Byline: EDWARD MARRIOTT
WHEN I was a child, my family spent three weeks every summer in the north-west highlands of Scotland. They were great holidays: white sand beaches and mountain scrambles. One image, however, mars the memory: hours stuck behind camper vans on singletrack roads.
I assumed that no selfrespecting person would ever choose to spend time in a camper van; and yet, 30 years on, I found myself questioning. Maybe a camper van wouldn't be such a horrible holiday experience after all. Provided you could go where you liked, and didn't have to park in campsites, it might even be perfect for a young family.
After some research, I plumped for Coll and Tiree, in the Inner Hebrides.
Distances were modest, tourism minimal and there were no campsites. My wife and I and our two boys took a train north, making one promise to ourselves: once on the road we'd pull over at regular intervals to let the cars behind us overtake.
Our van was a four-berth with a dolls'-house chemical loo, miniature cooker and sink.
Lest chaos overwhelm us, we would have to reinvent the meaning of tidiness.
We drove from Glasgow towards Oban and, in anticipation of a 7am ferry the next day, passed the night in a lochside layby woken by a halfhourly roar-past of drivers.
It wasn't until about 8am, as the ferry nosed through a glassy sea, past Mull and playful porpoises, that my mood began to lighten. It was buoyed further in the Coll post office: unfolding the map, the post mistress ran her finger down the island's only road. "Park anywhere you like," she winked. "No one will mind."
Coll, a mere 13 miles by three, is recognisable to anyone with small children as the home of Katie Morag, heroine of Mairi Hedderwick's stories about life on "Struay". Its population is just 150, some 13 of whom work for Project Trust, which sends gap-year volunteers overseas and is run by Nicholas Maclean Bristol, self-styled laird of Coll.
We drove south as far as we could and parked the van on a grassy spot under vast dunes.
According to a sign, we were now in a "car park", though how much use it got was debatable: the only other vehicle, a Fiat Uno, was sprouting grass from its tyres.
Intrigued by tales of Maclean Bristol's eccentricity - and keen to visit his home, a castle that was built by an ancestor in the mid-15th century and that, in 1773, saw a visit from Samuel Johnson and James Boswell - we telephoned and asked if we could call in. …