Wander Across Wester Ross on the North Coast 500

Loch Maree from Glen Docherty in Wester Ross Scotland

Loch Maree from Glen Docherty in Wester Ross Scotland

The North Coast 500 is a circular tourist route that takes you through all the counties in the Scottish Highlands (north of Inverness). It follows the coast for most of the journey, and takes you through the most stunning landscapes Scotland has to offer. It can take a long time to travel up into the Highlands to see one specific thing, but with the North Coast 500 you’ll uncover a whole host of hidden gems along your route, and really get the full measure of the Scottish highlands.

As we’ve been motorhoming in Scotland all our lives, we put together a guide to each of the 6 counties you’ll visit on the North Coast 500 route.

This article covers the county of Wester Ross, and our other articles are listed below;


Wester Ross

Wester Ross is a remote and beautiful county on the west coast of the Scottish Highlands. It’s sometimes combined with Easter Ross (on the east coast) and simply referred to as Ross or Ross-shire, but they are two separate counties.

The most defining feature of Wester Ross is its wild and rugged landscape; this is the place to go if you want to escape civilisation for a bit. Whilst here, spend your time exploring the walking capital of Europe, visiting the two major gardens in the area (Attadale and Inverewe), and taking in the views at one of the six varied lochs.

Gairloch Harbor And Marina Atlantic Coast Of Scotland

Gairloch harbor and marina Atlantic Coast of Scotland in Wester Ross


Motorhome Campsites in Wester Ross

There are six options for motorhome campsites in Wester Ross, including; Gruinard Bay Caravan Park on a beach on the north coast an hour from central Ullapool and Loch Ewe; the simple Shieldaig Grazing Camping Area in the south, closer to Applecross and Attadale Gardens; and Broomfield Holiday Park situated within Ullapool itself which is handy for ferry access and the town amenities. On the shores of Lochbroom, Broomfield Holiday Park is in the most built up area in all of Wester Ross, yet the campsite itself is very spacious with wide, unspoilt views of the loch.

A very popular holiday strategy with those in the know, is to head straight for Ullapool and Broomfield Holiday park, and then venture out each day to explore the wider Wester Ross county to the north and south. You also have the nearby Outer Hebrides just a ferry ride away, which departs directly from Ullapool. To put it all in perspective distance-wise, Inverness (the North Coast 500 starting point) is just an hour’s drive south.


Ullapool on the Shores of Lochbroom

Fishing port and tourist town of Ullapool in Wester Ross area of scotland. Shows distinctive white houses along the foreshore of Loch Broom.

Fishing port and tourist town of Ullapool in Wester Ross area of scotland. Shows distinctive white houses along the foreshore of Loch Broom.

The fishing town of Ullapool, on the shores of Lochbroom, has been voted one of the UK’s top 10 outdoor destinations by Outdoor Fitness magazine. This is largely thanks to its nearby challenging and breathtaking geological features, including; Knockan Crag National Nature Reserve, Corrieshalloch Gorge, and the often-photographed Stac Pollaidh Mountain (which takes around 2 hours to ascend for experienced walkers).

Whilst in Ullapool, pop by the Ullapool Museum in the Category A listed building, Thomas Telford Church, to learn more about the history and heritage of Lochbroom. You’ll find a collection of exhibits, recorded oral histories and tales of the past. If your motorhome holiday involves a bit of ancestor-tracking, then you’ll definitely need to stop by here as there are experienced genealogists onsite. They are available to search the museum records for any trace of your family members in the Lochbroom area. The museum is open April – October, Monday – Saturday


Walking in Wester Ross

Overall, Wester Ross has a massive network of walking routes on offer, suited to a wide range of abilities; you could take a relaxing stroll around Flowedale in Gairloch or join others training for intense Himalayan climbs up An Teallach (AKA Sgurr Fiona)! There are two munros for you to bag in An Teallach, with the highest sitting at 1062 metres. One of the big draws of walking in Wester Ross, is that most of the routes remain fairly quiet year-round, so you’ll feel like you’re really off the beaten path. However, the remote nature of the area coupled with the fact that most of the routes are unmarked means novice hillwalkers can easily get into danger. Make sure you have some orienteering skills to enable you to navigate back to safety if you get lost.

For a list of most of the walks available in Wester Ross, head over to the online resource Walk Highlands, where it lists routes by difficulty, distance and expected time taken, within each area;


Ben Mor Coigach

Ben Mor Coigach mountain in Wester Ross [credit larsjuh on Flickr]

Ben Mor Coigach mountain in Wester Ross [credit larsjuh on Flickr]

Just north of Ullapool, lies Ben Mor Coigach Wildlife Reserve which covers over 5000 hectares and has become the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s largest reserve. You’ll get a real mix of high mountainous peaks, jagged, untouched coastline, and wild rolling hills. Walk the Postmans Path (also known as the Postie’s Path) while you’re here, a 6 mile route from Strathkinnaird to Achiltibuie, but be aware that this is quite challenging and should only be attempted by experienced hillwalkers with the appropriate gear. This rough and rugged coastal path was once the regular route taken by the local postman back in the 1860s, and he used it to walk to Ullapool twice a week!

For cyclists, there are some massive hills for you to take on like the one at Gruinard, but there are also miles and miles of relatively flat coastal route, so you can really tailor it to your current fitness level and goals.

Whilst Ullapool is the one and only town in Wester Ross, there are around eight or so smaller villages that are worth a visit. On the shores around Loch Ewe you’ll find the villages of Poolewe, Cove, Inverasdale, Aultbea and Mellon Charles. Poolewe and Aultbea are the larger of the lot, with markets on each Tuesday morning, and Friday in tourist season respectively. The area of Loch Ewe has an interesting history as it played a military role during WW2, acting as a convoy collecting point thanks to its deep waters. And when an American flagship sank just off the shore in 1944, the local crofters played a heroic role in rescuing them and searching for survivors in horrific winter conditions. The Russian Arctic Convoy Museum in Aultbea is dedicated to this shipwreck and the local history of convoys in the area.


Inverewe Gardens & Estates

Inverewe Garden and Estate in Wester Ross Scotland [credit Dutch Simba on Flickr]

Inverewe Garden and Estate in Wester Ross Scotland [credit Dutch Simba on Flickr]

The award-winning Inverewe Gardens and Estate (owned by the National Trust for Scotand), one of the two major public gardens in Wester Ross, can be found near Poolewe, just a little further north-east. The lush and varied 800 hectare garden is home to many unexpected species, which thrive here thanks to the Gulf Stream. Many plants have been shipped in from far overseas, including rhododendrons from China, Nepal and India, poppies from the Himalayas and eucalyptus from Tasmania! Rather than the usual Scottish fare, you’ll also find exotic trees like ancient Wollemi pines and colossal California redwoods. Keep an eye out for wildlife, as you’ll find Scotland’s big 5 species here; red squirrels, red deer, otters, seals and golden eagles.

There are several path options throughout the garden, which intersect and overlap so you won’t miss a thing, or you could take one of the tours to hear more about the plants. And when you’ve taken it all in, Inverewe House is worth a visit to find out more about the lovely story behind the father and daughter who created the garden. Inverewe Gardens also has the Sawyer Art Gallery, which encourages you to interact and play with the exhibits, activities for children, and a licensed café and gift shop.


Exploring Loch Maree

Loch Maree from Glen Docherty in Wester Ross Scotland

Loch Maree from Glen Docherty in Wester Ross Scotland

Loch Maree, south east of Loch Ewe, lies in the heart of Wester Ross and is 20km long. It’s the fourth largest fresh water loch in Scotland and is arguably one of the most beautiful, with a rich history and varied wildlife. Loch Maree has 5 large wooded islands and over 25 smaller ones. Many tourists report that they didn’t see another person when they were out walking the route around the loch, which made for a very quiet but stunning experience. Stop by Loch Maree hotel for lunch (one of the few buildings in the area), and book in for a boat trip around the loch islands.

In the south east corner of Loch Maree, you’ll arrive at Britain’s oldest reserve, Beinn Eighe (which is also just outside Kinlochewe Caravan Park). The reserve has a visitor centre, a woodland trail and a more strenuous mountain trail. The three trails which start from here are open to the public year-round and a further path links the visitor centre with the village of Kinlochewe. The walking routes pass through the remains of the great Caledonian pine forest which is filled with Scots Pines; a very unique and compact construct, similar to a bonsai tree. A walk through this forest will be unforgettable. For those opting for the mountain trail, the highest mountain in the Beinn Eighe range is 1009 metres, with views over Loch Maree and the rest of Wester Ross.


Attadale Gardens

Attadale Garden and Estate in Wester Ross, Scotland [Credit Rockman of Zymurgy Flickr]

Attadale Garden and Estate in Wester Ross, Scotland [Credit Rockman of Zymurgy Flickr]

Attadale Gardens is about 45 minutes south of Loch Maree (via the A832 to Achnasheen, then the A890 on to the Gardens), and is the second of the two award-winning public gardens in Wester Ross. It’s made up of hill paths meandering through 20 acres of conifers and rhododendrons. This truly is an artist’s garden, designed to frame the stunning views of Skye in the distance. There are waterfalls Monet bridges, meconopsis, bamboo and candelabra primula, nestled in amongst dark pools and unexpected sculptures. There is a lovely tearoom in the gardens where you can relax and take it in, and plant sales are available if you’d like to take something home.


Torridon Hills and Bealach na Ba

Descending Bealach Na Ba From Applecross, Scottish Highlands

Descending Bealach Na Ba From Applecross, Scottish Highlands

Heading northwards once more, you’ll encounter the Torridon Hills and Torridon National Trust Reserve. The Torridon mountain range will be the main reason many people head straight to Wester Ross when visiting Scotland; the trails are ideal for hikers, mountain climbers and just nature-lovers in general. And the fantastic outdoors is a stunning backdrop to the famous little village of Applecross which you may want to visit. It’s actually the road that travels into Applecross which features in so many photos because it offers views of the hairpin bends in the road descending the mountain side. The road is called Bealach na Ba (gaelic for Pass of the Cattle). The general area of Torridon is full to bursting with great walks, including the memorable ridge walk along Liathach massif, and Benn Eighe itself.


A Visit to Gairloch Village

Old Rock Bridge In Gairloch, Scotland

Old Rock Bridge In Gairloch, Scotland

Back up to the north end of Loch Maree, you’ll find the village of Gairloch sitting on the north side of Loch Gairloch; very popular with tourists, Gairloch has several restaurants, pubs, shops and boat trips. Whilst here, take a trip to the remote lighthouse of Rubha Reidh by road, where you’ll be rewarded with views of Skye and the Outer Hebrides on a clear day.

After you’ve walked the length and breadth of Wester Ross, you might enjoy a few days of down-time in Gairloch or back up north in Ullapool. Just a day or two though, because you still have to hop on the ferry from Ullapool to Stornoway in the Isle of Lewis on the west coast and get exploring over there!

Get in touch with us at Motorhome Escapes to hear more ideas for adventuring around Wester Ross and the North Coast 500; we’d be more than happy to help you plan your Scotland holiday. And when you come to pick up your motorhome, we can have all your destinations programmed into the GPS system for you, so you can focus on enjoying the journey.

Exploring the Magical Black Isle of the North Coast 500

Cromarty Scotland banner_rThe North Coast 500 travels the coastal road of the northern Scottish Highlands in a 500 mile loop, taking you along some stunning routes with incredible views. The route delves into the six Scottish counties in the Highlands, and each one has it’s own rich story to tell; you could easily spend a month or two meandering around the nooks and crannies of each one.

We’ve grown up motorhoming across Scotland; we even did the North Coast 500 route before it was famous, so we thought we’d put together a little introduction to each of the counties for you, so you get an idea of what they have to offer and where you might like to spend more of your holiday time.

This is the first blog in a six part series. We’ll link to the rest of the blogs when they go up on the website.


The Mysterious County – Black Isle of Scotland

Somewhat unexpectedly, Black Isle is neither an island, nor black.

Neither does it have any ties to pirates (there’s a Pirate Cemetery in Cromarty, but that name is based on all the skull and crossbones stonework, rather than the former profession of the inhabitants).

The ambiguous ‘Black Isle’ name emerged because this low-lying peninsula appears completely black in winter, and it’s quite stark against the white, snow-covered hills surrounding it.  Or at least, this seems like the most reasonable explanation, but there are plenty of local legends about witchcraft and black magic during the middle ages to suggest more sinister origins.

Brahan Seer Memorial Stone at Chanonry Point [credit; dave conner flickr]

Brahan Seer Memorial Stone at Chanonry Point [credit; dave conner flickr]

Chanonry PointChanonry Point in Black Isle is, after all, where the famous predictor of the future, the Brahan Seer, was brutally murdered after predicting the local Earl would be unfaithful. He is said to have used an adder stone to channel his power for visions, and prophesised the invention of the television, the battle of Culloden, and the North Sea Oil industry, among other things. It remains unclear if the Brahan Seer was a real person who lived in the 17th century, or if he was merely created by a folklorist, but there is now a memorial stone to him at Chanonry Point.

The Clootie Well

Adding to the mystique of the Black Isle, the Clootie Well would be a very unique stop on your North Coast 500 tour. It lies just off the A832 road near Munlochy, and from the road you’ll be able to see a colourful jumble of cloth (or ‘cloot’) and clothing strung up in the forest, which you would be forgiven for dismissing entirely, but the practice is rooted in ancient traditions There is a dedicated car park nearby. Pilgrims used to travel from all over to visit holy wells in Ireland and Scotland, where they would then make offerings in the hope of having an illness cured. At this particular well, the belief is that as the cloot offering of the sick person degrades over time, so too will the illness, leaving them cured. Many still visit today, especially around the Pagan festival of Beltane.

Unfortunately, the offerings being left today are usually synthetic materials, which will never rot away, thus the magic can never work.

Clootie Well on the Black Isle [credit Lizsmith on Flickr]

Clootie Well on the Black Isle [credit Lizsmith on Flickr]

The Ancient Town of Cromarty

At just 10 miles wide and 20 miles long, this little Scottish peninsula is quite small. It has two towns; Cromarty in the North East, and Fortrose further south, and a variety of smaller villages, including Avoch, Culbokie, and Rosemarkie. There are a few walking routes on the Walk Highlands website spread across the county, with guides and maps to follow if you want to really get to know the isle. One route in particular follows the coast from Cromarty, taking you through the village and along waymarked paths and unmarked tracks alike. The 5 mile undulating walk takes you along cliffsides and through some muddy farm fields to a beach, before circling back to Cromarty once more, so you’ll get the full flavour of the north-eastern tip of Black Isle.

Cobbled Street, Cromarty, Scotland

Cobbled Street, Cromarty, Scotland

Whilst in Cromarty, be sure to visit the Cromarty Courthouse, a grade A listed former courthouse built in 1773 which is thoroughly preserved. The multi-award winning museum is also worth a visit, to learn more about this town which has remained largely unchanged since the 18th century.


Visit Chanonry Point’s Dolphins

Heading south and west along the boast, Chanonry Point near Fortrose is the most well-known area of this little Scottish county, with tourists flocking here all year round to catch a glimpse of the local dolphins.

Moray Firth Dolphin Watching

A dolphin caught mid-jump on the Moray Firth

The large pod based in the Moray Firth are known for their larger size (due to plentiful food), and fearlessness, so you’ll often see people lining the shore watching them frolic. There are a number of boat trips available from Chanonry Point and the surrounding area, to bring you out amongst the cetaceans, and you can read more about that in detail in our blog, ‘Where can I see dolphins and whales in Scotland?’.

Explore the Village of Avoch

Further south along the coast from Fortrose, is the seafront village of Avoch (pronounced ‘Auch’) with its busy harbour. Avoch has a strong fishing heritage, having thrived off the trade for more than 100 years, but the waters are now protected so what remains of the fishermen must head further afield.

Small village of Avoch on the Black Isle, Highlands of Scotland

Small village of Avoch on the Black Isle, Highlands of Scotland

Take some time to walk around the old conservation time and get a feel of what life was like.

Whilst here, you’re sure to spot Ormonde Hill (AKA Ladyhill) off on the headland just west of Avoch. Ormond Castle was built here in 1197, and was once the home of Andrew de Moray, joint leader with William Wallace (see Braveheart) in the Scottish War of Independence. Today, not much remains of the castle, but it is a scheduled ancient monument with the highest level of legal protection in Britain thanks to its national significance. Archaeological work is ongoing to discover more about the site.

Scot's Pine forest- peering through the young trunks

Scot’s Pine forest- peering through the young trunks

Culbokie Woodland Walk

A visit to Culbokie Woods in the north of Black Isle would make a peaceful end to one of your days, with Culbokie Loch, Carn Mor Dun (an ancient Iron Age fort), and the great Scots Pines and local flowers creating a rich, invigorating atmosphere. But be wary, Culbokie means ‘haunted nook’ in Gaelic and you’re on the mysterious Black Isle after all…

Other key areas of the Black Isle are highlighted on the dedicated county’s interactive map.


The Black Isle Annual Show

If you’re travelling in early August, this is around the time the Black Isle puts on the the largest agricultural show in the North; the Black Isle Show. Monster Trucks, flower show, craft workshops, a ploughing match, fairground rides; it gets bigger and more elaborate each year to keep the crowds coming, but there’s bound to be something going on to catch your interest! Tickets can be purchased online for this event.

Fairground rides at the black isle show [credit; irenicrhonda on flickr]

Fairground rides at the black isle show [credit; irenicrhonda on flickr]

This is just one of the six counties that make up the North Coast 500 motorhome tour, and there’s enough in the tiny Black Isle to keep you busy exploring for days! Rosemarkie Camping and Caravanning Club Site would make a brilliant base of operations on the Black Isle, and can be found just north of Fortrose on the southern coast. You’ll have the town nearby, and Chanonry Point within 5 minutes walking distance for dolphin watching, and you’re right in the middle of the county so nothing is too far away.

The Black Isle would be your last stop if you’re travelling the North Coast 500 in a clockwise direction from Inverness, or the first stop if you’re heading anti-clockwise, but we hope you’ll agree it’s well worth the trip!

Get in touch for more advice on motorhoming in Scotland; we’re happy to help!

Visit Scotland’s Ghosts on your Spooky Motorhome Holiday

An exterior view of the old Royal palace in Falkland

An exterior view of the old Royal palace in Falkland

Browse “most haunted sites in Scotland” on the internet and the same names come up time after time: Stirling Castle, Mary King’s Close, Glamis, Cawdor, Glencoe, Culloden. But fear not; us Scotland natives have put together our own list of the 10 lesser-known spooky sites, so you can venture off the beaten track and explore Scotland’s dark history for yourself.


  1. The World War Ghosts of Montrose Air Station Heritage Centre (DD10 9BD)

Spitfire Plane at Montrose Air Station [credit Toxic Web on Flickr]

Spitfire Plane at Montrose Air Station [credit Toxic Web on Flickr]

In Angus, on the east coast of Scotland, Montrose Air Station has several ghosts, not surprisingly for an airfield that saw action in both World Wars. It’s right next to the North Sea, so sea-mists (or haars) are common, and there’s at least one story of a WW2 flyer being shepherded in to land by a WW1 by-plane.

The most famous ghost is Lt Desmond Arthur, who crashed in May 1913 and has been seen many times since (though the Air Station was on a different site at that time…). Phantom footsteps are heard in several places, as are voices and even a plane taking off. On your visit, keep an eye out for ghostly bi-planes in the sky (though none should be in operation now) and airmen in their flight suits; a visit at twilight should increase your chances.

The heritage centre itself has several genuine aircraft from WW1 and WW2, but they are keen to highlight the men and women of the base, so you’ll also find memorabilia and old photographs. Perhaps the presence of so many heirlooms on the site, is what led to the haunting in the first place.

The old runways and hangars are still there and the wide open space of the airfield is now very popular with dog-walkers. Try and visit on a day without too much wind, though – it can be distinctly bracing!


  1. The White Lady of Falkland Palace (KY15 7DA)

An exterior view of the old Royal palace in Falkland

An exterior view of Falkland Palace, where you might catch a glimpse of the tragic white lady

Falkland is a tiny gem of a palace, a favourite hunting lodge of the Stuarts and especially Mary Queen of Scots. Nowadays, they have a ghostly resident; a classically tragic White Lady, weeping over the loss of her lover who reportedly never returned from battle. You may see her in the Tapestry Gallery on your tour, watching for him out of the window.

Falkland Palace is a delightful Scottish Renaissance building with glorious gardens and a fine Chapel, and the picturesque small town is worth wandering round, too. You might recognise the central fountain in Falkland from the popular tv show Outlander (travel around the shooting locations of Outlander with our Jacobite Trail). Once you’ve wandered round Falkland’s ancient streets, why not crank it up a notch with a bracing hill walk up the nearby East and West Lomond Hills!


  1. The Wandering Piper of Culross Abbey (KY12 8JD)

A view of the ruins of Culross abbey and the church behind it

A view of the ruins of Culross abbey and the church behind it

Culross was founded as a Cistercian Abbey in 1217, where the monks of this Catholic order strove to replicate the simpler monastic life of Saint Benedict’s time. Before this time, it’s thought the site once held an early Pictish church. The building is still used today as the local parish church by the Church of Scotland.

Despite the monks’ strict vows of poverty, legend has it that there was a room full of gold under the Abbey, reached by a secret passage. The tale is that a piper (sometimes reported to be blind) and his dog were sent in to investigate. The terrified dog made it out but the piper was never seen again… And the gold remains unfound. The sound of muffled piping now lingers in the tunnels, and a hooded figure has been seen wandering the grounds.

The ruined Abbey is a bit of an architectural puzzle, as bits of it have been re-used, rebuilt, re-purposed and generally altered, so take your time to uncover its secrets. Various other ghosts have been spotted throughout the abbey and in the nearby town with it’s rich history of magic and witchcraft.

Don’t try and park by the Abbey. Not because of any ghostly threat, but because the street at the top of the hill is too narrow for a motorhome.

Culross itself is a beautiful little town in central Dunfermline. Some of the narrower streets may be tricky by motorhome though, so park up at  Culross West Car Park by the river (with nearby facilities).


  1. The Wizard of Yester Castle (EH41 4PH)

The Goblin Ha' of Yester Castle [Credit: Neil Williamson on Flickr]

The Goblin Ha’ of Yester Castle [Credit: Neil Williamson on Flickr]

Yester Castle, just east of Edinburgh in East Lothian, dates from the 13th century. It was built by Hugo de Giffard, a reputed magician and necromancer, with, so they say, help from the goblins. They created the Goblin Ha’, a subterranean chamber where Hugo is said to have practised the dark arts. The entrance is round the back of the building – from the front you can see into it but the openings are covered by metal grilles.

Only a few tall walls are still standing, with others reduced almost to rubble. To find the Goblin Ha’ you go through the arch in the highest wall and follow a narrow path to a tiny doorway.  You enter crouching but the passageway does get higher.

Take a torch; it’s quite dark when you first go in, and there’s a staircase down to the blocked-up well that’s hard to see.  This is the scene of that dark magic that gave the place its spooky reputation.

The easiest place to park is at the nearby golf course – the ruined castle is a short walk away and you’ll spot the first masonry fairly soon.


  1. The Ghostly Presence in Skaill House, Sandwick, Orkney

Skaill House, Orkney [credit Summonedbyfells on Flickr]

Skaill House, Orkney [credit Summonedbyfells on Flickr]

In Scotland’s northern isles, Skaill House was built by the Bishop of Orkney in 1620, right next to Skara Brae (an ancient Neolithic settlement) and on the site of a Norse burial ground. Maybe he didn’t believe in ghosts – but many visitors to Orkney’s finest mansion have reportedly felt their presence.

The present laird claims he has often heard footsteps wandering around the house in the night, which spooks the dog. These has been attributed to the ghost of Ubby, the man who build the small island in the middle of Skaill Loch many years ago, by rowing out and dropping stones. He is supposed to have died out on the water, and now haunts the house where he once lived.

When preparing the house for the public, fifteen skeletons were found under the floors, all believed to be Norse, further confirmation that the house is situated on a Norse burial ground. Spooky noises, cold spots, and mysterious occurences abound in this house.

Footsteps sound, doors open and close of their own accord, people are seen who aren’t really there and, oddest of all, fresh cigarette smoke is smelt when no-one is smoking.

You can get your motorhome to Orkney via ferry; either from Aberdeen, Scrabster, or Gills Bay.


  1. St Andrews Cathedral and the Ghost of the Hidden Coffins (KY16 9QL)

St Andrews Cathedral with the haunted tower

St Andrews Cathedral with the haunted tower

St Andrews Cathedral, in the famous golfing town of St Andrews in NE Fife, has two ghosts, both at St Rule’s Tower. You have to climb to the top to see the first ghost; a friendly monk whom you’ll pass on the stairs. The White Lady ( though it’s only her gloves that are white, in fact) is more commonly seen in the grounds near the tower.

Stonemasons repairing the tower broke through a wall, so the story goes, and found several coffins in the sealed-up room. One of them was open and contained the well-preserved body of a beautiful young woman, wearing white gloves. No-one knows who she was, why her coffin was open when the others weren’t, or why she haunts the churchyard, but she’s been seen by visitors for over two centuries.

The cathedral itself is a ruined Roman Catholic Cathedral in the middle of the town, which was built in 1158 and was, for a time, the centre of the Medieval Catholic Church in Scotland. You can drive right up to the gates in your motorhome, but may prefer to settle into one of the nearby caravan and camping parks first, so you can take your time and see the town.


  1. The Mysterious MacKinnon’s Cave, Isle of Mull

Mackinnons Cave on the Isle of Mull [credit; Plambertuk on Flickr]

Mackinnons Cave on the Isle of Mull [credit; Plambertuk on Flickr]

Off the west coast of Scotland, you’ll find MacKinnon’s Cave which is thought to be the longest sea cave in the Hebrides (and Scotland). The MacKinnon in question was a piper who decided to see exactly how far it did stretch. Sadly, he came up against its inhabitant, an ogress, who killed him because she didn’t like his piping.

Another story has it that the cave was occupied by early Christian hermits, who used the flat slab inside the cave (known as Fingal’s table) as an altar, and that the eponymous MacKinnon was an Abbot who hid in the cave in the 15th century.

Many tales exist about Mackinnon’s Cave, and whichever one might be rooted in truth, it cannot be denied that the cave has a forbidding atmosphere, full of forboding and mystery.

Dr Johnson and James Boswell managed to measure the cave without getting eaten, which bodes well for future visitors. If you want to try, you’ll find a parking area between Gribun and Balmeanach Farm, then follow the signs (carefully – it can be very mucky) down to the boulder beach.


  1. The Haunted Kinmount Straight on the A75 between Dumfries and Gretna Green

Most Haunted road in Scotland, Kinmount Straight A75

Most Haunted road in Scotland, Kinmount Straight A75

If you go down to the Solway Firth in the most south-westerly area of Scotland, you’re sure of a big surprise. Well, not “sure” perhaps – but locals avoid this stretch of road at night. It’s known as the most haunted road in Scotland, if not Britain, with ghostly happenings going back around 50 years. There are several accounts of people having accidents as they swerve to avoid the spectres of men and women in Victorian dress who appear out of a mysterious mist.

A well-documented story says that, in 1962, two brothers were driving near Kinmount one night. Suddenly a hen flew towards their windscreen but vanished before it hit. An old lady followed the hen, then a man and several other animals (“great cats, wild dogs, goats, more hens and other fowl, and stranger creatures”). To cap the lot, a ghostly furniture van nearly hit them before disappearing.


  1. The 1934 Austin Ghost-Car of Sligachan, Skye

Bridge at Sligachan, Isle of Skye

Bridge at Sligachan, Isle of Skye

It’s not often that vehicles turn into ghosts, but there’s one on Skye. The Sligachan 1934 Austin has been seen by many people since the 1940s, most commonly on the main road near Sligachan. Witnesses have said the ghost car travels at dangerously high speeds, threatening other vehicles from behind and often forcing them off the road. The car then vanishes.

The story is that the car was involved in a fatal accident and the driver went mad with guilt – though that doesn’t stop his ghost from speeding!


  1. The Tay Bridge Rail Disaster and the Phantom Train

A view along the rail bridge from Fife to Dundee

A view along the rail bridge from Fife to Dundee

Still on the subject of ghostly vehicles, Scotland even has its own ghost train. On the night of 28th December 1879, the Tay Bridge, over the River Tay at Dundee, collapsed in a storm as a passenger train was crossing it. The tragic event (commemorated in deathless verse by William McGonagall) is now forever repeated by a phantom train on the anniversary of the disaster every year: the lights of a ghost train appear to follow the line of the collapsed bridge and then vanish exactly where the train fell into the river.

Travel safely!  So far there are no stories of ghostly motorhomes touring Scotland …

Top 10 Scottish Gardens for your Motorhome Holiday

Scotland’s rain may not please everyone but it’s a boon for gardeners: plenty of natural water keeps gardens green and flourishing. The country’s climate is uneven from east to west, so you can find near-tropical gardens on one coast and near-arctic ones on the other. Whatever your gardening tastes, Scotland has something for you at almost any time of year.

Here are our top 10 Scottish gardens – just a tiny slice of what’s waiting for you. Our recommendations are all on the mainland, so you won’t have to take your motorhome on any ferries.


Gardens on the West Coast of Scotland

Inverewe Garden (post-code IV22 2LG), in Wester Ross in the North West, is arguably Scotland’s most famous garden. Warmed by the Gulf Stream, the garden’s micro-climate allows sub-tropical plants to flourish despite its northerly position. But this is not the place to look for heather! Instead, there are 50 acres of exotica from New Zealand, China, South Africa, Chile and the Himalayas, growing alongside roses and vegetables.

Inverewe Gardens, Scottish Highlands in Wester Ross [Credit: Clive on Flickr]

Inverewe Gardens, Scottish Highlands in Wester Ross [Credit: Clive on Flickr]

The walled terrace garden is best visited in summer, when the herbaceous plants are in full swing; the rhododendrons are on display from May onwards and there are exhibitions on quite frequently – there really is something to see all year round. You could even stay longer by renting the on-site accomodation, Garden Lodge. There is a car park nearby (N 57.77459,  W 5.59622, IV22 2LG) which accommodates motorhomes, but it has a maximum capacity of 15. Please note, the car park closes at 9pm and overnight parking is not allowed.

Inverewe is run by the National Trust for Scotland, as are several other fine gardens. It’s definitely worth it taking out a NTS membership from around £4.20 a month for 1 adult if you plan to visit more than a couple of Scottish gardens, even if you’re only here for a short time.

For lovers of rhododendrons, azaleas and magnolias there are three other gardens on the South West coast worth a visit: Arduaine, near Oban (PA34 4XQ); Crarae, near Inveraray (PA32 8AY); and Ardkinglass Woodland Gardens (PA26 8BH), which is also home to some of Britain’s champion tall trees.


Gardens in the South-west of Scotland

Benmore Botanic Garden (PA23 8QU), around 6 hours South of Inverewe, near Dunoon, has 120 acres of plants, including over 300 species of rhododendrons which fill the late spring with colour. Eucryphias take over in summer and the autumn foliage colours are worth a visit on their own.

Redwoods at Benmore Botanic Gardens [Credit: Beth on Flickr]

Redwoods at Benmore Botanic Gardens [Credit: Beth on Flickr]

You enter the Gardens along a spectacular avenue of giant redwoods. There’s a pond, a fernery, and plants from China and Bhutan that make the most of their mountain location. Benmore means “big hill”, and the site lives up to its name, but the Benmore Explorer is there to help if you’re not up to the climb. There are guided tours on foot and on board the Explorer, which can be booked in advance. When you’re ready for a break, Benmore café can be found at the entrance to the Gardens and has an extensive menu of hot and cold food. You’ll also find the Courtyard Gallery here, which runs exhibitions all year round. We recommend allowing at least a full morning to explore the gardens.

Glendaruel Caravan Park and Lomond Woods Holiday Park – Balloch are your two closest options for overnight camping in your motorhome.

Glasgow, Inverness, St. Andrews and Dundee also have botanic gardens that are worth visiting, as are the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh, Logan in Dumfries and Galloway, and Dawyck in the Borders.

Dumfries House estate (KA18 2NJ), around 2.5 hours drive south, was saved from collapse through the intervention of Prince Charles. It is home to the 5 acre Queen Elizabeth Walled Gardens linked by an elegant 18th century bridge to a recently-restored arboretum. The latter has over 500 specimens of trees and shrubs and is bright with woodland flowers in spring. In the middle there’s a shelter, which is worth a visit on its own account. Two lochans (small lochs or large ponds) have been created to attract wildlife.

Queen Elizabeth Walled Gardens in Dumfries House [Credit; scrappy annie on Flickr]

Queen Elizabeth Walled Gardens in Dumfries House [Credit; scrappy annie on Flickr]

The five-acre Queen Elizabeth Walled Garden is one of the biggest walled gardens in Scotland, and has a steep drop from one end to the other. It has also recently been transformed with new terraces, greenhouses and an educational area. The 19th century house, designed by Robert Adam and filled with fine furniture, is also available to the public, with guided tours scheduled daily throughout the summer season. Free parking is available on the property and access is via the A70, so there’s no need to navigate any country roads in your motorhome.


Gardens in the North-East of Scotland

Cawdor Castle (IV12 5RD), between Inverness and Nairn in the North has not one but three gardens: Walled, Flower and Wild. The walled garden, originally the castle’s kitchen garden, dates from around 1600, while the formal flower garden, dating from the 1700s, was created for the enjoyment of the owners. It provides colour from early spring to late autumn.

Cawdor Castle Gardens [credit Warrick Wynne on Flickr]

Cawdor Castle Gardens [credit Warrick Wynne on Flickr]

The wild garden is the “baby” of the estate, dating from the 1960s. It runs steeply down from the castle to the river, the Cawdor Burn. The rhododendrons, azaleas, willows, bamboos and other trees have been cleverly planted to look natural; in spring daffodils and primroses add a touch of colour.

Pitmuies Gardens (DD8 2SN), around 3 hours south of Cawdor Castle on the east coast, are the creation of a keen plant-collector. There are eight areas to visit, including the woodland, kitchen, formal and Vinny gardens. The Alpine meadow is full of naturalised snowdrops and crocuses in spring, while the hornbeam walk is a mass of vibrant yellow daffodils and narcissi.

Pitmuies Gardens in Forfar [credit Graeme Davidson Flickr]

Pitmuies Gardens in Forfar [credit Graeme Davidson Flickr]

Around the Black Loch, rowans and maples, grown from seeds collected in Oregon and Japan, provide wonderful autumn colours, while Mesopotamia is a woodland walk between the Vinny Water and the Turbie Burn, with a 17th century doocot (pigeon-house) as an extra point of interest.

There are several motorhome campsites nearby; The Red Lion Caravan Park on the coast, Foresterseat Caravan Park to the west, and Forfar Lochside Caravan & Motorhome Club Site a little further west, so you can settle in and explore the surrounding area.


Gardens in Central Scotland

One of the finest formal gardens in Europe can be found at Drummond Castle (PH7 4HN) near Crieff in central Scotland. The plants for it are grown in the castle’s greenhouses, which can also be visited. You approach the castle and gardens along a beech avenue, which gives no indication of the glories of topiary and colour in the parterre garden below the castle.

Drummond Castle and Gardens near Crieff in Perthshire

Drummond Castle and Gardens near Crieff in Perthshire

The gardens, which date back to the 17th century, have featured in films such as Rob Roy and the recent Outlander series.  The kitchen garden is also open and provides an interesting contrast to the formality of the parterres.

North towards Aberfeldy, the gardens of Cluny House (PH15 2JT) date from the 1950s. The owners have created a woodland garden full of North American and Himalayan trees and shrubs. Two 150-year-old Wellingtonias predate the rest of the garden; one of them is 11 metres round the trunk, making it Britain’s widest conifer.

Cluny House Garden [credit IrenicRhonda Flickr]

Cluny House Garden [credit IrenicRhonda Flickr]

Many of the plants, including some now large trees, were grown from seed by the owners, who were keen plant-collectors. They include Tibetan cherry, meconopsis (blue poppies), and lilies, some of which grow to over 4 metres tall.


Gardens in the South of Scotland

On the western outskirts of Edinburgh, on the banks of the Water of Leith, sits the very unusual Redhall Walled Garden (97 Lanark Road, EH14 2LZ), which is run by SAMH (Scottish Association for Mental Health). It’s an organic community garden, managed cooperatively by a group of 50 people for whom gardening provides therapy for mental health problems.

Redhall Walled Garden, owned by SAMH, Edinburgh [credit alex stuart flickr]

Redhall Walled Garden, owned by SAMH, Edinburgh [credit alex stuart flickr]

Redhall is run as a training garden. Originally dating from the 18th century, it now includes a bog garden, a sunken garden, ponds and even an Iron Age roundhouse. It’s open Monday – Friday 9am – 3.30pm, and closed at weekends.

Another unusual garden is Priorwood in Melrose (TD6 9PX): all the plants in this small garden are grown for drying – though there’s also an orchard with historic varieties of apples. They hold courses on flower-drying and dried-flower arranging. Priarwood is a good place for a picnic in the middle of a visit to Melrose – Melrose Abbey and the Harmony Garden are both within easy walking distance.

Floral bokeh in Priorwood Garden, Melrose [credit Cole Henley on Flickr]

Floral bokeh in Priorwood Garden, Melrose [credit Cole Henley on Flickr]

Our final recommendation is Manderston House (TD11 3PP), an Edwardian country house near Duns in Berwickshire. The gardens run to 56 acres of formal and informal planting. The formal gardens are still planted in Edwardian style. Roses and hostas adorn the terrace and banks of rhododendrons lead you down to the lake, complete with boathouse, Chinese bridge and 18th century picturesque landscaping. This combination of formal and picturesque gardens is unique in Scotland.

Manderston House, Berwickshire [credit; Ingela Persson-Rue on Flickr]

Manderston House, Berwickshire [credit; Ingela Persson-Rue on Flickr]

There’s also a woodland garden, home to rare species of rhododendron and azalea, as well as a tennis lawn, croquet lawn and cricket ground, complete with pavilion. Also in the grounds are the stables, the marble dairy and tower, and the Head Gardener’s cottage, with its own garden featuring a dolphin fountain and a sundial.

It’s a fitting final choice for our top 10 Scottish gardens. There are hundreds more to visit and enjoy, some open for just one day or weekend a year, but these 10 all have something special that makes them truly outstanding.

We hope you enjoy visiting them on your Scottish motorhome holiday!

Jacobite Trail Part 2: Explore Western Scottish History and Outlander Sets

Part one of this route covered the eastern section of Scotland, and now in part two we’ll look at the west. It also covers the whole period of the Jacobite risings, from the 1689 attempt to put King James VII and II back on the throne to the final, tragic days of his grandson Bonnie Prince Charlie’s rising in 1746. As mentioned in Part 1, membership of both the National Trust for Scotland and Historic Environment Scotland is recommended if you want to visit the buildings mentioned – it will cost far less than individual tickets.

Before getting started, have a quick look over our very own map of the Jacobite Trail route below, taking you from Edinburgh to Brodie Castle in the north, and back down the western coast of Scotland;

Jacobite Trail Part 2 along Western and Central Scotland with Motorhome Escapes

Jacobite Trail Part 2 along Western and Central Scotland with Motorhome Escapes

Dunkeld’s Ruined Cathedral and Killiecrankie’s Battle Site

It’s not necessary to complete part one of our Jacobite Trail before you can do Part two. In fact, we designed these routes so that both start off in Edinburgh, making it easy for you to pick up your motorhome from Motorhome Escapes HQ, and start your adventuring!

Our tour of Western Scotland’s Jacobite sites kicks off with a journey north from Edinburgh to Perth via the M90, and onwards up the A9 to Dunkeld. The Jacobites fought a battle here in 1689, a 16-hour marathon, which they eventually lost through sheer exhaustion. Dunkeld’s ruined Cathedral is definitely worth visiting for the stunning surroundings, and the town is also famous for its traditional music and pubs (the two are connected!).

A little further up the A9 is Killiecrankie (PH16 5LG), a stunning wooded gorge which is now a conservation area. Pop into the visitor centre to learn more about the history of the area. You’re going backwards in Jacobite history here: the Battle of Killiecrankie preceded that of Dunkeld by about a month.

Autumn colours at Killiecrankie gorge

Autumn colours at Killiecrankie gorge

Killiecrankie is a lovely spot these days, a fine area of woodland with the River Garry running through it, but it’s a narrow pass and a good strategic place for a battle. The Jacobites won this time, and there’s a narrow section of the river known as the Soldier’s Leap, which one of the redcoats (the government army) jumped to escape from the ferocious Highlanders.

Robert Burns wrote a song about the battle, in which the famous general Bonnie Dundee (John Graham, 1st Marquis of Claverhouse) died. Today, the wildlife have the place to themselves (apart from the visitors) and thrive; the visitor centre can tell you about both the battle and the wildlife.

On up the road a bit, take the B847 turn-off for a brief visit to Kinloch Rannoch, a quintessentially Scottish area which will just take your breath away. This is where Claire and Frank enjoyed a second honeymoon in Season 1 of Outlander; perfect for a picnic!


Ruthven Barracks at the Head of the Spey Valley

Return to the A9, and about half an hour further west you pass Dalwhinnie Distillery, one of the most exposed distilleries in mainland Scotland. A little father on along the A86, you’ll also encounter the Highland Folk Museum in Newtonmore; Britain’s first open air museum with a 1700s township and working croft available to explore. This little gem featured briefly in Season 1 of Outlander, and is well worth a visit to learn how Scottish Highlanders truly lived. Drive on up the A9 for another 20 minutes before turning right on the B970 for Ruthven Barracks (PH21 1NR; the left turn would take you to Kingussie).

Ruthven Barracks, near Kingussie, Scotland. Built in 1719 following the Jacobite rising of 1715.

Ruthven Barracks, near Kingussie, Scotland. Built in 1719 following the Jacobite rising of 1715.

Ruthven Barracks was built in 1719, after the 1715 Jacobite Rising (the ’15) in favour of the Old Pretender, Bonnie Prince Charlie’s father James. It saw action twice during the 1745 rising (the ’45): it was unsuccessfully attacked in 1745 and surrendered to the Jacobites in 1746. The survivors mustered here after the Battle of Culloden (the last ever pitched battle on British soil) before admitting their defeat and scattering.

Like Corgarff Castle, which is covered in Part 1 of this guide, Ruthven is in a very exposed position on a large mound with views right across the country. It must have made uncomfortable living quarters for the soldiers but was ideal for keeping a lookout for stray Jacobites.


Brodie Castle and Fort George along The Moray Firth

For the next site, Brodie Castle (IV36 2TE) you have several possible routes. Two are over the hills; if you don’t fancy twisty roads or the weather’s bad, take the A9 all the way North to Inverness and then follow the A96 east along the coast to Forres.

For a more scenic journey, turn right off the A9 to Carrbridge (after passing through Kinveachy). If you have children with you, the nearby Landmark Forest Adventure Park will give them (and you) a chance to let off steam. From Carrbridge, your first option is to take the A938 east and then turn left on the B9007/A940 which takes you straight north (or as straight as a hill road can) to Forres.

If you’re a whisky lover, you might prefer instead to go a little further along the A938/A95/B9102 (bypassing the left turn onto the B9007/A940) for a brief stop at Grantown-on-Spey, the world’s greatest malt whisky producing region, past the Craggan Football, Frisbee and Golf Course (playing all three at once is not obligatory…). From Grantown, the Old Military Road (built to help the Government suppress Jacobites) A939/A940 takes you onward and north to Forres.

Brodie Castle, in the Grampians of the Scottish Highlands

Brodie Castle, in the Grampians of the Scottish Highlands

Brodie Castle is an imposing white, turreted and crow-stepped-gabled building, home of the Brodie family since before the time of Robert the Bruce. They were on the Government’s side during the Jacobite period and the redcoats camped in a wood behind the castle. The gardens are spectacular, especially in spring, and the house has parts dating from the 16th, 17th and 19th centuries.

From Brodie, head westwards on the A96 to Fort George, a star-shaped fortress on the windy shores of the Moray Firth. It’s one of Britain’s most redoubtable strongholds and was built after the Battle of Culloden to prevent any resurgence of rebel action. It has been in active service for nearly 250 years: it’s still a working barracks as well as a visitor attraction.

Historic 18th Century Military Fortress near Inverness, Scotland

Historic 18th Century Military Fortress near Inverness, Scotland

Fort George has lots of spaces to poke your nose into, a fascinating museum, miles of ramparts to walk along, an excellent café – and a resident pod of dolphins in the Moray Firth to watch out for. It’s right next to the beach too, so you can leave your car in the car park and take a walk along the Firth after your visit.


Culloden Battlefield and Interactive Visitor Centre

Culloden, site of the last major battle on British soil, is just along the road and more inland, between Fort George and Inverness. This is the place where, on April 16th 1746, the Jacobites’ final hope of putting the Stuarts back on the British throne died, along with over 1,200 Jacobite soldiers, in just an hour.

Culloden battle field memorial monument. The Battle of Culloden was the final confrontation of the 1745 Jacobite Rising. The conflict was the last pitched battle fought on British soil,

Culloden battle field memorial monument. The Battle of Culloden was the final confrontation of the 1745 Jacobite Rising. The conflict was the last pitched battle fought on British soil,

The National Trust for Scotland runs the award-winning visitor centre, with interactive displays, artefacts from soldiers on both sides, and an immersive theatre where you can experience how it felt to be involved in the battle. You can wander around Culloden Moor and see the cottage where many wounded Jacobites, who had taken refuge there, were killed by Government soldiers.

The NTS also runs Living History days from time to time (check their website for details), so you could find yourselves being kitted up as a Highlander or redcoat or even watching a live re-enactment of the Battle.


Urquhart Castle on The Great Glen

The next stop is Urquhart (pronounced Urkert) Castle (IV63 6XJ) on the shores of Loch Ness. To get to it, head through Inverness and then south on the A82 alongside the western edge of Loch Ness; remember to keep your eyes peeled for Nessie, the legendary Loch Ness Monster!

Ruins of Urquhart Castle along Loch Ness, Scotland

Ruins of Urquhart Castle along Loch Ness, Scotland

Urquhart has a 1,000-year history. It’s strategically placed on a promontory above the water, with views right up and down the loch. You can climb to the top of the tower to enjoy the full panorama, peer down into the gloomy dungeons and wander round the ancient Great Hall.

The castle was involved in the first Jacobite rising, in 1689. Government soldiers were stationed here 1689-92 and blew up the gatehouse as they left so that the castle would be no use to the Jacobites afterwards. It’s a splendid ruin on a splendid site and very photogenic – whichever way you turn there’s a great picture beckoning.


The Harry Potter Sites of Glenfinnan and Glencoe

Follow the A82 down from Loch Ness straight to Fort William and take the Road to the Isles (A830) west to Glenfinnan. Harry Potter fans can see the famous Hogwarts Express train which follows the road, with the famous railway viaduct appearing north of Glenfinnan across the River Finnan (the trip from Glasgow and Fort William to Mallaig is one of the world’s great train journeys). Whilst driving through Glenfinnan, you’ll pass Loch Shiel to the south, which was used as Hogwarts Lake a few times, and the island was where the Tri-Wizard Tournament was held.

Loch Shiel and the Glenfinnan monument, south of Glenfinnan. The loch was filmed as Hogwarts Lake in several Harry Potter movies

Loch Shiel and the Glenfinnan monument, south of Glenfinnan. The loch was filmed as Hogwarts Lake in several Harry Potter movies

Nearby is Bonnie Prince Charlie’s cave, where he hid after the defeat at Culloden. And one of the best campsites in Scotland is a little further up the road, at Arisaig. But none of these are part of the Jacobite Trail.

The reason you’re here is the Glenfinnan Monument (PH37 4LT) on the shores of Loch Shiel, built where Bonnie Prince Charlie raised his standard on 19th August 1745 and “set the heather alight”. The column is 18 metres high. On top is a lone Highlander, representing all the men who fought and, in many cases, died to put “the man who was born to be king” back on the throne. Climb to the top to admire the views of Loch Shiel and the surrounding country; it really is worth the effort.

Your next stop is one of the eeriest place in Scotland, scene of massacre and treachery: Glencoe (PH49 4HX). Your route takes you back east to Fort William and then south along the A82 to Ballachulish. Cross the bridge over Loch Leven and turn east on the A82 to reach the glen, enclosed by towering hills, where 38 members of the MacDonald clan, supporters of the Old Pretender in the 1689 rising, were slaughtered by government troops who had enjoyed their hospitality.

The rising sun lighting the mountain peaks at Glencoe in the Highlands of Scotland

The rising sun lighting the mountain peaks at Glencoe in the Highlands of Scotland

There’s an excellent Glencoe visitor centre, and you can take a ranger-led walk or Land Rover safari into the hills – because, of course, there’s much more to Glencoe than a 325-year-old massacre. It’s a popular walking and skiing area with abundant wildlife; there just aren’t many human residents.

And for the Outlander fans, Glencoe may be familiar from the opening credits of season 1, with its epic mountain peaks, rivers and waterfalls.


Heading South for Dunstaffnage Castle and Dumbarton Castle

From Glencoe, go back west along the A82 to Ballachulish before following the road south along a spectacularly beautiful stretch of coast to Dunstaffnage Castle (PA37 1PZ), at the entrance to Loch Etive, just north of Oban and Dunbeg. It dates from the 13th century and protected the fjord-like loch, and those who live along its banks, from marauders.

Dunstaffnage Castle on the north west coast of Scotland near Oban in Argyll and Bute. This monolithic and impregnable-looking fortresss was constructed in the 13th century and has historic connections to Robert Bruce and Flora Macdonald.

Dunstaffnage Castle on the north west coast of Scotland near Oban in Argyll and Bute. This monolithic and impregnable-looking fortresss was constructed in the 13th century and has historic connections to Robert Bruce and Flora Macdonald.

Nowadays Dunstaffnage is most famous as the place where Flora MacDonald was imprisoned after she helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape to France by taking him to Skye from the Outer Hebrides, dressed as her maid. The castle is still very solid, despite being a ruin, and you can feel its power as you enter the gateway. There’s also a chapel in the woods – again, ruined, but still beautiful and worth the short walk to find it.

From Dunstaffnage head inland and east along the A82 to Crianlarich, then take the Glasgow road (A82) south along the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond to Dumbarton Castle (G82 1JJ). Dumbarton Rock looms over the countryside and the River Clyde, and the castle takes full advantage of its position on the Rock.

Dumbarton Castle overlooking the River Clyde. Credit Stephen McKechnie Flickr

Dumbarton Castle overlooking the River Clyde. Credit Stephen McKechnie Flickr

The castle was a government garrison during the ’45 and one of the so-called seven men of Moidart, who helped bring Bonnie Prince Charlie to Scotland, was imprisoned here after Culloden. The Governor’s House dates from around this time and is full of artefacts found in the castle. If you’re feeling energetic, climb the White Crag behind the castle for views across half of southern Scotland (or that’s what it feels like on a clear day!).


Coming to a close in Edinburgh

There’s just one more stop on your Jacobite itinerary, and you have to get past Glasgow (via the A82) and along the M8 to Edinburgh for it. It’s wise to leave your motorhome in one of the official Edinburgh Park and Ride areas on the outskirts of the city and take the bus or (from the one at Ingliston) the tram into the city centre.

The National Museum of Scotland is at Chambers Street (EH1 1JF) and gives you a run-down of Scottish history from the days before the Viking invasions. They have a large collection of Jacobite items, including a ring belonging to James VII and II,  the Old Pretender’s sword, Bonnie Prince Charlie’s canteen and a targe (shield) given to him before the Battle of Culloden.

National Museum Scotland, Edinburgh Credit John & Zana Williams Flickr

National Museum Scotland, Edinburgh Credit John & Zana Williams Flickr

The Museum has military uniforms and regimental colours from both sides of the conflict, and a portrait of “Butcher” Cumberland, the general who won the Battle of Culloden and made sure the Jacobites would never rise again by killing as many as he could find, not just at the battle field but all over the country afterwards.

The Museum’s collection sums up the whole tragic story of the later Stuarts and their supporters and enemies, and makes a fitting end to the Jacobite Trail.

Finish off your motorhome hire Scotland with a wander through Edinburgh’s historic streets before returning to the Park and Ride, and dropping your vehicle off at Motorhome Escapes HQ. You’ll leave Scotland full to the brim with Jacobite knowledge and a real sense of what it was like back in those turbulent days.

For help planning your trip, with recommendations on non-history-related attractions as well, just get in touch with us via the contact page and we’d be happy to chat! Or to squeeze in even more Jacobite and Outlander related adventures, check out part one of our Jacobite trail, and merge it with part two!

Happy motorhoming!

Jacobite Trail Part 1: Explore Eastern Scottish History & Outlander Sets

Are you a fan of Bonnie Prince Charlie and all things Jacobite? Or have you become an avid watcherof the tv show Outlander, which follows Claire as she travels back in time to the Jacobite sites of 1743? Then this Jacobite Motorhome Route is just the ticket!

bonnie prince charlie_1900x980

Bonnie Prince Charlie [Image Credit: camano10, Flickr]

The Jacobite Trail covers 26 castles, barracks and battlefields (most of which feature in Outlander), connected with some of the most romantic and tragic episodes of Scottish history: the three major (and several minor) attempts to return the Stuarts to the throne of Scotland.

The Jacobite Trail covers most of the lower half and central area of Scotland, from Edinburgh to Inverness and Montrose to Glenfinnan. You could explore it in a week if you wanted, or take things more slowly and spend more time at a few sites, with less driving. It’s certainly long enough to divide into two itineraries, and here we cover the eastern half. (Don’t worry, we’ll come back with the Western half later!)

Our Motorhome Escapes map of the Jacobite trail outlined in this article, which mostly covers the east of Scotland. Your journey begins in the South East outside Edinburgh, where you will pick up your motorhome, and concludes in Corgarff Castle in the North.

Our Motorhome Escapes map of the Jacobite trail outlined in this article, which mostly covers the east of Scotland. Your journey begins in the South East outside Edinburgh, where you will pick up your motorhome, and concludes in Corgarff Castle in the North.

Most of the sites are in the care of the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) or Historic Environment Scotland (HES), so you’ll save a lot of money if you become members of both organisations before you start your tour.


Pick up your Motorhome and begin the trail in Edinburgh

Your route starts in Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital. Kick things off by picking up your motorhome from the team at Motorhome Escapes, just 5 minutes south of Edinburgh airport. And after some unpacking and settling in, park up at one of the many Edinburgh Park and Rides, or at your campsite (check out our list of caravan parks and campsites near Edinburgh) – it’s not easy to park large vehicles in the city centre – and take the bus or tram into town.

Inside the Palace of Holyrood House

Inside the Palace of Holyrood House

Your first stop is the Palace of Holyroodhouse, which is still a Royal palace: it’s the Queen’s official Scottish residence. Bonnie Prince Charlie used it in 1745 and you can see the bed he slept in, among many other treasures.

At the other end of the Royal Mile sits the imposing bulk of Edinburgh Castle, where the first Jacobites (supporters of King James VII, or James II in England) were besieged in 1689. They only surrendered the Castle when they became too sick to hold out any longer. During the 1715 and 1745 risings (the ’15 and the ’45), the Castle was held by Government forces and unsuccessfully besieged by the Jacobites.

Take the M9 west out of Edinburgh to Linlithgow Palace (EH49 7AL), birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots and a favourite castle of the Stuarts. During the ’45, Bonnie Prince Charlie visited it on his way south and the Duke of Cumberland stayed in it on the way north to Culloden. Some of the tours here are taken by local school pupils, so it’s a great visit for families, as well as having a lovely setting. If you’re a fan of Outlander, you’ll probably recognise it as the setting for Wentworth Prison, where Jamie is taken and tortured by Black Jack Randall in some intense scenes.


Crossing the Central Belt of Scotland to Outlander’s Castle Leoch

Follow the M9 west, and head north aross the Kincardine Bridge over the River Forth and follow the A907 to Alloa. The Alloa Tower (FK10 1PL), right in the middle of town, was the ancient home of the Erskine family and is now the largest surviving keep in Scotland. Both Mary Queen of Scots and her son, James VI and I, stayed here and it was the birthplace of the 6th Earl of Mar. He led the ’15 in support of James VI’s grandson, Prince James Edward Stuart, who was known as The Old Pretender (as in “he had pretensions to be King”, not “he was pretending to be King”).

The exterior walls and fortifications of Stirling Castle, Perthshire

The exterior walls and fortifications of Stirling Castle, Perthshire

Back on the A907/A91, cross the River Forth again to Stirling. Use the park and ride on the outskirts – as with Edinburgh, city centre parking is hard to find, and the one-way system is very confusing. Stirling Castle (FK8 1EJ) sits on top of a volcanic plug, dominating the surrounding countryside, and has recently been refurbished to look very much as it was at the time of the Stuarts. It’s a steep climb, but worth the effort! The castle played a part in both the 1708 and 1745 Jacobite risings, and was home to James IV and Mary Queen of Scots.

From Stirling, take the A84 past the Blair Drummond Safari Park (though it’s worth a visit in its own right), cross the River Teith and turn right onto the A820 to reach Doune Castle (FK16 6EA) in Perthshire. Apart from the Jacobite connection, it’s famous as a film location for, among others, Outlander (with a leading role in the series as the fictional Castle Leoch) and Monty Python’s Holy Grail.

Doune was held by government troops during the 1689 and 1715 risings but surrendered to the Jacobites in 1745. After the Battle of Falkirk in 1746 their prisoners, including the writer John Home and John Witherspoon (a signatory to the American Declaration of Independence in 1776), were housed here.

An exterior view of the medieval castle of Huntingtower

An exterior view of the medieval castle of Huntingtower

From Doune, take the A820 back to the M9/A9 and go north, then left onto the A85 to Huntingtowerfield. The car park at Huntingtower Castle (PH1 3JL) is tiny; park near Dobbies Garden Centre, the other side of the A85, and walk the half mile to the castle, which has connections to both the 1715 and 1719 Jacobite risings, as well as to James VI and I.








Heading back east for Craigievar Castle

Take the A9/A90 round the south of Perth, go east through Dundee, and turn off north towards Brechin and Montrose. On your left between the two towns, with fabulous plasterwork and wonderful views over the Montrose Basin wildlife reserve, sits House of Dun (DD10 9LQ). The house belonged to David Erskine, 13th Laird of Dun, who trod a fine line between his employment as a Judge (and therefore Government employee) and his Jacobite sympathies. House of Dun features as “Flemington” in the book of the same name by Violet Jacob, a descendant of Erskine, which covers the period and political skulduggery of the ’45.

Go back through Brechin to the A90 and head east for Aberdeen. There are several routes to your next destination, the sprawling Drum Castle near Banchory (AB31 5EY), but the hill roads are not designed for large vehicles. With a motorhome, you’re better off going into Aberdeen and out along the River Dee, even though it’s further.

Drum Castle has a secret room in the tower where Alexander Irvine, 17th Laird of Drum, a supporter of Bonnie Prince Charlie, lived out his days after the final defeat of Battle of Culloden. The room was only discovered in 2013! Apparently his head gardener got rich by plundering the bodies of the dead at Culloden.

The pink Craigievar Castle, Aberdeenshire, built in 1626

The pink Craigievar Castle, Aberdeenshire, built in 1626

From Drum, go through Banchory and follow the A980 Old Military Road (built both by and for soldiers during the Jacobite period). On the left between Lumphanan and Alford you’ll find Craigievar Castle (AB33 8JF), all fairy-tale pink turrets and Jacobean wood-and plaster-work. They have an extensive collection of historic artefacts and art onsite for you to view in natural light. One of their treasures is an Order of Battle for the Battle of Culloden, and it’s said that a Jacobite fugitive hid here after the ’15.


Castles of the Aberdeenshire Highlands

The stunning Castle Fraser (AB51 7LD) is reached by a decidedly cross-country route from Craigievar: go to Muir of Fowlis and Tillyfourie, then at Ordhead turn left. The Frasers were supporters of Bonnie Prince Charlie in the ’45 and the oldest son at the time died at the field of Culloden. Castle Fraser has plenty of surprises for visitors – hidden staircases, a spy hole, and trapdoors galore – so watch your step.

From Castle Fraser go to Kemnay, cross the A96 at Inverurire and head via Oldmeldrum to the grand Fyvie Castle (AB53 8JS), reached via a delightful drive past ponds and through woodland. The Fyvies were another family that trod the fine line between Hanoverian (Government) and Jacobite. They managed to stay the right side of it, and kept their property, but there’s a portrait of General William Gordon of Fyvie wearing tartan in 1766; it caused a furore at the time as tartan had been outlawed because of its Jacobite connections.

Leith Hall castle and driveway Aberdeenshire Scotland

Leith Hall castle and driveway Aberdeenshire Scotland

South of Huntly (AB54 4NQ) and back on the other side of the A96 is our next stop on the Jacobite Trail, Leith Hall at Kennethmont, which is a beautiful and very large home. It was donated to the National Trust along with the furnishings and art as a complete collection. You can see several gifts from Bonnie Prince Charlie to Andrew Hay, brother-in-law of the Leith of the day. Andrew was 7’ 2” tall, so he must have stood out, even among the Highlanders. He went south with the Prince to Manchester and Derby, and fought his way back to Culloden. He was eventually pardoned, and you can see his Pardon here too.

From Leith Hall head north on the Old Military Road to its junction with the A97 and turn left to the ruins of Kildrummy Castle (AB33 8RA). There’s not much left of the 13th century building now but it’s from here that John Erskine, 6th Earl of Mar (whom we first met at Alloa Tower), raised the standard for the Old Pretender at the start of the ’15. After the failure of the rising, the castle was forfeited to the Crown and left to crumble.

The A97 follows the River Don in a scenic and unhurried fashion before abandoning it in favour of the Deskry Water. You stick with the River Don on the A944, which meanders right through Strathdon to the junction with another Old Military Road, the A939.

Corgarff Castle, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. A tower house fortress with an unusual star shaped perimeter wall built around 1550 by the Forbes clan.

Corgarff Castle, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. A tower house fortress with an unusual star shaped perimeter wall built around 1550 by the Forbes clan.

This takes you to the scenic and isolated Corgarff Castle (AB36 8YP), which has connections with both the ’15 and the ’45. It belonged to the Forbes family, who were Jacobite supporters in the ’15, providing men and ammunition to the cause. In 1746 the Jacobites used it to store ammunition and it was later converted into the star-shaped fortified barracks for Government troops that you see today.

Corgarff stands on a very exposed and, no doubt, draughty site, but you can see for miles in every direction, which is handy for spotting Jacobites (and the local whisky-smugglers). There’s a mock-up of the 17th century garrison, so you can see what life was like for those poor chilly soldiers.


Heading back to Edinburgh and Home

Corgarff marks the end of the first half of our Motorhome Jacobite Trail. From here you have two options as you head back south. The first is the hill road, with fabulous views but winding roads, via Crathie, Glenshee and Blairgowrie to meet the A9 at Perth (but don’t take this route in bad weather – it’s not worth it if you can’t see the views). The second is the flatter, easier route along the River Dee via Ballater and Aberdeen to the A90 and Perth. From there it’s straight down the motorway to Edinburgh, for a total journey time of around 3 hours from Corgaff Castle.

When you get into Edinburgh, if you want to wrap up with a final visit to some Outlander sets, then there are plenty scattered throughout the city. Use the park and ride as before, then you can visit the fictional Ardmuir Prison, or the Duke of Sandringham’s residence from Season 1 (Hopetoun House) and more. Check out the official guide to Outlander film locations in Edinburgh on the This is Edinburgh website

Travelling the Jacobite trail by motorhome means you have the flexibility to stay as long as you want at any of the locations, and you could even bring along the tv/film DVDs for the film locations you’re visiting, and enjoy a fully immersive experience watching them in the evening (top films and tv filmed in Scotland include Harry Potter, Braveheart, Monty Python & the Holy Grail, and the more recent Outlander).

Get in touch for any help and advice with planning your Jacobite Trail adventure by motorhome!

Check out Part 2 of our unique Motorhome Jacobite Trail in our next blog


What’s the difference between a Motorhome, Campervan & RV?

To many people, the terms motorhome, campervan and RV are interchangeable, though RV is generally thought of as an American word for a motorhome. In fact, there are key differences between the three, and it’s worth knowing what they are if you’re thinking of buying or hiring a rolling holiday home.

Small but Mighty Campervans

Campervans are the smallest of the three (though there’s huge variation in each category). They can be anything from a converted car like a Renault Kangoo or Citroen Berlingo to a large Transit-style van. The classic campervan is the VW bus, which has been taking families on holiday for over 50 years.

Campervan [credit Eleda 1 flickr]

Campervan [credit Eleda 1 flickr]

Some campervans have fixed-height roofs, which won’t do your back any good if you can’t stand up straight for your entire holiday. To overcome this, many smaller vans have pop-tops: expanding roofs which, in some cases, also give you extra bed space, but lack any sort of insulation. Others have their fixed roof permanently raised by a few inches, with room for insulation, making them warmer in cold weather and cooler in the heat, but slightly less aerodynamic.

Campervans have the advantage of being small and easy to drive and park, and they’re usually cheaper than motorhomes on fuel, parts, ferry charges, tolls, tax and insurance. They still use a standard size pitch at campsites, so you won’t make any savings there, but you will have more space to move around outside.

On the down-side, they can be quite cramped inside for more than a couple of adults, and there probably won’t be room for any bathroom facilities. That’s fine if you’re the latrine-digging, lick-and-a-promise-wash type of camper, but it has its limitations in the British weather, especially for a longer trip.

It’s worth remembering that, while you’re driving, all passengers must wear seat-belts in any of these vehicles, so make sure there are enough fixed seats with belts for all travellers. It’s also sensible to have all the seats facing either forwards or back: in the event of an accident, side-on whiplash is much worse than straight-on, and travelling sideways is more likely to cause car-sickness.


Luxury Coach-built Motorhomes at Motorhome Escapes

This is the style we rent out and sell at Motorhome Escapes. These are perfect for those looking for a more comfortable holiday. Moving up a notch from the campervan, low-profile coach-built motorhomes give enough room for a couple of people to be comfortable and will have all the facilities you need. Modern ones like ours keep the profile low by having a fixed double bed above the garage storage and electric drop-down beds above the lounge area. The wash-room will be a wet-room with a shower, and the toilet holding tank will be small, so you’ll have to pump it out frequently, but if you normally stay at campsites that isn’t a problem.

Spacious living area in a coach-built motorhome

Spacious living area in a coach-built motorhome

Small motorhomes allow you the freedom to wild camp without having to dig holes, they’re still quite easy to drive and there’ll be sensible amounts of storage space for holiday kit.

The models used by Motorhome Escapes have no rear door, so fitting a bike rack is easy, too, if you can’t get your bikes in the garage. Their low profile means better fuel economy than full-sized motorhomes can achieve. Creating the feel of a more open space, the driver seats are not separated from the main area of the motorhome, and can just be turned around when stopped to create more seats around the living area.

mo_thomson_motorhomeescapes07 640x426 - bike attached to back

Islay Motorhome (coach-built) from Motorhome Escapes, parked up to enjoy the view of Skye across the water. Bikes securely attached to the back. Credit: Mo Thomson

The next step up is the over-cab bed motorhome, with a small “cabin” over the top of the driver’s cab. We have these models available as well (we call them The Lewis), and they are very roomy with 5/6 berths. A small party of 2 people can travel in luxury in this motorhome, turning the back two beds into storage space, and shutting it away with internal doors. The cabin area over the top of the drivers cab can either provide extra storage space or fixed bed space. These larger models are less-aerodynamic than the low-profile versions but if you’re not keen on beds that come down from the ceiling, this might be a better choice for you.

Motorhome Escape Lewis Motorhome (coach-built) with overhead cabin area

Motorhome Escape Lewis Motorhome (coach-built) with overhead cabin area


Massive A-Class Motorhomes

Going up in size (and in price tag), A-class motorhomes are what most people picture when they hear the word “motorhome”. Big, sleek, with the driver’s cab integrated into the rest of the vehicle (unlike some smaller models), these behemoths are designed for the job, usually well-insulated, and with room for four or more people to be comfortable both during the day and at night.

Some A-class motorhomes come in under the 3.5 tonne driving licence limit, so you can drive them without taking another test. But they’re still big vehicles and you’ll need to keep that in mind when you’re driving one. Most weigh over 3.5 tonnes, and may need a third axle; however, power steering and electric gear-shifts mean you won’t come home looking like a body-builder!
The lighter the vehicle the better it is for fuel consumption, and the less likely you are to get bogged down on a grass pitch, but make sure your motorhome has sufficient payload for all the gear you want to take.

Burstner A Class Motorhome, which look more like an RV than amotorhome! (credit Hugh Trainer)

Burstner A Class Motorhome, which look more like an RV than amotorhome! (credit Hugh Trainer)

One advantage of the A-class motorhome is that the cab is integrated into the rest of the space, (which is not standard for all motorhomes but it is a feature in all Motorhome Escape vehicles) which means that you don’t have to go outside to get from the driving seat to the main living area. This is obviously great if it’s raining, and it’s often cited as good security – though most people won’t go camping anywhere they’d need to worry about that.

Some of the biggest A-class motorhomes have huge garages – big enough to live up to their names and fit a small car inside. Even without that, most have chunky enough engines to cope with towing a small car, allowing you the freedom to drive a much smaller vehicle once you get to your campsite.

A major drawback when you opt for this larger vehicle is that it can take a while to get used to driving it. When you consider that a car can easily fit into the garage area, it’s no surprise that an A-Class motorhome feels wide on the road, so make sure your driver is comfortable with the idea of this before setting off.


American-style Recreational Vehicles (RVs)

At the top of the pile, for price, size and luxury, are American-style RVs, some as big as a 52-seater coach and requiring a large-vehicle driving licence. These can be too big for the smaller Scottish roads, especially unpaved lanes and the single-track roads that characterise the Scottish Highlands and Islands.

They can also be too big for standard-size pitches, and some campsites and ferries may not accept them at all. Oh, and they’re very expensive on fuel, parts, tax and insurance: most of them run on petrol and can only manage 8-10 miles per gallon.

Luxury RV at the 2014 Hershey RV Show (Credit Wilson Hum on Flickr)

Luxury RV at the 2014 Hershey RV Show (Credit Wilson Hum on Flickr)

However, they do offer all the comforts of home – and more! They have oodles of storage and plenty of payload to cope, may have as many as ten berths (sleeping places), a proper kitchen and even a bath. Some have fitted washing machines, too! They’re all self-levelling when you reach your destination too, so there’s no need for spirit levels and levelling blocks.

The most luxurious versions have slide-out sections that expand your living space, but you’ll probably have to pay for two pitches to accommodate these. They may come with leather sofas, more than one wash-room, 48-inch TVs in the living space and the master bedroom (yes, there’s a master bedroom), probably even a cocktail cabinet.

There are smaller RVs: B-class are more the size of coach-built motorhomes and C-class ones come between A and B in size. They are all equipped for the comfort-loving American market, as homes from home, and even the C-class ones may not fit in your driveway. If you don’t need that level of luxury (and cost), stick with the European motorhome makers.

A coach-built motorhome from Motorhome Escapes comfortably handling the narrow roads of Scotland. Credit: Mo Thomson

A coach-built motorhome from Motorhome Escapes comfortably handling the narrow roads of Scotland. Credit: Mo Thomson

Like everything else, your choice of campervan, motorhome or RV is very personal. If you’re thinking of buying one, it’s worth hiring first to get an idea of what you like (and dislike) and how easy you find a large vehicle to drive, reverse and fit into tight driveways and narrow roads. There’s plenty of choice, so don’t rush. Get started with your next holiday using our Try Before You Buy service, where you can rent one of our motorhomes before buying, and if you want to purchase it after your trip, we will deduct the hire charges from the final sale price (up to 4 days rental price). Get in touch if you’d like to hear more.

It’s also worth considering that, if you’d only use it a few weeks a year, hiring a campervan, motorhome or RV might work out cheaper and more practical for you. You can hire to suit the size of your party, the roads you’ll be travelling, the kit you want to carry; and you won’t have to pay road tax or insurance for the 40-odd weeks of the year when the van is occupying your driveway!

Choose us for motorhome hire Scotland, and you’ll be travelling in comfort with our coach-built motorhomes, which are actually pleasant and manageable to drive; check out our motorhomes for hire to see which one is best suited to your needs, and just give us a call or email if you have any questions.

Winter Wildlife Watching in Scotland by Motorhome

Winter affects different people different ways: some just want to curl up in a ball and not come out ‘til spring, while others love the crisp air and want to spend as much time outdoors as possible. Scottish wildlife feels much the same: dormice and other small mammals will hibernate but many of the bigger animals will be out and about, and easier to spot than in summer because there’s less foliage in the way. So book a trip in one of our motorhomes, and get up close to a wide variety of Scottish Wildlife this winter season.

How to Spot Scottish Squirrels, Deer & Hare 

One small mammal that doesn’t hibernate is the red squirrel.  Britain’s native squirrels live in both broadleaved and coniferous woodlands. They store food for winter just underground and also in cracks in trees, and can often be seen retrieving it in good winter weather (they stay in their tree-top dreys if it’s inclement). If you see nut-shells lying around, it’s a safe bet there’s a squirrel living nearby.

Red Squirrel

January to March is the red squirrel mating season, so they’re often seen in pairs at this time. You’re most likely to see them in the Highlands, where the grey squirrel hasn’t yet pushed them out of their territory, but there are populations in the Scottish Borders and in Angus, Perthshire and the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park. The best times to see them are early and late, rather than the middle of the day.

Red deer are usually easier to spot in winter than in summer as they move down from the high ground to lower areas where they’re more likely to find food. If you think “red deer”, “Highlands” is usually the area you connect with them, but they’re also found in the Galloway Red Deer Range and on the islands of Arran, Jura and Rum.

Red deer males, with their huge antler racks, are a spectacular sight. They’re also very noisy, especially in the early winter when they’re getting their harems sorted out. They’re active both day and night, as are the smaller varieties of deer found in the lowlands (mainly roe deer), so watch out when you’re driving in the dark.

If you want to get up close with deer who are used to humans, the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre offer daily walks up the hills to visit their free-ranging herds. If that’s too strenuous or impractical for you, you can visit and pet the reindeer (also known as caribou) in their paddocks at the centre, where there’s also a shop selling meat from the family’s rare-breeds farm alongside the reindeer souvenirs. The centre is closed  in January and the first half of February to allow the reindeer to recover from helping Santa at Christmas (and to breed).

scottish winter hare


Keep your eyes peeled up in the hills and you might spot a mountain hare. A leopard may not change its spots but a mountain hare can – or, at least, it gets a white winter coat quite different from its grey-brown summer one. If there’s snow, the winter coat camouflages the hare; if there isn’t, it makes them very vulnerable to predators and therefore even shyer and harder to spot than usual.

Scottish Bird Watching in Winter

Ptarmigan, which are members of the grouse family, also change their plumage to a wintry white. The best places to see both hares and ptarmigan are in the Cairngorms, normally quite high up the mountains. Both prefer areas remote from humans, so it’s a very lucky day when you see one.

Take your campervan or motorhome to the mountains; turn your eyes skywards to look for golden eagles, peregrine falcons and red kites hunting hare and other small prey; nearer the coast you may also see white-tailed sea eagles. Murmurations of starlings, wheeling in synchronised flight like a spotted veil, are a common sight around farmland, especially in the dusk. Less common birds to watch out for are Scottish (parrot) crossbills, redwings, waxwings, snow buntings, and fieldfares that migrate from Scandinavia for the winter.

pink footed goose


Scotland is a major destination for migrating geese and other birds that spend their summers in the Arctic. From September onwards great skeins of pink-foot, barnacle and greylag geese can be seen and heard in the skies, especially at dawn and dusk, as they move between roosting areas on the coast and feeding grounds inland. Many of them migrate even further south but several thousand remain in Scotland.

Great places to see geese in eastern Scotland include the Montrose Basin in Angus, Loch Leven in Perthshire, and the Loch of Strathbeg in Aberdeenshire. Further west, they can be found on the Solway Firth at Mersehead Nature Reserve and at Loch Gruinart on Islay. In the northern isles the best place to view them is North Ronaldsay Bird Observatory on Orkney.

Other waterfowl that over-winter in Scotland include oystercatchers with their distinctive long orange beaks, mute swans, redshank, eider ducks, shelducks and wigeon. You can watch them puddling in the mud and sand or diving to look for food at wildlife reserves, lochs and beaches all round the country.

grey seal scotland


Winter along Scotland’s coast can also offer sightings of common and grey seals (where there’s no fish farming, anyway) and harbour porpoises. Inland you might spot otter and also beaver, which have recently been re-introduced to three sites in Scotland and are doing well. You may even catch a glimpse of a darting turquoise kingfisher.

Staying Safe When  Wildlife Watching in the Scottish Hills

Winter wildlife watching requires you to remain still and quiet for extended periods; there’s much less cover to hide behind and snow or water may carry sound and scent further. Good binoculars or a telescope can allow you to observe from further away, with less chance of disturbing what you’re watching.

It can be a challenge to stay warm while you sit. Something waterproof and insulated to sit or lie on – an inflatable cushion or a small section of bedding-mat – makes a big difference to your comfort.

Dress in warm and waterproof layers – you may get hot climbing a hill but you’ll need to wrap up when you get to the top or you’ll chill very fast. Good waterproof footwear is vital, and don’t forget your gloves (preferably waterproof) and hat!

hill walking scotland


Dusk comes on surprisingly early – it’s often quite dark by 3.00pm in December in northern Scotland, especially if it’s cloudy. It’s sensible to carry a head-torch – hand torches are easy to drop and break if you trip in the dark, and a head-torch leaves your hands free and fits comfortably and securely under a woolly hat.

Take something to eat and a flask of hot drink, too. A mobile phone with GPS and a whistle are also sensible if you’re heading off the beaten track; a paper map (and the ability to read it) is a good backup if, as is quite common, there’s no mobile reception. A survival blanket takes up very little space in a backpack and weighs virtually nothing, but it could save you from hypothermia if you have an accident and can’t get back down the hill.

That may sound like doom and gloom, but it’s surprising how many people venture into the hills in winter with none of the kit and do have an accident – sprain an ankle, for example – or just get lost. You’ll be more comfortable, and stand a much better chance of reaching home safely, if you can stay warm and fed than if you can’t. These suggestions aren’t intended to deter you, but to help you get maximum enjoyment from your holiday. The great thing about travelling by campervan or motorhome to spot wildlife is that a modern motorhome provides all the comforts and warmth close by, with all the facilities you need to spend a cosy evening relaxing after a day out in the chill!

Winter wildlife watching in Scotland can be wonderful. Whatever’s on your must-see list – cheeky squirrels, majestic deer, fat seals or rowdy oystercatchers – stay safe and warm and you’ll go home with amazing memories and photos.

Winter Motorhome Holidays in Snowy Scotland

Snow in Scotland isn’t guaranteed – neither the 2015 winter nor the 2016 one produced much – but there’s already been some snow in 2017… so it’s looking good for those winter activities! Here are some ideas of what you could do on a midwinter campervan or motorhome holiday in Scotland.

Skiing and snow-boarding in Scotland, most winters, is a bit different from what you may be used to. For a start, you have to be good at finding the snow on a run and avoiding any uncovered rock and heather; and the snow tends to become icy very quickly, so you need good grip. They say that if you can ski in Scotland, you can ski anywhere.

Ski trip in Scotland

Ski trip in Scotland

Skiing on the Cairngorms Mountain Range

Scotland’s highest ski centre is at the top of the Cairngorms, at The Lecht, with 13 lifts. If there’s snow anywhere in Scotland, The Lecht will have it and there’ll be ski runs open. The car park is huge but get there early – it fills up fast on snowy weekends.

On the other side of the Cairngorms from The Lecht lies Aviemore, Scotland’s snow sports capital, situated just below the Cairngorms ski centre with its famous funicular railway; the only one in Scotland. The Cairngorms Ski Centre, Scotland’s largest, has 11 lifts and 38 runs, so it caters for skiers and boarders of all levels.

Cairngorms Ski Centre [credit - Chris Wood 1954]

Cairngorms Ski Centre [credit – Chris Wood 1954]

For serious cross-country skiers, there are two centres near Aviemore offering ski touring: Glenmore Lodge and the G2 Centre, which both offer all sorts of outdoor training courses and activities year-round.

There’s plenty to do around Aviemore if you don’t ski or snowboard or, indeed, if there’s no snow: wildlife safaris, mountain biking trails and sled-dog expeditions are available whether the countryside looks white or brown.

At the Outdoor Discovery centre at Coylumbridge, just south of Aviemore, there’s a small outdoor ice-skating rink (weather permitting – it’s a roller rink if the weather’s too warm) alongside the amazing tree walks, quad biking and other attractions for both kids and adults. They also run a ski school.

If you’re a curler, head to Carrbridge, a few miles north of Aviemore, where the club welcomes visiting players. It has a purpose-built curling pond with floodlights and plays outdoors whenever there’s enough frost – and Carrbridge has one of the best frost records in Scotland so if you can play outdoors anywhere, it’ll be there.


Indoor and Artificial Slope Skiing in Scotland

Skiing is also available at Glenshee, Glencoe and the Nevis range near Fort William, but they’re all lower than the Cairngorms and the snow is much less reliable. One place you’re guaranteed skiing on real snow is, somewhat unexpectedly, Braehead near Glasgow airport.

Indoor Skiing at Snow Factor is open all year round and has a 200m indoor slope with 1,700 tonnes of fresh powdery snow – no ice, no rocks, no heather, just perfect skiing and boarding conditions. There are two slopes (one for teaching), four ski lifts, an ice-climbing wall, an ice slide and sledging facilities, as well as a restaurant and bar, so you can spend all day there.

Skiing on an artifical slope year round at Aberdeen Snowsports [Credit - Alan Longmuir. Flickr]

Skiing on an artifical slope year round at Aberdeen Snowsports [Credit – Alan Longmuir. Flickr]

Scotland also offers plenty of artificial ski slopes: in the north, Aberdeen Snowsports, and Kingussie and Kincraig in the Cairngorm area all have them. Further south you’ll find them at Bearsden and in central Glasgow, on the Pentland Hills just south of Edinburgh (the longest artificial slope in Europe at Midlothian Snowsports Centre), and at Polmonthill near Falkirk, north of the capital lies Polmonthill Snowsports Centre. Alford Ski Centre in Aberdeenshire, Firpark Ski Centre in Tillicoultry and Newmilns Snow & Sports Complex in Ayrshire all offer snowtubing as well as skiing and snowboarding on their artificial snow.


Outdoor & Indoor Curling in Scotland during Winter

Curling originated in Scotland, using polished Scottish granite for the stones, and is still a very popular sport here. As well as outdoor ponds like the one at Carrbridge, there are at least six indoor rinks where you can curl all winter.

Curling stone on ice of a indoors rink

Curling stone on ice of a indoors rink

The main ones are Murrayfield in Edinburgh, right next to the rugby ground, which also has ice hockey and public skating sessions; Dumfries Ice Bowl, which offers a dedicated rink for skating and another for curling, as does Forfar Ice Rink in Angus; The Time Capsule at Coatbridge, North Lanarkshire, which also has swimming pools and a kids’ play area; and Perth’s Dewar Centre and Dundee’s Ice Arena, which offer a mixture of skating, curling and (in Dundee) ice hockey.


Star-gazing in Scotland at ‘Dark Skies’ Sites

Skiing, curling and skating are all very well in daylight, but what do you do in the evenings on a winter holiday in Scotland, when night comes early and mornings don’t get light until after 8 am?  Well, those long dark nights make it the ideal place for star-gazing. There are designated “dark skies” sites but you’ll find that light pollution is low anywhere outside the major towns. Conveniently, a campervan or motorhome is a great way to get out into the country!

The first dark skies site to be designated was Galloway Forest Park, right down near Scotland’s south-west corner, and it’s still one of the best places to go. Very few people live nearby so there are no street lamps and only minimal house lights, and the Forestry Commission, which owns the Park, aims to keep it that way.

Stars above Galloway Forest Park [credit-Grant Morris Flickr]

Magnificent display of stars above Galloway Forest Park [credit-Grant Morris Flickr]

There are three visitor centres in the Park, with information points at all of them and at other sites, as well as the Scottish Dark Sky Observatory at Dalmellington. The Forestry Commission also lay on Dark Sky events with specially trained rangers to tell you what to look for where.

Other Dark Sky Discovery Sites can be found on Skye, in Assynt and Lochaber, along the west coast of Kintyre and on the Isle of Coll. If you don’t want to travel to remote places for your star-gazing, the Mills Observatory in Dundee, Britain’s first purpose-built public observatory, is open on weekdays until 10 pm; it also has a planetarium where you can learn about the stars and planets without getting cold or staying up late.

If you’ve ever wanted to see the Aurora Borealis (also known as the Northern Lights or, in Shetland, the Mirrie Dancers), Scotland is a great place to watch out for them. They can’t be guaranteed, of course, and you do need a clear night. The Lights have been seen from all over the country, even in Edinburgh, but the further north and further away from light pollution you go, the better your chances are. Aurora Watch UK have an app that alerts you if there’s geomagnetic activity, which is worth downloading to your phone so you’ll be ready to watch when the mirrie dancing starts.


Traditional Music & Folk Festivals in Scotland during Winter 

After all that outdoor activity, get in from the cold and the snow and warm up in a traditional Scottish pub, listening to traditional Scottish music with a glass of traditional Scottish beer and/or whisky in your hand (we’re big on tradition in Scotland!).

You can stumble across organised and impromptu sessions all over the place but there are pubs people travel miles to, just for the quality of the regular music evenings. One of these is the Taybank Hotel in Dunkeld, right at the foot of the bridge that joins the town to its twin across the river, Birnam. Dunkeld has other attractions to enjoy too – the ruined Cathedral and The Hermitage woods are just two – but they are best seen in daylight.

The Taybank Hotel has sessions several evenings a week, with nationally and internationally famous musicians playing alongside newbies and locals alike. Dunkeld is also home to the annual Niel Gow fiddle festival in March, which attracts fiddlers from all over the country and outside it.

The Highlands and Islands are full of pubs that serve up local music along with the pints and the drams. Shetland, particularly famous for its fiddlers, seems to have music festivals practically every week. Orkney, which has its own Folk Festival in May, Skye (Plockton in particular) and the Outer Hebrides, home of the Hebridean Celtic Festival, are also all renowned for their music and musicians.

Orkney Folk Festival [credit - Delaina Haslam Flickr]

Performers at Orkney Folk Festival, Scotland [credit – Delaina Haslam Flickr]

Ullapool, where the ferry from Lewis docks, is a melting pot for all these influences. The Ceilidh Place is the place, running regular sessions for locals and islanders – but stop at any pub and you’re likely to hear great traditional music. The Hootananny in Inverness is also justly famous for its music: there’s trad music every Sunday to Wednesday, music of all sorts every other evening, and a ceilidh every Saturday afternoon.

But you don’t have to travel that far: Edinburgh is Scotland’s cultural as well as political capital and many of the pubs run weekly trad music nights. Sandy Bell’s and The Royal Oak, both near the Royal Mile, are a good place to start.

Edinburgh and Glasgow both have traditional music festivals; Tradfest in Edinburgh and Celtic Connections in Glasgow. Celtic Connections kicks off first in January. It’s an international festival that takes over venues all across the city, and has expanded into jazz and comedy as well as traditional music.

Tradfest covers all sorts of Scottish folk arts and culture – music, certainly, but also dance, crafts, film, drama and storytelling. Like Celtic Connections (and, indeed, the  Edinburgh International Festival in August) it occupies venues right round the city. Less international than Celtic Connections, it showcases young talent from all over Scotland. As with all festivals, not all the events are official, so it’s a great time for a pub-crawl to sound out some of the unofficial gigs.

Camping in the Cairngorm Mountains, Scotland, over Loch Morloch with snow on the ground

Camping in the Cairngorm Mountains, Scotland, over Loch Morloch with snow on the ground

Snow? ‘S no problem in Scotland! Crisp winter days and evenings, outdoors or in, have plenty to recommend them. And in a campervan or motorhome you can go where you please to meet and enjoy them.  Gritters and snowploughs keep the roads clear (though you will find snow-gates briefly closing off the higher reaches after snow-falls, while the roads are made safe) and the Scots are accustomed to travellers needing a warm pick-me-up after a day in the very fresh air.

Welcome to the Scottish winter and all it has to offer.

Edinburgh Christmas markets

Motorhome holidays aren’t just for summer: there’s plenty to do in Scotland in winter. Edinburgh and Glasgow are great places to visit on a Scottish motorhome tour, and both take Christmas very seriously. Edinburgh’s Christmas markets are deservedly popular with adults and children alike – and they’re not just about shopping.

Edinburgh’s Christmas markets run from 17th November 2017 to 6th January 2018, so you can enjoy them right through Hogmanay and into the New Year. And there’s so much more to see than just one market. Best of all, entry is free for the whole family!

Edinburgh’s official Christmas markets

The Christmas market itself takes up the area of East Princes Street Gardens that lies between the National Gallery, the Mound and the Scott Monument, with Edinburgh Castle towering above you. Here you’ll find food and drink, jewellery, candles, toys for grown-ups and children, art, hand-crafts and – of course – Christmas decorations.

For the perfect Edinburgh Christmas photo, climb up the Scott Monument and focus down into Princes Street Gardens and the market laid out below you. It’s a great viewpoint for photos of the Castle, too.

Cross Princes Street to the New Town and climb the gentle rise to St Andrew’s Square. Here you’ll find the Scottish Market, with traditional food, drink, crafts and plenty more ideas for present-buying.

Aromatic fruits and spice kits on sale at an Edinburgh Christmas market. Photo credit: byronv2

Aromatic fruits and spice kits on sale at an Edinburgh Christmas market. Photo credit: byronv2

St Andrews Square also has the Children’s Market, full of colourful toys. Not just the plastic tat that you could get on any High Street but high-quality toys of all sorts, from traditional to modern, that will make the adults’ mouths water as well as the children’s.

All three markets are worth lingering over, taking your time as you wander from stall to stall, admiring the offerings and chatting to the stall-holders, many of whom will have made the goods they’re selling.

Other markets in Edinburgh

Every Saturday you can buy local produce straight from over 40 producers at the Edinburgh Farmers’ Market on Castle Terrace in the Old Town. There’s also a weekly Saturday market, with more fresh produce, artisan bread, smoked fish, sweets, street food and crafts, in nearby Grassmarket, below the Castle. On the other side of town, Leith (on Dock Place) and Stockbridge (Saunders Street) both have weekend markets of food and crafts – great for stocking up your motorhome larder as well as buying presents and souvenirs.

Winter Wonderland

But Edinburgh’s run-up to Christmas isn’t just about the shopping and the mouth-watering food. Head back to East Princes Street Gardens to discover Edinburgh’s very own Winter Wonderland. Take a ride on Santa’s train and meet his elves in the grotto at the centre f the Christmas Tree Maze.

Edinburgh's Christmas markets and Winter Wonderland are conveniently located right in the centre of Edinburgh. Photo credit:Ross G. Strachan

Edinburgh’s Christmas markets and Winter Wonderland are conveniently located right in the centre of Edinburgh. Photo credit:Ross G. Strachan

You can build up an appetite for more food on the ice rink and liberate your inner child with rides on the helter-skelter, big wheel, roller-coaster and any of several merry-go-rounds and carousels. If that’s a bit tame for you, try the chair-o-planes, star-flyer or the drop tower, or give yourself a work-out on the Ice Wall.

Shows and performances

If the weather’s bad and you’d rather spend some time indoors, you’ll find theatrical performances for all tastes: Shark in the Park (in the Festival Square Spiegeltent), the Arabian Nights (Lyceum Theatre), A Bottle of Wine and Patsy Cline (Gilded Balloon) or the Christmas MagicFest (Traverse Theatre).

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a pantomime: Edinburgh has Cinderella at the Kings Theatre from 2nd December to 21st January. Equally Christmassy is Scottish Ballet’s The Nutcracker, on at the Festival Theatre 9th-30th December. If your young kids love dancing, Baby Loves Disco offers “dayclubbing” , 2 hours of bopping for parents and children in the Festival Spiegeltent.

Edinburgh is blessed with a number of fantastic theatres, including the Edinburgh Festival Theatre. Photo credit:eltpics

Edinburgh is blessed with a number of fantastic theatres, including the Edinburgh Festival Theatre. Photo credit:eltpics

For adults only, La Clique Noel, a cross between circus, comedy and burlesque, shares the Festival Square Spiegeltent with the Shark and the Baby Disco (though obviously not at the same time). Fans of Ice Age will love The Ice Adventure: A Journey Through Frozen Scotland in West George Street – but wrap up warm. To keep the ice sculptures intact from 17th November to 24th December the temperature in the exhibition is kept at -10°C.

Edinburgh after dark

For a somewhat warmer winter experience, try the Royal Botanic Gardens after-dark trail. The trees and glasshouses are spectacularly lit, there’s a Fire Garden, and you finish your tour with a warming cup of hot chocolate, mulled wine or spiced cider and roasted chestnuts.

Another after-dark attraction is the Edinburgh Giant Advent Calendar. This isn’t a paper-and-cardboard calendar. It’s a projection onto the General Register House building, with images from bygone winters back to the 1700s, showcasing a different year each day. It will be projected at different times each evening, between 5.30 and 10 pm, so keep your eyes and ears open to find out when it’s on.

For a light-show with a difference, head to Edinburgh Zoo’s Giant Lanterns of China show.  They’re obviously expecting it to be a popular event: you have to book your time-slot between 4.30 and 7.30 pm, and the it finishes at 9 pm. As well as the lanterns there are Chinese performers – and another Christmas market, this one with a Chinese theme.

And finally…

What else is on in Edinburgh in the run-up to Christmas? Something for pretty much any taste!  There are lunches with Santa, free film showings, tours of the Castle, art exhibitions, Santa-costumed charity fun runs … you name it. It’s definitely not a dull time to visit Scotland’s capital city.

One piece of advice: like many cities, navigating Edinburgh’s streets in a large vehicle and finding parking for it are not easy. They’re not made any easier when some streets are closed and thousands of extra visitors can be expected in town. So park up your motorhome and let someone else do the driving.  [Doing so has the added advantage that you can enjoy a “wee bevvy” (alcoholic drink) if you’re tempted to.]

Several of the local campsites are on bus routes. Alternatively, you can take advantage of the city’s park and ride facilities. One of the best is out by the airport, from where a tram whisks you right into the centre of the city and drops you in Princes Street, perfectly placed to make the most of Edinburgh’s Christmas markets.