A love letter to off-season travel in Scotland

Last autumn, we got a tiny caravan.

It sleeps two, has a small bathroom and kitchen, and is surprisingly cosy when it’s cold. We managed to travel in it several times before many of Scotland’s campsites shut for the winter, or the weather turned too icy for the van’s plumbing and external water supply.

We were hoping to go away again this weekend, but much of Scotland is forecast to have snow. So the caravan stays quiet, and while we wait for a weekend where the ground won’t freeze, memories kindle instead.

One mild and damp weekend back in November, we took the caravan to the Cairngorms. While there, I made a list in my journal of things that are wonderful about travelling in the off-season.

Here are a few, from those pages to these pixels — little love letters to Scotland during the dark, magical days of autumn and winter.

On caravanning

Waking up to the sound of rain on the caravan roof, reminding me of childhood holidays, is the best music there is.

Apart from short half-hour reprieves for tea and biscuits, there is always something to do.

Emptying the ‘cludgie’, as we call it, is still the worst part of caravanning. Doing it under the cover of late autumn darkness makes it slightly better.

Everything is quieter in the off-season, including the campsites, and if you have decent heating and can keep dry, you’ll feel quite comfortable.

Head torches after 4pm are a must.

Another must-have list: Woolly socks and furry boots and thick jackets and hats and gloves and copious hand creams.

Instant hot chocolate in mugs that fit just right in your frozen hand.

On travel

The ghosts of summer and crowds and paid parking in the Cairngorm mountains. It’s quiet now, which is just how we like it.

Everyone else — locals and visitors, humans and animals — has already started to hibernate; the whisper of Christmas is in the air.

There are only a few other folk on the part of the campsite we’re at. It could feel a little eerie, actually, with lichen-covered trees on all sides and no sound at all, aside from the railway and the occasional hum of a car somewhere on a dark side road. Mostly, it’s just the wind.

On nature

Evergreen trees, rising straight towards the sky, as if reaching for something better.

A lonely golden larch on the hillside.

Watching the low November sunlight hit tree needles, lichen hanging like small green beards on the branches.

We followed a trail a short distance up a steep crag. At the summit, forest as far as you could see, as far as the milky-blue hills in the distance, with lochans sure as thumbprints in the landscape below. The most beautiful Scottish scene we’d looked at with our own eyes in a long time.

On darkness

The darker afternoons forcing you to slow down and relax.

That golden low, soft light at four o’clock.

Walking at twilight in a confusing blue hue, a film settling over your vision, making trails longer and steps shorter.

Outside the caravan before midnight, bending our necks backwards to look at the ocean of stars above us. Mars, Pleiades, the Moon, you and I, standing together to stay warm, forgetting it all for that one moment.

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One response to “A love letter to off-season travel in Scotland”

  1. Beautifully written again Laura, almost makes me want to go caravanning…almost not quite …I need indoor plumbing 😆

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