Staycation fever is set to rocket this summer as more of us crave to escape the maddening crowds and get away from it.
The popularity of camping, caravanning and motorhoming continues to boom as more travellers feel the need to relax and be self contained in today’s Covid climate.
With so many stunning destinations on offer, here’s an insight into our magical 3,200 mile Scottish motorhome travels where we unearthed a treasure trove of culture, countryside and coasts.
Island Hopping Adventures
As a staycation destination, Scotland is truly deserving of being voted the world’s most beautiful country (Rough Guide 2017). Its magnificence melted my heart and reduced me to tears.
Working full time for decades through deadline-driven weeks and often weekends had left Scotland low on our travel itinerary as we opted for warmer and more exotic climes.
Our travelling trio - Sharon, Steve and travelholic golden retriever Bracken - had a lot of catching up to do.
Our Swift Rio 320 motorhome was gleaming from its pre-trip scrub up when we set off up Northumberland’s iconic coastline on a 3,200 mile route which included 24 boat journeys to 14 islands.
Magic of Mull
Our island hopping ventures included the inner Hebridean island of Mull where the iconic brightly coloured houses in Tobermory set the tone for our evocative explorations.
The campsite, just a 30 minute walk from the bustling town, was perfect for exploring without having to navigate the narrow streets which are abundant in the Scottish islands. Cafes and restaurants also provided a treat from motorhome cooking.
With a population of less than 3,000 and heart stopping scenery around every corner, Mull’s is also the gateway for the offshore islands of Iona and Staffa.
Idiosyncrasies of Iona
A 30 minute ferry ride away is Iona which is almost three miles long by one mile wide with a population of 150O.
The island holds a strong significance for Christians after St Columba and his followers arrived in AD563 to spread the gospel. His legacy can be found in the restored medieval abbey, one of the world’s oldest religious centres, which dominates the coastline.
Legend has it when building the abbey he banished all the women and cows from the island, saying “where there is a cow there is a woman, and where there is a woman there is mischief”. This decision forced the workmen to leave their wives and daughters on the nearby Eilean nam Ban, known as Woman’s Island.
A famed missionary centre, Iona became renowned as a sacred isle where former Kings of Scotland, Ireland and Norway were buried. No cars or motorbikes are allowed on the island - a campsite is located on a working croft at the west end with a sectioned area for camping.
The same boat excursion included Staffa - an uninhabited island and entirely volcanic island with impressive towering basalt columns whose world famous Fingels Cave inspired 19th century composer Mendelssohn to create the Hebrides Overture.
Oasis of Tranquillity
We were intoxicated by Islay - the most southernmost island in the Inner Hebrides - without sampling a drop of whisky as the majority of distilleries were closed due to Covid.
From Islay a ten minute ferry to Jura - whose 200 residents are outnumbered by 5,000 deer - epitomised ‘getting away from it all’.
Known for its soaring mountains, whisky and whirlpool, Jura’s peace and solitude is what George Orwell craved there when completing his most famous novel 1984.
Sleepless in Arran
Majestic Scottish red deer thrive in Scotland’s islands and Highlands.
Our captivating campsite on the island of Arran - with its sensational coastline and abundance of dramatic mountain peaks - was home to a family of deer.
We were kept awake all night by the voracious grunts of a stag who was asserting his dominance. It sounded like a donkey braying - but 1,000 times louder!
The campsite was based just five minutes drive from the ferry and we took a local bus around the island which was enjoyable and relaxing. We took advantage of a local community venue which enabled campers to buy pre-ordered fish and chips on a Friday night - perfect after a long day of explorations.
Looking back, we never felt hemmed in or overcrowded by neighbours on any of the campsites we stayed on and particularly loved those in the Camping and Caravanning Club of which we are members.
On occasions we experienced the thrill of wildcamping. Our most peaceful location was a designated car park stopover an hour’s drive away from Ullapool off the North Coast 500 route.
If you’re really aiming to get off the beaten track we’d advise skipping this extremely busy route takes in famous landmarks including Ullapool Harbour and the world famous John O’Groats Signpost.
Our longest sea journey to discover Scotland’s most remote locations was an overnight boat from Kirkwall on Orkney to Lerwick - the main town and port of the Shetlands.
We next ventured further north to the island of Yell, an oasis of peace, wildlife and wildflowers where a Shetland pony greets visitors alighting from the boat. Owned and cared for by local crofters, the animals originated in the Shetland Isles in the Bronze Age and have stayed there ever since.
The Shetlands strong Viking heritage is evidenced on Unst - Britain’s most northerly inhabited island which houses the remains of 60 longhouses - more than in Scandinavia.
The pinnacle of our travels was the indescribable sight and sound of thousands of birds at the Hermaness National Nature Reserve at Unst’s furthermost point.
We had reached the ultimate destination in social isolation in a Covid pandemic where birdlife outnumbered the human species by 142 to one.
Having travelled from mainland Scotland to the Orkneys and Shetlands by ferries, going forward was not an option - beyond us lay the North Pole with Norway a few miles east.
The haven perched 170 metres above the sea was a defining moment in our explorations. Inhabitants included gulls, shags, gannets, puffins, kittiwakes and gannets - the latter dive bombing for tasty morsels.
The criteria for exploring Scotland in a Covid climate had been the remoteness of some of the islands - and the taste of freedom was intoxicating.
Since our return, not a single day has passed without wondering if any future road trip will surpass this sojourn of life, learning and discovery.
Visit Scotland https://www.visitscotland.com
Caledonian MacBrayne https://www.calmac.com operates all main services on the Firth of Clyde and to the Inner and Outer Hebrides, sailing to over 20 destinations. Mainland ports which serve the islands in the west include Oban and Kennacraig in Argyll, and Mallaig and Ullapool in the Highlands. Pre-booking is recommended.