Big Sands/Even Bigger Tent!
Updated: Mar 21, 2019
(A review of a fabulous campsite and the Mosdale 5-man tent)
There are many different kinds of camping, from a road trip in a beautiful, classic VW campervan to an Arctic huddle on the freezing tundra. When you bear these options in mind, the odd weekends that I manage to spend outdoors under canvas seem positively mundane. For my own current (albeit pedestrian) lifestyle, camping tends to fall into two categories: wild camping and campsite camping. Wild camping involves a tent pitched somewhere in the great outdoors, far away from any facilities and using the natural environment for all your needs. There is a mantra for wild camping: take nothing away with you and leave nothing behind; arguably however this applies to any trip into the natural environment. Wild camping in its truest sense is hard to do with a baby or toddler, simply because it involves walking long distances carrying all your equipment: tent, sleeping kit, drinking water, food etc. The camps we often do at Loch Drunkie with our kayaks are 'wild camping' in one sense: we're not on a camp site and there are no toilets or piped water. However given that the car is only a few feet away, the purists would argue that this doesn't really cut it, and they're probably right!
However this post is about a campsite, and in this sense I hope it provides a bit of a guide for those of you who have a young family whom you haven't yet had the opportunity to stick under a canvas. For the aforementioned purists on Babble Rock, who regularly hike with their kids six miles into a glen before pitching a tent, it is easy to forget that a first trip to a campsite with a baby or toddler can be daunting. Sometimes in your own home the baby sends a poonami cascading onto the beach of your sanity, and the thought of dealing with it without running water to hand is impossible to imagine. So a campsite is a great place to start your outdoor adventures, as pretty much everything you need can be packed into your car and kept nearby.
About a month ago I underwent a period of ill-health which coincided with us buying a tent that we intend to use for the four festivals we have planned this summer. Xani's dad suggested that a period of recuperation testing out the tent on a campsite would be ideal, and given that I was feeling poorly at the time, I felt justified in going for total comfort in our packing and planning. We chose Big Sands near Gairloch as we'd had it recommended to us by a friend, and it was perfect for what we had in mind. A large site set in sand dunes on a beach near Ullapool, it incorporates creature comforts that would make the purists shudder, from a children's play park on site to electric hook-ups for tents.
(TL:DR....The next section is a review of the Mosdale 5 tent... skip unless you are in the market for a new canvas...)
The tent I purchased can only really be used on pay-per-pitch locations, whether at festivals or on campsites, as it's huge....beautifully, fantastically, unregrettably huge! I really went for comfort on this one: a Mosdale 5 man tent, with a separate porch. You really couldn't justify popping this one up in the wilderness, as it weighs a ton even to carry from the car (17kg without the porch to be precise). I was persuaded by Go Outdoor's most loquacious salesperson into purchasing a separate footprint for it - a groundsheet designed to spread under your actual tent providing a layer of warmth and keeping the bottom of your tent clean. It sounds ridiculous until you realise that the footprint means you can pack a clean tent up at the end of your stay and only have to get the footprint out and hose it down once you get home. I went one step further and bought the tent carpet for the main tent section (which we extravagantly call "the living room", given that the porch is now "the conservatory" and the blackout bedroom is, well, "the bedroom". (Quick review of the blackout bedroom: it really does keep the sleeping area in pitch darkness until well after the sun has risen. We have a toddler who likes to sleep until 9am....please don't hate us; he doesn't go to bed until 10pm, which is a ballache of its very own...and the blackout bedroom has proved invaluable.) Before you think that I'm being promoted to positively review Coleman Mosdale 5 products, let me just say that the tent carpet is surprisingly bad, given the quality of all other aspects of the Mosdale 5 set: the seams came apart after the second use, washing it was a huge chore as it can't be popped in a machine, and the waterproof base ripped far too easily after being snagged on something whilst being hung to dry.
Back to the campsite: Big Sands is just gorgeous from the point of view of natural beauty. The tent was pitched within seconds of a virtually empty sandy beach, and the only road nearby is the tent access road which rings the site. The facilities were less to write home about: the shop was expensive; perhaps no more or less than any other site shop but we were glad to have brought all our food and supplies with us. The restaurant was so bad we didn't go back after one extremely over-priced lunch: the cost vs quality aspect was virtually indigestible, and we seethed about it for a good few hours after.
Gairloch village is tiny but a huge shout out goes to Hillbillies Coffee, Bookstore & Trading Post It's a veritable gem of a place serving delicious coffees and baked goods, with a fantastic bookshop specialising in outdoor pursuits and beautiful children's books. Weirdly it doesn't seem to have its own website, but you can find them here on Facebook. The staff were super-friendly, chatty, and patient with our toddler, and it's the kind of place that makes you vow never to buy another book off Amazon ever again. There are also a plethora of beautiful walks in the area, details of which can be found on the ultra-reliable Walk Highlands website.
All in all, a highly recommended campsite, which despite boasting all the mod cons including electric hook ups, was given character by its gorgeous surroundings.