New residents have moved into Darren and Lynn Redfern’s caravan park on the edge of Dornoch’s golden beaches, a stone’s throw from the golf course and the Cathedral.  “Oyster catchers have laid eggs on the gravel parking places in front of someone’s caravan,” says Darren. “Another pair are nesting beside another pitch. There are deer walking around and seagulls in a nest next to the septic tank.”

Nature has taken up occupancy but what the couple, who only took over the site last year in the hope of enjoying the NC500 route’s tourism boom, have not seen are human visitors.  “It’s terrifying for our business,” he adds. “It’s not just our livelihood and jobs. If this goes belly up, we lose our house.”

Hope, however, may be on the horizon. According to the UK-wide body the Caravan and Motorhome Club, bookings are up 35% year on year for July, August and September. 

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Searches for caravans for sale on vehicle platform Auto Trader have leapt by 18%, while its recent survey of people’s holiday plans suggests one in three of us are now planning a caravan staycation.

It claims caravans are set to overtake AirBnB style rented holiday accommodation and rival hotels as places to spend a post-lockdown break.  The trend for caravans seems to be driven by a need to feel safer: 37% said a caravan holiday would mean they could sanitise the environment, limit the spread of germs from people outside their family and help manage social distancing. 

The idea of hitting the open road for a caravan break seems particularly appealing to millennials: 40% of 25 to 34 year olds said they would consider what has often been seen as a older person’s style of holiday. 

“We are continually replying to email enquiries for caravans and motorhomes,” says Alan Laing of Knowepark Caravans and Motorhomes in West Lothian.  “It shouldn’t be a surprise. If you want your own mobile isolation unit that can be every bit as comfortable as your own home and have your own personal kit in, it’s a no brainer.”

But while it sounds good news for Darren at Dornoch Caravan and Camping Site, the dash to pitch up at Scotland’s holiday parks has sparked concerns over whether they – and the roads – will be able to cope with a new ‘carry on camping’ craze. 

“We have 125 touring pitches and 75 static caravans,” says Darren. “The pitches are five to six metres apart, but if the guidelines change and we have to move them to 10 metres apart, then obviously we’ll have to reduce the number of pitches. 

“And if we have to limit numbers and don’t have space, where are the people going to go that we turn away?”

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That’s a potential problem which could spark concern for residents in some of Scotland’s most precious and popular beauty spots, who in recent years have complained of campers pitching on fragile landscapes, singeing the ground with chemicals from toilets or even leaving behind human waste and litter. 

Others have complained of slow-moving and bulky vehicles domineering tight single track or narrow loch-side roads, pitching in passing places or roaring by village shops, restaurants and pubs without pausing to support the economy.

Last year Highland SNP councillor Kirsteen Currie lodged a petition with the Scottish Parliament calling for legislation to allow councils to create ‘no wild camping’ zones to protect the environment and infrastructure. 

It followed angry complaints from residents living in particularly remote stretches of the NC500 route, claiming campers had dumped dirty nappies, BBQ waste, food debris and left litter strewn by roadsides. 

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Rising numbers of campervans and caravans have been highlighted  in picturesque spots from Skye to Ullapool, with calls for improved infrastructure including more public toilets, waste facilities and parking spaces. 

At one stage Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan suggested a ‘motorhome levy’, citing concerns over the extra space large vehicles take up on ferries and the impact of parking overnight on the machair, leaving litter, toilet waste and tyre tracks.

Despite concerns, Jon Boston of the British Holiday and Home Parks Association which represents 200 Scottish parks with a total of 34,500 pitches, says more caravans and campers are on the way.  “I have no doubt there will be an upswing in interest in camping holidays,” he says.

“There was a rise in interest before the lockdown situation. The ‘staycation’ trend was well entrenched.   “It looks unlikely that holidays abroad will be on the cards, and people are looking to get out into the countryside.”

Scotland’s campsites and holiday parks represent 8.4% of Scotland’s tourism revenue, generating £772 million annual spending and supporting 143,000 full-time jobs.

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The BHHPA is currently drawing up guidelines to help campsites ensure safety, particularly in shower and toilet areas.  The upswing in UK caravans and camperhomes could help offset losses from overseas trade, adds Mr Boston.

“But parks have to be there and open. We are concerned that some are not going to make it through the winter. We are asking central government to give some support to parks industry because of their unique situation.”

He advises caravanners and campers to book ahead. “They are not going to get away with wild camping,” he adds.

Tom Campbell, Executive Chair for North Coast 500 Ltd, also urged anyone hitting the road for a post-lockdown camping break to book pitches before they set off.  “Whether people are travelling in their own vehicle, or hiring one for their visit, we actively encourage visitors to observe our advice for safe driving on country and single-track roads, overnight parking, access rights and waste disposal, which is all available on our website.  

“If people are camping, in a campervan or have a caravan, we urge people to support local businesses on the NC500.  “Our advice is that visitors should only stay overnight in designated sites and they should book in advance in order that their holiday is planned ahead.

“Whether people are travelling by car, bicycle, motorcycle, campervan, motorhome or foot, it is their responsibility to dispose of their waste responsibly. We encourage people not to leave waste for others to find or remove.  

“It is their waste, their rubbish and we encourage everyone to take account of that when they visit this wonderful place.”