Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Rockhill Rendezvous

One reason that I love my Airstream is that it embraces everything that is good about caravanning, only it is a little bit different.

The same can be said for Airstreamers, my fellow fans of American Aluminium. Or Aluminum if I want to be truly authentic.

Dear friends Pete and Tracey are so passionate about Airstreams, that they set up UKAirstreamers, an informal organisation to promote the Airstream community in the UK. It doesn't matter if your Airstream is the oldest classic, or the newest and most recent Series 2 to leave the UK depot, if you have an Airstream or you hanker after investing in one, then you're welcome to join the forum.

However, the tremendously stonking gatherings that Pete and Tracey organise are reserved for owners only.

Fellow Airstreamers Carl and Gaynor own a farm in Shropshire, and last year offered to host a UKAirstreamers Gathering on their land. If you scroll back a year in this blog, you can see what fun we had.

But Pete was determined that the 2011 event would be bigger and even better. Rockhill Rendezvous was born.

Even Airstream Gatherings have cool names.

So from the Lawns, I made my way across the country and made sure I was the first to arrive. Well, I had an important job to do as I'd offered to be the Meeter & Greeter. The trouble is, as my rig lie abandoned across the field as emotional reunions took place on the field, another three rigs arrived directly behind me. This was no time for catching up, Pete and I had work to do. Off we set, marking out the field with dinky little markers that Tracey and Gaynor had lovingly made.

Rather than bore you with all the gory details, take a look at the video which gives you a feel for the event:

Including the 'Airstream Stage', there was a grand total, I think, of 39 Airstreams in the field on Saturday night. What an incredible achievement.


Purely by accident, I ended up siting the oldest Airstream from 1952 next to a brand spanking new 2012 Series 2 684 - 60 years of Airstream!


Tanya and Dave brought along their fabulous classic which they are in the process of meticulously renovating… you could call it a work in progress!



On the Friday we were treated to some top folk music from our very own talented Airstreamers Tony & Elaine:


And on the Saturday night, the brilliant band Babajack entertained:


We even had our very own beauty parlour on site. How fabulous is that?


All topped off on Sunday morning with a 'Euro v Vintage' softball match. Apparently the Vintage lot won. Well, they won't next year! ;)




And no UKAirstreamers event would be complete without 'Unhitch and Stitch', where the craftier members of the gang get together and enjoy some time together:


Despite a shower now and again, and some pretty strong winds, the weather was generally kind. And a fantastic time was had by all!







What an absolutely BRILLIANT weekend. Roll on the next one.

Between Scotlands

In the same way that the dash to the Hebrides made no logical sense, it also seemed a little OTT to head all the way back home to Kent for a week and then bounce straight back up to Scotland. But after examining all the options involving trains, caravan storage, and nights in hotels, the simplest solution was to tow the Airstream all the way down, and all the way back up again, So that's what I ended up doing.

So, back to the stunning Caravan Club Site at Bunree... Wandering around in the morning, I spotted this little gem, complete with original awning:


Heading South, I enjoyed a pleasant and easy tow. Weather was pretty much perfect for the trip - cloudy, windless, and dry.

It just so happened that my chum Gary was staying at a CL near Barnards Castle off the A66 at this time, so it made for a nice break in the day to join him for a few hours, grab a nap, share dinner, avoid the rush hour, and continue the journey in the evening.

Gary has owned his Classic 1988 Sprite XL Musketeer since new. The 'XL' is actually representative of the 40th Anniversary of the Sprite in '88… it's 40 in Roman Numerals. Gary reminds me of this often. 'And not a lot of people know that!' he adds.


Come midnight I once again availed myself of a Caravan Club Late Night Arrivals Area, this time chez Auntie Lynn at Ferry Meadows in Peterborough. I've said it before and I'll say it again, I do so very much appreciate these safe havens that the Club provides for the weary caravanner on the move. As more people chose to avoid the traffic during the day, these facilities become ever more invaluable.

Once my business back home was taken care of, just a few days later I was heading back up the A1(M), this time to the Lawns show at Hull. It was lovely to catch up with industry friends and see the new launches that I had not yet caught. I have to admit, it was on the Coachman stand where I found myself uttering the word 'Wow!' on a frequent and involuntary basis. What stunning tourers they have produced for 2012.

From there, it was across the country to Ludlow in Shropshire, where something very special was about to take place.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Caravanning in the Outer Hebrides


As a break from regular blogging, here's an entry that's a little different - A practical guide rather than a diary-type entry.

I thought that, after four trips to these magical islands with my Airstream, I should share a few details for those wishing to plan their own caravanning trip.

Situated off the North West coast of Scotland sit the remote and beautiful isles of the Outer Hebrides, or the Western Isles to give them their correct name.

If your perfect holiday encompasses wild, rugged, remote outdoors, then the Outer Hebrides will be Paradise on Earth. If you prefer shopping, clubbing, and amusements, then this is not the place for you.

Hebrides,Airstream,South Uist

There are many, many islands in the Outer Hebrides, but of the populated islands there are three main groups, starting with the largest in the North and ending with the smallest in the South:

Lewis & Harris
Technically one island, but these two lands have a totally different feel. Stornoway, the largest town in the Hebrides, is in Lewis.

Peat Bog,Airstream,Hebrides,Lewis

The Uists
Seven islands for seven days, all interlinked by toll-free causeways. The three major islands are North Uist, Benbecula, and South Uist, while the four smaller islands are Berneray, Baleshare, Grimsay, and Eriskay.

Hebrides,Airstream,wild camping,Berneray

Known as 'The Hebrides in miniature', this compact island offers all terrains in one handy package.


The Inner Hebridean island of Tiree also gets a mention as it is on the route of the Oban - Barra ferry (summer Thursdays) making for a further possibility.



For many people, it's a long slog to get there, so it's worth investing at least a week, but preferably three or four, in your stay. Suggested for different lengths of stay are:


Barra. You can taste it all without travelling about too much. Possibly do four or five days on Barra and three or four days on Tiree.

Lewis, Harris, and the Uists.

Lewis, Harris, the Uists, Barra, and Tiree


Caledonian MacBrayne is the only ferry operator serving the islands, offering a fixed price tariff. The price remains the same whether you book a year in advance or 5 minutes before the ferry leaves. Prices are therefore a little higher than you may expect against some of the Bargain Basement 'Buy-three-years-in-advance-and-travel-at-3am-on-a-Tuesday-in-February' type prices that you can get on international routes, but the upside is that you can buy single tickets along the way as you decide your itinerary, In other words, you have flexibility and freedom.


If you do book in advance and your plans change, you may change your reservation with no fee.

The only thing that does go up and down is the availability on ferries. If your time is short and dates are fixed, book as far in advance as you can. If your plans are fluid and your itinerary flexible, there is less need to book.

Bear in mind that if you want to travel between Tiree and Barra, there is only one ferry a week on a Thursday and this can get booked up months in advance.

From the mainland, you can travel from the following ports:

Ullapool, the Northernmost port, for Stornoway on Lewis

Uig, on the Isle of Skye (linked by the A87 Skye Bridge) for Tarbet in Harris, and for Lochmaddy in North Uist.

Oban, the nearest port to Glasgow and the South, for Tiree, Barra, and Lochboisdale on South Uist.

A HOPSCOTCH ticket allows you to take in a variety of islands on one ticket at a cheaper price than buying singles along the way. You only have to reserve your first outward crossing when you buy it, then you can reserve the rest along the way. In 2009, I took a Hopscotch from Ullapool to Stornoway (Lewis), drove to Harris, then got a ferry to the Uists, visited the islands there, then a ferry to Barra, then a ferry to Tiree, then a ferry to Oban. The total cost with the Airstream was about £400. Steep, but for the amount of ferry travel involved actually quite good value.


The CHEAPEST routes are from Uig on Skye. You can get a return for two passengers and an Airstream rig for just £133 to either the Uists or to Harris and Lewis. In other words, link the two with a mini-Hopscotch and you can take in nine islands for under £200. Not bad, huh? Plus the fact, the A87 road between Fort William and Uig is absolutely stunning. Drive it during daylight hours and don't rush.

The QUICKEST routes (for us Southerners) are from Oban. Granted, it's a five hour ferry crossing to Barra and South Uist, but you'll save the additional overnight stop involved in driving up to Uig from the South.


The biggest concern of most Airstreamers, especially those with larger rigs, is getting around on the single track roads. In fact, it is as easy as pie. Personally I find the Outer Hebrides one of the easiest places in the country to tow, mainly because there is so little traffic on the road.


Many major routes have been or are being upgraded to two-way. Of the single track road remaining, there are passing places every few yards. In areas where forward vision is restricted (eg around a corner), the road will always be two-way.

Passing places are there to let traffic pass in both directions, so if you see anyone behind you, pull over and keep indicating (if there is no oncoming traffic) until the car(s) behind have passed. This is good for the locals who need to get about, good for leisure vehicle PR, good for your karma, and good for your blood pressure. You can continue at a relaxed pace and admire the scenery.

If someone coming the other way has pulled over to allow you to pass (they will indicate as a sign), KEEP GOING and don't think you're being polite by then stopping before passing them and waving them on. This is confusing, frustrating, and can be dangerous if there's someone behind you.


Don't forget to wave as thank you. In fact, just wave at everyone. Most people do. Even cars going the other way on a two-way road. Just wave. It's just what people do in the Hebrides and it's lovely.

Most of the causeways in the Uists are now wide and two-way. The major exception is Baleshare. This old causeway is quite narrow. I can tow my 7ft 6 wide trailer along it at about 25-30mph, but were I towing an 8ft wide trailer I would be crawling as there are jagged walls both sides. If I had a wide one, I would go solo first and take a look at it.


Hebrides is wild camping heaven, yes?

Er, no, it isn't.

In 2009, CalMac introduced 'Road Equivalent Tariff' pricing on many routes. In other words, it lowered the prices substantially. As a result, camper vans (which travel for the same price as a car) invaded in their droves.

This is not the place to get political about anything or point any fingers, as there are good and bad eggs in every basket. But when I visited in 2009, a story about a family in their camper van was spreading around the islands like wildfire. This family had boasted to some islanders that they had spent the grand total of £2 in their entire week on the islands. Meanwhile, certain beauty spots had been turned into eyesore car-parks of white aluminium and plastic. People weren't applying common sense, and erosion of the delicate machair was taking place. This wasn't 'light' free camping as envisaged by the Scottish Parliament when they passed the Freedom of Access laws. This was nothing more than people parking up for a free holiday and take, take, taking. It had to stop.

Wild camping with a vehicle has now been effectively banned on Tiree and on Barra. In fact, to even get a ferry ticket to Tiree, you will need to show proof of a reservation on a campsite or a camping croft.

Camping arrangements for the islands are as follows:


Laxdale Holiday Park, near Stornoway A great full-facility site making the perfect place to begin or end your Hebridean Odyssey. It can get very busy so booking is recommended, especially if you have a large rig as pitches can be quite small.

Eilean Fraoich, Campsite, Shawbost I've not stayed there but it looks really nice. On the North West Coast of Lewis and handy for the Callanish Stones and the Arnol Blackhouse

Much touted by Cool Camping and other guides, this site enjoys amazing views, but sadly the scattering of empty seasonal vans makes it less attractive than it could be otherwise


Minch View
Super little site, just like a certificated site on the mainland. Clean and simple facilities. The downside? While some may disagree, I personally would not take a twin-axle caravan there, the entrance is simply too tight

Once a wild camping spot, but has now become 'official'. No hook-up, and facilities in converted lorry containers. But a stunning, stunning location on a stunning beach. £10 per night per rig in 2009. Honesty box in operation.


There is another campsite on Harris made famous by a hairdresser in a TV documentary, but this one is unsuitable for trailer caravans.

The Uists

Moorcroft Holidays
Situated on the South West tip of North Uist, this recently-opened full-facility site has been getting rave reviews on the forums. See 2012 update (link at foot of this entry) for further details.

Shell Bay, Liniclate, Benbecula
Not the prettiest of sites and not the prettiest of islands in the Uist chain, but a superb, central location and an ideal base. A couple of minutes walk to the beach. Facilities are adequate and EHUs available. £7 per adult (2010) plus EHU.


There is a hostel on South Uist that has started to advertise a couple of pitches for caravans. I have not been there but the reviews on the forums have been very poor - cramped pitches and facilities not great.


A whole host of crofts now offer a camping spot or two. For an up-to-date list, see Be warned that many of them charge £10 per rig in exchange for nothing more than a fresh water supply.


Just one campsite, and that is Balinoe Campsite.
EHUs are actually 13amp sockets in the barn, so take a 13amp 3-pin plug adaptor and an extension lead if you can. Facilities are OK, if a little scarce. During my visit in 2009, a new shed was about to be erected with further WCs and showers.
A nice touch is the kitchen and sitting room with free wifi, so even if you opt to go without EHU you can still plug in your phones and laptop to charge.

Otherwise, there are plenty of crofts that offer camping just like in Barra. For an up-to-date list see

There are still one or two places where low-impact wild camping is tolerated on some islands. Your best bet is to begin your stay at a proper site, and drive around and seek out these places solo. Do bear in mind if you choose to wild camp:

-Seek the landowner's permission
-Leave no trace
-Preferably just one, but maximum of three nights
-If the spot is starting to get busy, find another place
-Spend what you would otherwise spend on site fees in the local community. And tell people what you are doing to try and right the wrongs of the past.


Elsan waste must not be emptied into public WCs. The Barra and Tiree websites (see above) offer advice for these islands. For the Uists, there is Elsan disposal and a fresh water supply at the Berneray CalMac ferry pier, and at the Eriskay CalMac ferry pier.

If you do find 'The Perfect Spot', please do us all a favour and don't put it on the internet. If you do, there is the chance that irresponsible people may read it, invade, and spoil it for everyone.

Please note that I have now added an update for 2012 which you can read by clicking here.

Hopefully this little guide will help you decide whether or not the Outer Hebrides is for you. If it sounds like your kind of place, then go and enjoy. Just be warned... like many people you may leave your heart there. It means you have to return year after year to go looking for it.

Perfection. Utter Perfection.

Exactly 24 hours to the minute after leaving the Tesco car park in Milton Keynes, I was parked up and chilled out in the Outer Hebrides enjoying this view:



I spoke with Frank, the owner of the land where I was pitched up, who happily shared his space in exchange for some hints and tips on marketing his holiday home in the islands.

The feeling of relief, calm, and peacefulness was almost overwhelming.

Next day, the wind had dropped and the midges were out in force. I was almost held prisoner in the Airstream by the marauding millions. I'd never experienced that before, but thereagain this was my first visit in August.

Still, I consoled myself with a nice lunch. And the view wasn't too shabby:


I spent the next couple of days walking and enjoying the food in the local pub. Soon it was time to move on, and en route I stopped off at the Kildonan Museum on South Uist:


It made for a fascinating visit. I love learning about the history of the islands, and how the islanders lived in relatively recent times. Well worth a visit. Topped off, of course, with a trip to the brilliant cafe and afternoon tea.

My destination from here remains a bit of a secret. Why? Because it's my favourite camping spot IN THE WORLD and I'm a bit wary about sharing it.

What makes it so special? Well, take a look at the snaps:





Ah yes, the kitesurfing. Imagine having three miles of white sandy beach and clear turquoise sea all to yourself, bar for the occasional walker enjoying the light, space, and clean air. The wind picked up and I had a couple of stonking sessions. These were interspersed with lunch and cake at the Kirkibost Centre and evenings flaked out enjoying the sunsets as the fire flickered away in the fire basket. Perfect, perfect, perfect.

Here I spent three nights, the maximum tolerable when wild camping, so off I toddled to another island, where I spent nights at different spots, each again simply beautiful.



All too soon it was time to head to Lochmaddy and the ferry home.


As I collected my ticket at the port, the friendly agent mentioned that he'd seen me a few days previous while he was doing beach patrol. He even remembered that I'd visited the previous year and had gone on to Barra. I love this place, I really do.

Waiting for the ferry, I went to have lunch in the local arts centre and bought myself a CD of Ceilidh music for the journey home.

All too soon, the mv Hebrides appeared over the horizon:


After a smooth and enjoyable crossing to Skye, off I headed along the A87 towards Fort William.

Now, if you have never driven the A87, then you must stop reading this immediately, drop everything, and GO drive it. It remains my favourite road trip, again IN THE WORLD. The scenery is stunning. Absolutely stunning. As the mountains towered moodily either side of the road, the Ceilidh music played in the car, the Airstream followed obligingly, and the sun set casting a golden glow over the dramatic scenery, it was hard to see to drive through the tears that kept welling up in my eyes. Utterly, utterly beautiful.

However, all good things come to an end and darkness robbed me of the fantastic views. At this precise point, Bunree Caravan Club Site appeared with its welcoming Late Night Arrival Area. I could pull over and spend a restful night plugged into the mains, in total security, and sleep well. Which is exactly what I did. Thank goodness for the Caravan Club and its culture of providing the weary caravanner with somewhere to stop even after hours. And, as if to sweeten the bitter pill of the holiday coming to an end, look at the view that I woke up to the following morning:


You know, life really doesn't get much better than this, does it?

Naturally, there is a video of the trip for you to enjoy:

Airstream Hebrides 2011


Wednesday, 19 October 2011

It just felt right.

It wasn't my intention to take a holiday at the end of August to coincide with my birthday, but it kind of just happened that way. I found myself with almost two weeks off work, with no touring features and no caravan reviews scheduled. After an emotionally draining year (mainly family admin), a holiday seemed to be the way forward. My batteries weren't just drained, they were on the last red reserves and in danger of shutting down. I needed desperately to recharge.

And I knew just the place.

Normally I would go to the Outer Hebrides in the early summer, but the Euro Airstream meeting put the kibosh on that this year. Originally I planned to go there at the end of September after doing a job in Scotland, and it would make no logical sense to hoon up there and come all the way back just for a week away. And I would be spending my birthday all on my own in a remote place.

But while it made no logical sense to make the 1200 mile round trip for a week's zoning out, it simply FELT like the right thing to do. And I have been travelling long enough to know that you follow your instinct, despite the logic. Or lack of.

I booked the late morning ferry from Oban for the Tuesday. Sunday night was spent at the topping Camping and Caravanning Site at Gullivers in MK. Definitely one to go back to when I have the kids in tow:


You know how, when you're trying to get away, and emails keep dripping in that need attention, and you never seem to get clear? Well, that was the kind of day that I was having that Monday. I spent most of the day tearing around Milton Keynes preparing for my trip and tidying up all the loose ends. Tesco car park became my office for the afternoon, and by the time I had filled up with diesel (for the truck), LPG (for the Airstream), and petrol (for the generator), it was 7.30pm when I finally hit the M1 on my journey North.

Pumping the co-ordinates for Oban ferry terminal into the SatNav, it came back with '468 miles, 05:45'.

The fact that it was a six hour journey cheered me. I'd be at Loch Lomond just after midnight to get my head down!

But half an hour later, the SatNav still said 05:45. With a crushing wave of disappointment, I realised that 05:45 was not the duration of the journey. It was the ETA. I was scheduled to do a Roy Orbison, and Drive All Night.

Fuelled by coffee, fresh air, and some good radio, I rolled into a lay-by at Loch Lomond at 5AM, where I caught a 3 hour nap.

It's not big, it's not clever, and it's not recommended to make such a trip in such a timescale. But adrenalin charged by an intense purpose of destination kept me alert.

I got to Oban with an hour to spare, and brewed some coffee in the queue for the ferry. Only once I had driven my rig onto the CalMac ferry mv Lord of the Isles, taken my position on the open deck, and looked out to the town of Oban as we dropped ropes and set sail, did it finally sink in.

I was going back to the Outer Hebrides.



As the adrenaline started to wear off and the experience of the moment finally started to sink in, my Island Journey became truly real and not an imaginary event in the future. In time-honoured tradition, I did what I always do at this point. I stood on the deck and blubbed.

The five hour ferry ride flew by. I hardly touched the magazines I had bought to read on the trip.

On the open deck I made a new friend, Dougal, who was off on his holidays to Barra.


Before too long, the dark peaks of South Uist rose out of the inky black sea.


At this point, there was no doubt in my mind that this reckless, crazy, irresponsible journey was totally and utterly the right thing to do. Sometimes, you do have to cast reason aside and listen to your instinct.