By Sheila A Grant
August 2021 and my newly converted campervan was ready to go. I had reflected for six months on my impetuous purchase. COVID was restricting the country and I was fed up! Oh, to get away on relaxing breaks with freedom of choice, no restrictions and the prospect of visiting favourite spots in Scotland.
As word got out on my investment whispers of gossip reached me. ‘Silly old moo’ and ‘for goodness sake she is 79!’ were two viewpoints. I preferred the likes of ‘go for it, life is for living’ or from the grandchildren, ‘Grannie, you are really cool’. There would be no more abandoning Cleo, my beloved Spaniel, in kennels. Together we would enjoy our hikes in the countryside, splash along beaches and relax in the sun. I could see freedom and it was the open road.
On collection I was briefly introduced to the dashboard and gadgets before heading home to transfer what looked like an awful lot of gear into the limited space. Beryl, a Toyota Alphard with 22,000 miles on the clock had once been a six-seater taxi in Tokyo. She looked sparklingly new after her conversion boasting an impressive V6 engine that could even satisfy Jeremy Clarkson.
Packing was time consuming with neighbours hovering around curious to meet Beryl. Food was in the fridge, clothes were laid out tidily (initially) on the shelves above the driving seat and settee, but knickers and bras were hidden under a silk dressing gown. You never know who you might meet! Dog food, gas tank, water carrier, electric attachment were all allocated a space. However, the one and only cupboard was occupied by the Porta Potty. As an extra I added a small microwave to the kitchen worktop allowing for the luxury of M&S meals.
By 3pm I was finally ready, with Cleo attached safely to a hook on the floor, we were off on the first of hopefully many adventures. Neighbours lined the street waving us off like royalty, and did I imagine a few worried faces?
Reluctant to stray too far from home I was booked into a small site at Lochearnhead as I was familiar with the route as far as Stirling and had few qualms about the final stretch. August was nearing its end and the countryside looked beautiful. I was so excited and enjoying the drive, sitting high and finding Beryl easy to handle.
Arriving at Stirling within a couple of hours I kept my eyes peeled for a sign to Callander. So many roundabouts with exits leading to all points of the compass. Seems Stirling County Council had fallen behind cutting back the trees and the massive foliage concealed all the road numbers. Did Brexit
or COVID get the blame? After an hour driving along a lovely country road with still no sign of Callander my chances of arriving on time looked slim.
Route finder had shown three routes and I had chosen the fastest estimated time – one hour and forty-three minutes. It was now around three hours since I had left home on a high. I switched on Beryl’s large and efficient-looking Satnav. Crystal clear images illustrated routes around the streets of Tokyo narrated by what sounded like an irate man shouting orders, or perhaps it was an update on the Olympics. No damn use to someone lost in the Trossachs.
Resorting to an Ordnance Survey map it appeared I was now nearing Aberfoyle. From there a rather slender road would take me to Lochearnhead. This route would introduce me to the Duke’s Pass, all new ground to me.
This road trip is one of Scotland’s most iconic drives. Ideal for drivers and cyclists the undulating roads and steep climbs and descents make this an entertaining route through the heart of The Trossachs. Aberfoyle and Brig O Turk are the start/finish points of this drive with several lochs, mountains and forests to be viewed along the way.
(From the Guide to Loch Lomond and The Trossachs)
Viewed? Entertaining? It was a white knuckle drive and not for the faint hearted. My eyes were glued to the way ahead. A road with sharp bends and tight angled corners, it was like driving on a fairground dipper. Glimpses of water on the periphery of my vision subtly warned me that one false move could find us at a watery end.
Meeting oncoming traffic at a blind corner I swung closer to the left edge of the road to avoid the clash of wing mirrors. The microwave that I had so proudly added, flew majestically off the shelf, missing Cleo by a hair’s breadth, before nearly dislocating my left shoulder and smashing into the cup holder on the dashboard.
I drew in to the first lay-by and tried to calm both myself and the dog down. Poor Cleo was most reluctant to go back into the van showing no sign of getting back on the road. She remains an unenthusiastic traveller to this day, especially when I am at the wheel. Oh ye of little faith!
Arriving at Kilmahog (sounds suspiciously like ‘kill my dog’) we then reached a junction with a sign pointing to Callander, a mere one and a half miles east. I had driven the scenic route without the pleasure of actually seeing the views. However,
I was feeling more confident as there was only one road of choice and we were now on it.
One day I hope to return to the area and see places like The Falls of Leny and the surrounding peaks of the Trossachs.
The road now meandered along the side of Loch Vennachar and we soon reached Strathyre.
Lay-bys and draw-in spots were full of people enjoying their evening picnics. I was green with envy and wished someone would chuck a sausage roll in my direction. I had yet to find Base Camp.
After Strathyre what a relief it was to see ‘Lochearnhead’ on a signpost. I wanted to run over and hug it. The guide book said the site was at the side of the loch so I turned in the first road that did exactly that. Wrong road! The camp site was on the north side of the loch and I was on the south. So, after a muddy ten point turn on a road that had deteriorated into a rough track, it was back to the main road, turning on the north road and, after a short drive, there it was – Lochearnhead Camping Site.
The gate was closed!
A fellow campervanner took pity on my desolate expression and opened the gate, directing me to an empty spot, saying the manager would ‘sort things out in the morning’.
Electricity connected, off for a quick walk incorporating a visit to the facilities then back to a working microwave (yes, it survived), a warm meal and a most welcome cup of tea. We breathed in the smell of loch, pine and heather, finally relaxing. The bed dropped down with ease and two survivors of a rather challenging journey collapsed exhausted, relieved to have completed the first day of hopefully many more adventures.
What would the next day bring?