For the past four years I’ve been driving around the UK looking for nice routes to drive in my camper van for a series of books called Take The Slow Road. The idea was to find stunning and beautiful routes through and to amazing places that would allow the reader to slow down, take it easy and enjoy the lost art of travelling slowly. Think of it as the antithesis to Top Gear. Forget the understeer. What about the view, the walking, the cycling, the countryside, the detail, the beauty of our home nations?
Take The Slow Road: Ireland came out in May 2020. Volumes for Scotland and England and Wales preceded it. Each book celebrates all that is great about travelling by camper van and motorhome and includes easy to follow routes to stunning places, as well as local hire companies and campsites.
I started in Scotland on a wonderful journey, on my own, that took me from Loch Lomond to Oban and then on to Barra and the Uists. It was incredible. Leaving Oban for Barra in a heaving swell I felt the weight of my own responsibility to myself. The nearest friend I had was over 300 miles away in Cornwall. And yet, when I woke up on the campsite the next day at Borve I knew I had made the right decision. I was travelling in perfect isolation. The surf was pumping and the sun shining and I was the only one there. Seals basked in the bay below the campsite, watching my every move.
Later, when I was waiting for the ferry to Eriskay, I watched an otter for 10 minutes from the quayside as he swam in the water just a few feet below me. I watched dolphins cruise the straits. Later, on North Uist, I camped alone on a wild beach with distant views of St Kilda and saw no one else for two days.
I loved the isolation that travelling by camper in Scotland brought me. And now, as it’s become a very necessary part of our lives as we “ease” out of lockdown, it’s starting to appear to be a very sensible way to travel indeed.
With foreign destinations off limits and flying off the menu for ethical and health reasons, the motorhome might well be the best way for us to have our holidays this year.
Campsites are likely to be the first places to open up in the UK and Ireland, and this will mean that camper vans are go (but only when we finally get the nod that it’s fine to overnight away from home)!
In a camper van or motorhome you can be self-contained: you have everything you need: shelter, food, washing facilities and a kitchen. It’s like your very own escape pod. Just make sure you book into a campsite in advance to ensure they have space and facilities to empty your waste, fill up with fresh water and get a good, hot shower.
There are plenty of places to head for all over the UK where you can get your share of sun, sea, sand and solitude, and as long as you avoid the hotspots that are bound to be overcrowded like Cornwall, Skye and the Lakes, we can still enjoy a holiday that’s in harmony with the locals and keeps us safe too.
NB. Check before you travel that any of the attractions mentioned below are open to visitors.
Ireland’s least populated county has a lot going for it. There are wild, lonely beaches, moorland, stunning valleys, mountains and lots of open space. Snorkel at Malin Beg, get yourself a tweed hat in Donegal Town, visit the highest cliffs in Europe at Slieve League and enjoy the space, because there is plenty of it. The local foodie scene is good too, so don’t forget to contribute to the economy by buying your groceries locally when you get there. Glenveagh National Park offers fabulous walking.
There are fewer people in Northumberland than any other place in England. And that has to be good right now. The coast is stunning and is peppered with castles, beautiful beaches and interesting islands. You can see puffins on the Farne Islands, walk over the causeway to St Mary’s lighthouse near Whitley Bay at low tide, drive to Lindisfarne or get completely lost in Kielder Forest. And if you want to feel what lonely really feels like, follow Hadrian’s Wall for a while!
The Scottish Borders
If you like cycling and open space then the Borders hold a secret you won’t want to share. Many of those heading north will completely bypass it on the M74. Here, in the beautiful, quiet hills between England and Scotland’s central belt lie the 7Stanes, a series of world-class, off-road cycling trails. You can link them up with a figure of eight that will take you through some of Scotland’s best lowland scenery. And don’t forget the gardens. The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh has stunning outposts at Dawyck and Logan (as well as Benmore) that are well worth a visit.
Even though Wales is the darling of the camping classes you can still find your own bit of space on the wild west coast. Between Cardigan and Porthmadog there are incredible roads that follow the coast, taking you to beaches, estuaries, historic railways, a fabulous rickety bridge and a famous tourist village at Portmeirion. It’s a journey I never tire of. If you want to watch the sunset from the comfort of an open fire or stay on Europe’s biggest “wild camping” destination, Shell Island, this is the one.
Belfast to Newry, Northern Ireland
The Causeway Coast might be the one with the GOT locations and the big hitting attractions. But if you want to walk on miles of empty sands, hike in lonely mountains and cycle on incredible forest trails, the coast between Belfast and Newry is the one to go for. Strangford Lough is beautiful, Murlough National Nature Reserve is the home of 6,000-year-old dunes and seaside pansies (really!) and the Forest parks at Castlewellan and Rostrevor offer brilliant walking.
Martin’s books are available from all good booksellers and from www.martindorey.com
Martin Dorey is the bestselling author of The Camper Van Bible and the Take The Slow Road campervanning guides including Take The Slow Road: Scotland, Take the Slow Road: England and Wales and Take The Slow Road: Ireland, all out now
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