly thoughtful service by a lady who in another place would probably have been retired 20 years ago.
The campsite was quite different, modern facilities and not as spectacular as the forest site of Glenmore, but run by a couple who were clearly interested in the welfare of their customers and made sure to find us the best location with easy access to both playpark and toilets. Yes, there was a playpark on the site, which was great, as well as lots of different walks along Loch Ness and into the steep hillside that connects lower with upper Foyers.
And what does my almost 8 year old want most? A campfire (not allowed on site but allowed at the shore). Stick with "old man beard" were collected, because no adventure is complete without a fire. Oh, can I see a monster shape coming out of the water?
It was a long drive home - and we went past so many places that would merit a visit. I'm sure we were all in our heads plotting our next trip, whether with campervan or wigwamming it, youth hostels or picking one of our favourite locations and looking for accommodation nearby.
I felt quite apprehensive about a campervan trip, not ever having done it before, and we didn't go the whole way and camp in the wild this time. I was surprised though that it was easy enough to cook simple foods in the van and that it was more comfortable than imagined, the bed didn't give me a sore back, and eventually we had all our stuff organised in a way that was not the total chaos of the first night. What I particularly appreciated was the brilliant communication by the rental company, their excellent customer service (in the good sense, I didn't feel like a serviced customer, but like someone just made absolutely sure that I had the best possible time on my trip), and who can argue with finding 4 fresh eggs from the rental company's hens in the fridge? I also really liked the fact that Big Tree Campervans are based in Perth, which is the best starting point for any Scottish holiday (well, ok, maybe not for Dumfries) and they even valeted our car while away (I almost didn't recognise my car it's so shiny and clean!).
And to Cubling: Happy 8th Birthday my tree hugger, fire maker, Nessie spotter, worm digger, dam builder, cartwheeler, tree climber, adventure lover! You keep me on my toes which is just as well!