I posted about Unknowingly Jamming with Blind Musicians in Dublin, which inspired me to keep writing about some of my other favorite unexpected travel memories that I hold so near and dear. This is one I would hesitate to tell my mother because it definitely sounds sort of unsafe- but I assure you, we were using our better judgement (sorry mom!) So anyway, here is the story of how I camped in a strangers yard in rural Scotland.
We had camped the previous night on the bank of Lochness, and woke the next morning and set out for our bus to Inverness at the tippy-top of Scotland. In Scotland it is totally free and legal to “wild camp,” so for the majority of the time we were in Scotland we tried to camp. The bus ride was miserable. It was horrifically bumpy, and I am someone who gets motion sickness easily, so I had to battle not begging the bus driver to pull over.
When we finally arrived, we were dropped off at a little convenience store in this exceptionally rural and gorgeous town. This town had an amazing view of the ocean, and crisp, white , soft sand hugging the coast. The reason we marked Durness on our map was because it was home to Smoo Cave. It had a luscious waterfall and there were inexpensive tours of the cave. So when we finally got off the bus, we first set out to find a place to camp for the evening.
Of course our first instinct was to camp out on the gorgeous beach. We found a beautiful spot that met all of the wild camping rules an guidelines and started setting up our tent. Before we were even half way done setting up the tent an angry man stormed over to us and was shouting ” We aren’t going to let you lousy tourists ruin our views! Get out of here, you are not wanted!” It was really harsh. We knew we weren’t technically breaking any rules, but out of respect, we reluctantly packed our tent back up. After walking around for awhile trying to scout out a spot, our optimism was fading. Nothing was within the regulations. We found a hostel and a campsite, but both were quite a bit out of our price range. We stopped to have lunch while we brainstormed.
I should add that at this point in the trip the people traveling with us were myself, Sophie, Ashley and Carson. Sophie and I had spent the entire trip together, and had just started traveling with Carson and Ashley. Ashley flew into London to meet us, and Carson had finished up a study abroad in London.
Carson and Ashley really wanted to just get a campsite or hostel, and make it easy. Sophie and I were the broke ones who were pinching our pennies in every possible way- so we insisted that there would be something if we just looked hard enough. We could not come to an agreement as a group, so we opted to just see the cave, and figure out our sleeping arrangements later. We didn’t have to worry about losing daylight because it was the day after the summer solstice in northern Scotland- It basically didn’t even get dark!
When we got to the cave, we dropped our heavy packs and looked around. There wasn’t much too see except a little dock for boats that took you into the cave. We assumed the tour guide was busy giving a tour and waited. When he finally arrived we excitedly told him we were here for a tour. We put on helmets and boarded the tiny boat. The tour was really informative! He told us that there was evidence that the cave actually extended and he had an inkling it would change Scottish history forever. He also told us there were man-eating pirañas, and threw some food over the side and tons of fish jumped to the surface and devoured the food in one quick sweep. We were impressed!
We got off the boat after the tour and asked Collin- our tour guide, if he knew of anywhere in the town where we could wild camp. We explained our story about getting yelled at on the beach, and he told us we were more than welcome to set up camp in his front yard, and refused to let us pay for our cave tour. Sophie and I were stoked! We knew that if we held out the Universe would be good to us. It had been the entirety of the trip. Carson and Ashley were thoroughly unimpressed though. They thought this was a rancid idea.
Collin told us he was having a party that night, and his neighbor, her son, and some friends from England were coming over to eat dinner and shoot-the-shit. He said he would love to have us join because he was a traveler in his younger years, and knew the struggles of being a broke adventurer. He gave us his address and we set out. On the way there, Carson and Ashley were furiously adamant that we just book a hostel or campsite and skip this. And I totally get it! Sophie and I told them that they could go do that if they wanted, but we were going to camp in his front yard. They reluctantly followed.
When we got arrived a gentleman on the street shouted at us “Hey get off my lawn!” We furiously started apologizing, and trying to explain ourselves, when he busted up laughing and told us we were fine! We asked him if it was Collin’s house and he ensured us it was, and apologized for scaring us. He was one of Collins neighbors. We started setting up our tent while Collin finished up at the cave for the day. When he arrived- he was equipped with plenty of beer for a whole army! He asked if we would mind helping him move a table, so Sophie and I went to go lend a hand.
We ended up staying inside and peeling potatoes and carrots. Ashley and Carson stayed outside in the tent, because they were not too fond of the prospect of entering a strangers home- Again, I get! He told us all about his incredible adventures when he was younger. His heart was in Africa, where he spent years backpacking from top to bottom.
There is this thing that happens when you travel, that I don’t think a lot of Americans get the chance to experience. At least, not many that I know. Here we have so many stigmas against the unknown or the foreign. I understand where that comes from, but I think it is very limiting. There is a culture of travelers in the world who get to experience amazing places and rely off the hospitality of other travelers. Of course, if you have never travelled and haven’t dipped your toe into the culture- it can seem like a very scary thing.
Collin understood this culture very well because in his life he was an avid adventurer. He had so many incredible stories about times when he was taken in by other travelers, and their hospitality left a deep imprint on him. When someone lends you a helping hand, its natural to want to give that back to the world- and that is the place in which so many of the people we encountered were coming from. Almost everyone who helped us out while we were traveling was able to share a story about a time someone did the exact same thing for them.
Eventually, Collins neighbor and her son showed up and Carson and Ashley decided to come inside. We were all hanging out in the kitchen helping prepare food when Collin gave us a warning about the English man and his wife that were coming over. “They’re Gobshites!” He warned. Baffled, we asked him what he meant. He said that you can not understand a single thing that comes from his mouth because of his thick English accent, and when you can finally understand something he says, its shit. We naturally busted up laughing. He told us that it would be incredibly rude to ever tell him he was a gobshite though, and challenged us to try to figure out what he was saying.
Finally the couple from England arrived, and dinner was ready to be served. We all cracked open a beer and started to eat. Everyone was just telling stories and shooting the shit, there was music playing and we were all having a good time. At one point Collin leaned over and asked us if we could understand what the Englishman was saying… and we all honestly had no trouble at all understanding him. Collins Scottish accent to us was much thicker and harder to understand. Collin called us out and told us to repeat what he had just been saying, and to his surprise- we did!
Everyone was moderately buzzed at this point, when “Brown Eyed Girl” came on, and everyone got up and was dancing and singing along. Collin admitted that the piranhas in the cave were not actually piranhas at all, and that it seemed only Americans were the ones that believed it. Ugh, I had an inkling! Collin told us that having us join their party was one of the greatest treats he has had in a long time. He profusely thanked us for just being there. He was the one who was doing us the favor! He said he hadn’t had so much fun in a long time, and everyone else agreed. It was such a simple night, but there was something so magical about it.
I am in no way advocating talking to strangers and being unsafe, however I am a big advocate for allowing for possibilities. My advice is to not think of every stranger as a threat, and start traveling! We would have probably never done this if we were in an unsafe country, but Scotland is a very safe place to go.
We said our goodbyes, because we knew that once we left in the morning- we would never see any of these people again. I went to bed that night in our tent feeling an indescribable sense of belonging in the world, and knowing that it is possible to make a home and feel community no matter how many miles away from home you are. This was something we felt on many occasions during our two months traveling abroad, but this was one of the most profound experiences. This is not something you can plan or anticipate, but something that happens when you are living in the moment and allowing yourself to step out of conventional notions. I’ll carry this memory with me for the rest of my life, and I fully anticipate giving this experience back to the world.
Safe Travels, thank you for reading!