Wednesday, 29 July 2009


Nobody resident in the Western Isles can have failed to notice the numbers of campervans on the islands' roads this summer. So much so, that this has been raised as a concern with our Member of Parliament (in Westminster). Not all islands have facilities for motorhomes (like waste water disposal), meaning that a potential exists for environmental health problems, it is reported.

I cannot understand the reasoning behind the questions, posed by our MP to the management of Calmac. He asks for the numbers of campervans on ferries to the Western Isles, both on fully booked and not fully booked ferries. I can even less understand the contradiction in terms in stating that campervans are welcome, yet suggesting that the RET tarriff for campervans of between 5 and 8 metres in length cease to be equivalent to a car's. Motorhomes would be subject to the normal (higher) rate for vehicles of 5 metres and over.

It just so happens that I know that serviced accommodation in the islands (B&B, hotels, guest houses) is booked to the rafters this summer; numbers of visitors are apparently up by some 30% on last year. It is therefore to be welcomed that people come, carrying their own roof. It should be up to the local authority to provide service points for motorhomes in the islands (as has happened in Berneray, according to my own observations there 2 weeks ago). Rather than try to discourage people from coming with a motorhome, our MP should press the Comhairle to complete a network of service points, or encourage businesses to rent out motorhomes, negating the need to bring those vehicles on the ferries.

It should be borne in mind that tourism is a mainstay of the islands' economy, accounting for some £50m annually.

PLEASE NOTE: Comments on this post will be moderated closely.


  1. Let's hear it for the campervan. The majority of users dispose of rubbish / grey water/ other unmentionables!! in a responsible way, and surely we should be as welcome as any other tourist.

  2. I agree landlady--i don't have a campervan or a caravan and yes i know i'm going to get loads of criticism with this reply but I have already read in other blogs about people complaining about campervans /caravans as they cause traffic jams etc etc,but surely if the islands want to keep tourism alive surely they have to accept this form of vehicle?? not all campervan/caravan owners are irresponsible!

  3. Manxman from Mann30 July 2009 at 10:16

    We tour the islands each year from Barra to Lewis, this year with the motorhome and always respect the locals (fantastic people) and the environment. On Barra you have to wild camp, Benbecula has a camp site, very basic but very nice people who run it. Harris has Horgabost (forgive the spelling please) again basic but a great site with an honesty box. Our £10.00 was duly deposited. Lewis has Laxdale Lane in Stornaway, Great site and people. More service points such as the ones at the ferry terminals would be handy though.
    Your facilities are better than the Isle of Man. And more friendly

  4. I'm not sure about the angle he is taking with this either as it seems from my own investigations that the concerns being raised by people in Uist particularly is the large volume of motorhomes using areas such as the machair (a valuable source of grazing for many crofters) and a number of them are openly boasting about the fact they they can park anywhere for free (there are numerous websites on this subject) - one claims to have travelled from the Butt to Barra and spent the grand sum of £7!!!. As someone heavily involved in land managment it is incredibly frustrating when these fragile areas are seen as 'free camping'. It is worth pointing out that access rights don't apply to vehicles and the term 'wild camping' refers to lighweight camping in tents not vehicles but there are now some using this as a defence for parking motorhomes and cars where they like for the purposes of 'getting a good view'. I'm sure the majority of motorhome users who visit the islands and act responsibly, unfortunately the selfish behaviour of a few sees them all percieved as a nuisance. I spent many summers as a child on campervan holidays but used campsites as much as possible so can understand visitors frustrations - however this is no excuse for the disrespect shown by some.

  5. Manxman from Mann30 July 2009 at 17:12

    I cannot disagree with JS on any point. wild camp if you have no alternative.

  6. I think campervans are great ...! I'm seriously thinking of getting one myself when the dosh presents itself ...
    Some people (like *me*) just prefer to be on their own when they've done exploring and walking around, and especially when they're trying to get to sleep, and when they're eating their breakfast ...

    If they behave in a less than responsible way, take a picture, or their registration, then lets have some laws to take it from there ... perhaps they exist already ...
    PS: I'm not sure I'd head for a campsite for the night ... I think I'd just pick myself a nice little (secluded) asphalt spot next to a really good view ... Surely that's not verboten is it ...?!

    I'm sure that tractors/Volvos/nervous drivers/pantechnicons/ cyclists/sheep cause a lot of traffic jams too, but you just have to accept this ...!

    cannot comment on waste water disposal, but is it really worse than some of our factories put into open Lochs ...?

    As to toilet modules, I'm assured that that's all done by use of a sealed 'cassette' these days ...

    And yes AL you're correct that GH's are stacked to the brim right now ... Two of my customers said that they'd had to sleep in their car on the night of the tornado in Stornoway because they couldn;t find anywhere to stay ...!

    If I won the lottery, it would be on my list of things I'd have like a shot ...! However, they're used so relatively seldom that it's hard to justify out of mainstream funds, isn't it ...

  7. Mac an t Sronaich30 July 2009 at 22:33

    Don't understand the need for the veiled threat "Comments on this will be moderated closely" ???? Can anyone explain why it is necessary on this post?? Censorship!

  8. Mac,
    I put that warning in for a very good reason. I'm normally a tolerant blogger, but draw the line at gratuitous verbal abuse.

    In 2006, the discussion forum on was closed down following rant after rant, including offensive language, against campervanners. It was in danger of becoming the diametrical opposite to its purpose, i.e. promoting tourism to the Hebrides.

    I am not prepared to tolerate invective, swearing or verbal abuse on this blog. Are you?

  9. Mac an t Sronaich31 July 2009 at 00:02

    No certainly NOT!! Did not realise campervans came with a health warning!! Dear me. Censorship/intolerance whatever next?

  10. Manxman from Mann31 July 2009 at 10:07

    To the Soaplady,
    I hope you get your camper van, it is great fun. We stopped on Benbecula during the high winds of May, The owner of the site (Shell Bay) came round in the morning to see that we all had no damage and to offer help if it was needed. Just one good reason to use a camping site.

  11. As an aside: we saw a "campervan" in one of the M6 services on Saturday. It had Dutch number plates, and was the most massive one I've ever seen - it was parked alongside the coaches and was pretty much the same height and width, but not as long. Wow. I would have LOVED to see inside it - in fact, I would have paid good money to see inside it, just to see what it was like! Personally I like the VW ones, they are cute.

  12. For what it's worth, a comment as former camper van owner (Talbot Express Camelot) Resident of Lewis and ex-Resident/now frequent visitor of Somerset. I think part of the issue is not one of the camper or caravan but how much or little someone is prepared before their trip. Tyres checked (very frequently overlooked) rubbish/litter sensibly disposed of and of course pre-checking to see any available facilities (water/elec/gas) or access/practicality of wild/impromptu camping. Drivers,whether they are in campers/towing or just driving car need to remember common decency/manners and Highway Code as some of these things get left behind when they shut the front door at home maybe? Economically, whether a tourist (with precious tourist £££) arrives on foot,by car,bike,plane,campervan/motorhome or even Sunday Ferry then they are most welcome.....give a smile,a wave or a nod and driving becomes nicer anyway.
    PS.....roads (M5/M4) Somerset and Wales have been massively grid-locked last 2 weekends making travel horrid (nearly had a Clarkson moment and said too many caravans but held back!!!) but kids off school.euro-rate bad for euro-hol so Devon/Cornwall/Somerset and Wales all look good right now. Latest stats re Ferry and tourists/travel to/from Western Isles all up since sensible/fairer pricing (RET).......RJG

  13. We visited Lewis a couple of weeks ago. We prefer to wild camp and parked up in a quiet lay by up in the hills. We love the quietness of wild camping. Although we did not spend money at a camp site we purchased diesel and bought food and drink from shops. We never dispose of waste or empty our toilet in an improper way, respecting the environment.

    We were surprised about how few camper vans we saw, and noticed that many ferry trips between islands had space to spare.

  14. I'm on the ferry from Oban next Monday - we flew to Barra last year and stayed at Heathbank Hotel. We hired a car and managed to travel as far out as Lochmaddy (stayed one night on S. Uist).

    It was that visit that lead us to want to return in a m/home and enjoy the peace and quiet even more, the RET trial ensured it was this year.
    I must say I'm puzzled by the "m/homes of between 5 and 8 metres in length" getting crossings "cheap". Most private cars are less than 5 m long and for the Hopscotch 15 we've booked pay £99. For our 6.9m m/home it costs 50% more for less than 40% more length. OK it may be taller but height doesn't seem to be a limiting factor on most Calmac ferries and it is still our "car" not a commercial vehicle. We bring our own breakfasts and may occasionally have a barbecue if the weather encourages it - but most times will eat out and have a drink at the same time. For that reason we often ask the establishments we eat and drink in for advice on local sites to park overnight and sometimes are invited to do so in a corner of their car park.
    I cannot understand the "I travelled the length of the Island without spending any money" mentality at all.
    BUT I will be arriving with a full (100litre) tank of diesel having tired of the local sport of "hunt the filling station over a Bank Holiday" - waiting around in Castlebay just in case the pumps are "Open, when not closed" gets boring after a while.

    So I hope we don't upset anybody anywhere we manage to park our "snail", hope we don't hold anybody up if we enjoy for just a few days what you enjoy 24/7 and if paying an extra £50 for less than 2 extra metres of length is getting something on the cheap - I beg to differ, but am happy to pay it for the opportunities it opens up.

  15. I have yet to visit Scotland in a motohome or any of the Islands. I would love to so it would be a shame if motorhomes were banned or curtailed.

    Service points and places for motorhomes are very popular in France, Germany, Italy etc so why not provide facilities such as these. Have a look at "Aire de Service" (France).

    We spend our money in Europe BECAUSE the UK is so short sighted and ban motorhomes in many towns etc. We would tour in our own country if it was more motorhome friendly. Being retired we cannot afford the HUGE campsite prices in UK (not for long trips anyway) but we always contribute to the local economy by shopping locally.

    I hope Scotland remains more sympathetic to the motorhomer.

  16. Hello All, I have been touring in a Campervan for many years and have noticed that this is a growth area in tourism. In other European countries simple facilities, aires, not campsites, have been made available and the resultant additional income has been welcomed. The UK is held in poor regard by continental campervan visitors because councils and tourism bodies seem to prefer be hostile rather than to welcome us. Many UK residents go to the continent because the additional business is appreciated there and basic facilities are widely available. I have found that local people are friendly in the UK but councils and officials are often not. It is daft to claim that reduced ferry prices alone are responsible for increased numbers of visitors, it is just a trend in tourism and needs to be recognised as such. Most Motorhomers are of mature years and many have substantial disposable incomes and as such will not be badly behaved or rowdy, in short surely we are the ideal tourist except that we bring our accommodation with us. I have heard it said that we do not spend money locally, nonsense, we want regular supplies of fresh food, or is the suggestion that we all eat only canned goods, stale bread and rotting vegetables and we have found a way not to use fuel in our vehicles.

    Simply put, if you want the business it is there for the taking, if you do not we will find somewhere else to go although we will be missing the great natural beauty and friendly welcome of your region, Alan Thorne.

  17. I think Gravirlife is absolutely right when it comes to making sure people are aware of what is available before they get here or even what kind of environment they are coming to in some cases. There is an obvious lack of facilities here but from what I've read on various forums it seems people don't want to use campsites when they come here even if they were available which would make people reluctant to invest in providing them. The uses of the term Wild camping by motorhomers is a contentious issue as it doesn't actually refer to vehicles but because the access code isn't promoted to those who don't have access rights (vehicle use, shooting and fishing etc) we end up with the kind of situations we've seen this year with people parking and camping on machairs. These are a valuable source of grazing for many crofters and are a working agricultural landscape, many are also under management agreements which are also being jepordised by vehicle damage. As someone said to me the other day - you wouldn't go to the mainland and park a motorhome or tent in the middle of a field of cows or sheep so why do people come here are do it! - fair point I think.

  18. As a motorhomer who has visited Lewis I can say that I would never park on grassland for a couple of reasons. I do not want to cause any damage to the grass with my heavy motorhome and as most motorhomes are front wheel drive, with more weight over the rear axel they tend to get stuck on grass if it rains.

  19. Steve

    Petrol pumps in Castlebay are OPEN DURING NORMAL SHOP HOURS and for an hour or so after mass on Sunday, and also on Bank Holidays! 'Open when not closed' referred to a nearby shop not the shop with the pumps. A very unfair comment. Unfortunately our petrol is expensive - more likely to be the reason for not buying it.

    Re: the opening article - if the Comhairle is to provide servicing points for motor caravans, who is going to pay for it? The campers or Council tax payers in the Eilean Siar? There has to be a benefit to islanders from this form of tourism.

    I live in an area of Vatersay beseiged by motor caravans, caravans and tents this year - more than the facilities we have can cope with. One night, I drove past six tents ( there could have been more I couldn't see}, 11 motor caravans and a car and caravan - on a stretch of less than half a mile.
    We meet some great campers on the island who respect the place and contribute through the honsety box. But this year for the first time on the beach we have had a camper van overnight, land rovers, a child on a quad bike, that had been brought to the island behind a large old landrover - and then the Ford Focus that drove down the beach with a dinghy on top - and were ungrateful to the local, who interrupted his work to tow them off.
    Rubbish bins at our hall have been left overflowing with barely wrapped bags of food, humming with bluebottles and fodder for rats and seagulls. Wouldn't responsible campers take their rubbish somewhere else when they see the bins full? There have now been additional rubbish collectons to cope with this. but who pays? The campers?

    There have been positive moves on Barra and Vatersay to provide additional facilities for next season, but on a small island it is not easy to identify suitable land. The most suitable flat land is under cultivation for crops,potatoes and livestock. Hopefully fewer people will come to the island with the idea that they can camp anywhere,open gates to croft land and drive in, and leave their detritus for other people to deal with.

    And Taddoe. Traffic jams on a narrow single track road with passing places are not great - particuarly when some drivers are unable to manoeuvre their vehicles to allow passing.

    Responsible and sympathetic tourists welcome!!

  20. I do not like camper vans - I like the campest van - in metallic pink with sequins on the bodywork and altered suspension to make it mince along the A857