It’s midsummer in the time of Covid quarantines and it feels like everyone is missing out on cancelled holidays to distant beaches. But for us the summer holiday is the year's first shot at normalcy; packing the boys into our trusty 1986 Volkswagen T3 for an adventure closer to home, returning to my homeland to explore the highlands and islands of west Scotland.

It might not have the exotic appeal of foreign shores, and you need to take a bit of rain, a few midges and occasional mechanical hiccups in your stride. But the best experiences are worth working for and there’s no need to fly halfway around the world when there’s real adventure to be had on our own doorstep.

So, unashamedly flying the flag for slow, local and simple adventures, here are my top 10 highlights from this summer’s caravan trip around the west coast of Scotland.

1. Lazy mornings in the van

There is something so nice about just hanging out in the morning in the van. The boys are calm, there’s a lovely view, we have some tea and coffee and just enjoy being where we are. So many days started with this relaxed vibe, a real change from rushed mornings at home.

Scotland campervan Lazy mornings in the van Steven Hunt

Lazy mornings in the van

Credit: © Steven Hunt all rights reserved

2. Looking out to sea

These days living as far from the coast as it’s possible to be in the UK, I really value time next to the sea and looking out at the horizon. The feeling you get when looking out to sea is food for the soul. Scotland’s west coast has so many incredible views across water to mountains and islands, and the sky is always vast and changing as though it’s alive.

Clouds over scotland steven hunt

Dramatic skies over the Scottish coast

Credit: © Steven Hunt all rights reserved

3. Quality time with Sarah

Originally getting the campervan was more my idea, but my wife Sarah is a complete convert. It’s so much better because it’s something we both love. Our different contributions to making it work, our enjoyment of the same things but also different aspects of it. It’s so lovely sharing it with her.

4. Ancient sites

There are so many great historical sites to visit, this time the Iron Age monuments and ancient kingdom of Dal Riada in Argyll, and the seat of the Lord of the Isles at Finlaggan in Islay. It's so cool to be in these ancient places, which are freely accessible, and think about how the histories of these kingdoms and the people in them rose, fell, and are somehow linked to us today.

Steven Hunt scottish ancient sites

Reenacting ancient history

Credit: © Steven Hunt all rights reserved

5. The seafood

You have to work a little bit to find it, to seek out the smokehouses, or the lady with the fish van, or the crab exporter by the island’s tiny airport, or ask a guy coming in with a boat, (or just go to the Oban pier) but there is some amazing seafood to be found which is very affordable and unbelievably fresh. You cook it up later in the van and eat it with a view of the sea and a glass of cold wine from the fridge. Simply amazing.

Scotland scallops steven hunt

Freshly-caught scallops for dinner

Credit: © Steven Hunt all rights reserved

6. Wild camping

On this trip we stayed at some great campsites and it’s nice to have a toilet and a shower, but the really special thing is camping in the wild. The places where there is nothing between you and the sea and nature, and you’ve got everything you need. And then seals come out and you have dinner at a table just surrounded by it all.

The ability to do that is something special in Scotland which needs to be treated with respect and care, leaving as little trace as possible so that everyone can keep enjoying it.

Steven hunt scotland wild camping

Wild camping in solitude

Credit: © Steven Hunt all rights reserved

7. Beach time with the boys

It’s hard to think of a better playground for our boys than the beaches, and there are so many great ones to explore up the west coast all with their own different charm and character. The water’s always invigorating and you can spend many fun days exploring the coast with a sea kayak.

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Nature's playground

Credit: © Steven Hunt all rights reserved

8. Nature & wildlife

This time we saw red squirrels, beavers, loads of seals, stags, a golden eagle soared across the glen calling and not flapping a wing on Seil Island, and many more.

This year I also really got into the geology of the Slate Islands and also crocosmia spotting now I can identify the orange explosions of colour from the verges. Having one of these in our front garden makes me feel a tiny bit connected to the islands.

9. The whisky

It’s just an absolute treat that the main drink produced in this region is whisky. And driving around Islay is like reading a whisky menu. Sadly many distilleries were shut due to Covid, but we managed a tour at Kilchoman, the farm distillery, and did our best to support the local economy by buying and savouring some of the produce. The care and the fineness in the process of whisky making, from such seemingly simple materials, I think is fascinating.

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Whisky as it should be enjoyed

Credit: © Steven Hunt all rights reserved


10. The open (single track) road

The driving around in the highlands is itself genuinely a big part of the experience. The journey and all the little stop-offs at a viewpoint, or to pick up some tablet, or a quick look at a 3000 year old tree, or whatever - are just as fun as where you are trying to get to.

There are times where there can be too many cars for the single track roads and unfortunately in the words of Cake “Satan is still my motor” - but gliding around the winding roads among beautiful scenery, with the freedom and openness to what you find that lets a day just flow - is a wonderful part of it.

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The open, if narrow, road

Credit: © Steven Hunt all rights reserved

Slow Scotland in numbers

Nights in the van: 21

Miles travelled: 1100

Ferries caught: 4

Dips in the sea: 3

Total cost of petrol & pitch fees: £600

Van rental starts at around £80 per day

Slow Scotland by campervan

Steven Hunt

Steven is an energy & innovation advisor at the UK's Department for International Development (DFiD) with an interest in low carbon, and energy access technology. When he's not at work he's out exploring new corners of the UK and Europe with his wife, Sarah, and their two boys in their 1980s Volkswagen T3 campervan.

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