Out of offices on and van packed up to the hilt, we eagerly awoke to begin the drive North for our first official van road trip to bonnie Scotland. I’ve always loved that feeling when you start a journey – whether it’s driving, catching a train or boarding a plane – the anticipation of heading to a new destination and the adventures that await. Cruising up the M6 it wasn’t long before the grey clouds loomed far behind us and we crossed the border into sunny Scotland. We both enjoy the freedom and break from routine that comes with travelling, which was one of the main draws for investing in the van build. It can be hard to go with the flow when you work full-time, have a puppy and are trying to run 40 miles per week, so we didn’t want to overplan the trip. We mapped out a rough route via places we especially wanted to visit and reserved a couple of camp sites along the way to ensure the luxury of a hot shower every few days. Our first destination was the Isle of Mull – which is only accessible by Ferry and with the bank holiday just days away, we’d decided it wise to prebook our ticket from Oban.
After a smooth ferry crossing, we docked onto the Isle of Mull and the sun was still beaming. We’d downloaded an app called ‘Park for Night’ which shows you surrounding camp spots based on your location – whether it’s an official camp site or a good place to wild camp – they all come with reviews, so you can get an idea of where you should or should not bunk down for the night. The plan was to head to Loch Na Keal, as we had our eyes on climbing Ben More the following day (Mull’s only Munro) and as we trundled down the single track roads of the small isle we were not disappointed by the remote beauty that surrounded us. Having discovered a quiet area overlooking the bay, we parked up for the night. Beers open and sea bass cooked Al Fresco, the stresses of daily life had already started to melt away as we spent the night chatting, excited for the weeks ahead.
Sadly, our illusion of a Caribbean infused trip to Scotland quickly evaporated as we awoke to rain and cloud cover the following morning. In an attempt not to dampen our spirits further we decided to post-pone the mountain climb and headed up the west coast to explore Calgary bay, where we enjoyed a run along with beach with Arthur before moving on to the capital of Mull, a tiny fishing village called Tobermory. It didn’t take long before we had located the nearest pub, ‘The Mishnish’ to dry off by the roaring fire and sample the local ale. The following couple of days were spent exploring before crossing back to Oban. Had we not pre-booked our Ferry travel, I think we would of happily extended our stay on Mull and no doubt will be back to visit this magical isle again in the future. That said, the sun was back out for our arrival on the mainland and the beach side fish and chips softened the blow of joining back into civilisation.
The next stop on our Scottish road trip was Fort William and we were excited to head into the Mountains. We stayed at a lovely camp site called Glen Nevis, about 1km out from the Ben Nevis visitor centre – it’s really popular with great facilities and makes the perfect base to explore from. After grabbing much needed showers, we retreated for an early night, ready to tackle Ben Nevis the following day! At 1,345 metres high, Ben Nevis is Scotland’s tallest Munro and the highest point in the UK. Naturally, we would be inclined to attempt to run up and down, as we have done previously, but we had a little roadie with us on this venture who isn’t quite up to fell running, just yet! So, we devised a relay plan where-by Nathan set off running to the top and I began hiking with Arthur, our warm gear and ever-important snacks. Having reached the summit an hour and a half later, Nathan ran back down to greet us and we swapped over, giving us both opportunity to get some hill training in and enjoy the views! The weather was kind and although there was still cloud cover on the summit, the conditions were mild and it made for a fun day in the hills. Reunited, we ambled along the final few miles to the Ben Nevis Inn for well-deserved refreshments!
Following a lazy coffee fuelled morning we packed up the van and gathered supplies, ready for the drive over the Skye bridge at Kyle of Lochalsh onto the famous Isle of Skye. Skye has been on our list for a while now and expectations were running high for this mountainous island. With wet weather forecast to set in the following day, we made a bee-line for the Old Man of Storr on the east coast to stretch our legs. The short, but steep out and back climb offered amazing views over the Sound of Raasay and it was easy to see why it is such a popular hike. With no fixed plans we drove north and managed to locate a quiet spot for the night overlooking the sea at Staffin bay, a place well-known for porpoise spotting!
We weren’t lucky on the wildlife front, but we did manage to locate some ancient dinosaur footprints at low tide which (half of us) thought were pretty cool! As we drove west around the top of Skye towards Glenbrittle the weather started to turn and the wind was howling. The plan was to hike to the Fairy Pools, a supposedly magical place at foot of the Black Cuillin mountain range with crystal clear pools where you can swim and explore. We decided to brave the weather in lure of the mystical waters and parked up in a tree lined car park about 200m up the hill from the start of the track. We got around 100m down the road before aborting the mission as Arthur was swept clean off his paws – and not by the views. Soaking wet and defeated we remembered some friends had recommended a market-style place called ‘the Oyster Shed’ – not too far away in the village of Carbost – famous for it’s fresh seafood and of course Oysters. The food was incredible, so simple, but the tastiest salmon I have ever tried! With full bellies and bottle of red wine in hand, we headed back to the Fairy Pools to bunk down for the evening with the hope for good weather to attempt the hike the following morning. After a restless night under the swaying trees, we set out early in the drizzle to finally get a glimpse of these pools. I’d love to say it was worth the wait, but truth is we were a little underwhelmed and made the decision to leave Skye earlier than planned in search of some sunshine and a new perspective. I’m sure we’ll return one day as we barely scratched the surface of what Skye has to offer and although the weather isn’t guaranteed in Scotland, I think we both left with our spirits a little dampened.
We headed east, and after a few hours on the road stopped for a leg stretch at Loch Ness, where we found a secluded beach on the edge of the water that we decided to wild camp on for the night. We set up the hammock, toasted marshmallows on a fire and swam in the Loch – the weather was warm and it felt so good to feel the sunshine on our faces once more. I think this was my favourite night of the whole trip! Feeling rested and rejuvenated we continued the journey the next morning and treated ourselves to a camp site on the outskirts of Aviemore in the Cairngorms National Park. With the promise of a hot shower, we headed out on a little run around the Aviemore Orbital Trail to get our bearings and enjoyed the change of scenery with the towering trees and woodland paths. Aviemore is a ski town, famous for it’s winter snow fall, its centre was full of outdoor shops, cute cafes and apres-ski style bars – we enjoyed the low key, alpine vibe and decided to hang around for food and a few drinks. The final days of the road trip were spent exploring the area, meandering around Loch Morlich and hiking up Mount Cairngorm. We couldn’t of picked a better place to finish off the trip and I’m not sure any of us were ready to leave Scotland; the dramatic landscape, friendly people and freedom to roam captivated our souls and we returned feeling fulfilled and grateful to have had that time out together during this crazy old year!