Scotland boasts some fantastic campsites among wonderful mountain and coastal scenery. Whether you like to camp in pine forests, stay right on the beach with amazing sunsets, prefer to experience a village community with amenities on your doorstep or equally want to get away from it all on a secluded site on a Scottish island, you can find it all here.
My Top 10 list is informed by my personal experience of Scottish camping over … ahem … several decades; I’ve camped at all except 10 of the 28 campsites I’ve highlighted (and a great deal more than haven’t made the Top 10). Those I haven’t yet been to are frequently recommended by others and so I’m pretty confident this is a worthwhile list.
Of course, a ‘good’ campsite is reasonably subjective. For me, the essential ingredients include a well run site in a high quality environment, clean and good quality washing facilities and good amenities (shop, pub, cafe) nearby (excepting the ‘get-away-from-it-all’ sites). The bottom line is that a great campsite is one you would want to return to again and again; all meet this criterion. For each in the Top 10, I’ve highlighted sites with a similar ‘feel’ or alternative sites nearby so you can select from a slightly wider choice.
10. Port Ban Holiday Park, Kintyre
The owners call Port Ban “a wee taste of heaven on the West Coast” and I would agree. It’s situated at Kilberry on the Kintyre peninsular with amazing views west towards the Paps of Jura. It’s well organised with play equipment and a sandy beach, giving a very safe, family-oriented atmosphere. There’s a shop, cafe and restaurant on site but also, don’t miss the chance to eat out at the nearby Kilberry Inn, famed for its bar meals.
9. Red Squirrel Campsite, Glencoe
If you like the idea of informal camping where you simply choose a pitch for your tent in among the trees or along the side of a stream then you’ll like Red Squirrel. Set in the heart of historic Glencoe, with towering mountains all around, this campsite is definitely on tourist route to Fort William and the Islands. This is one of the few sites that allows open fires in certain locations. It’s also staggering distance back along the road from the legendary Clachaig Inn (stone floors, wooden tables, open fires and over 200 malt whiskies and real ales) – see my post on the Top 10 Roadside Pubs.
8. Blair Castle Caravan Park, Blair Atholl
If Red Squirrel is the epitome of informal camping, then Blair Castle Caravan Park is perhaps the best ‘organised’ site I’ve stayed at in Scotland. It’s a large and very well run with excellent facilities and has a large area of grass in the centre which is great for kids. The site is in Highland Perthshire, within the Cairngorms National Park, near to the holiday centres of Pitlochry, Aberfeldy and Dunkeld. Blair Castle is right next to the site (campers get discounted entry) and Atholl Estates organise a range of outdoor activities on the doorstep. Highland Perthshire is now building a strong reputation for adventure sports – rafting or bungee jumping, anyone ? Finally, there’s a great chip shop across the road …
If you like a site with facilities (pubs, shops) nearby then you might also like Glen Nevis Touring and Camping Park (Fort William).
7. Resipole Camping and Caravan Park, Ardnamurchan
Resipole is set right beside Loch Sunart in the Ardnamurchan peninsular (just to the north of Mull), on a working farm and at the foot of Beinn Resipole (845m). It has a relaxed, peaceful atmosphere among spectucular scenery. While Loch Sunart is a sea loch it’s also great for exploring by canoe or kayak. Nearby you’ll also find the Sunart Oakwoods, designated a Special Area of Conservation, since they are one of the few remaining areas of ancient Caledonian oak forest.
Nearby, a good alternative is the Ardnamurchan Campsite at Kilchoan, the most westerly campsite on the British mainland.
6. Sands Holiday Centre, Gairloch
With views towards Skye and the Western Isles, this campsite features pitches in among the sand dunes right on the beach. Gairloch is a good base for a holiday with walking (eg Torridon), fishing, Inverewe Gardens (Poolewe) and the beach of course all on the doorstep. The site offers bike and canoe hire, a well-stocked shop and a cafe due to open by Summer 2013.
The ‘entertaining’ journey to Applecross across the single-track Bealach na Ba, the third highest road in Scotland, rewards you with peace and tranquility on the coast at Applecross. There’s no mobile phone reception here – just the views across to Skye, wildlife, beaches and a slower pace of life. It’s well worth eating out at the Applecross Inn (see my previous post on the Top 10 Roadside Pubs).
4. Fidden Farm, Isle of Mull
There are several excellent sites in Scotland that boast very little in the way of ‘official’ amenities – don’t expect much more than basic washing facilities – but this is more than compensated by spectacular scenery. Fidden Farm, right at the western end of the Isle of Mull just near the ferry terminal for Iona, is a perfect example. Stay when the sun’s shining and you will probably have the glorious white sand beach all to yourself to play on. (Conversely, when it’s wet or windy – or both – you’ll need to make your own entertainment !). A new washblock was being constructed when we last stayed here a couple of years ago. Just watch out for the sheep dogs if you have young children though; they’re working farm dogs and not used to kids (ie they can and do bite).
3. Cannich Camping and Caravan Park, near Loch Ness
With pitches set in among the pine trees, this site has a wonderful ‘outdoors’ feel to it. It’s not far from Loch Ness and near to Glen Affric National Nature Reserve, with umpteen munros plus great cycling and kayaking on the doorstep. The owners have gone to great lengths to develop the site; there’s a cafe serving breakfasts, lunches and home baking, mountain bike hire and lots of information on things to do locally. It has a similar ‘feel’ to it than Rothiemurcus (see below).
2. Camusdarach Campsite, Arisaig
The white-sand beaches between Arisaig and Mallaig, with panoramic views to Eigg, Rum and Skye, must rate among the best in the UK. We’ve been here on a hot, summer’s day when you could easily be forgiven for mistaking Camusdarach beach for being on the Mediterranean coast … except that there are no crowds here. It’s a relaxed and well-run site with direct access to the beach. If you do feel able to leave the site there’s plenty to do nearby including island and wildlife boat tours, sea kayaking, a day trip to Knoydart or a trip on the ‘Harry Potter’ train, the steam train which runs between Mallaig and Fort William over the Glenfinnan Viaduct.
There are several campsites along this stretch of the coast between Morar and Arisaig with fantastic views out to the Small Isles (Rum, Eigg), with Invercaimbe also recommended.
1. Rothiemurcus, near Aviemore
Set in a superb location right in among Caledonian pine trees in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park, Rothiemurcus is the perfect location to experience wild Scotland at its best. You have walking and mountain bike trails right beside the site and another 50 outdoor activities able to be booked at the nearby Rothiemurcus Centre. You’re just up the road from Aviemore with all the facilities of this main holiday centre. Choose between three distinct camping areas: in among tall pines, beside the small river or on the island formed by the river. And best of all, after an energetic day enjoying the outdoors, there’s a modern, heated washblock.
An excellent alternative nearby is Glenmore Campsite, right beside Loch Morlich, which is run by Forest Holidays.
As I say, choosing a Top 10 is a subjective matter – I’d be interested to hear if you think I’ve missed any other great sites out. It’s also worth pointing out that wild camping is enshrined in law in Scotland (unlike in England and many other parts of the world) – look out for a future Top 10 guide to wild camping spots.
Article updated July 2015