Dunkeld to Linlithgow: Thursday 8 October

img_8420Awoke early to a crisp, clear day with the Tay sparkling alongside our parking spot and decided on a short trip to Loch of Lowes, a nearby nature reserve for a look-see and a slightly less public breakfast than our car park would provide.

We trundled a short distance up and out of Dunkeld to find a nature reserve car park still unoccupied at this early hour, the rising sun glistening the dew- laminated golf course beyond the road, and as we headed towards a Visitor Centre and large bird hides on the Loch edge beyond, movement in a fenced-off forest to our left materialised into a pair of deer spooked by our arrival and which subsequently hopped gracefully away into the forest.

Bird hides were examined with sunlight glinting on the Loch surface, which was rippled by countless geese and a mix of other waterfowl, mostly unidentifiable. A walk around a Loch edge, then back to the van and onwards, anticipating a circular tour with breakfast stop somewhere – but the road went ever on and on, leading away from the Loch and through glorious sunlit farmland flanked by forest in which a stag was momentarily and magnificently glimpsed. Regaining the main road we returned to Dunkeld, all the while seeking a suitable breakfast spot, to find ourselves back in the exact same car-park in the exact same spot we had departed from, 90 minutes earlier. Breakfast was therefore enjoyed alongside the mist-shrouded river as we studiously disregarded the curious stares of passers-by. A further amble into the town then ensued, our first port-of-call being a tall, solid, stone-built church, converted into a pleasingly intriguing and explorable interiors store with many quirky and desirable items displayed over two floors.

Surprised by both the array of fascinating merchandise and the unexpectedly reasonable price-tags, we impulse-bought several gifts – gaining in the process a playlist of the hauntingly post-modern Gothic music which accompanied our retail experience.

Out into bright sunshine again and then a further walk through the Cathedral grounds and interior; along the river to watch two hapless novice bank anglers attempt to spin-fish, while a boat sat in the upstream current, the artful loops of fly-casting again beautifully backlit against the wooded backdrop of the river valley. Back into the village square for some photography and a drift into the now-open Tourist Office where our enquiry about onward campsites was answered by a helpful guide who set about a series of while-we-waited telephone calls to find us an open campsite further south at Linlithgow.

Further wanderings found a backstreet salmon smoker, where further gifts were purchased before we returned to the van and set off again heading south for Falkirk and our quest to view the Wheel, a feat of canal engineering which, we’d heard, was well worth seeing. Ignoring brown tourist signs en route and slavishly (idiotically) following sat-nav, we arrived at this revolutionary wonder of the modern world (via a particularly seedy housing estate) to marvel at the strange contraption which linked the Forth & Clyde with the Union Canal by lifting boats and barges (along with attendant water) between these two height-separated waterways.

The lock area was bustling with trippers and a large tourist office/inevitable gift shop introduced to us to an as-yet unheard-of further attraction – The Kelpies – scaled-down models of horses heads – which we’d already discovered by the lock.

So, still enjoying brilliant sunshine and continuing blue skies we travelled onwards to discover truly astonishing, giant, stainless-steel sculptures rising 30m into a cloudless blue sky, beautifully constructed as a sculptured tribute to working horses of a previous era where they contributed to the local economy by towing canal barges around the confluence of canals which surrounded them.

Given the exceptionally fine weather and awed by their steely magnificence, too many photographs were taken, the Kelpies were explored, admired and marvelled at as we again ambled around the clearly only-recently opened area, taking a breath of fresh air and then back to the van and onwards on the A9 and M9 to our destination for the night,.

Arriving at an almost-deserted but well-maintained Beecraig’s Country Park campsite – managed from a separate visitor centre, complete with ubiquitous gift shop – we found adjacent a series of paddocks full of deer, viewable from a railway-style pedestrian bridge which also provided distant views of the distant Firth of Forth above Edinburgh – as well as allowing closer inspection of the braying, honking stags and their harems.

Van parked up, awning extended for the first time this trip, chairs unloaded and this time sat upon for all of the short time it took to enjoy tea and cake then walking boots donned for an exploration into the towering forest and an accidental visit to Beecraigs Loch – which we had learnt from the Visitor Centre was a boat-only stocked fly-fishing Loch, and therefore excited us greatly.

Back to the van for brief beer and cigars as the sun dropped below the tree-spiked horizon and the consequent drop in temperature forced us inside for camp-site showers and kit-drying followed by an In-Van Dining Experience with Venison sausages; a spot of tuned-in TV and early bed, having previously managed to arrange by phone a morning’s fishing on Loch Beecraig for tomorrow.

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