Posted on: April 1, 2020
The North West highlands have been on my bucket list ever since I saw a picture of one of the most iconic mountains in Scotland, Suilven. Captivated by this remote mountain and the magical landscape in which it lies, I knew I had to climb it from that very moment. For me, there was no other way to make the trip than by campervan; the dream way to go off-grid exploring.
Heading North on the A9 from Roseisle for approximately 2 hours 45 minutes, I arrived in Aviemore, on the North Western edge of the Cairngorms National Park. I was surprised at how easily I’d adapted to driving the campervan; within 10 minutes it was like I’d driven it my whole life! I headed to the Cairngorm Mountain ski resort, which is ideally located for access to the National Park. After putting a donation in the parking box, I set off for an early winter hike. I was hoping to avoid the strengthening winds that were forecast to pick up around lunch time.
The almost alpine looking beauty of this range, which is home to 5 of the highest mountains in the UK, coupled with the often savage and changeable conditions is what makes it so appealing to hikers and climbers. I originally had Ben Macdui in my sites, but with the increasing wind conditions I decided to re-plan, and headed toward the summit of Cairn Gorm instead. Unfortunately my plan to be back at the campervan before the winds reached full force didn’t pan out. Fortunately however, I was well prepared for the conditions, and handrailing the fence perimeter of the ski slope on the descent became all part of the adventure!
After a bacon roll from the café at the ski centre, washed down with a coffee in the camper and a quick defrost of my digits, I hopped back on the road. It was only 11am. A quick stop in Aviemore town to stock the camper fridge with supplies and I was en route to my next destination.
Chanonry Point is known to be one of the most popular places to see dolphins. Although they can be seen at any time, an online source states that the best time is with a rising tide, so it’s worth checking the tide times before going. I however, didn’t do that. Whether it was my lack of foresight in planning, the strong winds, or just pure bad luck; I didn’t see a single hint of dolphin activity. However, that shouldn’t deter others. Dolphins or no dolphins, it’s a pretty location for a coffee stop in the camper, a short stroll on the shingle beach, or a photo at the light house.
On the drive North West along the A835 towards Ullapool, I stopped at my third destination: a spectacular gorge a short walk from the road. Corrieshalloch, meaning ‘ugly hollow’ in Gaelic, is a million miles away from ugly. A path leads down to the mile long canyon, which can be viewed from above from the suspension foot bridge, and from the viewing platform. I stood on the bridge with the sound of the River Droma crashing down the waterfalls and channels below, taking in the tree lined view towards Loch Broom and Ullapool. After visiting the view point and then crossing back over the bridge, I took the woodland trail which loops back up to the roadside car park.
Arriving in the fishing town of Ullapool in time for dinner, I parked for free in a large car park located next to the Tesco supermarket. The Scottish weather was doing its’ thing, and there was no avoiding the drenching that I got as I ran to The Arch Inn. A fresh catch of the day was the perfect way to end my first day. The car park had no restrictions and there were other campervans parked up for the night. However, I decided to drive a little further North so that I could wake up ready for the next day’s adventure.
I woke to the sound of bird song and a feast of scenery for the eye. I’d spent the night in the small car park at the base of Stack Pollaidh, with views to the South across Loch Lurgain and towards Coigach. The rocky crested peak of Stac Pollaidh (known affectionately as Stac Polly) is popular due to its accessibility from the road. However, my mid-March was still pre-season, and the solitude that I found on the hike up the well-formed path to the pinnacles was blissful. That is, until I reached the ridge and was greeted by my friend, that raging Scottish wind.
The Stac Polly path circles the base, with the option of scrambling onto the pinnacles from the North side. What should have taken around 2 hours, became 3 or maybe even 4 hours. I completely lost track of time. I scrambled up one pinnacle, then another, and another. The panoramic views were absolutely out of this world! To the North I could see Suilven, the mountain I so desperately wanted to climb. Clouds raced across in the wind, masking and then unmasking the view, bringing sleet, hail and snow. I eventually slid down the scree slope to re-join the circular path.
Driving West from Stac Polly, I reached the coast within 15 minutes. I headed down a single track road to a small parking area, to find the best beach view in the house! The spot overlooked the whole of Achnahaird Bay; it was absolutely perfect. I made the most of the campervan cooking facilities; knocking up a stack of pancakes for lunch. Before making my way along the coastal path to the white sands of Achnahaird beach.
To most people, swimming in the Sea without a wetsuit in the North of Scotland in March is ludicrous. To a certain number of us though, it’s magical. Yes it was cold; but being able to control my breathing and splash around in the clear chilly water was so appealing. It’s difficult to explain. With numb hands and feet but a huge smile, I quick footed back along the path to the warmth of the pre-heated camper. It wasn’t my plan to stay at this spot overnight, but I didn’t want to leave. So I listened to the waves and the wind as I lay cosy inside with mug of tea, and settled for the night.
After an early rise and using up the leftover pancake mix to make a hearty breakfast stack, I headed back along the road on which I’d travelled in the dark the night before. This time enjoying a beautiful mountain vista in the light of day. What a drive!
Once back on the A835, I headed further North to Loch Assynt. At the Eastern end of the loch, stands Ardvreck Castle. The loch itself is huge, surrounded by snow-capped mountains. I drove East to West alongside the loch, to Lochinver on the coast. From there I took a single track road and located a tiny walkers parking area. This was it; I was going to hike Suilven.
From the walkers car park, I hiked 9.5km to the foot of Suilven. The whole approach had me fixated on the magnificent ridge, but wondering where on Earth I was going to ascend what looked like an almost vertical face. It’s only when stood at Loch na Barrack that those thoughts dispersed. I could see the line leading up into the gully at Bealach Mor. A steep ascent via the zig zagging path led me into the gully. The final approach to the ridge line was filled with snow; kicking in and using my axe to get a purchase I reached the ridge plateau. Once again, that Scottish wind had come to meet me; raging across the rocky terrain. But nothing could detract from the most incredible 360 degree panoramic views of Assynt. Every direction was a display of mountains, lochs, lochans and wild lands.
The hike took around 7 hours, and when I arrived back at the camper, there was only time for a quick change and a snack. I had the perfect destination in mind to catch the sunset, and it wasn’t too far away.
With an hour to go before sunset, I headed North from Loch Assynt. I pulled over at one point to see a herd of wild stag wander across the landscape. Passing through Unapool, Loch Glencoul and the surrounding area was added to my ever-growing list of places to explore on my next trip. Reaching Kylesku bridge just before sunset, I parked up and took a short walk underneath the bridge. Car parks at either end make it easy to view the bridge from different angles – I explored both ends. The sun set, and closed another incredible day.
The down side of driving after dark is that you miss out on the road trip views, but the up side is you wake the next morning at your next location all set for adventure. After a brief stop at Scourie beach, which was also added to my ‘next time’ list, I drove to Loch na Thull for my final wild camp in the North.
LOCH NA THULL
In the short time it took me to hop out of bed and pop the kettle on the stove, the weather changed from beautiful sunshine to a gigantic hail shower. On the agenda for the morning was stand up paddle boarding. My board had been waiting patiently in the storage area at the back of the camper, with each day so far being too windy to play on the water. With Loch na Thull being a smaller and less exposed loch than the likes of Loch Assynt, even with the strengthening winds I was still be able to get out. Access to the loch was easy from the layby at which I’d wild camped.
I noticed a Salmon farm to the East of the loch; not uncommon in this area, so I stayed clear of that. Weaving between the rocky outcrops with the snowy heights of Foinaven towering high in the East; this loch had lots to explore and was very picturesque to see from the water. It was exactly what I’d hoped for. What I love about paddle boarding is seeing things from a different angle, and being able to explore areas not often accessed on foot.
With my time in the camper drawing to an end, and a long journey back to Edinburgh calling, I started to bimble my way South. It was an absolute treat to drive the A383 towards Lairg in daylight. I highly recommend this road – I experienced some of the best scenery of the trip, and added yet more to my ‘next time’ list.
I stopped for some lunch at The Pier in Lairg; a lovely little café on the shore of Loch Shin. After filling up on a bacon, brie and cranberry panini with homemade coleslaw, I was back on the road.
I cannot thank Roseisle enough for their hospitable service. The campervan with all its mod cons and luxurious features was the perfect base for my adventures. I’d like to give a big shout out to the heating system in particular – I cannot even tell you how good it was after my sea swimming and winter mountaineering adventures. My Scotland road trip with Roseisle absolutely blew me away, and has created an enormous desire to go back for more!
Thanks for much for sharing your incredible adventure with us Sarah @fitforadventure_ ! Want to book your own dream roadtrip? Let us bring your dream to life! >>
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