Featured Writer: Nicola Burkhill
If you’ve never been to the Scottish highlands, like me, then you’re definitely missing a trick. We decided instead of going south to England, to go north for our family holiday this year. Having heard from so many people how beautiful it is there, we decided to go along the west coast of Scotland first. Our only concern being the dreaded midgies and the unpredictable weather.
So, we hooked up the big rig, strapped in the kids, chucked Angus, our dog, in the boot and off we went. We headed for Achindarroch campsite situated opposite Glen Duror forest and the scenery on the way through was absolutely stunning. So stunning, in fact, we decided to stop and admire Glencoe in all her glory. Having been dazzled by the awesome, unspoilt land, we amateurs forgot to shut our caravan door and after looking in the wing mirror and seeing the caravan keys swinging wildly on the the open door, we realised that we had also left our step on the roadside. DOH!
Having made that little faux pas, we climbed upwards to Glen Duror. If you love history, then you’ll love the highlands, everywhere you go has a very interesting tale to go with it and Glen Duror is no exception. We got handed a little homemade booklet on entry to our campsite, which detailed the history of Glen Duror and the famous James of the Glen and the Appin murder of 1752. Our campsite was directly opposite Glen Duror forest and was rustic enough to provide the peace and tranquillity we required, but it also had a very clean and well maintained shower block and most importantly everyone had plenty of room between pitches.
The campsite had stunning views and as luck would have it the weather held out for us during the duration of our stay. We decided to use the campsite as our base and explore the highlands. Our first stop was Oban, which was a real treat. Oban is a beautiful little seaside town with a ferry port that gives access to the Islands. We spent the day like true tourists wandering round the harbour, watching the ferries come and go and sampling some of the best fish and chips. We also found a little hut at the end of the harbour which sold freshly caught seafood. My husband testified its merits having enjoyed a seafood platter filled with crab, langoustines, prawns and other sea urchins.
The kids and the dog enjoyed a run on the beach too, so everyone was happy. Oban runs a ferry service to most of the islands such as Mull, Jura and Iona, so the seaside town is fairly busy and the little town has lots of restaurants, bars and shops to keep you amused, especially if it’s raining. We spotted a little pub further inland serving homemade food and real Scottish ales, somewhere that I stored at the back of my mind for childfree times.
We decided that instead of taking a ferry to Mull, where we felt we would have needed to take our car, we would visit Lismore, a much smaller Island that is renowned for its beauty and flora. We drove for no more than 20 minutes to nearby Port Appin to catch the ferry. I use the term ferry generously here. The little fishing boat is not for the person who is scared of deep water and small boats!
As we waited for the boat to take us to Lismore, we watched a family crabbing off the side of the dock and marvelled at all the crabs they had caught. My husband, keen to show off his expertise in this area, decides to pick up the biggest one and gets nipped and yelps, amusing the rest of the waiting passengers!
On route to Port Appin, we passed Castle Stalker and were completely blown away by the stunning scenery. The highlands just kept on surprising us.
On days when the tide is completely out, you can walk to Castle Stalker and take a guided tour. Once again, another thing reserved for childfree times. They would love walking across the beach but I’m not so sure about the guided tour. Castle Stalker is not without its own history, having been lost in a drunken bet to the Campbell’s in around 1620. This is definitely a place to visit, the scenery alone is so breathtaking, it seems unreal. I have been to many beautiful places in the world; I did not expect to include Scotland as one of them. I’m not sure if that’s because I live in Scotland and know how fierce the weather can be at times. Having all this just a few hours away just made me feel so proud and so privileged. I can’t believe I have never ventured north before.
The crew on the ferry are friendly and helpful and the skipper even has the obligatory border collie at his heels. It doesn’t take us long to get to Lismore, around 10 minutes and we arrive on one of the most tranquil, serene places I have ever been in my life. We realise our mistake as we witness everyone getting on bikes. They all leave on their way, whilst we are drawn to the edge of the water where the boat docked. The scenery is like no place I have ever been, a pebble beach, clear water and yes the sun is shining. As we leave the beach and begin to head in the only direction we can, the people on bikes pass us all the while smiling sympathetically. We walk and pass signs which tell us the nearest café is 3 miles! Not a shop in sight, the only sound is the water lapping on the shore below. We begin to notice that every house has a bicycle outside.
We walk for around a mile and are passed by walkers and we overhear one of them asking the leader, “So how near is this café?” The reply is, “Erm, around four miles.” My husband and I exchange the look. It is then that I confess how unprepared we are. I being the naïve fool that I am thought there would have been a shop. We decided to hurry back and the catch the ferry and explore Appin, but we only have 20 minutes or so with a 4 year old boy stopping every five minutes because he keeps emptying debris from his crocs. I eventually announce that we have missed the ferry and am met with the cry from Ryan “Oh No! Now we’re stuck on Mull forever!” We chuckle and tell him he’s not on Mull, but Lismore. We have an hour to kill and nothing for sustenance in the bag, except yesterday’s juice for the baby, 3 curly wurly’s and water in the dogs bottle. We find a toilet in the little hut by the ferry dock that supplies drinking water, so we drink our water supply, fill our doggy water bottle and head for a little secluded bay by the ferry dock where we have the time of our life! The dog is off splashing in the water and we see him doggy paddle for the first time! Ryan is amazed looking in the rock pools and collecting unusual pebbles in a bucket for souveniers and our toddler is paddling in the water babbling away.
We are worn out and have had a great day out that has barely cost us £10. Another check in the box for Lismore and the West Coast. We have yet to visit anywhere on this holiday that we haven’t liked and the children have loved all the fresh air and wide open spaces to play and I am pleased to say there wasn’t a midgie in sight! As we take our leave and pack up the caravan in the rain, we head for the second part of our adventure to a campsite that is located on the East Coast of Scotland, Perthshire, less rustic and catered more towards the children, but a little piece of my heart remains in the West.