Monday, 26 October 2015

RET and what it means for the Caravanner, the Motor Caravanner, and the Islands

On 26th October 2015, RET was rolled out across the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry network in Scotland.

What's RET then? I'm glad you asked. It's Road Equivalent Tariff, that's what it is. The blurb says that it's something to do with trying to equate the cost of taking the ferry with driving the same distance. The simple reality is that the fares have tumbled, in some cases dramatically so.

RET is not new. It has been going for a while on a few of the 'long haul' routes like Barra, Tiree, and Lewis. Arran joined the Club recently. Now all the islands, and INTER island routes, will benefit from RET.

So what does this mean to the caravanner, and the motor caravanner?

Let's look at a three comparisons. We'll look at the popular route to the Isle of Mull, the hop over to the Isle of Raasay, and the link between the Isle of Harris and North Uist. The comparison fares are for my personal circumstances, so that is a 4x4 truck, an 8m caravan, and one adult:

MULL: Oban to Craignure standard return
WAS:  £267.30
NOW: £71.90

RAASAY: Sconser to Raasay standard return
WAS: £79.60
NOW: £34.20

HARRIS to NORTH UIST: Leverburgh to Berneray standard single
WAS: £94.00
NOW: £36.35

So looking at the Mull crossing, that is a WHOPPING £195.40 reduction in the fare. The ferry crossing to Mull with a caravan will cost about 30% of the 2015 price in 2016. WOW!

The inter-island routes also open up the possibility of affordable day trips between islands. Last year I couldn't believe that to take just my motorbike and myself from North Uist to Harris for the day (for a Temple Cafe or Skoon Art Cafe fix) was going to cost £42.75 (5-day return). In 2016 the same return will cost me £20.10.

This is terrific news for caravanners, motor caravanners, motorists, bikers, and of course for the islanders themselves.


There is always a but. And in the interests of fairness to all, let's talk about that 'but'.

When RET was rolled out to the likes of Barra and Tiree a few years back, the fares tumbled in a similarly dramatic fashion. Tourers, especially camper vans that travel for the same price as a solo car, headed for the islands in their droves.

The only problem was, neither Barra nor Tiree was set up to accept this amount of tourers. Folks would wild camp around the islands. Beforehand, as there were only one or two campers, it was never a problem. Suddenly, swathes of heavy vehicles and caravans were blotting the landscape and, more importantly, destroying it. Machair is fragile, and it wasn't long before erosion set in.

After a bit of an uncomfortable transition period, Tiree and Barra now welcome more caravans and motor caravans than ever before, thanks to a new network of camping-crofts and campsites. Wild camping has effectively been stopped.

There are some wonderful sites on Mull - click on 'Mull' in the word jumble to the right to see where I stayed in 2012. However, even in 2012 the small road between Craignure and Tobermory was already very busy. I wonder how it's going to cope. But I implore the responsible camper to use the official sites wherever possible, and spend that money you saved on the ferry fare on the island. £195 can more than cover your site fees and industrial quantities of cake for an entire week.

if you've never visited the beautiful Scottish Islands and have always fancied it, then wait no more. 2016 really is the year to make it happen. Enjoy.

Tùras math dhuibh.  


Thursday, 30 July 2015

Signage at Northton, Isle of Harris

An open letter to the Stornoway Gazette.

Recently I saw the following feature in the Stornoway Gazette:

Click here to read

This was something I meant to write about a long time back, but work and Gaelic study got in the way.

During my winter trip to Harris in November/December 2014, I went to Northton Beach on the Isle of Harris and my heart sank. As I passed the Temple Cafe, the sign at a nearby house said ‘No Turning.’ I was so sad to see this. If you have not read ‘Notes From a Small Island’ by Bill Bryson, then make it your priority to do so! In it, Bryson talks about the ‘No Turning’ mentality of the narrow-minded and petty.

Worse was to come. At the beach, there were a plethora of ‘Private Road’ and ‘No Parking’ signs, along with a line of stakes to make sure you got the message.

Only a few months before in the summer I had stopped here for the afternoon on my way from Horgabost Campsite to the Leverburgh ferry en route to Berneray. I parked the rig along the front, had an awesome kitesurf session, then trotted off to the Temple Cafe for a hearty meal.

On my Spring 2015 trip, I was unable to repeat the experience. Travelling from Horgabost to Leverburgh my only options were to park in Leverburgh School (it was Saturday) and buy a DIY lunch at An Clachan, or hope that the Butty Bus would be open. I went for the former, and Gail and Reuben at the Temple Cafe lost yet another customer that day. I cannot begin to even think of how many walkers to the Temple at Toe Head have had to reconsider their day as they can’t park anywhere.

I think it is perfectly reasonable for the local residents not to want motor caravanners and caravanners pitching up for the night along their beach. A simple ‘No overnight parking please’ sign would surely suffice? If erosion is an issue, then a kinder, softer sign would still get the message across while not alienating the visitor.

I’ve not been back to Harris since May 2015, and I can only guess that people are now parking along the verges of the road.

However, to me as a ‘regular’ to Harris, it’s not the lack of parking that grieves me. I fully understand that to create a flat hardstanding area, even to extend the Seallam! car park, would cost thousands if not hundreds of thousands of pounds.

What grieves me are those signs and the attitude they convey. An attitude of narrow-minded ‘prissy…rural England’ as stated in the letter to the Stornoway Gazette. In other words, the kind of thing that people make the long schlep to the Western Isles to get away from.

Put it another way. If this canker is allowed to spread and turn Harris into yet another 'prissy' tourist-hating pretty place where incomers have bulldozed their way in, forced the locals out, then erected their precious ring fences (just like has happened in parts of Cornwall), why would people make that long and expensive journey?

As a Gaelic speaker, I notice that none of these signs are in the indiginous language of the land. This is the kind of sign you see in Gaelic - a welcoming one.

Let’s hope that common sense prevails and such signage is removed, or at the very least changed to something a little more in keeping with the traditionally warm, friendly, and welcoming Hebridean Hospitality that so many of us cherish and hold close to our hearts.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Greed and ignorance - killing our simple sites

I try my hardest to avoid all newspapers, even the free ones. However, in a moment of tired weakness on the train last night I flicked through the freebie that was on the seat next to me. One of the main stories was about a lady who nearly died after eating a cupcake in a cafe and going into anaphylactic shock. She was allergic to nuts I believe. The picture of the alleged 'victim' showed her in a graduation gown. In other words, this woman isn't thick.

I do not in any way wish to belittle what happened. This woman nearly lost her life. However, what struck me about this court case is that the blame is being heaped on the cafe that sold the cupcake. Now, this 'victim' knew of her nut allergy, and she had also failed to carry her epipen with her. Yet, because there was no sign on the cake counter that said 'Please ask us about allergens', the lady consumed the cake without knowing it contained traces of nuts. In other words, because there was no sign telling her to ask, she didn't. The lady is a graduate. Did she really need reminding to ask?

By law, the cafe should have had the sign. In other words, the law states that even if you have a dietry allergy that can kill you, it's down to the eating establishment to remind you to ask whether or not that cupcake is going to kill you. In the eyes of the law, the responsibility seems to be a little one-sided.

What has this got to do with caravanning, you ask?

Well, quite a lot, actually.

You see, I'm an advocate of using your caravan, tent, or motor caravan to get away from it all. REALLY get away from it all. It's not for everyone I'll grant you, but to me personally I love being away from club houses, madding crowds, electric hook-ups, and all those other trappings of modern living. Generally I go for four or five months over the summer using small, simple sites (CLs and CSs for those in the know) without electric hook-ups that charge up to £5 per night. I love being self-reliant for my electricity (by solar panel) and for my heat and hot water (LPG, solar shower, woodgas (BioLite) stove, or BioEthanol.) There is a connected feeling of wholesomeness and contentedness about quietly living off-grid for a while.

However, these tiny corners of paradise where I find myself over the summer are dying out at an alarming rate. It is now very difficult in my corner of the woods to find a mains-free CL or CS where you can camp for £5 or under per night. The third CL in three years near to where I am based in Kent has just closed. The three CLs used to charge between £2.50 and £5 per night. All of the owners lament the same reason for closure: Today's 'Compensation Culture', and the prohibitive cost of insuring against it.

Nobody is ever going to make a living out of charging under £5 per night for up to five caravans. However, if you have a spare field with a water supply and enjoy meeting people, it can be a good way to earn what one ex-owner called her 'Gardening Money'. In other words, a little bit of cash to spend on her hobby.

Small sites without facilities are nowhere near as well patronised as their full-facility £15/night cousins, but for folks like me, that is half of the appeal. However, without the volume of 'bed nights' per year, it can be hard for the site owner to cover their existing costs, let alone pay out for expensive insurances. Therefore they take the difficult decision to close, and another simple site bites the dust.

Meanwhile, my Club Magazine tells me of all the small sites that are opening, and generally these are all in the £12-£20 bracket and feature electric hook-ups (EHUs). Installing EHUs is a very costly business, and of course that outlay needs to be recouped as well as the actual energy cost. As the majority of caravanners and motor-caravanners like being hooked in to the mains, these sites can do quite well and the owners can cover their costs, including insurance.

But I don't need a hook-up in the summer. I don't want to have to pay for something I don't need or want. 

On the site I am enjoying at the moment, there are rabbit holes. If I twist my ankle falling down one, as far as I am concerned that is my own stupid fault for not looking where I am going. Regrettably, however, there are people amongst us who suffer from the afflictions of greed and ignorance, and are of the opinion that everything that happens to them is someone elses 'fault'. Of course we all need protection from unsafe working practices, dangers to health, and the like. However, responsibilty for their own actions is something that some people seem to shirk, and the rest of us end up paying for it.  Right now, some of us are paying for it by losing the few simple sites remaining, and the wonderful lifestyle they allow us to enjoy.

Long live common sense.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Changing Direction

June 2015

Nothing stays the same forever, we all know that. Sometimes it's good to take a while away from your normal routine, have a think about stuff, and do a bit of a 'happiness check'. You may have enjoyed doing something yesterday, but do you still enjoy it today?

After a very damp and cold three months in Scotland I've decided to change direction a bit. Sadly for some, I'll no longer be continuing my journalistic pursuits for the time being. We live in a very different world to the world I set out in about 15 years ago. You can try and keep up with it all or do something else. I tried for a bit, but now the time has come to do something else.

My Airstream took me to the Outer Hebrides in 2009, and I fell hook line and sinker in love with the place. Before that first visit, I didn't even know that Scottish Gaelic existed. Like many folks, I thought it was pronounced 'gay-lick', which it isn't. It's more like a cross between 'garlic' and 'gallic'.

Fast forward six years and I have completed an 18 month foundation course and am now half way through a two-year part-time university course in Scottish Gaelic. Upon completion of this two year language course I have the option to complete my first ever degree, which is seriously tempting.

If the struggles of a mature student or learning the Gaelic language are of interest to you, check out my other blog, Confessions of a Gaelic Learner. 

Sadly, being just an average human being and not Superman, I can't divvy up my brain into separate bits and be able to give of my best to many things. I have a day job on the railway based in London that I enjoy immensely and have been doing for 21 years, so that isn't going anywhere. I *love* learning Scottish Gaelic, which takes me to Glasgow, Skye, and the Outer Hebrides at every opportunity. This leaves little time for anything else, and sadly something has had to go.

Fifteen years ago, your average leisure journalist was expected to produce words. Very soon after that, the advent of digital photography caused the magazines to dump their Staff Photographers, and the journos were expected to do the photography too. Thereafter, as digital media takes off, video is expected now as well. With video, a whole new bag of worms is opened up, and it's something I don't really want to go into in public.

There is a massive, massive difference between writing about a successful trip you have already completed, and being commissioned to produced a set piece to a set format on a set area within a set timeframe. Meanwhile, 'trolling' on the internet is on the increase. The uneducated and narrow-minded can be so vocal when protected by the anonymity of being the other side of the screen, which is a luxury not afforded to those who choose to publish.

Insurance is another bag of worms. If you make any money from your caravanning and your writing, then you need to have all the insurances in place: Business use on the car, business use on the cararavan, public liability, and public indemnity. In my case that amounts to a cost of almost £3,000 per year before I even start to consider fuel, camera equipment, computer, data (both cloud and hard), mobile data transfer... and all for a revenue stream of about £25 per month from Google and not a lot more (per month) from other sources.

So, my website is down for now. The YouTube videos are pruned. The latest 'ScotVlog' Series was a moderate success and a great reminder of the ups and downs of my trip, but the time taken to produce and upload these films has not been justified. Instead, I now spend my time defending what I've said in the films to people who weren't even there at the time, but think they know better about what happened to me than I do.

I need a break from all this.

I do have a couple of new projects up my sleeve, so don't think you've got rid of me that easily. Howver, right now I need a little time and space to clear the backlog, readjust, and start coming up with some fresh new ideas.

Thank goodness for my Airstream.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Time Flies

Where has the time gone?

On Sunday night I drove to Rye and enjoyed an evening with my dear friends M&T, and on the way home I nipped to Camber, where I used to live, and savoured a moonlit walk on the beach just over the dunes from the beautiful, designer Eco-house that used to be mine.

Walking Dougal today I thought about that beautiful house. While I do miss it, I don't miss all the reasons why I sold it and moved into the Airstream full-time.

So when did I move into my Airstream for good? A year ago? Two years ago? Nope. It was THREE years ago. Three!

Where has the time gone?

Well, there have been a few major life-events that were unforeseen. One of these was losing Dad and everything that entailed, from his end of life care, sorting through all his stuff, and then of course helping Mum move out of the big family house and into a smaller place where she could start her new life. Just so you know, she is absolutely fine and loving her new pad.

The other unforeseen life event was embarking on a University Course in Scottish Gaelic. Where'd that come from? Two years ago I started the foundation course out of interest, and here we are two years on almost half way through an intensive CertHE course that might be the footings for my first ever degree. The amount of work is a bit crazy right now, with assessments on top of the normal course work.

So much for only working two days a week in 'The Day Job'.

What gets to me, though, is that I open the garage doors at my Mum's new pad, and filling up a substantial corner of it is all my STUFF. Still! Stuff that, for the past three years, I have been meaning to sort out. I've had a bit of a sort through, and when it came to stuff like my snowboarding kit that has gone unused for three years, I looked at how much it was worth on eBay (less than the cost of ONE week's hire) and promptly put it back in Mum's garage 'just in case'. Well, I don't *HAVE* to empty the garage.

This winter, with no dramas scheduled and fortunately none occurring, I thought I would at last have the spare time to get 'everything' sorted. I even took my Winter Hebrides break before Christmas to give me a clear run after the new year arrived. Just like last year, I have parked the Airstream on a 'seasonal' pitch from October to March which means I don't have to pay any time or attention to where I will be staying. It's nice to relax and breathe a bit after a summer of roving around.

However, for one reason or another, that 'spare time' never materialised. The box of CDs still awaits sorting to go to Music Magpie. The photo albums still await scanning. The boxes of books still await sorting.

While on that walk today with Dougal, it also sunk in that in a shade under two week's time I shall be hitching up the Airstream for a three-month study/work/holiday tour of Scotland. I've already got the motorbike ready. I have two free days - count them, TWO - to get everything sorted and packed and ready before leaving, as every other day I will be at work earning those credits in order to take an extended period of leave. Tomorrow I will be packing away my winter coat and getting out my shorts, sandals, and a summer shirt or two to pack in the 'van. Dougal has 48 cans of his favourite German dog food on order to arrive before we leave. My kitesurfing kit is about to be strapped to the car roof. Winter is over and it's time to wake up and get out there again.

Sandals? Shorts? Kitesurfing? What happened to winter? Where did it go? I thought winter went on forever and you could get tons of stuff done?

Where has the time gone?

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Keeping Warm - ode to Airstream

February 2015

When I used to do 'Through the Keyhole' type features for caravanning magazines, one of the most popular questions was:

'What is your favourite accessory?'

Motor movers always came out as number one, followed by a procession of Cadac grills, Lafuma chairs, porch awnings, and other such delights that make caravanning so much more enjoyable.

Amen to all of those, but there is one accessory that I would never, ever be without. To me, it is the most important thing I carry around in the 'van. Rarely does it get used. However, when it does get used, it is an absolute lifesaver.

That accessory, my friends, is my humble fan heater.

I bought my little fan heater from a caravan accessory shop about 15 years ago to boost the heating in my wee 1989 ABI Marauder 400D. I remember paying a lot more than I would have paid in, say, Argos, but this little fan heater had two settings: 500W and 1kW. In the caravanning context, these lower settings can be useful. Despite the high-ish price, it's stood the test of time so obviously it was money well spent.

'I'd rather be hungry than be cold' my dear Nan used to say as she lit the gas fire in our 1969 Thomson. Amen to that too. Heating systems in caravans can fail, for a variety of reasons. Fan bearings, fuses, wiring problems, elements, burners, flues... like everything caravan related, these heaters and boilers need to be far lighter than their domestic counterparts yet withstand the rigours of being bounced about on a regular basis. Therefore, it really makes sense to carry a back-up heater, and a fan heater is far lighter than an oil filled radiator and takes up less storage space than a convector heater.

For off-grid caravanning, I have my Dometic Origo stove and a good supply of Bioethanol.

Recently, I needed to pull the fan heater out of the cupboard. The caravan was cold and I had a blank display on the Alde Central Heating controller. Oh dear.

Airstream & Co provides an extensive, well-written handbook with their trailers, and this took me smoothly through diagnostics processes, from checking the relevant fuses to making sure all the connections are properly connected.  But, alas, no joy.

I dispatched an email to Airstream & Co detailing the history and promptly received a reply including a detailed diagnosis of possible problems from Alde's chief tecchy. After replacing a couple of fuses just to be sure, everything was pointing to the 'PCB' (Printed Circuit Board), the brains of the unit.

I called the recommended local mobile caravan mechanic but got his voicemail, so I left a message. I also called Airstream to see what we could do.

Fast forward 48 hours. With the help and support of Airstream, my PCB is now replaced and the Alde system is back in full working order. Hurrah! Meanwhile, I'm still waiting for the local guy to call me back. If he's on holiday, why did his voicemail message not say so?

Sorry if this sounds a little bit sickly and gushing, but this is yet another reason I'm glad I sold a kidney, mortgaged off my relatives, and bought an Airstream. The guys at Airstream & Co have always looked after me (just like they look after everyone) and appreciate that folks like me need something that, quite simply, does what it's meant to do. If it ceases to do what it's meant to do, they will get it sorted as quickly and as helpfully as possible. The feeling of support - being looked after - is something you cannot put a price on. I still remember that day in 2008 collecting my shiny new 532. The technical director gave me his card with his mobile number on it. 'Call me any time, night or day, if you run into difficulties'. Seven years on, that offer still stands.

You can keep your fancy service plans or customer service veneer like you often get when buying a new car. Common sense and taking proper care of customers in a human way seems to have gone out of fashion in many businesses. Thankfully, Airstream is not one of them. And by Airstream I mean Airstream & Co in the UK, Airstream Europe in Germany, and Airstream Inc in the USA.

Or maybe it's just the sheer deliciousness of the silent, all-enveloping gentle heat of the Alde system that is making me feel so warm and fuzzy...

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

A couple of new videos from the Outer Hebrides

My getting up to date with the blog entries about the Hebrides, Summer 2014, has coincided with the launch of a couple of related films.

First off, my little film about the trip itself, set to the music of the brilliant Maeve Mackinnon:

Next up, a brilliant film from Airstream as part of its 'Live Riveted' Lifestyle Campaign. It stars - ahem - yours truly, and all the footage (apart from me sat in the doorway of the trailer) is mine from my trip to the Outer Hebrides in summer 2013:

I guess my intonation could have been sharper, but the monologue was lifted as highlights from a half-hour interview. Had I knew what I was going to say, I may have sounded a little more full of life!

Anyway, I hope you enjoy these.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Camping and Caravanning on the Isle of Harris (and a bit of Barra. And North Uist)

January 2015

Further to the last blog entry, here's a more information-biased entry for those looking at bringing their caravan or motor caravan to the Outer Hebrides.

This entry is a partial update to my 2012 Guide to Caravanning in the Outer Hebrides. I say 'partial' as once you get South of Benbecula there are new sites around that I have yet to properly mention.

Right now, I want to talk about the Isle of Harris. Without doubt, this is my favourite island in the Outer Hebrides. To the North you have the dramatic North Harris Hills, to the West you have gorgeous white sandy beaches, and to the East you have an almost lunar rocky landscape. On top of that, there are three fantastic places to eat and spend an afternoon with a good book and enjoy a friendly chat:

Skoon Art Cafe 

Temple Cafe

and a new addition to my favourites list:

Hebscape Gallery Tea Room

Despite Harris being the nicest island, your options for camping and caravanning are limited. There is no such thing as the perfect site here, each site has its good points and bad points, and that's the point of this article.

First off, a bit of background:

The landscape is, as previously mentioned, beautiful. However, that also makes it very difficult to find any naturally flat area to park a caravan or motorhome. Levelling out pitches is a very, VERY costly process. This cost is passed on to the camper. As such, while people expect camping on the islands to be cheaper than on the mainland, the opposite applies. I find it far more expensive on Harris than on the mainland.

Here are the sites, starting near Tarbert (the main ferry port) and heading clockwise around the lower part of the island:


It's been five years since I've been here but I don't think much has changed. It's a small, CL-style site with basic facilities and four EHUs. The big downsides are the boggy ground, and the very tight entrance as you turn off the road. I only just about managed it with a 7ft6 wide single axle.


Lots to like here. Friendly hosts, great view, sheltered from the worst of the Westerly winds, and a 'Blackhouse' which is the focus of the campsite in the evening; a place to use the kitchen, meet other campers, and relax. Good facilities.
Downsides? None if you're a tent camper. A couple if you're in a leisure vehicle. The hardstanding area for caravans and motor caravans is the size of a postage stamp. Single axle caravans only, and you'll need a motor mover or need to be able to manhandle your van. Large units (eg tag axle motorhomes) need not apply. There's only the space for 3 vans, no awnings, and any cars will have to be left on the road. No chemical loo disposal (you need to go to Leverburgh to empty the loo) and it's £20 per night for two people in a van.


A warm welcome from Tony and Sharon, hardstanding, stunning views, chemical loo disposal point, and electric hook-ups.

That's the good stuff. The not-so-good stuff:
£25 per night inc EHU - this is for a site with no shower or toilet facility. Wow.
There are five pitches, not three as on the website. No tents allowed.
Access involves a long drive along the single-track 'Golden Road' down the East Coast of the island - not for the faint-hearted.
The road to the pitches is up a very, VERY sharp incline. 4x4s essential. Motor caravans need plenty of oomph and a robust clutch.


This is the wildest, largest, cheapest (but that isn't saying much) and most relaxed campsite in Harris. You can't book, you just turn up.

Well-drained grass pitches, but only a few tent pitches (and a couple of motor caravan pitches 'up top') have a sea view. However, location is what this site is all about - right on the beautiful sandy beach with the stunning backdrop of the North Harris Hills and the island of Taransay rising out of the sea.

Facilities are adequate, based in old shipping containers. Showers are £1 (but you'd only use them if you don't have on board facilities) and there are loos and a washing up area. WCs are wheelchair accessible.

Downsides? It's a flat fee of £14/night for a caravan/motorhome. That's not great if, like me, you're on your own. There are no EHUs, and nowhere to empty the loo (back to Leverburgh...). The site is littered with seasonal caravans, and as there is no on-site staff presence, there is nobody to keep unruly campers in check late at night. I hasten to add that I have NEVER been disturbed by anti-social behaviour here. Facing North West, the site can get battered by the wind forcing tent campers to scuttle over to Lickisto.


There is a great scheme that has been introduced by the West Harris Trust. You're welcome to Wild Camp in certain spots, but are expected to make a super-reasonable contribution of £5 per night for the privilege. This is a great idea.

The downsides are: The areas are just off the road (i.e. laybys) so there isn't much room, and everything (fresh water, waste water, rubbish) needs to be carried in and carried out. OK for a night stop, not a realistic alternative to a camp site for longer stays.

So there you have the current (2014/15) camping situation on the island of Harris.

I conclude this entry with two alternatives if the actual campsite, or value for money, are of high importance to you.

The BEST CAMPSITE in the Outer Hebrides in my humble opinion is Moorcroft Campsite, in the South West corner of North Uist. Great views, super facilities, friendly owners, easy access, reasonable pricing... THIS is the campsite to come to if you have a large (twin axle) or a wide (8ft) caravan as the road from Lochmaddy ferry terminal is almost completely two-way. You can leave the 'van here and explore seven causeway-linked islands unencumbered. Kilbride campsite down in South Uist is also a nice, clean, neatly-presented site, but is less central.

The BEST VALUE campsite in the Outer Hebrides is Scurrival (Scuribhal) campsite at Eoligarry at the North East tip of Barra. The friendly owner Angus-John charges by the person, not by the unit. Therefore in 2014 I ended up paying £5 per night which included brilliant facilities - big en-suite shower rooms and a kitchen with two washing up sinks. No laundry facilities though (2014).

Fantastic views, and EHUs at £4/n if you want them. I stayed six nights, and was charged the same as I was for one night at Flodabay Farm. But, to be fair, no expensive quarrying and levelling has been necessary at Scurrival.

So there you have it... I hope that's been of some use to you. You have the info... now all you need to do is decide when you're coming!

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Hebrides 2014

May/June 2014

Here we go... event of the year, my trip to paradise and the islands I find so totally and utterly irresistable. Since discovering the Outer Hebrides in 2009, I've completely lost the desire to go anywhere else. When I do go other places, my reaction is normally: 'Well, it's nice, but it's not the Outer Hebrides...'

 I'd not been to Ullapool since that first trip five years ago. It's a gorgeous little town that warrants a longer stay yet, just like the North End of Skye, I never hang around because I know what riches lie just across The Minch (the sea between the mainland and the islands).

I thought I'd be smart and fill up with diesel in Ullapool HOW MUCH???!!!!

I later found out that fuel is much cheaper in Stornoway. Nothing to do with cost of the raw material or transportation then, all to do with local competition. In other words, you get ripped off in places where there is little competition. Like Ullapool.

The last time I travelled on Caledonian MacBrayne's ferry 'Isle of Lewis', it was still a couple of years BC (Before Canine). I LOVE Caledonian MacBrayne for many reasons, one of which is that you don't need to leave your dog in the car or in a kennel, you can take it upstairs with you where there is special pet lounge.

I have to say, the Pet Lounge on the mv Isle of Lewis is my least favourite so far, as there are no windows. Let's hope the new ferry that takes up the route in 2015, mv Loch Seaforth, will be nicer. I'll certainly be giving that a go. The mv Hebrides (from Uig in Skye) and the mv Clansman and the mv Lord of the Isles (from Oban) have much nice dog lounges. The mv Finlaggan is OK (to Islay) but on there you can't escape annoying televisions blaring out.

Arrival in Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, was at a temporary berth while the main pier was being altered for the arrival of the mv Loch Seaforth on the run. As such, there was a mighty angle in the loading ramp, but the deck crew were outstanding. I was told to take my time and had 'deckies' checking from four angles as I inched the Airstream off the ramp and onto the pier. Chocks were put into place where necessary, and we were off without grounding or any problems whatsoever.  Have I mentioned I love Caledonian MacBrayne?

Our destination was 90 minutes away towards the South of the Isle of Harris, but all the main services are here in Stornoway. Dougal had been limping off and on since hurting his paw in Brora so our first call was to the vet. Luckily I remembered that there is a large car park near the vet by the BBC Alba studios so I could park the entire rig for an hour without anybody minding. Otherwise, if you need to leave your rig for the day in Stornoway, there is paid Large Vehicle Parking Area behind Engebret's Garage. Everyone knows Engebret's and it's easy to find online.

With no fault found to Dougal's paw (probably a sympathy ploy to get more treats, that dog isn't daft) we headed South to Harris. To keep this entry short enough to be readable, I'll describe the camping on the island in a later blog entry.

My friends G&C joined me in Harris with their Vanmaster Caravan. We had a fantastic week. Plenty of walking, eating, drinking, and photo opportunities.


C *loves* cooking and I happen to love eating, so for an entire week I was spared making my own dinner. He was amazed that the local Co-Op in Leverburgh in the South of Harris had almost everything he needed, no matter how exotic the dish. Like any responsible caravanner, his aim was to buy all his food locally to ease loading the caravan and support the local economy.

When eating out, we alternated between my two favourite cafes in the whole world, EVER. They are:

Skoon Art Cafe in Geocrab

Temple Cafe in Northton

These two establishments are instrumental in my choice to stay on Harris instead of another island.

It was incredibly sad to see G&C leave on the Friday after one week. I decided to head South to the Uists on the Sunday. Meanwhile, it was that Saturday I sat outside Temple Cafe and witnessed the arrogant idiots that angered me so and inspired me to bash out the blog entry 'How Dare You'. I was fuming.

Come the next day I hitched up the Airstream and parked up at Northton to enjoy a crafty kitesurf. Little did I know that this would never happen again... you'll have to wait for the 'Hebrides Winter 2014' entry to find out why!

After yet another beautiful lunch at Temple Cafe (accompanied by farewells, hugs, and maybe a tear or two on my part) I boarded the ferry over to Berneray.

There are no camp sites on Berneray, so CalMac has provided a free service point for Caravans and Motor Caravans. Have I mentioned I love Caledonian MacBrayne?

I snuck off down to the dunes to camp, and apart from doing my usual 'clean up' of the area (happily there was hardly any litter to clear this time) I really wished that there was an Honesty Box or something so that people who want to contribute back to the island in exchange for the free camping are able to do so. A brilliant scheme works in West Harris that allows this.

Next day, I went down to Moorcroft Campsite on North Uist for a couple of days. Moorcroft remains one of my favourite sites in the Outer Hebrides. I always get such a warm welcome from the owners Iain and Catriona, and they even indulge me and let me try out my pigeon Gàidhlig on them.

Once again I had a fantastic kitesurf in the shallow waters off the campsite:

I had planned to stay a little longer in the Uists but I ended up charging down to the island of Barra as I wanted to catch an old acquaintance, Christine, before she left the island. I met Christine on that first trip five years ago, and she spends every summer on Barra in her Coachman Caravan. She's been doing that for more years than she cares to remember, and is a font of all local knowledge.

A funny thing happened on my way to Barra. First of all, let's just say that quite a few folks in the islands, both resident and visitors, know of 'The Man with the Silver Caravan'. Second, people in the islands are lovely anyway, and many will wave when you're passing even if you've never met before.

As ever, I took my time when the road was single track, and if I ever saw anyone coming the other way or behind me, I'd be the first to pull over. After all, I'm obviously on holiday with an Airstream on the back. That other person is likely to be a resident who simply wants to get from A to B.

Today, though, it seemed that the waves from the drivers (and passengers) were more enthusiastic than ever. I was a little puzzled. Had I met some of these people? Then, as I allowed a car coming the other way to pass, the occupants stopped alongside and wound down their window:

'Great blog Andrew!' the driver shouted. I felt humbled. It appears that not only do folks actually read this, but it also looks like the entry I wrote with steam coming out my ears ('How Dare You') struck a chord with a LOT of other people too. Aw shucks.

I'd not returned to Barra (other than a day trip) since 2010. In 2010 wild camping was stopped on the island, yet the campsites were not really ready to accept caravans and motor caravans. It was a bit of a bumpy transition period, but now the transistion is complete and it's probably one of the best islands for caravans and motorhomes.

I intended to spend just a couple of days at Scurrival (Scuribhal) Campsite at Eoligarry in the North of the island, then tour around and try the other sites in order to report back. However, laziness and a contented sense of being settled kicked in, and ended up spending the entire week at Scurrival.

Now here's the thing that I'll be going into when I write about camping in the Outer Hebrides again: ONE WEEK at Scurrival cost me the same as ONE NIGHT on one of the campsites in Harris. Therefore the 'Airport Cafe' down the road got my business every day. Not only was the food good, there was free wifi and, of course, the daily theatre of being the only airport in the world where scheduled flights land on the beach.

After a fantastic week re-acquainting myself with the island of Barra, it was with heavy heart that I headed to Castlebay one last time to board the mv Clansman. Stupid, soppy, sentimental fool that I am, I spent most of the trip outside at the aft end, watching my beautiful, gorgeous islands slip slowly out of site with tears in my eyes. Mar sin leibh Na h-Innse Gall mo ghràibh. Tillidh mi air ais.