THE VEGAN OPEN ROAD
If you’ve not made it out of the major cities of Scotland, then you’re missing out. I’m talking white sandy beaches with crystal clear waters, whisky distilleries (most whisky is vegan – yay), more lochs and castles then you can count, amazing views and enough hairy highland coos to fill up your pot of joy. Scotland has the kind of epic landscapes which lift the spirit and really make you fall in love with the country over and over again.
This September, I rallied my non-vegan friends (all the way from Seattle) and hit the road in a campervan to explore Scotland’s Route 500. It was an ambitious trip, with nearly 1000 miles completed over 4 nights. We were worried that our friends wouldn’t be ok with the non-animal options in the camper, but they were pleasantly surprised at how good a Violife cheese and Quorn ham sandwich with vegan Hellmann’s mayo can be. They even introduced us to an amazing pretzel snack mixture called Gardettos – an instant favourite.
When we first thought about doing a road trip, we looked into the various options. Car rental is pretty cheap, but the accommodation was a problem. Even at the end of summer most was booked up way ahead. Vegan options in the Highlands aren’t extensive either, and we wanted to take the stress out of looking for food. Starving travel buddies are not fun company. We realised that it was cheaper and more convenient to rent a camper van and truly hit that open road. You do have to be over 26 though for insurance, and a confident driver – full coverage we discovered meant one accident only which was a bit nerve- wracking.
There are a range of campervan companies which you can now rent from for a trip in Scotland; we chose to use indiecampers.com. The campervan looked really comfortable, sleeping up to six people, and it had a toilet, shower, large 120l fridge, stove and central heating, as well as cooking and cleaning equipment and bedding. It was pretty much all we needed – there was even a French press for morning coffee. Which, when you wake up on a cliff face in the middle of nowhere, is very much appreciated!
Day one we left Edinburgh, and drove through Glencoe all the way up to Applecross. This involved a precarious trip up a steep roadside, but we were rewarded with seeing a herd of reindeer and bagging a free camping site right on the beach. Parking up and eating dinner with the sunset whilst you sip a beer with friends is really magical. We tried the new vegan Bolognese sauce from Sacla; it was surprisingly good, and our omnivorous mates agreed. Just along from Applecross we also had our best Coo sightings.
Day two we stopped just past Durness at Ceannabeinne Beach. It’s a stunning bay, where in the summer season you can do a zipwire across the cliff. We walked down to the beach and explored the caves, then warmed up with some lentil soup. I think you could spend a few days just travelling along this beautiful part of the coastline and checking out the beaches. Each one is as breathtaking as the next, and it’s too cold most of the year for them to have built any glaringly ugly hotels, so it’s just sheep and the odd wild camper to share the view with.
On day three we travelled to John O’Groats, right at the northernmost point of Scotland, not including
the islands. I convinced myself I saw some whales (they were rocks) and we discovered that John O’Groats actually just means Fat John – so we christened our campervan with the same title. We then travelled down to Loch Ness for the night and decided to stay on a site, as we had some grey water and the chemical toilet to dump. I’ve never seen two grown men giggle so much over toilet sludge in my life.
Having the ability to have 90% of our meals on the road meant we saved a ton of cash. We did eat out one night at The Fiddler’s in Drumnadrochit, a pub just a short walk from our campsite on the
west shore of Loch Ness. Luckily, the staff there were happy to adjust some vegetarian dishes for us, including a burger, pasta dish and some salads. We opted for the salad, which featured a lot of roasted veggies. Simple, but really nice.
Day four we stopped off at Dalwhinnie Distillery for a tour. We discovered that for most distilleries you have to book way in advance, so if you do want to include whisky tours in your trip, make sure to plan ahead. If you’re vegan, bring some chocolate along too – they give you some to try with the whisky, but it all contains milk.
I’ll never forget this trip; the beautiful sunsets, bays and scenery, relaxing with friends and playing games. I’m already thinking about other parts of Scotland I want to explore, and whether I can afford my own campervan!