LEADEN WATERS UNDER LEADEN SKIES
It was snowing and sleeting when I drew back Thebus' curtains, and though it wasn't sticking badly, it was sticking, and without the useful weather programme I mentioned before, I think I would have been too worried to risk travelling and probably stayed on for a while, but looking at the live cameras the roads were clear so I decided to risk it and run straight for the rather nice caravan park I had located up at Dunbeath, which is less than an hour from the ferries and supposedly with nice sea views.
The day couldn't make up its mind what to do with sleety showers, then rain, the snow was sticking a bit soon after we started - but not all that much and I had my fingers crossed that by ten'ish – allowing for the clocks being back in the winter by an hour, that my trusty 'rain before seven' mantra would kick in, and it did. The day dried, and the sun even tried to break through. It was pretty windy though, so I had to watch the roads more than I would have liked, as if you are 'farming other people's land' and a gust of wind catches Thebus there is not much margin of error with the width of some of the roads. Later in the day I couldn’t believe it when a lorry, probably late for one of the ferries gave me a good blast on his horn to get past on quite a narrow stretch of road...... and with double white lines!!! And I was doing about fifty five.
It snowed more as the ground rose but we got through the worst of it once over the first lot of hills, then dropped down steeply to Inverness and crossed the Moray Firth. Though all the lochs and rivers I passed over and by, were darkly lowereing. I would have liked to stop for photos, but again no chance, perhaps on the way back down, when, with better weather and less pressure to move on I may have more time.
Now begins a rotten part of my day. I had googled and found that there were two Autogas suppliers in Inverness and one further on, and as I had run out of LPG some miles before, I of course, headed for the first one, which in any case looked nearest to my route. Once past Inverness it seems there are no supplies of LPG for vehicles anywhere.
Into Inverness we ploughed, with all my faith and trust put in Strict Lady. Firstly she took me to nowhere near the programmed address, not in the event that would have helped as I discovered later in the day that they had long ago moved from there. I turned into a busy and rather narrow road, in an industrial area of Inverness, and luckily spotted a very quiet timber merchants with a large yard. Going in to ask if they knew the way, they didn’t even seem to know you could get LPG for vehicles, but knew the address I had programmed into Strict Lady, and that definitely wasn't where I was at.
They showed me on a map where I was headed for and said there was no garage there, let alone one selling Autogas – whatever that might be. When I asked if I could stop in their carpark whilst I sorted myself out they were fine about it, so having no phone I got out the laptop and posted for help on a good forum I am part of. Soon I got a response that there was gas at the second address I had found, and someone had phoned and spoken to them, so reprogramming Strict Lady, of whose services I was becoming somewhat wary, we set off once again.
Through the maze of industrial site roads, she led me down the smallest and narrowest one she could find and announced we had arrived when we reached a tyre and exhaust depot. It seemed unlikely, but nontheless I stopped, nearly jamming the road, as to get into the forecourt, or should I say behindcourt, looked pretty problematic.
A busy mechanic shouted over his shoulder and the noise from the compressor that I was in the wrong place, and to go back the way I had come but take the opposite turn.
Okay, but I was now in a very narrow road with cars parked all up one side. There looked to be a hammerhead at the end, so it was either squeeze past the cars and turn in the hammerhead, or reverse past the cars and back out into the T-junction. I decided to take my chances with the hammerhead, but when I got there found four cars and a truck all parked up. Either I am not young and pretty enough for the damsel in distress routine, or men have changed since I tried it last – I am certain of the former, but also feel that there is a sea change in the way men regard women, or perhaps people in general. Anyway the upshot of it was that the truck and two of the parked cars needed to get out anyway, which almost, but not quite, gave me enough room to turn. There were about four men discussing some paving which was being laid in one of the unit forecourts, which probably accounted for the number of vehicles parked in the hammerhead though they all just let me get on with it.
I had a few goes but with the two remaining vehicles parked at diagonals to each other in the hammerhead I really hadn't much of a chance. I had asked one of the men who needed to move his car out if he would see me back, but he just suggested I reversed back down the road to the end. Eventually someone did come and kindly open the two gates to the unit next to the one causing me grief, and onc in there was plenty of space for me to just turn. Funny old world we live in now.
I told him he was a gentleman, and he gave me a smile and a wave and I set off to find the place the busy mechanic had suggested. Nowhere looked anything like I needed, so pulling up on another large forecourt I asked again, this time the guy driving the forklift shouted. Yes – just reverse up – go out the way I came - go right on round and there is a huge place with signs everywhere – apparently - I couldn't miss it (a phrase I have come to mistrust).
Off we went again. I had switched Strict Lady off as she was no use at all. And going cautiously along, and probably annoying the h..l out of the busy work day traffic I eventually just gave up and pulled over in a widish part of the road to think what to do next.
As I sat there I saw masses of bottles of LPG in a big unit opposite, and although it mentioned nothing about the name of the place I was looking for, or Autogas I vaguely hoped there might just be a pump somewhere round the back, so down the exceptionally steep slope into their yard, parked Thebus up and feeling slightly shakey and headed for 'Reception'
The place was deserted but eventually I found a lone guy in one of the offices. No, they didn't have LPG for sale, but they were the main wholesale suppliers for the north. Okay – I said sitting down on the nearest chair as I felt pretty grim by now – do you know where I could find a garage in Inverness selling it. Yes of course, was the cheerful reply and I was given the address that Strict Lady was consistently failing to find.
Just then (thank you God) and nice young guy who was finishing his shift walked past and offered to drive there with me trailing behind. I could have hugged him. Off we went and he looked doubtfully at the scooter rack saying I might have trouble getting out of their yard owing to the steepness of the drive. Thinking I had made it in alright, and in any case I had to get out somehow I said I would give it a try. He pulled to one side, and the noise as we went up was scarey, but by now to be honest I really didnt care if the d..m lift fell off. I just put my foot down ignored the scraping and we escaped.
He drove round with me following and suddenly just stopped. I couldn’t see where I was supposed to go, plus the road was narrow and when I open Thebus door the steps automatically open into the traffic which doesn’t make things any easier. I picked my moment, escaped and ran through the pouring rain to find where I was supposed to go for the gas
The poor chap looked crestfallen. He was parked up by a large grass-grown, empty plot. Well - it was here last time I came – and I have delivered gas here as well– I just don't know what's happened to them. Perhaps they've moved, but I know the guy I'll give him a bell. The answerphone kicked in but there was a mobile number so he tried that. Yeah! We were there but we're moving. Great – where too? Well, we've not found anywhere yet. Tell her to go to the one about nine miles out. That's where I get mine from.
Well at least he had tried to be helpful and that had restored my faith in humanity somewhat.
I asked him if he knew whereabouts this next port of call might be. No – sorry he said, I always try to say south of Inverness. Yes, well – I know where you are coming from on that one! And feeling five hundred odd miles further south might have been my preference just then I thanked him and headed back for Thebus
It turned out that it was along the route I needed anyway, so better than it might have been, but I suspect I had used about a quarter of a tank of petrol, wasted about an hour and a half, and taken a couple of months off my life as well by then.
The snow and sleet was coming back in when I finally found the station, which - the Saints be praised - had LPG and at a pump which was easy to get to. I had filled up a few times by now, so was feeling confident I would manage, only to be confronted by a pump with a different fitting. I tried several times without success and eventually had to head for the counters for advice.
A slightly harassed man with a pronounced accent tried to explain what to do in between serving customers. I thought I had taken it on board and went out to have another go, but try as I might I could not get it to work, and feeling very cross with myself had to go back in again
This time the same chap, in between serving customers, was now being interrogated by a younger lady manageress with a clipboard, and he gratefully took the opportunity to escape outside to give me advice. It turned out that he was a Belgian who had followed his Scottish wife back to her home when she became homesick, and I think the sight of Thebus made him get itchy feet. He told me how he hated the Scottish weather and wanted to move to Portugal, but his wife wanted to be near her parents. Then he told me how he used to have a camper-van but with a Harley Davidson on the back, and asked where I was headed . When I said after a tour round the British Isles I hoped to end up at the south coast in the autumn then maybe go to the continent for the winter he jokingly said could he come along for the ride, and although it was a joke I think if I had said yes he might have just thrown in the towel and come with us.
I have dim recollections of something like that happening in a film – was it Thelma and Louise - except I am a slightly overweight mid sixties and he was an exceptionally craggy late fifties - and I have no intentions of driving Thebus and Phoebe over a cliff.