Day 6 Gairloch to Inverness – January 16th

We awoke to a winter wonderland – the snow had arrived. The familiar silence that often accompanies a heavy snow fall led to an ominous feeling. We had checked the weather last night, and knew that this was likely, but already we were doubting our prudence in staying the night in Gairloch.

Howard removed the snow chains from the back of the van (that we had been required to purchase for parts of Europe in the winter months), and started reading the instructions on how to fit them. We concluded that the snow wasn’t deep enough, but nonetheless we kept them in a handy spot in the boot, just in case.

We set off promptly after breakfast, having decided not to venture to previously planned Torridon and Applecross. Instead we headed east towards Loch Maree and Glen Docherty. The going was very slow. Initially the single track road was treacherous. I gripped the side of my seat as Howard drove. I tried not to whimper, but was very conscious that we were driving a quite new and very expensive three tonne camper van along what seemed like a skating rink. Fortunately, there was hardly a soul on the roads, most avoiding driving in such conditions. Snow flurries continued to fall, and I begun to wonder what on earth we were doing. Progress was slow, but Howard took it steadily, and once past Glen Docherty, the driving got easier. We passed the snow plough passing in the opposite direction, and wished that it had done our side of the road.

Periodically we pulled into parking spots, just to draw breath and take a few photos. The scenery was indeed stunning, especially along Loch Maree by Beinn Eighe. I started to relax a little, and take in the amazing landscape. Whole hillsides of birch trees covered in snow looked etherial, with the bronze branches standing out in the snow. We pulled off the road for morning coffee, and Howard even had a little run along the track to stretch his legs and defuse.

Eventually the driving became easier. We opted to divert before Inverness through Strathpeffer and Dingwall, and to see the Cromarty Firth, which had been in darkness on our journey north. Suddenly, as we approached the Black Isle, the roads cleared, as if by magic. Howard suggested that we had maybe crossed from Wester Ross into Ross and Cromarty, and that the gritting policies were different, but I think it was more likely due to the lower altitudes we were now at. As we approached the Cromarty Firth, the sun momentarily glimpsed through the leaden clouds, and lit the snowy landscape. Magic.

We then drove back over the Cromarty and Kessock bridges towards Inverness. We opted to stop here and stay in a hotel overnight, to warm up and have a hot meal. We plan to head home tomorrow, weather permitting.

It has been a stressful day in parts, but we have managed to keep it together, and thanks to Howard’s cool head, we have arrived safely. Interestingly, we read an article in the ‘I’ newspaper yesterday about happiness. It said you needed to keep smiling, and avoid stressful situations. Well the driving today was certainly stressful, and I don’t think I did much smiling, but I think that we’ve at least given Oscar a good test run. If we can cope with winter in the Highlands, hopefully Europe will be a breeze!

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