Galloway: Scotland's answer to St Ives

It's early April, and I'm cruising down sunny gorse-lined lanes in an old VW camper van, en route to the blustery point where land ends. Rows of wind-blown pine trees have twisted themselves into positions even Madonna would be hard-pressed to reach.

Bright surf flushes out on wide beaches; herds of caravans are beginning to migrate towards sheltered coves. When the swell gets up, you can even spot the odd optimistic surfer heading out. The vista is so Cornish I'm tempted to pull in and order a pastie. Except this isn't England - it's Galloway, a wild county in the far south-west of Scotland.

Most people race straight past the "Scottish Riviera", as it's been rather hopefully dubbed, in a rush to get to the Highlands. In fact, Galloway is so far off the beaten track that if you play the word-association game outside the area, most people will confuse it with either a) Galway or b) the MP for Bethnal Green and Bow. Yet this scenic, peaceful and - thanks to the Gulf Stream - surprisingly mild region is genuinely gorgeous.

Which is where the camper van comes in. At the risk of sounding like an M&S advert, this is not just a VW camper. This is Elsie, a shiny blue 1963 VW camper van, with cream upholstery, satellite navigation and DVD player. Camper vanning for the Big Chill generation, in other words; those who are too old to rough it but too young to admit it. Elsie has been loaned to me by Scooby Campers, an Edinburgh company that has taken six VW vans, upgraded them and is about to rent them out to the public as a fun alternative to the usual hire car.

While some of the camper vans can be slept in, the idea is that most renters will want to pull in at an upmarket "Scooby-approved" B&B at night - if you want to camp there's the option of hiring a "Scooby" tent that can clip on and off the van.

"We're trying to make the experience fun and a little bit upmarket," says founder Alistair Brabner. "Turn up in a BMW and no one will approach you, but turn up in a Scooby Camper and everyone smiles." Even the boys' toys are designed to be entertaining rather than flash. "We haven't put satellite navigation in to be pompous but to encourage people to think, 'Och, what the hell, let's get off the A9 and explore a bit'," he adds. Not that Elsie actually has sat-nav installed yet. Or the DVD player. Having agreed to an early test-drive, the most decadent facilities have yet to be fitted. What I am getting, fortunately, is heating. And a quick driving lesson.

Scooby Campers can drop the vans off anywhere in Scotland, but I'm picking mine up at Prestonfield House, one of Edinburgh's most glamorous hotels. This fits in with Alistair's idea of the upmarket camper van experience and, sensibly, it also gives access to a huge car park.

After a civilised coffee in the hotel drawing room with "meeter and greeter" Dave, who explains a bit about the van and hands me the keys, I set off for a quick practice run around the car park - and am tempted to hand the keys straight back.

Imagine Sandra Bullock in Speed and you'll get an idea of what driving an old VW camper van is like. The steering wheel is the size of a tyre, changing gears involves leaning forward so far your forehead hits the windscreen and, as for the handbrake, it is so far out of reach that you practically have to get up from your seat and walk over to it. Then there is the almighty roar of the engine (with all the bite of a small mouse).

Never mind Galloway - I wasn't sure I would make it out of the car park.

Outside Moffat, an hour or so later, however, I am a happier camper. Realising that the roar subsides a little if I stick below 40mph, I settle into the slow lane, following Alistair's advice to detour off the main roads. "It's all about relaxing, going half the distance but having double the fun," he had said before I set off and, as the "Scooby music" CD runs through its medley of Beach Boys, Andy Williams and Van Morrison hits, I am converted.

Then disaster strikes. VW camper vans, even ones with new engines and cream leather seats, are not the most reliable of machines. Halfway to Galloway, Elsie's sliding door slides open on a tight bend and no matter how many times I stop to slam it shut, it won't stay to. "It's a quirky wee door," says Dave when I phone for help. "I don't mean to be sexist but maybe you're not slamming it hard enough," he adds, offering to drive down and meet me with a replacement van. Instead, I head to the nearest garage and get them to tie it with rope.

Back on the road, Elsie and I eventually cross into Galloway. It has been cloudy all the way from Edinburgh but, true to the Riviera tag, the sun breaks out, shimmering across a delicate patchwork of water, hill and woodland.

First stop is Kirkcudbright, Galloway's answer to St Ives with itscolourful townhouses, jangling yacht masts and higgledy-piggledy artists' studios, spiralling out from a ruined castle to the bay beyond. At the turn of the 20th century this town enjoyed its heyday as an artistic colony, playing host to Charles Oppenheimer, James Guthrie, Jessie M King and Samuel Peploe. EA Hornel is the most significant of these artists now: the building he lived in, Broughton House, has been restored by the National Trust and recently re-opened to the public.

Heading deeper into Galloway, there are even more parallels with Cornwall. In the eerie Machars district there is said to lurk a local version of the Beast of Bodmin. The tale of the "Galloway puma" was fuelled by Canadian tourists who saw the cat and thought it similar to animals they had seen back home. Then there is the harbour village of Portpatrick, which, with its shoal of fish restaurants, is Galloway's less chi-chi answer to Padstow. Further west is Logan Botanic Garden, an outpost of the Edinburgh one and home to a surprising variety of subtropical plants. Who needs the Eden Project when you have 40 species of gum, 150-year-old tree ferns , bamboo and a Brazilian gunnera bog on your doorstep?

There is one more stop to be made before returning to Edinburgh. The Mull of Galloway may be Scotland's Land's End, but on a sunny spring day there are no ice-cream vans, no souvenir stalls and no coach parties. Just a small visitors' centre, an RSPB reserve, acres of soft, springy heather and an elegant white lighthouse designed by Robert Louis Stevenson's grandfather.

As I wander over to the cliff edge, I'm hit by a fierce, briny wind and the sight of mountainous surf rolling in on the rocks below. On a clear day you can see west to Ireland and south to the Isle of Man. Today, though, the wind puts paid to any long-distance views. Standing in the sunshine, with only a few hardy seabirds for company, it feels not so much like Land's End as the end of the world. Which is one thing you can't say about Cornwall.

TRAVELLER'S GUIDE

GETTING AROUND

Scooby Campers can be booked from next month, starting at £250 for a long weekend, or from £475 a week ( www.scoobycampers.com). For an extra £30, you can order a "Scoobyhamper" of local produce. If you want to pick up your camper van in Galloway, Prestwick airport is an hour away, Edinburgh three hours away or you could arrange to be met at Dumfries train station.

National Rail enquiries:08457 484950; www.nationalrail.co.uk).

STAYING THERE

Chic two-bed cottages on the friendly Galloway House Estate, Garlieston, start at £205 a week (01988 600694; www.gallowayhouseestate.co.uk).

Three nights at a six-bed lighthouse keeper's cottage at the Mull of Galloway starts at £200 through the National Trust for Scotland (0131-243 9331; www.ntsholidays.com).

VISITING THERE

Broughton House, 12 High Street, Kirkcudbright (01557 330437; www.nts.org.uk). Open Thursday-Monday noon-5pm, Easter to October; non-members £8.

Logan Botanic Garden is 14 miles south of Stranraer (01776 860231; www.rbge.org.uk). Open daily 10am-5pm between 1 March and 31 October; adults £3.50, children £1.

Mull of Galloway visitor centre (01776 83068; www.mull-of-galloway.co.uk). Open daily 10am-4pm April to October; free. The lighthouse opens weekends 10am-3.30pm April-September; adults £2, children £1.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Dumfries and Galloway tourism: 01387 253862; www.visitdumfriesandgalloway.co.uk

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmSo what makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
scotland decidesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping First Minister up at night?
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes the hobby look 'dysfunctional', they say
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week