7 nights of caravan parks, free camping, hiking, scotch tasting, and dodging the rain
Sometime before landing in London we hatched a plan to campervan though Scotland. While staying with our friends Sam and Peter in London, Matt did tons of research to find us an available camper. Most companies were totally booked for all of August. We were only booking about 2 weeks in advance, so this wasn’t exactly a surprise.
Matt finally found a company that had a pretty sweet looking van available for almost 2 weeks, and put down a deposit. Then we heard nothing. After calling and emailing, the answering machine was full and we got no response. Assuming we’d been internet scammed, we filed a dispute with our credit card company for the deposit and moved on. Back to researching.
Lots more web searching and Matt came up with Spaceship Rentals. They had a van available for 7 nights. It was the smallest campervan you’ve seen. It has two front seats and just enough room in the back to turn into a double bed. When you see it next to the ‘real’ RVs…. you can just hear it saying “me too! I’m a camper, I promise!”
Our camper was named Cliff Jumper by the rental company; to us, it was just Cliff.
We picked up Cliff at about 4:30pm outside Edinburgh. Side note, the website says pick up is Edinburgh. It’s not. The office is actually in Kelty, a 30 min train ride plus 10 min taxi ride away from Edinburgh central. Anyway, we stopped at the local grocery for some camping food for the morning and took off for the Cairngorms with a caravan park in mind. At about 9pm we finally arrived at the campsite, to find it full. So we Googled the next closest site and drove on. But that one was full, and so was the one after that! Apparently when you try to find a spot in one of the most popular areas, at 9pm, you are foolish. So we drove on into the Cairngorms national park trying to find one last caravan site. We couldn’t find it, and I had given up hope for a toilet and morning shower. Matt pulled into a dirt road to turn us around and in our headlights were 3 campers! We stumbled upon a parking lot at a trail head that was open for overnight parking. No toilet, but it was free! It was almost dark and 10pm so we stayed the night.
Since the ground vegetation was a little sparse, finding an adequate pee spot was tough in the morning so after a cup of coffee we drove off search of a toilet. Lucky for me there was a Tourist Info and visitors center a few miles down the road with a free toilet. Yay. We were headed North for Dufftown in Speyside to do some whisky tasting at Aberlour and Glenfiddich. Yumm. Aberlour gives you a free taste in the store (no tour needed). We didn’t book in advance, and their tours were all full for the day.
At Glenfiddich, you get a pretty good 45 min tour of the distillery then a taste of 4 different whiskeys. There was a nice Dutch couple that told us we could also have their samples at the end of the tour… but believe it or not, we couldn’t finish all of ours and theirs! We just didn’t have enough time to sip it, and it’s just not a good idea to toss ’em back when driving.
After tasting, and waiting an extra bit just to make sure driving was safe (which it was, promise) we continued the road trip heading towards Loch Ness and Inverness. I was hoping Nessie would be home. We found a campground with space in a small town called Cannich, at one end of Glen Affric, a beautiful glacier carved valley.
The next morning we woke up to a little sun and puffy white clouds so we decided to stick around and hike instead of driving. We picked up two American hitchhikers on our way to the trailhead, they were hiking into a youth hostel in the Glen. We were just doing a loop trail around the loch in the valley. It was a beautiful 10 mile walk that got our feet very wet because the trail makes you hop mud pits in a boggy area and it had been raining so much that summer.
Tired and a little wet we took the road toward the Isle of Skye. Our goal was to be almost to the island by nightfall. Our campsite for that night was a beautiful little site on the water with a castle view. However, we had spent all our cash on dinner and only had 8 pounds left for a 12 pound site! It was a little embarrassing when the site manager came around for payment. But we must have looked trustworthy, or at least sheepish, because he let us promise to pay in the morning when the shops opened and we could find some cash. Phew.
After finding some money to pay our our site, we made it to The Isle of Skye! Talisker is the one distillery on Skye so we called ahead and made a booking for an afternoon tour. In the morning we did a short walk to see the Fairy Pools. It was too cold to go swimming.
After burning a few calories, we went for the whiskey. Talisker had a bit more smoke taste then the Speyside whiskeys. They make it with a mix of peat and no-peat whiskeys. I liked it.
After whiskey we drove out to Dunvegan and found a campsite near the town. It was so windy that the people with tents were having some tent problems. Wind and tents aren’t the best mix. But our view was incredible.
We drove out to see the very west side of Isle of Sky and the Waterstein Head. It was a cloudy day with winds that were ripping off the ocean. We walked the short path out to an old lighthouse and watched the seagulls riding the wind like a kite. Then it started raining sideways so we made our way back to the camper. The sheer cliffs into the water were an amazing sight, even with the clouds and wind.
Our next destination was the town of Portree. We heard it was the biggest town on Skye and we were looking to ride out the storm in a warm pub with a beer and wifi. That evening we decided to eat dinner at an Indian restaurant rather than check the caravan park near town to clam a spot, knowing this probably meant free camping for the night. And yes, when we got to the site at 9pm, it was full. After driving further down the road, there was nowhere to pull off and camp. We turned back toward the caravan park and pulled in next to a semi truck with no trailer that was parked on the side of the road. The only good part about this spot… walking distance to the caravan park, so I could use their toilets. And the bottle of Scotch Whiskey we had bought earlier that evening made the situation better. We were a little nervous that we might get reported and the cops would ask us to move in the middle of the night. But the only thing that happened in the middle of the night was a very drunk man yelling “they have tinfoil windows”, then pounding on the side of the camper and yelling “helllllloooooo?!?” He stumbled on down the street and we went back to sleep.
I made us get up early to get on the road before we could get in trouble for illegal parking. Because the weather was still pretty bad on the Island and not improving soon, we left Skye and drove to Fort William, at the base of Ben Nevis. Checking in nice and early to the caravan park guaranteed us a spot for the rest of the day. Showers were in order, then headed into the town to see what’s up.
There is a pretty cool system of locks that connect the Loch Eil with Loch Lochy and are part of a system of lakes and rivers that cross the entire of Scotland. We drove out the the restaurant at the start of the Ben Nevis hike for some lunch and hoped for better weather the next day so we could hike a little. The evening was was spent in our camper watching Braveheart, eating microwaveable Scottish Pie and drinking Scotch.
A little sunshine gave us the motivation to go for a short hike up to a viewpoint of the North Face of Ben Nevis. Someday I want to go back and hike the mountain.
With just one night left with Cliff, we drove toward Edinburgh, by way of Oban to stop off at the distillery. The downpour of rain that happened in the afternoon caused lots of accidents and after Oban we were re-routed through the west side of Loch Lomand National Park. We finally made it to a caravan park, and there was space for us! Unfortunately there was also space for the Midges (or no-see-ums) which almost drove Matt insane. When the wind let up the bugs were insufferable if you were outside. Good thing it was too late for lounging around with the Midges, we hopped in the camper and called it a night.
Time to return Cliff. We drove back to Kelty, said bye to the van, and made our way to Edinburgh in time for dinner.
Caravan Park Reviews:
Cannich: Cannich Caravan & Camping
Price: 15 GPB
Facilities: Cafe, Showers, Toilets, Laundry, Dishwashing Room and Fridge
The site manager was very friendly, and there is a pub and small grocery store within walking distance. The showers are functional but nothing you want to spend time in. It’s a push button one and goes off after about 5 seconds, and the temperature is irregular. Location is good for hiking.
Castle View: Can’t find them on Google (click here for approximate)
Price: 12 GPB
Facilities: Toilet, Showers (for 50p), and Washing Sink
Very small quiet site and just the basics. The view is incredible.
Price: 16 GBP
Facilities: Toilet, Showers, Wash Sink
About a 15 min walk to the Dunvegan town with cafes and restaraunts. It’s a pretty large site with a lot of people and campers. Showers and Toilets were clean and bright.
Linnhe Lochside Holidays
Price: 21.70 GBP
Facilities: Convience store, Toilet, Showers, Wash Sink
Really well maintained site with an onsite store that has a microwave you can use. All the spaces are monitored so once you pay your site is reserved for the night. This is helpful since you have to drive into town.
Argyll Caravan Park
Price: 20 GBP
Facilities: Showers, Toilet, Washing Sink
Good Showers that don’t have time limit. One is even a proper shower!