When the words ‘summer holidays’ and ‘staycation’ were mentioned once more, a unanimous decision was made for a return trip to Scotland, island hopping around the Hebrides.
A previous tour had given us a real sense of the uniqueness of each island – with its own flora and fauna, changeable landscapes and miles of deserted sandy beaches.
Keeping an eye on the Government guidelines, we began the meticulous planning stage, booking all campsites and ferries well in advance.
As the temperatures soared above 35 degrees, packing waterproofs and warm clothing alongside shorts, suntan cream and Smudge all seemed a bit surreal, but in the knowledge that Scotland could offer us all seasons in a day, ‘Scout’ riles applied – we were prepared!
Crunching the miles
Unfazed by hours of driving, we were happy to crunch the miles, making Sunnyview CL, just off the A1, our first overnight stay.
After a leisurely departure next day, which naturally included a full English breakfast, we continued towards the working farm and CL at Ghyll House Farm, in West Yorkshire/.
Blessed with clear blue skies, we pulled on to an immaculate grassy pitch with panoramic views over Wharfedale, and enjoyed a pleasant afternoon stroll along the Millennium Way into the nearby spa town of Ilkley.
Only 150 miles remained and the late ferry crossing from Ardrossan meant we could take advantage of extended driving breaks in the heat, pausing by rivers to cool off feet and paws before boarding the CalMac ferry, taking just 55 minutes to reach Brodick Ferry Terminal on Arran, the southernmost Scottish island.
With the skyline dominated by the towering granite peaks of Goatfell, we left the bustling resort and sandy bay of Brodick behind us, taking the slow and undulating pasture route south towards the much quieter village of Lochranza.
Having driven just 14 miles, we soon began to understand why Arran is heralded as ‘Scotland in Miniature’, the Highland-Lowland dividing line clearly passing right through its centre.
Turning into the campsite beside Lochranza’s nine-hole golf course, we pitched facing the course – and the resident red deer, nonchalantly grazing just opposite while we ate our lunch and organised a to-do list.
With a day of sunshine forecast, I was keen to make a start on Arran’s circular Coastal Way. With a wonderful awareness of the surrounding solitary beauty, I passed to take in the stunning scenery at Newton Point and to find out about Hutton’s Unconformity. This intriguingly named geological outcrop is one of the most historically important in the world, playing a major part in the modern understanding off the age of the Earth.
My return to basecamp included the ruined castle on the bay’s mud flats, and Arran’s whisky distillery – I had lots to discuss over breakfast!
Then, bike tyres pumped and a quick change of trainers, and the family were organised for the first section of the popular 55-mile cycle loop around Arran.
We appreciated the relatively flat and quiet coastal road, with spectacular views of basking seals, as we pedalled earnestly towards Machrie Tearoom – and the promise of cake!
After a further picnic stop on Drumadoon Bay, our son, Ben, – now refuelled – persuaded dad Harvey to play a quick game of pitch and putt – hole three was rather nervously negotiated in the company of the very large stag spectators!
The Isle of Arran features prominently in the history of Robert the Brcuce, and Ben was keen to retrace his footsteps to the King’s Cave, on a three-mile circuit walk. We made this beautiful trek through forests, among swathes of purple loosestrife , and on to the shoreline, with dramatic views of the basalt cliffs of The Doon ahead. We all took turns to carry our dog, Lucy (recovering from recent surgery), who was eager to enjoy the scenery.
Good weather encouraged us to explore further, with stops at elegant Whiting Bay to stock up on local produce while admiring the views of Holy Island, home to a Tibetan Buddhist community.
With unfinished cycling business and our final day on Arran fast approaching, I took myself across the spectacular String Road on the B880 (Arran’s geological fault line). Having endured a 3km climb, I was grateful for a lift home from the lovely village of Corrie. Ben and Harvey, meanwhile, had opted to spend the day fishing.
The wonders of Route 66
At the Station Café opposite the ferry terminal we secured some bacon butties before bearding for the Kintyre peninsula of Claonaig, in search of the panoramic views of the Atlantic coast that can be found at Carradale Campsite.
Single-track roads, albeit with ample passing places, make Route 66, around Kintyre (A83 and B842), unsuitable for family cycling, but we were impatient to explore this newest tourist route.
We drove in the direction of the lighthouse and the Mull of Kintyre Loop, to see what had inspired Paul McCartney all those years ago. The journey did not disappoint, with beguiling landscape and empty winding roads high above sea level, and views across to Northern Ireland.
A day off from driving – deemed a ‘campsite day’ – and Ben spent a happy morning fishing before packing his emergency rations and taking us on a hike along the waymarked Deer Walk (accessible behind the site at Carradale Forest). Keen walkers, we ventured to the summit of Cnoc nan Gabhar, with views Across Kilbrannan, the Arran mountains and Ailsa Craig (located halfway between Glasgow and Belfast) and that priceless feeling of remoteness all around us.
Back on Route 66, we took the opportunity to see ‘GRIP’, one of five sculptures made by Antony Gormley for the Landmark Trust’s 50th birthday.
The following day was put aside to visit Saddell Bay = the idyllic beach setting for the video of the famous Mull of Kintyre song by Wings.
Having spent some time exploring the ruins of Saddell Abbey and wandering on the beautiful bay, the only thing that remained was a serious stone-skimming competition – the flat stones proving too tempting to pass up this opportunity. After a tough contest, we made the essential detour to Torrisdale Bay, returning via the Beinn an Tuirc Distillery, producers of Kintyre Gin, to pick up my winnings!
We recognised it was impossible to explore the whole peninsula during our short stay, but we were determined to experience its seafood. A trip to Skipness Seafood Cabin (PA29 6XU) surpassed all expectations. Such a unique experience in an outstanding setting, under the shadows of the medieval Skipness Castle and with views across the Kilbranna Sound. The seafood was simply delicious and our plate-to-share offered an array of enjoyable firsts for Ben, including oysters. After such a perfect day, all that remained was a swim and a game of boules, in readiness for an early start and the five-hour ferry crossing from Oban to Barra.
Glorious sunrise and sunset views
Borve Camping and Caravan Site, just 2.5 miles from Ardmhor Ferry at Castlebay, really was love at first sight, with magnificent sunrise and sunset views over the sea. The site warden greeted us warmly and with his encyclopaedic knowledge of fishing, was an instant hit with Ben.
With persistent rain the following morning, we settled on driving along the A888, which circumnavigates the heart of the island. Priority stops included the friendly community shop in Castlebay, buying wool to keep me busy and lures and a spare fishing rod for Ben. This was followed by a trip to the Isle of Barra Distillery, for a bottle of its carrageen seaweed-infused gin.
Armed with newly acquired local knowledge, we then headed for Barratlantic (HS9 5YA) to treat ourselves to some fresh scallops, langoustines and crab for dinner.
On two wheels
What a find that was, and we were only halfway around the island – we needed to return home, regroup and get the bikes out!
Cycling the 13.2 miles around Barra gave us a totally different perspective of its remoteness, with empty, narrow roads and sweeping bends in the south and west.
Clearer skies meant it was finally time to open our copy of The Outer Hebrides: 40 Coast & Country Walks, by Paul and Helen Webster, for a stroll to Vatersay, the southernmost inhabited island of the Outer Hebrides.
Our poorly dog Lucy walked cautiously across the fabulous beach of Traigh Siar, to be joined by a herd of cows, which had paused from grazing on the machair in favour of a paddle!
Later on, sugar levels restored by a large piece of cake, Ben went off for the first of many evening fishing trips at the causeway, returning home to check his lobster creel which, somewhat to his disbelief actually contained a lobster!
Neighbour and expert angler Jim came to our rescue and provided an elated Ben with essential advice – first measuring the lobster to ensure it met appropriate guidelines, before imparting vital information on its safe preparation.
The sun remained with us during our entire stay on Barra, allowing us ample opportunities for bodyboarding the dunes at the mile-long stretch of sand at Traigh Eals, and wild swimming and snorkelling at the glorious beaches of Vatersay, Bagh a Deas and Traigh Bharlais. Fantastic walks included the rugged coastline of Halaman Bay and Eoligarry Peninsula to see the small aircraft land on Traigh Mhor – the only place in the world where scheduled flights use a tidal beach as the runway.
For an aerial view of Castlebay, we had left the short but steep climb of Heaval to our final full day here, pausing on the way at ‘Our Lady of the Sea’, a marble statue of the Madonna and Child.
Departing in stormy weather, we took the ferry from Ardmhor towards South Uist. Lucky to board given the high winds, we then made the half-hour drive to Eriskay Ferry Terminal. Staying in North Uist meant driving 37 miles on the main A865.
This stretch felt like driving on a narrow strip of matting on top of a bog, and with its flatter landscape, salt-water lochs and dunes, the island certainly appeared more water than land!
Struck by the scenic contrasts, we waited for the rain to cease before pitching up at Moorcroft Holidays site with its stunning views overlooking a tidal bay and the hills of South Uist.
Small island, long history
A quick change of clothes and we were straight out to retrace the steps of Bonnie Prince Charlie at Coilleag Sands, at nearby Eriskay. What a beautiful find this was, as we drove further towards Acairseid Mhor, spending time at the harbour observing the colony of seals.
As we soon discovered, for such a small island, Eriskay has a wealth of history, particularly associated with Bonnie Prince Charlie in the 18th century and with the wreck of the SS Politican in 1941, an event adapted by Compton Mackenzie fo his much-loved novel Whisky Galore. Drinks with campsite neighbours marked the end of our stay in Uist -a late but lively evening!
We packed up by torchlight, ready for an unsociably early ferry crossing at Lochboisdale and heading to the altogether busier Fort William. We were grateful for the peace and quiet our campsite – Bunroyd Park at Roy Bridge – offered us.
The adventure continues
Although our days on holiday were all too quickly drawing to a close, the same could not be said for the adventures, as Ben continued to make the most of the time remaining with evening trips to Fort William West End car park (PH33 6RD) for daily mackerel-fishing at Loch Linnhe.
He also fulfilled his ambition to climb Ben Nevis in under 4.5 hours (very impressive!) on his half-birthday (a traditional family celebration), earning himself a whole birthday cake this year.
Bunroy Park Campsite, chosen for its peaceful location near Roy Bridge along the River Spean, also meant that we were able to enjoy our cycling fix, riding along Route 78 towards Gairlochy and stopping to wonder at the eight dramatic locks that comprise Neptune’s Staircase, on the scenic Caledonian Canal.
We also walked along the Commando Trail and explored the Creag Meagaidh National Nature Reserve, in the Monadhliath mountains.
Wanting to make our final day most memorable we headed off to Arisaig, Mallaig and the white sands of Camusdarach Beach. Parking up just metres from the facilities with an uninterrupted view of the beach and areas, we had all our wishes granted and settled down for a perfect last full day in the water and on the land.
Relucantly, the time came to return home, and we broke the journey at another CL, on the Scottish border at Lockeribie, in Dumfries.
Here, we not only managed an unexpected but awesome forest trail bike ride at Ae Forest (DG1 1QB) – but were also brought freshly baked shortbread by the kindly owners of the campsite, who had heard that this was to be our final night staying in Scotland.
Back to normality
After catching up with family for a barbecue at our final stop, the Littleover Farm CL at Sutton Bonington, in Nottinghamshire, we had reached the end of our epic trip. Following such a glorious holiday, we found ourselves returning home full of mixed emotions.
The normally fairly quick task of unloading the campervan was definitely hindered by the fact that none of us actually wanted to go back to everyday normality – not yet, anyway.
But it helped knowing that our ‘van was on the drive, and would take us there again; there was just the small matter of school and work to be dealt with – and souvenir gin to be enjoyed!
Way to Go
We went to and from the Outer Hebrides with CalMac Ferries:
- Ardrossan to Brodick, Arran (pre-booked 55-minute ferry trip_
- Lochranza to Claonaig (30 minutes, pay on arrival at port terminal)
- Oban to Castlebay, Barra (pre-booked 4.75-hour crossing)
- Ardmhor, Barra to Eriskay (pre-booked 30-minute journey)
- Drive over causeway to Uist, Locgboisdale
- South Uist to Mallaig (pre-booked 3.5-hour ferry journey)
Pets are welcome on the ferries. Prices vary according to season.
Where we stayed
Lochranza Caravan and Camping Site
- Lochranza,Isle of Arran, KA27 8HL
- Web www.arran-campsite.com
- Tel 01770 830 273
Cradle Bay Campsite
- Carradale Estate, Campbeltown, PA28 6OG
- Web www.carradalebay.com
- Tel 01583 431 665
Borve Camping and Caravan Site
- 104 Borve, Isle of Barra, HS9 5XR
- Tel 01871 810 878
Moorcroft Holidays campsite
- 17 Carinish, North Uist, HS6 5HN
- Web www.moorcroftholidays.com
- Tel 01876 580 305
- West Kilbride, Isle of South Uist, HS8 5TT
- Web kilbride-campsite.business.site
- Tel 07751 251 522
- Roy Bridge, Fort William, PH31 4AG
- Web www.bunroypark.co.uk
- Tel 01397 712 332
Find out more
- Visit Scotland
- Outer Hebrides
- Scottish Cycle Routes
- North Uist
- South Uist
- Ben Nevis
- Fort William
- Scotland’s geology
- Arran Coastal Way
- King’s Cave
- Skipness Seafood Cabin
- Hebridean Smokehouse
- Barra Distillers
- North Uist Distillery
- Beinn an Tuirc Distillers
- Isle of Arran Distillers
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Cycling the 13.2 miles around Barra gave us a totally different perspective of its remoteness, with empty, narrow roads and sweeping bends in the south and west