With a two year old, who we had just started toilet training two days earlier, and a 9 week old baby we set off to Sands Campsite in Gairloch for our first holiday as a family of four. Before you think I’m adventurous/brave/completely mad let me assure you there was no pitching of tents involved; we were glamping – all the fun of camping but with heating, lights and a comfy mattress (even my pregnant friend found it comfortable). We had only stayed in a wigwam once before, in those days before kidlets, at the Applecross Campsite which we had loved and we decided it would be a good, inexpensive way to holiday with two little ones during my maternity leave. And, of course, I’m always keen to explore a new area of Scotland. We asked some friends if they wanted to join us (of the four of us, it was a Yorkshire man who had been to the Sands Campsite before) and we each booked a five person wigwam for a bit of extra space (at only £180 per couple for the four nights). Each wigwam also had a picnic bench and fire pit outside. The mattresses slid back from chairs into a bedding area (or, if you have children, a bouncing space) and you can imagine how excited my toddler was at sleeping in a sleeping bag next to us… the first of many new and oh-so-exciting experiences for him.
Sands Campsite is wonderful, we enjoyed it so much we have decided to return next summer. Its location just north of Gairloch is idyllic and just perfect for children; tucked behind sand dunes and only a stone’s throw from a truly breathtaking beach. Framed by the dunes, edged with some rock pools and with an impressive backdrop of the Torridon Mountains, the gorgeous seascape of Big Sands soothed this tired mummy.
We had mixed weather during our short break: the first evening was sun-soaked but from then on the sun had to fight its way through waves of cloud that rolled over the landscape. We were just happy that it was warm and dry most of the time, and the wind kept the midges away (although it meant we were unable to go on the glass bottom boat that tours Gairloch Bay, something I’d thought my son would love – something for next time!). During one of the showers the boys headed to the beach kitted out in waterproofs and enjoyed scouring the rock pools. Rock pools must surely be one of the most fun things for toddlers to explore, it certainly was one of my favourite things to do as a child. They found starfish, tiny little fish and crabs, much to their delight.
I just enjoyed walking along its white sand, looking out towards Skye and back towards the magnificent Torridon mountains.
As well as a beach to explore, there is also a games room at the campsite for those wet days and a fantastic play park.
One of the highlights of the trip for me was Inverewe Garden. Perched on the edge of Loch Ewe, around a 15 minute drive from Sands Campsite, the setting is picturesque and tranquil, the gardens wrapped in the Wester Ross landscape and tied with a colourful bow.
I could immediately see why the garden is often described as the one of the most beautiful in Scotland. Created in 1862 by Osgood Mackenzie and now in the care of the National Trust for Scotland, the collection of exotic plants is quite staggering. Having lived in Australia and New Zealand I particularly enjoyed these sections. I also loved the willow sculptures. It was a peaceful place to walk and soak up the loch scenery as well as the unusual plants.
We discovered two other stunning beaches during our trip: Redpoint North Beach and Firemore Beach. There are two beaches at Redpoint (I believe that Redpoint South Beach was the setting for the beach scenes in What We Did On Our Holiday) but we only visited the northern beach, which is backed by a huge sand dune (or, as my friend’s son calls them, a sand mountain). The boys loved climbing up and then jumping down the dune, playing with their buckets and spades, and generally burning off steam.
Redpoint is about 10 miles south west of Gairloch and the journey itself is spellbinding; that beautiful west coast scenery that always makes my eyes smile and my heart sing. It is a short walk from the road through a field down to the beach and we had the beach to ourselves the whole time. On the way back we stopped the car suddenly when I spotted a seal a few metres away and we watched three seals bobbing and ducking under the water. We were so close we could hear the noise of their breathing.
Our last day was showery and so we decided to head off in the cars to explore (and enjoy some quiet time while they napped). After lunch at the Mountain Cafe in Gairloch (try the scones, they are huge and AMAZING, and the vegetable soup was delicious), we set off towards Poolewe and then took the road up to Cove. We discovered Firemore Beach along this road; a stunning little beach with spectacular views and the most beautiful red sand. My favourite of all the lovely beaches we saw and another we were lucky enough to hug all to ourselves. The sun even decided to put its hat on and lit the beach in golden hues. Whilst the boys watched in amusement, the two men decided to go for a swim – although the water looked inviting, their yelps as they dove in assured us that was far from the case. I was content just to photograph it…
After four lovely days, we reluctantly left Sands Campsite and headed home. For me, the best thing about this holiday was just having a change of scene after being at home for many weeks adjusting to life as a mother of two. Yes, holidays are very different now but I found myself enjoying it all the more. Rock pooling with my son, toasting marshmallows and jumping down dunes made me remember the simple pleasures in life.
During the drive I stopped the car more for my son to pee than to take photographs, I didn’t visit half of the places I’d researched, I forgot my camera battery on the day we found the most beautiful beach (baby brain), and the soundtrack to our journey was usually loud renditions of the Thomas the Tank theme tune or tandem crying – but oh! it was so good to be on the road again…