We weren’t sure we were going to get away at all this weekend. On Friday, as we were putting the finishing touches to our van-packing and preparing to leave, the petrol station two doors down from us went up in flames. The road was closed off and no fewer than four fire engines turned up to control the blaze; the smoke was thick and acrid, and everyone was being encouraged to keep away or stay indoors. Dodging fire engines, we were given a clear run out by a policeman guarding the top of the street, and finally we were on our way. For the first part of the journey, though, as we drove along the A66 heading West, Tracey kept a close eye on the local facebook page in case things took a turn for the worst and we had to return home.
We spent a couple of nights with friends who live near Edinburgh before heading to the Trossachs on Sunday for one of our favourite stopovers.
Loch Lomond and The Trossachs has, for a while now, been a permit-only area for campervans and motorhomes. One area in particular – The Three Lochs Forest Drive – allows visitors to buy a permit online up to two weeks before arrival, for the opportunity to camp in designated areas, all for the princely sum of £5; £2 for entrance to the park and £3 for the camping permit. Entrance to the drive on Dukes Pass is locked between the hours of 4pm and 8am, so campers are given a code to unlock the gates should access outside those times be necessary.
Details on how to obtain a permit can be found here.
It’s a great experience. Once the last of the day visitors have left, its quiet, and once the sun has set, it’s also very dark. The area we were stopped at has spaces for two vans, but we were alone, which made it even more exquisite.
In the morning, we took a walk through the forest down to Loch Achray, with views across to Ben A’an and the surrounding hills, before packing up and heading on towards our next destination.
Our Monday night stop was a Forestry & Land Commission rural car park in Glen Lochy, alongside the River Lochy, within sight of the mountainous hulk of Mount Lui. We’d taken a meandering route to the location via Glen Orchy, stopping off to enjoy Easan Dubha, a rocky waterfall on the River Orchy, and pausing a little further down the glen to eat lunch.
Glen Lochy has two rural car parks owned and maintained by the Forestry and Land Commission for Scotland, both of which are still included in the current ‘Stay The Night’ Scheme, offering the opportunity for motorhomes and campervans to stay for free between the hours of 6pm and 10am. In the last two weeks, the trial scheme, which was originally advertised as being in place until December has been curtailed to the end of August, and then re-instated after pressure and feedback from enthusiastic motorhome owners who clearly love the scheme. Although I can’t know for certain, but I suspect (based on the wording of the update on the commission website) there was pressure to abandon the scheme from campsite owners who want motorhomers to pay anything between £20 and £30 a night to stay on their sites. Common sense has prevailed, though, and user pressure would appear to have won over.
Having said all that, the car park in Glen Lochy doesn’t have any daily car parking charges anyway, and its remote location suggests to me that, scheme or no scheme, it has almost certainly been used regularly by visitors in campervans over the years anyway. It’s also a good starting point for anyone wishing to climb Ben Lui – not something on our agenda this time around, but certainly something we’ll be looking to do in the not too distant future.
After some coming and going, I think I counted 6 vans in residence for the night; clearly a very popular, and well-known spot. We took a short walk along by the river, enjoying the views of the surrounding mountains and identifying where the best places to cross it are. There are no footbridges along this section, so anyone wishing to start from here to climb Ben Lui would need to cross the river when it is low, using the exposed rocks as stepping stones. It is also necessary to use a low underpass to get to the other side of the railway line that runs adjacent to the river, before gaining full access to the lower mountain slopes and the path to the summit.
Once again, we enjoyed a quiet, dark night, leaving behind no trace of us ever having been there the next morning. For the most part, this would seem common amongst most motorhomers/campervanners/wildcampers that we come across. Certainly, most owners who have paid vast sums of money for their precious vans, and are of a certain age, are responsible visitors, taking their rubbish and other waste away with them. It’s a shame then that they constantly seem to have to take the mis-targetted blame for the ills metered out by armies of irresponsible day-trippers who arrive in their cars on sunny weekends and proceed to abuse the landscape by leaving piles of litter, discarded barbeques, beer cans, bottles and other assorted refuse.
For our final day in the area, we took a classic drive up the west coast, along the picturesque shores of Lochs Etive, Creran, Linnhe and Leven, before heading into the iconic Pass of Glencoe, where we stopped for several spectacular photo stops, and lunch.
Our final pause before heading towards home was on Rannoch Moor, where the lochs always remind me of the Dead Marshes in The Lord of the Rings.
With future plans for some serious walking and Munro-bagging, this trip has been partly a scouting exercise and partly an excuse to visit a beautiful part of the world for which no excuse should ever be needed. In this area of the Highlands, the mountains are spectacular and majestic, and there’s that all-pervading atmosphere of epic history… I love mountains me…