'˜Campervan guru' gives top tips on taking the scenic route
As “campervan guru” you are all about taking the most scenic route. How and why did you fall in love with this mode of travel?
As a young surfer in the 1980s I learnt very quickly that staying at the beach in a campervan is way better than sleeping in a tent, on the front seat of a car or in the dunes. You are mobile, dry and warm (this is important after surfing in winter) and have all you need at hand. Thirty years later I am still in love with the simplicity of being able to put the kettle on at the side of the loch, on the beach or in the mountains.
For any van connoisseurs among our readers, what wheels are you driving these days?
I am driving a VW T5 California Beach at the moment. Although I am looking at something bigger and also something smaller as well so it’s up for sale. I have an idea to convert an old Citroen 2CV van so I can ‘take the slow road’ to France (publishers take note). For a lot of the trips I took to write this book I was lucky enough to borrow motorhomes from my friends at Marquis Leisure. This was especially useful – and possibly a lifesaver – in winter as my own van doesn’t have heating, a loo or a shower.
What was your most memorable experience when exploring Scotland while researching the book?
I had a standoff with a red squirrel near Tomintoul, watched an otter for five minutes from 10 feet away on Barra, skinny dipped and snorkelled on a hot and sunny day on Harris, surfed alone on North Uist in view of St Kilda and felt like a ten-year-old at the 7stanes mountain bike centre at Kirroughtree. All of them were incredible experiences, so I refuse to pinpoint just one…sorry.
Are there any secrets to a successful campervan holiday? Do city slickers need to adjust their mental attitude before slipping behind the wheel?
To get the most out of a campervan holiday you need to slow down a bit. Make simple things important, like buying local or taking time to enjoy the landscapes. There’s no point in taking loads of stuff either or you’ll just end up having to repack it all the time. Simplicity is best. I really enjoyed meeting the people I did while writing the book and worked out very quickly that you have to be open hearted to make the most of Scotland. Locals often showed me the way to places I’d have otherwise never found and it’s because I had time to talk that they let me in on their secrets.
Are there any down sides to campervanning?
Sometimes it can be a bit of a worry finding somewhere to stay overnight, but something always turns up. Otherwise it’s about space. If you take too much stuff you’ll drown in it. If the weather’s bad you have to sit it out. If you can’t find a campsite you may have to go a day or two without a shower. But so what?
Could you choose a favourite Scottish location? Somewhere especially campervan friendly?
The NC 500 is amazing for the scenery. Applecross was an oasis of beauty, Harris was stunning and Galloway was surprisingly beautiful. Then again I loved Glenfinnan and Loch Shiel. I adored my week on Barra too. So basically, no, I can’t choose. I had an absolutely wonderful year exploring Scotland and found most places to be campervan friendly, as long as I followed the rules and didn’t stay in places that are potential pressure points with the locals. I think Harris and Lewis are wonderful and pretty good when it comes to being campervan friendly, but I am aware that their popularity brings its own issues and that you need to be respectful, considerate and make sure you leave anywhere nicer than it was when you arrived.
How does the van like passing places?
The van is just fine with passing places, as long as the driver knows how to use them. As for a favourite route, that’s tricky. I loved the route we took to visit all of the Royal Botanic Garden of Edinburgh’s gardens at Logan, Benmore, Dawyck and Edinburgh. That was a really good trip and I hope lots of campervanners will follow the route laid out by the RGBE, simply because it’s different. The NC 500 has big mountains and fantastic coastal scenery, but the RBGE Bonnie Botany Tour has plants galore. The sequoias at Benmore are, in the real sense of the word, awesome. Then again, Arran is just brilliant.
What’s next for you?
I am writing Take the Slow Road: England and Wales at the moment, as well as doing a lot of work on my environmental project, the #2minutebeachclean, then I hope someone is going to ask me to take that old Citroen 2CV van and spend a little time driving round France….now that would be fun.
Take the Slow Road: Scotland by Martin Dorey is out now, published by Bloomsbury at £20.