We are joined by Sarah Leighton, an adventurer and outdoor challenge enthusiast who tells us all about her recent solo road trip in Scotland.
The magical Scottish landscape is in my opinion, the best place in the UK to explore by camper van. In some areas of the highlands, I’ve driven for hours without passing another vehicle. Scotland has so many ingredients which make for a memorable road trip – epic roads that wind their way through beautifully gigantic scenery, rugged coastlines, mystical lochs, and of course, the wilderness factor. There are few other places in the UK where it feels like true wilderness, even without straying from the road at times. There are plenty of tourist sites and honey pot attractions if that’s what you’re looking for. But, if you’re looking for an off grid adventure with the opportunity to fend for yourself, then Scotland’s got your back (or not, depending on how you look at it!)
It was early March when I decided to take a spontaneous four day road trip. My second ever Scottish road trip, and I couldn’t wait to explore a little more. I picked up a camper van from Alba Campers in Edinburgh, on a Thursday lunchtime. Having already stocked up on food for the trip, and not being one to waste a moment of adventure time, I immediately launched my maps app to seek out a mini adventure for that afternoon. Just 20 minutes outside of Edinburgh, are the Pentland Hills. Scald Law is the highest of the Pentlands, with views overlooking Loganlea Reservoir, and the rest of the regional park. Leaving the van in a public car park by the Flotterstone Inn, just off the A702, I set off to explore. This was the first of many battering’s that I took from the Scottish weather during the trip, and by comparison, this one was tame.
The woodland tracks below Scald Law lent themselves nicely to some practice of my most recently adopted sport; mountain boarding. I’m not sure what the mountain board scene is like in Scotland, but certainly every person I passed took an interest in what I was up to. I returned to the van just before dark, a little wet, muddy, windswept and generally looking like I’d been dragged through a hedge backwards. A quick change and I was on the road, heading North West towards the highlands.
As the title suggests, I had no real plan. Having been to the Glencoe area before, but never venturing toward Glen Etive, I decided to take that direction. Heading across Rannoch Moor toward Glencoe in daylight, you approach the magnificent Buachaille Etive Mor, which can distract from the small junction where the single track road to Glen Etive meets the A82. Watching Google maps like a hawk (as well as the road obviously), I found the junction through the darkness, and was greeted immediately by a flurry of snow on the windscreen. I crossed a small bridge and pulled into a clearing, big enough for no more than 1 or 2 vehicles. This was home for the night. The intense darkness of the cloud heavy sky masked all clues of what my morning view would hold. However, I settled into my sleeping bag with a sneaky suspicion that if I was where I thought I was, then the view wasn’t going to disappoint.
It didn’t! I woke to the most incredible sight. I rushed to get ready and swiftly ventured out to explore Etive Mor waterfall. This place is very well photographed, and you can understand why when you see it. The River Coupall meanders around the mountain and presents itself picturesquely in front of the northern summit of Buachaille Etive Mor, Stob Dearg. Overwhelmed with excitement I skipped about on the rocks that form mini waterfalls in the river, ignoring the fact that I’d neglected coffee and breakfast to beat the crowds. It was worth it. This spot sits just off the road, so is popular with photographers and those tourists in the know. Further South along the Glen Etive road, the views of the Glen really open up. It’s here I found the famous passing place that stars in James Bond’s Skyfall. Whether you’ve seen the film or not, it’s worth a visit because for the jaw dropping scenery. However, I can imagine that in summer this road would be chaos, so it’s probably wise to pick your timing carefully.
After spending the morning exploring the Glen by van, it was time to ditch the engine and get out for a hike. I headed back to the A82, and parked at the foot of Buachaille Etive Beag. It was mid-afternoon, the snowfall was intermittent, and the wind was pretty fierce. Heading up the rocky path, I passed several groups carefully making their way down. There was only one lone person ahead of me who was heading in the same direction. As I made my way up the rocky footpath, the weather became increasingly challenging. The wind blasting my face, and the snow underfoot, did not make the hike light work. Approaching the mountain pass between Stob Coire Raineach and Stob Dubh, I could see the raging snow blizzards tearing across the summits. I battled my way to the cairn in the pass, and for the sake of my facial skin and eye balls, I decided to make this my turn around point for the day. As I began to head back toward the path, the lone person who’d been ahead of me approached. I headed down with John, and we chatted about our love of the outdoors. As we descended, the clouds parted and displayed the most beautiful view, as if the sky wished to show its approval of these conversations.
Tired, hungry, but content with my days’ adventure I returned to the van. Popping open the maps app, I searched for my next stop over location. By this time it was almost dark again, so I opted to limit the drive time to allow a chilled evening in the van. North of Glencoe is Loch Leven. Heading around the north side of the loch, I came across a loch side lay-by. Yet again the darkness masked my view, and yet again I settled into my sleeping bag excited to see what would await me in the morning.
To be continued next week in Part 2 – make sure you don’t miss it!
If you're feeling inspired for more check out The Journal for more epic adventures and stories.