Setting a bad example [Source:}

Setting a bad example [Source:}

I’m really looking forward to going to Colonsay for a long weekend in mid-May as part of my ’14 for 2014′. My Mum’s coming too and we’re now all booked up to go. We’re staying at Colonsay Backpacker’s Lodge, part of the Colonsay Estate, and looking forward to exploring the island, its beaches and generally soaking up the atmosphere of life on a small Scottish island.

However, in the course of planning this trip we’ve come across an issue that’s sure to spark some debate.

Our original plan was to take my Mum’s (very) small camper* and camp informally beside the beach at Kiloran Bay on the northwest of the island.  A check of Google Earth confirmed that there are two small, informal parking areas.  However, since the Calmac ferry timetable advises that “Motorhomes/caravans may be allowed on Colonsay but only on contacting Colonsay Community Council” I duly rang to check.

The Suzuki Wagon R camper van - possibly the smallest and cutest camper van in the world

The Suzuki Wagon R camper van – possibly the smallest and cutest camper van in the world

The lady from the Community Council put me on to the Pier Master and both were very sympathetic but explained that owing to problems in the past with motorhomes leaving litter (and worse) and leaving their toilet buckets in full view when parked overnight, they had taken the decision to restrict caravans and motorhomes on the island.  The situation is this: unless you have permission to park in a private driveway then you are currently unable to stay in a caravan, camper van or motorhome on Colonsay.  I was informed that a local crofter is considering creating a formal stance for motorhomes but this isn’t currently available.

I’m in two minds about this.  On the one hand, the lack of any formal parking areas means that some visitors will be put off altogether from visiting the island.  We’re responsible campers and wouldn’t dream of littering this beautiful island; why should we be disadvantaged owing to the thoughtless actions of irresponsible others ?  Informal camping provides a sense of real freedom; now we need to stay ‘indoors’ in order to visit the island**.

On the other hand, Colonsay is a small island (with 144 residents and measuring 8 by 3 miles) and I can fully understand the impact that large white “fridge” motorhomes would have if parked up in a row beside its beauty spots.  I wish I’d taken a photo at the time but remember being appalled at the sight of a 40+ foot white motorhome sticking out like a sore thumb, parked up overnight beside the treeless ‘Destitution Road’ in the NW Highlands a couple of years ago.  The last thing Colonsay residents (and other holidaymakers) want is huge vehicles clogging up single track roads and creating an eyesore.

I wonder what the situation is on other small Scottish islands ?

I know that the larger islands such as Arran, Islay and Skye are well served with campsites and are large enough to accommodate motorhomes, camper vans and the like.  But what about Coll, Tiree, Barra and others – do they have restrictions too, or do official campsites or stances exist ?

There’s little doubt that in recent years there’s been a significant increase in the number of hired motorhomes on Scotland’s roads in summer.  I wonder if this is a contributory factor ?  I wouldn’t like to think that caravans, motorhomes and camper vans – even the smallest ones – are tarred with the same brush and  subject to the same restrictions.  While I completely understand local residents’ objections, aren’t there solutions that allow responsible camping ?


*  so small in fact that it only sleeps one – I was planning to take my 1-man tent and camp at the far end of the beach.

** you can still wild camp in a tent on Colonsay as long as you’re away from the road and are travelling on foot or by bike.  At 80, my Mum’s a little past backpacking and so this wasn’t an option for us.

29 Comments on “Campervans on small Scottish islands – Beyond the pale ?

  1. I totally agree with what you are saying. We’ve bought a campervan so we can tour around Scotland and other parts of Europe without having to back track all the time to where we are staying. These fridge boxes as you put it are a blot on the landscape and I’m afraid to say the minority are giving the majority a bad name

    • Oh dear, I hope I haven’t opened a can of worms ….

      Thanks for pitching in to the discussion, Alasdair. Just to be clear, I guess I’m making two points here. The first is that irresponsible camping does no one any good – as you say, the minority give the majority a bad name. I’m not necessarily suggesting that it’s motorhome owners who might fall into this category (it could equally be campervanners) but there are more of them around than there used to be and they’re more obvious owing to their size. Is there a connection ??

      The second (and main) point I wanted to highlight is that there are currently no facilities for camper vans, caravans or motorhomes on Colonsay. I find this disappointing and hopefully it will be remedied for next summer (it’s a good side income for a crofter). Is one possible solution to limit the number of camper vans etc. to the number of campsite pitches/stances available, so only those with bookings can travel on the ferry ? And is this issue only confined to Colonsay, or other small islands ?

  2. Hi, this is my first post on your excellent website. I’ve browsed the site for a few months now since changing my motorhome (ouch!) for a T5 LWB transporter pop top conversion last December. May I first congratulate you on what has to be one of, if not the best, campervan related sites on the web – full of interesting reports, useful information, links and some great pics (particularly your recent aurora images which were truly awesome)

    I’ve been a life long camper in various forms from a young age including tents, large and small, trailer tents, folding campers, caravan etc. I have a huge love of the countryside and nature in general and It infuriates me that other people, supposedly sharing that same interest can be so thoughtless and selfish and thereby, as in this case, spoil it for the responsible majority.

    We’ve visited the West coast, the highlands and Skye on previous visits to Scotland over the years and hope to make a long extended tour at some point in the future taking in the more remote islands. Colonsay, among others, was a must visit location for us, alas, it seems that’s now unlikely to happen. 😦

    Whilst I do fully appreciate why the prohibition on motorhomes and campervans has happened it’s disappointing that no provision has been made to accommodate us by way of a camp site or other suitable facility and IMHO this could have been addressed first. I don’t know how much revenue is generated from tourism/touring on a small island like Colonsay but to effectively alienate us responsible campers is surely counterproductive. It’s indicative of the general attitude by authorities throughout the uk towards independent touring, whereas on the continent, facilities such as the Aires in France are designed to accommodate and encourage the touring freedom we enjoy, be that by way of using official sites or discrete and responsible wild camping. These days in the UK you can’t even stop over at a motorway services over night for more than 2 hours without getting fined yet they’re happy enough for you to spend your money in their shops and restaurants, much as I’m sure the local traders are on Colonsay.
    Let’s hope that no irresponsible ‘tenters’ happen to inadvertently leave anything behind for fear that backpackers will also find themselves subject to a ban……

    Sorry to harp on …… much do crofts cost on Colonsay these days? 😉

    Keep up the excellent work!

    • Hey John, you’re very welcome to make these kinds of comments any time ! That’s great feedback and I’m glad my own interests and passions are appreciated by others.

      I agree with you about the Colonsay situation – it would have been better to have identified a camping solution for motorhomes, campers etc before deciding to put in place the current restriction.

      And even if someone on the island could accommodate, say, 5 tents or campervans a night x £25/night x 20% average occupancy throughout the year … well you do the maths … but it would pay back the upfront costs in just a couple of years and then provide a nice additional income indefinitely.

      It’s interesting you make a distinction between attitudes to independent campers in the UK and on the Continent. I hadn’t thought of it like that but I think you may have a point. I knew this topic would spark some debate …

  3. Pingback: Wild camping in Scotland – Camper vans and motorhomes | Wild about Scotland

  4. Stumbled upont this thread after yesterday deciding to do Arran, Kintyre, Islay, Jura, Colonsay and Oban before onwards to Mull and Iona. I was reading about Colonsay and thinking of reducing my itinery to stay longer at Colonsay instead. Ive a self contained Sprinter campervan 6.7m long and was hoping just to stay one night before going to Oban. I did Outerhebrides last year responsibly and had a fabulous time staying only the first night in a campsite in Arisaig. Colonsay sounds idilic and be a shame to miss out if I cant park there.

    • There was talk last year of one of the crofters starting a campsite on Colonsay but I don’t know if that has taken place yet. Otherwise, unless you have permission from a resident to park in their property you won’t be allowed to take your van. I suggest you call CalMac and ask. The Harbourmaster (Kevin Byrne) is the chap who will tell you what’s possible. It doesn’t matter how responsible you are; others previously haven’t been !

      No campsites on Iona but I’d recommend staying at Fidden Farm on the beach at the very western end of Mull then take the ferry over to Iona by foot.

  5. I’m taking a tent and a rucsac to Colonsay in August. While I do sympathise with caravan and large tent users (I am occasionally one of the latter) I think we just need to accept that there will always be places that are beyond their reach, and that is a no bad thing. As you say, there are plenty of larger islands – and the mainland of course – that cater for caravans and there is no shortage of beautiful places to visit there.

    Maybe the local worthies shouldn’t try too hard to find a ‘solution’ to this. Sometimes one just has to accept the world as it is, take comfort from the fact that Islay is an excellent place to take a caravan instead, and do day trips to Colonsay and Jura from there.

    • I’m not a fan of caravans and do agree that they’re probably not suited to narrow island single-track lanes such as on Colonsay. Small camper vans are a different matter of course and I think there is a happy medium. Personally, I would like to see a solution that limits numbers to a handful at any one time and in a defined location(s).

    • I’m not a fan of caravans and do agree that they’re probably not suited to narrow island single-track lanes such as on Colonsay. Small camper vans are a different matter of course and I think there is a happy medium. Personally, I would like to see a solution that limits numbers to a handful at any one time and in a defined location(s).

  6. I am a “small motorhome” owner (the small fridge freezer type) and have loved the ability to “wildcamp” in semi remote, isolated spots on the mainland, over the past 3 years. I consider myself, like most I expect, to be very responsible. I have certainly lifted more litter than I have ever dropped in places I have stayed (I’m the sort of person that will chase a corner of an energy bar wrapper for miles in the wind if I drop it).

    However, despite my self appointed “responsible MH user” tag, I think David (27 May) makes the perfect point: We all have to accept that there are remote places in Scotland beyond our reach by motor vehicle, then beyond reach by bike and then even by foot…and it is the better for it. There’s no doubt that traveling to small islands where there are few vehicles and little infrastructure is part of the appeal of travelling the west coast and I get massive satisfaction from unhitching the bikes and wheeling them onto a ferry for trips to Colonsay , Kerrera and Eigg etc

    • You certainly sound like a very responsible motorhome owner, which is great to hear. A quick litter-pick so that you leave a place cleaner than you found it is certainly a good way to do.

      In principle, I do agree with you and David that we shouldn’t automatically expect to access all remote and wild places by vehicle and I for one would never want Scotland’s wild places over-run by vehicles where it’s inappropriate. That would apply to small Scottish islands, for example. However, in the case of Colonsay, which isn’t particularly small and in any case has several roads well used by local minibuses, 4x4s and so on, I’m not sure I would support an outright ban. I think there’s a case for limiting access so that issues can be managed responsibly. That way, responsible campers are not penalised and local communities feel that vehicle use by non-residents is at an appropriate level. It just seems to me that an outright ban is a rather disproportionate solution to an issue caused by a small minority.

  7. My problem is that we have a motorcaravan and wish to visit Colonsay again for the day but cannot because of this ban. Last time we were cycling but due to illness we now need the van!s

    • I can sympathise with you, particularly if your motorcaravan happens to be your only vehicle. My mum was in this situation too and we ended up booking accommodation rather than her sleeping her campervan, even though it’s her only vehicle.

    • I agree – and such a shame, since it only takes one or two irresponsible campers to alter perceptions

  8. I know Colonsay well and would love to take our Motorhome over and just use our bikes to get around, but I can wholly understand the ban. The road is mainly single track with a few passing spaces and when the island population swells during the holiday season – from April right through to October, since there are so many superb annual events spread over that period – the increased traffic of normal sized vehicles is about all the road can cope with.

  9. Any update on this? Finding it hard to get info online – seems like accommodation options are very limited, and even wild camping with a tent is discouraged. Though I would prefer to take the van!

    • I haven’t personally got any new information but you’re right, it doesn’t look like the proposal to create a campsite has actually happened yet. I previously spoke to the Harbour Master (you can get his number via CalMac) and so he would know. He’s also the one that the CalMac booking agents will refer you too if you try to book a campervan or caravan on to the ferry !!

      You might also contact the Isle of Colonsay Estate (Colonsay House,Isle of Colonsay, Argyll,PA61 7YT Tel 01951 200211) to enquire whether they have any informal spaces for a campervan for a night or two.

      You have every right to wild camp in a tent under the land access legislation as long as you camp responsibly and abide with the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.

  10. go to colonsay and camp … a few years ago I was asking the estate where the best places to camp on the island was ? ..they simply told me camping was not allowed on the island ! is that so I said , and when did colonsay become independent from the rest of Scotland ? to this they had no answer …I kindly reminded them that Scottish outdoor access code applied just as much to colonsay as it does to the rest of Scotland ..

    • Camping in a tent isn’t an issue but campervans and motor homes aren’t covered by the SOAC – so no legal right to camp informally.

  11. I solo bicycle-camped for a couple of nights on Islay last year and dropped by Colonsay harbour en route to Oban. I made a mental note that I could add it to my ticked list having already wild camped on Arran the previous month. It is good to read that Colonsay is covered by SOAC so as long as I still to the rules I can bring my tent over for a couple of nights. Although I have owned a couple of small motorhomes when my kids were small (and now retired have a penchant for another – motorhome that is!) I sympathise more with the view that perhaps some places should retain at least some of their wildness or sparseness of infrastructure that makes then so attractive. Enquiries going through the harbour master would seem to be a good way to thin numbers and make people aware that if they do ‘misbehave’ they could be found out before they get back on the ferry!

    • Thanks, this is a great comment. I agree with you – there is a need to balance the demand against such fragile island communities and environments such as Colonsay. It’s a small community there and they do seem to be able to maintain this approach – in fact I think that when I visited the harbour master was also the Chair of the Community Council!

  12. After reading all the above comments I am curious to know if all the roads on the island are private? If not then the roads are public and surely paying vehicle road tax entitles you to use the public roads no matter what vehicle it is.

  13. I seem to be a bit late coming to this thread but would,like to leave some comment. On an Island about 10 miles long and two miles wide why would anyone want to take a motor home there. I have a motorcaravan but wouldn’t want to motor around an island that small at the expense of upseting the people who live there. Why not take the ferry as a foot passenger and spend a day or tow there there in tent. Or go and stay B&B and give the Island some revenue. Some of the modern motor homes are ridiculous in size and already Scotland is beginning to be over run with them. Especially since the advent of the NC 500. I live in the Highlands and this year, 2018, the area has really become overrun with monstrous sized motor homes. In John O Groats every bus parking spot was taken by motor homes. I enjoy getting away to remote areas when I can but camping wild has to be done with other people in mind. We are just passing through and have a responsibility to not leave anything more than footprints and take away nothing but memories. As one comment said, there should be places in the world beyond ou reach.

    • I agree that there can be a difficult balance to strike in supporting tourism in remoter areas. It can certainly be a very positive benefit (jobs, incomes, diversity) but the infrastructure does need to be in place to manage an influx of visitors in particular hotspots at peak times.

  14. I plan to do Arran, Islay, Rum and Colonsay this year and have read all the above comments on access etc with interest. I have a vw caddy camper…so not really a big unsightly white box and I only sleep in the van in the most extreme weather, instead either bivvi or tent on the beach. I agree with the comments on why these monstrosities would be going to an island this size in the first place but at the same time do not agree with being told you can’t when the SOAC clearly states you can. However hopefully some common sense will prevail and a plan suitable to all will come out of all this.
    My plan is to make base on Islay and do Rum and Colonsay on my cycle….sleeping overnight either under a tarp or tent.

    • Hi Drew, I’m sure you’ll be absolutely fine by using Islay as a base for the other islands. There aren’t any roads you can drive a camper on on Rum in any case, and in my experience Colonsay is the only one of the four where there are issues with larger vehicles. Cycling and camping is the best way to go for sure on all of those islands. Sounds a great trip!

      • Thanks for reply….sorry but the above the collective isles should read Jura and not Rum. I was looking at island hopscotch ticket but I noticed there isn’t one in the “southern Hebrides” that takes in Arran as well as Islay Jura and Colonsay combined but I’m sure will manage with ones available. Anyway looking forward to the trip and hope to capture a few nice photographs.

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