The plan was to spend four days exploring using the infamous Land Rover Defender, covering the northwest and with a quick stop on the east coast on the way home. I had all my gear ready, bags packed and had plenty of time with nothing standing in my way of what seemed to be the most flawless trip to date. But of course, this is Scotland we are talking about so anything could happen. Let me clarify now, that it did not happen that way. No, it wasn’t the weather, or the car or any uncontrollable event… It was me, at least to some degree anyway. Let me explain.
Arriving in Peebles to meet with Duncan, the owner of Scotland Overland (www.scotlandoverland.com), and after having plenty conversations via email its always nice to put a name to face so we spent a bit of time chatting. Scotland Overland are a company based in the Scottish Borders who supply self-drive Land Rover Defenders and Toyota Hilux’s fitted with roof tents and all the trimmings you would need to enjoy any extended break. The business was established in 2011, inspired by a trip to South Africa, Namibia and Botswana where Duncan and his wife rented a Landy themselves. That holiday spurred them to quit their careers in London and start renting out Land Rovers instead. Originally they established up near Inverness, but moved South in 2013 as it became apparent that most clients needed access to Glasgow and Edinburgh. They now have a fleet of nine (seven Land Rovers, two Hilux). All vehicles have been owned from new. “We will see how things continue to develop – times being strange as they are – but if we expand the fleet further it’s likely to be with Hilux for now. But we’re keeping an eye on new vehicles such as the Ineos Grenadier as a possibility for the future too”.
I love camping, nothing makes me happier than waking up in the wild and getting that first look outside as you unzip the door, so why wouldn’t you want do it using such an iconic car? This was an experience I was looking forward to.
After all the formalities and a bit of vehicle familiarisation I set off on my way for a 1 hour 30 minute drive towards Paisley where I’d be collecting Tommy (www.itstommysworld.com), my partner for this little jolly, a very talented photographer and videographer. Once i got to paisley and met up with him, we got his bags and gear in the car and while Tommy was getting settled I realised that I had left a bag with all my chargers back in Peebles. Long story short, after plenty of very bad grown up words used and after feeling like such an idiot we made the trip back to collect my bag. When we eventually got there, we discovered that the office was empty with my car securely locked in the compound. After plenty of waiting around and a lot of back and forth I did finally manage to collect my bag and off we set… Properly this time, via Burger King and about five hours behind schedule at this point so needless to say I was thrilled.
Once I had calmed down with food and coffee we got on our way. The original plan was to spend a bit of time around Rannoch Moor and Glencoe with a decent camping spot on Skye, but we were so far behind schedule, not an impossible drive but we were losing time. So, adding to our woes not only did we get stuck in a massive tailback because of an accident but roadworks ultimately killed the target of landing on Skye that night. We did manage to get a few shots at Rannoch Moor, but it started to rain so that was game over for today. With the light fading extremely fast we decided on somewhere at the base of the Nevis Range to park and pitch up. I was a little anxious of getting set up because I was not totally comfortable doing it in the dark unaware of how to do it, but now looking back I’m laughing because it was so simple.
Just to be clear the tent sits on the roof of the car which I think is quite cool. Literally one zip and eight straps held the tent down and then you simply unfolded it. After getting set up we did think about dinner, but the mighty midge helped us make an easy decision and we made for cover inside our tent. We had the four-man version, but there are two-man versions available, not that I was complaining of the extra space. The tent also comes with a foam mattress which I didn’t expect, so after the day we had it was just a little bit of relief and meant I did not have to use my trusty blow up mat. We readjusted the plan and decided to leave as early as possible to try and maximise time spent on location, so alarms were set between 4.30am and 5am.
Setting off at 5.30am we made for fuel and coffee and we made our way towards the Isle of Skye in what I can only describe as torrential rain. Being determined this wasn’t going to stop us, but I was worried for the little wipers of this defender… They had a shift to put in. Passing some incredible scenery, the rain and low cloud just added to the mood. The rain let off eventually so we chose to stop at Eilean Donan Castle for a short break. This was the first time I had ever been here when nobody else was, such a great feeling not having to patiently wait for tourists to vacate your shot.
After spending a bit of time here we carried on, stopping at Kyle of Lochalsh (love saying this name) to pick up supplies for the next few days. Usually on camping trips I would normally go with basics like pot noodles or breakfast bars, but we had the use of a fridge inside the car so of course we picked up the essentials, bacon, a few steaks, burgers and some fresh veg… No pot noodles this time! The weather picked up again by this point which wasn’t a total surprise and we carried on over the Skye Bridge and towards Sligachan. There is an old bridge here that is perfectly positioned with the Cuillin Mountains behind it which creates an incredible backdrop. We crossed paths with a couple of photographers from London here, so had a short chat with them and they invited us to visit the most famous little white cottage on the island. Although conditions were not ideal for getting the drone up here which ideally I would like to have done, it was very calming watching the mist move across the base of the mountains.
Being a day behind things were not going to bad with locations so far. There were two main locations we wanted to get in before heading back across the bridge to stay at the Bealach Na Ba. The Old Man of Storr and a waterfall that will remain nameless. Conditions were OK at the roadside but not looking to great up at the old man, so we decided to head for the waterfall first and assess the Storr later. After a short drive we parked up and started making our way along the privately marked road on foot we made our way to view the waterfall that turned out not to be flowing at all which was a little disappointing but the views we were greeted with were enough to overcome the disappointment. After a little exploring and a few photos we decided to head down to the little beach. Disclaimer... It’s OK going down but coming back up was a totally different story and my lesson was learnt the hard way as I ran out of puff with every ten steps.
After we got our breath back and made our way back to the car for a much needed drink and deciding that neither of us were in any fit state for the hike to the Storr, we made our way to Portree where Tommy wanted to get a few snaps in and we weighed up our options of camp spots. We eventually decided to head down to Glen Brittle to pitch up by the beach, with a stop via the Fairy Pools. But before that the weather had cleared enough for us with a little sunshine so stopped back at the little white cottage at Sligachan and managed to get the drone up. Once we arrived in Glen Brittle, we made the walk down towards the pools which I was not keen on as my legs were still in absolute bits from earlier. I did eventually leave Tommy and made my way back to the comfort of the car for some Irn Bru and Chocolate. I made it to the bottom of the Glen where there was only one other set of campers there which was fine, we got set up again but this time we prepped for dinner. The car comes fully equipped with everything you need and I mean everything. We set up the table, got the twin burner out and hooked up the gas (thanks Tommy). While I started to prep the dinner, Tommy got the wood burner out and got a little fire going. Now there is only one real way to cook a steak in my opinion and that is using a cast iron skillet. It just seems to be the proper way to do it and what better way than at the bottom of a moody glen next to a beach on Skye? The wind picked up a little so we opted to eat inside but I didn’t really find it that straight forward taking into account the size of me, the plate and steering wheel so I chose the bonnet instead.
Before I left Peebles with the car and had my orientation, Duncan did say that the tent would hold up to most conditions and I had this in my mind the very next morning as I woke up at around 4.30am and the wind was absolutely howling, the front porch was going in all directions but the main structure of this tent was staying put. It never even budged. The only downside was that it was stupidly windy and I thought I’ll just have 10 more minutes and then wake up Tommy and we will get on our way but of course it started to rain but sounded a lot worse than it was. Quickly packing up and setting off again, the weather got worse and we stopped to fuel up, get a few more supplies and think about what we were going to do. After plenty of weather checking we made our way east towards Aberdeenshire where the weather was showing the best.
Usually when I go on a trip I tend to stick to the one region and driving from west to east I hadn’t done before so although a minor first it was still a first. Chasing the good weather opposed to dealing with what I had. Leaving Skye was a little bittersweet, there is so much to do and explore here but the weather just wasn’t having it. The good thing about the west coast other than the islands is you have relative peace and don’t really see too many cars or people about which adds to the experience of getting away to the highlands. But as we drove east, the traffic picked up and that feeling of adventure seemed to disappear for the moment. Making a quick pit stop on the outskirts of Inverness we carried on towards Moray and the scenery changed, everything became bright and dry and a lot more relaxing. We eventually came to little village called Cullen, interestingly enough where Cullen Skink comes from. This is a traditional Scottish soup made with Haddock, not to my taste but I encourage people to try it. We stopped just beneath the viaduct, which is now a footpath, to enjoy one of the best views I have had of the old village below and the long-curved beach and blue water, quite spectacular.
Our final stopover was going to be Rattray Head, which sits about halfway between Fraserburgh and Peterhead. I had visited before, but this was a first for Tommy. We turned up and effectively had to ditch the car because the car park was so busy. It is a very straight forward path that leads from the car park to the beach and after navigating a boulder field where you get your first glimpse of the lighthouse, you gain access to the beach itself. The light was a little to harsh to photograph so we went back to the car and decided to go back for sunset, by this time we managed to get a decent spot as everyone had gone. This time getting set up was a lot more relaxing because we had time on our side and we knew how simple it was so we could enjoy dinner a little better. Any guesses as to what we had? Yeah you guessed it… Steak, new potatoes and cherry tomatoes with some other kind of potatoes, why not.
With glorious sunshine, good company and amazing food it was really the perfect last supper before heading home. Out of nowhere after dinner the sky just lit up, all the dishes were abandoned and we grabbed our gear. We locked up and headed back to the beach where it was just us and one other couple to take it all in. The only time me and Tommy spoke to each other during this time was to find out where our drones were to prevent a mid-air collision, all was good in the end. As the sun went down, we ventured back to the car and happily did the dishes in the dark and got settled for the night.
The next morning we were up silly early for sunrise, this was scheduled to be a cracker and it did not disappoint. With only us there, we had the entire beach to ourselves. Sunrise at Rattray Head has been on my list for a while, ever since I wrote my bucket list and finally being able to tick that off on an unexpected stop here was the icing on the cake. We had breakfast on the beach using the potable BBQ supplied in the car and had burgers (the meal we never managed to get) before a little organisation of equipment and bags before setting off home.
We packed up and headed for Edinburgh where Tommy would get the train back to Glasgow. I wanted one more stop beforehand though with a stop down in South Queensferry. Again, another first for Tommy seeing all three bridges in person. It was unsurprisingly pelting down with rain, but it didn’t ruin the views.
To be honest I am not surprised in the slightest that things did not go to plan, it would be naive of me to think otherwise. I am so grateful that we had the car, tent and equipment to withstand the elements we were faced with on a daily and nightly basis. This car comes with not only the wow factor because it looks amazing for photos, but it will go anywhere. You are truly spoiled for choice when it comes to the gear you have inside it, its like having all of your home essentials in the back. It even has a shower and comes with a portable toilet… No toilets were harmed during this trip FYI. You think of what you have inside a campervan, well this has it all but looks better. A camping experience like no other, I’m almost a little anxious thinking about the next time I go camping with my own tent and forgetting something in the car and having to walk all the way back for it.
I highly recommend giving this a go because it can cater for everyone and you will not be let down. Families, couples, and even groups of friends will get an experience not to forget, I certainly cannot wait to get back out again!