Scotland: Stunning Gardens to Visit

We have a tiny sunken garden at home and I am very much a reluctant gardener who will do what needs doing and little more. This doesn’t stop me enjoying visiting gardens much bigger than ours, partly to just enjoy the beauty of the flowers and the design and also for ideas for plants that might survive my semi-neglect. Scotland might not spring to mind when you think of gardens but it has plenty of inspirational ones that you can visit. Some gardens are attached to a big house or castle but being outdoor types we often stick to the garden and grounds, rather than go into the house.

This isn’t a comprehensive list but is a selection of some of my favourites. Discover Scottish Gardens will give you more ideas. The corresponding photograph to each garden is mentioned in the brackets after its name.

Logan Botanic Garden near Stranraer (top of page)

On the south-west tip of Scotland, Logan Botanic Garden is a paradise warmed by the gulf stream. On our visit we started in the walled garden that has tree ferns and palms, ponds and a rock garden. From here we wandered up to the terrace for a view over the gardens and then explored the woodland area. This is cool and shaded with trees from across the world. Finally we peeped into the conservatory for those plants that need more protection. These gardens have an excellent cafe too and plenty of parking.

Gordon Castle Walled Garden (top right)

This beautiful walled kitchen garden at Gordon Castle is a real gem. Near the River Spey and Fochabers, the garden has been restored to its former glory and is now both a productive and a glorious place to be. Flowers grow with the fruit and vegetables and the produce is used in their own beauty range and gins and is freshly picked and becomes an ingredient in dishes in their popular cafe. This is a fabulous place to include on a walk around the River Spey.

Attadale Gardens, Strathcarron (top left)

At Attadale on Scotland’s amazing west coast you get both fantastic gardens and a sculpture park rolled into one. We received a warm welcome when we arrived on a drizzly day, were handed an umbrella incase the rain got heavier, given a squirt of midge repellent as it was that sort of day and handed a map. The sculpture collection is dotted around the gardens and gave a structure to our walk. The sculptures vary and there is something for every taste and not every sculpture was one that we would have wanted to live with in our own plot! We explored the woodland areas with bluebells, the old rhododendrons and were particularly enchanted with the Japanese Garden. If you want refreshments there is usually a DIY cafe where you can help yourself and pop money in the honesty box.

Brodick Castle, Arran (middle right)

Brodick Castle is hard to miss on the island of Arran. If you travel on the ferry into Brodick you will spot the baronial castle on the hillside. The castle has both formal gardens and woodland trails. The formal gardens have the handsome castle as a backdrop and views to the sea. For me it was the woods that were the highlight, not because of the trees, although these are amazing. We made straight for the hide and sat quietly watching the chaffinches on the feeders, waiting for a red squirrel. Our patience was rewarded when two appeared, scampering quickly out of the trees and onto the squirrel feeder.  The feeder is a clever design with a glass jar resting on its side and filled with nuts so that we could watch the squirrels picking a nut and nibbling it before scampering away.  A few minutes later a third squirrel scurried over the logs and leapt up to the feeder only to find that a chaffinch had pottered along to eat the nuts. I’m not sure who was more surprised.  The chaffinch flew up and its wings struck the sides of the jar and the squirrel leapt backwards!

Ascog Hall Garden & Fernery, Bute (bottom left)

The blue poppies are what I remember about this garden on the Isle of Bute. We were there in early May, just the right time to see these stunning flowers at their best. Ascog Hall Gardens is a small and charming garden with enchanting qualities. It is divided into different areas and is dotted with some fun sculptures and water features. The sunken Victorian fernery is a green, warm and moist place with a fern they think is 1,000 years old. The gardens have not been able to open during Covid-19 in 2021 so check before you make a special journey. The parking area is small and we parked our campervan on Balmory Road that runs beside the garden.

Achamore Gardens, Gigha (bottom middle)

Delightful gardens to visit in spring, it was the woodland walks with rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias that I particularly enjoyed at Achamore on the Isle of Gigha. Just wandering with no destination in mind along the winding paths, stopping to admire the flowers is a perfect way to spend an hour or so. The gardens were created in the 1940s and have many unusual varieties that flourish in the warm micro-climate here. The walled garden is a perfect sheltered area when the sea breeze is blowing. We had taken the ferry over to Gigha from Kintyre and cycled to Achamore but it is only about 1.5 miles to walk.

Crathes Castle, Banchory (bottom right)

The castle isn’t the only star of the show at Crathes and it was too lovely an autumnal day to be inside the building and so, as usual, we explored the gardens and grounds. The views of the pink turreted castle from the lawns are worth seeing. I have a weakness for walled gardens and the one at Crathes is wonderful, divided into section with pools and fountains and themed planted areas. We were too late in the year for the glorious herbaceous borders but there was still plenty to enjoy. Crathes has a network of waymarked trails and we stretched our legs on the 6.5 km red trail around the estate. This took us through woodland that was packed with autumn colours. The estate has red squirrels but the only one we saw was a wooden carved one!

Scotland: 5 Overnight Spots & 5 CAMC, 3 C&CC &amp & 3 Independent Campsites

Okay, this isn’t my snappiest blog post title:) I just hope it does what it says on the tin. If you’re looking for some short and honest reviews of some of Scotland’s campsites and ideas for places to pull in for the night. We planned our three week tour around Scotland with some blind optimism early in the year, not knowing if we would even be able to travel beyond Lancashire and as far as Scotland at the time. This is mostly why we used five Caravan and Motorhome Club [CAMC] sites [online booking, no deposit and able to amend bookings, thank you].

In comparison the Camping & Caravanning Club [C&CC] require either full payment or deposit so we didn’t book Moffat and Glenmore C&CC sites quite so early. We booked these in advance when travel looked more certain, aware that we might be risking our deposit. We didn’t book Glencoe C&CC site until the day before we arrived and while we were on the road.

Apart from the location and the view, CAMC sites are generally of a similar standard. The C&CC sites do vary more. We are members of both clubs and do like to use their sites, but I do also like the unpredictable nature and therefore excitement of arriving at an independent site, not knowing what to expect. And a good overnight spot in a small car park or lay-by that we have to ourselves can be the most relaxing night of all.

Of the non-club sites we stayed on during this trip, Spey Bay Golf Club is worth a mention. A golf club and a campsite isn’t something I had come across before but it worked extremely well. The clean toilets and showers were shared with the golfers who were mostly out on the greens playing golf so they were always quiet. Quite a few pitches were taken up with seasonal caravans so it could be that the site gets busier at the weekends and school holidays. A laundry and wash up area was all that was missing in terms of facilities. A few keen golfers arrived quite early in the morning so be warned you might not get the lie in you wanted if you are near to the car park and in the summer a few play late into the evening. If there was an event being held in the club house you might have a disturbed evening too.

Spey Bay is on the mouth of the River Spey and has sea views and a stunning and dynamic shingle beach that is perfect for a bit of beach combing. The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society Dolphin Centre is here too, they have a gift shop, organise tours of the large historic ice houses left over from the salmon fishing station and run a fantastic cafe with delicious cakes. Otherwise, there are no shops, pubs or restaurants and it is a peaceful spot.

We chose the campsite as we have a friend who lives in Fochabers, a charming small town which is an easy four plus miles walk through woodland along the Speyside Way. The beautifully restored Gordon Castle Walled Garden in Fochabers is certainly worth a visit if you are in the area for the fascinating flower, vegetable and fruit gardens and has a good cafe. If you don’t have friends to visit then there are plenty of other activities. Walk about five miles to the east along the coast and you get to the small fishing town of Buckie. You can pick up a bus to Fochabers from here and make a round trip of it. The National Cycle Route One crosses the viaduct near Spey Bay over the River Spey to Garmouth and you could follow this to Elgin and visit the ruined cathedral.

One small note with these comments – I like very hot showers! My partner usually finds the showers hot enough.

Campsite nameComments
Moffat Caravan & Camping Club (C&CC) siteA large & level site, 5 minutes walk from the lovely Moffat town centre & my favourite Cafe Ariete.  Friendly staff, clean modern facilities, showers push button & just about hot enough for me, wash up outdoors with a roof.  We both had a phone signal.  Good value at under £20/night. There are options for walks around Moffat and at the weekends we could buy wood-fired pizza from a stall at the gate.
Maragowan CAMC, KillinA linear site along the river with open views to the hills and a short walk from the centre of Killin.  There is some road noise but if you can get one of the riverside pitches you’ll love it.  We spent hours watching the wildlife on the river from our pitch. The facilities are old but functional & the showers are hot. In spring the signposted walk by Loch Tay and the River Dochart to the falls is idyllic and there is good mountain walking nearby.
Victoria Bridge near Bridge of OrchyThis is a small car park with a slope that is popular with vans and tents for overnighting but still peaceful.
Glencoe C&CC siteA large site with a mix of open views & trees, hard standing pitches are a good size & level.  The water from the taps in the laundry & wash up is scalding hot but only warm in the showers. We only spent one night here but there are walking and cycling options if you are here longer.
Morvich CAMC site, Glen ShielWe received a particularly friendly welcome at this pleasant site surrounded by mountains.  We were very surprised to get a phone signal for EE and 3 in such a remote spot.  Good hot showers, peaceful and great mountain and forest walking directly from the site.
Blackwater Falls car park near GarveFairly level car park with toilets.  After heavy rain we couldn’t hear the main road above the roar of the waterfall.  There is a 2 mile riverside walk, a phone signal and most likely other vans.
Broomfield Holiday Park, UllapoolThis large site has unbeatable loch views and is in the heart of Ullapool.  The facilities are not brilliant but were closed due to Covid-19 on this visit.  We managed to get a front pitch but needed 2 electric cables joined together for the hook up. We drove out for hill walking but in the evening walked to The Ceilidh Place for a wonderful and delicious meal.
Sands Caravan & Camping Site, GairlochA large rambling and popular site by a lovely beach and among the sand dunes with only a few marked pitches. EHU pitches are scattered about although some of the best pitches don’t have hook up. The facilities are clean & good with hot showers.  No 3 or EE signal.
Kinlochewe CAMC siteFantastic mountain views from many of the pitches which are all level and hard standing.  We had an EE signal but nothing from 3 and the wi-fi is still only available from around the wash up / laundry area – it would be good if the CAMC could upgrade this sometime soon.  Great walking directly from the site and the village has a shop and hotel.
A832 layby on Loch a’ChuillinnThere are a few lay-bys on this road that are screened from the traffic. The one we used was level and had a loch view. Two other vans joined us when we were there and we had a 3 and EE signal.
Spey Bay Golf Club campsiteA small level site by the club house and car park.  Clean facilities with good hot showers, no wash up or laundry.  Both 3 and EE had a signal.  Good walking along the coast and the River Spey.
Dalchum Bridge car park, Glen Road, NewtonmoreA fairly level car park with open views down the glen that is popular with vans and tents. An overnight here meant we could be sure of a parking place to walk up the hill the next morning.
Glenmore C&CC (Camping in the Forest), AviemoreA busy and large site with two facilities blocks.  There are grass and hard standing pitches of varying sizes and pitches come with and without EHU.  The showers are hot & push button. You can walk around the lake or in Rothiemurchus Forest and up mountains. There are buses towards Aviemore.
Strathclyde Country Park CAMC site, GlasgowThis is a well kept and tidy site with colourful trees and bushes.  Its only drawback is being so close to the M74 and a dual carriageway and so the traffic noise is constant.  We did take a walk in the country park but that is also noisy. It did make a comfortable and good stopover.
New England Bay CAMC site, Port LoganRight by the beach and with sea views, this is a grassy site that is strung out with bushes and trees dividing different areas.  There are two facilities blocks of the usual standard.  An EE signal here but nothing from 3 (again).  Good coastal walking from the site and the Logan Botanic Gardens are well worth a visit.
Kirroughtree Forest Park Visitor Centre, Newton Stewart, ScotlandA slightly sloping large car park surrounded by trees but with some views to the hills.  The payment of £6 can only be made in cash when the visitor centre is closed. There are forest trails to stretch your legs on or cycle along and no shortage of midges when we visited.

A Collection of Caravan & Motorhome Club Campsites in Central England (plus a few others)

As soon as campsites opened again we were off, touring around central England, getting as far south as Cambridge, as far east as the banks of the River Humber and mooching around the edges of Greater Manchester and the Peak District hills. I had booked some of these pitches back in January when we didn’t know the date we would be able to travel again and the Caravan and Motorhome Club (CAMC) offers the easiest and most flexible booking system, with no deposit and the ability to amend bookings online. From the 12 April until mid-May toilet blocks were open but not the showers on CAMC sites. Here is where we stayed, what we thought of each site and some ideas for activities.

Campsite nameComments
Burrs Country Park CAMC site, BuryWe like the open aspect of this site and it has both rural walks from the country park and is a 30 minute walk into Bury giving access to Greater Manchester’s tram network. Bury’s market is legendary in the north-west of England and worth visiting. We cycled along the canal from Bury to Radcliffe and were amazed how quickly we left the urban sprawl and found quiet corners. From Radcliffe we picked up the old railway line to Clifton which was effortless and enjoyable cycling.
Crowden Camping & Caravanning Club siteThis grassy site with some sloping pitches is just off the busy Woodhead Pass road and so there is some road noise.  Neither EE or 3 offered a phone or data signal here.  No facilities were open. We walked on the Pennine Way to Black Hill across open moorland and were amazed to meet a young couple walking the long distance route with a tent and a baby! We hope they made it.
Castleton CAMC siteNot far from the lovely town of Castleton, the site has some trees and some road noise.  Both EE and 3 had a data signal. The hill walking is hard to beat from here with the Mam Tor ridge and dramatic Cave Dale and we visited [for the first time] Peveril Castle on this trip.
Buxton CAMC siteThis site is in a quarry and a pleasant 30 minute walk into the handsome town of Buxton through woodland.  We received a friendly welcome and were delighted with the delicious bread and cakes in the shop.  No EE signal but 4G 3 signal. We put together circular walks from the campsite to Goyt Valley and Three Shires Head and used buses for a linear walk through some Derbyshire Dales from Taddington. With a map there is no end to your options here.
Clumber Park CAMC siteA large site with 2 facility blocks, some grass pitches as well as hard standing, surrounded by trees & shady, popular with families, no heating in the showers and toilets in April & no data signal for either of our phones. Clumber Park has a vast network of footpaths and cycle paths that link you to Cresswell Crags and as far as Sherwood Forest.
Carsington Water CAMC siteA wooded site with mostly hard-standing pitches, that are in general fairly level.  A popular site and £5 a night cheaper than some CAMC sites.  Very poor 3 and EE signals. Cycling or walking on the well-made paths around the reservoir is easy and pleasant.
The Paddock, Edith Weston, Rutland WaterSmall adult-only campsite on a level grassy field with no facilities.  Views over Rutland Water and a tidy and quiet site with a helpful and friendly owner. I wrote a review of this site on this blog post.
Cambridge Cherry Hinton CAMC siteA small CAMC site with pitches separated into small areas by trees.  The site had a bit of a neglected air when we were there, unusual for a CAMC site.  There are regular buses into Cambridge which is packed with sights to see.
Roxton CL, Barrow upon HumberGrassy level area, enclosed by hedges & trees to the side of the owner’s house that is kept tidy.  No facilities.  Near the River Humber & good walks along the river and by nature reserves.  We received a warm welcome and £13/night is a fair price. There are more details on this blog post.