It’s January and bookings are coming in fast and furious to hire our campervans so it’s time to put in place my New Year’s resolution for 2017…and start blogging! For those of you who have never been to Scotland before, or never traveled north of Edinburgh and Glasgow, this first tour is for you!
A 7 night tour taking in the west and north coast, this taster tour is an excellent way to discover the diversity of the Scottish landscape and enjoy the remotest Scottish wilderness. No matter what your interests: history, wildlife, photography, water sports, hillwalking or cycling….this tour is for you!
Day 1 – Loch Lomond and The Pass of Glencoe
My recommendation to a first time traveler to Scotland is to always start on the West Coast on the A82 from Loch Lomond to Fort William…right beside Four Seasons Campers where the stunning and accessible beauty of Loch Lomond is your first glimpse of the Scottish Highlands. Loch Lomond is the largest stretch of inland water by surface area in the UK and there are a whopping 22 forested islands scattered across it. These can be visited via one of the many cruises available from Balloch, Luss and Balmaha, or explored by hiring a speedboat, sailboat or kayak. The Loch Lomond lily padded narrows which meander through the islands are truly beautiful and offer an array of beaches to stop and have a picnic and enjoy the peace and quiet. Birdlife flourishes around Loch Lomond and you can easily spot hen harriers and buzzards and red squirrel on the East side of the loch. Continuing north through the narrow winding A82 at the north of the loch (be prepared for slow traffic here at the peak of tourist season) the landscape dramatically opens up and the majestic mountains (called Munro’s in Scotland if they are over 3000ft) of Ben More, Ben Lui and Stob Binnein tower above you. For a gentle walk, and a place to stretch your legs on route, stop at the Falls of Falloch which offer a 20 minute meander to this waterfall which is particularly spectacular in full spate. The newly constructed ‘Woven Sound’ installation provides an alternative viewpoint for the falls.
The next stopping point on your journey has to be at Tyndrum (a great place to stock up on fuel and any last minute camping gear before you enter the Highlands). Here, the West Coast Railway line splits to the south and north to Oban and Fort William respectively and there are a number of cafes and gift shops including my favourite, The Real Food Café which offers ‘healthy’ fish and chips. Alternatively, The Bridge of Orchy Hotel, 3 miles further on, is wonderful for some nourishment with an option of setting up camp for the night (50m over the bridge from the hotel) if you fancy a few drams in it’s bar.
Continue north along the A82 and you get your first glimpse of true wilderness across the barren heather of Rannoch Moor to the north and the serene Loch Tulla to your south. This bit of the road is truly breath taking and the excitement mounts as you approach the summit of The Black Mount, around which you get your first glimpse of the Glencoe and Glen Etive mountains. For those of you looking to wild camp, you can’t beat the single track road that meanders through Glen Etive (just after the Glencoe Ski Centre) for a camping spot beside the River Etive. The James Bond Movie Skyfall was filmed here and you can stand in the exact spot where Bond and M stood on their way to visit James’s childhood home. If you prefer a campsite, then continue through the spectacular pass of Glencoe and camp at either the Red Squirrel site or the Invercoe campsite. The Red Squirrel sits close to the cosy Clachaig Inn for evening dining. A lovely walk to do whilst in the area is The Lost Valley http://bit.ly/2jylPsT . I have many fond memories of walking with my 3 year old on my shoulders behind my 5 and 7 year old children, up the side of the mountain and over into the hidden valley, where the Macdonald clan are said to have hid their cattle from the Campbells!
Day 2 – Fort William and Arisaig
The tranquil waters of Loch Leven offer some time for reflection after the moody mountainous scenery of Glencoe. Taste the amazing west coast seafood at Loch Leven Seafood http://bit.ly/2i94TJ1 at Ballachulish Bridge or continue along the east shore of Loch Linnie and stop at one of the many parking spots on the loch for a picnic. Fort William is the next town on your journey and offers an array of large supermarkets to stock up on supplies plus some great outdoor gear shops. Pass through the town and head west on the A830 past the remarkable Neptunes Staircase which is a series of canal locks that link the Caledonian Canal (that runs north east to Inverness) to the open sea. It’s a fantastic place to view luxurious Scandinavian yachts sailing through the canal to reach the beautiful West Coast and Inner Hebrides. The road here continues parallel to the West Highland Railway line which was made famous by the Harry Potter films. At some point along the way you are likely to spot one of the steam trains on it’s way to Mallaig (or maybe Hogwarts!) There are numerous photo opportunities along the way and most tourists like to stop off at the Glenfinnan monument which sits at the head of Loch Sheil, built in memory of the final uprising by Bonnie Prince Charlie during the Jacobites rising. Personally, I like to just stop at a lay-by and take a photo through one of the many rail bridges or viaducts that cross the route and the ocean beyond. As you near Arisaig, the road widens and the sky and sea take full view as you turn off the main road and down through Arisaig village, where there are a couple of places to eat including The Arisaig Hotel. There is an abundance of campsites scattered beside the white sandy beaches that look out towards the Inner Hebridean Islands of Eigg and Rhum; Sunnyside Campsite offers excellent facilities. Make sure you walk along Traigh beach, made famous by Scotland’s “Local Hero” movie. There are a limited number of wild camping spots along the road.
Day 3 – Skye
It’s a short drive to the fishing town of Mallaig where you can get the CalMac ferry to Skye http://bit.ly/1MnJHpi which takes 45 minutes. (A short wheel base VW Campervan will cost the same as a car.) I would recommend booking in advance in the summer or be prepared to wait and have some delicious seafood in one of the many restaurants in Mallaig. As well as the spectacular walking and climbing opportunities in Skye, there is plenty to do for those touring around the island or looking for history and art lovers. Good restaurants and cafes abound alongside potteries, local arts and craft stores, and of course a tour around Skye is not complete without a visit to Talisker Whisky distillery. Deserving of a dedicated blog on it’s own, for those who only have 24 hours on Skye, I would recommend heading north west around to Glenbrittle and the 5 mile walk to the Fairy Pools for some typical Cuillin scenery and crystal clear pools and waterfalls (arrive early in the height of summer as parking can be tricky). If it’s busy, consider a quieter alternative…there are loads of similar Cuillin corries that are just as magical. Continue north and visit Dunvegan Castle, home to the Chief of Clan Macdonald. Here you can take a tour or a boat trip over to the Loch Dunvegan Seal colony. Finish the day with a visit to Edinbane and enjoy some live music at The Edinbane Inn before watching the sunset from the comfort of your campervan at the nearby Loch Greshornish Camping and Caravan campsite. There are also some really spectacular wild camping spots around the north west of Skye.
Day 4 – Wester Ross and Ullapool
Head south east through the pretty fishing port of Portree and across the Skye bridge to Kyle of Lochalsh and then north Strathcarron. At this point you have a choice of roads to take you to Ullapool. For a longer and more scenic drive, I would suggest heading to Lochcarron, Shieldaig and then Kinlochewe where again you can choose a the scenic route north to Gairloch and Poolewe and the famous Inverewe Gardens, or the more direct route to Ullapool. Ullapool is a lively fishing and tourist port and great for some lively music, great pubs and fantastic fish and chips from the award winning Chippie at the harbour. There is also a large supermarket to stock up supplies for the your campervan tour. The campsite at Ullapool is located on a stony beach and there are amazing views along Loch Broom towards the Outer Hebrides.
Day 5- Achmelvic and Assynt
And so north to my favourite part of Scotland – Assynt in Sutherland! Of all the landscapes in Scotland, this area has to be the most diverse and beautiful. The rocky and mountainous landscape strewn with boulders, and bordered to the west by magical white sandy beaches makes this UNESCO Geopark http://www.nwhgeopark.com/ truly memorable. The park was borne from the original studies by pioneering geologists Ben Peach & John Horne over 100 years ago. The pair’s interpretation of the thrust planes in the area led to current theories of structural geology. For a quick tour of the area, stop at the Rock Stop in the old Unapool school building or drop into the fascinating rock display centre at Knockan Crag south of Elphin. Or for those looking for some exercise and spectacular views there are a number of great mountain climbs including Cul Mor and Cul Beg, and Stac Pollaidh at 613 metres which offers incredible views over the lochans of Inverpolly and out towards the Summer Isles.
The road heading north (now part of the North Coast 500 route) offers incredible beaches and cliff walks, but my favourite place has to Achmelvic with its two small golden sand bays, and a campsite right beside it for you to park the campervan. Stop the night here and walk over the hill to the fishing town of Lochinver and make sure you pay a visit to Lochinver Larder for a choice of over 20 delicious pies or pick up a memento at the Lochinver Pottery.
Day 6- The Moray Firth
The remote A837 takes you from the west coast to the east coast, through Bonar Bridge down to Rosemarkie which is located on the Black Isle, north of Inverness. If you have time, stop at either Glenmorangie or Invergordon distilleries for a tour and a wee tasting. (The Speyside area offers plenty more distilleries but you may not have time to stop on your whistle stop tour around Scotland!). There is a good Camping and Caravan campsite for parking up the campervan at Rosemarkie with views across the Moray Firth and you are likely to see Dolphins swimming in the bay. For those more interested in history, the town’s churchyard and Groam House Museum display some finely carved 8th-9th century Pictish stones.
Day 7 – Inverness and Aviemore
The National Trust for Scotland runs a variety of fantastic tourist attractions but I have to say that Culloden Battlefields just south of Inverness are my favourite. It’s interactive displays and guided headphone tour over the battlefield are so atmospheric! Continue down the A9 to Aviemore, Scotland’s walking and ski centre in the Cairngorm National Park. The area offers all-year- round activities and you can take a short journey on the Funicular railway at Cairngorm mountain range for some spectacular views, skiing and walks. Alternatively walk around one of the beautiful lochs in the area such as Loch-an-Eilean which nestles amongst the ancient Caledonian pine trees. Look out for Ospreys and red squirrels! The campsite at Loch Morlich is a great place for your last night in the highlands and you should pop into the Mountain Café for breakfast and cakes before you make your way south in the morning. The variety of landscape and scenery is endless in Scotland…for such a small landmass, we really have it all!! This tour offers a little insight into some of these beautiful areas but over the next few months, I’ll be looking into specific areas in more detail and bringing you tips about holidaying in Scotland in a campervan. Please get in touch if there is an area you would like me to focus a blog on in the future. The best way to see Scotland in style is definitely in a campervan ….where you are free to roam at your leisure, and stop where you please, with your own spectacular private view to wake up to!