Well, it could be yet another midlife crisis, or as I prefer to call it, the realisation of a long-held dream, but I recently bought an old minibus and began turning it into a camper-van. As it happens, I’d already agreed to go on a camping trip to Scotland with an old friend, so I wanted to go in the van and, because it’s not really big enough for two to sleep comfortably (unless they’re already rather intimate with each other), Graeme would take his tent and camp out. So far, so good!
Half converted and fully loaded, we set off on a Sunday morning for Oban, where we planned to stay in a hotel for the night, following a long drive up from Liverpool. Oban is a lovely harbour town and the gateway to the Hebrides. Ferries come and go and fishing boats, yachts and assorted other craft do their thing and on a night like we were blessed with, in glorious late summer sunshine. We walked along the harbour and watched the sun set, ate some lovely fresh fish (well, I did. He’s a veggie. He had chips, doh!) and had a few pints in the hotel bar while X-Factor blared and Scotland carved out a respectable win on the two respective tv sets.
Next morning we set off for Plockton, a lovely fishing village a bit higher up the coast. We detoured to climb Ben Nevis. When I say climb I mean we went halfway in a “gondola” (no raucous renditions of O Sole Mio caroused by a sweating gondolier though as this is a small train carriage on a wire thing). Ben Nevis boasts some of the finest views on the planet, but on this day they were closed for refurbishment and all we saw was a thick blanket of fog.
Plockton is lovely as we found when we got there, but it no longer boasts a camp site, so we went to Skye instead. No speeding bonny boats though as there’s now a lovely, modern road bridge. We found a site and booked in for the night. A walk on the beach later revealed a beautiful island with stunning scenery, surrounded by crystal clear waters. We decided to stay for two nights and go on a boat trip. Next morning we headed up to Portree and booked the trip and wandered around a bit while we waited. Small, but interesting and still, late in the season, full of tourists. The boat trip was nice and we saw Sea Eagles, seals and various other bird life and we marvelled at the wonderful scenery. We’re both keen photographers and were eager to get a good shot of the Eagle scooping a fish out of the water, (carefully staged, of course), but i cocked up my setting and got an eagle shaped blur. He did ok though!
Skye is famous for many things, but mostly for the ferocious horror of the local midges. If you’ve never experienced this and don’t know what a midge is, it’s like a tiny mosquito which attacks in clouds, never alone. They’re voracious and nothing has been proven to keep them at bay. Our plan to light a fire and sit out till late drinking and talking shite (our speciality subject!) is scuppered as wave after wave of the bitey little bastards attack like they’ve not fed in weeks and we scarper to bed after half an hour! They still managed to wreak havoc and I’m still itching a week later!
I’ve always wanted to visit the very top of the country, but John O’Groats is on the other side so we went to Durness, which is truly beautiful. The campsite is on top of a cliff and the views and beaches are stunning. We wandered about a bit and got a wee bit drunk and hoped the night would stay clear and we’d get a view of the aurora. Maybe next time! I awoke at 4am to a raging gale and was grateful for the shelter of the van. I tried to sleep, but couldn’t and at 5am realised that Graeme’s tent was about to metamorphose into a kite, so i got up and re-pegged it and went back to my van. A half hour later I realised Graeme was up trying to take his tent down, so I got up and helped him. We stuffed it in the van, took some pictures of the beautiful sunrise and headed south. I’d have loved to hang around, if only to watch people being blown off the cliffs, but maybe next time.
To Aviemore via Loch Ness. Graeme had wanted to go there for some time and so off we went. The early morning drive meant the roads were virtually empty most of the way and we saw deer and lochs and hills all the way. It really is a beautiful part of the country and I aim to go back again soon! We skirted round Loch Ness and stopped at the Falls of Foyers, which are truly lovely, but not as high as I remembered. On to Aviemore which is not as small as I remembered, but it’s still nice and at the centre of lots of things to do. We walked in the forest and went to Cairngorm, 6th highest mountain in the country where a funicular railway took us nearly to the top. This day the weather was kinder and, although cold we had great views over the surrounding countryside. Well worth a visit!
Final day to Callander via Falkirk to see the Kelpies a fantastic piece of art by Andy Scott. I’d seen them before, but Graeme hadn’t. He was suitably impressed and I was too, stunning work. We’d stopped off also to see how the new Queensferry crossing bridge is coming along and it looks great. Graeme had never seen the Forth Bridge in real life before so he ticked another one off the box. Callander is a lovely town, but at the end of a week where we hadn’t slept much we ate too much and turned in early!
Now the important bits. The van, a 2001 Ford Transit Long Wheel Based van performed well throughout except for a fault with starting. Basically it would start when it wanted to and not before! MPG was good at about 30-35 and I can’t wait to get her finished and get back on the road again. Scotland is truly beautiful and there’s too much I haven’t seen yet, but please don’t all go at once, leave some room on the road for me!
By Graham Smillie
PS. I still haven’t given the van a name, but I’ll get there!
PPS. Pictures in no apparent order!