Please sign in to post.

iPad in rural Scotland

My wife and I are planning a 10-day caravan trip deep into the Highlands in May, the further away from cities the better. We'll be in remote parts of Mull, Skye, the west coast of Ross & Cromarty, far northwest Sutherland, etc.

What is our best option for keeping our iPad 2 connected to the grid (as much as possible), primarily to use as a backup information source. We'll have our guidebooks and paper maps but we're doing this as a "just in case".

Posted by
3469 posts

Is your iPad the WiFi only type, or does it have cellular connectivity too?

If you have one that does cell, you can probably purchase a SIM card that will get you connected while you are there. But watch out for the data charges, they can be quite expensive. I don't have one with that option so I was not able to try when I was there a year ago.

Most every hotel and B&B have WiFi included. Pubs and restaurants we found along the way also mostly had WiFi and they would let us use it if we bought something. Every national park visitor center we stopped at had free WiFi too. While some of these were snail slow and prone to random disconnects, most usually worked well enough to get and send email.

But if you are truly caravanning into the deepest forest and remotest wastelands, you might not even have cell service, which will leave you disconnected from the rest of the world no matter what.

Posted by
26010 posts

Satellite phone? If you have the money and patience....

Posted by
47 posts

We won't ever stay in a hotel our entire visit. We'll be travelling by caravan and may not even be in proper campgrounds every night. Scotland has a law that states that you can camp overnight almost anywhere so long as you aren't causing a disruption by doing so. We'll use WiFi when available but that won't be often.

Posted by
1293 posts

Be very careful where you camp. The law about countryside access and camping is not as widespread as is often thought and generally only then for camping with a tent. With a vehicle you will be much more restricted to where you can camp.

Posted by
47 posts

Thanks for the advice. We will seek out campsites whenever possible but we like knowing that we have other options.

Posted by
1293 posts

When you say caravan, as in towed by a car, is this what you are meaning? If this is the case you will be more restricted and booking official sites is probably a better idea.

Posted by
47 posts

No, caravan as in "small motorhome", about a 6 or 7 meter long vehicle.

My apologies if I was not making the distinction. I was under the impression the two are used interchangeably.

Posted by
1293 posts

This might help. It gives details of the laws in question.

Back to the iPad issue, there might be WiFi available in some of the towns etc but would not count on it.

Posted by
47 posts

What about swapping the SIM to a UK vendor? I've heard that this is fairly simple and that Vodaphone, O2, and Three all have decent coverage (or at least their coverage maps claim they do) in the regions in question.

Since you're a Glasgowegian, might I ask if you have ever rented a small motorhome from the vendors in your area? We're planning to fly into Glasgow rather than Edinburgh and plan to make Oban or Mull our first overnight.

Posted by
1293 posts

Swapping the SIM might be an idea, but be careful about the deal you get. Mobile coverage can still be patchy in the Highlands.

I've not hired a motorhome anywhere, closest is a fixed place caravan, so cannot comment on the hire companies offerings. However I would go smaller because of the roads where you are going. If you wish to take a motorhome over to Mull in May you may need to book with CalMac and some of the roads are single track and unsuitable for motorhomes.

Because of the nature of the trip you are doing, the roads you will be driving on you may consider staying at a hotel near the airport or around Glasgow for the first night to combat jet lag. The Loch Lomond stretch of the A82 can be iffy enough for car drivers unused to it.

Posted by
47 posts

Thanks for the advice.

A 6m motorhome is the smallest that has on-board toilet facilities which is a requirement from my wife (one of her few).

I have read enough to realize that a large part of the first half of the trip will be on single-track roads. We will be starting in Oban (from Glasgow) then proceeding clockwise around the perimeter of the country - Mull, Ben Nevis, Skye, then into the northwest wilds (Torridon, Ullapool, Lochinver, Durness),, then Orkney, Wick and then following the A9 through Cairngorms to end the trip with Dunfimline and Falkirk.

That's the vague idea, at least. We have very few set places we HAVE to see. For us, this is more about being in the Scottish countryside than seeing any particular place. When we travel, cities are low priority, nature is what we are after.

I know from a European perspective this seems like a LOT of driving but my wife's commute round trip is less than the drive from Glasgow to Oban and mine is pretty close.

The first day will be the most nerve-wracking. As you said, the jet lag plus driving "on the wrong side of the road".

Why is the A82 so unnerving?

Posted by
1293 posts

This is the A82, as is this and this on the bit of Loch Lomond from Tarbet north. The A82 is a very busy road linking Glasgow and the West Highlands and as such carries a large amount of commercial and leisure traffic from bike up to large lorries.

Given you will be in a large vehicle, 50% longer and substantially larger than a standard car, after a long flight and driving on the correct side of the road for the first time, this is not a route I would recommend without a prior night's sleep to aclimatise, and I know of people who will avoid it in a standard production car.

As the pictures show, it is very narrow, twisty and there is no room to expand it much between the rocks and the loch itself. However that section is only about 8 miles / 13 km long.

Posted by
47 posts

Thanks for the photo links. Yeah, that would be dicey in my wife's Prius.

Most flights from the US arrive in Glasgow by 10a. I suppose we could spend the first day seeing Glasgow via public transport. We want to see the Glasgow Cathedral and the idea of maneuvering a 6-7m vehicle in that part of the city scares me (and I work with rattlesnakes as part of my thesis work!).

Posted by
1293 posts

Take public transport for that option. It is a reasonable walk up hill from the trains into Glasgow Central, or from Buchanan Bus Station, look for buses going to Glasgow Royal Infirmary, the Cathedral is next door.

And if you are going to the Cathedral, pop down the hill slightly to St Mungos, and just beyond it is one of the few remaining in situ Police Boxes, aka The Tardis.

I would never recommend driving in central Glasgow to anyone on their first trip. And in a motorhome a bus lane fine is probably a given.

Posted by
244 posts

We drove the north coast last fall in a rental car. What an amazing trip! They are marketing the drive as Scotland's Route 66. Here is a website link you might be interested in here. . The website gives a suggested itinerary for caravans. Looks interesting. Most of our driving was on one track roads! So fun to drive! We drove the Strathnaver trail and came across a caravan club. One of the caravans was a very large American Monaco class A motor home! I am not sure how they made it but they did! Just pull out and let other cars go by. We saw a lot of caravans on our trip, if you are used to driving RV's on mountain roads in the U.S. you'll be fine. Roads are narrow!! Take your time and be careful, try to avoid driving in cities. I would definitely spend your first night or two in Glasgow then start fresh. Enjoy!

Posted by
47 posts

MC, thanks for the advice. I know the Glasgow Cathedral & Necropolis are high on my wife's list so we will do as you suggest. And yeah, she's a massive Whovian so seeing the police box will be really cool - I may keep that to myself and surprise her with it.

Posted by
47 posts

Pfresh, that link is great thanks! We may find a few more gems because of that site. We'd need a month to see all we want to see!

Nope, no experience driving on narrow mountain roads. However, I've driven duellys towing either a standard trailer or a gooseneck trailer quite often and a lot of it on tight roads here in the Texas hill country. Maybe I'll rent as similar a vehicle as I can find here a few weeks before we go and find the narrowest, curviest roads in the area to practice on. A friend suggested I download the game, "Euro Truck Simulator 2" and drive the UK in a right-hand drive lorry as a pseudo practice.

Posted by
1293 posts

For driving on the left, check a few driving videos on Youtube, some from driving schools like the AA, and BSM.

As for the Police Boxes, this is one of Glasgow's lesser known secrets. There are less than a dozen left on the public street in the UK. Glasgow has about half of them, and three are in the city centre. I suppose this is apt as three of the Doctors came from the Greater Glasgow area, (7, 10 and 12 - McCoy, Tennant and Capaldi).

Posted by
47 posts

Thanks for the driving advice. One of my friends/professors did her doctoral work in New Zealand and she's given me a few tips for making the transition. What it really sounds like is that we need to get away from Glasgow the instant we get the keys to the caravan out to where we will do less harm. ;)

Since we're chatting, is there a place (even a chain) in the UK that is known for having a good selection of organic and allergen-free foods? My wife has numerous severe food allergies, which is one of the reasons we like caravan travel - we can control the meals. We need to know what is in the products and US labeling is spotty so we're leery - even cross-contamination can be a problem with things like mushrooms or soy.

I know Whole Foods (a chain from the US, from Austin Texas actually) has a store in Giffnock. Am I going to be able to get to that area in a 6-7m vehicle?

Posted by
1293 posts

I have had a look on the map and say don't bother with the branch in Giffnock, for a couple of reasons.

Giffnock is not that easy to get around in at times. But mainly the big supermarkets - Tesco, Sainsbury's, ASDA, Morrisons, Waitrose, and the Cooperative, probably have what you are looking for. Being in the European Union has as one of its many benefits very strict food labelling laws, and there will be an allergy box on all packaged goods.

My favourite was on a jug of milk from Tesco. 'Organic Semi Skimmed Milk - Allergy Advice WARNING Contains Milk'.

The supermarket I use, Sainsbury's, has a wide range of 'Free From' and organic products. So I would say try the supermarkets first. You should also find the parking easier. The supermarkets all have online presence, though Waitrose does not have that much of a brick presence in Scotland. Check their offerings there.

Posted by
453 posts

hey lost you might give this website a look, it can be used to locate and map hikes as well and trips between locations. We did Ft. William, Glen Coe, Isle of Skye, and back to Edinbugh. The one lane roads were not as difficult as the narrow two laners that were busy, people on the one lane roads are more aware of the limited space on the road. My problem was roads with curbs, fences, and rocks directly on what we would call the shoulder of the road here in indiana. This is the site i used to locate many of the hikes we took http://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/ If you become familiar with website you will appreciate its usefulness. Also, for us, in a medium/small sized car, we seemed to need 10 EXTRA minutes to travel what would take us an hour in the US! The ordinance survey maps for Skye were also very very helpful, we picked out the 4 areas we were visiting and bought them, they are really useful. https://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/ dave

Posted by
47 posts

MC, you've given me so much good advice you're practically my travel agent. Much thanks. I feel like I owe you a beer or three.

The Euro food labeling is known to us and we're hoping for stricter labeling here. The US has labeling but it isn't near as strict. Ours says "contains: milk" or "contains: soy" but the food producers argue what criteria something has to meet for labeling. If a non-soy product is processed in such a way that cross-contamination is a risk, they don't have to label it. Soy Lecithin is a soy derived emulsifier that, officially, is not a soy allergen. Eating anything here is a gamble for my wife.

Thanks for the heads up on Sainsbury's. I have heard of them but didn't really understand the difference between them and Tesco or other markets.

Posted by
47 posts

Jarrard, thanks for the info.

I've been all over Walkhighlands website. My wife has some knee issues so I checked that site to see how challenging some of the sites are to get to. The other site that has really helped me plan my trip away from the cities is http://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/

Adding 10 extra minutes per hour of expected US driving isn't bad. I was guessing it would be more like 15-20 but it might be in a 6 meter motorhome (not much bigger than a standard UHaul).

Posted by
1293 posts

For the supermarkets this is a matter really of taste and availability, there is not a major difference between them. Except Waitrose which is for posh people ;-)

There is a Tesco at Oban, and a Morrisons at Fort William, with Inverness having both but so many Tescos it is known as Tescopolis.

For the motorhome, you may be subject to different speed limits to a car, check with the hire firm. Also you will need to know the dimensions in both imperial and metric in case of size restrictions on some of the roads.

Hope this helps.