If you could believe it, the decision to spend our entire Summer tent camping in Scotland was actually a last minute thing. We were halfway through our year of slow travel in Europe, and in order to continue without getting a visa, we had to get out of the Shengen area for 90 days. After six months of European cities, we were in a position to try something new, and suddenly, somehow, the possibility of camping popped into our minds. Dannie and I had been camping together in Maine before Lisa was born, but as it turned out, that brief experience was nothing at all like the adventure we were about to embark upon, camping with a toddler full time.
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Tent Camping in Scotland With a Toddler
Because our experience was so long and we learned so much, I’ve broken this post down into sections to make it easier to find the information you’re looking for. Here’s an index so you can skip ahead:
- Why Did We Decide to Go Tent Camping?
- Why Did We Decide to Camp in Scotland?
- How Did We Pick Our Campsites in Scotland?
- What Gear Did We Bring Camping in Scotland?
- Is the Weather in Scotland as Bad as They Say?
- Are the Midges in Scotland as Bad as They Say?
- Is Tent Camping in Scotland With a Toddler Safe?
- What to Do While Camping in Scotland With a Toddler
- What Mistakes Did We Make?
Why Did We Decide to Go Tent Camping?
There were a a lot of ways that we could have explored the UK. We’d been living mostly in Airbnbs for a month at a time since we started our trip, and it had been working out pretty well for the most part. We’d also spent a few nights Glamping (“Glamorous Camping”) near Venice. The last two nights before our camping expedition were actually our anniversary, which we enjoyed in an English Castle. We’d stayed in a few hotels, too, when the conditions called for it, and even visited friends we’d met through social media. So we already knew a number of ways to travel.
Long Term Camping With a Toddler Was a New Experience
Like I said, Dannie and I had been camping before, but Lisa hadn’t. Having stayed mostly in cities since starting our journey, she hadn’t had much experience with nature or the outdoors. She did have some experience with tents, since she spent most nights in her travel tent, but that’s not really the same thing. One of the biggest advantages of full time travel was supposed to be to give her (and ourselves) a diverse experience. As of this writing, it’s been 10 months since our camping trip, and I can confirm that the memories (good and bad) have really stuck with us.
We Wanted to Push Our Limits
If you want to learn anything in life – about the world or about yourself – you have to step outside your comfort zone once in a while. We’d been doing just fine slow traveling in European cities, and though we had our share of headaches along the way, I wouldn’t say that we’d been anywhere near our breaking point. Camping for three months definitely got us closer. There were a number of times when we were hovering near a total meltdown, and we had to readjust our priorities. I wouldn’t say that we cherish those moments exactly (Dannie certainly wouldn’t say that!), but I think we’re a stronger family now because of them.
Camping Was Less Expensive
Camping in Scotland wasn’t exactly free, but it was a heck of a lot less expensive than staying in hotels and Airbnbs would have been. A tent pitch came in at under 25GBP (35USD), which, compared to the nearby Airbnbs ($75+) and hotels ($100+) was a bargain that was hard to ignore. At that difference in price over three months, we could easily afford to purchase all the camping gear we needed, then donate it at the end.
To go camping we also needed to rent a car, which was expensive, but because all the scenery we really liked in the UK was out in nature, we were going to have to rent a car anyway if we wanted to see it. In other words, we had to treat the car as a sunk cost of photographing the countryside. That being said, our experience with the car rental company – Easirent – was so bad that I will have to write a review of them later, and I will not put a link to them for fear of boosting them in search results. But anyway, we should move on.
Camping Got Us Close to the Scenery
We always prefer to do our photography in the early morning, when the light is beautiful and the crowds are thin. Because most of the scenery we were going to be photographing was out in nature, we thought there was no better way to get acquainted with it than by sleeping in it. Ok, it probably wasn’t necessary, but cutting 15 minutes off your drive by staying outside town adds up over a long enough period of time. Also, we never had to check the weather on our phones when we woke up because the weather was right in our faces.
Why Not an RV (or Motorhome or Caravan or Whatever You Want to Call it)?
Apart from the drastic difference in price between a three month RV rental and a tent, there were other practical reasons why we thought a caravan wasn’t right for us. For one thing, I didn’t really want to drive one, especially on the wrong side of the road (sorry, UK), and especially on those narrow backroads in Scotland. Also, we were going to be heading out to explore just about every single day, and driving all of our stuff around with us seemed like a headache.
Also, while we were under no delusions that our intended expedition would ever be thought of as “roughing it,” we liked to think that sleeping in a tent would give our Summer in Scotland a certain adventurous fromance that an RV just doesn’t provide.
Why Did we Decide to Camp in Scotland?
Camping is pretty big in the UK, so we had plenty of choices. There were a lot of places in England that were hard to cross of our list. But tough choices (ie, deciding not to go to a place), have been a big part of travel for us. The important thing to keep in mind is that the city or region you are passing on will always be there next year and the year after that.
The Scenery in Scotland is Amazing
Well, first of all, once we decided that we were camping instead of staying in big cities like London, we just had to figure out what region of the UK would provide us with the best landscapes for our photography. A little Googling put a spotlight on Scotland. Rugged mountains, old castles, rocky coasts and dramatic skies seemed to be about all you could see as you drove north from England. To be fair, as we actually made that drive, we saw that England had its share of beautiful scenery as well, but Scotland was just plain thrilling to look at.
We Wanted to Focus on One Area
Our original plan (before we even settled on camping) was to start in London and make our way north to Scotland, then cross over to Ireland to return south, eventually making our way back to London. But the more we looked at this plan, the more the logistics of it started to seem daunting. Not that it’s impossible to do, we’re sure that many a traveler has made that trip in the past. It’s just that moving around that much isn’t our style. We really like to take it slow. We like travel, but the actual act of traveling, moving between two destinations, is kind of a pain in the neck. If we can manage to only pack our bags up once a month (or less: hello 2018 in Dali, China), we have a lot less stress in our lives.
An added bonus of limiting ourselves to a smaller region is that we get to know it better. Sure we’d get a bigger variety of scenery and culture by moving around more, but this was our chance to really get in touch with a place, create some images that told a coherent story, and generate some real expertise to share with our readers on this humble family travel blog.
How Did We Pick Our Campsites in Scotland?
I’d love to say that we had some kind of complex algorithm to choose the perfect campsite, or that we had amazing inside tips from seasoned Scotland campers, but in reality, our campsite selection process was far from scientific. We have grown accustomed to picking our living conditions based on a few photos, a star rating, and three or four single paragraph reviews, but we’ll admit that the visceral closeness to nature made campsite selection a little more nerve-racking.
A Quick Note for American Readers: in the UK, the camping nomenclature is a little different. Just as an elevator is called a lift and a traffic circle is called a roundabout, some of the camping words are different too. Maybe this is also true in Australia, New Zealand and other English speaking countries, but we haven’t been there and I don’t feel like looking it up. Here’s a quick guide:
- In the US, the patch of ground where you place your tent is called a “campsite” because it is the site where you camp. It the UK, it is called a pitch, because it is the place where you pitch your tent.
- In the US, a collection of campsites is called a campground. In the UK, a collection of pitches is called a campsite.
- In the US, a big house on wheels that you go camping in is called an RV, in the UK, they mostly call it a caravan.
We Thought About Our Needs
One thing that helped us narrow down the many campsites in Scotland, was that we had a lot of very specific needs. There were a number of deal breakers for us, so if a campsite lacked just one of them, we could simply cross it off our list.
- Electricity: Photography is a big priority for us, and we need to charge our camera batteries and our laptop computer. We didn’t like the idea of running our car all day to charge with an adapter, so any campsite we chose had to have tent pitches with an electrical hookup. No electricity meant no cameras, and no cameras meant no deal. We also had no intention of cooking over an open flame inside our tent, so we needed electricity to power our cooktop as well.
- WIFI: We don’t just take photos, we also have to upload them for our blog and social media. We also need the internet to do research for our outings and to make our future bookings. We certainly didn’t want to rely on mobile data out in the wilderness, so some kind of wifi was going to be a necessity. It didn’t even have to be very fast, it just had to work when we needed it (spoiler: it almost never did).
- Toilets, Showers and Laundry: We had no intention of washing up in the nearest loch, so there had to be facilities available to us. The cleaner the better.
- Access to Civilization: Over a period of months, the odds of needing a trip into town go up. We were going to need to resupply with food, toiletries and diapers. We were going to have to have to replace broken things or pick up supplies we had forgotten about while we were packing. And of course, we were going to need an occasional break from being “one with nature.” A 15 minute drive from town was about as far from civilization as we thought we could handle.
We Read Reviews
After making sure that a campsite had everything we needed, we looked around for reviews from previous patrons to make sure that 1) they actually had the things mentioned in the campsite description, and 2) there weren’t any secret flaws that went unmentioned. No campsite is going to put on their webpage that they are swarming with midges or that their tent pitches are sloped and rocky. The importance of reading reviews (not just the star ratings) is one of the things we learned from a year of staying in Airbnbs.
Location, Location, Location
Of course, we had to make sure that the campsites we stayed in were also close to beautiful scenery so we could do that whole photography thing we like to do. We made lists of the landmarks that we were interested in, and used Google Maps to check how close the campsites would get us. Of course, distance isn’t always the best measurement, we made sure to check the drive time by searching for the best route.
We Crossed Our Fingers
To be honest, there was no amount of research or preparation that could have made us feel completely comfortable signing up for a month outdoors without ever setting foot on a campsite. Before we showed up, there was always a chance that we had overlooked something or been mislead about something. In a way, every time we set up our tent and explored our surroundings, we sort of felt like we had dodged a bullet. The one exception was the campsite we stayed at in Glencoe, which was actually one we spotted on the way to another site we had been planning on staying at (more on that below).
The Three Campsites We Stayed At
For the month of July, we stayed at the Camping and Caravanning Club site in Dunbar, Scotland. It certainly had its share of good scenery, but the biggest attraction for us was its proximity to Edinburg. We had never been camping with a toddler before, let alone in a foreign country, so we wanted our first site to have access to a big city in case issues arose. If we forgot an important piece of gear, we wanted to make sure we could buy it easily. If the climate proved to difficult for us, we wanted to know that there was lodging nearby. If there was a medical emergency, we wanted to have access to hospitals. It was a way for us to work out the kinks without going all in right away.
Also, we wanted to tour Edinburg a little while we were at it.
The Dunbar Camping and Caravanning Club site actually wound up being very nice. It was comfortable, attractive and clean. Dunbar itself was also lovely and the surroundings were just the right mixture of nature and civilization for a family that wanted to dip its toes in the water before diving into a whole season of tent camping. We especially enjoyed walking on the John Muir Trail, which started right outside the campsite. A full review of the campsite will be live on the blog soon, so check back.
If we were testing the water in Dunbar, the Isle of Skye was a deep dive. The terrain on Skye was much more rugged, the weather more harsh, and the nearby towns much smaller. Mobile data and wifi were hard to come by. The campsite we stayed at, the Skye Camping and Caravanning Club site, was pretty nice however, largely due to its very hard working staff. The campsite is on the property of a farm, so we sometimes got to eat fresh eggs, and Lisa enjoyed watching the sheep and highland cows.
The Isle of Skye is big, but most of our favorite scenery, like Fairy Glen and the Old Man of Storr, could be reached within 30 to 45 minutes by car. The town of Portree, Scotland just 15 minutes away was the best place to resupply. August on the Isle of Skye wasn’t so much cold as it was windy. There were a few nights when we thought we might blow away with our tent, but we survived to write a blog post about it.
This was the only campsite we booked at the last minute. While on Skye, we decided that we hadn’t had enough of Scotland yet, so we decided to spend September in Glencoe before driving back to London for our flight to Prague. We were planning on staying at another nearby site in Glencoe that didn’t accept reservations, but upon doing a drive through on arrival, we decided it wasn’t up to our standards. We had seen Invercoe as we drove by the loch, and decided to check it out. We were pleasantly surprised to see that the campsite was well kept, affordable and had vacancies. They sure seemed surprised when we just showed up and said we wanted to rent a tent pitch for a month.
Even though the Invercoe Caravan and Camping Park was probably the nicest campsite we stayed at in Scotland, it was not our best experience. We had lovely weather for setting up our tent, but shortly after that it started raining and it just didn’t stop. There were maybe 3 days in September when it wasn’t raining, and the temperature actually dropped a lot more than we expected. We were cold, wet and grumpy during our stay in Glencoe, which is too bad because it was a really beautiful area. We were told that spring was a really nice time to visit, so keep that in mind.
Read our in depth review of the Invercoe Caravan and Camping Park.
What Gear Did We Bring Camping in Scotland?
When we first started out in Dunbar, our tent was a Quechua Arpenaz Family Tent. It is described as a four man tent, but we quickly discovered that it was too small for our family of three. We couldn’t lie in the sleeping area without pressing against the walls, and we couldn’t stand up in the kitchen section, which had no floor tarp and not enough room for all of our folding chairs. We could have made it work for a week or so, but if we were going to make it three months, something had to give.
So we found the local Decathlon, returned the little tent, and upgraded to the larger model, the Quechua Arpenaz 4.1 Family Tent, which has a similar name, but was much larger, had a floor for the kitchen, and enough room to stand up in the cooking and sleeping areas. It wasn’t luxurious, but it was livable and worked well enough for us.
Our Baby Carrier
There isn’t a lot of stroller friendly terrain in Scotland, so Lisa spent a lot of time strapped to our chests. Specifically, we brought our Ergobaby Omni 360. As it happens, we’ve written a review of our Ergobaby, which worked stupendously.
Big Metal Spikes
The spikes that came with the tents were metal, but not big enough to inspire confidence when the winds got high while camping in Scotland. We went to the campground store and bought some sturdy replacements. Here is a link to some similar ones you can buy online.
Our Sleeping Bags
When we told the store clerk that we were camping over the Summer in the UK, he said we could get by with sleeping bags that were good for temperatures as low as 10 or 15 C. When we told him we were spending a month of that time on the Isle of Skye, he looked us over and said they should go down to 0C. We bought these Forclaz 500 sleeping bags (orange for Dannie and brown for me). We also got this children’s sleeping bag for Lisa.
Lisa was used to sleeping in a tent because she loved her travel tent that she used throughout our travels in Europe, but sleeping bags were another story. Maybe other toddlers are different, but ours crawled out of there every 15 minutes or so in her sleep, and we had to keep her between us, constantly stuffing her back in so she wouldn’t be cold. It made for some bad nights’ sleep. If anyone has any tips on keeping toddlers in a sleeping bag, please share them in the comments!
We bought an electric cooktop from a department store in London (here’s a similar looking one, though I can’t remember what brand we actually used), with the intention of plugging it in and cooking inside the tent. We did not care for the idea of using an open flame inside the canopy, or look forward to preparing meals unsheltered in the Scottish rain. Electric was the obvious solution. When we got to our campground, we discovered that the cord was inadequate in length, and (duh) not weatherproof anyway, so we went to the campground store and bought a weatherproof power strip with a long cord.
When we plugged it in, we discovered that it was an induction stove, and that the cheap pots we’d bought from IKEA wouldn’t work because they were made from the wrong kind of metal. So we went back to IKEA and bought some slightly less cheap pots and pans that worked just fine. It was a pain in the but to replace our cookware, but we actually wound up really liking the induction stove. Dannie wants one in our new apartment in Dali, China.
If you are camping overseas, make sure you buy one with the correct plugs for the country you will be in.
We bought two adult folding chairs and one baby folding chair because it beat sitting on the ground. Most of the U.S. campgrounds I’ve been too have a picnic table in every site, but in the UK, none of them did, apart from some communal tables that were usually unsheltered or far from our tent. We pretty much ate in our laps for three months, which, to be honest, kind of sucked.
We may have been eating on our laps, but we bought a table to put our stove on. This was a must, and the one we got was small enough to fit in the tent kitchen, but tall enough that we barely had to bend over to cook. It didn’t hurt that it was inexpensive because we planned on ditching it once the Summer was over.
We bought these cute little lanterns so that we could find things at night and impress Lisa with our shadow puppet skills. We liked that they had hand cranks in addition to their charging ports, because honestly we already had enough things plugged in.
A Bunch of Crap From IKEA
Before our camping trip we went to IKEA and bought plastic plates, cups, spoons, forks, knives and bowls. They were all ok, except for the plastic spoons forks and knives, which were poorly balanced and kept sliding off of our plates and landing on the dirty floor. We also bought some storage containers for the clothes we wanted to keep in the tent, which allowed us to stay a little more organized.
Lisa got a little wooden train set, and a fabric mat to play with it on (a really great buy that packs down well for travel). We also bought a glass lantern and some string lights that we used in our photo shoot at Fairy Glen. And some cookies.
The ground can be hard and lumpy sometimes, so we bought foam sleeping pads that rolled up tight when it was time to put them in the car. Unfortunately, water liked to condense on the floor of our tent (cold surface meets moist breath). To combat this, we actually bought a duvet and put it over the sleeping pads. It kept us dry and added a little extra padding and insulation. It sure did collect dirt thought.
Skin So Soft
I was a little surprised to hear people recommending an Avon product to combat Scotland’s legendary midges. I wondered, who could have possibly noticed that a skin product was keeping bugs away. Then we tried it, and I wondered instead why Avon had created a skin product that smelled like bug spray. Skin So Soft is DEET free though, which made us feel a little better about putting it on two year old Lisa. It seemed to work pretty well too. When the midges were out, they would still swarm around us, but for the most part never got around to biting.
We figured if we were going to be outdoors for 90 days, we were going to have to do a little walking. We each – Dannie and I – got a pair of hiking boots, so we could step in the mud without getting wet and climb over rocks without slipping. We put them to good use, especially on the Isle of Skye. We were in a bit of a hurry, so we both bought the first pair of boots we found at Decathlon that fit us, but so far so good. It’s been almost a year now, and we’re still traveling with them, even though we’re no longer camping. Here’s my pair, and here’s Dannie’s.
In addition to IKEA and Decathlon, we also went to Uniqlo to by some extra clothing we thought we might need. We picked up some warm undershirts and leggings to help us keep warm, and it was a good thing we did because it regularly got fairly chilly. We often wore our long underwear at night, even though our sleeping bags were warm. It came in handy when we had to get up at night because nature was calling.
It’s windy in Scotland, so we bought a kite. Lisa loved it and it provided hours of entertainment. Ok, so it’s not technically “gear,” but if you are camping in Scotland with kids, you should really consider getting a kite.
Because we wanted to visit local attractions and not just hang around our campsites, we had to have a car with us. It’s an absolute necessity if you are tent camping with family in Scotland. We rented a car from Easirent in London. The car worked fine, but I won’t be linking to Easirent because I found them to be dishonest and unhelpful. I recommend renting a car, but doing it from literally any other agency.
All of Our Camera and Computer Stuff
We were a little nervous about having all of our gear with us in the outdoors for an extended period of time, but in the end, we didn’t really have any trouble. We were able to charge our gear at night, and store it in the car when the weather was menacing. because we didn’t take any unnecessary risks, keeping it all clean wasn’t really any more difficult than in the city. For a look at some of the camera gear we carry, check our resources page.
Our Knowledge of Photography
This didn’t take up much room in our bags, but it sure was helpful. I just thought I’d mention that you can bring some of that knowledge on your camping trip too if you read our e-book, Easy Manual Mode Photography. It’s definitely worth a look if you lack confidence in your photography skills and often feel like you “got lucky” when you come home with a great shot.
Actually, We Brought Everything We Own
In addition to stuff we bought just for camping, we also brought literally everything we own in the world. That’s because we sold everything we couldn’t take with us before we embarked on our slow travel adventure back in January of 2017. Our tent wasn’t too cluttered because we left our suitcases in the trunk of the car. If you were wondering how Dannie stayed comfortable most of the time but still had pretty dresses to put on for our photos in the mountains, that’s how. One of the tricky things about full time travel is that you go through a lot of different climates, which means you either need to carry a lot of clothes or buy appropriate attire whenever the seasons change. We tend to do a little of both.
To read about how we are trying to monetize this blog to support this lifestyle, check out our monthly series, Operation Digital Nomad.
Is the Weather in Scotland as Bad as They Say?
During our July in Dunbar it was actually mostly clear, but we got scattered showers every other day or so. While we were on the Isle of Skye in August, it rained for part of almost every day, but mostly at night. There was plenty of time for playing outside and doing our photography without getting soaked. In Glencoe, Scotland in September, the rain was almost non-stop. During over a year of full time travel, this was the only time when I felt like the weather had a truly negative impact on our visit as a whole.
Glencoe was the least windy part of Scotland that we visited. In Dunbar, because we were exposed to the open ocean, there was a pretty consistent stiff wind that was good for kite flying and drying our clothes on the line. It was strong enough to push Lisa’s stroller uphill when she wasn’t sitting in it. The real wind was on the Isle of Skye, though. A few nights in August we had gusts of over 45 miles per hour, and it felt like the tent was going to collapse at any minute. It never did, but it made for some scary nights. We were just glad we’d bought those heavy duty spikes to hold everything down.
Are the Midges in Scotland as Bad as They Say?
The Midges Aren’t So Bad, Except When They Are SO BAD
Actually, at our campsites the midges weren’t much of a problem at all. In Dunbar and Skye, the campsites we stayed at were both right on the water. There was enough wind coming in from the sea or the loch that the midges really couldn’t bite us. In Glencoe, the Invercoe campsite had some kind of special devices around the property that were supposedly keeping the midges away. I’m not sure how they worked, but sure enough, the midges weren’t really a problem there.
When we left our campsites, especially when we went into the forests or mountains, the midges were sometimes intense, particularly on the Isle of Skye. One time, I pulled over to use the bathroom (step behind a tree) in another campsite that was located in the woods, and I couldn’t believe there were people actually staying there. The midges were so thick there I thought I’d never make it back to the car intact. The bugs also made for a pretty crappy visit to the Fairy Pools. As we mentioned in the gear section, Avon Skin So Soft spray actually helped.
Our tents weren’t airtight, and sometimes we’d wake up and find that midges were collecting in the corner of our kitchen area. Luckily those unfortunate insects seemed to be mostly interested in getting back outside instead of biting, so we just opened the flap and shooed them out. For the most part, they never made it into our sleeping area.
Is Tent Camping in Scotland With a Toddler Safe?
Over a period of about 3 months, we didn’t even have a brush with real danger. The scariest moments by far were the very windy nights on Skye, and even then, the safety of our car was just a few feet away. The campgrounds that we stayed at all had shelter available, and though we were farther from medical attention than we would have been if we were in a big city, the camping itself didn’t seem to pose any direct risk to our daughter’s safety.
It got pretty chilly at night in Scotland, especially toward the end of September amongst the mountains of Glencoe. Keeping Lisa in her sleeping bag was a big challenge, so we were glad that we had bought her lots of warm fuzzy jammies. In addition to her usual long sleeves and warm socks, we had a cute little penguin costume that she really loved. It helped keep her warm, and it also made getting ready for bed more fun for her.
Even though camping in Scotland didn’t feel any more dangerous than our everyday life, Lisa was still a toddler and toddlers require constant attention. They are always tying to hurt themselves or wander off, and that didn’t stop just because we were outdoors. At the campsites, there were other campers in cars or RVs, driving in and out of the gate every day. Lisa loved running around, and we made sure that she stayed away from moving vehicles and other potential hazards. There’s no such thing as a vacation from parenting. The Dunbar campsite had a fenced in playground that provided a lot of entertainment for her. There was one in Glencoe too, but you know, the rain.
Sure the terrain in Scotland was rugged, but it wasn’t like we let her play by the cliffs unattended, and it’s not like the campsites are built in the most dangerous places. Overall, the minimal amount of street traffic in the campsite was by far the biggest hazard, just like it would have been in the city.
What to Do While Camping in Scotland With a Toddler
Go For a Hike
If you’ve been following us for a long time, you’ll recall how much Lisa loves climbing on stairs. In an airbnb with stairs, this can be a source of stress, but when we went out for hikes with Lisa, it was actually a little bit of a blessing. When we put her down on a slope, she just started going, and all we had to do was make sure she stayed on the trail. One of the biggest draws of camping over hotels or Airbnbs was that we were giving Lisa a chance to experience nature. Sure, she didn’t have the stamina to make it up a big mountain or anything, but that’s what our baby carrier was for. And for what it’s worth, yes, a toddler can appreciate a good view.
Learn to Skip Stones
No, you don’t have to go camping to do this, but most of the campsites we looked at were loch-adjacent, so we had water and free time. Lisa loved playing near the water and she loved throwing stones in. By the time September was over, she would pick up every flat rock she saw and say “skipping stone!” She didn’t actually have the coordination required to skip a stone, but she loved throwing them anyway, and she loved giving them to me to skip for her.
Visit a Castle
By the time we finished our year in Europe, Lisa must have been convinced that castles are just a normal part of the scenery. From the Loire Valley to the Fisherman’s Bastion to Klis, she was never far from a fortress or palace. Scotland was no exception. We saw lots of castles while we were camping. Some were near our campsites, and some required a drive. Some we just happened to pass on our way from one place to another. Our two favorite castles for photography were the ruins of Dunbar castle and Eilean Donan Castle.
Meet the Locals
The people in Scotland were really nice, but the locals your toddler will be most excited about are walking around on four legs. From highland cows to flocks of sheep, Lisa never got tired of looking at the animals. In Scotland, especially on the Isle of Skye, there are plenty of places where sheep just roam about, free to cross roads and graze in the slopes of the glen. The upside of this is that children get to see them up close. The downside is that you always have to watch your step because there is poop everywhere.
Read Picture Books
On a rainy Scottish afternoon, you will be very glad that your tent is well stocked with children’s books. Camp stores tend to have a few on hand for purchase if you forget to pack them. At first we were a little bit annoyed that all of the books in the campsite stores were centered on Scottish themes like highland cows and haggis, but Lisa certainly didn’t mind, and eventually we found that it created more concrete memories for us as well since it tied the experience to the place. Don’t forget to pack a lantern so you can read bedtime stories too.
What Mistakes Did We Make?
Our experience was pretty positive, but not everything went perfectly. There were plenty of times when we slapped ourselves on the foreheads and wondered what we were thinking.
Not Enough Rain Gear
We had some gear for rain – raincoats and waterproof shoes for everyone – but when it just wouldn’t let up, we found ourselves really wishing we could have been decked out head to toe in rubber.
In addition to keeping ourselves dry, we also really could have used some rain gear for our gear. On most rainy days when we really want to do some photography, I just kind of hold an umbrella over my head with my neck, and take photos from the shelter it creates. But one particularly common type of rain in Scotland was a windblown mist that no umbrella could protect against. There’s no doubt that we should have packed some rain guards for our cameras so that I could have had a little extra protection. We certainly would have gotten one or two more photo shoots in if we’d had them.
Over time, the feet of our chairs started wearing small holes in the bottom of our kitchen and water started leaking in. A little duct tape did a great job of patching that up, but the real problem was the water we tracked in ourselves. I’m not sure what we could have done differently, apart from buying a bigger tent with more chambers (worth considering for a larger family), but keeping the floor dry was no easy task. We also should have packed more towels.
Even with our jackets and long underwear, we sometimes felt quite a chill. It wasn’t so bad when we were moving around, but when we were just sitting around the tent at night or in the early morning, trying to get some work done or just having a conversation, it was hard to keep warm. We spent a lot of time in our sleeping bags, when maybe we should have just bit the bullet and bought some more layers. Really, this wasn’t much of a problem during our July in Dunbar, we mostly felt cold during August on Skye and September in Glencoe.
Summer Instead of Spring?
Every place we visited in Scotland we heard the same thing: The weather is better in Spring. Ok, point taken. Apparently Spring is the time to visit for less rain and fewer midges. We were even told that the sunsets are better earlier in the year. The next time we go tent camping we will do a little more research about the best time of year.
Dependent on Wifi
As tough as the weather could be sometimes, at least we had the occasional sunny day. The Wifi on the other hand was always bad. Writing blog posts was a constant battle with technology, and uploading a single photo could take an hour. We wound up doing as much writing as we could offline and then driving (up to 30 minutes) to the nearest cafe or shop with wifi, spending money on gas or purchases, just to get our internet fix. I really think that any campsite in Scotland could double their nightly rate by investing in some serious connectivity.
But since none of them seem to have done that yet, we should have planned ahead and either 1) found campsites that either had good wifi (not likely) or at least a few bars of mobile data, 2) found a way to do what we do without use of the internet, or 3) given up sooner and just enjoyed ourselves.
Consider More Luxurious Lodging
Many All of the campsites we visited had other lodging available. Whether it was wooden camping pods, trailers, or glamping tents, there were always options. All of these were more expensive than a tent pitch, but if we had it all to do over again, we would seriously consider it.
Actually, on our last night at both Skye and Glencoe, we decided to upgrade to glamping tent or a pod. It wasn’t so much a matter of comfort as convenience. Packing up your stuff, driving to a new site, and then setting it all up again in one day is a lot of work. We found it to be much easier to break down our pitch and pack the day before and spend our last night in comfort. Then we could just get in the car and drive the next morning.
We were as nervous as anyone might be, but it turns out that camping in Scotland is very doable, even with a toddler. Lisa had a great time, and though we found it stressful from time to time, it was mostly because we had goals that aren’t always compatible with camping. Anyone who is going out there because they love the outdoors and want an adventure is probably going to have a great time.
… as long as they remember the bug spray!
If you enjoyed this post about camping in Scotland, you might also want to read our review of the Sky Camping and Caravanning Club Site, or our post in which we lay out our definition of slow travel, the lifestyle we have chosen for the last year and a half. If you would like to see where we have been, check out our travel destinations page to read more stories, and tips and to check out our photography. And if after reading this you still don’t think camping is your thing, don’t forget to read our Airbnb tips for slow travel.