An Electric Adventure in the Scottish Highlands
A five-day adventure through the Scottish Highlands using the newly launched Ampervan - the 100 percent electric campervan promising the ultimate clean camping road trip experience
Writer: Phoebe Harper
Whitsome Duns - Loch Lomond, 132 miles
First, we head to the Scottish borders and the small village of Duns to collect our ride - the Ampervan - an electric campervan that is the invention of electric vehicle specialists Munro Wilson
, and perfectly suited for our eco-friendly adventure.
Pulling the automatic van away from the collection point, it soon transpires that it is rather like driving a sail, not helped by the gale force winds of Storm Malik, which has left discarded wheelie bins and other detritus in its ruinous path. On leaving Whitsome alone, we re-route twice to bypass vast fallen trunks. Fortunately, despite its size, the van is as easy to manoeuvre as a car and we adjust quickly.
Our destination for our first night on the road is Firkin Point, Arrochar, on the western shores of Loch Lomond. A vast freshwater body of water in the heart of the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park, the surrounding mountains are home to the iconic red deer and oak woodlands of the Highlands.
In Dalkeith, we top up the van with charge at a seven kilowatt (kW) public charging point. Having never used e-charging spots before, we quickly realise how coveted the rapid ‘CSS’ charging points are, as two fellow travellers knock on the window demanding to know how long we will be.
A word to the wise, when driving an electric vehicle, patience is required and any planned journey must factor in extra time for charging - allowing roughly 45 minutes to an hour to reach full charge. In remote areas, charging points may also be unavailable, particularly in high season. Whilst charging, we cook steaming cups of tea on the portable hob in the back of the van, drawing the curtains to catch up on sleep and plan our route.
The Ampervan itself is equipped with a plethora of high-tech gadgets that make for an entirely seamless driving experience; from the smooth cruise control, to rear cameras, and the wing mirrors that flash red to inform you when there is a vehicle in your blind spot. Unused to an automatic, it is an alien feeling not to be reaching for your gearstick, and I often find myself clutching at a phantom handbrake, feeling at odds with my left boot sitting entirely idle. The luggage is safely stowed under the seats, conveniently out of the way, leaving plenty of space when we fold them down to make the bed.
Soon, we are passing Glasgow and on to the freshwater shores of Loch Lomond and the mighty, sleeping spine of the Trossachs. Arriving at Firkin Point in the dark, a pair of campers erect a tent amidst the trees and we cook pasta in the van, pushing up the roof for ample standing room. Aside from the wild campers, we have the spot to ourselves, and sleep soundly in perfect silence.
Loch Lomond - Glencoe, 43 Miles
Leaving the shores of Loch Lomond after skimming stones across the surface of its glasslike waters, we fuel up with bacon and scrambled eggs cooked on the hob and head north to Glencoe - the spiritual home of Scottish mountaineering. Giant Ben Lomond is brooding and silent, snowy peaks towering into full and heavy skies that look fit to burst.
En route, we stop at the thundering Falls of Falloch, before charging once again in the nearby village of Crianlarich. As it charges, we savour the firelit warmth of The Crianlarich Hotel and stretch our legs by the riverside, encountering a dour-faced Tesla driver when realising that we are occupying the sole rapid charging spot in the village – one of many that we meet with throughout the trip. The scenery here feels like stepping into a Scandinavian village, as we are met with chalet-style buildings and high sloping rooves.
Continuing on the scenic A82, within seconds of passing the sign declaring that we have officially entered the Highlands, we are met with a freak snowstorm. Shrouded in heavy cloud, the landscape is bleak, stark, and dappled with lakes steepled with rogue boulders. The moorland is coated in russet and auburn swathes of Highland ferns, as we enter the far-flung reaches of wilder Scotland.
Eventually, we arrive at the Glencoe Mountain Resort, where vacant chairlifts sway idly in the wind awaiting intrepid skiers to be ferried up the side of the mountain. On the wind-beaten plateaus of the Western Highlands, perched high on Rannoch Moor, the winds are relentless, and shake the sides of the van, dispelling any chance of sighting the Golden Eagles known to haunt the area. Here, we have a camping bay waiting at the resort, should we need to charge the battery for the van’s interior electrics, which run off a separate system to the engine and are helpfully monitored on a screen inside.
As the only guests, and in the face of Storm Corrie, the onsite Portcabin Cafe - ironically named ‘The Two Corries’- is sadly closed early, but just one mile along pitch black mountain roads, we find the Kingshouse Hotel, foregrounded by the illuminated cast bronze statue of a proud Highland stag.
As winds almost sweep us off our feet, its fireside welcome could not have offered better shelter, as inside we find carefree hotel residents ensconced in armchairs, sipping drams of whisky in front of the flames and absorbed in novels, as if we had imagined the raging storm outside. “Seeking respite from the storm per chance?” quips a waitress, before plying us with a welcome pint of local craft beer, leaving us feeling bedraggled in our mud and snow-drenched clothes as formal dinner service begins. Overnight, we have to move the van for fear of blowing sideways by the force of Storm Corrie, and instead position ourselves vertically so as not to be battered by the winds sweeping down from the mountain.
The Ampervan – Key Facts
• ChargePlace Scotland card included for free charging
• Unlimited miles to explore as far as you like
• Average charging time for full battery using CSS charger: 45 – 60 minutes
• The model is based on a Vauxhall Vivaro-e, with around 120 miles of range from the 75kWh battery
• Equipped with an electric hob Type 2 charger, RFID card, plus a windscreen cover for sleeping in privacy
• A slow portable charger is also provided for plugging into a campsite hook-up
• Advisable to plan a journey with no more than 200 miles per day
Glencoe - Aviemore, 94 Miles
In the morning, we wake to frost and dustings of icing sugar snow, stirred from sleep by the sound of construction workers recommencing work on the site of the new cafe. Meanwhile, we savour the luxury of our first shower of the trip, at 50p for a five-minute stream that is thankfully scorching hot.
Fortunately, the Glencoe Mountain Resort is fully equipped with a CSS point, and we leave the van to re-charge while we do the same, with the doors of the Two Corries cafe now happily open after the downpour of the night before. We gorge ourselves on steaming cups of black coffee and fist-sized breakfast baps with tattie scones, whilst waterproof clad climbers begin to flood the car park for a day’s mountaineering up the Hill of the Roaring Stag.
On leaving the resort, we divert down a nearby route carving through the enchanting Glen Etive, following the river in search of the filming location featured in James Bond Skyfall. The surrounding mountains are entirely snow-capped and the roads breathtakingly scenic, the landscape carved from the volcanic activity of over 430 million years ago. We stop again at the viewpoint of the Three Sisters where we read of the devastating Glencoe Massacre that wiped out the entire clan of MacDonalds who lived in this valley hundreds of years ago. We brew a coffee in the back of the van as an onslaught of tourist coaches pull into the car park.
Onwards, we skirt endless lochs on our path to the mighty Cairngorms - a vast area that is twice the size of the Lake District in the UK. We stop again by the thundering force of the Laggan Dam, then in the quaint hamlet of Laggan itself. In nearby Kingussie, we walk up to the Ruthven Barracks a mile out of the village for a taste of the Jacobite history that surrounds the area whilst the van recharges in the public car park. We pass fields of wild horses on our walk up to the imperious ruins sat perched on a hill, dramatic mountains in the distance. With the barracks entirely to ourselves, the site resounds with the history of the Jacobite uprisings before Bonnie Prince Charlie’s orders to burn them down, leaving the ruinous structure as it stands today.
From here we continue on to Aviemore. The modern resort town of the Highlands, it compares to Fort William - which we passed through earlier that day, admiring not so much the odd little town, but rather the looming cloud-covered Nevis Range, vowing to return to conquer the mountain. In Aviemore, we park the van for the night in a car park neighbouring kitsch Alpine chalets near to a well-reputed drinking hole, where snowboarders gather in wooden-beamed warmth for live music and lashings of local ale.
Aviemore - North Berwick, 156 miles
The morning is spent nursing hangovers in the High Street breakfast hotspot of Cobb’s Cafe. All the better for full Scottish breakfasts with Lorne sausage and tattie scones, we drive to the Creag Eileachaidh nature reserve. Here we dodge fallen trees and stride through lichen-coated woods to gradually ascend the viewpoint trail. Gale-force winds prohibit any sightings of the resident Peregrines nesting on top of the crags. On the summit, we are battered and practically knocked sideways, but the views are nevertheless impressive. Having summited the crag, and taken in what must be one of the best views in the Highlands, we return to the van and make our way to the southern lowlands of North Berwick, heads dizzy with the rugged splendour of the Highlands.
Archerfield House and Fletcher’s Cottage Spa
The ultimate way to wind down from your Highlands adventure.
To unwind after descending from the Highlands, we seek luxury and the ultimate detox in the comfort of Archerfield House.
It takes a few hours to make it back down to Berwick, skirting the steeples of Edinburgh. Eventually, we pull into the winding estate roads of Archerfield House, the sprawl of the glinting North Sea in the near distance, and the land distinguished by the mounds of high laws. An estate spread across 550 acres, the perfectly manicured grounds and sweeping courses of Archerfield links resemble one of Scotland’s finest golf courses.
Arriving in the dark, the house itself stands majestic and floodlit. It is in the estate buildings flanking the main house on the East Wing where we find our Pavillion Suite. Emptying our things from the van, we immediately feel scruffy and dirty amidst such pristine surroundings. The feeling amplifies as we open the door to the sumptuous warmth of our room - lamplit, the evening news playing on the television fixed to the wall. A monstrous and inviting bed clad in white sheets couldn’t be more tempting, nor the clawfoot rolltop bath and large tiled shower big enough to accommodate four. The cupboards are stocked with Loch Ness biscuits, local salted crisps, Colombian ground coffee and Nespresso capsules amongst other riches. The fridge beneath glows with neatly lined glass bottles of mineral and fizzy water, tins of tonic and two bottles of beer that we make short work of. We pore in disbelief over every perfect detail; from the coffee books on the golf courses and history of the house, to the lotions and body washes found in the bathroom scented with lavender, geranium and peppermint. Coated in a stark white towelling robe, feet swathed in undeniably comfortable slippers, slowly and luxuriantly, we prepare for dinner in the main house, just as we receive a call from reception confirming our dinner reservation for 7:30pm.
FINE DINING AND FIRELIT WHISKY
It is a moment’s walk across to the stately entrance of Mansion House, where we are greeted and relieved of our coats by an impossibly friendly receptionist. The indulgence and attentiveness of service is unparalleled, as we are offered to be escorted straight to the table, or taken upstairs for a drink beforehand. Desperate to see more of the house, we can’t refuse the latter, and are not disappointed as we are led through the white marble rotunda hall of the first floor. Here we are shown into a stately drawing room, a drooping crystal chandelier catching the firelight. It is a gasp-worthy capsule of scarlet walls and Downton Abbey-esque grandeur. We take our seats on a plump sofa that threatens never to release us whilst another couple joins us in front of the fireplace, a diligent barman haunting the well-equipped bar that occupies the corner of the room. We drink ice cold wine from crystal glasses as piano music chimes and portraits stare out at us from the walls.
Downstairs in the russet dining room, we are overwhelmed by silver service, water glasses topped up after every sip and cloth napkins laid carefully across our laps. We are served canapés of chicken liver parfait, and a starter of sage and pumpkin ravioli, savouring every mouthful of the rich accompanying sauce. For mains I feast on sole, Parmenter potatoes, shrimp and locally grown purple carrots in a creamy caper sauce, with a tarte aux citron to follow. Appetites satiated, we return upstairs for Scotch by the fireside and admire the glass cabinets hosting the estate’s finest whiskies. Sleep comes easy that night in the perfect silence and unparalleled comfort of the estate.
Brewing coffee the next morning, my only concerns are meeting a reservation for breakfast in the nearby Clubhouse and a Spa appointment to follow. Begrudgingly gathering our belongings from the suite, we join groups of keen golfers in the nearby clubhouse, where we are led to the resident section for breakfast. Here we are dotingly served poached eggs with smoked salmon and avocado on dark slices of rye bread.
SPA INDULGENCE AT FLETCHER’S COTTAGE
A stone’s throw from the hub of the Clubhouse, the Fletcher’s Cottage Spa proves the unmissable attraction of Archerfield House and a welcome respite. Here, full on breakfast, we wait in the foyer whilst spa attendants bring us warmed face towels and welcome flutes of red berry and coconut water smoothies ahead of our treatment.
The whole building is entirely Scandi in feel, a wooden chalet style construction with a vast wood burner dominating the middle of the main room, surrounded by sumptuous day beds with enormous cushions and complimentary jugs of cucumber and lemon water alongside a decanter of Sherry. I notice that a day bed has been reserved for us with a chalk board signed with our names. It soon transpires why this is one of the highest regarded wellness spaces in the country.
Inside, we are led to a private changing room filled with luxuriant Voya cosmetics. Here we don our robes and are taken out to the walled garden, resplendent in the sunshine. A private bath hut awaits for my VOYA bathing experience. In my own chalet-style hut, I find a roaring fire, inviting armchairs, and a selection of moisturisers, cleansers and face masks dispensed into wooden bowls. These are carefully placed alongside a roll-top bath filled with steaming water. As part of this unique treatment, the bath is half-filled with seaweed hand-harvested from the East Lothian coast. Alongside the fragrant scented candles, the calming aroma of the sea fills the room.
VOYA TREATMENTS AT FLETCHER’S COTTAGE SPA
VOYA Organic Seaweed Leaf Wrap (90 mins)
This treatment begins with finely ground seaweed to exfoliate, then continues using fresh leaves of Atlantic seaweed to cocoon the body to deeply detoxify, moisturise, soften and revive the skin. Then, enjoy a relaxing scalp massage while the leaves packed with minerals, vitamins and amino acids work their magic with immediate effect - £170.
VOYA Seaweed Bath Hut Experience (30 mins) Relax in the peace and tranquillity of your individual bath hut set in the natural surroundings of our walled Spa garden. The VOYA bath uses organic hand-harvested seaweed to detoxify and deeply moisturise your skin, increase circulation and promote healing. This treatment will relax the muscles, plump up and add definition to your skin, and support skin regeneration and renewal while combating the effects of aging - £65.
Following the instructions of a spa attendant, here I soak for half an hour before obligingly applying my facial care rituals and full body moisturiser. The smells are intoxicating, none more so than the seaweed itself, which exudes a slickening moisture when massaged against the skin. As the temperatures in the room begin to rise, the seclusion of the setting allows me to open the door to the garden, letting in a cooling sea breeze and the sound of birdsong.
Feeling entirely relaxed after my treatment, I head back inside for a while in the thermal rooms, sampling the Marine Steam Room, the Lavender scented sauna, the ice chute and the ‘Cold Rain’ shower. Afterwards, we recline with a small flute of sherry in front of the warmth of the wood burner in the main room, savouring the perfect way to conclude our adventure.