Cool camping in Scotland

by Jenny.McKelvie

In case you hadn't heard, camping's cool again - and you don't have to go far to pitch your newly trendy tent, because some of Europe's finest campsites are in Scotland

If the idea of sleeping under canvas makes you recoil in horror, think again. Camping is officially cool these days, and, as the author of a guidebook called Cool Camping Scotland, there's one thing I can guarantee: Scotland really does have some of Europe's finest campsites.

One of my favourites is the Lazy Duck in Nethy Bridge. Better known amongst outdoor types for its eponymous hostel, this exclusive campsite – it has a maximum of four pitches -  is unquestionably cool. You don’t need to be active to enjoy a stay here, because swinging hammocks, uninterrupted views of the Cairngorm Mountains, Tarzan-style rope swings and warming chimeas set the scene for a relaxing break. Then there is the sauna and solar-powered shower. When it comes to unwinding, the resident Aylesbury ducks lead the way, being so incredibly chilled that they don’t even hatch their own eggs. 

Not content with hosting just one cool camping ground, the Cairngorms National Park is also home to the Rothiemurchus camp and caravan park. With no set pitches, campers can set up right next to one of the burns that run through the site, or on a soft bed of freshly fallen pine needles under the protective canopy of the indigenous Caledonian forest. With everything from hiking and sailing to quad biking and mountain biking on offer in the vicinity, Rothiemurchus is ideal for everyone, from families with older children (the water might concern those with little ones) to those in search of their next white-knuckle thrill.

To the northwest, the Highlands boast another great campsite, the Sands Caravan and Holiday Centre. With permanent caravans and space for more than 350 touring caravans and tents, the site may not sound very cool, but this spacious camping ground is rarely full and its natural setting makes it just that. The prime pitches nestle amongst the sand dunes and are exclusively for those sleeping under canvas. From here, the views over the Atlantic to the Isle of Skye and the Outer Hebrides are stunning. There is also a long sandy beach where you are allowed to light campfires.

Located up in Wester Ross, the Sands may feel remote, but for a real get-away-from-it-all break, Achnahaird Farm is hard to beat. Located in Achiltibuie, at the end of a long and snaking road, this campsite rewards those who brave the winding journey with a secluded Atlantic beach and mesmerising views of two of Scotland’s most famous mountains, Stac Pollaid and Suliven. All this dramatic natural beauty, however, comes at a price. To say that Achnahaird is short of facilities is an understatement: the toilet block doesn’t even have hot water, let alone electricity or showers. If you want to take a shower - which is advisable for anyone who wants to spend the money they have saved by camping in the Summer Isles Hotel (a far-flung Michelin-starred restaurant) - then you can do so in the local village hall.  

The small Highland village of Applecross, in Wester Ross, is another spectacular setting for one of Scotland’s most out-of-the-way campsites. It is also home to the legendary Applecross Inn, which, although it does not boast any Michelin stars, dishes up award-winning seafood. Camping in Applecross is not just about the village: the spacious campsite itself is pretty cool, with its own café-bar and views that stretch to the Isle of Skye. On a cold and wet day, those who can’t face sleeping in a tent can also check in to a wooden wigwam, rent a static caravan or stay in the onsite B&B, where one of the rooms has a waterbed. Then, of course, there is the journey to the village itself, a heart-stopping journey over Scotland’s highest road (626m above sea level at its highest point), the Bealach na Ba, which comes complete with hairpin bends.

If the idea of a camping holiday still leaves you cold, pitching a tent in one of Scotland’s cool campsites will soon change your mind. Not only can you sleep amidst some of the most dramatic scenery in Europe, but there is also a wealth of things to see and do, from hiking up a mountain to lazing by a picturesque loch.



Childhood holidays in Cornwall, Spain and the USA stirred my appetite for travel. Back in 1997, when I was travelling around Eastern Europe, I met my husband, Robin McKelvie, who was already working as a full-time travel writer. With his encouragement I began writing professionally a year later, combining a part-time career as a travel writer with teacher training and then my role as a primary school teacher in London. The year 2003 saw us move north, and with my relocation to Edinburgh I started writing full time. Over the past six years I have written for a wide range of magazines, newspapers and Internet sites, as well as co-authoring guidebooks and conducting market research in the field of travel and tourism for Mintel. My travels have taken me to myriad countries and cities around the globe. I have written for more than 30 publications worldwide. Favourite places: Northwest Highlands of Scotland, Croatia, Slovenia, Tallinn, Riga and Prague.