Well, how lucky have we been? Sun and clear skies have accompanied us on our journey north from Inverness to the top of Scotland. It seems we picked the perfect window in the weather to explore a section of the NC500. It was more an NC100 rather than 500 as we didn’t have time to do it all. My nephew, who we met up with in Thurso, said he had never seen weather like it in the three years he has lived there. Totes amaze! We meandered along the section across the top of the Highlands from Durness in the west to Duncansby Stacks in the east before heading south for a few days in Edinburgh. Now, I could blather on and on, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah about the spectacular scenery and beautiful weather but I’m not even going to try. The pictures say it all. So here they are………….
Well the Isle of Skye has certainly come up trumps with the weather. Apart from one misty morning it has all been wall to wall sunshine. So much so I’ve burnt the back of my knees. Doh! The first thing that struck us when we arrived on Skye at the ferry port in Uig is that we weren’t going to have the island to ourselves. I suppose that’s not surprising as it is said to be the most visited destination in Scotland.
We started our tour off on the Trotternish Peninsular north of Uig to do some walking in the Quiraing, an area famous for its rock pinnacles, sheer cliffs and rock formations.
What a great couple of days walking we had amongst the rocks then up onto the top with far reaching views across towards the mainland.
We saw several sightings of cuckoos perched on the rocks in those two days. I tell you, from never having seen a cuckoo in the flesh before we have seen more than you can shake a stick at up here.
Further south towards Portree the Old Man of Storr, the most celebrated column of rock on the island, is a real draw for visitors. We planned on an early shin up the hill and back before all the crowds arrived but with the clouds down over the hills that morning we didn’t see much. The low cloud/mist did clear in and out but we didn’t think the Old Man was as spectacular as all the hype makes it out to be.
The views on the way back down under the cloud line were impressive though.
We’d started our walk at about eight o’clock and it took about an hour and a half to get up there and back but by the time we got down the parking areas on both sides of the road were full and a steady stream of people were on their way up. It was time to move on!
We made a quick pit stop in Portree at the free long stay car park for a wander round the harbour area followed by the weekly shop at the Co-op there.
The Co-op seems to have a monopoly on the Outer Hebrides and Skye as there isn’t really any other choice other than a few tiny mini markets dotted about. It’s a shame because we’ve lost the will to live in every single one of them. It’s not what they stock that is lacking but the fact that there always seem to be member’s of staff replenishing the shelves in virtually every single aisle taking up nearly all the space with cages of new stock and empty packaging all over the place. All their shops seem to have narrow aisles making it extremely tedious to get round other shoppers and staff. I don’t blame the staff as they are only doing their job but why can’t they restock when the store is closed or not a peak times? Why?! Even Tim who is normally patience personified has succumbed to trolley rage almost dumping a half filled trolley in an aisle and stomping off back to the van. He probably would have done if he could have found a space in an aisle to park it. Anyway, rant over. And relax!
With clear blue skies and temperatures in the low twenties it was a chance to cook outside again.
I grant you it’s not often you would see sausage curry on the menu of an Indian restaurant but in the absence of any other form of meat it had to do. Try it, we recommend it!
We walked the four miles or so from our overnight stop across open moorland to Dunvegan Castle, the seat of the Clan Macleod since the thirteenth century but at £14 each to go in we gave it a miss and had coffee and cake at Jann’s Cakes in the village instead.
The following day we cycled to Claigan Coral Beaches just north of Dunvegan. The sand is made up of calcified maerl (seaweed) and tiny sea shells. Our guide book says that ‘on a sunny day the white sands and aqua water could almost be the Carribean’ but that description is probably stretching it a bit as there wasn’t much aqua water to be seen as it was full of seaweed.
It was a nice spot for lunch though. I think we weren’t totally wowed by it after having experienced the beaches of the Outer Hebrides.
A big draw for walkers on Skye is the Cuillin mountain range which has over twenty Munros to be bagged. The Munro baggers visiting Skye for the week must have been kicking their legs in the air on account of the clear blue sky weather we were having making for spectacular walking in the hills. With not an OS map between us though we played it safe with a lovely circular walk around the coast of the Suisnish peninsular which gave us excellent views of the mountains in the distance.
Our final night on Skye we parked up at Kyleakin with a view of the bridge. Whilst having a cup of tea with our door open a van parked up next to us with New Zealand flags adorning one of the windows. A young lad appeared at our door to introduce himself and we spent the next hour or so hearing all about his travels. At ten years old he is far more well travelled than we are having visited nearly every country in Europe. He and his parents are on the last few months of an eighteen month tour of Europe before shipping back their van, which they’d bought in the UK, to New Zealand. Marvellous.
So that was Skye. Again, we didn’t have time to see all that was to see but time is marching on and we need to get a move on.
Across the causeway from Eriskay brings you into South Uist, home to long, white, sandy beaches on the west coast and rolling peat moors, inlets and rocky hills on the east coast. There are sooo many deserted beaches on these islands. Waking up in the morning and rolling out of the van straight onto a sandy beach all to myself to do my morning exercise routine has been another highlight of our trip. Swinging about a couple of little yellow dumbbells whilst watching sanderlings skitter up and down the shoreline or listening to a couple of terns squawking their displeasure at having unwanted company sure beats wiping down the sweat of the previous occupant on the equipment at my local gym before using it. Of course I don’t do this routine every morning as I’m really not that disciplined but when I do remember to do it and make the effort it is always worth it…….even more so on an empty beach without curious onlookers making me feel acutely self conscious and ridiculous…….except on one occasion when two gorgeous coffee and cream coloured young bullocks watched me with expressions that distinctly said WTF?
After our first night on South Uist the fickle hand of the weather had us scuttling off to Lochboisdale on the other side of the island to seek some refuge from the wind which had battered us overnight at our exposed position right behind the beach. As I’ve mentioned before high winds have us praying that our roof vents will still be intact when we wake up in the morning. Being made of plastic they really aren’t the best and the wind manages to get under them constantly making them rattle. Tim has solved the problem on three of them with a simple system of elastic bands and suckers to hold them in place but we have one which is a wind up affair with an integral fan within it which makes it impossible for that solution to work without taking it to bits and punching a hole through a fly screen. On the second night of the ruddy thing rattling and constantly waking us up Tim got up in the early hours to deal with it. I woke up a few hours later to find the temporary solution in place. Mmm, not ideal but it did give us a few hours of uninterrupted sleep.
Cable ties have sorted the little blighter out now. We can’t open it or use the fan and the fly screen is in tatters but that’s the price we have to pay for a better nights sleep and it’s preferable to a hole in the roof.
Once at Lochboisdale we found some shelter behind a couple of containers in the harbour and sat out the inclement weather until it was time in the early evening to visit the hotel bar, sit round an open fire and upload the last blog post. As there are next to no trees on the islands I asked the lady behind the bar if it was expensive to import wood or coal. She said they buy a tonne of coal at a time which a few years ago cost them £700 but now costs £1300 and they sometimes mix it with peat if they’ve cut any that year. Peat used to be an important natural fuel source here on the islands but now electricity, oil and gas have largely taken over.
A couple of days later we were waylayed by the most perfect pile of peat we’d ever seen before. It was a work of art I tell you.
We had to stop and take a photo of it. The owner of the house was pottering about outside and after checking it was OK to take a photo he very happily answered all our questions about it. He gathers it once a year from the moorland which has been allocated to him and it takes six people just one day to cut enough peat to supply his home with free energy for cooking, hot water and heat for an entire year. After it’s cut it’ll take him three to four days of numerous trips to get it back to the house where he spends the next two weeks of his spare time building his masterpiece to dry it out before it can be used. Marvellous. The actual pile in the pictures is half of what it was and he showed us a framed picture of the completed work of art.
He also told us all about how the peat is cut and showed us the tools they use which he keeps submerged in water all year round. We were so glad we stopped and it is good to see an old tradition alive and well.
Two consecutive days of clear dry weather had us out on the bikes again. Apart from the punishing wind it really is a great place for cyclists and we’ve seen many a happy smiling cycle tourer blasting along with a tail wind heading north. Those heading south are generally grimacing but I’m sure they’re enjoying every minute of it. For us, as we are doing circular routes or out and back routes, it’s fifty fifty for the wind with or against us…..grimace on the way out and smile on the way back.
A day of walking followed where we had intended to walk to Uisinis Bothy and back on the eastern side of the island but was curtailed when we realised, when the path fizzled out after an hour or so, that we’d taken the wrong fork earlier on so retraced our steps and spent a while listening to the birds over a long lunch overlooking the sea.
The cycle of the weather has been such that a couple of days of decent weather have been followed by a wet and wild one. Either a library or a museum come in handy on those days. The Kildonan Museum on the A865 is a very pleasant place to while away an hour or so followed by coffee and cake in the attached cafe. It tells the story of Island life through its exhibits, collections and pictures.
Benbecula gets quite an unkind write up by our guide saying ‘the only reason to come to Balivanich, Benbecula’s grim, grey capital, is if you are flying into or out of Benbecula airport, or you need an ATM or supermarket’. As the weather had closed in again with mist and drizzle I confess we did what most people probably do and that is drive straight across it to get to North Uist. It is apparently pancake flat but we couldn’t tell as the mist denied us seeing it. We did stop at the Co-op to do our weekly shop though to spread our spending on all the islands less one feel left out.
North Uist is more of the same landscapes as we had seen on South island but I don’t mean that in any disparaging way at all but I’m running out of superlatives to describe how fabulous these islands are.
You see some curious things when out either walking or cycling. From a couple of fields away, through the binoculars, I spotted a sheep with all four legs in the air. I dimly remember reading something somewhere that said if a sheep is on its back then it’s not that way deliberately and will die if it’s not turned over. Well we got to her and got her turned over but she was too weak to get up so we went to the nearest house to let them know.
The very friendly lady who answered went next door to talk to who she thought was the owner. We didn’t linger around as there wasn’t anything else we could do so hopefully she was saved. I looked it up later and, when the sheep is in the upside down position like that, it’s the gasses in their stomach from all that grass eating that swell up and eventually press on their lungs eventually suffocating them. They don’t get into that position on purpose but it can happen if they are carrying lambs or their fleece is heavy with water.
Another curious sight also involving sheep happened after we’d done a long walk around the peninsular at Granitote. Traigh Ear beach at low tide is a vast expanse of hard packed sand. Just as we were finishing our walk we watched a ewe with her two lambs trailing behind her wander down onto the beach. She then just kept going. And going . And going. She was on a mission. She must have walked a mile or so to get to the grass on the other side of the bay. Obviously ‘the grass is greener’ isn’t just a human thing after all.
Later, when the tide had come in creating a vast expanse of knee deep water, the farmer with his dogs, rounded up his flock and walked them all down into the water where the dogs held them there for about ten minutes or so. They were only in up to their knees so I doubt it was a swimming lesson. The dogs looked to be thoroughly enjoying racing around in the water making sure they kept together. They then all ambled back up the beach to recommence eating grass. Maybe the salt water stops them getting foot rot?
The final island before getting the ferry across to Harris is Berneray linked by a causeway to North Uist.
It is just a wee thing measuring two miles by three, with a population of just 140. It is just delightful. I think it could be my favourite island so far. Mind you, that could be because the constant blasting wind we have had everyday had finally tempered down to a light breeze and we could actually hear the silence . I even had a burnt face by the end of the day. Sun burn in the Outer Hebrides. Who’d have thought?
The little museum run by volunteers tells the story of island life with hundreds of donated photos to peruse. Seals bask off the rocks close into the shore without seemingly a care in the world.
As our friend Chris would say………..happiness on a stick!
Time for a ferry ride to Harris and Lewis, the last island we’ll be exploring on the Outer Hebrides.
Arriving on the bonny bonny banks of Loch Lomond just north of Balloch on a calm day in bright sunshine I just thought why? WHY? WHHYYY? Why have I never been to Scotland before now? What have I been doing all my life to not have experienced this before? What was the matter with me? I’ve been all over England and Wales and parts of Southern Ireland so why did I leave out Scotland? Strolling along the Loch shore into Balloch I started to lament all the missed opportunities over the years.
With all the rugged hills in the distance contrasting with the stillness of the loch I almost felt like I’d found my spiritual home. I’d been living half a century in the Westcountry when I should have been born in Scotland!
Two days later my questions were answered. Scotland isn’t green for no reason. Plenty of rain helps to keep it the way it is. After a bracing windy walk across the hills near Oban the rain came in and stayed for twenty four hours. Ah yes, I remember now, that was why I’d never been to Scotland before, the unpredictable weather.
Living in the South West it’s a looong drive to the Highlands and every time we’d mooted about doing a tour of Scotland for a one or two week holiday we’d always decided against playing Russian roulette with the weather and opted to visit areas closer to home. Why we were put off by the drive really is beyond me as Tim had many a family holiday in the Highlands in his younger days travelling from Devon with half a dozen other family members crammed into a Hillman Imp borrowed from the next door neighbour! With more modern transport and road networks it’s hardly the end of the earth but we always found an excuse to go somewhere closer to home.
We had originally planned to ‘do’ Scotland last year but chickened out and went chasing the sun instead. This year, though, we are ready for it! Fear not, I am not going to be a whining, whinging, moaning Minnie about the weather whilst we are here. We are embracing Scotland and all the wild weather it has to throw at us. The waterproofs are out, we’re layered up and we are ready.
Our first stop in Oban served as a jumping off point for visiting the islands of the Outer Hebrides. Over two hundred islands make up the Western Isles as they are officially known with just a handful being inhabited by the 28000 or so hardy residents. The plan for the first couple of weeks is to island hop our way from South to North taking in the islands of Barra, Eriskay, Benbecula, South Uist, North Uist, Harris and Lewis before jumping across to the Isle of Skye for a week or so.
Although I usually HATE trips by ferry I was actually quite looking forward to the nearly five hour journey to Barra across the Minch at the southern end of the Isles as for the first half of the journey the boat meanders through a narrow stretch of water flanked on one side by the coast of Western Scotland and on the other by the islands of Mull and Coll. We’d been lucky that the weather had cleared up and was clear and sunny for the trip over giving us fabulous views all around. Once out into the open sea though my queasiness took over and I spent much of the time outside on deck trying not to bring up the contents of my lunch.
Arriving on the island in the early evening it struck us almost immediately that the bobble hat is alive and well on Barra. They are everywhere! Barra is certainly a bijou island at just eight miles long by four miles wide but it is known as the Western Isles in miniature boasting sandy beaches backed by machair, Gaelic culture, prehistoric ruins and a few mountains thrown in for good measure……….and……..quicksand!
Over the last week we have got out to explore Barra by boot and by bike. Nearly all the roads are single track but with passing places every few hundred metres or so and little island traffic it has been completely stress free getting from place to place. Everyone seems to drive at a sensible speed and gives a little wave on passing which is all very civilised and a welcome change from our usual type of driving.
One of the islands claim to fame is that the airport that sits on the edge of Traigh Mhór bay is the only beach runway in the world receiving scheduled flights. It is quite the attraction. The runway is tide dependant and the public aren’t allowed on the beach when the windsocks are flying. Whilst we were walking on the other beach behind the airport a little twin otter plane circled above us in the squally wind and rain getting ready to land but because the dunes are in the way obscuring our view we didn’t see it touch down on the sand. When we arrived at the airport cafe fifteen minutes later, the place alive with steaming waterproofs and steaming people, the three cheery ladies working at the cafe were belting out Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I will survive’. I guess it must have been a bit of a bumpy landing.
The plane taxis right up to the airport building to drop off its passengers where they can then take a short walk to the bus shelter around the side of the building which also doubles up as the baggage reclaim. Fantastic.
We whiled away a couple of hours over coffee and cake drying out and soaking up the jovial atmosphere of the place only leaving after the plane had taken off again.
We’ve tramped around various areas of the island in some interesting wild weather but we’ve enjoyed every minute of it. The beaches are some of the best we have seen on our travels so far with the ground up sea shells giving them their distinctive light colouring. Learning that the crushed cockleshells are used to make harling (the rendering used on many Scottish houses) changed my opinion of what I deemed to be ugly pebbledash which I had assumed was imported in.
Cycling round the island yesterday in beautiful sunny weather was an absolute treat despite being against the wind for half of it. Stopping to take photos at low tide with the seaweed revealed captured some of the iconic views that the islands are famous for.
So far our Scotland trip has already surpassed our expectations and I’m still bashing myself over the head for not having visited before.
Today we hopped onto the ferry which took us, in the warming sunshine, across the water to Eriskay where we docked forty minutes later scraping our back end on the tarmac coming off the ferry (roll eyes). It doesn’t take much of an angle to ground out the electrics on our tow bar!
After enjoying an extended ten day stop at ancient Corinth where we spent the time chatting to neighbours, cleaning the van inside and out, chatting to neighbours, on line learning, chatting to neighbours, a few bike rides, chatting to neighbours and walking up to Acrocorinth and back several times we hit the road again heading back to Nafplio.
The main reason we had decided to go back to the Camperstop, apart from a bit of a recharge, regroup and a relax, was that Tim was waiting for a parcel to be delivered to the Post Office in Nafplio. Back in Nafplio, we waited. And waited. And waited. We weren’t idle whilst waiting as we always find plenty to do.
The tracking history for the parcel showed it was getting closer and closer but not close enough. It spent three days in Argos which, on closer inspection of the map, we realised was only ten kilometres away. Long story short, after several emails and phone calls we arranged to pick it up in Argos. We arrived in Argos and parked up on a busy street outside the town. Tim went off in search of the delivery depot whilst I stayed in the van in case I had to move it. He relayed to me later that, unable to find the place, he asked at a local garage for some directions. After the owners daughter had done her best to translate the directions Tim obviously must have still looked puzzled as the owner called over one of his young employees and said ‘he take you’. Oh, how I wish I’d seen Tim’s face when the young lad nodded to him to clamber onto the back of his moped. Now, for those of you who know Tim you will know that he is Mr Health and Safety personified. He won’t even use an electric toothbrush without risk assessing it first. He just does not do any kind of motorised two wheel transport. I had a moped for over ten years to zip back and forth to work on and he never once got on it. So there he was careening round the streets of Argos in a pair of shorts not wearing a crash helmet on a genetically modified moped driven by a multi tasking teenager who had one eye on the road and the other on his mobile phone. All I can say is he badly wanted that parcel. You never know, if you get to the end of this blog post I might even tell you what it was.
In all it took two weeks from order to delivery (or not quite delivery). Curiously, the ACSI card my mum kindly sent to the Nafplio Post Office arrived in a few days. Finally, then, we left Nafplio for good taking the coast road on the next ‘finger’ of the Peloponnese. Under a cloudless sky we chugged up and down the coastal road giving us glimpses of little fishing coves all set against a back drop of the Parnon mountain range.
We arrived in Leonidio and immediately loved it. The town nestles in the shadow of a huge red rock at the end of the Dafnon Gorge and the area is popular with sports climbers who have a choice of over a thousand different routes. It truly is a very beautiful area and we have been waylaid here for the past five days.
It has to be the cleanest town we have been to in Greece. I haven’t mentioned it before on the blog but we’ve been really saddened to see a huge amount of rubbish, particularly plastic and building rubble, strewn all over Greece. I’m not having a go at Greece as every country has its fair share of waste issues but we’ve found it particularly prevalent here. There are plenty of large industrial type bins around but many have no lids, are over flowing or just aren’t emptied or used. Here in Leonidio, though, they seem to be taking a real interest in keeping their town and environment clean and recycling what they can. I hope that this rolls out to the rest of Greece and sooner rather than later.
We could spend a couple of weeks here just exploring by foot or by bike. We spent a couple of nights parked up on the edge of the town but on Monday morning we were woken up at 6.30am to find ourselves surrounded by the local fruit and veg market. Ooops. They were very kind and had left us a gap to get out so we decamped and drove down the valley to the harbour at Plaka four kilometres away to have some breakfast. We found out that the campsite behind the beach is open so we’ve decided to base ourselves here and stay for a few days.
I’ve been out on the bike whilst Tim has been fettling his new toy.
Obviously with the mountains it’s extremely hilly but the effort is so worth it as the scenery is absolutely magnificent.
Sixteen kilometres north of Leonidio, the Monastery of Panagia Elona, built into a cleft in the rock six hundred and fifty metres above the river bed is quite a sight even after experiencing Metéora last year.
It must be quite a popular pilgrimage site as stalls are set up outside the gate selling local produce like honey and olives. I was the only visitor and was greeted by a monk who showed me around the little chapel.
Anyway, enough of that let’s get back to Tim’s new toy. Since embarking on our trip around Europe Tim hasn’t had the opportunity to play his clarinet or saxophone as much as he would have liked and he has missed playing in a band. In a bid to kill two birds with one stone he has decided that he is going to take up the life of a ‘street entertainer extraordinaire’ (aka ‘a busker’). In order to do that he needed some amplification. And that is what was in the parcel we were waiting for, a battery powered amp. He had his inaugural gig yesterday on the harbour front and was invited over to the taverna to knock out a few tunes on their sun terrace.
Today he whiled away another hour or so playing on the harbour and was thanked by the lady in the shop who said she enjoyed the music. All in all, it’s a win-win then. Tim gets to play and people enjoy it. You never know it could become a good side hustle to keep him in beer money.
Before I go I must tell you about the campsite cats. When we arrived we were greeted by a few cats that were sniffing about. Obviously being such a soft touch I brought out a bag of food I have (it’s actually dog food for the numerous needy stray dogs we see) but before the food hit the floor another ten cats appeared. I fed them again this morning and we are now prisoners in our van. We are completely surrounded. Most of the cats in Greece are pretty aloof but these ones know how to manipulate. They have taken to lounging on our chairs, table and bike rack and try to get in the van at every opportunity. Cooking outside is a nightmare and you can’t go to the washing up area without at least two kittens hanging off your trouser legs.
I don’t think our neighbours are too happy with me encouraging them as they keep spraying them with water to keep them away from their van. I thought I was going to have to go out tonight after dark to feed them but another van has just turned up and the first thing the lady did even before getting their van into position was feed the cats. Phew, that’s good, the heats off me now. Oh, how we’ll laugh as they become prisoners in their van tomorrow!
Croatia……………at last. This time we came prepared waving our passports in our grubby little mitts. Having been turned back at the border on our bikes the day before for not having our passports I was a little disappointed when we were waved through border control with hardly a cursory glance at the passports in my out stretched hand. I might as well have been waving my shopping list. Still, we were pleased to be going in to Croatia, another new country for us.
Croatia boasts nearly 2000km of rocky coastline as well as over 1000 islands. After not having seen the sea for nearly five months we are going to be spoilt for choice. Ironically, though, we started our tour inland just outside the hilltop town of Buje. After visiting a cashpoint to pick up some Kuna’s (no euros here) we pitched up at Eco Gecko Camping in Triban, a little hamlet deep in the Istrian countryside. What a little find. Just four pitches in the owner, Michaels, garden. Excellent. Washing machine included in the price. Big tick.
The site was also a short distance away from the Parenzana Cycleway where we would be able to cycle to Grožnjan, our first hilltop town stop. The Parenzana was a 130km long narrow gauge railway line linking the port of Trieste in Italy to Poreč in Croatia which was only operational from 1902 to 1935. In 2006 work began on converting the former track into a foot and cycle path. Our Rough Guide informed us that the most breath taking sections of the route were those connecting Buje, Grožnjan, Livade, Motovun and Vižinada. After having cycled some of the route from Lucija to Koper I was really looking forward to some more. What the Rough Guide failed to mention, though, was that not all of the route is suitable for road bikes. We picked up the trail not far from the campsite but it was an unsurfaced rough track which, although doable on our touring bikes, would have been slow, uncomfortable and tedious. We decided to go by road instead.
The Istrian peninsula is dotted with historic hilltop towns overlooking forest, farmland, vineyards, orchards and olive groves. Many of the towns suffered huge losses of population after World War II when local Italians were forced to leave. In the 1970’s, in an attempt to keep the towns alive, empty houses were offered to painters, sculptors and musicians which also stimulated tourism.
Grožnjan was alive with people enjoying lunch at the many cafes, wandering around the tight cluster of cobbled streets or poking about in the numerous galleries and craft shops.
In contrast, the following day we walked to Buje, another hilltop town which had a much more deserted feel to it. We loved it though and practically had the place to ourselves feeling slightly like voyeurs nosing in on other peoples everyday lives.
Novigrad, on the coast, was our next stop. A pleasant spot for a couple of days with the bonus of an outdoor pool on the sea front.
Back inland again we headed for a camper stop below the hilltop town of Motovun where Mario Andretti was born. At €23 per night for what is effectively a car park it’s a bit steep but inland Istria is limited for campsites or motorhome stopovers. Wild camping is forbidden in Croatia, with a knock on the door and a subsequent fine from the police being the likely outcome, so we parked up and paid up. However, included in the price was free use of the hotel swimming pool. The only drawback was the hotel was at the very top of the town, a fifteen minute brisk walk up the steep hill. After a three hour walk taking in the town and the surrounding countryside I did that fifteen minute brisk walk up that hill and had that swim.
Our Rough Guide recommended the Trail of the Seven Waterfalls, or the Staza Seven Slapova, which has a better ring to it I feel. The 15km walk starts in Buzet and takes in the Mirna Canyon, the water features of Kotli and several ‘slaps’ before returning to Buzet. We almost didn’t start the walk as it was raining but refused to be dictated to by the weather. We got water proofed up, set off and hoped for the best. The first part of the walk up through the canyon had some interesting climbs with ropes and rails to cling on to which was just as well with it being so wet. The only disappointment was that the river was so dry with just a trickle of water over the falls.
We emerged through the trees at the top of the canyon just as the rain cleared and the sun came out.
I’d taken my swimming costume hoping for a bit of fun in the natural pools at the little hamlet of Kotli but alas no water was to be had.
All in all an excellent well marked trail that would be spectacular with higher water levels.
Krk island was our next destination, an 80km drive. No probs, it should take an hour or so. That was before the sat nav diverted us off the A8 and onto a minor road heading up the mountain. How was I to know that the A8 was a toll road? It didn’t look like one on the Maps.Me app. A tortuous, winding climb up and then down the mountain road to avoid the toll road delayed us somewhat with darkness approaching. Driving in the dark is something we try to avoid in unfamiliar territory and I can’t actually remember the last time we drove in the dark on our trip. Looking at the map it now seemed likely that we’d have to drive right through Rijeka, a huge industrial conurbation, before reaching Krk island. Now, we would have been happy to pay the toll for the drive to Krk but as we’d made the decision to avoid toll roads back in Slovakia neither of us had bothered to research how the system worked in Croatia. Do we need to buy a vignette? A go-box? A pre-mid? Or is it just a pay at the toll booth affair? Too late asking the questions now. We did the only available option and pressed on. We were so relieved when the sat nav directed us back on to the A8 before reaching Rijeka and then had us take the A7 avoiding the city. Mmm, weird. We arrived at Kamp Nijice on Krk island without further incident and settled in. (Note to self: Even if you don’t intend using the toll roads still do the research stupid). It turns out that the toll on the A7 is just a one off payment for the five kilometre long Učka tunnel and not a toll road as such.
Biking in bright sunshine the beautiful eight miles or so to the Bohinj Bovine Ball we were in high spirits. Arriving bright and early at 10.30am things were just starting to kick off. Accordion music blasted from outdoor speakers, craft and food stalls had set out their wares and the barbecues were just cranking up.
We looked set for a good day out. No cows to be seen yet as the parade was to be later on. Three hours later on. That would have been fine if the weather hadn’t deteriorated. The clouds appeared, got lower, and lower, and lower, then drizzle came and then the rain. Not torrential rain but that steady wetting sort of rain. Not prepared, we mooched about in our sandals, shorts and non waterproof jackets slowly getting wet through.
Three hours was a long time to wait in the rain, with no shelter, for the parade of the cows. We broke up the wait with a traditional Slovenian lunch of sausage, corn mush and sauerkraut which I can only describe as a flat sausage patty served on a bed of grit. The cows, led by their herdsmen, were worth waiting for though trotting through the crowd, bells jangling, replete in their bouquets. Calves, some as young as a few days old, and a bit skittish, hopped, skipped and jumped along after the adults. They will graze in the valley now until early spring when they’ll go with their herdsmen back to their mountain pastures again.
Back at the campsite we wrung out our clothes and sat steaming away in the van with the heater on full blast to dry out. After another couple of days hiking and biking in dodgy weather we threw in the towel and headed for the north eastern coast of Italy.
Once again, it was a bit of a culture shock driving back to civilisation once away from the Triglav National Park. Several miles of retail outlets lined either side of the road into Udine where we’d planned a stop for the night. It was one long strip of Malls, DIY stores, food outlets, supermarkets, garages and car showrooms which seemed to go on forever. And ever. The weather was warm and sunny but I already had that sinking feeling of ‘what are we doing here’ having no interest in any retail therapy and already missing the calm tranquillity of the Slovenian mountains, albeit a grey, wet and cold tranquillity. We did, however, walk to the Decathlon shop a mile or so away after we’d parked up the van at the aire to peruse the miles of aisles of sports equipment. Yeah, I know, double standards.
Not feeling the love for Udine, even though it is said to have a historic centre, we pressed on to the coast the following morning. We were waylaid for a few hours in Palmanova though. We knew nothing about Palmanova but the shape of it on the map drew me in. Planning our route I hadn’t even noticed it. It was only when we were a few miles outside the town, whilst I was faffing with the Maps.Me app zooming in and out, that I realised it was definitely worth investigating.
Built by the Venetians towards the end of the 16th Century the nine pointed star structure was conceived as a defence system to keep out the Turks. The town is now designated as a UNESCO world heritage site.
A walk around the inner ramparts followed by a second lap around the outer ramparts and a mooch about the town square took up most of the afternoon and we were really glad we had stopped.
Not least because we spotted these guys basking in the sunshine in the moat below the upper path.
We hit the Italian coast at Grado. This was our first glimpse of the sea since early May when we’d left the French coast. The sun was out, it was warm and there was an aire (aka large carpark) fifty metres from the beach at €4 per night. Life doesn’t get better than that let me tell you.
Approached by a four kilometre long causeway Grado, in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of Italy, is a little island beach resort backed by lagoons teeming with birdlife. It was a pleasant place to spend a couple of days enjoying the sunshine whilst biking around the nature reserve.
Onwards then east along the coast and back into Slovenia. Slovenia has just over forty kilometres of coastline sandwiched between Italy and Croatia. We based ourselves for a couple of nights at an aire on the marina at Lucija. When we arrived there were only about seven or eight vans parked so we felt mightily pleased with ourselves that we were able to bag a ringside seat right next to the sea. Perfect. When we returned from a bike ride to Piran several hours later though we were completely surrounded by Slovenian and Italian vans settling in for the weekend.
Piran, set on a triangular shaped peninsular, is just charming. Thanks largely to nearly five hundred years of Venetian rule much of Piran and the coast of Slovenia is Italianate. It’s a compact warren of alleys lined with narrow houses and tiny churches.
The following day we thought we’d cycle to Croatia. Now, Tim has been itching to get to Croatia for months and his plans have been scuppered by our dilly dallying here and there. But finally, finally he was going to get there. We picked up the Parenzana Cycleway just outside the marina which took us past the salt plains to the nearby border. Once at the border we were confronted with passport control. What? Taking our passports hadn’t even crossed our minds. We haven’t needed them on any other border (apart from Gibraltar). I tried it on with my driving licence but passport control man said ‘NO’. Croatia, then, still eluded us.
Returning to the van I left Tim to check on the back of his eyes whilst I cycled to Koper along the Parenzana Cycleway in the other direction. And what a great mostly traffic free ride it was too. A bit up and down, a couple of tunnels, views of the coast, vineyards, and olive groves. A very popular day out it seems and a well used section of the path.
On Sunday morning we nudged Ollie out through all the vans, camping tables, chairs and bikes surrounding us and made our way to the Croatian border. This time clutching our passports.