Sunday dawned a glorious day and stayed that way until the very end. We were in no hurry to leave beautiful Rackwick and in many ways we both felt that we would just like to stay and put down roots.
I left the camera in the van while we took Nell for a final ramble around Burnmouth. The sun was very hot and I was wilting. Apparently Rackwick can be the warmest part of Hoy on a good day.
We were heading almost as far as it was possible to go on Hoy, to Hackness.
Hackness is in fact on the smaller island of South Walls, connected to Hoy by a causeway. South Walls has a very different character to Hoy and the contrasts were strong.
Not being in any hurry, I asked Mr Snail to pull up anywhere that looked feasible and desirable so that I could redress the lack of photos from Friday evening. In particular we wanted to investigate a lay-by that we had identified as a possible wild camping spot for the future.
Once again we were lucky not to meet oncoming traffic on the minor road - just a few cyclists, none of whom seemed very polite or friendly when we pulled over or slowed down for them. Once on the B road we pulled over so that a car following us could over-take. We were soon at the lay-by of interest and Mr Snail pulled in...
... and suddenly there were cars everywhere! We deduced that the ferry was in. It was a sunny Sunday and clearly Rackwick is a major destination at such times. Car after car sped by while I played chicken, crossing the road with my camera. Mr Snail wisely decided we should stay put until the traffic had all gone by. He spent his time surveying the ground and deciding where we might park in future.
The road should be quiet at night and there is a great view to wake up to - plus there is that useful picnic table.
Our next stop was at the Pegel Burn picnic site where I had spotted an interesting stone on Friday evening and wished to further investigate.
Thence to Hackness and the Martello Tower and Barracks. An interesting and very photogenic site, run by Historic Scotland.
Hackness Martello Tower and Battery
Bruni just squeezed through the cattle grid, with barely an inch to spare. Phew.
The knowledgeable and friendly curator made the entrance fee worthwhile. His tour of the Martello tower made the place come alive. I was unsure of the ladder to the first floor entry but managed to get up in one piece and even went up on to the roof, where the sun and a light breeze combined to make for a very pleasant experience and a marvellous view.
Despite the military order of the place, wild flowers still found a place to flourish and I was enchanted by the wild Thyme that I found clinging on here and there.
The buildings all carry plates identifying their original purpose. One building I was quite ready to find was the Latrine Block, still in use for its original purpose, though thankfully with updated facilities.
We drove off to return to Lyness in order to visit the Scapa Flow Museum, stopping at a car park on the causeway back to Hoy for our lunch. This is another spot that will serve for wild camping in the future and there is a lengthy coastal walk that starts here. I failed to take a photograph and Google Maps Streetview is not up to date.
There was a very flash RV in the car park at the museum when we arrived. We parked next to it and looked like the poor relations. Mr Snail took this opportunity to illustrate his repeated point that Brunhilde really is not all that large.
The Scapa Flow Museum looks insignificant on first drive-by and nothing can quite prepare one for the scale of the place. What at first glance appears to be a sparsely-occupied scrap yard turns out to be a wealth of interest and treasure. It is also a rust-lover's Heaven and something of a Steampunk Nirvana.
There is rust!
There are knobs!
There are cogs!
There are gauges!
There are boats! and cranes!
... and there is rust.
We visited the Romney Hut first, pausing along the way to chat with a family of ducks. The scale of the Romney Hut took me by surprise and the contents were surprising too. I had not read up on the museum before visiting and had no idea what to expect. It certainly was not this collection of historic boats. The Otter Bank was there and it was a real thrill to see her in the flesh, as it were. This gorgeous boat used to sail between Kirkwall and the outer islands. bringing the bank with it. These days our bank arrives by air.
A number of types of Orkney boats were on show, with their histories. There were boats from Shetland and Scandinavia too.
From the boathouse we went to investigate the Oil Tank (And what did you do with your weekend? Oh, we went to look at an old oil tank....) This held another surprise. It was huge on the inside and dark and very, very atmospheric. It was reminiscent of a planetarium, with the bright daylight streaming in through the rust holes.
Informational films were being projected directly on to the wall of the tank and the voice-over track reverberated eerily.
The collection housed here - eclectic! I liked best the large collection of strategically-placed yellow buckets.
We spotted the sign to the Air Raid Shelter and headed off to look at that but deduced its distance and elected to save it for another visit and so we made our way to the Oil-pumping Station, where we managed to miss out on coffee and cake as the cafe closed during our debate on whether or no the coffee would be proper or not.
The Oil-pumping station not only houses the toilets and refreshments but a lot of brass and shiny knobby twisty turny things. It is glorious. As with the rest of the site, the display is eclectic and you may look up and see models of aeroplanes, or stumble over a bicycle.
External Link: Scapa Flow Museum and Visitor Centre
There were random exhibits outside, which I had some fun with before we drove away to find a space to park up for the night. Against advice, we went to look at Wee Fea, where the access actually proved perfectly suitable for Brunhilde. The views were fantastic. The midge quotient was low.
As we pulled up, we saw a car already parked there. The owner was out and operating this
and that caused much excitement as this drone was the very model that Mr Snail has contemplated buying. He engaged on conversation that was somewhat one-sided as the other half of it was extremely Orcadian and frankly the old man did not understand very much of it.
We had quite some miles to cover but were by now on far faster roads. The boring ones. At least they were not narrow, not until we were closing in on our night stop, a CL at a pub close to Ingleton. The day started out reasonably fair but by the time that we reached the camp site, it was pouring with rain. Our host appeared somewhat grumpy to see us and said had he known how large we were he would not have accepted us. Mr Snail pointed out that he had been absolutely specific when booking.
The site was full and clearly with "regulars". Due to the grumpiness we did not feel any need to go and have a civilised pint. The site was pricey, considering the basic nature so we did not feel bad about not eating or drinking in the pub. It had been a long day and we just wished to sleep.
No photos, it was far too wet.
Saturday, April 2nd
We had an early start as we were meeting up with the extended Snail family in Ingleton, so that they might admire Hank. We parked in the car park at Country Harvest (which would make a cracking good Britstop) to await the arrival of the Pocklington contingent, who were less than five minutes behind us. A miracle of planning and organisation. A hearty breakfast ensued before they went onward (I think, to the Lakes) and we went homeward.
Our destination was a lay-by at Beattock, back in Scotland at last. This is a place well known to us as we often stopped there to exercise the dogs when travelling between Wanlockhead and Moffat when we lived up in the Southern Uplands. It was still very wet when we parked up and there were large puddles to be avoided.
In the course of the evening we changed our plans, which originally had us going up Glencoe and using a Britstop at Loch Leven, with a good seafood dinner thrown into the mix. We elected instead to dash up North and spend three nights resting up at Glenmore, using the dining out money to pay campsite fees instead.
I did get a photograph in the morning of Hank on location. The rain had all but stopped by then. It did not stay stopped for long.
Sunday, April 3rd
Sunday is always a good day to pass through the Central Belt. I admit it, we planned it that way. We wanted to cover a lot of miles. We fuelled up at Abington which was where Teddy chose to travel on the dash instead of hanging around my neck as usual. He hardly moved all of the time that we were travelling.
We ate a hearty but late breakfast which by this time we were more than ready for.
Then we legged it up the A9 to Glenmore Forest.
I took a series of snapshots of our progress-with-cat.
We had stayed at Glenmore before and knew the pitches to be large enough. We had no worries. However, when we got there not only was the site very full but also some pitches were out of action due to recent heavy rain and flooding. The wardens were very helpful however and found us a gravel pitch where we would not sink into the mire. It meant parking sideways on but it was fortunately very handy for walking out into the wood and onto the beach.
Nell was beside herself with joy - she knew exactly where she was! We all of us enjoy Glenmore. Even when it is full of holidaying families. Even in the rain.
We had boots with us and waterproofs. Nothing was going to stop us from enjoying our break from travel.
We walked around out to Loch Morlich beach as soon as we were settled.
On Monday we walked around Loch Morlich in some rather soggy weather.
One of the reasons that we wanted to spend a few days at Glenmore was due to the possibility of overwintering there on a seasonal pitch. It was quite cold up there and we were finding Hank nowhere near as snug as Brunhilde had been. Mr Snail volunteered to catch the bus into Aviemore and go shopping for a little fan heater as that would provide not just warmth but some good practical research into how we might manage living there without car to zip around in.
He was there and back in no time at all. We were soon warmed up. I made use of the laundry whilst he was gone.
On Tuesday we tried on of the marked walks that we had not used before and took a stroll up to the Green Loch (Loch Uaine), still in rather damp weather. There was a quantity of mist about but only sufficient to make the views enchanting and not enough to make us feel miserable or in any danger of being lost.
There were plenty of other walkers about and it was difficult to feel the usual sense of peace when ambling in the forest as families on cycles hurtled past..
It was worth the hike to the loch and we would have liked to go further, at least as far as the bothy but the pace of the last three weeks was getting to us by then.
We saved the walk extension for next time. Glenmore remains our favourite site and we shall return time and again.
It was worth the long drive up to Glenmore in a single day in order to have a 3 night stay and a proper break. We felt all the better for it, though by Wednesday I think we were all pretty happy to be thinking about home.
Wednesday, 6th April
The run up to Dornoch, and thereafter to the ferry, is by now routine. I had some doubts about whether we would be able to access the usual spot in our stupidly large van but the access proved to be wider than I remembered it to be and we manage to snug in. Hank is honestly a little large for the car park at the beach but with careful parking it is just about doable.
Nell's joy at being in Glenmore was nothing compared to her sheer ecstasy at being back at Dornoch. I think this must be her most favourite place after home.
It was Ceridwen's first time, as well as Hank's.
We had two other vans for overnight company.
Thursday, 7th April and home on Friday
The run up to the ferry was uneventful. We filled up with both petrol and LPG at Skeach Services, realising only later (when we learned that the vehicle is actually taller than we were told when we bought it) that we must have had only centimetres clearance between the AC unit and the canopy.
Hank made light work of Berriedale Braes. It was a breeze compared to the times we have done it in Brunhilde... or the Land Rover.
We were impressed.
It was a good run and we were at Sibster Forest, just outside Thurso, by lunchtime. Nell had a lovely walk and we had a good lunch and rested until it was time to go for the evening ferry.
Hank does not fit in the lines at the ferry queue and so we were directed to park up with the lorries at the quayside.
It was a good crossing and once we were back on Orkney we made our way to Brodgar for the night. We had the place to ourselves.
The lines at the North Isles ferry are also too narrow for Hank and so we had to park him out of the way again when we went for the morning ferry home to Sanday.
It was quite a tight fit on the boat.
Backing Hank in through the gate and up the track proved to be nowhere near as difficult as either of us had anticipated. He went through at the second time of asking. Here he is, installed at home.
After our tight squeeze and our failure to reach Rhyd, we were back to debating whether or not to keep Hank. The weight of opinion was for returning to retrieve Brunhilde but that would mean that our final week would involve a lot of very long days. We continued to discuss what to do throughout the day and well into the evening.
I was very jumpy about routes and did some checking. Just as well that I did - there was an arch in the walls at Conwy that we could not pass through without removing our mirrors. We took a detour! I was glad that we were prepared and did not suffer another surprise like yesterday's.
It was a beautiful sunny day and really quite warm. We stopped at Caernarfon to stock up the larder.
We parked easily in the "Buses only" car park behind Tesco. There was plenty of room and we happily stumped up the £3 bus parking fee.
We treated Nell to a good long walk on the footpath beside the Menai Strait.
Then took our detour to a destination that we were very excited about. A Britstop outside Conwy, the Groes Inn is an historic pub with a good reputation for food. It was time for us to scrub up and to have a really good meal.
It was to be the highlight of our trip.
We parked by the Petanque square and considered digging out our Boules later in the evening.
We popped in to the bar say that we had arrived, to book a table for dinner and had a swift afternoon pint whilst we were about it. I liked the Inn. It was rather posh (for us) but not at all stuffy or fussy and the young hospitality team were very friendly and helpful.
We could not waste the glorious weather and asked about footpaths for dog walking. There were none! We had to walk along narrow lanes with high hedges and no verge. Not ideal.
After showering and getting changed, I checked out the Inn's Facebook page in the hope of finding a menu. What I found was a post made that very day, saying that they had vacancies for kitchen staff. Perhaps I should have paused to think on that.
Dinner was to put it politely, a disappointment. Mr Snail's starter of black pudding, bacon and poached egg was excellent indeed, freshly made, beautifully presented and quite delicious. I did not fare quite so well with my grilled aubergine and feta salad. We had picked the same main course, slow-cooked Belly Pork, and as soon as it came to the table I could tell at a glance that the meal was not hot - it was dull, congealed and giving off no steam. I was correct; it was not at all hot and I had to return mine to the kitchen, where it was nuked and re-plated rather less attractively. Tasty enough but the skin was entirely wet and gelatinous, making the whole dish somewhat revolting.
Not to go into too much detail, the service was patchy. The arrival of the wine was very late and the veg were brought to the table some time after the meat plate.
Dessert was massively disappointing, all the more so because we had lashed out on a bottle of our favourite dessert wine, Elysium. Both of our chosen desserts were very tired-looking, as though they had been plated up on Sunday and left out uncovered. Executed initially well enough, they would have been good if fresh, but they tasted as dull as they looked.
It was not all bad, my request to have my chocolate tart served with a scoop of their cinnamon ice cream on the side instead of whipped cream was cheerfully met and the ice cream was delicious indeed.
We passed on the coffee as they could only offer Nespresso and not real coffee - so we went back to the van and fired up the Espresso pot.What kind of upmarket establishment fails to serve freshly ground coffee!
After supping a whole bottle of Elysium between us on top of sherry and the main course wine, I was no longer hankering for a game of Petanque.
We discussed the meal and how underwhelming it had been despite how well the menu read and the Inn's reputation. I concluded, given the earlier post regarding kitchen staff, that they were suffering a kitchen staffing crisis and had been fire-fighting. Everything added up to the suggestion that they were short of chefs and that the chef staff that they did have on hand were addressing just those dishes that had to have immediate attention - such as Mr Snail's Black Pudding and Poached Egg, which was faultless. Everything else looked as though it had been plated up in advance to be dealt with by lesser-skilled hands.
Overall we decided not to damn the restaurant out of hand and would give it a second chance some other time. It still left a foul taste in the mouth as we had pushed the boat out after looking forward to this for weeks and had spent a great deal of money on a less than distinguished meal. The high point of our break turned out to be quite a slump. At least the view from Hank's window was a good one.
It was decision time, the crunch point. Would we go get Brunhilde back or would we hang on to Hank and go straight home. In the end we elected to retain Hank for a while longer, perhaps up to two years. It was really the idea of the extra mileage and very long days that it would take to get home again if we returned now to Cheltenham. Tomorrow we would be leaving Wales and returning to Yorkshire but we were still not in love with Hank.