I recently teamed up with Love Touring Expo to discover the joys of touring Scotland in a motorhome.
With so many confusing travel restrictions in place, Brits have embraced the staycation. Never has the demand for touring vehicles been so great. Camping too has seen a huge revival as holidaymakers swap foreign shores for home based adventures.
Touring Scotland in a motorhome, camper van or converted 4X4 is lots of fun. We’ve done all three before, so were looking forward to spending a couple of nights motorhoming again. Many who take a tourer on a Scottish road trip drive the North Coast 500 route which loops round Scotland’s north coast, usually beginning and ending in Inverness. And while the NC500 is stunning, there’s more to Scotland than one scenic route. There are places equally beautiful, with quieter roads, great stopover locations and plenty to see and do. Places like Aberdeenshire and Moray where we headed on our road trip.
Day 1: Aberdeenshire to Moray
Meeting Lottie, Cairngorm Mountain Motorhomes
It was a lovely autumnal morning when we arrived at Cairngorm Mountain Motorhomes in Royal Deeside to collect our vehicle. Cairngorm Mountain Mountain Motorhomes are a family-run business located in Aboyne. They have two luxury motorhomes for hire, Larry a 4 berth 2017 Burstner Ixeo i726g and his younger sister Lottie.
Lottie would be our posh pad for the weekend. She was stylish, well-equipped and came with all mod cons including TV, WI-FI, Sat Nav and CarPlay. She was a big lass and roomy, with a huge bed in the back and another which lowered from the ceiling with the flick of a switch. We had a shower, WC, kitchen area with an oven, two ring hob and a large fridge, plus a seating area. There was loads of storage space too – perfect for over packers like us.
After a helpful demo from owner and fellow westie mum Morag, we set off on our Aberdeenshire and Moray road trip.
Castle exploring in Aberdeenshire
With the sun shining we couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to visit Craigievar Castle – a favourite of ours. On the outside the pink Aberdeenshire tower looks like a home fit for a fairytale princess, but inside it’s a tad creepy (reputedly haunted) and if the walls could speak they’d recount murderous tales.
After a wander in the castle grounds we left Craigievar and drove to another Aberdeenshire fortress nearby.
Kildrummy Castle is a sprawling mid-13th century ruin. Enough of the castle remains to give a good idea of what a formidable sight it must have been in its heyday.
Kildrummy was a stronghold of the Earls of Mar. It has a fascinating history with links to the Wars of Scottish Independence. Edward I of England (aka The Hammer of Scots) visited Kildrummy, but not for tea and scones. In 1306 Nigel de Brus (Neil Bruce) the younger brother of Robert the Bruce was captured there and later executed. Fast forward four-hundred years to 1715 and plans are being hatched at the castle to start a rising with the aim of returning the Stuart’s to the throne.
This corner of Aberdeenshire has castles at every turn. You’ll find amazing stone circles and Pictish artwork there too. It’s a history lover’s dream.
A sit in takeaway lunch and some fab cake
Heading northwards, we stopped in the Aberdeenshire town of Huntly (home to another impressive fortress) for a takeaway lunch. When we’re travelling we often eat lunch balanced precariously on our knees in the car. With Lottie we had the luxury of a comfortable dining table where we could sit and eat our soup and sandwiches.
A little later, we crossed the border into Moray and stopped in Keith for coffee and a sugar fix. If you visit Keith I can highly recommend stopping at Boogie Woogie for cake – it’s delicious.
Typhoons and rainbows over Lossiemouth
At around 3pm we arrived at the Moray Firth coastline where we’d be spending the night. We had a couple of hours of daylight hours left, enough time to squeeze in some more exploring.
We headed to Lossiemouth for a potter and timed our arrival perfectly. Lossiemouth is home to a stunning beach and a military airbase. An RAF Typhoon fighter jet was flying in a loop over the town and beach. We often spot the phoons in and around Lossie and they’re amazing to watch. The speed and roar of the engines is incredible.
A quaint way to bring in the New Year, Burghead
Our last stop of the day took us to the Moray coastal town of Burghead. Burghead was once home to a huge Pictish fort and you can still see the earthworks today. There’s a mysterious well there too which is thought to be Pictish, but the best thing about the town is their quaint way of celebrating New Year.
Burghead celebrate New Year on 11th January, which aligns with the old Julian calendar. The celebrations involve a tarred barrel (clavie) being set alight, then paraded through the streets, before it’s placed on a mound beside the fort site. The celebration is known as the burning of the clavie and it’s unique to Burghead. The burnt shards of barrel are believed to bring luck and when placed up the chimney they’ll protect your house from evil spirits.
Night 1: West Beach Caravan Park, Hopeman
Our home for the night was the Moray town of Hopeman, a short hop from Burghead. We’d booked into a fully-serviced beachside pitch at West Beach Caravan Park. The site looked great online but it was even better than expected.
It was super cool, with lots of quirky features, including an on site bar and eatery, al fresco showers (plus modern indoor ones too) and a double decker bus that’d been covered into a bothy. Best of all though was the location on the shore of the Moray Firth – wow.
After hooking Lottie up to the electricity supply we settled down to enjoy the view, hoping we’d spot some of the Moray Firth’s most famous residents. Our luck was in. No sooner had we sat down to gaze at the sea, than a pod of bottlenose dolphins appeared and treated us to a display of acrobatics.
Once the dolphins swam off, two RAF Typhoons arrived, then a stunning sunset.
As the light faded I rustled us up a delicious garlic chicken stir fry from Sheridan’s in Ballater. The Deeside butcher supplies Balmoral castle and holds a Royal Warrant. Dining like royalty in our posh motorhome was a fitting way to end a wonderful day.
Day 2: Touring the Snow Roads
After spending a comfortable night in Lottie, we woke the next morning and I rustled us up a breakfast of porridge from the deli in Ballater and ‘Balmoral Bread’ from the baker – both Royal Warrant holders too. We’d dined like royalty the night before, so we might as well start the day like them too.
We’d spend a second day touring Scotland in a motorhome before stopping in Speyside (Scotland’s whisky country) for the night.
Sadly, the sunshine from the first day of our trip had disappeared and it was chilly, grey and drizzly. Some might say atmospheric. Atmospheric weather calls for atmospheric surroundings, so we decided to drive the Snow Roads of Perthshire, Aberdeenshire and Moray. The Snow Roads consist of 90 scenic miles of rural road, flanked by heather covered hills and moorland. They pass towering castles, lonely bothies and pretty villages. They’re stunning, and I think probably enhanced by dreich weather.
When the weather permitted, we made short stops for a potter and spot of sightseeing.
A dark tale of a monocled chancer
One of those stops was at the isolated bothy linked to a character known as the Monocled Mutineer. Percy Toplis was a private in the army during World War I, however he liked to pose as a monocle wearing officer. He was a bad egg who murdered a taxi driver in Hampshire, before going on the run.
Hundreds of miles from Hampshire, near the village of Tomintoul, a policeman noticed smoke coming from an empty bothy and went to investigate. Toplis was inside and he shot the policeman (who thankfully survived) before fleeing on a bicycle.
He was apprehended several weeks later in Wales and executed for his crimes.
The BBC dramatised the story in the 1980s but were economical with the truth.
A short, scenic walk
A short distance from the bothy a scenic walk leads to the atmospheric ruins of the Lecht Mine. The iron ore mine opened in 1730 but was unprofitable and closed after seven years. It reopened again in the 1840s, this time as a manganese mine but lasted only five years this time round.
Today, a short trail leads to the mine. It’s a photographer’s dream and well worth visiting, especially when the heather’s in bloom or in winter when the Snow Roads live up to their name.
Tomintoul – sandwiches and whisky
After a morning spent exploring the Snow Roads we made a pit stop in Tomintoul for lunch and to pop into the Whisky Castle – an Aladdin’s cave for whisky and gin lovers. I bought a miniature Glenlivet whisky, as I suspected the weather would keep us cooried inside Lottie that evening, so a warming local dram would be just the ticket.
Twitching in Tomintoul
After lunch we visited Tomintoul bird hide on the outskirts of the village. The land surrounding the hide has been cultivated onto wetland as part of an initiative to create a natural habitat for waders such as lapwing and curlew. Numbers of the once abundant birds have declined drastically in Scotland over the years due to the destruction of their natural habitat. Thankfully schemes like the ‘Peesie Project’ in Tomintoul and Glenlivet has seen their numbers start to rise again. One of the great joys of spring is listening to the call of the lapwing.
I’d spotted several curlews as we drove the Snow roads but once I set foot inside the hide, nada – typical. It was a fun visit despite the lack of waders.
The hide is also a great place to watch the night sky. It’s one of a couple of designated Dark Sky locations within the Cairngorms National Park and there’s a handy guide to the stars on the roof inside.
Awesome art installations￼
We finished our exploring at one of three locations on the Snow Roads where art installations have been installed. The Watchers and A Moment in Time are located on the A939 overlooking Corgaff Castle.
The Watchers resemble standing stones, but they’re actually seats you can cocoon yourself in to shelter from the elements and enjoy the beautiful scenery.
A Moment in Time is a tall upright stone with a peephole in it. If you look through it you can see Corgarff Castle.
The boy wasn’t fussed about the artworks but he was enthralled by the heather they stood in.
After admiring the view of Corgarff Castle we were a tad chilly, so we headed to Goodbrand & Ross in Corgarff for coffee and cake. The cafe is like an oasis in the desert. In an area where signs of habitation are few and far between, you’ll always find cake and coffee there.
Leaving Corgarff we headed north to Aberlour where we’d be spending the night at Speyside Gardens Caravan Park on the outskirts of town.
A chippy tea in Aberlour
It was a comfort food kind of night, so before checking in at the campsite we paid the local fish and chip shop a visit for dinner. After scoffing an extremely tasty red pudding supper, it was time to park up Lottie and settle down for the night.
Night 2: Speyside Gardens Caravan Park, Aberlour
Speyside Gardens Caravan Park is small, family orientated park located in a leafy walled garden near the famous Speyside Cooperage where whisky barrels are made.
The park has an on site shop that sells a great selection of local craft beers (amongst other items). With light fading fast and heavy rain now falling, a night of good beer and banter seemed like a great idea. Plus, we’re huge advocates of shopping locally!
Our fully serviced pitch was in a quiet corner of the park. We were soon settled in with the heating on, blinds drawn and beers opened. Rain hammed on the roof as we snuggled inside all comfortable and cosy. I love the sound of heavy rain when I’m warm and dry indoors.
Despite the weather, we slept soundly that evening and woke the next morning feeling fresh.
The sun had returned – yippee.
Day 3: A morning in Aberlour
We decided to have a potter in Aberlour on our final morning touring Scotland in a motorhome. Aberlour is probably most famous for being the home of Walker’s Shortbread and Aberlour Whisky, yet there’s so much more to the pretty Moray town.
Breakfast at The Gather’n Cafe
First things first – breakfast. Being fans of all things quirky, we were drawn to The Gather’n Cafe. Not only is it dog friendly but it also doubles as a wool shop. Aberlour has a wonderful selection of small, independent shops.
If you’re a knitter who loves coffee and cake The Gather’n Cafe is the place for you. It’s really cute inside and you’re guaranteed a friendly welcome.
We had tasty filled rolls and coffee (bacon and tattie scone for me and fried egg and tattie scone for Mr G) for breakfast, which set us up nicely for a morning walk.
Walk, Linn Falls
With a stunning beauty spot on the doorstep, a walk to Linn Falls was a must.
Next to the entrance of the famous Aberlour Distillery a path follows the Burn (stream) of Aberlour into lush, green woodland and gently uphill to reach the spectacular Linn Falls.
With so much rainfall overnight the falls were a raging torrrent of peaty water when we visited. One of my favourite sayings is “today’s rain is tomorrow’s whisky”. Never was that saying more apt than in Aberlour that morning, as the whisky coloured water of Linn Falls thundered towards the distillery.
Speyside Whisky Art Gallery (The Artist’s Studio)
Back in the centre of town, we visited a fabulous wee gallery dedicated to whisky art. Beside whisky inspired art, it sells whisky inspired jewellery and toiletries too and for those who don’t worship at the alter of the amber nectar – some art and crafts completely unrelated to whisky.
The gallery is run by local artist Alan Paterson and features his work and that of other local artists. It’s a wee gem and the artwork is brilliant, clever and funny.
We blethered (chatted) to Alan for ages about art, Aberlour, travel and obviously whisky.
Before leaving I bought a small painting of his for my kitchen featuring that other delicious Scottish product.
Sadly, it was time to say goodbye to Aberlour and take Lottie back home to Royal Deeside.
Yet again, touring Scotland in a motorhome had been lots of fun – I’d highly recommend it.
Absolutely Loved Touring (Love Touring Expo)
After a successful run in 2019 Love Touring Expo returns to P&J Live Aberdeen from 4 – 7th November. If you’re a tourer owner, are considering buying one, or you fancy a holiday in one like us, get yourself along to P&J live and make that dream of an epic Scottish road trip a reality.
If you’ve enjoyed this post you may also like this one which features a road trip in a converted Land Rover.
Our motorhome hire was provided on a complimentary basis, however all opinions are my own.
Until next time …