Sunday, June 17, 2018

Review: Cashel Campsite, Loch Lomond and the Trosachs National Park

Loch Lomond from Ben Lomond
Location: An hour from Glasgow
Website: "Camping in the Forest" website - Cashel Campsite
Map: Google map
Camping Facilities: Car camping
Grade: C+
Stargazing: Very good
Summary: No caravan? Sleep in the ditch.
Thoughts:  Before I get into my review of the campground, I need to talk about midges. This was the first place I ever camped in Scotland, having wanting to see Loch Lomond ever since I first heard John McDermott crooning about her bonny shores when I was wee. But the Irish Tenor never paid sufficient tribute to the Highland midges. To be honest, I had been warned of midges, but didn't think much of them because, you see, I'm from Canada and we have mosquitoes the size of ravens, stalking around our campgrounds, and dreaded black flies that carelessly tear your flesh as they finish feasting on your delicious circulatory fluid. Clearly nothing can compare to these. I mean, really, how bad can a tiny flying flea really be? Listen Canadians, they're bad. They're really bad. They're actually horrifyingly bad. They're relentless, they don't fear the sunlight and they strike in swarms when you're tired & sweaty and simply trying to reap the rewards of your arduous hike! We got halfway up Ben Lomond on a beautiful late summer (mid-Sept) day and were stunned. Just as I was snapping a few photos, they descended with their fury, a dozen tiny, itchy pin-pricks all at once, never pausing for a moment's mercy. Then they'll itch for a good day or so. So be warned - bring some DEET or bring some meshy hats. Cover your skin as much as you can bear. Otherwise, take shelter.

You can camp on the verge if you don't have a caravan
Okay, enough about midges, on to the review of Cashel campsite. First, it's very conveniently located, just off the main road to Ben Lomond. I noticed a lot of people complain about the quality of the road leading up to it, but truth be told, I don't recall it being that bad. We pulled up and tried to track down the person responsible - the office closes a bit earlier than I'm accustomed to, and I believe we caught them right at the end of their shift (I think it was around 5ish). I was a bit taken aback when we were told where to camp at Cashel campsite. "You can set up anywhere on the grass there". "There" being the grassy median between the roads in the campground. Adjacent to the toilets and wash-up area. Convenient, yes. Pleasant? No. I definitely felt like a second-class citizen (resident?). Yes, it's true, we didn't have a camper van or a caravan or whatever you want to call it. But we're still human beings.  I mean, the campground itself couldn't be more beautifully situated along Loch Lomond. But if you don't have a vehicles that gets 2 miles per gallon, you cannot by any means sleep next to the Loch? It's a bit odd. I would have thought we would be rewarded for having versatile accommodations that can be plopped down anywhere we can squeeze. But the nice sites are for the folks who camp with kitchens and duvets, I'm afraid.

A handy map of the Ben Lomond hike
Look, I get it. A lot of the sites are rented seasonally by folks who own these homes-away-from-home. I know the site is not intended to preserve the natural environment or encourage low-impact camping. It's a business, with a first-come, first-served attitude for access to the prime waterfront campsites. But a tiny patch can't be reserved for the tourist who might be passing by, looking for a place to stay next to the beautiful lake nestled amongst the mountains?

I guess I'm just disappointed with it all. But it doesn't mean you can't find a nice spot to snap a few photos of the sun setting behind the mountains, casting a few golden rays on the lake (see below). You just can fall asleep while doing.

Some final comments. The campground itself is in very good condition, where the toilets are spotless, the washing-up area is tidy and useful. Again, I noticed on the reviews on their website that a number of people thought the toilets were shocking. It may just be a matter of differing standards, but I thought they were quite good overall. Plus the setting is absolutely gorgeous - this on its own is a good reason to stay. The hiking close by is also excellent, with many beautiful views available (see the map provided here for some inspiration for Loch Lomond). My only major complaint is that better accommodations should be provided for campers who sleep on the ground, rather than on beds.

"The steep, steep sides of Ben Lomond"
Sunset over Loch Lomond

Monday, January 23, 2017

Review: Badrallach Campsite, near Ullapool, Scotland

A site on the Badrallach campground
Location: 45 minutes from Ullapool
Website: Badrallach 
Map: Google Maps
Camping Facilities: 
Bothy, campsites, and cottage
Grade: B
Stargazing: Very good
Summary: Beautiful location, simple facilities, sloped spots for tents, watch for midges
Thoughts: We had been driving all day, not really sure where we would end up when we did our internet search and found Badrallach Bothy. The Guardian informed us that this was one of the best campsites in the UK - to that point this was damning with faint praise (keep in mind my being accustomed to Canadian camping). But after considering it a bit, it seemed like everything we would want; close to the ocean, remote, and a genuine Scottish camping experience. I can say that we were not disappointed, by any standard of campsite.

The string of sites at the campground
(bothy in background)
We pulled up and knocked at the cottage located on site, and asked about a campsite. The price (£7.50 pp per night; Sept 2015) seemed reasonable and the setting looked fantastic. You drive in on a undulating, narrow road dug into side of the hills. It is a phenomenal spot and you get a sense of excitement to think that you're going to sleep rough in a place like this. You are tucked into the side of the hill, which doesn't afford the grandest of views, but you can look up the side of the hill to look at the heather (in the autumn at lesat) and a little waterfall that trickles its way down the slope. In addition, you can walk to the bottom of the hill on the main campsite and stroll down to the seashore and catch a good view of inlet, especially if the weather is clear.

One of the more secluded walk-in sites,
just a few steps from the main camping area
The campsites themselves are green and grassy, but the ground is generally sloped which can be create a bit of a challenge if you're trying to stay comfy in a sleeping bag. We were really impressed with the walk-in sites, which had a very private feel to them. We didn't feel like lugging our gear and setting up on one and I seem to recall the firepits being a bit better in the main camping area (though overall, they're still not great and you need to bring your own wood). The amenities (washing up facilities, washroom) are shared with the occupants of the bothy, which is fine and we had a few friendly chats with the occupants. The facilities were all in good order and sufficient for the small crowd that we had sharing the plots with us that day. The Badlarrach website suggests that the bothy becomes a common social/eating area for campers if it isn't reserved for sole use, but we did not have the pleasure of using it for that purpose.

We were visiting in Autumn, so I must warn that the midges were out as a merciless force; I suppose the midge buster was down for the season. However, as you can see from the photos, the site merits a look (just be sure to put on a midge hat). A great spot to begin a drive up the west coast of Scotland.

The setting of Badrallach Campsite
View from the nearby shore
(20 mins walk from campsite)
You mostly only share the landscape
with the sheep