In July of 2017, we decided to really switch up our travels. Our travels had been dominated by famous European cities (see a list on our destinations page) but we decided to spend the entire Summer tent camping in Scotland with our baby daughter. We decided to spend July camping in Dunbar, Scotland, about 30 minutes from Edinburgh. This post is our review of the Dunbar, Scotland Camping and Caravanning Club Site, the campsite where we started this exciting – and at times exasperating – leg of our slow travel adventure.
Why We Chose The Dunbar, Scotland Camping and Caravanning Club Site
We were in the UK for the Summer, in part, because we had to get out of the Schengen Area for 90 days or risk violating our visa free travel. We had decided on Scotland, mostly because a quick search of Google Images told us that it was home to some really amazing scenery. After all, our photography is a big part of our travels. But we only had a general outline of how we wanted to do things, and though Dannie and I had been camping in Maine before Lisa was born, we quite apprehensive about what it would be like to go tent camping for three months with a toddler.
We decided that instead of diving right in and starting with the Isle of Skye, we’d get our feet wet first in a comfortable place with easy access to civilization. The problem was that we didn’t know what we didn’t know. The solution as we saw it was to spend our first month working out the kinks in our strategy in a place where we could have easy access to a good sized city to resupply, seek refuge, or get medical attention if necessary (it wasn’t).
Edinburgh jumped out at me as the city in Scotland that I most wanted to visit, and though we didn’t spend much time exploring Edinburgh, the nearby town of Dunbar had a lovely looking campground that included all the features we were certain we would need. Our primary requirements were: Wifi, toilets, tent pitches with electric hookups, laundry facilities, and good views.
Our Review of the Dunbar, Scotland Camping and Caravanning Club Site
I’ll jump right to the point and say that we had a great time in Dunbar. Of all the places in Scotland we visited, it was the most comfortable. I’m not sure if that feeling had more to do with the month of the year, the climate or the campsite itself, but July in the Dunbar Camping and Caravanning Club Site was the easiest of our three months of camping. It was supposed to be, that’s why we chose it. Here’s where we get into the details of the campsite and its surrounds and talk about how it succeeded and how it fell short.
While we were browsing through our options online we were excited to see that the Dunbar Camping and Caravanning Club had all of our requirements (at least on paper), so we were eager to see what it looked like in person. The campsite is laid out on a tiered hillside that slopes down in the direction of the water, but ending long before sea level. Though it did indeed have everything we needed, some of the features were spaced very far apart.
There was a nice store where we picked up some supplies that we had either forgotten or didn’t realize we needed. For example, we bought some stronger tent spikes that would perform better in the wind (later we bought more of them on the Isle of Skye because it was incredibly windy). Here’s a link to some similar metal spikes (affiliate link) which you will definitely want. We also bought a weather resistant electrical cord that was appropriate for connecting to the outside electric hookup. And finally, when the head broke off the rubber mallet I’d bought at the dollar store, I bought a metal hammer that worked much better.
The laundry machines worked fine. There were dryers, but we never used them because there were clotheslines just outside and plenty of wind to dry our clothes. Finally, there was a big playground that Lisa enjoyed a lot. It had a slide, swings, and other basics.
The pitches – the tent pitches anyway – were very nice. There were no obvious boundaries between them, but they were marked out with posts. Many, if not all of them had electrical hookups. It rained a few times while we were there, and the pitches drained well, never collecting water. Because Dannie and I are used to camping in New England where campsites tend to be a little more forest-like, we had to get used to the lack of privacy that comes with being in a big field. But it wasn’t so bad in the long run.
The toilets were nice and clean, and we never had any problems with them except that they were a very long walk from our tent. Much too far away to walk in the middle of the night. The showers were nice and hot, even when it was busy, and there was a family room so we could have privacy when we gave Lisa her bath. The dish washing area was actually outside, under a roof that jutted out from the main building, and surrounded by a wooden wind barrier. It had two sinks, which I didn’t think would be enough, but surprisingly there was never a line to use them.
There were wifi routers scattered throughout the campsite to ensure that everyone was covered. The wifi cost something like 30-40 pounds for the entire month, but of course you could pay for a single night if you wanted to. That payment covered one device at a time. The reception wasn’t bad, but the wifi was so overworked that it was very slow. This was the case at every campsite we stayed at over the Summer. It was usable though, and we did get some blog posts published while we were there. It was more than enough to check the news or read your email, but I wouldn’t count on it for streaming video or anything. I did have one successful video chat with my dad at one point, but I lost him when I tried to walk around.
Our pitch might not have been close to the toilets, but it had a great view of the ocean, with some beautiful grassy fields in front of it. You could also get great scenery by climbing up the hill and looking out in the same direction. Most of the surrounding countryside was grassy rolling hills, but unfortunately the opposite side of the hill had a view of an unattractive industrial building, possibly a power plant or a factory. But as long as you didn’t go out of your way to see it, you wouldn’t know it was there. We got plenty of great photos from right within the campsite. Bass Rock, a steep island with a lighthouse on it, was always visible in the background.
The staff was very helpful, and we really tested them, too, asking all kinds of questions and making special requests. They had plenty of advice for us, ranging from which way our tent should face to directions to the local points of interest. We never had a problem they wouldn’t at least try to help us with.
Whenever I give an address for a location in the UK, I’ll be giving the Postal Code, which is actually more useful there than the street address. Usually it will be enough for your GPS to take you where you want to go, at least within one block. In the address below, for example, the Postal Code is EH42 1WG
The address for the Dunbar, Scotland Camping and Caravanning Club is Oxwellmains, Dunbar EH42 1WG. The road that leads to the campsite is a little tricky to spot but there aren’t many in the area so you can only make so many wrong turns. It goes up toward a grassy hill, and it’s not the one where you have to drive through a wall with a gate.
Climate and Terrain
As I said before, it’s all grassy rolling hills as you are driving around. There are a few copses of trees around the campsite, but for the most part it’s wide open. If you make it out of the campsite and down to the water, it’s very rocky and there is some amazing scenery, especially when the tide is high to cover up all the seaweed and crash against the rocks.
Before we traveled to Scotland we were warned that the midges would be a problem. In Dunbar, we just didn’t see any, and we were starting to feel like we must be pretty tough until we headed north the next month and saw what they were talking about. I think that the lack of trees and the wind coming in from the ocean was enough to keep the insects away for the most part.
It was pretty windy, though it wasn’t nearly as windy as our campsite on Skye. It rained periodically, but it wasn’t nearly as rainy as our campsite in Glencoe. The temperature in July was very comfortable, and though we wore long sleeves most of the time, we saw a lot of locals walking around in shorts.
Dunbar, Scotland: Nearby Attractions
Whitesands Bay Beach Beach
It wasn’t actually that sandy, and the sand wasn’t actually that white, but Whitesands Bay Beach was a really fun place to play around. To get to it, walk out of the campsite until you get to a T intersection and take a left. Then just follow the road in the direction of the lighthouse. You will see the beaches (there are others) on your left as you are walking. Actually, we thought the views on the road were quite stunning as well.
At low tide there can be a bit of seaweed to contend with, but when the water is high you can walk right up to it. We didn’t go swimming or anything, but what a great place for a toddler to play. Lisa loved picking up shells and throwing rocks in the water. We always tried to keep her feet dry, but it never worked. It was just too much fun to get close to those waves, and then one of them would always surprise us.
The John Muir Trail
Our favorite place to play (other than the playground) was the John Muir Trail. We didn’t walk the whole thing, of course (it goes all the way to Edinburgh. But the portion of it that was almost right next to the campsite was really beautiful. It’s named after the same John Muir who made a name for himself as a conservationist in the United States. I didn’t understand why this was at first, until I learned that Dunbar was his home town. What a treat!
The trail starts near Whitesands Bay Beach, and makes it’s way along the coast in the direction of Dunbar. At one point it passes a golf course, but you can just walk around it as long as you watch out for stray balls. But the best part of the trail that we experienced was an area of amazing rock formations near the water that made us feel like we were walking on the moon or something.
We never actually got around to doing a photo shoot in Edinburgh, but we did go there on a number of occasions. We went there once to have our camera gear cleaned, which seemed like a good idea after six straight months of non stop travel. We also went shopping for new camping gear there on occasion, and we even made a trip or two to IKEA on rainy days when we just wanted to walk around without getting wet. I’m sure we’ll hear from people who can’t believe we didn’t do more with Edinburgh, but I think we’ll just have to save it for some future trip to Scotland.
The Kelpies Google Maps – UK Postal Code FK2 7ZT) weren’t actually that nearby, but as we were flipping through lists of attractions, it caught Lisa’s eye and we figured why not. It’s a giant statue of two horses, and it looks really cool. We drove there in our rental car, and even though we didn’t do a lot there besides take pictures, we thought it was worth seeing. There is a cafe there where we waited out a brief shower, and the statues are actually inside a much larger park (called The Helix) that one could explore if one were so inclined. Not us though, we were just there for the big horse statues.
The ruins of Dunbar Castle (Google Maps – UK Postal Code EH42 1HX) were actually much prettier than we had expected. The images we’d seen online focused on the crumbling tower up on a rock, but by walking around to the left we found a much more exciting view that included steep cliffs and a stone arch over the water where waves crashed against the shore. Wow!
And right next to the castle was a small harbor surrounded by a seawall on one side and quaint colorful houses on the other side. In the water we saw jellyfish and even a seal! This was an incredible treat for little Lisa who was losing her mind trying to figure out which way to point and grin. On top of that, those noisy birds that were all over the rocks turned out to be some kind of endangered migratory gull that only visited for a week or two each year. It just seemed to be our lucky day.
Dunbar itself also had some nice scenery, but we mostly just drove through it once or twice. We were very focused on the camping. We did however enjoy a relaxing stroll or two on the streets when we were in the area and the mood struck us.
We had to come here twice because it was just so pretty. Dunfermline Abbey (Google Maps – UK Postal Code KY12 7PE) itself is a big church with a magnificent exterior. In back there are some ruins that include an amazing window on what remains of a wall. We had a great time taking photos here.
By the way, a shot like the one above where Dannie is twirling Lisa is much easier to get if you understand your camera (not because of the twirling, but because of the complex lighting situation). If you’d like to learn how to take creative control of your camera and (for the price of a fancy coffee), then have a look at our e-book, Easy Manual Mode Photography.
But it doesn’t end at the building. If you go behind the Abbey, there is a path leading into a huge park where you can follow winding paved paths, or go down narrow stone steps to explore gorges and a Japanese garden (or so it is called). There are big open fields for running around in, and while we were there it wasn’t particularly crowded. In our opinion, the best view is looking back at the abbey from the path that goes down hill.
The Dunbar Camping and Caravanning Club did a lot to assuage our fears about what long term tent camping would be like (though we did still face our share of challenges later on). It’s a comfortable and safe place to go camping with children, and there is plenty in the area to see and do. It isn’t rugged wilderness like we found in the Scottish Highlands, but that’s not what most people are looking for anyway. We’d recommend this campsite without reservation (our recommendation is without reservation, you should get a reservation at their website).
If you enjoyed this review, you might want to read our overview about camping in Scotland with a toddler for three months, or our reviews of the Camping and Caravanning Club site on the Isle of Skye and Invercoe Caravan and Camping Park in Glencoe, Scotland. If you’d like to read more about our travels and where we have been, head over to our destinations page. And if you’d like to learn about how we are trying to monetize our blog to support our travels, read my monthly series, Operation Digital Nomad. Thanks for stopping by, and happy travels.