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 

Monday, August 29, 2016

Review: Rossport Campground, Rainbow Falls Provincial Park

View from one of the spectacular waterfront sites
at Rossport Campground
Location: 2 hours E of Thunder Bay; 5 hours NW of Sault Ste. Marie
Website: Ontario Parks 
Map: Google
Camping Facilities: Frontcountry / Car Camping
Grade: C+
Stargazing: Good
Summary: Some nice car camping with lake-front campsites, even though it's right on the highway.
Thoughts: Well it served me right for not doing too much research. I had planned to do some backcountry camping in Sleeping Giant PP, so that I could spend the afternoon enjoying its fantastic hiking trails. It turns out that the backcountry camping required a substantial chunk of hiking just to get set up. In fact, from what I could see, it was a 5 km hike just to get into the sites (I've included the backcountry map below - I really wish that Ontario Parks would post these on their website!), which was too far for one night IMHO. So I had to bail on my camping plans and settle for the bumpy drive up to the lookout over Thunder Bay (which is unreal! you have to check it out!).

A nice spot to stargaze if the skies cooperate

So I did the 2 hour drive down to Rainbow Falls instead, and it was a good thing as it would have been pretty miserable drive to Lake Superior PP the next day if I hadn't. I arrived pretty late at Rainbow Falls, getting close to supper time. I had the choice between the Rossport Campground (which is right on Lake Superior) and the Whitesand Lake Campground. So essentially, your choice is a view over shrubbery or a view over Lake Superior - it's an easy one to make. I drove around Whitesand just in case there were some nice ones that actually overlook the lake, but couldn't find any (at least, none that were available), so I just headed back to Rossport.

First lookout on Rainbow Falls trail
The check-in at the gate was typical Ontario Parks - friendly, helpful, trying to make sure you get the camping experience you're after. At both gatehouses they insisted that I roam around and have a look for a site that I like best. (Aside: this is something that will only happen in less busy parks - in Bon Echo or Pinery, you pretty well take what they have, because your site will probably be gone by the time you get back to the gatehouse). Highway noise is again an issue, but that's the price of convenience. I mean, pulling over and camping next to Gitchigumi with no reservation in peak of summer for about $40 - you can make do.

Sure, it's loud but a primo seat for
watching thundering water
A few of the sites afford a fantastic view of Lake Superior as they are right on the shore; but I must say, there are only about 4 high quality sites, and the campsites that are not adjacent to the lake were not very good. Even still some of the sites next to the lake were not actually on the water - in fact, the lake wasn't even accessible for a few of these. However, many of those sites had good under story for privacy though astoundingly, these were sometimes positioned directly across from one another (hello long privacy).

Blueberries in various
stages of development
Rainbow Falls -
photos do not do it justice!
The following day I ventured up to the hike to Rainbow Falls (fantastic) in the Whitesand Lake campground, followed by the two lookouts (which were well worth it, mainly because of all the wild blueberries near the lookouts!). I recommend the hikes, the thundering water of Rainbow Falls takes no time to reach and will keep you entertained for a while (especially if try out your best Ansel Adams impersonation).

Sleeping Giant Backcountry Hiking Map
Backcountry map of Sleeping Giant Provincial Park
(circa 2015)