Camping Inspiration: A week in the Scottish Highlands
This feature was written prior to the coronavirus pandemic. We are publishing it for your enjoyment and to help you plan your future trips. Readers must follow the latest government advice before leaving their homes.
Towering mountains, atmospheric glens and magnificent beaches attract visitors to the Highlands of Scotland from all over the world. Gorgeous white sandy beaches abound and the water has a clarity you often associate more with the tropics than the United Kingdom. The sun can often put in an appearance and when it does you could be mistaken for thinking you were in the Mediterranean rather than the far north of Europe.
The Highlands of Scotland is not an area full of family-friendly attractions and theme parks but there’s plenty to see and do on a touring holiday here. Don’t miss the incredible landscapes of Glencoe and Ben Nevis. Or see if you can spot the evasive monster in the vast waters of Loch Ness.
Harry Potter fans will enjoy a trip to Glenfinnan, where you can see the iconic Glenfinnan Viaduct which features heavily in the films.
To make the most of the area you will probably need to drive a fair bit, and for those who fancy a long driving holiday there is the North Coast 500 route, marketed as Scotland’s answer to Route 66. Starting at Inverness, the 500-mile drive hugs the far north coast and you can choose to follow chunks of the route rather than tackle the whole thing.
If you’re a fan of island life, you’ll enjoy a visit to the Isle of Skye or take a day trip to the Orkney Islands.
Highland Games are an important part of Scotland’s heritage, and they’ve taken place for hundreds of years. Today they remain as popular as ever and you’re certain to find one somewhere near you over the summer. Activities include tossing the caber, the hammer throw, shot put and tug of war.
It’s certainly a long way to travel to reach this idyllic part of the country, but when you get here you’ll know it was worth it.
A WEEK IN THE HIGHLANDS
DAY 1 A MAGICAL DAY OUT
Harry Potter fans will enjoy a trip to Glenfinnan, where you can see the iconic Glenfinnan Viaduct. In the movies, the Hogwarts Express chuffs across this viaduct, taking the young wizards and witches to school. Learn about the Jacobite Army in the Glenfinnan Visitor Centre – they gathered here at the start of their rebellion in 1745. Or take the Jacobite Steam Train from Fort William to Mallaig, across the viaduct. There are some beautiful walks around Glenfinnan – look out for red deer.
DAY 2 SAIL WITH THE WHALES
Set in a beautiful spot on the west Highland coast, a one-and-a-half hour drive from Inverness, the little village of Gairloch is about as remote as it gets. From here, take a boat trip out on the harbour, for a close-up view of the local wildlife. These waters are among the best in Europe for whales, dolphins and porpoises thanks to the Gulf Stream. Sea eagles, puffins and black-throated divers are regularly spotted, as well as otters and seals. Gairloch’s award-winning heritage museum has exhibits including a croft house interior, Stone Age living, a replica of a Highland shop and Rua Reidh Lighthouse’s original lens.
DAY 3 REACH FOR THE SKYE
Idyllic is a word that is often overused, but the Isle of Skye truly lives up to the description. It may have lost a little of its romantic appeal when the road bridge from the mainland appeared but there are still plenty of visitors willing to go ‘over the sea to Skye’. And as island locations go, it is simply stunning. Whether you plan on conquering it or are happy just to gaze in wonder, the majestic scenery will live long in the memory, not least the famous Old Man of Storr and the Cuillin mountains. Ten minutes from Dunvegan Castle is Claigan coral beach, made from crushed white coral that gives the water a tropical blue appearance. For rainy days, the Aros Centre in Portree hosts theatre, films and concerts as well as local exhibitions.
DAY 4 WARTIME HISTORY
A few miles further north of Gairloch is the village of Poolewe and Loch Ewe, which was a significant naval port during World War II, serving as a set-off point for the Arctic convoys that took vital supplies to Russia. As a result, the entrance to the loch was guarded by anti-aircraft guns and mines, anti-submarine nets, and boom depots to protect it from German U-boats. You can learn all about its fascinating history here. The National Trust’s Inverewe Gardens are also spectacular.
DAY 5 BIRDWATCHING ON THE COAST
Standing guard over the Minch, Stoer Lighthouse is one of around 200 lighthouses dotted around Scotland’s coastline, operated and maintained by the Northern Lighthouse Board. These days the keeper’s cottage is used as holiday accommodation, and the area is a popular spot for birdwatchers and walkers. You can’t visit Stoer Head without having a cuppa or a slice of home-made cake from Leigh Sedgley’s Living The Dream snack van.
DAY 6 HEAD OUT TO SEA
At the northernmost point of Scotland is Cape Wrath, which is open for guided tours when it’s not being used for military training. Book a tour and you’ll get a ferry and a minibus ride to the lighthouse, where you’re free to explore for an hour. Please note the actual lighthouse isn't open to visitors. Ready for another island? Take a day trip to the Orkney Islands by ferry, to learn its fascinating World War II history, see Neolithic monuments, and visit the iconic Italian chapel.
DAY 7 SEARCH FOR NESSIE
Heading back south, visit the pretty village of Drumnadrochit on the banks of Loch Ness, and pop into the Nessie visitor centre. Nip into Inverness or stop off at Aviemore in the Cairngorms National Park for outdoor adventure activities, skiing, and wildlife experiences. There’s loads to see and do, and the kids will love it.
WHAT TO SEE
GAIRLOCH HERITAGE MUSEUM
Gairloch, Ross-shire IV21 2BH
THE ISLE OF SKYE
Northern Inner Hebrides
JACOBITE STEAM TRAIN
Fort William, Highlands
0333 996 6720
Raffin, Lochinver, Lairg IV27 4JH
Durness, Sutherland IV27 4QF
ORKNEY ISLAND TOURS
Hatston Pier Road, Kirkwall, Orkney KW15 1ZL
WHERE TO EAT
Badachro, Gairloch, Highlands IV21 2AA
With a gorgeous lochside setting, the Badachro Inn serves up Highland hospitality along with good food, beer, wine and spirits. Fresh, locally sourced seafood is the star attraction – but the views over the water are a close second.
ONE TO VISIT
Glencoe is arguably Scotland’s most historic glen, and despite its rather bloody history it was recently voted as the most romantic.
The area is known for waterfalls and trails, ideal for hillwalking and mountaineering. Wildlife in the area includes red deer and golden eagles. Explore its history at the Glencoe Visitor Centre or hit the slopes at the Glencoe Mountain ski area.
WHERE TO STAY
Applecross, Strathcarron, Ross-Shire IV54 8ND
The site lies above the village and has more than six acres of open field camping space, offering sea views towards Raasay, Rhona and and Skye. There is a shower block with free hot showers and two extra family units which have a shower, basin and toilet. The laundry room contains a washing machine, tumble dryer, and payphone. The Flower Tunnel communal area is equipped with free Wi-Fi, which is handy as there is no mobile coverage on the site.
SHORE CARAVAN SITE
106 Achmelvich, Lochinver, Sutherland IV27 4JB
A beautiful family-run beachside site with dramatic views in all directions. The location is glorious with both stunning sea and mountain views and the amazing beach. The site has a toilet and shower block and a small launderette. There is a small shop selling basics and a chip shop which opens certain days in the main holiday period. Electric hook-ups are available for campers and there’s Wi-Fi on offer.
Sango Bay, Durness, Sutherland IV27 4PZ
This is a brilliant site, right on the edge of Sango Sands beach in Durness. Fifty-eight electric hook-up points, some hardstanding and some on grass. Lots of space for tents. Toilet block, showers, campers’ kitchen, dishwashing, laundry. On site bar and restaurant.
SANDS CARAVAN AND CAMPING
Gairloch, Wester Ross IV21 2DL
Some campsites are worth visiting for their spectacular location, some for their excellent facilities and others for their relaxed atmosphere. Sands campsite enjoys all three and that makes it a must-visit site. Set in a beautiful spot on the west Highland coast, this is about as remote as it gets. You can choose a sheltered pitch in among the dunes or pitch on more open ground with views across the water to Skye. Either way, the wonderful beach is just a couple of minutes’ walk away.
INVEREWE GARDENS CAMPING AND CARAVANNING CLUB SITE
Poolewe, Wester Ross IV22 2LF
The Inverewe Gardens Club site shares its name with the famous tropical gardens owned by National Trust. The lush gardens perch on a peninsula at the edge of Loch Ewe, and the tree-lined Club site enjoys views over the loch, too. The site has grass pitches with electric, grass-only pitches for larger tents, toilets, showers and a laundry. Pet are also welcome. The local village is a short walk away, with a shop, tea room and hotel and a mobile butcher/grocery van calls twice a week.