Hiring a motorhome or campervan is a great way to enjoy a Scottish holiday, but you may be wondering what to expect when you actually get on the road. Here are our tips for relaxing motorhome living.
First things first: your rented motorhome is probably a lot bigger than you’re used to driving, unless you regularly drive a van or HGV. It’s worth finding out exactly how high, wide and long it is – you don’t want to get stuck under any low bridges or petrol-station canopies. Find out how heavy it is, too, as it may affect the speed you can drive at (see below).
Modern motorhomes are designed to be easy to drive, with power-everything. But there’s a lot of van behind the driving seat, so you have to pull out wide when doing sharp turns, at traffic lights for example, if you don’t want to damage the vehicle and any passing pedestrians.
The brakes are very efficient but campervans still weigh a lot, so look ahead and slow down in good time for bends, junctions and other traffic.
The size will also restrict the roads you can use, to some extent. Don’t just rely on sat-nav to get you safely to your destination: get a good map and know how to read it. There are all sorts of stories about people relying on sat-nav and getting stuck or driving straight into lochs!
Driving your Motorhome on the Road
Before you move off, spend time making sure the driving seat is in the right position for you to reach all the pedals comfortably and the side mirrors are properly set up so you can see what’s coming up behind you. It may take a few miles to get used to using them instead of a central rear-view mirror, but you’ll soon get the hang of it.
Check where your blind spots are and remember that, although the vans are fitted with colour rear-view cameras, it’s useful to have someone beside the van the first few times you reverse it, until you’re sure you’re safe. It’s a good idea to practice in an emptyi-ish supermarket car park!
Go slowly when you first start driving your motorhome. You’re on holiday: it’s OK to take it easy. The journey should be part of the fun, not a mad, scary dash from A to B.
The legal speed limit for campervans up to 3.5 tonnes is the same as for a car (60 mph on single carriageways, 70 on dual carriageways and motorways) – but there’s no requirement to go that fast if you don’t want to. If your van is over 3.5 tonnes you’re restricted to 50 mph on single carriageways,60 on dual carriageways and 70 on motorways.
On some narrow, winding Scottish roads the legal speed limit may be too fast for safety, so be prepared to slow down. There are also still single-track roads in some places. They’re not really suitable for large vehicles but if you do find yourself on one, use the passing places for passing: they’re not for parking up to admire the view!
If a queue of cars starts to build up behind you, find a safe place to pull in and let them past: it’s a legal requirement and could prevent an accident from someone trying to overtake in an inappropriate place.
Motorhomes and Campsites
Wild camping with a motorhome is technically illegal all over Britain. Scotland’s Outdoor Access Code, which allows limited wild camping, doesn’t cover wheeled vehicles. You may legally park within 15 feet of a road, but many places that look like great overnight sites will have signs saying “No Overnight Camping”.
If you arrive late and leave early, you’ll probably get away with free camping, but do make sure you don’t upset the locals and don’t damage the very beauty you came to visit. Take all your litter away with you and be very careful what you’re driving over: some habitats, such as the machair of the Outer Hebrides, is surprisingly delicate and now endangered.
Registered campsites have several advantages, on top of being legal: electric hook-ups, toilet-emptying facilities and piped water are three of them. Also, if you use the site’s facilities you won’t have to empty your motorhome’s waste-water tanks so often.
Official sites will typically have hard-standing pitches, too, so you won’t get bogged down (with Scotland’s weather being occasionally a little damp, boggy patches are not uncommon in other places, especially at the edge of the tarmac).
Daily Living in a Motorhome
However big it is, a motorhome is a confined space. Taking hard suitcases is not recommended: squashy bags that can be stowed away are much more practical. In fact, stow everything away. Anything that’s lying around when you drive off will skid across the floor and could be dangerous if you have to brake in a hurry.
Packing light is recommended. Leave the smart clothes and high heels at home. We recommend that you buy fresh food from local shops as you travel: you’ll get a real flavour of the great food Scotland has to offer, and help rural businesses at the same time.
Because there are no separate rooms in a motorhome and the beds double up as seating, getting kids to bed early can be a problem. If you’re in Scotland in mid-summer, the long daylight hours don’t help with early bedtimes! One tip, based on years of experience, is to let children stay up later and get up a bit later too. Most campsites have “quiet time” after 10 pm, which effectively puts an end to outdoor living for the night and makes a good bedtime.
Living in a confined space is much easier if everyone goes to bed, gets up, and eats at roughly the same time. Being organised about making beds at night and tidying them away in the morning makes motorhome life less stressful, too. It may sound a bit inflexible, but it does help families come back from holiday still talking to each other!
What to do if the Scottish Weather is Bad
We hope it won’t happen, but Scotland’s weather, sadly, is not totally reliable. Even summer isn’t always long, hot and sunny. So it’s worth planning ahead for any less-than-glorious days and packing accordingly. Take sweaters, waterproofs, wellies and enough games, DVDs and books to keep everyone occupied.
If the weather’s really horrible, you could just cuddle up and watch a DVD, play cards or a board game, or read a good book. However, if a whole day in a confined space is likely to make you grumpy with each other, your best bet is to brave the weather long enough to get somewhere under cover where you can enjoy the time – a museum, for example – so make sure you have a good guide book for the area.
If the weather’s just slightly horrible, put on your waterproofs and go for a walk, even if it’s only to the nearest pub and back. For one thing you’ll feel virtuous and get some fresh air and gentle exercise, which is always a good excuse for a pint; for another, it gives you a change of scenery and something to talk about. And Scotland can look extraordinarily beautiful in the rain.
In fact, Scotland is beautiful whatever the weather and the best way to see it is by motorhome, which gives you the freedom of the road with the comfort of home. We hope these tips on renting a motorhome encourage you to try it, and we look forward to welcoming you to Scotland soon.