Winter Camper Road Trip To Skye
Chiara Guarino heads out into the Scottish wilderness during a harsh winter to celebrate her Mums birthday. Read about her trip here…
When it came to organising a surprise present for a special birthday for my mum I knew it was going to be a road trip around the Scottish Highlands but I needed something more, something that would really take this adventure to the next level – and that’s where Rockin Vans came in. My big brother, sister and I decided that we had to make this the ultimate road trip adventure, we had to do this properly and so, whilst fulfilling my own dream of a campervan road trip around Scotland, we got in touch with Rockin Vans and never looked back!
Why do people love campervans so much? Beyond functional when on the road, they are often beautiful and somehow very romantic, but the allure of a campervan is above all the pure sense of freedom it gives you. No other form of transport gives you so much potential for spontaneity, adventure and self-reliance. You have your own mobile accommodation, roadside café and the open road at your fingertips – the keys to your own adventure always at hand.
Picking up our VW campervan from Glasgow, the depot itself gets you in a mood for a road trip. A wonderful selection of top of the range campers and motorhomes, Rockin Vans ticks all the boxes!
Filling every single storage area in the campervan, we stored our hiking and snow gear, packed the fridge full of goodies and set out early doors. Leaving from Glasgow, we hit the road for the Isle of Skye, quickly realizing that we were in for a treat as it started snowing by the time we reach Loch Lomond.
By the time we get to Glencoe, we are in the middle of a snowstorm, navigating the road with almost zero visibility. The road through Glencoe is incredible, surrounded by mountains on all sides the feeling of adventure and serenity is immeasurable. Being in the van amid this storm was a whole new adventure!
Every road trip is always exciting, but being in the camper van brings a whole new dimension to the road; it is like you are driving the roads again for the very first time, every turn bringing a new perspective. Keen to make up good time and wary of the weather getting worse, we made our way through the mountains and winding roads, having our first pit stop up past Fort William down near the waters of Loch Lochy.
The time and freedom you get from the campervan is priceless. Travelling with all your necessities on board means you are ready to go at all times! Numerous storage compartments and the fridge/freezer allows you to prepare and cook food right on site, tea and coffee ready to go in minutes, everything you need at your fingertips! We didn’t have a toilet, but everyone was fine embracing the outdoors and doing it the old-fashioned way – also meant I didn’t need to clean it out…
After putting the roof up, turning the front seats around, preparing lunch and setting up the table, we had a lovely wee lunch by the water and clean up was super easy and fast. We hit the road again, tummies full and toes warm from the van’s heater, we were keen to avoid any more stops as we sought out a sunset on Skye at Kilt Rock – apart from this quick snap at Eilean Donan Castle!
The winding roads of Scotland is something I will never get bored of, they look and feel different every time you drive through. Something so alluring about them, the endless opportunities that they present.
Driving through a snow storm we make it to Kilt Rock for sunset, only to find that our pursuit was in vain as visibility was non-existent. All was forgotten however, as soon as we see the spectacle that is Mealt Falls – an incredibly powerful waterfall fed from nearby Mealt Loch, plummets from the top of the cliffs to the rock-laden coast below, with the pleated cliffs of Kilt Rock in the back.
With the light falling fast under the thick clouds and more snow moving in, we jumped in the van and made a dash to Lealt Falls just further down the road, before heading home for dinner and movie night before the fire, not forgetting a wee dram or two.
The following day we rose early to venture out on a morning hike up to the Old Man of Storr to find that the weather has picked up and the sun making an appearance finally; though this was to be short lived. Snow gear back on and the campervan fridge packed full of our food and drink for the day, we set off precariously on the snowy roads that were layered with fresh snow that fell throughout the night.
We made our up the east coast of Skye and parked up in the lay by for The Storr hike. The views on the way up are spectacular, looking out over the harsh landscape and the waters of Loch Leathan.
The higher we climb and the closer we get to the Old Man, the more powerful the wind and intense the snow is, though we battle on hoping there will be a break in the weather.
Unfortunately, Mother Nature won this time and we had to turn back – going up we were caught in the middle of a blizzard and Storr still looked attainable at a push, but visibility was zero when you made to retreat. Not able to see your hand in front of your face, scrambling back down blind through the storm would have become increasingly dangerous the more we climbed, so we made a safety call on that one.
We shook off the snow, packed away our wet gear in the back of the van and refueled with some kendal mintcake before setting out for our second adventure of the day. I had been eagerly anticipating this hike for almost a year – the hunt for Ruhba Hunish, a bothy at the top of Skye that looks out over The Minch, Isle of Lewis and Harris in the Outer Hebrides.
We set off on the road, aiming for the northern most point of Skye, Kilmaluag. I couldn’t find a lot of information on this bothy, but I knew it was there to be found. I had vague directions to the starting point, a red phone box being the main point of interest. It was hard to get your bearings on the road as everything was covered in snow, but the views were superb along the way!
30 miles up the road we finally spot that red phone box, graft up a snow covered track to the car park and the start of the Ruhba Hunish trail. We park up, get all our gear back on and make a pact to have lunch in the campervan upon our return.
The first kilometer (5km round trip) or so was easy enough to navigate as it was a rough and ready trail to a wooden gate, through snow and bog nevertheless. But after the gate, it was difficult to see any sort of track or point of reference, instead an endless view of undulating hills of bog and snow. All we had to go on was to keep heading North, so we trudged upwards over the hills – again, the views were stunning.
Gaps started to appear in the group as the hike became increasingly strenuous with the snow level rising underfoot and a few bog incidents slowing us down. Every summit we came to another would appear, but we kept on going. Hailstones were plummeting from the sky, the most painful we have ever witnessed – you had to walk blind with your head down and completely covered otherwise risk the pain of one of these in the eyes! (which we all got to experience at one point!) The more the hail and wind battered us, the endless lines of hills in front of us, we began to doubt if we were ever going to find the bothy. Having not eaten since breakfast, some of us were becoming quite hangry (angry because you are hungry.) But we were too stubborn to give up, we knew we had to be close! So we rallied round and set off with my brother hill running ahead to see if he can see any sort of interest point. 10 or so minutes pass with no sign of him, us girls hoping he will return with some news, something in the landscape to show we are on track.
Finally, he appeared – he made it to the clifftop and found the bothy! It was a great moment for all, really lifting our spirits to make it that last steep kilometer for a well-earned rest and drink.
It was such a wonderful feeling to make it to the bothy and something I had been so looking forward to, since planning the trip out a year prior. The difficulty we had navigating and battling through the harsh elements and terrain made the discovery all the more special. And I finally got to photograph that beautiful bay window with my family around the table, just like I had envisioned.
We did regret not bringing lunch as we were ravenous by this point. Nonetheless, we polished off some snacks, had a drink and hung out for a while. The clifftops along the North are breathtaking with the snow creating a magical scene.
We left a message in the bothy log book, explored the cliffs for a while and took some photographs, but it was so cold we had to quickly get going back to the van, get some blood flowing. A challenge all in itself on the way back down, but we knew where to go this time at least. Eventually we make it back to the van and its lunchtime – roof up, stove on for some tea, table out and chairs turned and you are ready to go. The ability to do this immediately after a big hike, right by the clifftops overlooking the North Sea is exactly why you need a campervan for your next road trip – they take it to a whole other level.
After a well-earned scran, we set our sights on the Fairy Glen on the East side of the island, so we had a long trip round. The sights along the way, well I don’t need to tell you…
By the time we reach the Fairy Glen, the snow is falling pretty heavily and we find a car abandoned at the top of a hill; apparently a couple of cars were stuck further down, so followed suit, parked up and made the rest of our way on foot. There were 3 cars stuck in the snow/ice with a Land Rover trying to pull them out with some rope and us thankful we listened to the friendly stranger at the top of the hill. Within 5 minutes, the snow is a full-blown storm, hail as hard as nails falling to the ground and the wind whipping snow around us, we dug deep for that bothy fighting spirit again and marched on through the blizzard. Quickly we realise it just isn’t going to happen, we can’t see a thing and with our snoods up to our eyes we regrettably have to turn back. As bad as the weather was around us, it was incredible to be smack bang in the middle of it all – I took my camera out from within my jacket and snapped these 2 shots which are among my favorites of the trip. These turned out to be the last photographs of the day as we battled the snow back to the van, made a pit stop at the Uig Hotel for a wee dram, then headed back to Portree for some food and a movie night.
Waking the next morning, the snow had stopped and the sun was peeking through the clouds casting a wonderful light over the landscape – a perfect morning for a trek to the Fairy Pools. Again, we packed the van with all our essentials and set out the far West coast of Skye, passing by Sligachan bridge before reaching the fairy pool car park.
Hiking to the bottom of Sgurr an Fheadain, I was determined to photograph the iconic scene of the Fairy Pools flowing benath the Cuillin Mountains:
This trail is a bit of a thigh burner but the best hikes usually are. It is a wonderful site to see these pools up close and hike through the glen of an incredible mountain range, together with the people that matter.
A quick refuel in the campervan before setting our sights this time on the Western most point of Skye, Neist Point. Most roads in Scotland are incredibly beautiful and this drive was no different.
However, by the time we made it to Neist Point, the wind is nothing like we’ve seen before – it was so powerful, it was whipping up sea spray hundreds of feet below clifftops. I was determined to get a decent photo of the famous lighthouse at the end of the peninsula, but the wind was out of control and gave you the feeling it could turn sinister at any moment – it was far too dangerous to be out on the open clifftops. Surrounded by sheep poop and sea spray whipping us in the face, my brother and I scrambled down part of the cliff and jammed ourselves in behind a rock together with my camera gear. Team work to set up the gear and tripod allowed me to take 3 photographs before we had to call it; the wind increasing by the minute and my camera soaked, we had to retreat further inland. The other 2 shots, the lens/image was covered in water droplets as the wind whipped the sea upwards, so given the circumstances and my odds, I was pretty damn chuffed to come out with the one and only image below. Scotland at its finest!
Next morning, we pack everything up and load the van with our bags and again, fill the fridge with food and drink for the long drive back to Glasgow. Before leaving Portree, we grabbed some breakfast and took a wee wander down to the harbour then hit the open road.
We decided to grab one last lunch together in the van on Skye and so stopped by the Talisker Distlillery and had lunch by the waters of Loch Harport.
The road out of Skye and across to Invergarry was a lovely bright, clear morning but as soon as we hit Fort William, it snowed heavily all the way to Loch Lomond. A daily ritual on our recent roadtrip, it was quite a site to see this much snow all at once. Everything was completely white, the trees and branches coated in feet of snow, drooping under the weight, much like the forests in Frozen Planet but the sun was out. Casting wonderful light over the landscape, the snow sparkled in the rays as we passed through the mountains.
The snow/weather on this trip just took everything to a totally different level of adventure, and Rockin Vans completed it. We were lucky enough to witness Scotland in the heart of winter, but it wouldn’t have been the same without the van. The comfort, functionality and the freedom a campervan gives you is like no other and I can’t recommend enough hiring one for your next road trip!