We hit Glen Shiel again for another night at the Morvich Caravan & Motorhome Club site. Chrissie faffs and fiddles with stuff, worries and has a trial erection (yes, really) of the Enan, as if she'd never done it before.
Finally, she stops worrying...and goes to sleep.
Next day, we amble about with the dogs before leaving the site. Chrissie ceremoniously paddles in the sea.
Later in the afternoon, meeting them from the bus, we shuttle Mike and his son James over to Glenelg before returning for a night on some spare ground opposite the Kintail Lodge, the better for Chrissie to stroll across the road to sign in, in the morn. Mike's on form...I admire his sporran.
We join other Challengers in the bar for beer and chatter.
In the morning, Chrissie shoulders her rucsac and sets off. Me and the pups don't linger. We're away north again for our own adventures. First though, I dart into Kyle of Lochalsh and the chemist, to replace the hayfever eye drops which Pebbles devoured while we were talking outside the van this morning!
I've resolved not to try anything too strenuous in the hills with both dogs. Pebbles can't really be trusted off the lead and I don't want my, or their, safety compromised. So big mountain walks are out while Chrissie's away.
We head off to retrace earlier tracks and stay the night at a free campsite in Shieldaig. We take a similar walk to when we were here last. The sky's moody.
We thread our way up to Glen Torridon for a walk I've fancied for a while. Last time we were here it was lousy weather, with no views. Today is better. We head up to Coire Mhic Fhearchair, said to be one of Scotland's most spectacular mountain corries, it doesn't disappoint.
On a longish walk, the dogs are pretty good. I can let Islay off the lead and, after minor, initial frustration, Pebbles soon settles to walking with me, by my side. We lunch in the splendour of the coire.
Our timing is perfect. Shortly after returning to the van, the rain hits, for the first time in around two weeks.
But we're cosy inside our travelling apartment. We pass a quiet evening and night in the car park in the Glen then we're off down into Kinlochewe and a stroll up to the Heights of Kinlochewe to "admire" the HEP works all the way up the valley. It's a good stretch of legs though before we head off towards one of my favourite campsites in Poolewe.
We turn up at the Camping & Caravanning Club's site in Poolewe, only to find it full. It's mid-week in May. I've never had this before but it's clear what the problem is. Some few years back the concept of the North Coast 500 was announced; a 500 mile route starting from Inverness and taking in a circuit via Ullapool of the whole of the north coast of the Highlands. Now that's all well and good but, those familiar with the roads hereabouts will understand when I say they're not best suited to an influx of large numbers of cars, caravans, motorhomes and motorcycles. As a motorcyclist, who's done this journey many times over the years it does become tiring waiting as groups of up to 15 bikes pass through while you're waiting patiently at a passing place on a single track road. I only ever travelled alone or with one fellow biker. And then there's the folk who think it appropriate to travel in a convoy of three motorhomes together, making it almost impossible to fit them in one passing place. In my very humble opinion, the North Coast 500 is a "very bad idea". But it's too late. The genie's out of the bottle now. I've no doubt it's good for businesses up here but I used to come for solitude, not traffic. My contribution will be, henceforth, to avoid as much as possible this silly circuit.
Anyoldhow, backtracking to Gairloch finds me an' the pups on a pleasant commercial site, which is also very cheap. Result! We take a walk up the valley to some wateryfalls. Later I cook up an all-day-breakfast feast while the dogs snooze and some weather rolls in.
The following day a walk around Loch Kernsary from Poolewe offers a view of the crannog...
...and a drive up the road finds a perfect spot for the night, on the coast...where I spend the afternoon watching seals on the rocks below. An utter delight. And totally unexpected.
The next day sees us on a stand-out walk of this section of the trip as we climb up Gleann Chaorachain and over to Shanavall bothy near Loch na Sealga.
Fab. Leaves me with ideas for a future backpacking trip.
From here we begin to edge our way towards Inverness then south to the Cairngorms for a rendezvous with Adventure Girl. We shop, refuel and manage good walks along the way.
I receive a text from daughter, Abi.
"Phone me when you and Chrissie are together again."
After a walk through the forest from Carrbridge we arrive at the Glenmore campsite and settle in.
It's Saturday morning and the forecast's for rain, rain and more rain. I think about Chrissie. We embark on a walk through Rothiemurchus, up to the lodge and then climbing to Eag a' Chait. It's wet, but the forest and moor are full of green life. We pass by Utsi's hut, named after the guy who reintroduced reindeer to the Cairngorms. We even hear a reindeer barking not too far away. As I look towards the noise I see it running off into the trees.
Late in the afternoon Adventure Girl arrives...wet.
She's tired, has sore feet and needs some TLC. But I still admire her determination.
I phone Abi, with the phone on speaker so Chrissie can hear.
"You're going to be grandparents..."
A shock...but a very pleasant one. We laugh, smile, wish Abi and Dave congratulations and swear not to let my Dad, soon to be a Great Grandfather, know...yet.
We hang the tent to dry under the van's awning. Chrissie repacks her rucsac with food she'd left in the van and does her best to relax and, in the morning, she's away...again.
Me and the pups pack up, refill the van with water and set off on our road trip again.
We continue, but it feels different. I'm preoccupied with Chrissie's progress. I watch, nervously, her movements on the Social Hiking site, her Spot device plotting her position every 10 minutes. I make sure the dogs and I get a decent walk every day, but I need to keep moving to ensure I'm at the coast when Chrissie arrives. She used up her spare day tending to blisters early on in the trip so will need a lift to Montrose from wherever as soon as she finishes.
My mind on other things I take fewer photos.
I'm deliberately not going into too much detail about Chrissie's TGOC crossing, not wanting to steal any of her, richly deserved, thunder but you'll read all about it here and also here. As I write, she's up to part two but I'm sure the rest will be along soon.
But, finally, she hit the sea again in Aberdeen...on a warm sunny afternoon.
In case it's not absolutely bleedin' obvious, I'm very proud of my special Adventure Girl for completing her first attempt at TGOC solo. She's brave, determined and resilient, probably more so than me. I love her.
In Montrose we meet other Challengers at the Park Hotel and enjoy the evening, celebration dinner. It's very pleasant chatting with folk we know as well as those we've never met before today. The evening ends with us sharing stories...and beer...and Scotch with Rich in the van.
And we are soon shooting back down the A1 towards home.
As we approach Edinburgh Chrissie sees a message on Twitter from our friend Andy. Did he see us, around five minutes ago, on the A90 approaching the Forth Road Bridge? Andy had been driving his Royal Mail truck northwards. A coincidence indeed!
We need to be back home in time to dog sit for my daughter and son-in-law's pooch whilst they're away in Italy. Leaving us to deep clean our home-on-wheels and turn our thoughts to backpacking in Sarek, Arctic Sweden in August, the likelihood of September in France and the small matter of our first grandchild whose arrival is eagerly anticipated in November. We've been away for six weeks but it's always good to be home. It's been a wonderful trip filled with memories, encounters with friends, old and new, and excitement.
Meanwhile...Chrissie recovers from another dose of Lyme disease...
May the fun continue.