A Trip To Islay

If like me, you are a fan of the Single Malt Whisky, then Islay is a destination that should be very high on your “Must Visit” list.

Located off the west coast of Scotland and on a similar latitude to Glasgow, it took us around 5 hours to drive from our home in the Scottish Borders to the lovely harbour town of Tarbert.

We decided to travel up the day before our crossing and take a wee daunder around the Mull of Kintyre coast before we found a beautiful wee spot to “wild camp” between Claonaig and Skipness. We enjoyed an al fresco supper and took in the view over the bay to Arran.

A short drive to the CalMac ferry terminal at Kennacraig and we were soon boarded and on our way to Port Ellen. The CalMac staff were very friendly and helpful and the crossing was very comfortable. The breakfast was most enjoyable!

We were efficiently disembarked and we drove the very short distance into Port Ellen. We parked on the main street and found a lovely wee bistro where we enjoyed an excellent lunch. You may have begun to notice a “foodie” trend  😉

We’re not the type of people who plan everything down to the finest detail. We prefer to be spontaneous and to go with the flow. In this case, we decided to head out of Port Ellen and to recce the island. We headed for Bowmore and then followed the coastline around Loch Indaal through Bruichladdich and down to Port Charlotte where we dropped into the Tourist Information Centre

Unfortunately, it was closed but we did meet a very friendly and helpful young lady who advised us to drive to the other side of the village and head for the village Community Centre. The community run site is superb. There are dedicated pitches with EHU (Electric Hook Up) and a large grassed area where you can choose your own pitch. Inside the Community Centre, there are modern, well equipped and spotlessly clean toilets and showers. There is also a Bistro which offers a menu with a good selection of dishes made from locally sourced produce.

While the Port Charlotte Community Centre became our base from which to explore the island, we did also discover a couple of excellent places to “wild camp”. The first was right at the top of Loch Indaal where we spent a couple of nights and the second was on the east coast on the road to Ardtalla where we spent our last night on the island and also where we managed to get stuck!

Thankfully a very understanding farmer pulled us out with his tractor giving us plenty of time to drive to the ferry terminal at Port Askaig

However, I digress…

Obviously, there is plenty to see and do. It would be churlish not to visit all the Islay distilleries. Christine’s favourite was Bruichladdich where they also distill The Botanist a very fine gin made with local aromatics. I have to confess a love for both Laphroaig and Lagavulin and I’d be hard pressed to express a real preference for one over the other. Although I do now own a wee bit of Laphroaig land. Sadly, we didn’t get to Bunnahabhain on this trip but that does give me an excellent reason to return and as a bonus, I did manage to buy a bottle at an excellent price on the return ferry.

There is a seal colony at Portnahaven which is a very picturesque wee village. Islay House near Bridgend is well worth a visit if only to buy fresh vegetables from the walled garden which is run by the local community. You get to the garden through a courtyard which boasts a couple of galleries a coffee shop and a brewery.

Most evenings we dined in our motorhome although the food at the Port Charlotte Community Centre Bistro was such good value we did spoil ourselves and dine out more than we normally would. We also had a fabulous meal at the Port Charlotte Hotel.

So, we enjoyed a fabulous week on Islay, every was very helpful and friendly and I’m sure we will be back in the very near future.

Buying Your First Motorhome

Okay so you’re ready to take the plunge, buying your first motorhome is a big step. Before you even consider browsing what’s on offer there are few questions that you should consider.

What kind of driving licence do you have?

This is an easy mistake to make. Critically important that you check your driving licence to see which category you are entitled to drive. The 1st January 1997 is an important date. If you passed your test before that date you have probably got a category C1. However, if you passed your test after that date you will only have a category B which means you cannot drive anything bigger than 3,500kgs

Category B
if you passed your test on or after 1 January 1997. You can drive vehicles up to 3,500kg MAM (Maximum Authorised Mass) with up to 8 passenger seats (with a trailer up to 750kg). You can also tow heavier trailers if the total MAM of the vehicle and trailer isn’t more than 3,500kg.

Category C1
You can drive vehicles between 3,500 and 7,500kg MAM (with a trailer up to 750kg).

(From GOV.UK)

If you wish to drive a motorhome which is above 3,500 kgs, and you don’t have a Category C1 License, you can always apply to take the test to upgrade your entitlement.

How much money do you intend to spend?

Unless you are a lottery winner or have access to unlimited funds, you’ll have decided how much you wish to invest in your new motorhome. It’s important that you stick to your budget. But, also be sure that you set aside enough cash to pay for road tax, insurance and any other extras you may need.

There was a time when cash was king and you’d be able to make a saving when paying with cash. However, these days dealers often earn a commission from the finance company and, therefore, prefer it if your purchase is funded through a finance arrangement.

If you intend to use finance, be sure to make a comparison between what the dealer may offer and what you can get through your own bank or building society. It’s a competitive market, so shop around!

You may wish to part exchange and, again, it’s worth comparing what the dealer might offer versus what you might be able to get if you sell privately. Of course, it’s sometimes worth taking the dealer’s offer when the difference is small and you save both time and hassle!

Don’t forget to negotiate hard. There are lots of motorhomes for sale and you have a choice of dealer. Be sure to squeeze as much as you can out of the price. If it’s not already part of the deal, ask for 12 months’ road tax, a full fuel tank and whatever extras you can get.

How do you intend to use your motorhome?

We are very fortunate as we are both retired and we can get in our motorhome and take off whenever we like! There is just the two of us so we only need two travelling seats (seats with seat belts). We do like to go on extended trips and that means we need more storage. We also like to be as “self-sufficient” as possible and that means a good sized bathroom, a fixed bed and a large fridge-freezer.

If you are employed and only plan to use your motorhome for weekends and annual holidays, you may not wish to tie up a lot of capital and you can be more flexible about the specification of your motorhome.

The important thing is that you think about how you plan to enjoy your motorhome. Decide what are “must haves” and what are the “nice to have but not essentials”.

What type of motorhome do you want?

Right at the bottom of the scale, in terms of size, is the Micro-Motorhome. Usually based on a Volkswagen cargo van, or vehicle of similar size such as a small people carrier, they offer limited facilities.

Most offer sleeping space for two but many have just a single berth, simple cooking facilities and a cupboard to store the smallest portable toilet.

The majority of these “motorhomes” have an elevating roof of some sort but some have a high-top – making them less multi-storey car-park friendly.

The next step up is the Campervan. Usually based on a commercial can such as a Ford Transit, Renault Traffic or the ubiquitous VW Transporter.

They offer comfortable accommodation for two or more in a vehicle small enough to be used as the only family car. High top and raising roofs are both available and there is a wide range of campervan conversion specialists offering everything from a very basic day van all the way up to the luxury “Glamper”.

Next, we move on to the Panel Van Conversion often based on the Fiat Ducato, Peugeot Boxer or the Renault Master.

Obviously, these conversions offer a bit more room and can accommodate a usefully sized washroom and a more impressive kitchen. They are big enough to offer standing headroom, some have a fitted double bed across the back of the van and you may also get a small washroom/toilet area.

Coachbuilt Motorhomes are purpose built rather than being converted vans. They can sleep two or more and generally have a washroom with shower and cassette toilet. Some will have a fixed double bed. Sometimes that bed is mounted transversely high across the back of the motorhome and the large locker underneath it will be called, rather optimistically, the ‘garage’.

I’m a tad over six feet and, therefore, I’m not compatible with some of the less generously proportioned transverse beds. If you are even approaching being tall… try before you buy!

Coachbuilt Motorhomes are based on a cab and chassis from a major van manufacturer and then a motorhome body is built on to complete the vehicle.

There are two main types. The Low-Line and the High-Line. The Low-Line has a low profile front end over the cab and the space about the windscreen is usually limited to storage lockers. The High-Line has a more bulbous front end over the cab and often accommodates an over-cab bed.

And Finally, we have the A Class Motorhome. These large, and often quite luxurious, motorhomes can be recognised by having no separate cab. The body, including the driving compartment, is entirely coachbuilt by the motorhome company using a bare chassis unit from one of the large commercial vehicle manufacturers such as Fiat and Mercedes.

What would be the best layout to suit your needs?

There are an amazing number of different layouts available. The larger the motorhome the more options you can get. With a small van, there is a limited amount of space in which to squeeze in somewhere to cook, to eat and to sleep. The larger motorhomes have the space in which to fit washrooms, bedrooms, kitchens and lounge areas.

More and more people are living full time in the motorhomes and it’s relatively easy to do with the right layout. For example, we have an Autotrail Dakota which has a full-width bathroom at the rear, a fixed bed, a well-equipped kitchen and a generous area at the front for relaxing and eating. While we don’t live full time in our motorhome, we do spend extended amounts of time away from home.

Before parting with your hard-earned cash, be sure to think about how you will use your motorhome, what facilities you need and how many people you’ll need to be able to travel and sleep.

Would a motorhome with a fixed bed be more suitable than having a lounge area that you will have to convert into a bed each night?

Where will the children sleep? Could they share the over-cab bed or will you need a separate room with bunk beds

Consider everyone’s needs ( including the pet’s!) and decide on the optimum layout.

What are your must-have extras?

Again, the options are far too numerous to mention. Many motorhomes already have external awnings, bike racks, solar panels, extra leisure batteries and integrated televisions.

All these extras can add a significant amount to the basic cost of a motorhome. So, it’s important that you consider what extras are absolutely essential and what would be useful additions.

If you are buying a pre-owned vehicle you may find the extras have already been added. If buying a new motorhome, be sure to factor in the cost of extras into your budget.

How much room do you have to park your motorhome?

Motorhomes are large vehicles. Our Dakota is 7.6 metres long and 2.3 metres wide. It only just fits on our drive at home. I know because I measured our drive before we decided to go ahead with the purchase.

Unfortunately, I didn’t consider the turning circle of a vehicle with a quite long overhang (the distance between the back wheels and the rear bumper).

Can you guess what happened?

When we got our pride and joy home we discovered that the street wasn’t wide enough to turn into the drive!  I eventually solved the problem by removing a gatepost and removing about a metre of the fence!

Can you afford the running costs?

All vehicles should be properly maintained. As car owners, we have to pay for an annual service, a MOT, new tyres, insurance and the cost of fuel. With a motorhome, you have all the same expenses but on a larger scale. And then there is the additional cost of a habitation check and the service of appliances.

Don’t forget to factor in the costs of staying on campsites, the cost of ferries and buying all the guides, books and other publications!

I hope I haven’t put you off?

Owning a motorhome gives you the opportunity to travel often to journey far and wide, to meet new & interesting people and to visit a wide variety of places.

While it can be a substantial investment and it certainly costs more than running a family car, you can save a lot of money too. no more package holidays, no more hotel expenses and much more flexibility and fun!