Eastern Scotland’s best beaches for families (and motorhomes)

Scotland has hundreds of miles of coastline, so it’s not surprising the country boasts some of Britain’s best beaches. They range from tiny unspoilt coves with no facilities to family-friendly beaches with parking, toilets and life-guards. Here we’ve put together a tour of the best family-orientated beaches on the east coast, that would be some fantastic stop-off points on your motorhome tour of Scotland. We’ll have another post covering the beaches along the west coast coming soon!

South of Edinburgh: Coldingham Sands

Starting almost in England, our first recommendation is near St Abb’s, at Coldingham Sands. Most of this coast is rocky, with spectacular cliffs, but Coldingham has plenty of sand with rocks only at each end. It’s in a quiet, rural area, sheltered from the wind by headlands to north and south, and lifeguards are on duty through the day during the summer months.

Coldingham sands

Coldingham sands is a beautiful sheltered beach near the village of St Abbs. Photo credit: Henry Burrows

One attraction of Coldingham Sands is the beach huts, some of which are very old and add a touch of the picturesque to the scene. It also offers parking, toilets, a café and disabled access, and has been awarded the Blue Flag, the Marine Conservation Society’s top award for cleanliness and the Seaside Award!

Heading north from St Abb’s, it’s an easy journey (mainly on the A1) to North Berwick, at the tip of the Firth of Forth. Here you’ll find the Scottish Seabird Centre, where you can discover all about gannets, gulls and guillemots – and there’s a good beach too. The Seabird Centre has live video cameras on the Bass Rock and Isle of May, just out in the Firth, so you can watch the birds in real time.

It’s not just about birds: they have displays on underwater marine creatures like turtles, rays, starfish and anemones. There’s a café too, as well as free parking and a gift shop, making it a great rainy day destination. You can also take a catamaran ferry across the Firth of Forth to Anstruther and back and experience these waters for yourself.

Fife: Aberdour Silversands, Roome Bay (Crail), and Tentsmuir

Heading north from Edinburgh, your next stop is at the southern edge of the ancient Kingdom of Fife. Aberdour Silversands lives up to its name, with a white beach flanked by woodland and a view across the water to the islands of Inchmickery and Incolm.

Silver Sands, Aberdour

Aberdour Silver Sands is a popular beach resort with families. Photo credit: Iain MacKenzie

This family-friendly beach has beach patrols, first aid facilities, lifeguards in the summer and award-winning toilets. It has also won a Keep Scotland Beautiful Beach Award. Managed by Fife Coast and Countryside Trust, it’s also great for wildlife spotting.

Fife Coast and Countryside Trust also run Crail’s Roome Bay, another Keep Scotland Beautiful Beach Award winner.  There are both sand and rocks to explore here, with a disused swimming pool at one end of the beach that’s popular with wildlife. There’s also a children’s playground at this small beach.

You have to park in the village and walk down – and it’s worth taking the time to look round the village too. It’s one of the prettiest harbours in the East Neuk of Fife, and has starred as a location in several films and myriad paintings.

On up the coast, past St. Andrews, is Tentsmuir, the forest on the dunes. It offers miles of trails through the woods for walking or biking, and plenty of wildlife – look out for bats, red squirrels and seals. The huge sandy/muddy beach is also great to walk along but don’t be tempted to swim – the tides move fast and there’s quicksand.

Tentsmuir would be a great place to camp but sadly it’s not allowed because of the risk of fire. Lighting fires is also banned, naturally, though you can use barbeques in the designated picnic areas. Be warned: the £2 car park is locked every night (8.30pm April-September) and if your vehicle is still there at the time, you’re stuck.

Angus: Carnoustie and Arbroath

Carnoustie is known world-wide as a golfing destination. What many people, even locals, don’t know is that it also has two beaches. The first one is right near the Golf Hotel, and is a fine if small sandy beach. There’s a children’s play area and paddling pool nearby, and free parking.

If the tide’s out, though, head to the north end of town. You’ll have to park on the road and walk down to the beach past the fishermen’s cottages: the street’s too narrow for motorhomes. On this shore you’ll find some of the best rock-pools in the county.

It’s also a great place to find pieces of sea-glass, the sharp corners and glossy finish worn off by the water and sand, to make your own souvenir jewellery. No-one will mind if you build a drift-wood fire here and watch the eider ducks and sandpipers as the sun sinks behind you.

Nearby Arbroath is a well-known holiday centre. The road enters town past two static caravan parks and under a low railway bridge (14’ 3”/ 4.34 m), then you turn right into the West Links area. Here you’ll find a terrific kids’ playground, a paddling pool, crazy golf, mini go-karts, and a miniature railway, not to mention a huge expanse of sandy beach and free parking.

Angus: Lunan Bay and Montrose Seafront & Splash

Between Arbroath and Montrose sits Lunan Bay, one of the most beautiful beaches in Scotland. A tiny village nestles at the southern end, a very ruined castle sits on the hill in the middle, and an old lime-burning kiln perches on the cliff at the north. In between there’s a 2-mile curve of white sand and tall dunes, some of which are steep enough to “sledge” down if you have a tin tray handy.

Boddin Point

Lunan Bay is famous for its sandy dunes, but it’s also a great area for exploring local history, such as the ruins at Boddin Point. Photo credit: Stu Smith

There’s a free car park, and toilets are available in the Diner, which also sells locally-reared meat. The family that own the farm and stables behind the beach have just built a caravan and camping site with toilets, showers and electric hook-up. The beach wins Blue Flag status every year, and it’s popular with surfers and kite-surfers as well as sand-castle builders of all ages.

Where Lunan Bay is natural, Montrose Seafront and Splash is built for holiday-makers. There’s a play area, a paddling pool, an amusement centre and café, and a pitch-and-putt golf course, as well as picnic and car parking areas. You can reach the sandy beach ether via steps from the promenade or by the wheelchair-friendly ramp near the north end of the Seafront.

Aberdeen: Aberdeen Ballroom Beach, Balmedie, and Peterhead

The Granite City, famous for its oil and gas industry, might not be top of your list as a holiday destination but it offers two very different award-winning beaches. The rather oddly-named Aberdeen Ballroom Beach is just outside the city centre. It has protection from the harbour wall at the south; towards the north, where there is a nature reserve, it is more exposed. This can be a great place for dolphin and whale spotting, so keep your eyes peeled.

On the esplanade you’ll find toilets, cafés and restaurants and – yes – a ballroom! There’s also an ice rink, if you want to escape a rainy day.  The esplanade is popular with walkers, cyclists and runners, and the water with kayakers, surfers and sailors, so there’s plenty to watch.

Eight miles north of the city lies Balmedie beach, which couldn’t be more different. Left almost entirely to nature, it runs for miles, so it’s easy to get away from any crowds. The only concession to visitors is the board walks from the paid car park through the dunes. Balmedie is part of a country park owned by Aberdeenshire Council and is a haven for wildlife as well as people.

The road from Aberdeen to Peterhead hugs the coast, with spectacular views across the dunes and the North Sea; next stop Denmark. Peterhead, Scotland’s most easterly point, has an unusual beach: it’s set within the outer harbour, next to the marina and the 23-pitch Lido caravan park. Water sports, including dinghy sailing and scuba diving, are very popular in this old fishing town.

The Moray Firth and dolphins

Around the coast at Macduff there’s a chance to swim in a historic outdoor pool. Officially closed and in the care of Historic Environment Scotland, Tarlair Outdoor Swimming Pool is an evocative, art deco ‘20s construction still fed by the waters of the Moray Firth. You take the High Shore/Tarlair road out of Macduff, past the golf club, and it’s right at the end.

East Beach, Nairn

Nairn boasts a number of fabulous beaches of pure white sands stretching out for miles. Photo credit: Paul Oldham

The area around Nairn, west along the Moray Firth from Macduff, has a reputation as Scotland’s “banana belt” because of its mild climate, which might tempt you into the water. The beach has a small group of beach huts and miles of sand for walking, paddling and castle-building. There’s a Camping and Caravanning Club site tucked into woodland nearby, and this is another excellent place for dolphin watching.

An even better place is near the pinch-point at Fort George/Chanonry Point, where the Moray Firth narrows to about a quarter of a mile across. Dolphins and whales are often seen in the water seaward of Fort George, and you can take dolphin watching boat trips from several places in the area.

…And now for something completely different

Our final family-friendly sandy beach suggestion is unusual: it’s miles from the sea! Loch Morlich, just outside Aviemore at the foot of the Cairngorm Mountains, is a fresh-water loch big enough to have its own sailing club and water sports centre. Whether the loch water is any warmer than the sea is something you’ll just have to find out for yourself. Lying in woodland at the edge of the loch is a beautiful campsite with plenty of pitches, managed by the Forestry Commission.

Beach Loch Morlich

The fresh water sandy beach of Loch Morlich. Photo credit: Carron Brown

The other attraction here is the Cairngorm Mountain Railway, Scotland’s only funicular. The journey offers breathtaking views across what feels like half of northern Scotland, taking you up to 3,500 feet (1067 m). There you’ll find a restaurant, viewing platform, shop and Britain’s highest post box. You can take a guided walk, too (book at the office at the foot of the railway) to learn about the flora and fauna that survive in this extreme terrain.

From paddling pools and golf to dolphins and mountains: there’s plenty of variety for a family beach themed motorhome holiday in Scotland!

Scottish National Tourist Routes: Clyde Valley

When people think of a motorhome tour of Scotland, they often have the romantic Scottish highlands and west coast in mind. However, with Scotland being a relatively small country, there are plenty of short detours available… The Clyde Valley Scottish National Tourist is a short but scenic route which starts, rather bizarrely, at the Elvanfoot/Crawford interchange on the A74M (junction 14). The junction is somewhat unusual, too: the entry and exit are 4.5 km (2.8 miles) apart, but it’s still considered one interchange.

If you’re heading south on the motorway, you come off at Crawford and turn back on yourself; if you’re heading north or coming from Galloway you go under the motorway from Elvanfoot towards Crawford. Either way, you want the A702, heading northwards.

The official route takes you through the middle of Crawford, on the old Carlisle Road, while the A702 detours it. The village is worth a stop, though. Crawford Castle was originally a Roman fort and has later associations with William Wallace. The ghosts of Roman soldiers are sometimes seen – but only from the knees up, as they walk at the level of the Roman road, not the modern one. Crawford was also one of the staging posts on the Edinburgh to London coaching route, although the inn (also allegedly haunted) is now closed.

The A702 hugs the motorway all the way to Abington, where there’s a service station; you could come off the motorway here (junction 13) instead of at Crawford, if you’re joining the route from the north. From Abington, the route follows the River Clyde north-eastwards on the old Roman road towards Biggar, along a very pretty valley. If you associate the Clyde with Glasgow and industrialism, this road will come as a pleasant surprise.

Just south of Biggar the route turns onto the A72 and sharp back on itself – the roads join at a 45° angle, which requires a certain amount of finesse from the driver.  If you’d rather take it more gently, head into Biggar, which is worth a visit anyway. It’s an ancient town, dating from 1451, with a 16th century kirk (church) and a Gasworks Museum, the only one of its kind in Scotland. It’s also a great place to buy treats, with famous ice-cream, chocolate and fish-and-chip shops. From Biggar you can head back to the A72 facing in a much more comfortable direction.

The A72 crosses the Clyde and joins the A73 at St John’s Kirk; the two roads share the route as far as Lanark, which can be confusing when you’re trying to read the road signs. You cross the Clyde again at Hyndford Bridge, a handsome Grade A-listed 5-arched bridge dating from the late 18th century. It’s narrow, so you may have to wait to cross it.

Your next stop is Lanark, which was granted its Royal Charter in the 12th century, making it one of Scotland’s oldest Royal burghs. In the 10th century is was the site of the first Scottish Parliament and its church bell is believed to be one of the oldest in the world. This is a town with a proud history. It also has good independent shops, restaurants and so on. The route diverts from the A73 via the B7017 and A743 past the station, avoiding the town-centre’s one-way system.

New Lanark

New Lanark, a UNESCO World Heritage site, provides fascinating insight into how people worked and lived during Britain’s Industrial Revolution. Photo credit: 4652 Paces

Nearby is New Lanark, which is a must-see if you’re interested in the Industrial Revolution. It’s so important that it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. The original owner provided good housing, free health care, education and even a nursery school at a time when it was not unusual for children as young as five to work all day and never get an education at all. The Annie McLeod Experience will show you what life was like for a worker there in 1820.

Nearby, and utterly different, is the Falls of Clyde Scottish Wildlife Trust Visitor Centre, where you can see the waterfalls and woods and learn about the badgers, bats and other wildlife in the area. There’s an honesty-box for your entry money and the original Victorian self-guided trail to follow around the Falls of Clyde.

The A72 splits away from the A73 again just north of Lanark, heading through Crossford and Milton Lockhart. Milton Lockhart House used to be the big property here, but in 1988 it was taken down and moved, brick by brick, via the Trans-Siberian Railway to Japan. It now houses the World Santa and Christmas Museum, with over 1100 Santas, one of which does an Elvis impression. The recently-restored lodge, which stayed behind, can be seen across a bend in the river.

The road continues through the hamlet of Rosebank; shortly after it you briefly join the A71 at a roundabout on the Clyde before turning off again onto the A72, following the river north-west. The road goes under the M74 at junction 7, so you can join the motorway here if you want.  But you haven’t quite finished with the tourist route yet.

It continues past Chatelherault Country Park, originally a hunting lodge and summer residence for the Dukes of Hamilton and now open to the public. Set in a curve of the River Avon, Chatelherault has miles of woodland, gorge and river walks, an exhibition gallery, and parts of the original mansion to view. There’s also an adventure playground, café, gift shop and all the usual mod cons.

Chatelherault Country Park - Hunting Lodge

Chatelherault Country Park is centred on The Duke of Hamilton’s 18th century hunting lodge. Photo credit: Harry McGregor

The route officially ends just north of Chatelherault, at junction 6 of the M74, handily close to the Hamilton services. However, there’s another attraction worth visiting just the other side of the motorway. The easiest way to reach it is to go under the motorway at junction 6, on the A723, and turn left after you’ve crossed the Clyde.

Strathclyde Country Park offers a variety of watersports on the loch, and also Scotland’s Theme Park, with excellent rides for those who enjoy a good scream. At the other end of the road into the country park you’ll find yourself at junction 5 of the M74, so it’s very easy to get on to your next port of call, wherever that may be.

From Hamilton the road takes you just as easily to Glasgow and the mouth of the Clyde, Edinburgh, Stirling, Perth – in fact pretty much anywhere in Scotland. Wherever you choose to go on your motorhome tour next, we hope you’ll enjoy this off-motorway excursion for real one day soon.

Scottish National Tourist Routes: Galloway

This Scottish National Tourist Route may call itself after the county of Galloway, but it covers a lot of ground in neighbouring counties as it makes its scenic way from Gretna to Ayr. The Galloway Tourist Route (GTR on the road-signs) starts at Gretna Green, where the expression “marry in haste, repent at leisure” might have been coined. You won’t have cause to repent travelling this route but there’s no point trying to do it in haste, either.

In fact, if you’re a savvy shopper, don’t head off straight away; there’s a huge outlet “village” at Gretna that’s worth spending an hour or two in first. There’s everything from bedding through watches to waterproofs.

Gretna Green Old Smithy Marriage Anvil

A popular tourist attraction, the Grenta Green Famous Blacksmiths Shop has been around since 1712. This wedding venue is complete with symbolic anvil, exhibitions and plenty of shopping opportunities. Photo credit: Math

When you’ve finished, you leave Gretna on the B721 towards Annan. You could take the A75 if you’ve spent too much time shopping and need to get a move on, but the smaller road is prettier, with views down to the Solway Firth and across to England on your left.

Annan is a good place to stop, especially if you’re a keen cyclist: there are miles of marked cycle routes around here. Annan itself is worth a wander, too. It’s a fine old market town, situated near the mouth of the River Annan, with a lighthouse on the point to guide shipping on its way up the often foggy Solway.

You cross the river out of Annan, turning left onto the B724 and heading for Dumfries.  Alternatively, if you’re ready to stop for the night, take the A75 out of town and then head almost due north up the B723 to Hoddom Castle Caravan Park, where you can spend the night in the shadow of a 16th century Border keep. You can pick up the A75 again the following morning at Carrutherstown to reach Dumfries.

Dumfries is the biggest town in the area and boasts one of Scotland’s oldest bridges, dating from the 12th century. Greyfriars Church is built on the site of a crime-scene: the monastery where Robert the Bruce murdered John Balliol to improve his own chances of becoming King of Scots. There’s also the Robert Burns Centre (not to be confused with the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum, which you have the chance to visit later en route) and you can raise a toast to him at one of his favourite pubs, the Globe Inn. More recent past residents include “Peter Pan” author JM Barrie and racing driver David Coulthard.

Just south of Dumfries is the Mabie 7stanes mountain bike trail centre which caters for all levels of expertise from beginners up, with a skills area and woodland trails.

From Dumfries you take the A711 to Dalbeattie and Castle Douglas. An alternative route, avoiding Dalbeattie, is the Old Military Road, which branches off the A711 just outside Cargenbridge and goes to Castle Douglas via Lochfoot and Haugh of Urr. It’s one of many military roads built across Scotland by General Wade after the 1745 Jacobite Rising.

However, if you’re a keen mountain-biker, you’ll probably want to go via Dalbeattie, as it’s home to another of the 7stanes mountain biking centres. It’s famous for its technical trails and terrific coastal views.

There’s now a bypass round Castle Douglas if you don’t fancy driving through the middle of it, but it would be a shame to use it. This 18th century market town is a designated “food town”, with plenty of delicious local produce available, so it’s definitely worth a visit.

Carlingwark Loch on the outskirts of town is a great place for both walking and (free) fishing for pike and perch. Despite the name, you won’t find a castle in the town: there were two successive Roman forts but they were abandoned around the year 160 AD. But there is a proper one nearby, at Threave.

Threave Castle

Threave Castle is situated on an island and can only be reached by boat. Photo credit: Paul Stevenson

Threave Castle was built for Archibald the Grim in 1369, on an island in the middle of the River Dee. To visit it you take a boat across the river. Nearby Threave House and Gardens, a later and rather more comfortable property run by the National Trust for Scotland, is also Scotland’s only bat reserve. Both are worth taking a short detour to visit.

From Castle Douglas your route heads north-west on the A713 up Loch Ken to New Galloway.  It’s a very pretty road with helpfully wide straight stretches where other vehicles can overtake you. Along the way, you can stop and enjoy the woodland and moorland walks on the right of the road.

On the left, at Parton, you’ll find Loch Ken Holiday Park, which has hard-standing pitches for motorhomes. Situated right on the loch edge, it has boats, kayaks and pedalos for hire, as well as two children’s play-parks and loch-side fishing. It also boasts its own herb garden, making it a great stop for both outdoor and food enthusiasts. Every August the village of Parton hosts the Scottish Alternative Games, which includes events as diverse as tractor pulling and snail racing.

Tiny New Galloway is Scotland’s smallest Royal Burgh. It was – and still is – an important crossroads and market town: roads from the whole south-west of Scotland meet there. Nowadays it’s a centre for cycling, golf, fishing and water sports. Kenmure Castle, nearby, has been burnt down not once but three times!

Heading on up the Water of Ken, your next port of call has a name almost as big as the village: St John’s Town of Dalry. Not surprisingly, it’s often shortened to plain Dalry (not to be confused with Dalry in Ayrshire). This pretty and ancient pilgrim town is popular with walkers on the Southern Upland Way long-distance footpath. Nearby is the site of Lochinvar Castle, immortalised by Walter Scott in “The Young Lochinvar”. Sadly you can’t visit it, as it’s now at the bottom of a reservoir.

From St John’s Town you have two options: the official route along the west of Earlstoun Loch on the A713 or the higher and narrower B7000, which is less suitable for motorhomes. They meet again at Carsphairn, up on the moors. This part of the country is more like the Highlands than the rest of the south-west, bleakly beautiful.

It ends with a sudden, unheralded plunge as the road tumbles down Glen Muck, back into softer country. Dalmellington is a former mining town, in a fabulous setting but not very tourist-orientated. The road bypasses it, following the River Doon north-west towards Ayr, and you should probably do the same: you’re near your destination now.

Ayr is a popular seaside resort with a reputation for being “genteel”. The town dates back to the 1200s and was a busy port for centuries. Its main attractions include a racecourse, which dates back to the 16th century, the esplanade and sandy beach, and the Citadel with its cannon. It also has the great (and increasingly rare) advantage of plentiful free parking.

Culzean Castle and grounds

Culzean Castle & Country Park is a fantastic day out for families, with woods, beaches, a play park, and of course a magnificent castle to explore. Photo credit: Muhammad Younas

Further out of town you’ll find the award-winning Burns Birthplace Museum at Alloway, Donald Trump’s Turnberry golf course, and at least three motorhome-accommodating campsites within easy reach. Culzean Castle and Gardens is a short drive south along the coast and Ardrossan, where the ferries leave for Arran, a little further northwards.

Ayr’s a good place to end your journey on the Galloway Tourist Route, looking across the water towards the sunset, the Isle of Arran and the Mull of Kintyre.

Scottish National Tourist Routes: The Solway Coast Heritage Trail

The Solway coast is a place of enchantment, water-colour views and gentle hills. It is full of sites of historic importance – ancient monasteries, duns and castles – and spectacular gardens. The Solway Firth produces excellent seafood and the local dairy and beef farmers are deservedly proud of their produce.

You officially start the Solway Coast National Tourist Route at Annan. However, if you want to keep driving when you finish the Borders route, you can take the beginning of the Galloway National Tourist Route from Gretna. The road keeps as near to the coast as possible and the Solway Coast Heritage Trail is easy to follow because it’s way-marked with the symbol of a Celtic cross.

You leave Gretna on the B721, heading for Annan, with views across either water or mudflats, depending on the state of the tide. This area used to be a military ammunition storage depot and there’s a museum all about it at Eastriggs.

Heading into Annan

Annan is a handsome old market town. There’s a long-distance path starting from here, as well as a series of cycle routes, so it’s a good place to park up for a day or two and explore under your own steam. It’s also a good place to stock up on supplies of food and drink, with plenty of good shops in town.

Annan Bridge & Town Hall2

Annan Bridge and Town Hall

You leave Annan on the Dumfries road but almost immediately turn left onto the B724. This is not your standard tourist route: it’s flat and somewhat dull. But you soon head back to the coast, at Ruthwell. There’s an important coastal nature reserve here with rare orchids, ospreys and migrating birds. If your interests are more historical, head for Caerlaverock Castle, with its moat and uniquely (for Britain at least) triangular shape.

Caerlaverock Castle Dumfries2

Caerlaverock Castle in Dumfries, with its unique triangular shape

Heading north along the River Nith

From Caerlaverock you follow the River Nith north towards Glencaple and Dumfries, where you touch base with the Galloway Tourist Route again. Dumfries is the largest town in this part of Scotland. It has all the usual shops and some interesting buildings in the town centre and a pretty riverside park, so it makes a good stopping-place.

Sweetheart Abbey at New Abbey

After Dumfries the Solway Coast route separates again from the Galloway one, and you head south along the A710. At New Abbey you’ll find the ruins of Sweetheart Abbey, founded by Lady Devorgilla. She was the wife of John Balliol, King of Scots 1292-1296 (his father founded Balliol College, Oxford).

Sweetheart Abbey at New Abbey Scotland2

Sweetheart Abbey at New Abbey, founded by Lady Devorgilla

The name of the Abbey has two possible origins. The official one is that the monks named it after Lady Devorgilla’s devotion to her husband; the other is that it’s where she buried his heart (the rest of him is interred in France). Maybe both are true – it’s worth a visit to find out!

Settle in at Southerness Holiday Park by the Beach

After New Abbey you’ll find Southerness Holiday Park, which has hard-standing pitches for tourers and sits right on the beach so you can watch the sun set over the Solway Firth. Its facilities include an indoor pool, in case your idea of holiday bliss doesn’t include sea-and-mud bathing.

The road potters on towards Dalbeattie. If you take the side-road to Rockcliffe and park in the village, you can walk up to the Mote of Mark, a hill-fort dating from the 5th century, where items have been found that were traded from all over Europe. It makes for a good short leg-stretch.

Meeting up with the Galloway Tourist Route Once More

At Dalbeattie you cross the Urr Water, meeting up with the Galloway Tourist Route for the final time, and then head south again, taking the scenic route to Kirkcudbright (pronounced Kircoobry, naturally). The town’s name comes from “Kirk of St Cuthbert” and it was an early centre of monasticism.

Bridge over the River Dee2

Bridge over the River Dee at Kirkcudbright

It’s a picturesque place, with pastel-coloured houses, a ruined castle and a harbour all vying for attention. It was a wealthy cloth-trading town well into recent history, and there’s plenty to catch the eye as you wander round town.

From Kirkcudbright you head for Gatehouse of Fleet. There are several routes you could follow (the official one is the A75) but none of them take you very close to the coast: most of the roads to the sea are dead-ends.

Gatehouse is another pretty painted town that’s worth a wander. When you leave it, you’ll get plenty of coastline to follow: the route clings to Wigtown Bay like a lover. The road now misses Creetown, preferring the marshes, but it’s another pretty town if you fancy bypassing the bypass.

Heading into Newton Stewart

Next stop is Newton Stewart, an intriguing old town straddling the River Cree, which is popular with anglers. The town is comparatively recent, dating from the 17th century: it was the New Town of Stewart, and was obviously prosperous as it held two markets a week.

If you’re a book-lover, schedule some time in your next port of call, Wigtown. It bills itself as Scotland’s Book Town, and there are bookshops all over the place (mostly for second-hand books). It can be a very expensive stop-over…!

The route changes number a short distance further on, from the A714 to the A746. It takes you to Whithorn, site of an ancient Priory, which lies hidden up a side street of the town. You can also make the short detour to the Isle of Whithorn, which stopped being an island when people started building houses along the causeway from the mainland. Originally it was a place of peace for medieval monks, now it’s a thriving harbour village.

Port William

Port William, not to be confused with Fort Wiliam, is your next stop. Shortly before you reach it, on the hill above Barshalloch Point, sits the 2,000 year-old ruins of Barshalloch Fort, a defensive farmstead. From up here you can see all the way to the Isle of Man (source of many pirate raids in days gone by), the Mull of Galloway and even Northern Ireland on a clear day.

After Port William you follow the coast most of the way to Glenluce. There’s a ruined abbey just outside the town there; the local tower house, the Castle of Park, is owned by the Landmark Trust and isn’t open to view.

Glenluce Abbey - Andy Muir2

Glenluce Abbey just outside of Glenluce town. Photo credit: Andy Muir

Sands of Luce, one of Scotland’s Top Beaches

The vast expanse of the Sands of Luce, just south of the town, regularly make the list of Scotland’s top beaches. You reach them from the appropriately-named village of Sandhead. There’s an award-winning touring caravan park on the Sands that takes motorhomes and has (so they say) the best views in Galloway.

The sands follow the coast all the way down the Rhins of Galloway, as does your route.  Galloway’s unique climate means that there are six major gardens, open to the public, in this corner of Scotland. Three are on the Rhins, one’s at Portpatrick and the other two are between Stranraer and Newton Stewart. So if you’re a garden fan, this is a great place to visit.

Scotland’s Most Southerly Point, the Mull of Galloway

The last few miles to Scotland’s most southerly point, the Mull of Galloway, are on unclassified roads. There’s an RSPB centre, and a lighthouse which houses the Mull of Galloway Experience (you can climb all the way to the top, if you want).

Your route home goes via Port Logan, Portpatrick (which has a stunning harbour as well as the garden) and Stranraer, which used to be the port for ferries to Northern Ireland. This is where the Solway Coast Heritage Trail ends, on Loch Ryan. From here you can head on up the coast to Ayrshire, or head inland via Newton Stewart to Edinburgh, depending how much time you have.

If you want to discover Scotland’s south-west corner for yourself, please get in touch to plan your motorhome escape.

Scottish National Tourist Routes: Edinburgh to the Borders

This Scottish National Tourist Route is quite short – only 95 miles end to end – so it allows for plenty of interesting diversions. It follows one of the ancient routes from Edinburgh to the English Border, starting right in the middle of Scotland’s historic capital, on Princes Street. The road is better known these days as the A7; a very dull name but at least it’s easy to follow on signposts.

Edinburgh

Based just 10 minutes from Edinburgh Airport, we’re in the ideal location if you want to start your tour of Scotland with a trip to the beautiful capital. However, it’s better not to take a motorhome into the middle of Edinburgh as it can be a little difficult and frustrating to drive in. If you leave your campervan in one of the Park and Ride car parks and travel into the city by public transport, you’ll have a much more relaxing day and be able to see the sights at leisure.

You could easily spend a whole day walking along the Royal Mile from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace and the Scottish Parliament building. All three are worth visiting and there’s plenty more, including St Giles’ Cathedral, to see on the way. If you’re more interested in shopping, go to Princes Street and the New Town beyond. Whatever your tastes, you’ll find something to suit you in Edinburgh.

Heading out to start the tourist route, you need to leave the city by-pass at the Sheriffhall Junction, where it’s signposted to Carlisle. You could take your first diversion right here, by turning left onto the A6094 to Bonnyrigg and Roslin to visit the ornately-carved Rosslyn Chapel (made famous in the film The Da Vinci Code).

Rosslyn Chapel, founded in 1446, holds services weekly. Visitors can explore the chapel, grounds, and visitor centre. Visit their website for full details on opening hours and prices.

Rosslyn Chapel, founded in 1446, continues to hold services weekly. Visitors can explore the chapel, grounds, and visitor centre. Visit their website for full details on opening hours and prices.

A little further down the A7 is Newtongrange. It was a mining village, and the Queen Victoria pit has been revived as the National Mining Museum. So if you’ve ever wanted to know what life down the pits was like, this is the place to find out.

Galashiels and the Border Abbeys

Between Newtongrange and Galashiels you may spot a steam train puffing along the newly-reopened Borders Railway. Mostly they run normal trains, which are popular with commuters and shoppers, but steam train excursions are a regular feature.

The A7 skirts round the borders of the town of Galashiels, and keeps you out of the town centre, so you get to see all the supermarkets and retail parks instead of the interesting historic buildings. Park in one of the retail parks and take a wander into the centre: it’s an elegant town with a long history and worth an hour or two of your time.

From Galashiels you can either follow the A7 or take a couple of very different detours. The first would be to head west along the north side of the River Tweed and try out the mountain bike routes at Glentress Forest, just before Peebles, and at Innerleithen. Glentress in particular is great for families, with different trail grades to cater for all abilities. And if you want to add to the group activities, there’s also a GoApe adventure set amongst the trees. If you haven’t got mountain bikes with you, don’t worry, you can hire bikes from Alpine Bikes at Glentress (and stop off at the cafe for some tasty treats and nibbles) as well as Innerleithen.

Mountain biking in the Tweed Valley, the perfect location for a short break full of adventure and history. Photo credit: aliweb_gt

Mountain biking in the Tweed Valley, the perfect location for a short break full of adventure and history. Photo credit: aliweb_gt

The other diversion is rather more cultural: it takes you to Abbotsford, the writer Sir Walter Scott’s extraordinary home, built in the Scottish Baronial style just outside Melrose. From there you can go on to Melrose itself, which has an ancient Abbey and a modern Peace Garden; the town itself is also worth seeing.

Further away from your route, but in the same direction as Melrose, are three other ruined abbeys, Dryburgh, Kelso and Jedburgh. The Scottish Borders are excellent farming country and the abbeys were large-scale landowners. Even as ruins, the size and beauty of the buildings shows how rich these communities became.

Selkirk

Your official route continues from Selkirk, a market town set high on a hill above the river (the Ettrick Water). You may find the zig-zag road through town a bit daunting, but 44-tonne trucks manage it! You might want to park up after manoeuvring around it, and the town is worth a visit anyway.

Every June Selkirk holds the Common Riding, when horse-men and -women ride round the boundaries of the town lands. This event dates back some 400 years.  Originally it was performed to check that no-one was squatting on the land but now it’s more of a social occasion. It’s the one day of the year when taking a motorhome through the town is probably best avoided.

If you happen to be in the area that day, you can miss Selkirk by heading for Moffat on the A708 instead. It’s a pretty drive through the hills and past St Mary’s Loch and the Grey Mare’s Tail waterfall, which provides a good walk up a steep hill (you can walk anywhere in Scotland, provided you do no damage and leave gates as you found them). The Grey Mare’s Tail is National Trust for Scotland property and there’s an honesty-box in the car park at the bottom for non-members to pay for its upkeep.

Alternatively, just stay in a campsite near Selkirk and join in the fun!

Hawick and the south

If you stick to the A7, your next stop is Hawick, which is noted for its sheep and was another important market town. If you want to stretch your legs, the hills in this area are full of forts and ancient earthworks. Fights and cattle-thieving from both sides of the Border were fairly constant here until the 18th century.

From Hawick the road runs up and down the Teviot Hills to Langholm. It’s an exhilarating run with plenty of bends, some of them sharp, so take it gently. A stroll around the historic town will provide a welcome break before heading for Canonbie. The village has been bypassed since a landslide ruined the old road but it’s worth the short detour to visit it.

Shortly after Canonbie you cross the border into England and have two options: south to the historic town of Carlisle, which dates back to Roman times and boasts both a castle and a cathedral, or west on the A6071 to Gretna Green and its tourist shops. Or both – you’re on holiday!

Both Carlisle and Gretna are on the M6, which will take you happily back to Glasgow and Edinburgh. If you’re not ready to stop yet, Gretna marks the start of the Galloway Tourist Route, which will be covered in another blog.

 

Scottish National Tourist Routes: East coast, Kincardine to Stonehaven

This post covers two Scottish National Tourist Routes around the east coast: the Fife coastal route from Kincardine to Newport and the Angus coastal route from Dundee to Stonehaven. As they’re both quite short and you can comfortably cover them in a week’s holiday, it makes sense to combine them for your driving tour.

Scotland’s east coast tourist route

Instead of crossing the Firth of Forth on the Forth Road Bridge or the new Queensferry Crossing, the route starts further west, on the Kincardine Bridge. Built in the 1930s, it’s low above the water and not very beautiful. It used to be a swing bridge but it’s been sealed shut, since large ships no longer go this far up the Forth. In very windy weather, high-sided vehicles are re-routed across the Kincardine Bridge from the higher bridges further east, to stop them being blown over.

The area north of the bridge is largely industrial and as unlovely as the bridge, but the village of Culross (pronounced coo-ross) is a hidden gem. Almost unchanged since the 17th century, much of it is now owned by the National Trust for Scotland. It is often used as a set for period films, and most recently starred in “Outlander”. There’s a ruined Abbey, the Palace (actually a merchant’s house), cobbled streets and photo opportunities round every corner.

From Culross you follow the B9037 through High Valleyfield and Torryburn until you rejoin the A985 and on to Rosyth. There’s nothing much of interest along this stretch. Rosyth has a ruined church and Castle but the latter is in the dock area so it’s closed for safety reasons.

You cross the M90 at Rosyth, leaving the fast-moving traffic to thunder north as you journey gently eastwards. North Queensferry is worth a visit, though the streets are quite narrow for large vehicles like motorhomes; you can use the Park and Ride facility at Halbeath and take a bus into the town. It has a small harbour between the Forth Bridge (the railway) and the Forth Road Bridge, and a passenger ferry across to South Queensferry that runs practically beneath the rail bridge.

Back on the road, Silversands Bay, Burntisland and Kinghorn all have good beaches, and there are plenty of campsites along this stretch of coast. Kirkcaldy offers an excellent walk along the sea-edge and a splendidly wide esplanade. Dysart has a small but pretty harbour and Wemyss is also attractive. But most of this stretch is built up and varies from “not terribly interesting” to “ugly industrial”.

The East Neuk of Fife

The real joy of the Fife coast lies in the East Neuk. From Upper Largo, take the A917 to discover this beautiful and deservedly-famous corner of Scotland, full of ancient and picturesque fishing villages. The first one you come to is Elie, which offers both a lighthouse and the Lady’s Tower on the headland (Ness) outside the village. Earlsferry, next door to Elie but off the main road, is also worth a visit for its fine harbour.

crail harbour

The East Nuek of Fife has numerous picturesque little fishing villages and harbours. Photo credit:  James Stringer

St Monans is also off the main road but it’s worth the detour, full of narrow cobbled alleys and still bustling with life. Pittenweem, Anstruther and Crail follow a similar pattern. Anstruther is the largest of this group, with two harbours; it hosts an annual art-and-craft open studios event that attracts creative types from all over Fife. There’s also an annual chamber music festival in the East Neuk, but you have to book early if you want tickets.

From Crail you head on up the coast to St Andrews, Prince William’s alma mater. The University was actually founded in Edinburgh but moved to St Andrews so that the students would have less to distract them from their studies. St Andrews also boasts a ruined Cathedral and the Archbishop’s Palace, both of which are open to the public.

St Andrews is, of course, famous for golf, too! And if you like shopping for bargains, the charity shops in the town are renowned for the quality of their goods. The best time to visit is May, when the University students finish for the summer and have to clear out their rooms.

From St Andrews, the road takes you past Leuchars, where the church is worth a visit, and turns right along the coast at the St Michaels crossroads. This road takes you up to Tayport, where the River Tay meets the sea. Tentsmuir Forest is a lovely place to stretch your legs, with miles of marked paths and fine views across the Firth of Tay.

Dundee

The Fife coast route ends at Newport, where the Tay Road Bridge crosses into Dundee; this is where the Angus coast route starts. Look left as you cross the bridge, over to the Tay (rail) Bridge. The original bridge was the site of the Tay Bridge Disaster, immortalised by Scotland’s other national poet, William McGonagall, and you can still see the pillars of that first bridge sticking up out of the river.

Dundee, the home of “jam, jute and journalism”, is worth a visit before you move on: it’s undergoing something of a renaissance at the moment. Its main museums, Discovery Point, Verdant Works and the MacManus Gallery, will shortly be joined by the V&A Museum of Design, in a spectacular building that looks like a ship jutting out above the river. Dundee is also the home of HMS Unicorn, one of the oldest wooden ships still floating, which is also open to the public.

Into Angus

The official coastal route is the A92, a dual carriageway that avoids all the towns between Dundee and Arbroath. The slower but more interesting route takes you along the A930 through Broughty Ferry, where the castle looks across the Tay to Tayport along the line of the old ferry route. It’s now a museum and art gallery, and you may be lucky enough to spot a dolphin or two from the observation post.

Broughty Ferry was where Dundee’s “jute barons” had their summer homes, and there are some terrific examples of grand Victorian architecture in the town.

The road continues through Monifieth and Barry to Carnoustie, another home of golf. There’s a good beach for walking at East Haven before the road heads up to rejoin the dual carriageway on its way to Arbroath.

Arbroath

Arbroath is famous for its Abbey, site of the signing of the Declaration of Arbroath. This was a letter to the Pope from the nobles of the area, complaining about the English King: another broadside in the long battle for Scottish independence.

Arbroath Abbey

Arbroath Abbey, associated with the Declaration of Arbroath of 1320. Photo credit: alternateangle

Less well-known, but equally fascinating, is the Signal-Tower Museum, on the water-front near the harbour. It looks like a lighthouse but was actually used to signal to the keepers of the Bell Rock Lighthouse, eleven miles out to sea, and tells the story of the building of the lighthouse and of the people who worked there.

Arbroath’s other claim to fame is smokies (hot-smoked haddock; not to be confused with kippers, which are smoked herrings). You can buy them at any fishmonger around the port area – just follow your nose! The old fishing harbour is now a marina full of leisure boats.

Smokies didn’t originate in Arbroath: they were invented in Auchmithie, just up the road.  It’s a tiny, picturesque fishing village on a dead-end road, so park outside the village and walk in if you want to visit it (you can walk all the way there along the coast from Arbroath, if you’re feeling energetic). The harbour is no longer used.

North of Arbroath is one of the best beaches in Angus: Lunan Bay. There’s a big car park and a snack shop, but it gets very busy on a sunny summer’s day.  Red Castle, across the river from the main beach, is a sandstone ruin whose stone has been wonderfully carved by centuries of wind and rain.

Montrose

Back onto the tourist route past the tiny hamlet of Lunan, your next stop is Montrose. The church spire can be seen for miles – it’s been a landmark for sailors for centuries.  In fact, it was deemed so important that the spire doesn’t belong to the church but to the town.

Montrose is a handsome old town with some fine architecture, especially along the very broad High Street and its alleyways. The port is busy, having had considerable investment poured into it over the past few years. The Basin, a tidal lagoon, is an important over-wintering area for sea-birds.

St Cyrus beach is 3 miles of beautiful views of sea, cliffs and sand dunes. Photo credit:Neil Williamson

St Cyrus beach is 3 miles of beautiful views of sea, cliffs and sand dunes. Photo credit:Neil Williamson

There’s another wildlife reserve a little further north, at St Cyrus. With waterproof footwear and at low tide, you could walk all the way here along the beach from Montrose, but most people find it easier to drive. The nature reserve covers the dunes and the grassy area behind them, so dogs can be let off the lead once you reach the beach.

At the far end of the long, long sandy beach there’s a waterfall. To reach it you have to cross a moonscape of lava, full of rock-pools – it’s very easy to spend a whole day here.

Aberdeenshire

St Cyrus is technically in Aberdeenshire, but the sign just before the turning down to the beach tells you that it used to be in the historic county of Kincardineshire – nothing to do with the Kincardine Bridge you crossed at the beginning of this tour. It was named for Kincardine Castle, which used to be the centre of local government.

Back up on top of the cliffs you drive through St Cyrus village to Inverbervie, where the designer of the tea-clipper Cutty Sark was born. There’s a monument to him just before you leave the town. The tiny village of Catterline is pretty but, like Auchmithie, the roads are a bit too narrow for a large motorhome.

So your next stop is likely to be Dunottar Castle, in a spectacular position on a headland just outside Stonehaven. It’s surrounded on three sides by water and on the fourth by a steep climb down the cliff and then back up again. Many people just take photos and move on, but it is definitely worth a visit if you’re able. The “Grecian temple” on the hill nearby is a war memorial.

Beyond Dunottar lies the sturdy town of Stonehaven, and the end of the route. From here you can take the Slug Road (really!) to Banchory and Royal Deeside or the A90 dual carriageway north to Aberdeen or south to Dundee, Perth and Edinburgh. Whichever way you go, there’s plenty to see and lots more adventure awaiting you.

Travelling the Scottish National Tourist Routes: Argyll

America has the Pacific Coast Highway and Route 66. Norway has the Atlantic Highway. But Scotland has no fewer than 12 National Tourist Routes to showcase her beauties. If you’re not in a hurry – and  why would you be, with such spectacular scenery around? – they’re worth exploring. The Argyll Coastal Route takes a triangular (and not always coastal) path around one of Scotland’s loveliest regions.

The bonnie banks

You start at Tarbet, on the bonnie and famous banks of Loch Lomond, go down to Lochgilphead and then up through Oban to Ballachulish. It’s definitely not the direct route – in fact it looks somewhat like the outline of India and is 150 miles long – but you’ll see more country and less traffic than on the main road.

The A82 road up the west side of Loch Lomond carries a lot of traffic and it’s a relief to leave it at Tarbet for the quieter A83 to Arrochar and the equally beautiful Loch Long. Loch Lomond is a fresh-water lake, but Loch Long is one of the many fjord-like sea lochs on Scotland’s west coast.

Arrochar sits at the foot of several Munros, hills over 3,ooo feet (914 metres) high, which are popular with walkers and climbers. People who attempt to climb all of them are known as “Munro baggers”. If you fancy a spot of Munro bagging, the Walk Highlands website has lots of useful information on the most popular walking routes, and covers easy, short walks right through to multi-day treks.

Rest and be Thankful. Photo credit: Jessedouglas

Rest and be Thankful. Photo credit: Jessedouglas

From Arrochar you head for Ardgartan, which has way-marked walking and bike trails through the forestry. After Ardgartan you leave the sea for a while, heading through the  hilly wooded Glen Croe. The stop at the top of the pass is called the Rest and Be Thankful: horse-drawn vehicles and even early motorised ones would have found the climb very hard going.

If you stop to rest and give thanks, look out for the stone that commemorates the “”Military Road Repaired by 93rd Regt 1768 Transferred to Commissioners for Highland Roads and Bridges in the year 1814”. This was one of several military roads built across Scotland in the 1700s, originally to keep the Jacobites under control.

The longest loch

It’s not quite downhill all the way from here to Loch Fyne, but it’s not far off it. The 40-mile long Loch Fyne is one of the longest sea-lochs in Scotland, if not the longest.  It’s famous for its kippers (smoked herrings) and other sea-food.  Just before you reach it, Ardkinglas Woodland Garden at Cairndow is worth a visit. From Cairndow you travel right round the head of the loch, with spectacular views down the length of it.

Many streams run into the loch, so you cross a whole series of bridges on the way to Inverurie.  Inverurie Castle, home of the Dukes of Argyll, is open to the public, as is the old town Jail. The town is worth a walk round, too, with some handsome architecture and excellent tea shops.

A little further down the loch is Furnace, once the site of an iron foundry. There’s nothing left of it to see, and the road continues to Lochgilphead along the side of the loch. There are plenty of places along the way to stop and enjoy the view, have a cup of tea or just let traffic overtake you.

A little south of Lochgilphead is Ardrishaig. It’s worth the slight detour to see the Crinan Canal, which cuts through the Mull of Kintyre from here to save boats the long journey round it.  It’s a very pretty canal to walk along – all 9 miles of it!

Mull of Kintyre

The Tourist Route also crosses the Mull of Kintyre, running north-west from Lochgilphead up the A816. If you’re a fan of prehistory, stop at Dunadd, historic coronation site of the Kings of Dalriada, and at Kilmartin Glen, where you can find standing stones and stone circles from even earlier.

Carnasserie Castle, a mile or so further on, is a fine 16th Century ruin in the care of Historic Environment Scotland. It was once the home of the first Protestant Bishop of the Isles and has magnificent views back to Kilmartin Glen; in fact you can see some of the standing stones from the castle tower.

There’s little view of the sea for many miles on this stretch of the road – just an occasional glimpse to remind you that it’s meant to be a coastal route. But once you’ve passed the signs to the yacht harbour at Craobh Haven you’re back at the waterside, following the southern edge of Loch Melfort to Kilmelford before heading back inland.

If you time it right, you may be lucky enough to watch the sun set over Seil and Luing, two islands so close to the mainland they hardly count as islands. You can reach Seil by the grandiosely-named but tiny Atlantic Bridge, properly called the Clachan Bridge. It dates from 1792 (though it’s been altered since then to stop sheep jumping off it) and joins the island to the mainland over a river-wide stretch of sea.

There’s a ferry from Seil to Luing, which used to be famous for its slate mines. When the sea flooded them all the equipment was left behind and they were abandoned.

If you want to explore the coast around here, you’re best to park your motorhome and use a bike. The tiny roads are not really designed for large motor vehicles (though plenty use them) and the locals will be grateful to you.

O Ban: the small bay

From Kilninver the road heads inland along the southern shore of Loch Feochan before crossing  rugged, rocky country on its way to Oban. The island of Kerrera appears to block Oban Bay, but the town is in fact a busy ferry port, with regular sailings to Mull and the Inner and Outer Hebrides.

Oban is an important centre for scuba diving, for both recreational and professional divers. Another big  attraction is the “hollow mountain”, Ben Cruachan, which houses a hydro-electric power station one kilometre underground. The local distillery is also worth a visit – but be aware that Scotland’s drink-driving laws are some of the toughest in Europe!

Dunstaffnage Castle, dating from before 1240, is one of Scotland’s oldest stone castles. Photo credit:Greg_Men

Dunstaffnage Castle, dating from before 1240, is one of Scotland’s oldest stone castles. Photo credit:Greg_Men

Just the other side of Oban, a visit to Dunstaffnage Castle is worth the slight detour before you turn onto the A828. Crossing the Connel Bridge, over the Falls of Lora at the neck of Loch Etive, the road continues across the Benderloch peninsula to Loch Creran, a lovely sea-loch almost cut off from the sea by the island of Eriska.

You can either cross the loch via the Creagan bridge or take the pretty but narrow road that travels all the way round it. If you want to bag a few Munros, the longer road gives you access to three.

The last leg

From Creagan you cross the Strath of Appin to Portnacroish – look out for the photogenic Castle Stalker lurking on its island at the mouth of Loch Laich. You then follow the shores of Loch Linnhe north-east all the way to Ballachulish, with a slight detour inland  between Duror and Kentallen.

This is a spectacular road for photographers. Cuil Bay, just before you reach Duror, has a glorious sandy beach that features in Robert Louis Stevenson’s adventure story “Kidnapped”.

At Ballachulish Bridge the A828 joins the A82. Turn right to reach Ballachulish itself, another old slate-mining town, which lies at the foot of a Munro and offers plenty of excellent forest walks.  Turn onto the road that circles Loch Leven to enjoy your journey a little while longer. The road was built by first World War prisoners of war to reach an aluminium smelter (no longer there) at Kinlochleven.

If you’re heading south from here you can return across the Ballachulish Bridge on the A82 towards Perth, Glasgow and Edinburgh via Glen Coe. The road north, whether you cross the bridge or go round the loch, takes you to Fort William, Loch Ness and Inverness.

But for the Argyll National Tourist Route, Ballachulish is the end of the road. If you’ve enjoyed the trip, do let us know!

A Family-Friendly Easter in Scotland

Wondering how to entertain the kids over the Easter break?  Hire a motorhome and go exploring!  Scotland has plenty to offer, indoors and out, to keep the most energetic youngster happy. Easter is traditionally the start of the Scottish tourism season, though it’s late this year and most attractions will be open from the beginning of April.

Cities and museums

Many museums are laying on special events over the Easter holidays. Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee Science Museums all have exhibitions aimed at both young and older visitors. Dundee has storytelling sessions for 3-5 year-olds; Edinburgh want you to Get Connected; and Glasgow’s Science Museum will show you how things work – it’s always been a practical sort of city.

The Scottish National Museum in Edinburgh is going ape for most of April, with monkeys everywhere and plenty of hands-on activities. They also have an exhibition of Scottish pottery, as part of Scotland’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology, and another about ancient Egyptian burial rituals. In fact, you could spend several days here and not get bored.

Glasgow has plenty going on, starting with the Clydebank Mega Value Carnival at the Play Drome. If your kids like funfairs then this is the big one, and your entry ticket gives you unlimited rides. Luckily, the entry only lasts for a morning or afternoon so parents can have a chance to recover! Perhaps an afternoon at the Scotland Street School Museum, in Glasgow’s South Side, will bring the kids back to earth.

Then there’s the rather excellent Riverside Museum on the Clyde, which has a range of activities throughout the month, from making mobiles and giant slides to designing posters and mini-fairgrounds.

Take to the water

If you prefer the sea to the city, head to Anstruther on the East Neuk of Fife, for “The Navigatio” exhibition of drawings on the theme of St Brendan (who may or may not have travelled as far as North America in his hide-covered boat).

You could take a boat trip yourselves, and see one of the great engineering wonders of Britain at the same time, at the Falkland Wheel. This replaces a flight of 11 canal locks with two “gondolas”, which carry boats from the Forth& Clyde canal up to the Union canal.  The process used to take all day and a lot of physical effort; now it takes around 15 minutes and uses about as much energy as boiling six kettles.

If you walk along the Union Canal towpath a short way you can do a spot of time-travelling: there’s a tunnel under the Roman Antonine Way, so you go from the 21st century to the 1st in a few hundred yards.

Kelpies sculptures at Helix Park

The majestic Kelpies sculptures at Helix Park. Photo credit: Steven Straiton

Only a few miles away is another canal-side attraction, the huge and weirdly beautiful metal horse-head Kelpies in Falkirk’s Helix Park. You can hire a pedal-boat and see them up close on the lagoon or take a walk and admire them from a distance.

There’s an Adventure Zone with equipment for children from age 2 upwards and, if the weather’s good, you can also take advantage of their splash play area. There are miles of cycling trails to follow if you’ve brought bikes with you (our motorhomes all have bike racks, and we can hire you bikes if you haven’t brought your own).

History, battles and beasts

If you want a bit more noise and excitement, Bannockburn near Stirling was the site of one of the major battles in Scotland’s bloody history, in 1315. Find out all about it at the Battle of Bannockburn Experience, where you even get the chance to “take part” and help determine the outcome for yourself.  If that’s a bit much for sensitive members of the family, they can watch from the gallery!

Close by there’s excitement of a different kind: Blair Drummond Safari Park, where you can drive through four individual wildlife reserves and see rhinos, zebras, lions, camels and monkeys up close, take a boat trip over to Chimp Island, or watch a bird of prey display. Kids can let off steam on the wooden castle and pirate ship, or take the zip ride across the river.

For both history and stunning views, a trip to Dunottar Castle near Stonehaven is hard to beat. It’s a hard-ish climb down and up from the car park to the castle (and back), so be prepared.  Dunottar is a ruin sitting very commandingly on a promontory above the sea. Its history includes the imprisonment of Covenanters and the preservation of Scotland’s Crown Jewels from Cromwell’s clutches. It’s also breathtakingly beautiful.

Glamis Castle, a little further south in Angus, is another great place to take children. There’s plenty of armour, history and ghosts indoors and a play-park, woodland walk and nature trail outside. For the Easter weekend they’re organising woodland activities as well as an Easter egg hunt.

And, of course, eggs

On Easter Sunday itself (April 16th), Traquair House, near Innerleithen in the Borders, invites you to an Easter Eggstravaganza. The fun starts at 12, but you can get in an hour before that and explore, or go round the house (it costs extra but is definitely worth a visit: it’s Scotland’s oldest inhabited house). They promise the biggest egg-hunt in the Borders and plenty more fun throughout the day.

Glamis Castle

Castles are great places for a family fun day out. Photo credit: Shemsu.Hor

Historic Environment Scotland (they used to be just Historic Scotland) also have their Easter Eggsplorer Trail events happening at properties all over the country from Skara Brae to Dryburgh Abbey and Dumbarton Castle to Fort George. At Stirling Castle they’re running themed craft activities the same weekend – leave the moppets among the paint-pots while you see the wonderful results of the recent restoration works at the Castle.

If none of that appeals, there are plenty of beaches, forest trails and lochs to visit, most of which won’t cost you a penny and can keep children occupied all day.

One thing’s for sure: you shouldn’t run the risk of that terrible cry “Mu-um, I’m bored” if you’re in Scotland this Easter!  There’s so much to do all over the country.  You just have to head out there and find it.

Our motorhomes are both transport and a home-from-home for your explorations.  With power steering, six full berths, TV and DVD players, picnic table and chairs and plenty of space inside, you’ll be safe and comfortable whatever Scotland’s weather is up to.

Better still, there’s no need to hunt for restaurants or B&Bs in the dark in an unfamiliar place: you can feed the children and put them to bed whenever they’re ready.  Then relax with a well-earned glass of something and no worries about babysitters, and enjoy your own Easter break.

Scottish campsites for motorhomes – our tips & advice

If you’re new to driving a motorhome in Scotland, here are some handy tips that could make the experience much more fun and rewarding.

Motorhome campsite tips

If you’re hiring your motorhome during the school holidays or other busy periods, it’s a good idea to plan and book ahead. There’s nothing worse than arriving at a beautiful spot where you’d hoped to spend the night only to find it’s full – especially if you have tired, hungry children or you want to stay several days. Booking in advance avoids that problem.

Whenever possible, park on hard standing. A motorhome is a heavy vehicle to try and drive off soft or muddy grass after a few days’ rain. Hard pitches tend to be flat, too, which definitely makes motorhome life more comfortable. It’s no fun if the plates are always sliding off the table, or you’re falling out of bed or pushed up against the wall. If you do have to park on a slope, it’s sensible to chock the wheels to stop you rolling downhill.

Making the most of the facilities

When you’re at a campsite with showers and toilet facilities, use them rather than the ones in the campervan. That way you don’t waste your own water or need to empty the toilet so often. The emptying points are usually near the toilet block but it’s wise to find out exactly where they are before you start lugging a full, heavy cassette around. A small trolley is a very useful investment if your motorhome hire company doesn’t supply one.

If you’re connecting your motorhome to the campsite’s electric supply, plug the cable into the van first, especially if it’s raining, to avoid the risk of electric shocks. And remember to switch the fridge over to the 240V supply, to save your battery or gas.

The usual procedure is to stop at the campsite office when you first arrive and book your pitch.  If the office is closed, you can go and find a pitch and pay for it when the office reopens. Be careful: not all pitches that look empty actually are. Most people leave something on their pitch when they go out for the day – a chair or the electric cable are common – to show it’s taken. So if you see anything lying on a pitch, find another one.

Finding the best Scottish campsites for motorhomes

Many people think they can camp anywhere in Scotland because you can walk anywhere. But the laws that cover access don’t apply to motor vehicles: technically wild camping is not allowed. Having said that, you’ll probably get away with doing it for one night unless there’s a sign prohibiting it.

The good news is that there are plenty of fantastic campsites in Scotland, often with glorious views and plenty of space. As you head further north and west, you’ll find fewer people and more space. You’ll also find white-sand beaches and turquoise sea that wouldn’t look out of place in the Caribbean. (And rain. And midges. But the upsides outweigh the downsides.)

Perthshire and the Great Glen

Some of the biggest camping sites in Scotland get top reviews from campers. For example, Blair Castle Caravan Park, at Blair Atholl in Perthshire, is big but very well run. The facilities are excellent and there are plenty of outdoor activities on site for adults and children. You also get reduced-price entry to Blair Castle, which is well worth visiting, and you may be lucky enough to watch Europe’s last private army, the Atholl Highlanders, on parade. There are plenty of other facilities nearby for all tastes – everything from whisky tasting to bungee-jumping.

If you have children keen to hunt for legendary monsters, Nessie (the Loch Ness Monster) lives very close to the Glen Nevis Touring and Camping Park near Fort William. No monster hunters?  Walk the trails along the River Nevis, fish for salmon, climb Ben Nevis or meet the resident Highland Cattle. The site has its own restaurant and bar, shop, children’s play area and fishing.  The site is big enough not to require advance booking, normally – but do check whether there’s any event on in the area that might mean it’s full.

Glen Affric

Glen Affric is a fine example of a classic Scottish landscape, featuring a mixture of lochs, mountains and Caledonian Forest. Photo credit: StephenRMelling

If you’d prefer a somewhat smaller site in the same area then Cannich Woodland Camping, in Glen Affric National Nature Reserve, is also close to Loch Ness. It’s on a long-distance walking route and there are cycle trails locally. Glen Affric offers forests, lochs, mountains and wildlife to watch – yet the bright lights of Inverness are less than an hour’s drive away. On site, the showers are free, there’s an indoor sitting/TV room, a children’s play area, laundry facilities and a café.

Lochs and mountains

For mountains you can’t beat the Cairngorms (not in Scotland, anyway). There are various campsites to choose from, including Rothiemurchus Camp and Caravan Park, as well as the nearby Glenmore Campsite, which sits in the forest in the middle of the Cairngorms National Park. It may not have the sea but it does have Loch Morlich, where you can canoe or watch for ospreys and otters. Mountains surround you and there are walking and mountain-biking trails as well as serious mountain climbing. In winter you can ski downhill at nearby Aviemore or go cross-country along the walking trails. For a visit with a difference, head to Santa Claus’s Scottish team at the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre, just down the road.

Another highly-recommended loch-side campsite is Lomond Woods, at Balloch on Loch Lomond’s “bonnie banks”. It’s a 5-star site with fully serviced hard-standing pitches for motorhomes. Take a loch cruise, go kayaking or mountain-biking, indulge in a little retail therapy at the nearby Alexandria Shopping Village, have a meal at a loch-side restaurant… or just sit and admire the view.

Beaches and sea

Beach, Gariloch

Not all roads lead to the beach… but the Gairloch area boasts a number of good sandy beaches, as well as spectacular Scottish west coast scenery.

Sands Caravan and Camping Park at Gairloch, in Wester Ross, is another well-run large site. The main attraction here is the sea, with views across to Skye and the Outer Hebrides. There are pitches on the sand dunes for tents; for motorhomes, hard-standing pitches with electric hookups are provided. There’s a shop, play area, TV and games room for wet days and a jetty for boats as well as full toilet, shower and disposal facilities.

A great west-coast beach campsite, well to the south of Gairloch, is Camusdarach near Arisaig on the famous Road to the Isles. On a hot day you could be forgiven for thinking you were a long way from Scotland – but here there are no crowds, no ice-cream sellers and no beach loungers. You’re practically in the water, and there’s plenty to do both on site and nearby: sea kayaking, boat tours, even the “Harry Potter” train – it runs past the site on the way from Mallaig to Fort William and back via the famously beautiful Glenfinnan Viaduct. If you’re a fan of Bonnie Prince Charlie, you should visit the Glenfinnan Monument , which marks the place where the clans gathered at the start of the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion. Prince Charlie’s cave, where he’s said to have hidden after Culloden, is also nearby.

We hope our top motorhome campsite tips will have whetted your appetite to visit Scotland soon. There’s so much to see, we couldn’t possibly cover everything – you’ll just come and find out for yourself!

What’s on in Scotland, Autumn-Winter 2017

If you’re considering a trip to Scotland this autumn or winter, you may be wondering whether there’s anything going on. The answer is a big “yes”!  Scotland can offer plenty to do, indoors and outside, all through the year. Here are some ideas for the later months.

Scotland 2017 history lovers

2017 is Scotland’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology, and there are events all over the country celebrating our past and our culture. For more details, visit their page on The Visit Scotland website.

Scotland has a long connection with Scandinavia, and our Viking heritage is remembered at festivals all over the country at different times of year. In Largs, on September 2-10, they’re celebrating the Battle of Largs in 1263 between King Alexander of Scotland and King Haakon of Norway. There’ll be a living history village, craft fairs, plenty of food and on-stage entertainment. The festival culminates in a torchlit procession, fireworks and the burning of a Viking long-ship.

fireworks at the Largs Viking Festival

Fireworks at the Largs Viking Festival. Photo Credit: TechDaveStudios

If you prefer your history a little more sedate, the Borders are celebrating their historic heritage during the whole of September (1st-30th), with walks, talks, theatre events and living history enactments at venues across the region.

Further north, the Highland Archaeology Festival is on 30 September-15 October in Inverness and the locality. You’ll find walks, demonstrations, self-guided trails, talks and even a chance to take part in an archaeological dig. Delve into Scotland’s ancient past and get a feel for the country in a way few people ever do!

Events for book lovers

Traquair House, just outside Innerleithen in the Borders, plays host to the Beyond Borders International Festival of Literature and Thought on August 26-27th. The name’s quite a mouthful and the programme is just as big.  They’ve got writers, artists, broadcasters and politicians, among others, debating and performing. There are also art exhibitions, dinners, literary walks and bike rides if all that talking gets too much for you.

Traquair House is worth visiting just for itself: a turreted medieval house with its own brewery, and gates that haven’t been opened since the last Jacobite rebellion, it’s a beautiful house full of history in a lovely part of Scotland.

Traquair House

Traquair House dates back to 1107, and was originally a hunting lodge for the kings and queens of Scotland. Photo credit: Patrick Down

Scotland’s Book Town, Wigtown in Dumfries and Galloway, celebrates all things literary 23 September -2 October. They have authors talking about their books, critics talking about other people’s books, writing workshops for teenagers, storytelling events for children, films and theatre, exhibitions, garden visits and concerts.

For those who want a little movement with their words, there’s a fun run and a performance of Wigtown’s Got Talent. If you’re even vaguely interested in books, Wigtown’s a great place to go any time of year (there are bookshops in the most unlikely places), but it really comes alive at Festival time.

Dundee takes up the literary baton in October: 2017 will see the 11th Dundee Literary Festival, run by the University of Dundee. They haven’t yet revealed what this year’s programme will include but last year they covered comic books and new writing among a wide range of other subjects.

Scotland for outdoor lovers

If you want an event to get your blood pumping, Knockhill Racing Circuit has the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship on 12-13 August, with triple champion Gordon Shedden returning to his home track for a fourth try at the title. In November they have a Guy Fawkes-inspired night of action at the Scottish Drift Cup event.

Angus is the focus of cyclists in September, gathering for the Angus Cycling Festival. There’s something for all levels of fitness and every type of rider: triathlon, Fat Bikes ride, a road ride up the majestic Angus Glens, family rides, leisurely ladies’ ride, trick jump competition, youth races and The National Scottish Cross Country MTB Championships.

One highlight, on 2 September, is the Forfar Funduro for mountain bikers, with a thrills-and-spills course that includes woodland and slate quarries. There are plenty of traders to buy kit and new or refurbished bikes from, you can test yourself on the cycle skills course, and toddlers can try the Trail Tots bikes.

Motorhome from Motorhome Escapes

Motorhome rentals can be a great way to sample the muddy delights of a Scottish biking festival!

The Royal Deeside Cycling Festival, 9-17 September, provides a long week’s-worth of entertainment for road-bike-lovers, centred around the Etape Royale on 10 September. That’s Scotland’s one and only 100 mile closed-road cycle sportive – a very serious race over this mountainous terrain.

There are also 65 mile and 45 mile closed-road races, off-road cycle challenge race for teenagers and time trials. For something a little gentler, try the family cycle ride, talks, guided walks, the evening ceilidh and daytime live music.

(A ceilidh, pronounced caily, is an evening of Scottish music and dancing, sometimes with singing and storytelling. The music is usually played on fiddles (violins) and accordion, though you’ll often find whistles and drums too. Pipers don’t usually take part: the pipes sound best outdoors.)

St Andrews Day

30 November is the feast of Scotland’s patron, St Andrew, and it’s a good excuse for a party – not that the Scots need an excuse! The University city of St Andrews, in Fife, spends the whole of November celebrating. The focus is on local food and drink, and you’ll find top-name chefs and tastings all over town.

East Lothian celebrates Scotland’s flag and history with a Saltire Festival that runs 24-30 November. You can attend horse-racing on the coast at Musselburgh (dress warmly!), listen to live music, eat and drink local produce, play golf in the dark, do a night-time 10km fun run, or listen to music and comedy. If you visit one of the historic sites in the area, you may be lucky enough to witness a re-enactment of a local battle or event.

Edinburgh, as befits a multi-cultural capital city, doesn’t just celebrate Scotland’s past.  There are storytelling, music and dance events from many ethnic groups, as well as Scottish traditional music and dance. You’ll find traditional musicians in pubs, on street corners and at posh dinners all over the city, too.

Dundee also likes to celebrate its multiculturalism: you’re as likely to find Bollywood dancers and African drummers as a Scottish ceilidh band.

Glasgow’s holding a St Andrew’s Day torchlight parade through the city centre on November 26th, while Irvine prefers to light up the water, with a Festival of Light at the harbour and fireworks on the day itself (30 November). Oban, another watery town, takes 10 full days to wish St Andrew a happy feast, with ceilidhs, whisky tastings, parades and street shows.

Many towns join St Andrew’s Day and Christmas together by switching on their Christmas lights on the last weekend in November, so Scotland turns into a fairy-light wonderland. It’s worth visiting just for that!

A word of caution: some of the details of the events listed above had not been finalised at the time of writing (February 2017), so it would be sensible to check online before travelling, especially if you’d have to buy tickets.

There’s plenty on in Scotland in autumn and winter. These are the big, headline events but you’ll find smaller ones all over the country to suit your tastes. So don’t feel that Scotland’s only for summer. It may be cooler in the later months, but that’s just a good excuse to buy whisky, tweed or a good thick sweater – and party!