Exploring the outer space of Scotland: Isle of Skye in a campervan
Posted on 13/05/2018 by Konrad | guest post
Our trip to Scotland was just a matter of time, as we knew that sooner or later we’ll be visiting my friend Emilia, who lives in Edinburgh. We decided to give it a chance in spring, as we think that’s the best time to visit the United Kingdom (theoretically) it’s supposed to rain less and, in the same time, it’s quite green – tested in Ireland, Northern Ireland and London. We always visited those places between April and May and, somehow, we were able to enjoy quite a non-British weather every single time).
We’d got a connecting flight to the Scottish capital through London, where we did a little stop-over, enjoying the hottest day of the year. We’ve celebrated it sipping a cold beer in the park in a company of the one and only incredible Ilona. But, back to the main point, we didn’t want our Scottish trip to be just a normal casual friends’ visit, so we’ve planned a three-day long camper trip to the Isle of Skye. It’s the second biggest island in Scotland and, in the same time, the second most popular tourist attraction. Its name, taken directly from Gaelic, means the Isle of Mist and, to be honest, one cannot agree more.
As mentioned above, the Isle of Skye is quite popular among locals and tourists - surprisingly though it's still rather wild and undeveloped, which means that all the infrastructure is poorly accessible. There are not too many hotels and hostels there and the ones that we could possibly afford would be booked months in advance. So, kind of forced by the circumstances, we've made the best possible decision - to rent a camper van. We really wanted the smallest one possible to cut down our expenses and, in the same time, be able to drive it on the narrow roads of Scotland.
The best offer we've found was provided by a company called Spaceships. It stood out with its clear terms and conditions and no additional fees for basics like bedding or additional drivers. We eventually went for a Ford Transit which could fit up to 4 people in. As a bonus, we've got all the bits and bobs you need to survive camping in the wild.
So, fully equipped by Spaceship, we'd packed our food supplies, heaps of wind-and-rain-proof clothes, our lovely selves, and we hit the road. Since we were setting off late in the afternoon and there was quite a lot of miles to go, we've decided to take our time and visit a few touristy spots on the way up. We've stopped at what's supposed to be the prettiest lake in Scotland - Loch Lomond and driven through the picturesque valley of Glen Coe.
After dark, things began to get a bit frightening with reindeer lurking from every corner and jumping in front of our van, so we've agreed to stop somewhere and wait through the night, hoping to survive. We've chosen a nice spot near Eilean Donan Castle, situated just around the corner from the bridge connecting Skye to the mainlands.
Our first night in the camper van was surprisingly comfortable and warm. Only after we woke up, we've realised that we've had actually chosen a spot just around a farm inhabited by a lovely herd of hairy cows. Yet, we didn't enjoy their company for too long as we had quite a lot planned for the day. We've quickly sorted ourselves out, taken a sneak peak on the castle nearby and set off to the island itself - we were in such rush mostly due to the rather unfavourable weather forecasts for the weekend, as Saturday was supposed to be our only rain-free day and we really wanted to do some trekking on Skye.
For starters we've chosen the most famous spot - a rock formation called the Old Man of Storr. There are quite a lot of myths explaining how this came to be, but my favourite one is the simplest of them. According to this story, one of the Scottish giants decided that the Isle of Skye would be a perfect place for his eternal rest and so he lied down and let the earth cover him, leaving only one thumb sticking out. So, willing to see the aforementioned thumb, we've hiked up the hill. The path up to the viewpoint isn't too demanding and a marvellous view from the above is guaranteed. The only downside was obviously the famous Scottish weather - even though we were lucky enough not to get soaked by rain, strong winds took their toll.
Encouraged by the first success (no rain!), we've decided to go with the flow and do another short hike - the valley of Fairy Glen. It's a really charming place straight out of a fairy tale, a little valley with quite a lot of little grassy hills here and there. One of those used to be an ancient castle - supposedly. In preparations for the trip we used a website called walking highlands and, according to it the whole route was about a mile long. In my opinion, it'd just be walking for the sake of it, as there's not much more of spectacular views to see around.
So far, so good - no rain and the timing was great, so we've also managed to conquer Portree on the same day. For some odd reasons the town has been listed in most guidebooks as one of the greatest tourist attractions of Skye - to be absolutely fair it doesn't offer much apart from a really nice view on one street with rainbow coloured buildings in the harbour. Anyway, if you crave some civilisation, that's definitely a place to go. We were, as there was a very strong need to watch semifinals of the FA Cup within our team and we needed a pub for this. (If you're camping on Skye and somehow lose your way and end up in Portree, it's worth knowing that in the Portree Youth Hostel you can take a hot shower and get some hot water for your tea, contributing with a voluntary donation only.)
Since you can camp more or less everywhere on the isle, for our night rest we've picked a parking with a view on another popular tourist attractions - Kilt Rock and Melt Falls. Even cooking outdoors turned up to be surprisingly fun in such beautiful surroundings - despite the wind and showers!
For the second day on Skye, we've planned the longest trekking - Quiraing. After seeing the beauty of the Old Man of Storr, I was a bit worried that we've seen it all and there's nothing better to expect from Quiraing. How wrong was I! Climbing on the viewpoint of the Old Man of Storr can indeed guarantee a magnificent view but hiking on Quiraing... it's just an over 4-mile long path but the views change every few meters (and so does the weather) and they can truly astonish you. Must admit that those few hours of wading in the mud were a true Skye experience for me. After the whole adventure, we were tired and soaked enough to give up the idea of cooking outdoors - we've grabbed a greasy fish&chips, took our hot showers and headed to another designated sleeping point - the Neist Point.
Our last day in the camper van was basically all about driving down to Edinburgh. Again, we've picked the longer and more picturesque road near Glen Coe and Loch Lomond (secretly we were just hoping to meet reindeer again, this time in the daylight so we can take some photos).
The only attraction planned for the last day in Scotland was a morning walk in what's supposed to be the most beautiful city in the UK - Edinburgh. As to that... there are still quite a lot of cities in the UK I've never seen, but compared to its main competitor, London, Edinburgh is definitely a winner!
To sum up - while planning the whole trip to Scotland I kind of expected to see a lot of beautiful views. But to be fair, Scotland actually managed to surprise me! I wouldn't anticipate that so-called Western Europe can still hide such untouched wild places. Even though the island is hugely popular, you rarely meet other tourists, and when you do it's usually only at the parking spots near the most popular destinations. The downside of this 'wilderness' is definitely the state of local roads - you cannot expect any lights and the surface mainly consists of potholes.
But, surprisingly, if you forget about the holes and narrowness of the roads, the isle is a perfect place for camper vans! There are little camping spots spread across the island and you can park and camp near most of the places that are worth seeing. Besides, having a roof over your head at night is a real bliss in rough weather conditions and so I'm sure it wasn't our last time with camper vans. But, no matter which mean of transport you chose to get there, I cannot recommend Skye more. It's a marvellous place that helps you escape from the hectic everyday life.
I've read somewhere that the views on Skye are raw and fairytale like and they do change like in a kaleidoscope. And, however cliche that sounds, it's exactly how you'd describe the Isle of Skye.
Text published for the first time on Pro-Mile (republished with permission)