Exploring Scotland in a motorhome
Scotland has always been the most popular location for our motorhome hire customers to visit. The following article was featured in the Telegraph on 27th July 2012:
Simon Hart finds a motorhome the perfect way for two dads and their sons to embark on a fishing trip amid the mountains and lochs of north-west Scotland.
There are few places as special as the mountains of Assynt and mid-Sutherland, and few better ways of exploring them than in a motorhome. North-west Scotland is one of the few true wildernesses in Britain, and by definition is not, therefore, the easiest place to find room and board. With a motorhome, however, you are perfectly placed to investigate every mountain, loch and river in whatever weather Scotland has to throw at you. So it was that the school holidays found me, my son Adam, aged 12, and our friends Tim and his son Tom, aged 11, travelling to the far north of Scotland in pursuit of trout and mountains.
The challenge was getting there from south-east England, which consisted of many miles of motorways and some of the most extreme roads Scotland has to offer. Our poor vehicle, a Swift Escape 686 built on a Fiat frame, was in the hands of relative motorhome novices, but coped well with the hundreds of miles we covered. The 2.2-litre diesel engine did not seem underpowered despite 128bhp on paper, and pushed along comfortably at 65-70mph on the motorway. When we reached the Highlands it happily climbed into the mountains on the A9 before negotiating the narrower and windier roads into the West Highlands.
Forget the stereotype of motorhomes and caravans, parked cheek by jowl, recreating a comfortable suburbia wherever two or three meet. The great joy of the modern motorhome is complete independence and, where it is allowed, the ability to park up any time and anywhere.
We filled the fridge and store cupboards in Inverness and were stocked up to feed an army for weeks. Bottled gas runs the fridge and cooker, as well as providing heat and hot water where necessary. There is no need, either, to plug into campsite electrics, as the leisure battery charges as you drive – in fact, the greatest asset is that you don’t have to be connected to anything. But when the mood takes, the Caravan Club has some spectacular sites in the north-west of Scotland, if only for what the Army used to call a “running replen”: rubbish out and food in, without even turning the engine off.
We started in Assynt on the road to Inchnadamph, walking the unseasonably dry hills baked by weeks of warm weather (this was just before the summer monsoon commenced), catching beautiful trout from the seemingly endless lochs that are scattered across the landscape and climbing famous mountains such as Canisp which tower above them. As we returned weary to the motorhome on the first evening, a cuckoo serenaded us from the telephone wires by the road and a cock wigeon whistled from the nearby loch where his mate must have been nesting.
You quickly become divorced from conventional times and habits on the road and it never seemed odd to be cooking supper in the gas oven and on the three-ring hob at half past nine in the evening, while the sun set behind a nearby mountain. Nor was there any guilt in resting weary limbs for an hour or two longer than usual in the morning.
Our Swift 686 had a double bed in the sculpted bodywork above the front seats and another at the rear, which could easily be converted to a seating area. In between were a small bathroom with loo, sink and shower, the kitchen area and a table with seating for four. This can also be converted to a double bed, but two adults, two boys and a lot of walking and fishing kit did not leave much free space inside.
We moved north through Assynt, tackling the spectacular peaks of Quinag and fishing the corrie loch that hides between them, before pushing on to Scourie where we topped up with diesel, always mindful of the limited supply of filling stations in the Highlands. Turning east at Laxford Bridge, we headed up the River Laxford to Loch Stack and then on to the watershed, where the generous rains of Sutherland start to flow east to the Dornoch Firth and the North Sea, rather than west to the Atlantic. Here the scenery might not be quite as spectacular as Assynt, but the fishing is even better and the bird life abundant.
We fished in rain and wind, accompanied by golden eagles and great northern divers before returning to the motorhome to dry out, refuel and plan our next campaign. When the weather relented, we climbed into the mountains, following old stalkers’ paths to fish remote, rarely visited lochs accompanied by the drumming of the snipe, whose Gaelic name, meaning “goat of the air”, is the best way of trying to explain that strange bleating sound.
Our trip was an unashamedly male escape and might not be seen as an ideal holiday by every wife and daughter, but that was more about an obsession with fish and a diet which threatened scurvy than the location or the motorhome. With a bit more focus on the fantastic beaches of the north-west of Scotland and a bit less on trout, the Swift would be a perfect vehicle for a family holiday in the Highlands. In fact, a motorhome is the perfect getaway vehicle for anyone who loves exploring the remote corners of our isle via the freedom of the open road.
As we packed up after a last day on the hill and contemplated the long drive south, there was a moment when all four of us admitted to the same thought: “why not just keep going?” Certainly life on the Highland roads in the comfort of a motorhome answers a question deep within some of us.