A revolution in Scottish camping
The Sands Holiday Centre lies between sand dunes and a sweeping Atlantic beach, with views of the legendary Isle of Skye. (Robin McKelvie)
Camping in Scotland has come a long way since the old days, when it seemed to be the sole preserve of Boy Scout groups and those willing to endure nights in a soggy field along with hundreds of equally sullen souls. But thanks to the rise of a new breed of campsites, the United Kingdom’s double dip recession and some of the most liberal land access laws in Europe, holidaying under canvas is becoming more popular.
At the core of this revolution is the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, which enshrined the right to “wild camp” – or pitch a tent pretty much wherever you choose -- in one of the most sparsely populated countries in Europe. But if roughing it is a bit too extreme, a new breed of boutique campsite, where tents take precedence over caravans has also emerged, offering facilities that actually work as well as winning extras like hammocks in the heather, mountain bike trails on site and even heated wooden wigwams for those looking to cheat a little.
Best for relaxing: The Lazy Duck
The owners named their soporific site after the resident Aylesbury ducks that idle here but cannot be bothered to hatch their own eggs (they refuse to sit on them after laying their eggs so “nanny” ducks are brought in to hatch them). Humans tend to feel as relaxed as the Aylesbury ducks do, with hammocks swinging in the heather, an on-site sauna infused with essential oils and an environmentally-conscious solar-heated bush shower. The Lazy Duck, which only has four pitches, sits on the Speyside Way long distance walking trail in the Scottish Highlands, in the heart of whisky country.
Best for families: The Sands Holiday Centre
This 55-acre family oasis in the remote West Highlands enjoys a scenic locale tucked between sand dunes and a sweeping Atlantic beach, with views of the legendary Isle of Skye. The beach is the main attraction for wee ones at this award-winning campsite, where you can pitch your tent wherever you like, but there is also fishing, a dedicated games room and a shop. Myriad walking options await adventurous families, while those in search of a few more creature comforts, like heating, can rent one of the 10 wooden wigwams.
Best for active types: Rothiemurchus
This progressive estate near the Highland resort of Aviemore has everything from pony trekking and horse riding, to sailing and canoeing, to mountain biking and dog sledding. The stream-side campsite lies amid the ancient Caledonian Forest; take a deep breath and you will never want to breathe city air again. The rest of the Cairngorms National Park beckons beyond the estate with some of the finest hiking and climbing in the United Kingdom.
Best for mountain bikers: Comrie Croft
Scotland is one of the world’s best mountain biking destinations, with excellent biking centres and wild trails, as well as campsites like Comrie Croft in Perthshire whose owners really understand the needs of bikers. Not only does this 32-pitch site have mountain bike trails on their grounds, but they also provide cycles for hire and can point riders in the direction of myriad local routes. Their Tea Garden offers homemade cakes and bacon butties served on vintage china, and there are even pre-pitched Swedish kata tents (teepee-style tents, with wood burning stones and a hammock) if the prospect of setting up your own does not appeal after a hard day in the saddle.
Best for walkers: Red Squirrel
This laidback campsite with 22 acres of camping space lies among some of the nation’s most dramatic scenery in perhaps its most famous glen, Glen Coe in the West Highlands. The area offers straightforward lochside strolls, short hill walks and some seriously testing mountaineering that only the well-equipped and suitably experienced should dare try. The nearby Clachaig Inn is a legendary walkers’ watering hole -- unless your surname is Campbell, the notorious clan who had a pivotal role in the infamous Massacre of Glencoe in 1692. History is very much of the living variety in these parts.
Best for beach lovers: Invercaimbe
This campsite in the Lochaber region sits on one of Scotland’s finest stretches of beach, with the nearby slip of sand Camusdarach once famously starring in the Hollywood blockbuster Local Hero alongside Burt Lancaster. The stunning sunsets are like something from a movie too, as the fiery orange and reds melt over the Small Isles in the distance. Facilities are basic, but if a remote and empty beach is all your soul craves, that will not matter.