Driving through glens and across steep mountain passes, we relished in the magnificence of the landscape. Rather than the rolling green hills of England that we were used to, the landscape of the Scottish Highlands was harsh, striking and rugged. Deep crags were scratched into the surface of the earth, reminders of ancient glacier erosion, and gigantic peaks rose above our tiny van, shrouded amongst clouds. For someone who had never before been north of the border, Scotland was a welcome surprise that I could not tear my eyes away from.
Leaving Glasgow, we headed north for Loch Lomund, a short drive that soon gave us our first glimpse of the seemingly never-ending Loch and the peaks that towered over it. Just north of the tiny settlement of Luss we sought out our first wild camping spot. Parking in a lay by, we scooped up piles of blankets and sleeping bags, slung our tent over our back and clambered through the trees to emerge on a secluded beach. We discovered the perfect spot up on a grassy verge, sheltered from the road, mere feet from the water. A previous visitor had kindly constructed a fire pit, and we began gathering wood ready for the sun setting. Barefoot, we gingerly tested the temperature of the Loch, wading out up to our thighs as the freezing cold water gently lapped against our legs. Wandering up and down the shore we discovered hidden streams, clambered over boulders and skimmed stones. This was late June, and the sun didn’t start to set until 10.30, leaving us huddled around the fire in the perpetual twilight drinking bottles of beer and toasting marshmallows on twigs. Across the Loch, we watched the dancing lights of a fire on the opposite shore, where another group of wild campers were no doubt looking back at us. We slept peacefully that night, the sound of the waves against the shore lulling us to slumber.
Day Two of our adventure, and we rose early to the sound of bird calls. After breakfast we packed everything back into the van and set off north, heading for the remote wilderness of Glen Coe. Nothing prepares you for the staggering beauty and sheer scale of the Glen, the road twisting and turning as it vaults you up and down the mountains. It was impossible not to stop to take photographs and to wander across the stark moors.
Once you emerge on the other side of the Glen, you have almost gotten used to the beauty that surrounds you. Loch Leven greets you, and encourages you to take a detour driving along the steep road that circles it, providing epic views. We stopped briefly in Kinlochleven to admire a giant torrent of water hurtling itself down the mountain face, climbing onto boulders to get a better look at the waterfall. A few minutes’ drive further along the road, we stumbled upon a tiny seafood restaurant, where the fishermen could be seen out on the Loch and bringing the fish up to process in a wooden hut next door. I ate the fleshiest and tastiest mussels of my life here, as my companion artfully tore apart his langoustines, admiring the view of the Loch from the outside dining deck. Before speeding off towards Fort William, we wandered slightly further along the shore to discover a section of the Loch that was eerily still, perfectly reflecting the scenery above it.
Bypassing Fort William as we didn’t care for its ugly concrete structures, we drove uphill with Ben Nevis peering down at us. Although this trip hadn’t planned for a climb up Britain’s tallest mountain, it was incredibly tempting as we admiring the scenery surrounding the peak. We were, however, aiming for Glen Nevis, situated up a steep road in the foothills of the domineering mountain. From the car park at the top of the road, we ignored the ‘danger’ signs and set off walking to discover the Glen that is only accessible on foot. A steep walk ensued, involving perilously scaling waterfalls and rock faces and overcoming a slight fear of heights that was triggered by the steep plummet to the right into the rocky river below. Once we emerged from the trail, we were greeted by a valley staggering in its size, appearing like the land that time forgot. We scaled the rope bridge over the river, paddled on the shore and hiked across to the staggering waterfall in the distance. Several hikers had set up camp here, and we kicked ourselves for not bringing our camping gear on the hike.
Back in the car, we had to find somewhere to camp for the night. After much deliberation, and driving up and down the Road to the Isles several times, we discovered a hidden river amidst a small woods, down a dirt track. Here, we settled for the night, lighting a fire by the shore of the river, wandering up to our ankles downstream, and holding our breath as otters swam mere feet away from us.
We woke in the morning to the ground damp from rain, and a swarming cloud of persistent midges attacking us from all angles. No matter how many warnings you hear about the ‘wee beasties’, you can never be prepared for the scale of the attack. Throwing our belongings into the van, we jumped in and sped away, frantically wiping the creatures out of our hair and off our faces. Admiring the views of the small sea Lochs along the way, we briefly stopped in the tiny settlement of Arisaig to inspect the damage that they had inflicted to our skin.
Skye was now only a short boat ride away, and we leant over the side peering into the murky grey fog to catch our first view of the island. Caught up in inclement weather conditions, that first day on Skye was spent driving along the cliffs, drinking in the views and seeking out the perfect place to camp for the night. We drove down to Elgol, hoping to discover the ideal camping spot near to a local pub, but found the small port deserted, everyone at home, sheltering from the wind and rain. The promised staggering view of the Cuillin mountain range was all but completely shielded from us by cloud. Disheartened, we drove up to Portree, leaving a huge portion of the island undiscovered. In Portree we parked by the shore, and set up camp for the night within our van itself, nestled on the floor behind the seats in a pile of blankets and duvets. We enjoyed the proximity of the local inns, indulged in a mouth-watering two-course fish supper, and sat in the rain by the side of the harbour.
The next day, we were determined to drink in as much of Skye as possible, with the promise of a 12 hour drive home on the horizon for the following day. Driving up the Trotternish peninsula, we pulled over what felt like every five minutes to run and peer over the edge of a cliff or embark on a steep climb up the side of a mountain. We visited the Old Man of Storr, the Quiraing, Lealt Falls and Kilt Rock. Just outside Uig, we left the main road and drove up a steep and winding hill to discover the magical Faerie Glen, a wonderland of Skye in miniature. Here we ran up and down the mounds that were once rumoured to be home to mythical creatures.
Our last night on Skye, and in Scotland itself, we stayed in the oldest inn on the island, in the smallholding of Stein on the Waternish peninsula. It was here that I discovered a tick imbedded in my thigh, another reminder of Scotland’s less than pleasant miniature wildlife. After a warming meal at the inn, we sat underneath the twilight sky on the rocky beach, with a couple of chickens for company.
The West Coast of Scotland and the Isle of Skye surprised me, leaving my wanderlust list of places such as Canada and New Zealand in tatters. These epic landscapes, interesting species of wildlife, and crystal clear waters could be found within a short drive of my very own home. A visit to Scotland only tempts you to return, and as we plan our next trip, wild camping, avid exploring and hiking up mountains will certainly be involved.
All images my own.