Divorce in a bag! Or maybe not!
Well, those days have gone but the 500-mile North Coast road trip in the Highlands of Scotland is today popular with campers, bikers, cyclists and other forms of transport. Instead, we decided to tow our caravan and not walk the 500 miles!
Many people are taking to the roads of Great Britain. Motor homes, caravans, and tents are ‘flying’ out of factories as staycations are now an excellent way to have a self-catering holiday nearer to home.
The planning for this journey started back in February when we booked all the campsites for our June trip. We were in lockdown, but the thrill of booking a holiday to Scotland was as exciting as planning a trip to the Caribbean!
When travelling to Scotland remember however, it isn’t the Caribbean. The weather can be inclement even in the Summer months, so pack for anything, wellingtons, raincoats, sunhats, suncream but don’t forget the insect repellent.
This time we are taking our lovely 2-berth caravan and awning – the ‘divorce in a bag’, as one of my friends called all awnings. They can be a struggle and test your patience, but in a small caravan situation it is essential to have the space.
Our journey started in Northumberland where we stopped at Budle Bay near to Bamburgh where the magnificent Castle stands. It is wonderful with its wide expanse of beach with barely anyone on it! Visit Bamburgh, Seahouses, Alnick, Berwick on Tweed plus Lindisfarne which are all within easy travelling distance.
Many campsites are now Covid friendly with limited toilets and showers but are very welcoming and you can find some excellent places.
The Budle Bay campsite is well positioned, clean and well-kept, but like all campsites at the moment you need to book before you go, the days of just dropping into a campsite have long gone.
We had three days there and moved on to Hawick in the Scottish Borders which is full of history, golf courses, walking holidays and fishing: all are big attractions. For a meal out in this area, try the Auld Cross Keys in Denham, a friendly, welcoming hotel.
Caravans and mobile homes can be luxurious with comfortable beds and all mod cons but remember this is a much smaller space than you are used to at home. So be prepared to compromise. That dreaded awning will give you more living space. It does help in a smaller place than you are used to in your own home.
Our next stop was St Andrews, well known for its famous golf course and the fact that William and Kate – you know who I mean – went to university there.
Cairnsmill is a very well managed site just outside St Andrews and this was our home for the next four days. But, oh it is windy, yes very windy, on the east coast of Scotland and the wind cracked a part of our awning plus blew the wind break down, but we came prepared and had a spare part so up we go again! (No divorce this time!)
St Andrews is an interesting, historic town which has more to offer than just golf. It has a small working harbour and of course the famous Chariots of Fire beach. It has an abundance of restaurants and good quality shops, plus only four miles away is the Darnley’s Distillery that produces whisky and gin. A tour around cost £12, and you get £2 off your first purchase, you do have to book a tour so contact the distillery before you would like to go.
Onward and upwards, next to Aviemore, home of British Skiing in the winter months. Well, in June the snow has normally all gone but not on the top of the mountains that stand towering above the camp site at Glenmore, it still has a cap of snow on top.
This is a good forest site with Loch Morlich a short walk away, which even has its own beach! Aviemore is a small town with a few shops and restaurants about six miles from the campsite.
Dornoch Caravan site was our next stop on the east coast of Scotland, and we decided to stay a few days then leave our caravan on the site to travel around the Highlands by car rather than tow the caravan along narrow, single lane roads with passing places. Dornoch is a golfing town and does have a really good course, which runs past the camp site. The beaches are lovely, set in a sheltered bay.
Our journey north took us to via Wick to John O’ Groats. Pictures were taken, postcards written and views of the Orkney Islands admired from this most iconic place. It is a magnet for many people, and you have to queue to have your picture taken at the signpost telling you how far it is from Land’s End or America.
Don’t miss visiting the Stacks, at Duncansby Head. They are a short journey from John O’ Groats centre – well signposted. They are stacks out in the sea that have broken off from the land. You have to park your car and walk about half a mile to see the stacks and the seabirds that cling precariously to the cliffs. Puffins, fulmars and other seabirds can be seen when they are nesting in the early spring.
Visiting Durness is a flash back in time as my idol John Lennon used to play on Sango Beach – what a treat for a Beatles fan. It is a small but busy little place as the tourists flock there to pay homage to John Lennon at the gardens that were planted to celebrate the fact that he used to come for holidays with his Aunt Mater a long time ago.
Tongue was our next stop at the Hotel Tongue for a lovely meal and a soft comfy bed- bliss – after two weeks camping! Tongue is on the Firth of Tongue, a tidal stretch of water – remember the mosquito spray!
The next leg of our journey, so we thought, would be the most difficult to drive as the roads turn into single track with passing spaces. But we were very lucky at the time of year we went – June – as the traffic was light and easier than we thought but in the height of the holiday season, I am sure it would be rather difficult with all the caravans and motorhomes trying to get past one another on these narrow stretches of road.
The scenery is superb as you travel down the west coast of Scotland, there are so many ‘wow’ moments. One of them being Lock Assynt and another Scourie, a small fishing village with a lovely camp site looking over the sea.
Rather than go back to Dornoch, we decided to book another evening in a hotel and go down to Ullapool, it was well worth it as to go rushing around in this beautiful part of the world is not recommended.
Ullapool is the gateway to the Western Isles – Stornaway – Isle of Lewis is a popular destination with many backpackers making their way to the large ferry boats that take them across the Minch.
Back to Dornoch to pick up the caravan, then off we went to Oban via Inverness. Oban is a busy fishing harbour and as well as a busy tourist area. The Calendonian MacBryane Ferries will take you to the Western Isles, Oban is a good place to explore and eat excellent seafood.
Well, where was the Scottish rain? We had brought wellies, macs, umbrellas but no need, until we got to Loch Lomond, where it rained all day! We only stayed one night there on the east side of the loch and visited the lovely little village of Luss – sadly because of the rain it did look rather bedraggled.
Lockerbie was our next stop to a lovely camp site called Hoddon Castle. This site has lots of facilities, restaurant, bar, outside seating areas, children’s play area, fishing and a beautiful golf course. The pitches were well spaced out and well looked after.
The Dumfries and Galloway area is often missed by people going up to the Highlands, but it is such a beautiful area. Yes, it is on the West coast and yes, there are lots of midges, but spray the spray and venture out to see the bird life, the rock formations and much, much more in this lovely area of Scotland. Don’t miss the Galloway Red Kite Feeding Centre. Watching about 50 of these beautiful birds circling for food really is magnificent.
Our road was running out as we went to our last stop in England, Pooley Bridge at the end of Ullswater, a busy area in the Lak District. Our site was the Waterfoot Camp site, a rather compact site and within easy walking distance of Pooley Bridge and the lake.
We had completed most of the 500 miles but in fact did 1,900 miles in total – yes a lot of miles but over three and a half weeks it was a comfortable drive with 9 campsite stops. This would not suit everyone, but for us it was a staycation to remember.
Scotland, many travellers say, will be there when I get old and don’t want to travel far, but no, now is the time, when we have restrictions still in place, to see our wonderful British Isles and see what we have been missing.
Choose your time, May/June or September/Ocober are good times to go, less traffic and not in the school holidays. The midges don’t know the time of year on the west coast! So take your wellies, suntops and midge spray and enjoy this beautiful part of the world.