A Different Way to Experience the Highlands – Campervan Hire in Scotland
...with the Scottish Caravan Show
Campervan Hire Scotland
My first road trip to the Highlands this year sees me breaking from the mould. I’m ditching the car and embracing an alternative means of travel – the motorhome. While very much a tentative campervan newbie here, it’s an area that I get a lot of enquiries about and it’s high time I developed some experience from which to give some useful advice. It’s all very well getting a guided tour of one of these things, but nothing puts it to the personal test like getting it out on the road and seeing how it measures up. The Highlands await….
When pondering my route, the West Highlands were always on the cards. There’s a magnetic appeal to it that anyone who knows this turf well can’t resist. A well-traversed road to be sure, but taking it on in the winter means things are fairly quiet and Scotland’s powerful raw appeal can be enjoyed without too much fellow-human interference. Glen Coe, Glenfinnan and the Road to the Isles were the primary focus but I also opted to drift south into Moidart and towards isolated Ardnamurchan. Mountains, lochs, beaches and castles it is then. Quelle surprise – am I getting predictable?
After the initial settling in period of excessive nervous glances in rear-view mirrors and ludicrously generous allowances for spatial awareness have been dispensed with, the advantages of this kind of travel start to make themselves known. The Highlands spread before you from the front seat with an alarming scale and clarity – it’s like the ‘what an idiot, how could I not know about this, this is awesome’ moment you experience the first time you discover the ‘Panorama’ setting on a camera. Before you know it, you’re sitting just ever-so-slightly prouder in your throne as you survey the gigantic terrain before you. As all the other daft wee vehicles struggle to levitate off the ground you’ve got height and panorama on your side and the Traveller Entertainment Factor goes through the roof. Loch Lomond, the Trossachs and Rannoch Moor flee past – with everything a road-tripper could need within immediate reach, literally.
Day 1 of 3 ends with a sunset at the inimitable Glenfinnan. The famous viaduct lies empty – the steam train won’t be along again for a couple of months yet – but there’s no taking away from the allure of the vista over Loch Shiel. Bonnie Prince Charlie’s monument stands iconic in this most Jacobite of Highland neighbourhoods. It helps that you’re not being assaulted with selfie sticks – perhaps the single biggest incentive for Scottish winter travel – and legions of Harry Potter disciples but it’s the nature and the historic aura that do the true shouting here. Smile, and drink it all in.
On both of the two nights I’m on the road, the flexibility of the motorhome meant a coastal park-up seemed compulsory. Falling asleep to the sound of the waves – or, as was the case on the first night, the raging gale outside – with the sand only a few metres away was just idyllic. I have to hold my hands up here – I did take an almost sadistic pleasure in watching some poor souls attempting to replicate our experience by pitching a tent nearby. Half an hour’s brutal torment and countless expletives resulted in a total abortion of their doomed efforts and a night spent in the car. I, meanwhile, decided it was time to put the kettle on.
Day 2 was spent working our way up and down the west coast. The drone has never been happier than it was taking in the stunning Camusdarach Beach – for my money Scotland’s nicest mainland offering – with the distinctive peaks of Eigg and Skye nodding back at you. Immaculate white sands that lie almost completely abandoned this time of year leave you feeling that your luck is in. Whether having a melancholic muse or hatching a plan of action for the year ahead, a good Scottish beach is what you need for heart, head and soul.
Time for a castle. When have I ever taken a road trip without a ruin making an appearance at some point? Never, I suspect, and I’ve no intention of starting. On this ground-breaker of a campervan/motorhome trip, I’m ticking off one of the very few Scottish castles that has previously always evaded me. Castle Tioram is extremely isolated and is therefore widely ignored by the usual guidebooks, blogs and tourism facilities. A rickety barely-even-there road in remote Moidart/Ardnamurchan was a challenge for the motorhome for sure but, on arrival at Loch Moidart, this ancient ruin is worth every pothole. A traditional seat of the Clan Donald and dating back to the 13th Century, it has sat abandoned since the Jacobite wars. Completely undisturbed for an hour I stalked out every conceivable angle, dragging my jaw behind me. There’s a wee bit of Eilean Donan in there for sure. A bit of Kilchurn. Even some of Mull’s Duart Castle. Truly, one of our very best.
With this being our most consistent period of snowfall this winter, the hills were doing their best to show off. Moidart and Ardnamurchan in particular are specialists in distant peaks booming their handsomeness back at you and of lonely moors lit up by crisp frosty shimmers. The local wildlife was out in force too. Deer – and even the odd stag – were spotted regularly floating around the roadsides; buzzards dominated the skies and, my favourite, this wee guy trotted right up to my feet for a nosey.
The journey back to base saw a prolonged stop at Glen Coe. Forever the King of Glens, the wind died just enough for me to get an alternative view over Buachaille Etive Mor with my bird as its winter coat only added to the grandeur. The Buachaille is gorgeous, and knows it. The geography of somewhere as grim and desolate as Rannoch Moor meeting this festival of peaks will never cease to amaze. Whether a first timer to Scotland or an old-hand like me, always always find at least a brief moment for this place. I make a reluctant exit south at least safe in the knowledge that the west Highlands will be seeing more of me very soon. I never like to be away for long.
The Need to Knows
Hopefully I’ve got you thinking about your own potential campervan hire in Scotland experience. This could be just the thing for your own road trip – but where do you start? As you can no doubt imagine, these things come in all shapes and sizes and boast a plethora of optional extras as well. Some of the immediate questions….
Do you need a shower/toilet/cooking facilities on board?
Will you have campsite facilities open to you?
Have you got some experience driving big vehicles?
Standard driving licences (provided you are over 26 years old) are sufficient to get you on the road but experience of dealing with larger vehicles will be a big help while you get used to what is a very different drive. At this time of year, the roads are pretty quiet and reversing half a mile on single track Highland roads should hopefully not be necessary but…..this may not always be the case in peak season. For that reason, beginners should probably start with a smaller vehicle and build up confidence. It’s a competitive industry so you’ll have no shortage of access to high quality options in Scotland – but I can thoroughly recommend BC Motorhomes who could not have been better with me for my maiden voyage. A fridge, an oven, shower, TV and countless other accessories made for a comfortable and convenient journey throughout.
A 3-day duration was ideal for me for starters and I’ll certainly be returning for more now that it’s under the belt. For summer trips, I’d have no hesitation in stretching that timeframe out significantly. Campervanners would generally park up overnight at official campsites and these are scattered about all over the place. It is here that you can refill your water, recharge your power sources and have access to washing facilities. At this time of year, though, campsites are not generally open and therefore you are looking at parking up on roadsides (or on beaches to laugh at folk attempting to pitch a tent in a storm). As long as you keep an eye out for signed restrictions, there’s unlikely to be too much wrestling for space off-season.
The timing of this post is no co-incidence as this week sees the commencement of the Scottish Caravan Show – the industry’s best exhibition for caravan and motorhome enthusiasts. This is the place to go to check out potential vehicles, ask every conceivable question of experts and get the latest tips on the must-have accessories for your own excursions – both for renting and for permanent purchases. The event takes place from the 8th-11th of February at the SEC in Glasgow and you can get a discount for tickets (reduced to £9) by clicking here and adding my discount code of TRAVELKILT18 when prompted. Hopefully, it’ll serve as the start of your 2018 travel planning for getting under the skin of this endlessly fabulous wee country.
This sponsored post is brought to you by me courtesy of the Scottish Caravan Show. They wanted to send me on a road trip to try out the process and pass on my experience to you good people. My objective, as ever, is to raise awareness of how to get the best out of Scotland and the above is all based on my very recent personal experience. I’m personally delighted to endorse motorhome/campervan travel as a great way to get about Scotland and look forward to building on my debut. As for the Show itself, there can be no better way to dip your toe and start to create some memories of your own.
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