Scottish-born wildlife filmmaker Gordon Buchanan has had another whirlwind of a year. Famed for his up-close and personal – and very often emotional – encounters with vulnerable and endangered species, his primetime documentaries have given Gordon the opportunity to travel around the globe.
Recent series have included ‘Tribes, Predators and Me’, ‘Grizzly Bear Cubs and Me’ and ‘Snow Cats and Me’, but he explained to us that whilst his filmmaking took him to the farthest-flung parts of the World, one of the simple joys he missed was time with his own Family exploring the more familiar territory of the Scottish Highlands and Islands. Gordon dreamed of a personal journey – a story perhaps of ‘My Family and Me’.
In October 2018, the team at Elddis decided to provide Gordon with a brand-new Elddis Autoquest 194 for a year, in which he could explore, adventure and create lasting family memories with wife Wendy, kids Harris and Lola and dog Stewart.
The family wasted no time in setting off on their maiden voyage and hit the road as school broke up for October half term. Gordon told us: “I spend much of my year on the road travelling all over the World leaving family and home comforts behind, so it was exiting to be taking to the open road in absolute comfort!”
For their first motorhome trip, the Buchanans opted to head to Inverness, and from there the Culloden Battlefireld Site, the Moray Firth and as much of the North Coast 500 as they could squeeze in.
Whilst they may have been tight on time, they certainly weren’t tight on space. Gordon was impressed with the Tardis-like quality of the new Elddis motorhome: “The Autoquest is a great size – roomy and really well-proportioned inside but whether driving in town, on the motorway or on country roads this motorhome seems somewhat of a tardis. It really didn’t feel to me like I was driving a large vehicle. The raised driving position of any motorhome gives even the most familiar routes a new view so it was great to head along some well-known routes and ultimately explore terra incognita as far as my ventures west of Inverness go.”
Gordon’s driving skills and nerve were soon tested, as he negotiated the infamous Applecross Peninsular after sundown, in near zero visibility. Gordon – and the motorhome – coped admirably with the scarily-steep gradient and seemingly impossible twists and turns. The resulting view, however, was well worth the effort and the Buchanan’s decided to pitch up by the shore in a spontaneous change to the schedule – such are the benefits of motorhoming!
“The Autoquest really was a home from home, a cosy place to dodge rainstorms and a perfect base to walk in the woods and explore the dramatic coastline.”
For the next adventure, Gordon and Harris decided to head off on a father and son adventure. From their hometown of Glasgow, the pair cruised up the A82, the late afternoon Spring sunshine sparkling over Loch Lomond. In just an hour and a half, Gordon and Harris were exploring breathtaking Glen Etive, but with the threat of snow they opted to camp in the car park of the newly opened Kings House Hotel in the shadow of Gordon’s favourite mountain on the planet, the endlessly impressive Buachaille Etive Mòr.
Despite sub-zero temperatures, the boys enjoyed a cosy night in the Elddis with an unhindered view of the spectacular constellations afforded by the crystal-clear night sky.
“New to motorhoming, I realised that weekend that incredible night views are yet another joy of life on the road.
“Our night skies are not a place of darkness but are a spectacular canvas on which is painted one of the greatest views our planet has to offer. To gaze up a clear night sky free of light pollution continues to leave me spellbound, unsuccessfully grasping for words to describe the sheer wonder of it all.”
The following morning revealed yet further wonderment. Not only did Harris, Gordon and dog Stewart wake up to a blanket of snow, but they also had some inquisitive pre-breakfast visitors.
“These majestic creatures framed in the half light and falling snow remind me again just how beautiful this country is in every weather. The perfect end to a perfect Father and Son (and dog) motorhome weekend away!”
A different vibe completely for trip number three. The Elddis motorhome was going to a festival!
“As soon as we took command of our Elddis motorhome back in October, one date in the diary immediately sprung to mind - and we knew that the Autoquest would bring a whole new level of comfort to our now annual family trip. The Mhor Festival has become somewhat of a pilgrimage ever since we first found out about it, back when I was filming golden eagles in the area some years ago,” says Gordon.
“The first year we attended Mhor Festival we were under canvas living the camping dream for the first half of the weekend and the camping nightmare for the second. That very spacious (and very cheap!) 8-person pop-up tent that I bought in the states years ago was designed - I think - for the Mojave desert and not the Scottish Highlands. Its ‘water proof design’ wasn’t something that seemed to have been rigorously tested. The popping-up part of the design was spot on, couldn’t fault that, but the water proofing, not so much... It didn’t leak so much as absorbed moisture from all available sources!
“Having the Elddis Autoquest at our disposal this year meant that tents, mud, rain and associated camping discomfort were far from our minds. This year we would languish in comfort in our home from home. Warm and dry with our own bathroom, no public showers. We’d be sorted and possibly the envy of every festival goer!”
As it turned out there was a last minute addition of Harris and Lola’s friends to accommodate. So Gordon had great idea of bringing the infamous 8 person tent complete with a tarpaulin to sling the kids and their friends in. Leaving the motorhome to just him and Wendy. Total child free luxury … or so they thought, until returning to the motorhome after a night of festival fun to find the kids had succumbed to the allure of the Autoquest and commandeered the superior sleeping arrangement, leaving the sodden tent for Mum and Dad!
Buoyed by the fact that the kids clearly enjoyed motorhome roadtrips as much as he was, Gordon took the family South of the border, to West Yorkshire and the wild moors. Wendy has wanted to visit Haworth for years. Wuthering Heights is her favourite book – and Gordon is also a fan.
The Buchanans enjoyed some great food and a spot of shopping in Haworth and stayed at the Ponden Mill campsite close-by. The kids were quite taken with the drama and tragedy of the Brontë sisters and stories, but admitted that they preferred the wilderness of Rannoch Moor more.
Another thing the Buchanan kids love is surfing. “Having a motorhome at our disposal, one trip I was really looking forward to was a venture to the coast,” says Gordon, “East coast, West Coast, it didn’t matter so long as there were waves we could surf.
“When surfing in Scotland people expect the water to be freezing but a decent wetsuit eliminates almost all discomfort. It’s when you get out and strip off the wetsuit and get hit with a stout Scottish costal breeze (and often rain) that it can get a bit unpleasant. Standing semi naked, covered in sand in a car park beside a windswept beach isn’t everyone’s idea of fun.
“Since taking command of the Autoquest the kids and I have fantasised about coming direct from the waves into a preheated motorhome with plenty of hot water at the ready after a day in the water.”
The motorhome’s heating system proved almost too efficient though…
“Although the sun was shining there were severe weather warnings forecast for the rest of the day. Torrential rain, thunderstorms and flooding risk for the whole area. This got me exited as I imagined emerging from the storm-tossed sea and stepping into the warmth and comfort of a preheated motorhome. I switched on the water heater and the gas central heating in anticipation and we headed for the waves. This was going to be so good!
“As it turned out the storm didn’t hit, and the sun continued to shine. In fact, it turned out to be one of the hottest days of the Summer. Having walked the quarter mile from the beach back to the road clad in neoprene we were already imagining the onset of heat exhaustion. The motorhome was stifling, so hot in fact that we had to open all the doors, windows and skylights and strip down in the carpark as usual. “
Lesson learned – the Autoquest’s heating is super-effective! – the trio, and Stewart, snuggled up for the night in Dunbar’s harbor – ‘a lovely place to wake up, with a seal or two in the water in front of the Autoquest and Dunbar’s very own Kittiwake colony on the castle walls at the entrance to the harbour.‘
Gordon’s final motorhome roadtrip was, quite fittingly, back to his hometown of Tobermory, on the Isle of Mull.
“While Wendy was busy with work and Lola and Harris were off school, I decided to pack up the Autoquest (with the kids and the dog) and head for the Hebrides. I grew up in Tobermory on the Isle of Mull so to head back there always feels like a homecoming.
“Mull is truly a wonderful place and that not just bias (though there is a lot of that). Thousands of people flock there every year to enjoy its wildlife, scenery and food. I loved my upbringing there. The island and its people have in every way shaped me as a person and my whole worldview. Had I not grown up in Tobermory I would not be doing the job that I love. I am eternally grateful to the island for all that has given me"
“On this last visit we had just four days, but we packed a lot in. The freedom that the Autoquest has given us has meant that we can be so much more flexible and it seems use our time so much better. Even on holiday I like to keep busy, make and change plans, simply do stuff. Structured relaxation if you will!
“Just being out on the road in the motorhome feels like we are already doing stuff. It’s easier for me to properly chill out. The journey, the roads (single track and dual carriageway) are part of the holiday. It’s never just a case of A to B.
“Every day we planned a walk, a family visit (most of my family still live in Tobermory) and a new wild place to park up at night. On each and every walk it rained (mostly heavily) but all four days we loved. Of course, we were prepared with waterproofs, flasks of hot tea and the refuge of the Autoquest never too far away, but it is being in a truly special place with life’s most special people (and dog) that makes the best memories.
“Mull is in places rugged and beautifully wild but as a ‘native’ there is another side to love. The people. These are folk that I grew up with or watched me grow up. They too are what makes every visit to the island magical. People who are warm, welcoming, interesting and interested and most importantly, always happy to see me back home.”
With a punishing schedule of documentary filming, international travel and a UK theatre tour to boot, it’s fair to say that Gordon has had one of the busiest of years. Time spent at home is precious and the Elddis team is honoured that Gordon devoted such a large proportion of his time to travelling in the motorhome.
“Travelling in the Elddis Autoquest was everything a great adventure should be. I’m so lucky, I have a rewarding and exciting job, but the downside is time away from family.
“So, to explore beautiful places not only in comfort but also in the company of the most beautiful people in my life was perfect!”
Read all of Gordon’s Elddis Autoquest motorhome trip blogs here: http://bit.ly/GordonBuchananHUB
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