In early September, Catherine, the bump and I headed up to Scotland for a final holiday before the little one arrived. The weather in Scotland is seldom camping friendly, nor is a large 8-month bump really, so we decided to hire a campervan! It’s also a very Covid friendly way to travel.
We caught the wonderfully comfortable Caledonian Express night train from Euston to Fort William. Probably thanks to Catherine’s big bump we were bumped up to Club, meaning we had our own bathroom in our room next to the cosy bunk beds. It was super comfy and I’ve never arrived at a destination so clean and fresh before!
Catherine headed to the Morrison’s while I walked over to collect the campervan. It was super comfortable, spacious and had loads of fun features, including a roof that popped up and a front seat that swivelled round so we could sit across from each other at the table when it was up. Aside from a shower we were completely self sufficient, which gave us the freedom to sleep anywhere.
Once we’d unpacked the week’s shop, we made our way to Steel Falls and Glen Nevis to stretch our legs and enjoy some lunch. We then decided to backtrack through Fort William and our first night in the van was a wet, windy and cloudy one in a parking spot overlooking the 3 Sisters of Glencoe (when they appeared out the haze).
Day 2 – through the Flow Country north to Balnakeil
The van is like the boat in that you really feel the weather and instead of being rocked to sleep we were bounced! It was still raining when we woke up and with the poor weather we decided to head off rather than go for a walk. We had debated whether to drive up the East Coast and circle the entire North Coast 500 but in the end decided to skip it so we could spend more time on the west coast.
After breakfast on the shore of Loch Invergarry we popped in to Rogie Falls for a scenic short walk along the river and over a bridge above the falls. Having decided not to head up the east coast, we drove north through the middle of the country from Inverness to Tongue – an area known as the Flow Country and Europe’s largest blanket bog. The sun was out and it was a beautiful afternoon’s driving past swathes of multi-coloured heather under blue skies.
From Tongue we continued west to Durness to enjoy the ‘world’s best hot chocolate’ at Cocoa Mountain and a long, sunset barefoot walk on the beautiful, white-sandy Balnakeil beach. In fact it was perfect Scottish weather with the wind keeping the midgies away. We squeezed into a parking spot overlooking the beach and fell asleep to the sound of the ocean.
Day 3 – south to Loch Assynt
We were up to watch the sunrise and enjoyed breakfast overlooking the beach. Before heading south we popped in to see the Smoo Cave – Britain’s only cave where one level has been formed by seawater and another level by freshwater.
We made our way south to the Sandwood Bay car park in the hamlet of Braimore. It was a flat and easygoing 6km walk to the wide and wild beach, which is flanked by steep cliffs. We found a sheltered spot amongst the dunes to enjoy our lunch and dipped our toes in the freezing ocean before returning to the van for a much needed cup of coffee. The beach is only accessible by foot and the effort involved to see it makes it even more special.
We continued south along the coast on a single lane and stopped for the night on the shore of Loch Assynt overlooking Ardvreck castle. It was another bumpy night with the campervan rocking in the massive storm.
Day 4 – south to just past Corrieshalloch Gorge
The storm continued throughout the night and we were relieved to wake up in one piece! We had breakfast on the lake before continuing south through Lochinver. Sadly the pie shop I’d excitedly read about in the Rough Guide was still closed so we drove straight through before following the windy single-lane road through the countryside.
We were headed for the 612m Munro Stac Polliadh, but at the junction the sky looked ominous so we turned right rather than left and enjoyed a delicious 2nd breakfast in the sun at a beach on the way to Achtilbui. The sky looked promising after breakfast so we decided to take a chance and made our way to the parking lot at the bottom of the Munro.
We were rewarded with an awesome climb under blue-ish skies with views of Munro’s and Lochs in all directions. Initially it was very quiet but as the weather improved more and more people appeared and we passed lots of climbers as we started our descent. There were lots of smiles from people seeing Catherine’s bump and she made it up no bother.
It was incredibly windy at a ridge just below the rocky summit and while Catherine usually enjoys a little scramble and I like to add a stone to the cairn at the summit, we were more cautious than usual and decided against climbing the final few metres. We’ll be back one day for sure and are super excited to take the little one to the mountains.
We continued around the mountain into a wind that nearly knocked us off our feet. It was a very muddy walk back and we just about managed to keep our feet dry hopping from dry patch to dry patch before a late lunch back at the campervan.
After lunch we headed for Knockan Crag to learn a little about Geology and two chaps called Peach and Horne whose groundbreaking 1907 paper had proved that older rocks can sit atop younger ones due to tectonic movements in the earth’s crust. There are a few trails from the visitors centre and we stretched the legs again and enjoyed an awesome view back across the Munro we’d just climbed.
After a busy day of walking it was time for an ice cream and we were delighted to find a gelato shop in Ullapool. We continued to the Corrieshalloch gorge, which was a lot deeper and way more impressive than we could have imagined. It has an amazing viewing platform that extends into the gorge and it was a great surprise end to the day.
We were definitely overdue a shower but because of Covid no nearby campsites were open so we found a lovely parking spot by the river and had a quick and freezing cold splash. We blasted the heater while we made our dinner and after a game of scrabble we climbed into bed.
Day 5 – south to Torridon
Our first stop this morning was the beautiful Inverewe Gardens. They were technically closed when we arrived but there was a side gate open so we walked around with no one about. Highlights included a beautiful South African garden and huge redwoods. We continued to Gairloch for a delicious piece of cake and divine coffee at the super-chilled Mountain Coffee Company.
Next we headed for Redpoint beach, which was stunning and completely empty. After yesterday’s climb, we were excited to find a coastal walk that would take us to another beach. Our supposed 1 mile loop, however, turned into a 3-hour hike as it was both longer than we thought and far muddier than we had expected. Nevertheless it was a super cool walk and thankfully from the beach there was a shortcut back to the campervan through farmland.
After lunch on a Loch the weather turned and the view from Loch Maree was a dreary and wet one. We stopped briefly at the viewpoint in Slattadale before continuing on to Torridon where we pulled up and watched the red deer as the sun went down.
Day 6 – south to Applecross and over the Bealach na Bà pass to the Isle of Skye
We went to bed with the rain, woke up with the rain and enjoyed a walk in the pouring rain on the lake shore in Torridon. We enjoyed a break from the weather at the tiny but interesting deer museum before continuing to Shieldaig for coffee and biscuits in the van whilst we wrote a few postcards. It felt like a very Scottish holiday!
We continued to Applecross for a delicious fish and chips lunch before heading over the winding, single-road Bealach na Bà pass through the mountains of the Applecross peninsula.
The pass has the steepest ascent of any road climb in the UK rising from sea level at Applecross to 626m. Initially we had decent visibility but by the time we were at the top we couldn’t see a thing and it was slow going round the hairpin bends in the treacherous conditions. This was still a walk in the park compared to going over 5,000m passes on 2 wheels in Ladakh, India!
Once in Loch Carron we picked up some apple pie at the award winning Waterside Cafe before a quick look at Eileen Donal castle en route to Skye. The rain followed us and we parked up near the Old Man of Storr for another wild night.
Day 7 – round Skye and the ferry to Mallaig
It was still pouring and blowing a gale when we woke up so we decided against climbing up to the huge rock and headed instead to see the Kilt rock before a short walk around the fairy glen with a bar of tablet.
We drove around the coast to buy the bump a sheepskin rug before continuing across the island to the Armadale port to catch the 45 minute ferry to Mallaig, back on the mainland.
Thankfully the rain stopped and we made our way to the beautiful Camusdarach beach for a quick swim and (finally) a game of frisbee. Previous evenings had been sunny and a little windy / sunny and very windy / wet and a little windy / wet and very windy!
Our last parking spot had gorgeous views across to the Isle of Eigg and we were finally able to use the camping chairs with dinner and a few beers on the beach.
Day 8 – back to Fort William, bus to Glasgow and the train back to London
It was a short drive back to Fort William where we dropped off the campervan. Our train to Glasgow was cancelled so we bundled onto a bus and after a lovely lunch and catch up with Catherine’s Auntie and Uncle we hopped on the train back home to London.
It was an awesome week and the perfect holiday for both Covid and a big bump. The NC 500 is an increasingly popular destination but with the flexibility offered by the van it didn’t feel crowded and at times we felt like we had it all to ourselves when we parked somewhere quiet for the night. (There are loads of places to park so it’s never a problem to find a spot). Scotland is a beautiful country and we’ll definitely be back to explore again.
We rented the van from Matt and team at Nevis Campers (firstname.lastname@example.org). Matt was very responsive and friendly over email and the van was awesome. They also have the van pick up in Fort William, which we wanted – many other companies are based in Inverness.
Tickets can be bought directly online at https://www.sleeper.scot/ It was really fun taking the train and we went to the end of the line at Fort William.