Practical tips : camping in Scotland, discover Iona
The 6 of August, 5 pm, after 3 buses, hitchhiking, rain and spending a night at the middle of nowhere, we arrived in Oban, Scotland. We went there to visit our friends : Athina and François, that we met back in New Zealand, they had been living there for a few months.
A Mexican meal, wine, a long talk, some tips about what to do around and a good rest, next morning we say “see you back in 3 days !” and off we go.
Destination : Iona, a little island situated at few hours from Oban. Tickets in the pocket, we are going to travel in a ferry, a bus and another ferry to finally get there. The 7 of August, 3 pm, we touch ground on the charming island. And under the sun (the only 3 days we saw the sun during our three weeks trip in Scotland) ! We take a look on the map and walk to the north of the island to establish our basecamp. We find a bay. Make a fire. Have a coffee. Ahhhh the real life !
How to go there ?
You have to take the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry from Oban to Craignure (the port on Mull Island). It takes around 45 minutes.
Then, take a bus from Craignure to Fionnphort (at the East side of the island). This one takes around 1 hour.
And finally another ferry from Fionnphort to Iona. This one takes only 10 minutes.
Go to the ferry terminal or the tourism office in Oban to ask the schedule of the trips because there are only 2 or 3 daily ferries to the further islands.
What to do on Iona ?
You can go to the top of the highest hill and have a 360° view on all the island. You can visit the old Abbey (wait after the sunset, there is nobody so you can explore it for free). You can swim in the ocean, we even saw some kids bodyboarding ! But, be advised, the water can get really cold! You can as well take half a day to walk the island from north to south.
Where and how to eat ?
Be sure to bring food with you from Oban as Iona is a really small island where you can only find a couple of places to eat (usually the restaurants of the little hotels around) and they can be really expensive. There is a small but well packed convenience store, we bought some supplies here.
We had with us our gas cooker, to prepare some meals by ourselves. We brought from France some soup base, some couscous seeds mixed in a bag with spices and salt (to quickly cook a taboulé) and some muesli (for the morning). In Oban we bought fresh vegetables and fruits, noodles, bread and chips.
Where to sleep ?
There is an official campsite on the island but we chose to camp completely on the other side, wild style on the beach!
Camping in Scotland is allowed almost everywhere as long as you do not disturb anyone and you stay discret. You can camp inside a private property, but make sure to leave nothing behind. We camped at Loch Lomond, on Skye Island and on Iona. We always pay attention to arrive late and leave pretty early the next morning.
Actually in Scotland it is legal to camp, we share this link where you can find the Scottish code of wild camping, so you can read it and be better informed of the things you are allowed or not allowed to do.
Our equipment ?
We camped in Scotland during August and it was really cold and humid, this is the gear that made our trip comfortable:
A tent : we have a Quickhiker ultralight from Decathlon. It was an investment but really we are happy to have done it. Super light (less than 2 kg), really resistant against the wind and the rain ! We have 2 places, perfect to fit us and our 2 middle size backpacks.
Mattress + sleeping bag + safety blanket : we had a 10-15° sleeping bag and we were not warm enough. We think is good to have a 5-10° for man and 0-5° for women. One of the nights, the temperature went down to 6°. We can attach our sleeping bags together, we tried this the first night but we were cold so we don’t recommend to put them together! It is easier to keep warm individually ! So we used safety blankets (always have one during a camping trip). We were putting the mattress, one safety blanket, the sleeping bags, and another safety blanket on top to be between the two reflective sides ! We are not really tolerant to the cold weather 🙂 It will be good to invest in a really warm sleeping bag.
A shelter : this piece of waterproof plastic comes handy to put under your tent and protect it from the humid floor, this is really important. We bought ours in Edinburgh, at the Mountain Warehouse on Prince Street for just a couple pounds. Good price to pay for commodity.
Equipment to cook : the gas cooker, plates and lighter. Bought in Decathlon. The gas cartridge we bought in the same store as the shelter. We always have with us a Bialetti to make the coffee, it is perfect the morning or for the afternoon ! Don’t forget to bring enough water when you are camping.
Headlamps : one of our favourite pieces of gear and a really life saver. When is cold outside, believe us that there is not better feeling than to have your hands warm in your pockets while you have a nice light to show you the way ahead.
A Swiss Army Knife, always with us ! Better to have it and don’t need it, than need it and don’t have it!
Our perfect combo for the cold is: a beanie, a buff, a merino legging, a merino sweater or a fleece, topped with our big jackets. We always have our wool socks.
For the comfort : external battery, notebook, pen and book to write ideas and a bar of chocolate !
Is it allowed to make a fire ?
Yes it is, as long as you leave the place as you found it! That means, leave no trace that you have been there. The only issue is that the wood is really humid so when you finally have a place without wind, it stays complicated to turn on the fire with soaked wood !