So…we are sort of obsessed with campervans. It’s true, we often fantasize about buying our own 2-berth camper with a 3L turbo, multi-burner gas hob, built-in BBQ, and panoramic windows so we can motor off and HoneyTrek forever. This fantasy was first propagated by our road trip around New Zealand (blog coming soon!) but it was solidified by our 975-mile, four-day rally through northern Scotland. To take on the Scottish Highlands in mere days was ambitious to say the least, but the unbelievable beauty in the far reaches of the UK kept us pushing deeper into the wild.
For our whirlwind journey we chose Big Tree Campervans, named after Scotland’s “Big Tree Country” of Perthshire, the company’s home county. Big Tree is a small family-owned business with big heart! They gave us a slew of tips and maps to make sure we hit all the best spots in the Highlands and stocked our fridge and cabinets with everything we needed from linens and pots to milk and eggs–even a surprise bottle of champagne and brownies! Our Toyota Granvia or as Big Tree lovingly calls it, “The Larch,” was just the right size for two, easy to drive, and had all power we needed to take on the rugged North!
Scotland as a whole has beautiful countryside, charming towns, and dynamic cities but for raw wild beauty, it is all about the Highlands. This is one of the most sparsely populated areas in all of Europe, buckling with mountains, doused with lakes and peppered with medieval castles and historic homes. You see more shaggy cows (Highland cattle are the cutest!) and sheep than you do people, and if you do meet someone they likely speak Gaelic. It’s a magical land and our goal was to see as much of it as humanly possible!
Our Route: Pitlochry through the Cairngorms National Park, to Inverness city, up the east coast to the northeast corner of John O’ Groats, along A99’s craggy coast, dipping down to Ullapool, cutting inland at Balmacara to Loch Ness and back. Phew!
Just beyond the Big Tree office, there is the 11th-century Blair Castle. We had barely begun the road trip but we couldn’t resist stopping to see this fully furnished medieval lair. Thirty rooms are open to showcase the space and decor across the ages, including the ballroom with its hundreds of mounted antlers.
The Cairngorms is the largest national park in Britain, spanning 1,748 sq miles. The mist shrouded the mountains so we got out for closer inspection. We hiked along a waterfall, hopping from rock to rock, convinced we’d run into a gnome or something from Brothers Grimm.
We saw far too many beautiful places in the Highlands to include a blog photo of each, so be sure to see the slideshow for our time in the big Highland city of Inverness (a whopping 80,000 people), our night on the beach outside Dornoch, which all happened before we got to the North! The North Coast is where rocky cliffs crash into the sea and heather-covered hills roll from one to the next with lakes nestled in between. When we say lakes, we mean LAKES…Scotland has more than 31,460 freshwater lochs and the Highlands hold the majority!!!
Rounding the northeastern bend of Scotland, we came to the Castle of Mey. Unlike the other castles of yore, the Queen Mother summered in this one from 1952-1996. Today it’s a museum that’s more like taking a tour through her private life than the castle itself. Judging from her VHS collection, she was obsessed with Fawlty Towers.
Quite possibly the best part about campervanning in Scotland is wild camping. This means you can park your car for the night in any location—be it a beach, lake, cliff, forest—as long as there isn’t a sign saying otherwise. Unlike sleeping in a RV parking lot, it’s like staying at an exclusive hotel, choosing the room with the best view possible–but ditching the neighbors and not paying a dime! What could be better? When we laid eyes on Durness beach, had to call this exquisite place home for the night. We cracked a bottle of wine, cooked a gourmet meal on our two-burner stove and watched the sky turn from sunset to stars…perfection.
Before driving off to take on the rest of the north coast, we did a hike around the cliffs and beaches of Durness (that little dot top left is Anne). If you get up to this area, be sure to visit Smoo’s Cave!
Heading south we wanted to take every winding ocean road possible. Even though each detour added hours onto our journey, it was worth it! We got as far south as Balmacara before we had to start making our way inland.
Call us suckers but we made a stop at Loch Ness to see if Nessy would rear her head. The legend of the Loch Ness Monster stems from a newspaper article that ran in 1933 when some tourists claimed to see this serpent-like thing emerge from the water with a victim in its mouth. Word spread across newspapers worldwide and the myth was born. We never saw the beast but seeing the second biggest lake in Scotland and its castle was a win!
Even with over 1,600 kilometers under our belt, there was so much more we wanted to see in Scotland! We returned to Big Tree HQ feeling like fools for only booking three nights. We might just have to rent another camper-van to see the rest of this beautiful country…stay tuned!
BigTreeCampers invited us to take their campers for a spin, and as always our opinions are 100% HoneyTrek!