How to prepare for a winter road-trip in Scotland
As someone who undertakes frequent Scottish road trips at all times of year I have had the misfortune of experiencing more than one winter weather setback. Having been stuck in snow blocked roads, caught behind road accidents and diverted by landslides I've learned a few techniques that have helped make life easier by careful planning to avoid similar situations and helping me survive endless hours in the car after been caught up in unavoidable incidents. As the weather starts to worsen I thought I would share with you some of my tips for planning and surviving a winter road trip in Scotland.
It should go without saying to make sure your car has a winter service each year and before you set off make sure your oil, antifreeze and windscreen wash is topped up. It is better to use winter specific windscreen wash and carry an extra bottle as the salt and grit from the roads generally means you have to clean your windscreen more than normal. Check your tyres, including your spare and ideally take out some road-side assistance.
Here are my five other tips to help you plan ahead and potentially avoid any travel setbacks
1. if you are planning a long trip in a rural area then it is sensible to make sure you have a full tank of fuel as delays or diversions can lead to a longer than planned journey and petrol stations in rural areas can be hard to come by and have limited opening hours. It is useful to make a note of petrol and garage locations along your route in case you do encounter any problems.
2. Check the weather forecast not just for your destination but also your intended route as the conditions in Scotland can be dramatically different even over short distances. Before setting off I always check the Traffic Scotland website for any incidents or road closures and I personally recommend downloading the Traveline App which will keep you up to date with all road and transport information.
3. If you are not familiar with your route and don't have access to a SatNav then printing off a map of the general area you will be travelling to will be helpful if you do have to take a diverted road and need to work out new directions.
4. Let someone know your route and your estimated time of arrival as in rural areas you may not have a phone signal to let them know you are delayed. If you don't turn up when expected it will be easy for them to check for any incidents that may have caused your setback and if you do run into trouble without a phone signal at least someone will know where to look for you!
5. Make sure your mobile phone is charged up and that you have stored any emergency numbers you might need such as your vehicle recovery company or insurance company with your membership numbers.
Most of all allow extra time for your journey so you won't have to rush in difficult driving conditions, pay attention to roadside information boards and try and stick to main roads that will be gritted and clear of snow.
There are a few things that I would recommend keeping in your car throughout the winter as a survival kit if the worst does happen. Hopefully you won't need them but from personal experience being stuck for hours it is best to be prepared! Things I have in my own survival kit include
Thanks to Peter Johnstone for leaving a comment with these additional suggestions
Thanks to Val for also suggesting
Before setting off I also fill up a flask of hot water which can be used for drinks to keep warm with a couple of sachets of hot chocolate.
Camping and glamping in Kintyre
The Kintyre Peninsula is a bit off the usual tourist trail in Scotland, yet as I discovered, it has so much to offer. Its compact size makes it ideal for exploring over a long weekend which is exactly what I did.
There are quite a few accommodation choices in Kintyre, however I opted to stay on the campsite at Machrihanish Holiday Park. This was partly due it's location, partly due to the reasonable cost and more importantly the fact that it is dog friendly. I also decided to leave the tent at home and upgrade from camping to glamping in one of their cosy wigwams. All the wigwams have lovely open views across the fields to the water in the distance. The views from the wigwams are probably some of the best in the holiday park as they don't face onto anything.
The holiday park has several different options including camping, glamping (wigwams and bell tents), lodges and static caravans. There are also touring facilities for motorhomes, caravans and campervans.
Machrihanish Holiday Park Location
Machrihanish is on the southwest coast of the Kintyre Peninsula and makes a great half way point to stop off if you are spending a couple of days exploring the area.
If you plan on eating out, The Old Clubhouse Bar and Restaurant is a short walk from the holiday park or Campbeltown is approx 4 1/2 miles away with a choice of places to eat. If you plan on self-catering then Campbeltown also has numerous local shops and 2 supermarkets.
There is a regular bus service between Campbeltown and the holiday park if you don't want to drive.
The holiday park itself is next to the golf course and a short walk from the beach and as you can imagine it is a pretty and peaceful location. As the west coast of Scotland is famous for its sunsets, in the evening I headed a little further south along the coast from the campsite and found the perfect viewpoint just past the sea bird observatory (approx 5 mins in the car).
Get more ideas for your trip in my guide to Kintyre
Many people have heard of Kintyre thanks to Sir Paul McCartney's iconic song about the mull at the southern end of this Scottish peninsula. However, not so many people visit this part of Scotland as it is a bit off the beaten track. It isn't a place you pass through on your way to somewhere else; you really only go there if it is your destination.
I decided to make this part of the country my home for a weekend and I was pleasantly surprised at the variety of scenery, engaging history and amount of things to do in such a compact area. I would encourage you to discover this underrated part of Scotland for yourself and hopefully my guide to Kintyre will help you with planning your own trip to this pretty Scottish peninsula.
Where is the Kintyre Peninsula?
The Kintyre Peninsula is on the west coast of Scotland in the southern part of Argyll. It is a narrow strip of land which points down towards Northern Ireland. In fact at its nearest point, Kintyre is only about 12 miles from the Antrim Coast which can be seen just across the water on a clear day.
The Kintyre Peninsula runs from the picturesque town of Tarbert in the north to the Mull of Kintyre in the south and as it is only about 40 miles long, its small size makes it an ideal part of Scotland to explore over a long weekend.
So where is the Mull of Kintyre?
Immortalised by Sir Paul McCartney, the Mull of Kintyre is at the very southern tip of the peninsula; 'Mull' translates to rounded headland.
Not only did the former Beatle write a rather famous song about this remote part of Scotland, he also bought a farm in the area where he could escape from the stresses of fame.
The history of Kintyre
The Kintyre Peninsula gained its title 'Scotland's only mainland island' thanks to King Magnus Barefoot in 1098.
A treaty between the Viking Magnus and the Scots stated that if his boat could pass between an island and the mainland, the island would be considered Norwegian - to pass between Kintyre and the mainland, Magnus stood at the helm of his longboat and his followers dragged it across the land. As a result Kintyre became part of Norway until it was returned to the Scots in 1266.
The Viking occupation is just one of the peninsula's many historic chapters. As you travel around the stunning and peaceful scenery it is hard to imagine that this area was the setting of another infamous MacDonald massacre in 1647 when approximately 300 men were murdered by The Covenanters at Dunaverty Castle in Southend.
Standing stones, ruined chapels, castles and prehistoric caves scattered around the landscape are reminders of the many civilizations that have called this place home over the centuries.
Recommended stopping places
I went on a 2 day road-trip around Kintyre, staying at Machrihanish, about three quarters of the way down the west coast. I followed the coast clockwise around the peninsula, heading down the east coast and back up the west. If you decide to do a similar road-trip, here are my recommended stopping places.
Below is a round-up of what there is to do at each place and I've included a map of Kintyre and my recommended stopping points at the bottom of the page.
The Fairy Legends of Puck's Glen
Navigating the well worn and sometimes slippery stone steps that wind through the narrow woodland gorge of Puck's Glen is hazardous enough at times, but they are not the only reason you have to drag your eyes from the bewitching scenery to check your footing from time to time. Poca Ban is the resident spirit that disguises itself as a ball of wool and rolls around the glen looking for unsuspecting victims to trip up all in the name of some warped fairy fun. It seems quite fitting that a glen named after the mischievous sprite in Shakespeare's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' has a playful spirit of its own.
Poca Ban is not the only mystical Scottish fairy that you might encounter on your walk through Puck's Glen, concealed in the trees you might spot a Ghillie Dhu, wearing clothes of leaves and moss or catch a glimpse of the nature sprites that dance in the leafy shade of the ferns.
It's very easy to believe that enchanted creatures are hiding in the shadows of this magical landscape and I mean magical in the truest sense of the word as it really feels like you have crossed an invisible barrier into an otherworldly dimension. Frothy waterfalls, bubbling pools, hanging moss, tumbled stones and tall shady ferns, Puck's Glen is prime real estate for fairy folk.
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