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Campervan Travels

Thank you all for the train and bus comments in an earlier thread, it seems there are a number of good options to get around the country. I'm starting to investigate campervan travelling now and this look like a really intriguing option. Unfortunately the newest thread here is 4 years old.

Is this an option that anyone has done before? I was thinking of a 2 week time frame to tour some Isles, the Highlands, maybe even the Orkneys. We prefer enjoying the nature, walking/hiking and castle touring, to name a few things. And sorry, we're not interested in whiskey (gasp!).

I'd prefer to be at an arranged/paying site but like the option to pull over somewhere too.

Your thoughts are much appreciated.

Posted by
633 posts

We see plenty of camper vans here in the Highlands and Islands. One thing to bear in mind right from the start is the Access Code that permits 'wild camping' specifically excludes motorised camping. You can find out more about the Access Code here

That said if you park up responsibly (away from any houses), only stay one or two nights and take all your waste away with you, you shouldn't have too much problem. Of course there are plenty of 'proper' campsites, with electric and water hook up and shower/toilet blocks. They also have facilities for the disposal of chemical toilet waste, which is very important. All too often we see folk emptying their waste into ditches and streams, and many of us get our water from boreholes. Of course the streams also empty into our lochs and rivers and pollution is a problem.

This year the Outer Hebrides are requiring all camper vans to have booked pitches on camp sites before the ferry company will permit them aboard. Personally I would be very happy to see that continue in future years and our islands are becoming somewhat overwhelmed with the sheer number of vans. One of the main problems is traffic congestion with people renting vans not realising that the need to pull over to let faster traffic past, especially on single track roads. If you are not familiar with driving on single track roads then I'd suggest doing some research on the driving etiquette.

There are plenty of rental companies.

Best wishes
Jacqui (Skyegirl)

Posted by
153 posts

I would definitely be a respectful camper, I hate being a nuisance to anyone. That said, there's something to be said about the first line of this web page from visitscotland's own website.

Visit Scotland

"the unfettered freedom that comes with being able to pull over and set up camp where and when you choose" - that's kind of misleading, and I'm sure locals wouldn't appreciate knowing that line was out there. some people would jump on that as license to do what they want. And the picture on the web page is also looking like someone just up and parked for the night.

Posted by
4720 posts

I don't have a problem with people pulling up and parking for the night, people do it all the time near me because I live on a hill with outstanding views across Portsmouth and The Solent. As long as they don't cause an obstruction and clear up after themselves I don't see any issue, surely that's the appeal and benefits of travelling in a campervan?

Posted by
5716 posts

Campervans are generally small and don’t have any bathroom facilities, so you would need to stay on a site, of which there are plenty. A motor home is larger and has bathroom facilities. Wild camping in a motorised vehicle (as opposed to a tent) in my experience is becoming increasingly difficult in Scotland. Many councils are introducing local bye laws prohibiting overnight stays. Water acquisition and disposal is an issue if you don’t stay on sites, plus you don’t want to be carrying lots of heavy water around as the vehicles are uneconomical enough to start with!

You will find that hiring a motor home plus site fees is likely to be more expensive than hiring a modest sized car and staying in hotels, apartments or B & Bs, plus a smaller vehicle is better for negotiating the narrow Scottish roads than a larger vehicle.

You may find restrictions on taking a hire vehicle on ferries.

I spent a month touring round western Scotland a few years ago in my caravan. We didn’t have time to get to any of the islands, other than a day trip to Orkney from John o’Groats, which was worth doing, but the passage back was very rough. I was there in May/June and the weather was very mixed - one day only got up to 7 degrees! It was 28 degrees that day in London. The campsites on Skye were all fully booked, even in late May. We prebooked all the sites, luckily, as many were full.

I would suggest that in a 2 week timeframe that you consider how much ground you can realistically cover. If using Google Maps, add a third or if allowing time to stop for scenic photos, double the time including comfort breaks.

We didn’t do any whiskey tasting - horrible stuff. I only know one person that drinks whiskey, but it seems to be a popular thing for foreigners to try. It’s difficult when one person has to drive.

Posted by
633 posts

Dear pastorash

I agree with you about the Visit Scotland website! Here is what the Outdoor Access Code says about camper vans. practical guide Specifically this, "There is no legal right to park beside the road overnight, but there may be no objection to this in some instances - so extra care is needed."

As I said in my original post, at the moment Calmac (the ferry company operating ferries to the islands to the west of Scotland) require evidence of bookings on campsites for ferries to the Outer Hebrides. Northlink is the main company operating to Orkney and Shetland and I don't know whether they have imposed any such requirements.

Jennifer is certainly right to suggest making reservations for any campsites on the islands well in advance as there are not many sites and they are very popular.

If you do decide to rent a van, then from what I see on the roads around here on Skye, two of the more popular companies are and Justgo.

As for whiskey (with an 'e') - that's the stuff they make in Ireland. We make whisky (no 'e') here! But there's plenty else to see and do without bothering with whisky at all :-)

Have fun planning your trip.
Jacqui (skyegirl)

Posted by
2949 posts

Forgive me if I missed it, but I don't think anyone has commented in much detail about oh what fun it is to drive a large vehicle on narrow, winding, up-and-down roads. Scotland has plenty of these, and of course you'll be driving on the left.

So ... if you are not already used to driving a camper or other large-ish vehicle, you might want to stake out some time to practice in your local area before your trip.

Posted by
492 posts

I'd spent some time looking in to the North Coast 500 and campervan travels around Scotland in general (including some fairly neat Land Rover Defender rental options, with roof-top tents), and settled on booking at campsites for the night rather than trying to find any off-the-beaten-path wild camping options for many of the reasons mentioned above. Plus, many of these campsites looks quite nice - right on the coast, or with paths and trails leading to some great sights and spots. My take on it is if everyone only wanted to overnight in secluded and secret places there'd be no secluded and secret places left; the best way to guarantee I'm not an inconvenience to anyone else is by staying at designated, reserved campsites. Plus, all my noble selflessness aside wink, it's nice having facilities! I've done some motorhome trips in the US, and it sure is nice not having each flush of a toilet or second in the shower accompanied by a math homework assignment where you have to figure out how close to empty one tank is or how close to full another one is (plus I know my partner and travel companion well enough to know it'd always be me tasked with managing such things ;).

For those times we might want to have the countryside to ourselves, so to speak, a hike or picnic or casual stroll could do.

I've not done a campervan trip to Scotland so can't speak to the following, though these things come up often enough while researching trips so perhaps folks here can shed more light on something like the time of year. Summer could mean more road congestion, but better weather; more midges, but more places open for business. Alternatively, off-season could mean better prices, but shorter days (and driving a night on single track, winding rural roads could be a bit much) and less pleasant weather. Something like a VW campervan might be more maneuverable, but obviously lacking the facilities of a motorhome. Further, the usual issues of manual vs. automatic with a rental in Europe likely apply.

Posted by
633 posts

In terms of time of year, if you want to stay on campsites then you are probably looking at Easter until the end of September or possibly mid October. Outside of those times many sites will be closed.

Winter in the Highland and Islands obviously brings benefits in terms of less traffic and fewer other tourists, but the roads will often be icy and the less well travelled routes may not be gritted. Attractions such as castles are also likely to be closed. And it is highly likely to be wet, windy and/or snowy.

Jacqui (Skyegirl)

Posted by
153 posts

Thanx, I love this option but my wife is pretty seriously not into it. Have been loving watching a variety of videos of campervans driving through the Highlands, just amazing looking.

I'll be working on her.... ;)

Posted by
58 posts

I'd like to echo one of the previous posts about the difficulty of driving a large vehicle on the many narrow Scottish roads. We had some American friends (who had lived in the UK for two years) who decided to rent a camper van and travel around Scotland. It ended up being a very stressful experience for them.

Posted by
153 posts

Are there any good sites out there on how to appropriately find night spots for a Campervan? I would want to park respectfully but also in spots with "a view". I imagine the former is more important than the latter as finding views shouldn't be much of an issue.

Posted by
3259 posts

And if you're from the US, you will be driving on the opposite side of the road, which is difficult enough in a small car with automatic transmission. My husband did it in Ireland where public transportation is not as good, but in Scotland, he turned the car in after two days and stuck to trains and a Rabbies tour. If my husband wanted to drive a campervan in Scotland, he would have to go by himself.

Posted by
1014 posts

I have driven about in the UK and especially Scotland for the past 15 years or more. I buy or rent a small car with automatic transmission. I have driven a camper van in US for the past 26 years or more. I would NEVER take my campervan or rent one in the UK to do a drive about. Get as small a car as you can that will carry all of your belongings and yourselves. Book BnB's, AirBnB's or hotels ahead of time. With a car you can go exploring down the one way lanes in Scotland to see what is down there. In a campervan, HECK NO. On place I love to visit is Thurso, Scotland and I always stay at I use them as a base to explore the region. Lots to see and do if you have a car.