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Scottish Highland Camper Van Tour
Thai-nomad.com – was established in July 2016. I have been adding trips that I have taken over recent years to my ‘Other Destinations’ section on the blog. The following post is about a trip I took with my wife and two kids in august 2011. The photographs, information, and links are still relevant as of March 2017, when I wrote the post.
At the start of August 2011, I borrowed my friend’s camper van – a 1985 Winnebago Lesharo (left-hand drive) and embarked on a 12 day touring trip of the Scottish Highlands with my wife and two children. The camper van was old but my friend had restored it to nearly new and it was sparkling in the early evening sunshine when he dropped it off to me.
Although the sun was shining brightly in a clear, blue sky on the evening that we set off on our trip, the summer in Scotland that year had been rotten (as is often the case in Scotland), but the weather was set to improve apparently, and according to the STV weatherman, an Indian summer was likely for Scotland over the next week or two!
We set off from our home in East Kilbride on the outskirts of Glasgow around 8pm on a Friday night. Our official first stop would be Fort William – a town of around 10,000 inhabitants on the banks of Loch Linnhe – a salt-water loch (lake), located about 100 miles north of Glasgow. Standing in the shadow of Ben Nevis (Scotland’s highest mountain – 4416 feet), Fort William is often referred to as being the ‘Gateway’ to the Highlands.
Before Fort William, however, our first unofficial stop was a car park next to a small loch near Callander on our first night after one of the headlights on the camper van had failed. It was only a bulb that had blown and in hindsight, it was probably a good thing, because driving in the dark on narrow, countryside roads in Scotland, in an unfamiliar left-hand drive, probably wasn’t the best idea I’d ever had.
No big deal! We were self-sufficient. We bunked down for the night in our comfy Winnebago and – after a good night’s kip, continued onto Fort William in the morning, arriving at the Glen Nevis Caravan and Camping Park – a campsite at the foot of Ben Nevis, around midday.
We spent a few days in Fort William – hiking Ben Nevis, fishing for mackerel in Loch Linnhe (a salt water loch), and taking beautiful, evening strolls around Glen Nevis. On day 4 we left Fort William and headed north for our next port of call – the world-famous Loch Ness.
Loch Ness is a deep, freshwater loch (lake) about 23 miles long. It is the largest body of water in the Great Glen, a glen that runs from Fort William to Inverness. It is the second deepest loch in Scotland (755 feet, or 230m, at its deepest point) after Loch Morar. And it is the second largest loch by surface area in Scotland, after Loch Lomond, although it is the largest by volume because of its depth, and holds more water than all the lakes in England and Wales combined. The loch is also part of the Caledonian Canal system but it is most famous for its alleged sightings of ‘Nessie’ – the Loch Ness Monster.
We stayed at the shoreside of Loch Ness for one night in order for the kids to do a bit of monster spotting (and for the wife to do a spot of posing), and then headed north again in the morning towards the Isle of Skye – the largest and most northerly major island in the Inner Hebrides.
The weather had been excellent all week, including the day we were headed for Skye, so rather than drive all day and miss out on the sun we decided to stop at Balmacara – near the Skye Bridge, and spend the rest of the day, and night, at a Balmacara Campsite.
After spending another lovely, relaxing day (and evening) in the warm, Scottish sun – we bedded down for the night – I, with a good book: Reheated Cabbage by Irvine Welsh, the kids and the wife watched a movie on TV.
The next morning we awoke early to yet another sunny day before setting off for the Skye Bridge – a controversial bridge that scrapped its outrageous £11.40 toll in 1997 after pressure from the locals, and one that connects the Isle of Skye to mainland Scotland using Eilean Bàn (a six-acre island in the mouth of Loch Alsh) as a stepping stone ‘across the sea to Skye’.
Once across the bridge, we headed for Torvaig Campsite on the outskirts of Portree. The Isle of Skye is 50 miles long and is
the largest island in the Inner Hebrides. Portree – the capital of Skye, is regarded as being a good base for exploring the island. I am a keen hiker and Skye offers some great hikes. There are 12 Munros in the Cuillin Mountain range alone (a Munro is a 3000+ feet mountain in Scotland).
‘The Cuillin’ rise to rugged, jagged peaks and are popular with experienced hikers, as well as mountaineers. Being with the wife and the kids, I couldn’t exactly leave them in the camper van and start hiking into the mountains so we just admired the dramatic scenery from the roadside. After ‘The Cuillin’ we made our way over to another iconic Skye landmark – the ‘Old Man of Storr’, a large pinnacle of rock that looks out over the Sound of Raasay to the mainland where the views are stunning.
We spent two days on Skye. The second day was a washout – the Scottish weather had turned normal and dark rain-clouds now hung heavy in the sky. We decided we’d seen enough of Skye and so packed up our shit on the morning of day 3 and headed back to the mainland.
Next stop was Gairloch – which we knew nothing about. It turned out it was the highlight of the trip.
On the drive to Gairloch, the sun came back out. The scenery on the drive was spectacular in the sunshine. We were headed for Sands – Caravan and Camping Park in Gairloch. The view of the Torridon Mountain range from the campsite was stunning. In fact, everything about Gairloch was stunning: the sand dunes, the long white sandy beach at the campsite, the rugged Cuillin mountainscape ‘across the sea to Skye’; and with the sun now shining for over a week (with the exception of one day on Skye) even the crystal-clear Atlantic Ocean was warm – normally freezing in Scotland.
We ended up spending the remaining 4 days of our holiday in Gairloch – soaking up the glorious sunshine for 3 out of 4 days; we bought a dingy for the kids to play with in the sea (they were hardly out of the water, even on the day that the weather wasn’t so good). We went sea fishing on a boat – a small pod of dolphins leaped from the water out in the distance as we fished – a hungry seal followed us looking for any spare fish that we had caught. We went fishing at the beach in the evening with ‘beach-casters’ that my friend had stored in the camper van; the rest of the time we just chilled out with our feet up and stuffed our faces with local produce: fresh King Scallops and mussels – Venison steak and Venison burgers.
Over the years, I have visited many beautiful countries throughout the world – working and living in some, such as Thailand and Taiwan; as a hiker and trekker, one of my favourite countries in the world is Nepal, but that holiday in the West Highlands of Scotland – my home country, was right up there with the best of them. I highly recommend visiting the highlands of Scotland if you’ve never been there – it is such a stunning location, especially if you’re lucky enough to have the sun shining down on you when you are there!
note: there are two things that most tourists don’t like about Scotland, one is the damp and dreary climate – oftentimes, even in the summer; the other is the dreaded, highland midgie – a tiny, biting insect (fly) that plagues the lochsides and glens of western Scotland every spring/summer – the wetter, the better, for the highland midgie. And don’t forget your Midgie repellent; face nets – if you’re thinking about going fishing, especially in the evening. The east coast is midgie-free.
Gallery – Scottish Highland Camper Van Tour
‘In the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take.’
Copyright © 2016 Raymond Carroll