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Tipi on mountain top


In search of Snow, Surf and the Simple life.

On the road with Passenger through the Scottish highlands in search of Snow, Surf and the Simple life.


It doesn’t get any more simple than a road trip. All you need is a reliable set of wheels, good friends and good vibes. In the campervan was Rich from Passenger Clothing, big wave surfer Barry Mottershead, revered lensman Christian McLeod and enigmatic snapper Toby Butler. The aim of this trip was pretty straightforward, journey North to Thurso via the Cairngorms and then over to the Isle of Skye and enjoy whatever Scotland provided, embracing waves and wholesome adventure along the way. This would be a mere 1700 miles round trip and once there home would be our “tentipi”, a fitting abode for a humble week of existence.

Richard Sutcliffe & Barry Mottershead in the Passenger campervan

Photo courtesy of Christian McLeod

On the UK mainland there isn’t a whole lot further you can drive than from the New Forest on the South Coast to the fabled Scottish shores around Thurso. It’s a well-trodden path, but still a lengthy one. Luckily for us South African charger Barry spins a yarn almost as well as he threads a throaty barrel, which made the journey much more fun after picking him and the rest of the crew up from Liverpool airport.

bottle of whiskey nestled in wood stack

Photo courtesy of Toby Butler

Once finally over the border we needed to stop for supplies. Scotland in the winter can be a harsh place, so it was essential we had everything we needed to survive. And whiskey. Plenty of whiskey.

Barry Mottershead cooking in the tipi

Photo courtesy of Christian McLeod

That evening we got stuck in the snow in the Glenmore Forest, it was dark and cold, but eventually we freed ourselves and found a spot to set up camp off the beaten track.

Barry Mottershead enjoying the lake view

Photo courtesy of Christian McLeod

Morning break was a real treat. Turned out we’d pitched up next to glassy lake, backed with snow capped mountains. We warmed up and geared up for the day ahead with some filterless “cowboy” coffee. As the charts weren’t looking to promising we located a “Bothy” (free cabin) on a map, somewhere off the grid, and packed for solitude, wilderness and simple vibes.

Taking the scenic view in

Photo courtesy of Christian McLeod

The bothy was a good distance in to the mountains, so we took in the epic landscape as we hiked to our temporary home. Once there we were all feeling the cold so it was time to spark up the fire, warm up the cabin, feed our hungry bellies and enjoy the whiskey. We ate and drank well, comfortable in our simple stone bothy. Steak was conjured up over the fire, with jacket spuds chucked in for good measure. It was to prove a fun evening, and with the charts hinting at pumping Scottish juice, great prep for a full-blown surf mission the following day.

Richard Sutcliffe writting by the fire

Photo courtesy of Christian McLeod

The Bothy at night

Photo courtesy of Christian McLeod

We slept easy and content, in anticipation of some perfect Scottish sliders by daybreak.

The tipi with campfire

Photo courtesy of Christian McLeod

Packing in the morning was pretty quick, with the prospect of waves came ruthless haste. With everything cleared away we descended the mountain and returned to the van. We ate up the miles to our Mecca at Thurso, arriving at the end of the day as the sun was being extinguished by the cold North Sea. It mattered not, we had a good spot for the tipi and pitched up a stones throw from the surf. Tomorrow would be a good day.

two surfers waiting for a set

Photo courtesy of Christian McLeod

In the morning it was clear that the swell was doing the business, just not at Thurso, which was cross-shore and looking a little ragged. We skipped round the coast to Bagpipes, the favourite when the winds weren’t quite right for Thurso’s fabled rights.

watching the waves

Photo courtesy of Christian McLeod

Bagpipes was looking pretty mental, heaving and borderline do-able in the wind. Brew time.

Noah Cohen and Peter Devries getting some air

Photo courtesy of Christian McLeod

We watched two guys doing their best whilst we topped up on caffeine. Right under the cliff seemed best, but there were consequences for bad calls. One of the surfers headed for shore, clutching the two pieces of his board that remained after an overzealous, ledging leap of faith.

Noah Cohen and Peter Devries getting some air

Photo courtesy of Toby Butler

Turned out that the Canaries in the mine were pro surfers Noah Cohen and Peter Devries, shooting for a new film for Ben Gulliver. As the tide dropped Peter put on a solid performance, charging in and out of some pretty heavy pits before the tide got too low even for him.

Barry Mottershead surfing in Scotland

Photo courtesy of Christian McLeod

Barry, after watching, was getting itchy feet. We headed back across to Thurso to check if it had cleaned up at all. Bust. It was still looking pretty ragged and windy, but it wasn’t going to stop Barry this time round. Although barrels weren’t on the menu Barry did a good job of making Thurso look good, catching some really great waves and throwing some serious tail. After a couple of hours the allure of Bagpipes was just too much, so it was back to the point.

Barry Mottershead surfing in Scotland

Photo courtesy of Christian McLeod

We elected for the left point break, whilst Barry elected for the twinny. The surf was pretty good, with sizey sets and the occasional wave hitting the rocks at just the right trajectory and reeling off down the line for a considerable ride. Barry was turning on the retro style, despite the steep ramps, and was even chucking in the odd hang five for good measure. Although he’s best known for charging Mully mutants, it turns out he can style it with the best of them. Who knew?

Barry Mottershead surfing in Scotland

Photo courtesy of Christian McLeod

After a full day of sliding we decided to set up camp. The tipi went up in the garden at the place Noah, Peter, Ben and Mark were staying at. They were heading for Iceland the following day for some ice cold solitude, so it seemed a good idea to catch up and spin a few yarns amongst friends. It was a fun night in relative civilization for us, so we chatted through to the small hours.

Barry Mottershead surfing in Scotland

Photo courtesy of Christian McLeod

At first light it was obvious that the swell had dropped. We gave it a blast to blow off the cobwebs of a night in the tipi, although it was no marathon as we had another agenda.

Beautiful scenery in Scotland

Photo courtesy of Christian McLeod

Six hours ahead of us was the Isle of Skye. Between us and our destination was a literal encyclopedia Britannica of scenery. Briefly it seemed that we’d not get the chance to enjoy it, as the windscreen wipers packed up as the sleet began to fall. Just as the driving started to get that little bit too sketchy they decided to spring back into life, giving us safe passage through the mountains. If you ever have the opportunity to explore this part of our fair isles take it; snow capped mountains, rivers, lakes, forests, Scotland essentially has buckets of it all.

Tipi set up near the mountains

Photo courtesy of Christian McLeod

We timed our arrival in Skye with the onset of darkness, so quickly opted for a spot in front of some postcard perfect snow tipped mountains in a clearing of trees just about accessible by van. Once set up the fire was lit for the night. We indulged in sausages, tea and our staple story telling. Luck dealt us a good hand and a great sunset. Clear skies left a canvas littered with stars, and a chance to absorb it all and talk about waves and adventures past, present and future.

mountains

Photo courtesy of Toby Butler

Our last night on the road didn’t offer much in terms of sleep. The combination of both wind and driving snow made the tipi feel like it was readying itself for takeoff, listing and bending with each gust. After an early start and a much required coffee it was time to explore Skye a little. It seemed only right that we take a hike up the Old Man of Storr, but again nature had decided this was not to be the case, with heavy snow setting in half way up. Visibility shrank to nothing and we retreated back to the van to start the mission back through the highlands to main roads that would return us to Southern England and reality.

Barry Mottershead on log stack

Photo courtesy of Christian McLeod

Barry Mottershead walking

Photo courtesy of Christian McLeod

It was an epic adventure full of laughter and good company, although we didn’t quite score the Surf and Snow we had dreamt of, it’s nice to remind ourselves of the simple life.

Words by Steve Hagan