Karla Baker reminisces about a 3000-mile road trip around Scotland in an accessible caravan and dispels the myth that caravanning is not for the disabled community.
My partner, Stephen, and I have been in a relationship for 11 years now. We met at school and have been enjoying the big adventure of life together ever since. As naturally outdoorsy people, exploring new places has become a big part of our relationship, whether it’s a relaxed stroll through the forest or a fun-packed road trip, we can’t get enough of it.
Having a form of muscular dystrophy myself, I am no stranger to the struggles that travelling with a disability can present, particularly when it comes to accommodation. The majority of hotels aren’t designed for people with disabilities, and even the ones that offer ‘accessible rooms’ aren’t always suitable for my specific needs, after all, everybody is different. So when Stephen suggested that we get a wheelchair accessible caravan I was all for it!
Since there were no suitable ‘off the shelf’ wheelchair accessible caravans we chose a standard model and made some internal alterations ourselves, before sending it off to a workshop to do the more complex task of fitting a wider door. There are companies who will do every adaptation for you, from fitting simple grab rails to ceiling track hoists, electric beds, and wet rooms, but we wanted to save as much money as we could, and quite fancied the project.
Then finally, after years of saving up and months of adapting, we had a fully accessible caravan designed specifically for us, we were ready for our adventures to really begin.
We started off with a few local breaks to get into the swing of things, then we decided to take the plunge and do a road trip we’d been desperate to do for some time – a 3000-mile tour of Scotland.
The Journey Begins
Setting off from our home on the south coast of England we headed north, taking two days to reach the Scottish border. Having driven just over 500 miles by that point we were really excited to reach our first destination in Scotland, a lovely campsite in Edinburgh. We’re not generally city people, but it wasn’t like any city we’ve seen before. It had a relaxed and friendly atmosphere and everybody we met was really accommodating. Throughout the few days we spent there we enjoyed a bus tour and a wander around the National Museum of Scotland, but our highlight has to be getting to see inside the magnificent Royal Yacht Britannia. It was fascinating to learn its history and it was surprisingly accessible, there wasn’t a single area I couldn’t access. I’d definitely recommend going if you’re into history, the royal family, or just want to have a nosy inside a grand yacht.
Our stay in Edinburgh soon came to an end and it was time to hitch up the caravan and head north to our next stop, Inverness. Famous for the impressive Loch Ness we couldn’t resist a boat tour, and although it was windy, the weather was being exceptionally kind to us, so we opted to sit outside on the deck. There we had fantastic views across the vast, glistening water as we tried to stifle our giggles every time our tour guide broke into Scottish folk song. It certainly made for a memorable ride.
If we weren’t exploring Inverness or the surrounding areas you’d find us just a short drive from the campsite at a beach called Chanonry Point, the best place in the UK to view dolphins from the shoreline. After wandering down the accessible path alongside the lighthouse we arrived at the stoney beach, and although we visited on three separate occasions and didn’t have any luck spotting dolphins, Chanonry Point was such a tranquil place to sit that it was worth it.
Onwards and Upwards
We could have happily spent the rest of our trip there, but we were excited to continue our adventure. The next leg of our journey took us up the east coast to the most northern point in mainland UK – Dunnet Head. The beachside campsite had a wonderful decked walkway leading to a lookout, giving spectacular views across the vast open sand. Whilst staying there we visited John O’Groats for a lovely lunch and the obligatory photo by the sign, then we headed to the official most northern point, Dunnet Head, for another obligatory photo by the sign. I jest, but although it only marked the middle of our trip, it was there that the enormity of our adventure really hit us. We had towed our caravan all the way from our home on the south coast of England to the north coast of Scotland in a week, it felt like quite an achievement.
We thought that location was remote, but it was nothing compared to our next stop. As we drove deeper into the centre of the Scottish Highlands, signs of civilisation grew fewer and further between, and by the time we’d reached our campsite on the edge of Loch Naver the nearest shop was an hour’s drive away. Although when you’re surrounded by wild stags, lochs and snow-capped mountains, shopping is the last thing on your mind. We went for an afternoon drive, exploring the desolate but breathtaking scenery, before heading back to the site to catch up on some much-needed sleep. It felt fantastic to be somewhere so rural and peaceful, yet have our own accessible home-from-home with us. Complete with kitchen, washroom and comfortable bed, it allowed us to have a proper meal and a good night’s sleep before continuing our journey the following day.
As we made our way to the west coast, the mountains towering above us got even bigger and every corner we turned was even more stunning than the last. We found our next campsite just off the Isle of Skye and were in awe once again by the beauty of the place. We spent most of our time there wandering around and doing driving tours around the breathtaking scenery, on one occasion ending up at a viewpoint more than 2000ft up a mountain, getting engulfed in thick white cloud. The temperature dropped to zero, our car got covered in ice and we couldn’t see a thing, but it gave us a great story to laugh about for years to come.
All of that was great fun but perhaps one of our favourite days in that area was on Stephen’s birthday when we took a short ferry crossing over to the Isle of Raasay. Having a population of only 170 people it had a real community feel and was unlike anywhere we’d been before. Despite being so remote, the accessibility was great. We stopped at the beautiful Raasay House with a ramped side-entrance for lunch, before driving up the island’s main road (a single track lane), exploring further.
The Last Leg
We were having the best time but our Scottish road trip was sadly drawing to a close, though we had one last stop before crossing back through England – Loch Lomond. As we sat on the edge of the glistening shores, soaking up the springtime sun with ice creams in hand, we couldn’t get much happier.
We’d travelled 3000 miles over three weeks, seen some incredible sights, met lots of lovely people, made a million memories, and we cannot wait for the next adventure!
Caravanning isn’t for everyone, but having the freedom to hitch up our fully accessible caravan and go at a moment’s notice, means it is our favourite way to travel.
If you’d like to hear more about our adventures then head over to our blog adventurewheels.blog
(Originally appeared in the Jun/Jul issue of PosAbility)