Martin Dorey is the writer and camper van fan behind the best-selling books, The Camper Van Cookbook and The Camper Van Coast. He’s been on telly too! Here he tells us about his favourite Scottish camper van journeys and why he likes them so much. And perhaps why you should try them too.
I love Scotland. It is a magical place to travel, especially in a camper van or motorhome. There are high passes, epic coastal routes, causeways and incredible bridges. Along the way you can see ancient ruins, castles, forest, lochs, mountains, islands and beautiful fishing villages. Over the last year or so I have travelled extensively in Scotland, researching routes for my new book Take the Slow Road: Scotland. It has taken me on some incredible journeys, up the UK highest main road, around hairpin bends and on to magical islands. Happily, Scotland is well served with great campsites and a vast network of Certificated Locations where you can pitch up in peace and quiet. So instead of heading south this year, how about heading north? You won’t regret it.
Around the Isle of Arran
The Isle of Arran, which lies just a short CalMac ferry ride away from Ardrossan, is said to be a ‘Scotland in miniature’ because the Highland Boundary fault line, which crosses Arran, divides the island into two distinct halves. The north part of the island is mountainous, with Goat Fell the highest peak at 874 metres. The south of the island is no less dramatic but with rolling hills, waterfalls and beautiful seaside towns like Lamlash and Whiting Bay. It’s easy to drive around Arran too - as it’s hard to get lost. The A841 follows the coast most of the way around while the B880 offers a short cut from Brodick to Blackwaterfoot. And that’s it. Nevertheless, driving on Arran is never dull. The west coast offers spectacular views over the water to The Mull of Kintyre while the B880 will give you some very fine views as you descend into Brodick. In a country of fine driving, it’s up there with the best.
Fraserburgh to Spey Bay along the Moray Firth
I hear that this is to be part of a new ‘official’ route to rival the North Coast 500, which is great as I can thoroughly recommend it. Fraserburgh is an impressive port with a fantastic lighthouse museum and brilliant beach but it’s not until you head east along the Moray Firth that you begin to see the real beauty of this stretch of coast. There are a few fabulous fishing villages along here, some truly lovely places to camp right on the beach (I stayed at the site at Portsoy – awesome views) and a brilliant finish at the Scottish Dolphin Centre at Spey Bay. It’s a glorious coastal pootle with the added thrill of seeing dolphins, seals and lots of wildlife along the way.
Over the Bealach na Ba to Applecross
The Bealach na Ba is the holy grail of mountain passes for those who like their touring to be of Alpine proportions. It is steep and winding and challenging, which means that it’s not for everyone. Some motorhomers might find it all a little too much to navigate the hairpins at the top. That said, if you’re touring unhitched or driving a camper, go and see it. The views from the top are stunning. Applecross itself, a tiny village with a campsite, pub, walled garden restaurant and a few lovely houses, is an oasis in a wild landscape. It’s beautiful, stunning, sensational. Try it.
The 7 Stanes cycle routes, Borders
If you like mountain biking then this is the route for you. It takes in the 7 Stanes cycle centres, a series of 7 world class, forestry-owned and managed centres in the Borders. For those of us who live south of Glasgow it’s an easy one too, as Newcastleton, the first of the magnificent 7, is very close to the border. After Newcastleton it’s up the B6357 to Jedburgh and on to the A68 to Galashiels towards the centres at Glentress and Innerleithen before following the lovely A708 back to Moffat and the A701 towards Dumfries to seek out the centres at Ae, Kirroughtree and Dalbeattie. It’s a great big figure of 8 with a whole load of big airs, berms and climbs when you get there. The centre at Kirroughtree was my favourite. They have miles of single track routes, showers and a jet wash for afterwards and a café for cake once you’re clean. Perfect.
Blairgowrie to Braemar and Royal Deeside
Driving Glen Shee might not include the legendary Devil’s Elbow hairpin bend these days but it’s still a magnificent drive that starts off benignly enough in Blairgowrie, following a curving, undulating course on the ‘Old Military Road’ past Bridge of Cally and up to Spittal of Glenshee. It’s picture perfect, complete with wonky telephone poles and stone walls, patches of forestry and a winding meandering river. Then it starts to get interesting as it rises out of the tree line and up towards Glenshee Ski Centre. It’s a big landscape with peaks and scree and lots and lots of heather. But, as with many Scottish passes it’s over a bit too quickly – even though it’s the highest paved public road in Scotland – and you soon find yourself cruising back down to earth on the run into beautiful Braemar, home of the original highland fling. Turn right and you can walk in the Caledonian Pines at the Linn of Dee, turn right and it’s Balmoral and Royal Deeside. All of it is superb.