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 Novice in the Highlands
Magnificent view over Loch Duich to the Sisters of Kintail


title caption A NOVICE CARAVANNER AND THE SCOTTISH HIGHLANDS MAY NOT sound like an ideal combination. But, as the novice, I thought it had possibilities and at 8 o'clock on a Saturday morning in June my wife and I left Kings Cross in an express train with our Morris 1000 a few carriages behind us. Eight hours later we pulled into Edinburgh and within minutes were driving down Princes Street en route to Denny. Glen Cluanie

The owners of the Thomson Glen we were hiring are also enthusiasts. They gave us a lot of helpful advice on routes and areas and, as a result we decided to head due north first. The van was hitched the routine checks explained and we were away. A quarter of a mile of narrow lane and a "T" junction on to a trunk road was our introduction to towing, but we were soon rolling happily along towards Perth.
The municipal site at Perth has good facilities and looked very pleasant with rhododendrons in full flower round the perimeter. I had heard that parking the van shows up the novice and there always seem to be experienced caravanners on hand to see how the manoeuvre is accomplished, so I was highly delighted to be able to reverse the van into the right position first time-but how grateful for that slope that helped the run hack ! Pleased with our first night we were on our way by then the next morning feeling quite experienced tourists. Alas, there was something we had forgotten. Stopping to buy a newspaper after a few miles I glanced into the van. What a mess The wardrobe door was wide open and clothes littered the floor. Fortunately clothes do not damage as easily as groceries but we always made sure the doors were fastened after that.
The long steady pull up through Glengarry augured well for future towing as the van made hardly any difference. It became bleak and cold
as we reached the 1,500 foot summit of the pass but improved again as we dropped down into the Spey Valley. A hairpin bend off the main road at Aviemore quickly followed by a sharp bend through a narrow railway bridge started us off on a four-mile ride along a single-track road to Glenmore National Forest Park. Here was a spacious site on the shore of Loch Morlich overlooked on three sides by the Cairngorm mountains. It is a popular spot for people in the north-east, with yachting on the loch as an added attraction to fishing, climbing and glorious forest walks.
Most of the vans and tents disappeared during the evening, many waiting until after Sunday evening service. This was held in the mountain rescue post, converted into a chapel for the occasion, and a surprisingly large number of people, mainly young, arrived from surrounding districts. The folding doors separating two rooms had to be pushed back, chairs were unstacked and hymn books shared as about 120 obviously outdoor types joined enthusiastically in the service.
It was at Glenmore that we remembered the assurance we had been given that we would meet far more people by caravanning than we ever would on a "bed and breakfast" holiday. Everyone was prepared to talk freely with none of the restraint which is often encountered at a boarding house; it was as if the van was the passport to an especially friendly company.


Two full days were spent here and we could have stayed much longer but this, our first visit, was intended for exploring Scotland. Wednesday morning was bright and sunny and we badly wanted to touch the know on top of the Cairngorm. There is a motor road that takes you to within 2,000 feet of the summit and the thought of getting halfway by car was enough to encourage us. By 10 a.m. we were on top in the snow admiring a wonderful view.
We had luncheon in an Inverness cafe and thought it was quite an achievement to have climbed a mountain and still travelled forty miles along our route in the morning. It was a delightful experience to come down from the mountain, hitch up and be away within minutes. On the other hand, our neighbours on the site were in a tent, they had intended touring but the effort of packing everything away for each move had beaten them and they decided to stay put.
From Inverness we drove through Garve and into the north-west. We soon found the truth in the saying : "You haven't seen Scotland until you've seen the north-west." We were on the main road through rugged country yet it was single-line traffic all the way. The road surfaces were good and there were ample passing-places all marked with a diamond-shaped board on a post. These conditions seem general throughout the area but there is very little traffic. Passengers as well as the driver acknowledge the waiting vehicle by waving cheerily. I think we did extra well for smiles-a Minor 1000 towing a van in that area made them all look. We hoped the smiles were of encouragement and not at our fool-hardiness.
Two six-wheeled heavily laden timber lorries caused us momentary anxiety when we met them as we were descending a steep hill. Bends in the road and trees on each side had masked their approach but the drivers reversed until we were able to pull into a passing place and let them through. Generally vehicles could be seen approaching well in advance and there was little, if any, delay in passing.
It was in this area that we came across a forester's wife and her three-year-old child walking home after a visit to their nearest neighbour-three miles away. They gratefully accepted the lift we offered and we learnt that the nearest shop to her cottage was nine miles away, that she had no transport, not even a bicycle, and that after ten years she was only just getting accustomed to it. We left them at a tiny roadside cottage, and my wife and I decided that theirs was not the life for us.
We had decided at the beginning of the tour not to take the toilet and toilet tent, preferring to stop at sites with "mod cons". This was a mistake, as we found at Kinlochewe. One site was fully equipped but it was bleak and rocky and we eventually stopped in a meadow by a cottage in the village. Toilet facilities were there-but next time we will have our own, thank you.
A valley road runs from Kinlochewe to Loch Torridon where there are many ideal spots to stop with a van. Small quarries, some big enough for two or three vans, others with just room for one, are at intervals along the road and there is always a stream of water nearby. The Torridon mountains rise smoothly and steeply from the roadside and this magnificent valley is well worth a visit.
As we returned to Kinlochewe after a day at Loch Torridon the mountain tops were suddenly obscured by clouds which poured over the summits into the valley, and with the clouds came torrential rain. Once again, within two minutes of returning to the site, we were hitched and away again. Already we were making use of the advantages of having every-thing in its place ready to move, water containers filled and milk bought. This was a side of caravan life that gave us a particular thrill each time, to be off on the road in minutes and in an equally short time to stop and be settled for as long as we wished.

Torridon Mountains

It was an exciting ride along the shores of Loch Maree, the narrow road winding round blind corners between mountain side and loch edge, cleverly contrived passing places in the most awkward spots and heavily forested areas with gaps giving sudden fine views.Gairloch was to be the most northerly point of our tour and we were glad to shelter from the strong winds, parking the van among the sand dunes on a spacious site at Big Sands. At half past nine the same evening we were out walking in bright sunshine on the wide sandy shore with the great saw-like corrugations of the mountains of Skye on the horizon. Even by midnight it was not really dark. Strath, the nearest village, appeared to be the centre for the area and there was a good provision shop with a wide variety of foodstuffs, but ... we had yet to realise that this was north-west Scotland. At noon on the day after our arrival we went shopping. We asked for a morning paper but there was only yesterday's - "Today's don't arrive until 4 p.m."
"Two pints of milk please." "Sorry, the milk comes with the papers." A little later we found bread was delivered to the village just twice a week. About 4 o'clock the mail van arrives and only then does the village become busy. Cars, vans, Land-Rovers from all around the area gather with the villagers near the shops. Many people carry small milk urns obviously it is preferable when collecting milk to carry the family's supply in one urn rather than in a number of bottles. It seems also that anyone can and does collect their neighbours' mail and newspapers.
More than half the holiday had passed when we regretfully left to travel south. We intended spending two nights out in the wilds before crossing Strome Ferry, but that afternoon the rain teemed down and nowhere looked sufficiently inviting. Finding that the Ferry was still running when we arrived late in the evening, we crossed and after a mighty long climb and a steep descent stopped on the shores of Loch Alsh near the castle of Eilean Donan. While we enjoyed supper the rain suddenly stopped and a brilliant shaft of sunlight penetrated the clouds and fell full on the castle. A richly coloured rainbow made a great arc around it while the heavily clouded mountains in the background turned a deep purple.
The weather throughout the holiday had been somewhat better than we had expected. Some rain had fallen each day but there hadn't been a day without sun and in the next few days in the wonderful area around Lochs Alsh and Duich we enjoyed long periods of hot sun. Here we found all and even more than we expected. Apart from the mountain passes with the hairpin bends there was the barber at Kyle of Lochalsh who was also the harbour car park attendant; there were the Gaelic-speaking seamen on the pier; the steamships, run like a bus service carrying cattle and cars as well as passengers, the kilted highlander practising on his pipes at the stern; motor boats meeting the steamers en route with passengers from isolated places. On Sundays there were no boats, buses or ferries and no shops or petrol stations open. While we were there seals sunbathed on the rocks round the coast. All these new experiences piled one on another to make it a holiday to be remembered.

Kintail Mountains

The last week of a holiday always passes quickly and this was no exception. Not only did the time pass but the sense of remoteness was left behind as we moved south. Following the long climb through Glen Shiel we came on to the new road by Loch Cluanie and from then on it was never less than a two-lane road all the way home
.Fort William is well supplied with caravan sites. For us it was back to civilisation with shops, restaurants, coach tours and pleasure cruises. We went to bed that night at 10.30, not in the shadow of Ben Nevis, but with the sun still shining on its snow-capped peak. After a very early start the next day we cooked our breakfast by the roadside near Glencoe.

By the time we reached Rannoch Moor, 1,000 feet up on top of the pass, a gale was blowing and torrential rain was falling. The car and van stood up very well to the side buffeting on this ten mile stretch of very exposed road. The sun shone brightly again in the afternoon though,alas, we were back in the towns and cities.I parked the van confidently on its home site and left for the train taking us back south, feeling quite the experienced hand. Pity I forgot to give the keys back to the owners!
My conclusions are that I cannot think of any better way of seeing and enjoying the Highlands. We have booked another van for our next holiday and are looking round for one to buy.
Caravanning has definitely "got something"- and it is something more than first meets the eye.
gairloch Peir

Reproduced from an article in ' The caravan' December 1962

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