Scotland was a place I had wanted to visit for a long time. I have travelled across the world to the hills of New Zealand, flown over the Atlantic to the forests, desserts and western coastline of the USA, but never had I ventured those hundred-odd miles north to the land of tartan kilts and bagpipes. Well, actually, I had been to Glasgow and Edinburgh for a day each, but it was the wilds of Scotland that I so longed for; the long, empty roads, the glistening lochs, the seemingly endless forests.
We Brits don’t grow up with that road-trip culture that they have in the States. A journey of an hour can feel long sometimes. Perhaps it’s because the roads are so small - driving is a chore when you have to dodge perilous wagons speeding around corners on quiet country lanes, or when you get stuck behind a tractor travelling at 15mph on a single-lane A road. For some reason we’d always rather jump on a plane for an hour or two than drive anywhere in our own country. I hope that changes, because there are so many wonderful places on this island of ours.
So anyway, we decided to think of our journey to Scotland as a roadtrip. The van was loaded the night before with tent, sleeping bags, boots and coats; a little brown and white dog and three girls piled into the front seats - my mum, sister and I. We drove away from the dusty dawn of Manchester at 6.30am and by 9am we had crossed the border and were in desperate need of breakfast and coffee. My first taste of Scotland was beans on toast in a border town called Moffat, where the blue and white flag waved impressively and a statue of a rather proud-looking highland sheep told us that these people were glad to call this country home and that they were happy to welcome us to it.
The journey north saw the flatlands of the borders become much bumpier and lovelier; forests scattered in the distance and clear skies greeted us - a somewhat uncommon site in this country, I hear. Our destination was Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park - one of Scotland’s two National Parks, the furthest south and only around thirty minutes north of Glasgow. The result was that it was a little busier than we expected, but it was Scotland and it was wild, and I fell in love the minute we clambered out of the van and skipped gleefully along the pebbly shores of the loch, the sun shining brightly and the mountains reigning supreme in the distance.
This was where we pitched our tent, at a campsite on the eastern shores of Loch Lomond. We made tea and sat in the early afternoon sun, before switching to walking boots and climbing the small but mighty Conic Hill for wonderful views over Loch Lomond in the east, pastures of farmland in the south and mountains upon mountains in the north. By evening, we didn’t expect a sunset as the clouds had rolled in over the mountains, but somehow the sky glowed a thousand shades of pink that evening as the sun lowered beneath the peaks. It was one of the most beautiful sunsets I had ever witnessed, and certainly one I won’t forget.
At 5am the next morning, we crawled out of the warm cocoons of our sleeping bags and wandered in a daze down to the pebbly shoreline of Loch Lomond. Sat in our camping chairs, wrapped in cosy blankets, woolly socks and hats, we waited until the sky turned a hazy shade of dusty pink and the first beams of sunlights appeared on the very tips of the highest mountains peaks. It wasn’t the kind of mind-blowing sunrise we would remember forever, but it was a moment we wouldn’t forget. With tartan pyjamas and tired eyes, two girls waiting for the beginnings of the day; to greet the sun and the mountains and the lake, and then to retreat to our sleeping bags for another couple of hours of dreaming.
When we awoke again, the sky was clear blue and cloudless. We made hot porridge ladened with honey before lacing up our boots once again and heading to the trailhead of Ben Lomond, the most southerly munro in Scotland at 974 metres. To avoid the hordes of crowds that so infamously tackle this mountain, we ascended via the Ptarmigan path - a route that heads through forest, before arriving in a more mountainous landscape, all the while revealing the most breathtaking views down to Loch Lomond.
Around half way up, we decided to let our three-year-old excitable Trailhound off the lead - an idea that we immediately realised was a mistake when he disappeared instantly into the never-ending ABYSS of mountainous Scotland...
“OSLOOO”, we called over and over again. “Here!” We love him to pieces, but Oslo isn’t the most obedient of dogs. His adventurous spirit fits well with the rest of the family, but he is cherished too much to ever be lost on a hillside in Scotland. I found him eventually, wandering lost at the tarn not too far from where he disappeared, looking rather pleased with himself and his little adventure though clearly aware that I wasn't so impressed with his rebellious wanderings. Clipped straight back on the lead, we made the final ascent to the summit of Ben Lomond along a mountainous ridge-line where the wind whipped indescribably strong, making us feel as though we would be blown off the mountain. The journey is always better than the destination, I often think. The view from the summit is beautiful, but it didn’t blow me away as much as those ascending had done. Finally we made it back to the van, the sun still beating down. We were dishevelled and tired, sun-rouged and hungry. We devoured fresh bread and butter from the store back at the campsite and cooked dinner outside in the glowing, evening sun.
The pattering of rain woke us the next morning. I must admit that I rather like the sound of rain trickling off canvas walls. Shorts and t-shirts from the day before were replaced by woolly socks and jumpers, as the view outside was quite different to what we’d been graced with for the last couple of days. The lake was misty and the mountains covered. It was what I considered to be more typical Scottish weather; eerie, moody, the clouds holding a real sense of mystery. We wandered the banks of Loch Katrine before heading to the rather lovely Pier Cafe for a salmon and cake-filled lunch. That evening a pipe-band played in the village square of Drymen. We waited, the three of us squeezed onto a bench wrapped in blankets and munching on chocolate bars from the corner shop. Oslo was terrified as soon as the music began, we didn’t stay long.
I wandered along the banks of Loch Lomond for one final time the next morning, collecting pebbles as mementos and watching rain drops dazzle the calm waters. Before leaving the National Park, we made a stop in Balmaha to catch the ferry to Inchcailloch Island. When I say ferry, what I really mean is a little wooden boat that tootles you along the water for five minutes to reach the island. It was around 9am, and the four of us and a Park Ranger were the first and only people to set foot on the island that day. The rain was gentle and the clouds low, but somehow the less-than-perfect weather was perfect for the setting. We walked to the highest point and gazed between thick foliage onto misty loch-scenes. Two deers blocked our path, skipping fearfully away as they spotted our very excited Trailhound pulling on the lead. We wandered along the abandoned shores; shades of grey and green, getting more than a little damp but thrilled to be somewhere that felt so wild.
Oh Bonny Scotland, we left with heavy hearts. It was the ideal little holiday for the four of us; the perfect way to feel calm amongst Mother Nature, to feel far away yet home at the same time. I still remember the way the air felt at 6am in the morning as we sat on the banks of the loch, and at 9pm in the evening just after the sun had dipped behind the mountains, but just before we retreated to the warmth of our sleeping bags. What a camping trip reminds you is how little you need; no 5* hotel or fancy meals. We ate porridge and beans and spent all of our time outside which is 100% free and 1000% wonderful.