Today’s article on the Land Rover Blog is by guest writer Alan King.
Most of us who own a Land Rover will at some stage have considered an overland journey, most likely including some other aspect of outdoor adventure such as camping or off road exploration. I am sure I’m not alone in having spent time at many Land Rover shows looking at roof tents and other kit that I needed a good “excuse” to purchase!
Such an excuse arose in the summer of 2012 when my Sister announced that she had got a new job and was relocating to Scotland – well to be precise – the island of Stronsay (one of the Orkneys) to be the new community nurse for an island population of around 350 people.
By early January 2013, the Orkney plans were firmed up – we would spend Easter 2013 with the family on Stronsay. There would be 5 of us travelling in total, so it was agreed that me & Graham (Fellow LR fan and owner of a Freelander 1 HSE) would go in my Land Rover Discovery 2, taking the scenic route and using the roof tent as accommodation at camp sites on route, whilst the girls, my wife Sue, daughter Emily and Graham’s wife Lorraine would travel partly by train and partly by air, with routes and timings planned to meet up at Kirkwall on “Mainland Orkney” prior to all travelling across by ferry to Stronsay together on Easter Saturday.
Having been fortunate enough to have driven Land Rovers in many off road situations including LR experience sites at Luton, Rockingham Castle (Northants), Eastnor Castle and the Jungle track at the LR factory at Solihull as part of a “gold tour package”, not to mention towing caravans over Europe and the UK, we had the experience – only time would tell if our plans would come off.
The big day arrived, and the heavy dumping of snow that had affected much of the UK a few days earlier looked as though it was starting to clear and would allow us uninterrupted passage on our chosen route. There are in fact 2 occasions in a day when the clock shows 4.30 as I found out when the alarm went off, but there would be no pressing the snooze button today! From Newark, a shared drive allowed us to make great progress up the A1 and A66 with the highlight of the morning being the dramatic snow-covered fells along the A66 which were still very much affected by the heavy falls from a few days previously.
Adopting a more relaxed pace after lunch allowed time for regular photo stops and a chance to really soak up the stunning surroundings of our chosen route along the A82, with the Discovery passing the significant marker of 80,000 miles just as we reached the shores of Loch Lomond. The glorious sunshine that had been with us since early light continued as we drove alongside Loch Lomond and through the Trossachs, and made the magnificent mountain scenery of Glencoe even more spectacular, with the dominating presence of snow -capped Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest peak, never being far from sight.
By late afternoon we arrived at our chosen campsite for the night at Fort Augustus, almost exactly 500 miles from home. A great spot with good facilities and a choice of pubs and restaurants alongside the lock flight of the Caledonian Canal. One of the major benefits of roof tent camping is the ability to have tent up and ready for occupation in about 5 minutes allowing plenty of time for dinner and a chance to sample the local beers!
An early start saw a heavy frost on the roof tent meaning chilled fingers for the packing away stage; however, this also only takes a few minutes and we were soon on our way, with the sun having again decided to accompany us. The route along the shoreline road beside Loch Ness continued the spectacular scenery of day one, and we were soon passing through Inverness where we joined the A9 and over the bridge across the Cromarty Firth. A superb discovery just past the bridge was the Storehouse farm shop and restaurant which provided some very welcome bacon & eggs for breakfast. The smell of fruit scones freshly out of the oven provided a special treat kindly boxed up for us to take away for later.
Once north of this point the scenery notably changed to a more coastal landscape, still quite wild in places and becoming much more bleak and exposed with small farmsteads and rugged coastline. This provided us with some equally stunning views, albeit coastal rather than mountains, and would accompany us all the way past Wick on the A99 and to our chosen ferry port of Gills Bay near to John o’ Groats.
Continued good weather saw us take a very smooth crossing over the uncharacteristically calm waters of the Pentland Firth – known locally as “the Devil’s dance floor” , to land in St Margaret’s Hope, South Ronaldsay just 1 hour later. Our first presence on Orkney – we had arrived! A short 10 minute journey saw us arrive at Wheem’s Farm Camping – an organic farm with superb sea views. Campers are well looked after in this delightful location including the “Camper’s Kitchen”; a rustic semi-outdoor facility, fully equipped with everything you need including electric hotplates, kettles and a fridge freezer!
Our first full day in Orkney allowed a few hours of exploring, discovering the first of Orkney’s best kept secret – amazing, mostly deserted, and almost white sandy beaches! Great Land Rover photography locations! We then travelled across the historic “Churchill Barriers” from South Ronaldsay, linking up with the Island of Burray, before reaching mainland Orkney and our rendezvous with “the girls” at Kirkwall Airport. The Churchill Barriers were built on the orders of Prime Minister Winston Churchill during World War II, to prevent further attacks by German U boats following the sinking of HMS Royal Oak in the waters of Scapa Flow in October 1940. The barriers and the local memorials in the area serve as a poignant reminder of a significant moment in Britain’s naval history.
Exactly as planned, our mid-morning reunion with our girls was timed perfectly with the arrival of our “Orkney family” who met us all at the airport having been to the mainland Tesco’s to stock up for our arrival – such that there were now two well laden Land Rovers joining the queue for the Stronsay ferry at Kirkwall after a welcome lunch and short spell of tourist activity.
One again calm weather and sunshine made our 2 hour ferry crossing to Stronsay very enjoyable and we were pleased to have the local knowledge of our “Island family” to point out the sights, meaning it was soon time to get back in the Land Rovers for departure at Whitehall on to our first section of Stronsay road – just a few miles to our home for the week – and a chance to catch up on all the news and stories over dinner and a few drinks.
Our time on Stronsay was spent in mostly glorious sunshine with little or only light winds – a very unusual period of weather we were told, but we were happy to be unusual in this respect! Beautiful beaches, sensational views, amazing sunsets, and a warm welcome from the island community all helped to make our trip. Whilst our trip could only give us a small insight into what life is like as a permanent resident, it was great to be able to experience it in a small way and our understanding of what daily life is like for other members of our family was greatly improved.
Living on an Island with just 350 inhabitants, one pub/ hotel, 2 general stores, 1 fuel pump, a small airstrip, a doctor’s surgery and a school taking children from 5 to age 16 is certainly different. You will, however, as a Land Rover owner, be in very good company! During our visit I met up with, exchanged stories and took photos of numerous Land Rovers. We were lucky enough to be able to drive in several remote areas including some sessions on private land with the permission of the land owners. Some great off road and green lane sessions were enjoyed, accompanied by some of our new found Land Rover friends.
All in all, a great first visit to our family in their new home, with the added benefits of many Land Rover related activities to explore. Our journey home was equally spectacular and the sunshine stayed with us too. Overall our trip had covered just over 1500 miles and the Discovery had proved 100% reliable, no matter what conditions we encountered. We must do it all again soon!
Words and photos: ©Copyright Alan King 2013.
Big thanks to Alan King for supplying this article, if you would like to write for us, please get in touch!