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‘Duckie’ comes out

With a rumble of diesel exhaust our newest acquisition trundles slowly out of Carradale in the rain, heading for a spot of wild camping further up the Kintyre peninsula. Several things strike us immediately. The enormously long windscreen wiper blades that shoot across our field of vision every few seconds taking a bucket-load of water from the acreage of front windscreen at each stroke. These are a feat of engineering on their own. Then there is the seven-speed gear box (one of these gears is for going backwards) which encourages a new way of thinking about driving, one where engine speed is almost as important as road speed. And once we are moving we are struck by how quiet it is, the powerful engine barely catching its breath on the single track road along Kilbrannan Sound. Some miles later we simply turn the wheel to the left and glide to a halt on some grass beside the road in the dark, a road that ends just beyond the next bend or two, and we listen to the sound of the sea not twenty metres away from our back door. Wild camping at CloanaigWe also count the traffic passing us; there were four cars that night and then at around eight in the morning the bus came along.

We are still babies at this motor-caravanning stuff, mere novices at the game. Our first night we sleep soundly on the cross-wise double berth which we later realise was at a considerable angle of tilt. We have the technology on board to adjust this – some ramps to raise up the lower wheels –  but in the rain and dark it hardly seems worthwhile. Sleep is more important. Our mobile escape pod has brought us somewhere different but the ‘where’ is not important just now, nor is the position of our heads relative to our bottoms.

We are heading in a northerly direction and next day find ourselves in Oban where we stock up on food and acquire a new battery to provide us with light inside the van. A cool box is installed which is supposed to provide us with the means to keep food fresh but we discover later that this was a poor investment which draws much electrical power for very little cooling effect. Beyond Tyndrum the road rises to the bleak wilderness that is Rannoch Moor then suddenly around a corner the ‘Big Shepherd’ of Etive comes into view, dominating the landscape and I am transported back forty years to when this massive mountain signified the end of a long overnight drive from London and the start of a week of climbing amongst the peaks and valleys of Glencoe. Glencoe

For more years than I care to remember this place has been a favourite of mine, top of the list of places I want to be. It comes with so many familiar corners all of which are full of memories, of experiences with friends I have long lost touch with, and then more recent adventures with Kate and our young sons. We recall that it was in May 1987 that we walked and carried our children up a path leading out of the Glen to the magical Coire Gabhail, known to all as the Lost Valley. Our youngest, Ben, was barely two years old and bounced along in a backpack papoose slung on our shoulders. The other two boys climbed with only our encouragement to spur them on. Would the weather hold for tomorrow so we could retrace our steps of 25 years ago?

In the campsite called ‘The Red Squirrel’ we park our bus beside the river Coe then tramp up the road for a meal in the Clachaig Inn, thus opening up another set of memories for me which I shall keep to myself for another time.

Kate & Duckie at the Red Squirrel campsite

We are learning rapidly about the art of caravanning, setting up on a level site, taking time to explore to make sure we can locate the toilets and showers which may be tucked away out of sight in some odd corner. Our van is equipped with everything for basic needs but not being a professionally done conversion it is delightfully quirky inside, which makes using it a real pleasure. It feels very big inside but we soon realise that compared with most motorhomes it is quite compact, bijou even. On the road it feels like we are driving in a big bus and then when we pull up for the night it suddenly becomes just the right size for us. Experienced caravanners the world over will know that the waste water bucket has to be positioned just so beneath the sink pipe and it is important not to drive away over it in the morning but these are skills we are just acquiring. Many campsites offer mains electricity for caravans and although we can connect our van to this we are puzzled as to what use to make of it. Life aboard a boat has taught that there is little that is essential to life that needs mains electricity to function so for the moment we save our pennies and manage without. We are self-contained and self-sustaining in our own little world.Lost Valley from Glencoe

The next day, after breakfast and a short drive back up the glen, we park Duckie (‘Ducato’ is the Italian for duck, surely) then leave behind the coachload of Japanese tourists to follow the trail to the Lost Valley. A descent to the river then we climb solidly for the next hour and a half, take an unwanted detour up some loose scree, but finally re-locate our route through the boulder-field that once formed part of the side of the mountain of Geàrr Aonach. Many thousands of years ago there was such a rock fall here that the route into our valley was closed off forever, lost from sight. The stream (Allt Coire Gabhail) dammed up behind the debris caused a build up of small stones which now form an almost level gravelly base to the valley floor, the size of three or four football pitches, and the stream now disappears beneath this, to emerge innocently much lower down from beneath one of the enormous fallen boulders.Kate with Ben  in Lost Valley The path up weaves in and out of these colossal lumps of rock before emerging onto the valley floor which is such a surprising contrast to the steepness of the surrounding peaks that it just takes the breath away. Kate & Mal in the Lost ValleyI cannot explain the magic of this place but here is Kate carrying a two year-old Ben and here we are in Coire Gabhail twenty-five years on – we keep coming back. I would like to say nothing has changed but even the mountains, which change on a geological timescale, will not be quite the same as they were then.

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