Much of your outlook is moulded by your youth. And when I first became interested in travel and adventure I was young, skint, eager to suffer, and excited by ascetism. I felt journeys meant more when you’d got there under your own power. I worried that if I was having fun then I should be pushing myself harder.
There are, of course, many other factors that have drawn me to the open road time and again. I want to go to places I have never been before. Wild landscapes thrill me, refresh me and inspire me. I love the simple rhythms of a journey, the chance to pause my life and to reflect for a while. I relish the variety of silences you find – a quiet place on a hillside sounds very different to the peace you may seek beside the sea, on a riverbank or in a spring green beech forest.
And so it was an unusual experience for me to find myself on the sleeper train from London, bound for the wonderful Highlands of Scotland, with absolutely no intention of having a masochistic time. I did not anticipate exhaustion, body odour, wet nights of shivering, or all the other staple ingredients of most of my favourite memories! Instead, I was going to have fun!
“Travel” and “Adventure” are loose terms. It’s a broad church and everyone is invited, whether you are Ranulph Fiennes or a weekend rambler. In the past few years I have been working to make adventure more accessible to more people. I want a broader spectrum of people to experience the picturesque wild places I have been so fortunate to enjoy. And that is how I found myself in a campervan!
Other than a boisterous couple of weeks following the fortunes of the England football team at the 2006 World Cup, I’d never been in a campervan. It felt odd to be driving the familiar road towards the mountains, but with this time no agenda or plan other than to follow my nose, seek out beautiful places to park up for the night, and relax. Not a trace of masochism in sight!
Perhaps I am getting old, but I really loved this trip. But I think that a week in a campervan in Scotland would be brilliant wherever you find yourself on the adventure spectrum. For the tough guys and gals a campervan makes a great base to use for long days climbing mountains or riding your bike without the hassle and weight of carrying your camp on your back. For someone who used to be wild and carefree but now has a young family to consider, a campervan might help find that tricky sweet spot of a holiday that is fun both for you and for the kids. For couples who normally camp or stay in hostels a campervan is an attainable taste of luxury. I never tired of the decadent feeling of putting the kettle on for a cup of tea wherever and whenever I fancied. I drank tea on hilltops, by lochs, and to warm myself after bracing dips in sea and river. In contrast to this outlook of unaccustomed luxury, I’m sure that couples whose holidays normally involve smart hotels would also really enjoy the excitement and freedom of sleeping wild, with a different view every night, but with the comforting familiarity of a fridge and a double bed.
Scotland’s magnificently relaxed approach to wild camping is perfect for campervans. So long as you’re not causing anyone any bother, ignoring any local restrictions, or making a mess you can essentially sleep wherever you like. On my first evening I pulled over at the top of a high mountain pass, enjoying the novelty of being neither tired nor sweaty. Eating dinner overlooking the Cuillin mountains of Skye makes any meal taste better. Another night I spent beside a boisterous stream watching stags grazing on the hillside as I grazed on a barbecue full of meat. Heavy rain in a campervan definitely trumps heavy rain in a bivvy bag…
And the evening I spent sitting on a small jetty watching seals playing in the calm bay will linger long in the memory. The northern sun sets slow and late in the Scottish summer. I opened a cold beer (from my luxury fridge!) and let the silence of the sea wash over me. Best of all, this adventure was helping me to see familiar wild places through very different eyes.
Hardcore adventure it may not be. 5-star luxury it is not. But driving round the beautiful Scottish highlands in a campervan offers you so much flexibility to do the trip exactly the way that suits you. And it is, undeniably, brilliant fun.
Adventure is allowed to be fun!
Many thanks to the lovely folk at Highland Campervans for entrusting me with their shiny new campervan!
Thank you to the many people who have kindly “bought me a coffee” for just £2.50 as encouragement to keep this blog going.
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