(a pair of rookies fly the nest in a Swift Escape 694, aka the “Skye” by Scottish Tourer.)
Having toyed with the idea of owning a motorhome for some years, In September 2020 my wife Roberta and I finally decided to take the plunge and educate ourselves on the various merits or otherwise by hiring a comfortable modern motorhome from Scottish Tourer in Perth.
The plan was that we could finally enjoy a holiday in the tentative times of Covid affected Scotland, without the hassle of going abroad and perhaps having to quarantine on our return, and of course we could learn how to cope with the constraints of an admittedly large and well equipped van. Cooking, sleeping, toilet, TV lounge – you know, all the things we take for granted in our homes, shrunk down to fit inside a fraction of the space!
Having had a very thorough and friendly introduction by Dawn at Scottish Tourer to the various operational functions of the motorhome, we set off, tentatively at first, although I’ve driven vans most of my life it’s a big girl at 7.4m long and a ponderous three tons plus, not to mention very new and shiny! We hadn’t gone a half mile when the cacophony of dishes, cooker lid, grills etc began to be quite distracting. Lesson 1 – noise mitigation. I parked in a layby while Roberta plotted a strategy of discreetly placed dishtowels and kitchen roll, which made a huge difference. Comfort wise and ergonomically the van (Fiat Ducato) is an easy machine to get along with. Seats immediately felt supportive and the gearchange, steering etc all very intuitive.
We were heading for what we know as the “car park in the sky,” a big layby on the A82 at the edge of Rannoch Moor between Tyndrum and Glencoe which has tremendous views of mountains and sunset in the right conditions – which on this particular evening were unsurpassed. We shared the layby with a gaggle of bikers on tour and another couple of campervans, and we all got on famously.
The bikers were quite envious of our spag-bol and red wine, set on the provided table and camp chairs, in these awesome surroundings.
Day 2 saw us head for Glenfinnan and a long-postponed visit to the monument and chapel nearby. Last time we passed it had been raining so we hadn’t even got out of the car. This time we were warm enough, albeit the weather a little overcast with the odd ray of sunshine keeking through, good light for photographs! On from there and after a wee visit to Mallaig, the very handy pre-loaded Garmin satnav provided by Scottish Tourer pointed us to a wild camping spot, right where we wanted to be, on the shores of Loch Morar. We arrived as the only other occupants of the layby were getting into a canoe and paddling off for an island in the loch and didn’t come back, even by the time we left next morning.
Next morning? Oh yes! Lesson 2 – yours truly gets out of bed for a wiz, and you’ve probably guessed – the Thetford light comes on, tank full, do not use… Err, Roberta, err, you can’t use the loo… How to be the most popular guy in the motorhome! Still, no panic, (well, maybe a little panic!) the preloaded satnav pointed us to a useful toilet emptying spot only a couple of miles away near the stunning Camusdarrach Beach, scene of “Local Hero” and “Highlander” movies, to name but two. Crisis averted, we found another pre-loaded layby to have breakfast and then got on with the only wet day of the tour, entertained by the various drum-beats, snare-rolls and plink-plonks of rain striking the various surfaces of the motorhome.
The village of Lochcarron is near the foot of the Bealach na Ba’ (pass of the cattle) – a famous single track road which takes the NC500 route and its many tourists over a 2000ft high pass on single track roads to the village of Applecross. It’s a daunting road but doable, you just have to take your time and anticipate other vehicles, along with the odd “Hielan’ Coo” shambling along! Having said that, we had no intention of going over the pass as we had done the entire NC500 by motorcycle a couple of years ago. This time our agenda differed, although we would be following some of the route. We parked in a layby on the edge of the village alongside three other motorhomes. Then we took a stroll through the village to get our appetites going, after which we had a stand-out jambalya for dinner, cooked by the Masterchef-addicted Mrs McDougall. I’ll never take the mick out of her for watching that show again!
Next morning at 7.30 a strange thing happened. A school bell happened. Not the electronic ringing of the change of class or end of playtime, set off accidentally or by some electrical fault, oh no! A crazy woman in a Highland Council uniform with a hand held bell, clanging round the motorhomes, telling us to get up!
Lesson 3 – don’t park in a layby opposite a school!
Still in my jim-jams, I popped my head out of the door. “I take it you want us out of the way then, so that the teachers can park here, or something?” I politely asked. “No, no,” she replied, “I just think you all need to be up and away early to get over the Bealach, as we had a motorhome go off the road there last week and they’re bringing heavy plant through this morning to recover it.” Thanks granny-janny, but we weren’t even going that way… I hope said motorhome occupants are OK.
We had decided that whilst we would take advantage of the previously mentioned and invaluable preloaded sat-nav wild camping sites, we also wanted to try out at least a couple of caravan sites. They would also afford us toilet emptying facilities and as it turned out we had no more problems. We chose Ardmair Holiday Park near Ullapool for our first experience and it turned out to be a cracker. A very friendly park with great facilities and even greater surroundings, I highly recommend it. The road from Lochcarron to Ullapool had treated us to an outstanding array of scenery, from molten silver rivers to burnished copper and emerald fields of ferns, from mountains in outstanding light to languid lochs with hardly a ripple on their surface. What a day to be touring Scotland by motorhome!
Next day saw us park up in a layby just a mile past Smoo Cave which is near Durness on the far north coast of Scotland. We had stunning scenery and a sandy beach view which almost matches the beaches in Harris for remoteness and outstanding beauty. We didn’t have it to ourselves though, as Roberta engaged a couple from the Glasgow area in conversation. They had hired a motorhome from another company but for some reason needed to ask me how various things worked, including how to read some of the control panel functions, and how they would know if the toilet was full! Well, yours truly, the motorhoming expert was only too happy to share my new found wisdom, with the authority of an old hand! Beats me how anyone would drive off in one without the requisite instruction, mind you.
On the penultimate day of our tour we had always planned to visit friends who had moved just over a year ago to a big house near Bonar Bridge in Sutherland, but we were seemingly set back when the latest round of Covid restrictions were announced earlier in the week by the Scottish Government. Weighing things up, we remembered that our friends had a power hook-up and water standpipe at the foot of their drive, so we decided on having a socially-distanced Chinese carry-out outside their lovely, large, log-burner warmed house, while we grew gradually colder as the breeze picked up and the sun went down. Ah well, 7.30pm came and we all decided to try again in the morning with a cooked Scottish breakfast. We avoided breaking the rules about households mixing indoors by sleeping in the motorhome. Morning came with the sunshine and breakfast was a much more pleasant affair, with the sun on our backs and hot food to start us on our last day.
Having explored the wildness of Wester Ross and the remoteness of Caithness, our journey down the A9 to Aberfeldy Caravan Park was a familiar affair, but at the slower pace of the motorhome we enjoyed every minute all the more. From the copper and silver tones in the far north, to the variety of greens and first sprinklings of autumn hues all the way down the spine of Scotland, this is truly an amazing country to tour by motorhome. I wonder what it would be like in May, or in summertime…
Aberfeldy Caravan Park is also a very nice place to spend a night, being only a short walk from the bustling wee town itself, with many good places to eat or drink, and a decent sized Co-Op for supplies. Again, recommended.
Overall, our first experience of touring by motorhome was very rewarding and satisfying. Scottish Tourer and Dawn in particular made the introduction all the more pleasant. We managed to return the vehicle unscathed, having covered over 800 miles on some of the best roads in Scotland, from single track roller-coasters to well surfaced, scenic routes with surprises around every curve.
The vehicle was presented to us in immaculate condition, having been twice fogged and thoroughly valeted. Dawn observed the social distancing protocols very diligently, and Scottish Tourer had sent instructional videos by email in good time before we left home, so that by the time she was introducing the various functions to us, we already knew pretty much what went where. Although some might find the cost of motorhome hire a bit steep, we found that for the freedom afforded and the quality of motorhome offered, we had good value. Scottish Tourer, it turned out later when speaking to other hirers, were not the most expensive out there. Bonus!
In Scotland we are lucky to have such an abundance of outdoor pursuits on our door step, set amongst some of the most beautiful landscape and all within easy driving reach when combined with a motorhome you can enjoy a holiday while experience some adrenaline based activities.