The last time I “embraced” (note the sarcastic use of punctuation) camping and slept in a tent, Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister and the movie ‘Big’ was wowing cinema audiences. To say I hated the experience doesn’t even begin to describe the loathing I felt for canvas, tent pegs, billy cans, and silly wee stoves.
Then along came WildTrax – Beyond Limits
Fast forward thirty years and I’m ready to give camping another go. You’re probably wondering what’s made me “embrace” camping again so soon? Only the coolest, bloomin’ vehicle on four wheels, that’s what. A fully pimped out (for camping) Land Rover Defender from WildTrax – Beyond Limits.
While camper vans and motorhomes are ten a penny on Scotland’s roads, super cool Land Rovers equipped with roof tents are not. I like quirky, so hiring an iconic landy you can camp in really appealed, despite the under canvas sleeping arrangements.
Our wheels from WildTrax – Beyond Limits
We picked up our weekend wheels/home from Bunloit, near Drumnadrochit. Four miles up a hillside, and along a single track road seemed like a fitting place to collect the ultimate off-road vehicle.
We were greeted on arrival by James and Rose, owners of WildTrax – Beyond Limits, and also the secluded Ancarraig Lodges in Bunloit. Ideal, if you fancy combining an off-road expedition with a relaxing lodge break.
James gave Mr G the low-down on handling the Defender, then ran us through the equipment included with our hire. We had everything you could ever need for a camping trip, and then some. The vehicle also came fitted with plug sockets and USB ports for charging mobile phones – perfect for iPhone addicts.
We set off delighted with our wheels and excited about our camping adventure.
Night 1 – Moyle Campsite, Glenelg
Our first night of camping would be spent at a small campsite nestled amongst the mountains of Glenelg.
Turning off the A87 at Shiel Bridge, we wound our way up and over the Mam Ratagan Pass. The Defender handled the 15% gradient on parts of the road with ease.
Moyle Campsite was delightful. Located on a working croft, it had a shower, toilet, fresh water supply, a cosy stone bothy to sit in and WiFi.
Dinner – The Glenelg Inn
I’d booked a table for dinner at The Glenelg Inn a couple of miles down the glen. Lazy camping I know, but eating out beats cooking after a long journey.
We arrived at 6:30pm and the place was buzzing. Locals and visitors mingled like old friends, and it felt like it was warming up to be one hell of a night.
The food was excellent. Mr G started with mushroom soup, while I had black olive and thyme tapenade with homemade bread.
Next, fish loving Mr G had pan seared sea bass fillet, new potatoes, samphire, roast fennel and celeriac puree. I eyed his wee tatties enviously, but declined one when offered as my main of turmeric falafel, organic salad and homemade ketchup came with a sizeable pile of hand cut chips.
By the time our desserts arrived, the skirl of pipes from an impromptu jam session had the whole place jumping. There wasn’t a non-tapping toe in the house.
Later, we walked the boy by the shore, stopping to watch as clouds crept over the mountains like billowing, wisps of cobweb.
Meanwhile back at base camp
Back at Moyle Campsite we set up our pitch. The roof tent on the landy opened easily. I pitched a pop up tent too, just in case the boy refused to entertain the roof! Out came the camping chairs with convenient cup holders for beverages. It was time to relax over an alcoholic tipple or two.
In a matter of seconds Mr G was flapping like a man possessed – the midges were out en-masse. “Put some Skin so Soft on” I said, fishing midges out of my wine. It was no use, his brows were set in a Neanderthal frown, and he continued to flail.
Waving the white flag of surrender we retreated to the bothy with our drinks. Midges 1 – Grants 0.
The roof tent was sturdy and secure, so any fears I had of the boy plummeting to the ground were laid to rest. With a proper mattress, duvet and pillows inside, this was definitely my type of tent.
We slept soundly, despite the incessant squawking of an unidentified beastie, and the intermittent twooless twitting of a solitary owl.
Day 2 – Glenelg to Raasay with WildTrax
The next day was the boy’s birthday. We presented him with a plush Mr Fox toy and some treats from his bag of birthday goodies. Our darling boy was 6 years old, where on earth had the time gone?
Glenelg – life on Mars and ancient dwellings
Leaving Moyle Campsite after an almighty battle with the unused pop up tent (I fought the tent and the tent won), we drove through the glen towards Glenelg village.
Interesting fact about Glenelg. It’s twinned with Glenelg on Mars. The locals celebrate the twinning annually by dressing up as tartan-clad, blue Martians.
The Original Skye Ferry
Three miles from Glenelg village you can hop on a ferry and sail to Skye. The small, manually operated turntable ferry (the last of its kind in Scotland) holds 6 cars and makes regular, daily crossings to Skye throughout high season.
We were bound for Skye to spend the night, but not via the ferry on this occasion.
History in the glen
The imposing ruins of Bernera Barracks stand at the edge of Glenelg village. The large stone structure contrasts starkly with the tiny cottages in the glen. The barracks were built between 1719 and 1723 to house Government troops. A stark reminder after the 1715 rising, that rebellion would not be tolerated in the Scottish Highlands.
In Gleann Beag, a few miles from the village, the 2,000-year-old Glenelg Brochs (a circular stone tower/dwelling) stand, tall and proud.
We don’t know why the Picts were in the glen, and we’ll probably never know, but they have left behind a fascinating insight into how they lived.
From front on Dun Troddan broch gives a good view of the double layered walls that make up a broch. From behind, although substantially reduced in height, it’s easy to imagine a Pictish family still living there.
Inside, a stone staircase has survived. I can’t tell you how excited I get when I find stairs, or intact rooms inside brochs.
The staircase led to the first tier of the broch, and gave us a stunning view down Gleann Beag.
The birthday boy seemed happy to be spending his special day discovering Scotland’s rich history.
Dun Telve Broch stands 500 metres from Dun Troddan. Its exterior wall still rises to 10 metres in parts. It’s remarkable when you consider the brochs were constructed using a dry stane technique, so all that’s holding them up is expert craftsmanship.
Dun Telve isn’t as well-preserved as Dun Troddan, but being taller it really emphasises how impressive these ancient towers must have been in their day.
Two brochs in, and Mr G was getting hangry. Breakfast was still a good few miles away, and he’d be insufferable until he ate. It was time to say goodbye to beautiful Glenelg.
That castle and a braw wee bakery
Despite Mr G’s urgent need of sustenance, he still suggested a quick photo stop at the iconic Eilean Donan Castle.
He was even willing to navigate his way down a slippery, slipway in search of a new angle of the castle. I was more excited to see the colourful cottages of Dornie reflecting in Loch Long. My camera was also poised on the off-chance that Hungry Horace slipped and fell.
Manuela’s Wee Bakery at Ardelve was the main reason we hadn’t hopped on the ferry to Skye. Visiting Manuela’s is like stepping into a fairytale.
Our breakfast of cappuccino, Nutella croissants and savoury cookies saw Mr G’s mood brighten with each delicious mouthful. As it was the boy’s special day he got to try some cheese savoury.
By the time we left Manuela’s we were three happy campers.
Over the bridge to Skye we went. We were Raasay bound and had a ferry to catch at Sconser, but it was going to be tight. Progress on our 14 mile journey was hampered by two motorbikes dawdling along well below the speed limit. We crawled behind them, cursing their apparent lack of ‘need for speed’.
Finally, they were distracted by heilan’ coos by the roadside and pulled over – hallelujah.
We arrived in Sconser for the 25 minute ferry crossing with sixty seconds to spare – phew.
Island hopping – Isle of Raasay
Raasay is nearly 14 miles long and 3 miles wide, and has a population of around 170.
The island’s bumpy, stretch of single track road is the perfect place to take a 4×4 for a spin.
We were heading for a famous, and iconic stretch of road. Hmmmm, signs pointing towards the north pole suggested we’d taken a wrong turn. The perils of letting a wee dug navigate.
We encountered a traditional Scottish traffic jam, and watched fascinated as shepherds and dogs on the hillside rounded up a large flock of sheep, corralling them across the road and into a pen.
Calum MacLeod – a remarkable man
In the 1960s islanders living in the north of Raasay campaigned to have a road built to connect their isolated homes with the south of the island. They failed, but that didn’t deter Calum MacLeod. Calum got himself a book on road building, a pick-axe, shovel and wheelbarrow and over the next ten years he single-handedly built a road nearly two miles long, connecting the north to the south of the island.
Calum’s story is so heartwarming. It’s hard not to shed a tear when you see his rusty tools lying by a sign that reads ‘Calum’s Road’. He was a remarkable man, and even more remarkable when you consider that he held down jobs as a lighthouse keeper and postie while he built his road.
We decided to walk Calum’s road to truly appreciate his hard work.
It was an amazing stretch of road – hilly, remote and built using only basic tools.
A cairn honouring Calum’s great effort stands by the roadside. It’s a cairn thoroughly well-deserved.
Tracing our steps back towards Brochel where we’d left the car, we had time for a quick visit to Brochel Castle before catching the ferry back to Skye. Lunchtime had been and gone, and hanger was looming (for both of us this time).
Looking at Brochel Castle it’s hard to work out where the castle begins, and the volcanic plug that it sits on ends.
The late 15th/early 16th century fortress was once an important, strategic stronghold of the MacLeod chief. Not much of it survives today, but it’s an impressive ruin nonetheless.
Skye – the misty isle
Ominous clouds on Skye suggested a late lunch/early dinner indoors may be a safer option that cooking an evening meal al fresco.
The dog friendly Seamas’ Bar at the Sligachan Hotel fitted the bill perfectly. As the rain came down outside, we tucked into beef stroganoff, seafood linguine and Isle of Skye Ice Cream – all very tasty.
Our drive from Sligachan to Dunvegan was driech, and visibility deteriorated with each passing mile. Welcome to the Misty Isle – Skye didn’t earn that name for nothing you know.
Night 2 – Kinloch Campsite – Isle of Skye
We checked into Kinloch Campsite by Dunvegan at 5:30pm. The nice lady at check-in noticed the boy was wearing a birthday neckerchief and presented him with a doggy treat. It was gratefully received and wolfed down on the spot.
We had a lovely pitch by the edge of the water. It was a shame the weather wasn’t going to play ball. Och well, the mist added atmosphere if nothing else.
Despite the dank weather, the boy still got into the party spirit to celebrate his birthday.
We cracked open a bottle of fizz I’d been given for my birthday and toasted our hairy-faced son.
The weather kept us confined to the landy, but we still had a lovely evening. Good company, music, snacks and drinks meant we had all of the ingredients needed for a good night in.
When the light faded we climbed up to our roof tent. The weather on Skye blew a hoolie that night, battering at our wee tent, but it remained dry, cosy and secure. Landy 1 – Skye 0.
Goodbye to our WildTrax dream machine
The next morning, two camping converts packed up and left Dunvegan. Our Land Rover camping experience had been fantastic, and it was really difficult handing the dream machine back, in Bunloit.
Thanks to James and Rose at WildTrax – Beyond Limits for inviting us to take their awesome vehicle out for a spin. Although our weekend hire was provided on a complimentary basis, all opinions contained within this blog are entirely my own.
Until next time ………..