It was the first day of our holiday. Early afternoon. My eyes were sleepy from the 5am start, and my body weary from the 424 miles drive north. As we crossed a humpback bridge, we were suddenly greeted by a picture-postcard scene of Scotland. A gushing alpine river, lush green mountains, and glorious (and unusual!) Scottish sun. It was beautiful. And so we stayed… all night! The next morning, as we drank our cuppas outside, watching the noisy oyster catchers above, we were giddy with excitement. For these past six years of illness, we’ve longed to travel again, to have an adventure again, to pull-over-and-camp-up-wherever-we-want again. And now we were finally doing it. :-)
The best time of my life was the four months that Phil and I spent living out of a campervan (well, a glorified people carrier! 😉 ) as we toured New Zealand. We had no plan, no schedule and no hurry. Each day was a new adventure. We’d follow brown signs to obscure tourist spots, trek for miles around the stunning wilderness, and camp up wherever we wished. Each morning we’d be awoken by the sounds of nature. It was our kind of paradise. We always planned to explore Europe and Scotland and Ireland in a van. But then a year after returning from travelling the world, I became ill with Pulmonary Hypertension. And we’ve not yet figured out how to have that kind of adventure again (even in a little way).
But we have tried. 🙂 We bought a van, converted it, and have enjoyed many fabulous nights away in our bright yellow Bumblebee. We adore it. But although bigger, better and brighter than our home in NZ, sadly I can only stay in it for a few nights at a time. Its low ceilings restrict my breathing, the pull-out bed requires setting-up each night, and as the tap is still playing up, I have to battle with a huge water container every time I want a drink. Furthermore with no bathroom, I have to walk to toilet blocks! It’s perfect for weekends away and day trips… but anything longer exhausts and tires me. So the dream of travelling in a campervan again, has been assigned to ‘life after transplant’. Number two on my bucket list in fact (after climbing a mountain! 😛 ).
But then on New Year’s Day, we started discussing our holidays for this year. I was feeling low and down; craving adventure and excitement. Wishing back my old life. Wanderlust. As we walked and talked along the wintry country lanes near our house, we almost immediately agreed to tour the North Coast 500 -a 500 mile coastal route around the remote far north of Scotland. We’d read about it years prior, and had it labelled for a future post-transplant trip. We didn’t know how I’d survive such a long route, nor the logistics for me to go. But we spontaneously decided to do it. Then and there. We’d work out the details and niggly-bits later. It was such a breakthrough moment. Since getting PH I analyse and forward-think everything before agreeing plans… yet for the first time, I said yes without any idea of how I was going to manage it! 🙂And I did manage it. 🙂 It was absolutely brilliant. We travelled 1682 miles over fifteen days! Our route took us through the rugged mountains of the Cairngorms, and past the prehistoric stones overlooking the North Sea. Along the remote and windy far far northern coastline, and around the beautiful lochs and bays of the stunning West. We finished at Nessie’s home! 😉 Each morning we’d wake early with excitement, and drive in our pajamas to find a beautiful breakfast stop. Each evening we’d make our home wherever we found the best view! We camped by lakes and cliffs and rivers and beaches, in a forest, by a lighthouse and next to a castle. Sometimes wild camping, sometimes in campsites. Every day was different. Some days we’d spend hours travelling just a few miles; stopping around every corner to photograph and admire the scenery. Other days we’d find a beauty spot and park up for the afternoon; paddling in the sea or reading books on the beach. Phil swam in the open water at every chance he could! We spotted dolphins diving over waves, wild deer standing majestic in the mountains, two ospreys circling over a loch. Highland cattle with their overgrown fringes, guillemots nesting in sea cliffs, and a seal even joined Phil for a sea swim! Plus I needed a quick doctors check-up after getting too friendly with a tick! As the journey passed, the roads got quieter, steeper and more narrow; single track lanes with passing places became the norm. But although trickier to navigate in our large motorhome, the increasingly spectacular views more than compensated! Intimidating mountains with angry clouds atop, lonely castle ruins overlooking steep cliffs. Miles of golden sands revealed with an outwards tide, small islands dotted throughout deep blue lochs. Gushing alpine rivers, steep craggy hilltops, bright yellow ‘horse gorse’. Bursting waterfalls, precarious sea stacks, tall Caledonian Pine forests. It reminded us so much of New Zealand! And to top it all, the sun shone nearly every day (the first week was a heatwave!) – very unScottish-like! 😛 Although we were only gone for a fortnight, it felt like an age. We saw so much, travelled so far, took so many photographs (2335!). It was undoubtedly one of our best holidays ever. 🙂
And I survived. Just! 😛 Following recommendations from fellow PHriends, we hired a fancy motorhome (see my video of it!). It was perfect for my illness. With a loo and shower inside, I wasted no energy walking to toilet blocks (especially useful with my daily diuretics!). With a permanent day bed, I could lie down whenever I needed to rest. With its high ceilings and tall worktops, there was no bending. And as the van was enormous; I could go to bed early, leaving Phil up (at 5:30pm on one exhausting day!). The wonderful Scottish NHS arranged delivery (and collection) of oxygen cylinders at three points along the route. It took a lot of phone-calls to organise: getting authorization to transport O2 in the van, plus finding locations for delivery (not all campsites would accept it). And it did force us to stick to our planned rough itinerary. However it worked brilliantly… and it would have been impossible to bring 36 large oxygen cylinders from home! Amazingly, wonderfully, thankfully, despite my real worries beforehand, I successfully managed my energy levels. Having never holidayed for that length prior, and knowing my level of exhaustion after one week away, I conserved energy before and during. I rested for a full fortnight prior (even sadly forfeiting the PHA conference!), and did no work whilst away (Super Phil did everything!). Consequently, although we saw so much, as I was just sitting in the van for the majority, it used minimal energy. Perfect. Furthermore, Phil went on a daily bike ride or run, allowing me an extra rest or sleep. But it was a long and tiring holiday. On three occasions, I cried with exhaustion! Consequently, in the second week, we bypassed a few planned stop points, and instead spent a couple of nights at the same location so I could have a long lie-in. But the beauty of living on the road meant that even on the occasions when we were parked up and I was resting, there was always a beautiful view to admire out of the motorhome window. My wonderful body coped brilliantly. So incredibly thankful. 🙂
On our final night, we sat eating ice cream whilst chatting about our favourite moments. There were so many! The evening spent sitting on rocks, drinking tonic, whilst watching the sun slowly set over the glistening blue waters of the Kyle of Tongue. Paddling in the waters of Loch Morlich with the snow capped mountains of the Cairngorms as a backdrop. The achievement after driving our 8 meter van along a scarily narrow and steep single tracked road with a 25% gradient. The perfect afternoon spent sunbathing on a glorious deserted sandy beach. Driving through the Torridan mountains in the pouring rain, with the wind howling and the van shaking. Taking an evening stroll around Loch Garten with no one around except the deafening noise of birds. It was a magical holiday. The best. I finally got to have an adventure again. And satisfied my wanderlust! Happy happy happy days! 🙂
And I’ve learnt that sometimes I should just follow the dream… even if it seems impossible at the start. It could work out wonderfully. 🙂