Couple bitten by VDub bug and hope you will be too

Southern Reporter – 15th April 2010
By Mark Entwistle

In the 1980s and ’90s consumerism was rampant. Everything seemed to revolve around materialism and you were only as good as the brands you wore and drove, or how high profile a job you had.

Things have changed since then, however, with the last decade witnessing the rise of environmentalism and concern over the impact humans have on the natural world.

Now it’s all about experiences and spending time living and working to do that in a flexible way that doesn’t necessarily mean working in an office from 9am to 5pm.

The Borders is an ideal location for families wanting to do just that, with an excellent quality of life yet easy accessibility to Edinburgh and Newcastle.

One family which has grasped the chance to relocate to the region is Mark & Verity Tuckwood and their two small children.

They moved to Ettrickbridge two years ago. Mark is currently working in Edinburgh but wanted to spend more time in the Borders and enjoy his new lifestyle.

So he and Verity came up with the innovative idea of buying three VW camper vans and have now equipped them so that they offer couples and families the opportunity to enjoy life on the road in style, with the freedom to explore the South of Scotland or the North of England, or indeed further afield.

The vans will be available from June for week lets and short breaks.

The couple saw a gap in the market for such campervans, which are available in other parts of the country, but not in the South of Scotland. They offer Borderers and visitors alike the chance to experience retro in style.

Mark & Verity are marketing Classic Camper Holidays via their website and also via Facebook and Twitter.

As well as the VW camper vans, the couple are currently building a self-catering cottage beside their house which they hope will be ready to let later this year.

This will allow them not only to help the Borders tourism economy but also to enjoy a rural life with their family and to fully appreciate the move they made.

“We are really excited about this venture and believe that we have seen a gap in the market for classic VW camper vans,” Mark explained. “We already have had a lot of interest in the venture, not least from friends and family in Edinburgh, many of whom have already spread the word.

“What could be better than escaping to the beach for the weekend with a classic VW van – it’s what memories are made of.”

All three vans are classic VW campers. One is called Heidi – named by a previous owner who found it hiding in a shed. The second is called Rolf, as it is from Australia, and the third van, which is blue, is yet to be named.

To mark the launch of the new venture, Classic Camper Holidays and The Southern Reporter would like to offer readers the opportunity to name the van.

The successful winner will win a short break in the vehicle for up to four people.

Either email your name, address, telephone number, together with your proposed name for the VW camper van to or send a postcard with the details to : Classic Campers Naming Competition, Bright Light Marketing, Unit 7, Ettrick Riverside, Dunsdale Road, Selkirk, TD7 5EB.

Southern Reporter competition rules apply.
Deadline for entries is April 30 2010 at 5pm.



The Seafood Trail, Argyll

BBC Countryfile Magazine – September 2010 Issue
By Jo Tinsley

Enjoy seafood delights and ever-changing views on a trail through some of Scotland’s finest scenery Towards the end of Loch Lomand you’re faced with a tough decision – turn right and follow the convoy of coaches and Munro-fixated hikers to the Highlands, or swing left and explore the jigsaw of sea lochs and jagged islands that makes up the unsung Argyll coast? Those in the know turn left.
Between the clear waters of Loch Fyne and the open sea, Argyll produces some of Britain’s tastiest seafood. Yet, unluckily for ‘fish’ionardos, the majority of shellfish is shipped off to Spain, where tourists tuck into Scottish langoustines for triple the price.

To celebrate the bounty on their doorstep, a handful of hotels and cafe’s have banded together to create the Seafood Trail – a culinary adventure that takes you from crab shack to fine dining hotel, each connected by a love of fresh shellfish and a desire to sustain Scotland’s sea fishing industry. Following co-founder Carole Fitzgerald’s example, my partner and I decided to explore the trail in a vintage Volkswagen campervan – our reasoning being, the less we spent on hotels, the more seafood we could eat.

Loch Fyne Oysters

We picked up our van, Heidi, from the Tuckwood family who run Classic Camper Holidays. After getting used to Heidi’s quirks on the single track roads of the Borders, then inching her up to a respectable 65mph on the M8, we pulled in to our first stop, the original Loch Fyne restaurant in Cairndow. Once a roadside oyster shack, the company has since launched 46 restaurants.

These upper reaches of Loch Fyne, where seawater mixes with fresh run-off from the burns, provides a distinctive feeding ground for oysters. “Oysters are fussy filter-feeders,” Virginia Sumison, neice of Loch Fyne’s founder Jonny Noble, told us. “They pump huge amounts of water through their shells. Here we’re 50 miles from the sea so the oysters taste sweet, not salty”. Virginia then explained how one Loch Fyne speciality was invested by accident when someone left the kiln on too high and roasted the smoked salmon – bradon rost is now one of Loch Fyne’s biggest sellers.

Breakfast with a View

Aside from the money you save on accommodation, and the smile-inducing joy of driving one, hiring a camper lets you breakfast with a view. At Inver Cottage the next day, we cooked up bacon, bradon rost and scrambled eggs opposite Old Castle Lachlan. You couldn’t imagine a more idyllic setting. To work up an appetite for lunch, we then walked along the coast to explore the castle ruins and poke about the rock pools, before doubling back to Inver Cottage, a restored croft on the shores of Lachlan Bay. We got chatting to the owner, Jasmine, who told us about two local teachers, Shona and Mary, who dive for their scallops.

After catching the ferry to Kintyre, we let Heidi stretch her legs along the B842 – The Long and Winding Road that inspired Paul McCartney to write the 1970s Beetles hit. Then, as sun lowered, we made camp at Carradale Bay and strolled along the beach to the Dunvalanree Hotel. With only eight tables and attentive owners, it felt like we were being treated to a home-cooked meal rather than eating at a hotel. Full up on lemon sole and crab, we waddled back to the camper and fell asleep to the sound of the sea.

Delicious Dead End

Seven miles down a dead end, we didn’t expect the Seafood Cabin in Skipness to get passing trade – but we had to get our elbows out to secure a picnic bench. Open all summer, the shack excels in simple seafood, served up to views over the isle of Arran.

Our final stop was the Cairnbaan Hotel beside the Crinan Canal. At one time considered the roughest pub in Argyll, it was said that no crime was serious enough to be barred from the Cairnbaan. Now a family restaurant, it excels in good value seafood, dished up generously.

We rounded off our trip by taking Heidi for a spin beside the Crinan Canal, a nine mile channel built to provide a navigable route between the Inner Hebrides and the Clyde and save puffers (flat-bottomed cargo boats) from making the perilous journey around the Mull of Kintyre. Today, it is heralded as the prettiest short cut in Scotland. It certainly was scenic, but as the past three days had taught us, taking the long way round often has its own rewards.




Carry on campervan

Scotsman Magazine – 28/07/2010
by Stephen Emerson

Slow down and see Scotland at your own pace – you won’t regret it

There are few vehicles left on our roads capable of reminding us to take things more slowly, but a 1970s Volkswagen campervan easily falls into that category. So the prospect of setting off in one for a whistle-stop tour around Scotland had me in a state of excitement.

Too often, my partner and I have taken the easy option of a cheap flight or a package holiday abroad. This summer, we vowed, would be different. We would make a determined effort to take in more of the scenery and culture of our own country.

Our seven-day trip began in the Borders where we picked up our vehicle from Classic Camper Holidays, a new campervan company in Selkirk.

Our van, the affectionately named Bluebell, was an immaculately restored 1975 tin-top model, remarkably spacious and comfortable inside and upholstered in luxurious cream leather.

With no power steering, Bluebell took a bit of getting used to but we had soon mastered her big steering wheel and were pleasantly motoring north.

One of the near-certainties of holidaying in Britain, apart from the likelihood of rain, is that you will be amused by the antics of your fellow travellers. So we weren’t surprised, having stopped to admire the banks of Loch Lomond, to be treated to the spectacle of two semi-naked men jumping head first into the water.

We planned to do a loop that would take us up the west coast, over the Skye and across to Inverness before heading back to the Borders via Stirling.

In Oban you don’t have to look far to realise you’re in a special spot, but look down from atop McCraig’s Tower, a Victorian folly, to bring that home: below you lies stretched Oban Bay and in the mountains of Morvern and Ardgour.

A one mile drive north of Oban brought us to the ruin of Dunollie Castle, home to the MacDougalls of Lorn in the 13th century. It was later abandoned by the family when they moved to Dunollie House just downhill from the ruins.

We settled in a campsite at Glen Coe for the night, fired up the stove and watched the sun set over Loch Leven.

First stop the next day was the former aluminium smelting town of Kinlochleven. A pleasant walk through woodland brought us through the spectacular sight of Grey Mare’s Tail waterfall. We then visited Glenfinnan Monument which must rank as one of Scotland’s most picturesque places.

The tower, which is topped with a stone-carved clansman, stands as a tribute to the fallen of the 1745 Jacobite rebellion.

The monument is close to where Bonnie Prince Charlie raised his standard shortly before the ill-fated campaign that would end in defeat at Culloden. You can climb up the winding staircase and through a narrow hatch at the top to get an excellent view of the stunning Loch Shiel and the Glenfinnan Viaduct.

We parked up Bluebell for the night near the white sands of Morar beach, and next morning crossed by ferry from Mallaig to Skye. Arriving on the island in pretty abysmal weather we made a bee-line for the remote Talisker distillery in Carbost.

Distillery tours are criticised for being all alike but here there were some nice touches – like inviting you to touch and small the grain before and after its been dried over peat fires.

We drove around the island for the remainder of the day, marvelling at its rough volcanic nature, before setting up camp and enjoying a spell of sunshine that crept in late on.

After Skye, we visited iconic Eilean Donan Castle in Dornie, near Kyle of Lochalsh. Following the failed 1745 uprising, Hanovarian naval forces besieged the castle until the few remaining soldiers surrended. Cannon balls from the attack, after which the castle fell into ruins, are on display today.

One of the benefits of travelling by campervan is the freedom it gives you to chose your route. So we set off next for a scenic drive along the banks of Loch Ness, looking for any mysterious shadows in the water, before stopping for the night in Inverness.

Then we had to turn for home, our route taking us south via historic Stirling Castle and Melrose Abby.

It was with a tinge of sadness that we handed Bluebell back. We had grown used to the admiring glances she invites on the road and, having returned friendly waves to fellow VW campervan drivers, felt part of a special club.




Camping it up with Heidi

Sunday Herald Motoring Section – 25/07/2010
by Alasdair Reid

Relaxing in a VW conversion is fun for all the family, plunging babies included.
It’s difficult to describe in precise terms what it feels like to have a baby land on your head. At least it is from an adult perspective. Eight-month old Josie’s view of the experience was that it felt something like “Wawawawawawwwhhhh!”

Kids eh? You can take them off on a real-life adventure and all they do is complain about the piffling details. Because as far as I’m concerned she got by far the better end of the bargain when she toppled out of bed the other morning and landed on my head. Had the roles been reversed she would really have had something to moan about.

In fairness to young Josie she did spend most of our two-day road trip through Dumfriesshire making much the same happy gurgling noises as could be heard from the back end of Heidi, the 1972 VW camper van that was our transport for the journey. And in fairness to not-so-young Heidi, Josie’s impromptu decent had nothing to do with her unfortunate genetic inheritance of catastrophically clumsy parents.

But the secret of happy camping – under canvas or beneath Heidi’s clever pop-up roof – is that you shrug off the little difficulties and carry on. Even the most technically advanced and eye-wateringly modern motor-home will present a few practical challenges along the way, but the general idea of those things is that you take to the road in search of freedom, not convenience. And, in Heidi’s case, fun.

As a general rule I’m a bit of a curmudgeon about the anthropomorphic tendency to give vehicles human names, but Heidi oozed such character that it would have been rude to use any other appellation. It – sorry, she – came into being as a Danbury conversion 38 years ago, put in 20 years of heroic service, and then spent another 14 years resting in a barn.

Bought by Mark Tuckwood, who with his wife Verity runs Classic Camper Holidays from Ettrickbridge near Selkirk, she then had a ground-up restoration and complete refit. Throughout, the principle of the rebuild was to remain true to Heidi’s original era, even to the extent of tracking down the early-1970sgas cooker that sits neatly behind the passenger seat.

Classic Camper Holidays have another two vans on their books. Bluebell is a 1975 conversion for those who need more room to move as it comes with a large done tent, a folding table and chairs and a free standing gas stove. At the other end of the spectrum, Daisy is a brand-new van, based on the VW Kombi platform which is still produced in Brazil – albeit now with a water-cooled engine – and converted to camper-van trim by Danbury, the renowned Bristol-based specialist.

But we’re nothing if not hard-core, so we only had eyes for Heidi. Tuckwood provided a guided tour of the vehicle’s main features, the most essential of which was the guidebook, which, for the benefit of those of us with the attention spans of distracted goats, helpfully repeating everything he had said. That little tome became our bible for the next two days, its most valuable section being the origami instruction for tuning the back seat into a remarkably comfortable bed. Well, for me at least.

“My bum’s in the groove,” said my wife as she lay down on the first night. Now as I had just returned from covering The Open at St Andrews, and as professional golfers are prone to using the same form of words about their swing/game/mindset, the ambiguity of this comment was rather alarming. But not half as alarming as the wake-up call of a baby landing on my head a few hours later.

Perhaps the least helpful part of Heidi’s guide was the bit that said she should not be driven at more than 65mph. Frankly, it might as well have cautioned drivers against attempting a moon landing or a transatlantic crossing, for 65mph was a territory that Heidi would only ever reach with a 45-degree downhill slope, a decent following wind and a couple of days to build up speed. But part of the joy of driving such a vehicle is that it obliges you to take things at a pace where you can actually appreciate the landscape around you.

I’ve always been of the opinion that the most important camping accessory is a decent restaurant guide, but Dumfries is a bit of a desert on that front and the best we could do was fill up at a cheerless fish-and-chip shop in the centre of town. From there, we headed west, setting camp in the achingly lovely surroundings of Glenkiln and in the surreally improbable company of Rodin’s statue of John the Baptist, which overlooks the reservoir there.

Breaking camp turned out to be a lot easier than setting things up. Josie might disagree, but we we’re a pretty slick operation when we want to be, and in 20 minutes of folding this here and stowing that there we were mobile again.

For our second night, we decided to go for the comforts of a campsite, so set off for the coast near Kippford, a magical slice of Scotland that could kid you into thinking you had been teleported to one of the more attractive coves of Devon. By now, we were old hands at turning our mode of transport into our boudoir.

But all too soon, we were handing Heidi back to her rightful owners. We had a covered about 200 miles, an experience that demolished completely my suspicion that VW campervans are solely for fashion victims. If you want to spend some time in life’s slow lane, there’s no better way of doing it than this.