Scotland lends itself to campervan road-trips, small enough to navigate with ease but big enough to provide a variety of breathtaking landscapes and plenty of adventure. Scotland is a country where you don't have to travel far from civilization to discover areas that are not only free of people but feel like a forgotten wilderness. In my opinion the ideal way to explore these scenic, natural playgrounds is in the relative luxury of a modern campervan. Much more than a bed on wheels, they provide the freedom to roam wherever you fancy, the freedom to park among the mountains while you stick the kettle on for a cup of tea or the freedom to stop and watch the final rays of a sunset before climbing under your cosy duvet for the night.
When Rockin Vans offered me the use of one of their new funky VW campervans to head off on a Scottish road-trip I jumped at the chance. Having hired from them several years ago I already knew they were a great little Scottish company and I was delighted to see how much they had expanded and updated their vans since I first used them, a sign they are obviously doing something right!
With so many destinations to choose from I decided to venture into the unknown and embark on my first visit to the Isle of Mull. 2015 seemed to have a reoccurring theme for me of visiting new Scottish Islands and with two weeks left until the end of the year, adding another Island to my collection seemed a fitting final adventure. Another reason that attracted me to Mull was the recent introduction of the reduced RET ferry fares by CalMac which makes visiting many of the Scottish islands very affordable even with a campervan.
After picking up a dog friendly funky bright orange VW from the Rockin Vans headquarters, I headed back to my home on Bute to pack a few essentials and when I wasn't looking Mr Adventures Around Scotland had managed to sneak onboard while Willow, my lurcher, was giving me an expectant look, I guess they were looking forward to the road-trip too!
DAY 1 - ISLE OF BUTE TO ARDFERN
We set off as the sun began to rise with streaks of gold criss-crossing the horizon as we left Rhubodach and took the short ferry crossing over the Kyles of Bute. Although Mull was our ultimate destination, having a campervan makes it just as much about the journey and we decided to take the road less travelled along Argyll's Secret Coast. Taking another ferry from Portavadie across Loch Fyne brought us to the picturesque village of Tarbert where we savoured the therapeutic view of colourful fishing boats bobbing in the harbour as I popped the kettle on for the first cup of tea for the day, this has to be one of my favourite things about travelling in a campervan.
Fully refreshed we carried on north with a quick a stop at Ardrishaig to walk part of the Crinan Canal before continuing to Kilmartin Glen, the perfect place to enjoy a lunch break. This is one of the most historically rich areas of Scotland, with an abundance of standing stones, burial cairns, stone carvings and Dunadd Fort, once the power stronghold of the Kingdom of Dalriada. It is possible to climb to the top of the fort although the route is rocky and steep in places but well worth the effort if you are able. Look out for the notice boards which describe features of note and explain how the fort would have originally looked.
The view from the top down the ancient glen and across to the Isle of Jura is spectacular. As I stood alone, gazing around and imagining the people that once inhabited the land before me, my thoughts were interrupted by an almighty boom of thunder that seemed to go on forever! I couldn't help thinking that the powerful roar across the mysterious glen was some sort of message from the ancient world.
I quickly slipped and slid down the hillside, reaching the sanctuary of the van just as battering hail began to bounce off the ground and with darkness starting to descend, it seemed an appropriate time to find our campsite for the night further along the road in Ardfern.
As we drove into Ardfern Motorhome Park we discovered we had the place to ourselves, one of the benefits of travelling off season. A basic but peaceful little site with a toilet and washing up area, electric hookup and WiFi, it provided everything we needed at a very reasonable £15 per night. The motor-home park is a little off the beaten track which means there is very little light pollution and as I got out of the van for the final night time dog walk i was stopped in my tracks and mesmerized by the completely clear winter sky covered in millions of brightly twinkling stars. I can honestly say this was one of the clearest and magical night time skies I have ever experienced.
DAY 2 - ARDFERN TO THE ISLE OF MULL
Our second day started with a drive through some of the loveliest scenery in Scotland on the road from Ardfern to Oban, an area still largely undiscovered by the tourist masses.
After boarding the CalMac ferry in Oban I grabbed a hearty cooked breakfast before braving the chilly breeze on deck to take some photos and get my first close up view of our destination as the snow peaked mountains of Mull grew ever nearer.
A mere 45 minutes later and our brightly coloured little campervan rolled into Craignure where I picked up a handy map of the island at the tourist information. There was really only one place that I wanted to get to on our first day and that was the highly recommended Calgary Bay. Following the map we took the road heading north along the east coast, stopping to examine a couple of decaying fishing boats before taking the fork to Dervaig where I just had to stop and photograph the unusual looking Kilmore Church. Finally we cut across to Calgary Bay on the north west of the Island.
Prior to visiting Mull I had jealously admired other travellers' photos of Calgary Bay with it's pristine white beach and turquoise blue sea, unfortunately when I arrived the pristine white sand was hiding under a covering of murky brown seaweed washed up by the windy winter tides. A beach walk was also out of the question as the gale force wind meant I was in danger of taking off like a kite and I opted to enjoy the views from the comfort of our van instead. Our Rockin Van was living up to its name as we sat swaying in the exposed car park, sipping our hot tea and feeling extra cosy as we sheltered from the wild elements outside. Did I mention that having tea with a view is one of my favourite things about travelling in a campervan?
No trip to Mull would be complete without a trip to the colourful town of Tobermory and this was to be our next and final planned stop for the day. A winding, scenic journey took us past lochs and hills, still showing their autumn colours thanks to a surprisingly mild winter. I spent most of the time looking for one of the sea-eagles that have become the island's most famous residents but alas they remained elusive on this trip which means I can't yet score seeing one off my bucket-list!
Pulling into Tobermory I was delighted to find it was just as bright and cheery as I had imagined. There are not many places that are as pretty in real life as they are in every tourist photograph. The rainbow coloured main street is full of lovely little independent shops selling everything from local chocolates and soap and for whisky lovers a visit to the Tobermory Distillery is a must.
After stocking up on supplies at the local supermarket we made our way to the nearby Tobermory Campsite which is handily open all year round. Again we were the only campervan meaning we had the facilities all to ourselves (lucky us!) although the campsite also has a variety of permanent accommodation including cute little shepherd huts which were decorated with colourful festive Christmas lights.
Although that night brought a mixture of wind and rain, I can honestly say that I was totally toasty in my bed and slept like a baby.
DAY 3 - ISLE OF MULL
The day couldn't have been lovelier with blue skies, sunshine and even a bit of warmth in the air, it was really hard to believe it was the middle of December.
With a full day set aside to explore Mull I was confident of covering most of the main road around the island, how wrong was I?! Firstly, Mull is much bigger than I anticipated and secondly there were just too many pretty places that I had to stop and explore. Even though we only ended up seeing about one third of the island, our journey was relaxed with time to get out and savour the places that we did visit rather than rushing around seeing alot of nothing.
Following the road from Tobermory we headed back towards Calgary Bay before heading south. The scenery was ever changing as we hugged the rugged coastline before the road began to wind inland and eventually brought us over a hill with the most spectacular view down Loch na Keal.
I think you will agree we found some pretty decent campervan viewpoints!
As the sun began to set we pulled over and basked in the last of the evening light as the western sky took on a pink and golden glow, this is what campervan life is all about and yes I did make another cup of tea!
With darkness quickly approaching we decided to find a quiet spot to park up for the night and found the perfect place next to the old pier in Salen with a view across the bay. I don't know what this place would be like in the summer but in the winter it makes a perfect quiet wild camp pitch by the water.
For the third night in a row I was spellbound by another clear winter sky and could easily pick out star constellations overhead. Tucked up in bed it took me no time at all to fall asleep to the soothing background acoustic of lapping waves.
DAY 4 - ISLE OF MULL TO THE ISLE OF BUTE
On our final morning we were greeted by a glistening white frost covering the surrounding farmland and low lying cotton wool clouds shrouding the base of the mountains. The scene looked straight off a Christmas card which seemed fitting with Christmas day less than two weeks away.
We arrived at the early ferry just as the sun was beginning to rise and as we set off for Oban we enjoyed another fine sunrise, one of the many bonuses of travelling on a winter morning. Rather than retrace the same route back to Bute we decided to travel by Loch Awe towards Inveraray so we could enjoy the snow dusted mountains and castles that line this popular circuit.
As we set off on the last stretch of road towards Bute we caught a final glimpse of the snow capped mountains in the mirror and i was more convinced than ever that winter in Scotland is the perfect time to explore by campervan.
PIN IT FOR LATER!
To find out more about Rockin Vans or to arrange campervan or motorhome hire, visit their website at
On this occasion I was very kindly provided the use of a campervan by Rockin Vans, however I have also personally hired from them in the past and have been highly recommending them since then. As always all opinions and experiences are my own.
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