Written by Chris Moore / Images by Chris Moore - UKChris_traveljournalist
Note from Go Explore
We were delighted to welcome Chris and his wife as a client, we had no prior knowledge that he is in fact a very talented Travel Writer and Photographer. We would like to thank Chris for this wonderful blog and the images that he has shared with us. If you would like to see more from Chris he can be followed on Instagram UKChris_traveljournalist.
Well, when I say our motorhome, it wasn’t exactly ours – we had just borrowed it from Go Explore Scotland. We had promised to give it back after a week and hopefully in a state they would recognize and still be open to renting to us again in the future.
My wife and I are expats. We live in the US and in September 2022 we flew into Glasgow (delayed, of course) for a week of meandering around western Scotland and, in particular, taking in the Inner Hebrides. We put Excel to good use and planned our trip meticulously. When we shared the itinerary with a Scottish friend, he took one look, snorted and handed it back to me with a curt ”ambitious”. Undeterred, we arrived at Glasgow airport, were picked up and whisked briskly to the Go Explore Scotland location where our Peugeot Boxer stood, all 19ft, gleaming and clean, ready for us. After all the necessary paperwork was completed (you know the drill, you pay us money and we give you the key) we went outside and inspected our new home. I kicked the tires (not sure why but it seemed like the right thing to do), confirmed there was one at each corner and climbed in to take control. I blame the jet lag from the red eye – I found myself in the passenger seat. I quickly shuffled across and was delighted to find three pedals in front of me. Cool – I hadn’t driven a stick shift for years!
Eager to get out into the wide open spaces north of Glasgow, I was quickly brought back to earth by my wife. “First stop – Morrison’s to get our week’s groceries”. Boring. Until I discovered the chocolate biscuit aisle and promptly started to fill the trolley with Clubs, Breakaways and Penguins – all of which I hadn’t seen in years. I was planning to eat healthy!
Finally out onto the A82, we headed to Loch Lomond and our first overnight stop in Luss. It was a deliberately short drive as by 4:30 pm we were ready for bed (it’s always a good idea to minimize the driving after a red eye flight). We were awake 12 hours later and crept out of the campsite as quietly as possible in search of glorious countryside. It didn’t take long to find. No matter where you turn in this part of the world, you will be greeted with picture postcard views. We headed to Oban stopping in at Kilchurn castle and a couple of miles down the road pulled off to explore St.Conan’s Kirk. There is parking here the size of a handkerchief but that did not deter me shoehorning into a sliver of open space. I was very proud of myself before wondering exactly how I was going to get back out. No matter. The church, on the banks of Loch Awe is stunning and not quite as old as it looks. But well worth seeing. As I climbed back into my seat I banged my head on the overhanging bunk – something I would repeat many times over the next week. My wife was duly dispatched to guide me out – I could see her in the wing mirrors with arms waving like one of those inflatable characters outside shops. I didn’t know if I was to go back, come forward, turn left or just close my eyes and pray. I inched out and got back on the road without as much as a scratch. I was feeling very smug.
From Oban we took the ferry to Craignure and over to the Isle of Mull. Where did the roads go? Within a mile of driving off the ferry, we were heading down a single track lane between farmers’ fields. Although there were frequent passing places, I wondered if anything larger than a scooter would actually be able to pass us. We met no-one as we drove to Duart Castle – home of the McLeans and which we had passed on the ferry coming in. It was still early and the car park was large and empty and I abandoned the van at a strange angle – because I could! Another – possibly even narrower track – led us to Lochbuie. I noted my wife’s hands gripping the door handle as we threaded our way down to the edge of the loch where we finally found a few parking spots. They were all filled with cars! “What about us big truckers? ”I demanded. No worries – we found a spot where at least three of the wheels remained on the ground and jumped out just as gravity slammed the door shut behind me. Perfect. We wandered off among the sheep to the edge of the Loch and considered how nice it was that so few people made it this far.
We spent that night at Fidden Farm campsite in Fionnphort parked on the edge of a field overlooking the beach and the Atlantic gently coming ashore. I saw the heads of a couple of people swimming there so I stripped to my underwear and went in …. and came right back out again. It was bloody freezing but if those two could do it, then so could I. I tried again, somewhat gingerly, and had the water up to my chest. I could no longer feel anything below my nipples so conceded defeat and headed out to our campfire on the beach. As my feet slowly re-introduced themselves to me, the two intrepid swimmers walked out of the sea … wearing wetsuits! We sat outside the van and watched the sun set, warmed by the campfire and a tot of Famous Grouse generously donated by GoExploreScotland. What fine people they are.
The next morning we parked in the Pay & Display car park – in the “giant vehicle” section – and ran for the ferry to Iona. Visiting the Abbey on Iona on Sunday meant we could also partake in the ecumenical service that was led by a Dawn French lookalike. Had we somehow strayed into Dibley?
Back in our trusty, comfy home, we headed back to the mainland for an appointment with the Jacobite Express – famed for its alter-ego of the Hogwarts Express. Getting to Glenfinnan to bag a vantage spot and film the famous train steam over the iconic viaduct was the only real time pressure of the whole road trip. We parked in the first car park we saw in Glenfinnan by the Visitor Center. It was a bit tight but with my wife’s impression of doing the butterfly on land, I was able to squeeze in between two Range Rovers only to find I couldn’t open the door! No matter, I climbed over the bed and exited through the rear doors half expecting to find an inflatable slide.
We made it up the hill and admired the “Black Five” as it hauled its carriages over the viaduct. It was a drizzly Monday morning in September and there were at least 200 others there too. Come early in the summer!
Our next stop was the Isle of Skye where we found the roads to be, well, more than a single track! We zipped along from one photo op to another … and another … and another. Progress was steady but interrupted. We were hoping to get close to the Old Man of Storr … but there was absolutely no room to park so we kept on going. This place must be a nightmare in the summer. In the evening we headed out to Neist Point Lighthouse … a classic photo op at sunset (if the sun co-operates – which it didn’t that evening). It’s a popular place and we ended up parking on the side of the road about a half mile from the clifftop. If there was one thing I’m glad we packed – it was headlamps. We might have looked like a couple of old potholers, but they were brilliant on our way back to the van in the dark.
We headed back to Glasgow via the Skye Bridge (I was ready to pay a toll but was pleasantly surprised there wasn’t one) and through the wonderfully stunning Glencoe. A must see for every visitor in this area is the iconic Eilean Donan Castle at Dornie where you feel transported to the lid of a shortbread box. A little further on we took a right turn down another narrow, winding, up and down single track road. “Oh look over there” my wife would cry and two wheels would flirt with a ditch. Although every passing spot warned us not to “park”, we would, naughtily, spend a minute there – especially if someone else had already parked. More often than not, wandering just a few steps away, we would be treated to the sight of a waterfall or a kylie with its calf. In some other places, we would pull off, rotate the driver’s seat and settle in for an unhurried lunch. The best part – not having to find a toilet or run behind a bush which, for a 60 year old man, was a godsend. I spent many a happy minute in the loo – just in case, and just because I could!
We completed our itinerary – and some. We could never have done this had we needed to find a place to eat, a place to sleep and a place to pee. Our trusty motorhome solved all our problems and gave us the ultimate freedom to explore.