Roadtrip in Northern Scotland

Scotland A87 Loch Cluanie
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Whisky, mountains, lochs & glens, that’s what you think of when you talk about Scotland.

Well, you’re damn right!

This post will be somewhat special, as I won’t have much advice to give, apart from roads to follow in order to see fabulous views forcing you to get out from your car to take the time to observe (and pictures!)

Indeed, I grabbed a car and went on for 4 days on Scottish roads, thinking I’d have enough time. Big mistake (and my biggest advice): you need more time!

I had time to see many things, but it went too fast.

I would of liked to go on a hike up Ben Navis or around a loch, or to visit a city more thoroughly, and felt like I spent too much time in the car.

On the other hand, each time I got out of the car, the gusty wind and the periodical rain showers made me doubt my will. Sun will definitely always be your friend.

Glasgow

Most populated town of Scotland (nope, it’s not Edinburgh!), you will not feel anyhow overcrowded anywhere. Even on the small tube line, looping around the city.

Getting into town from the airport is fairly easy, with a direct 15 minute bus ride direct to the center.

For a nice afternoon walk around town, you may go accross Glasgow Green park, passing near the Nelson monument and, if you’re interested in vegetation or in history, visit the People’s palace, which contains an arboretum and the museum of social history of Glasgow.

In front of it, you will admire the  Doulton terracotta fountain, which represents Queen Victoria surmounting British Empire figures from Canada, Australia, India and South Africa.

You can then walk about 1/2 an hour up to Cathedral square and the impressive Necropolis, passing in front of the Tennant beer factory, Scotland’s reference lager.

Don’t miss Doctor Who’s TARDIS police box!

From there, walk back down to the city, towards George square, where stands Glasgow’s city chambers, and Buchanan street, a pedestrian street with lots of fashion stores and pubs.

If you have more time, take the tube and go on the west side, to visit the Kevingrove park, where the art museum is, and visit the Glasgow University, impressive in its size.

From there, you can walk back to the city center, walking up Renfrew street, with its many restaurants, or any of the many streets in this very perpendicular neighbourhood, with many hip places to stop at for a drink or for dinner.

Don’t miss the also impressive by its size Central Station

Glasgow shuttle

£6.50 one-way, with prices for return tickets and group tickets.

24h/day, every 10 minutes.

Loch Lomond and Glencoe

Leaving from Glasgow, you will arrive very quickly to Loch Lomond and the Trossachs national park, less than an hour’s drive away.

Follow the east bank cul-de-sac road along Loch Lomond up to Rowardennan. From there, you can find the beginning of the trail up the Ben Lomond.

Come back, then up to Aberfoyle, where you’ll take left towards Stronachlachar, where you can have lunch and/or a drink at The Pier Café, literaly on Loch Katrine, the terrasse is almost floating on it.

Push a little further away towards Inversnaid for another view on Loch Lomond and a waterfall.

Go back to Aberfoyle and get back on the road you came from, Duke’s pass.

Don’t miss the right turn on the Achray forest drive, driving along Loch Drunkie through the forest.

Get back on Duke’s pass, towards Loch Venachar, where you can stop for hot drinks and sweets at the Harbour Café, with a stunning view on the Loch. They also rent boats and do fishing tours.

On your way towards Glencoe, you’ll quickly start going up the mountain through the beautifully gloomy landscapes of Rannoch Moor (at least when it’s raining).

Surprisingly, you’ll even see a ski lift, which is actually part of a small ski domain.

After that, you’ll drive down into the Glen.

For a reasonable dinner and mostly a big selection of whiskys, try the Loch Leven hotel restaurant in north Ballachulish.

Once again, you could easily spend a few days in Glencoe, many activities are offered in the region.

 

From Glencoe to Isle of Skye

 

 

On the A87, passing by magnificent Glen Shiel, Lochs Cluanie and Loyne,  with a stop and visit at the Eilean Donnan castle.

 

Isle of Skye

 

 

This is the biggest of the Hebrides Islands. You can either access the easy way, through the bridge, or the traditional way, by boat, from Mallaig.

The beginning of the road up north is relatively flat, but you will quickly ride up the mountains, driving on good quality roads.

Start with the Broadford to Elgol road. Once again a cul-de-sac, you will go around a loch, then up the beginning of the Cuillins, with great views on Skye’s main mountain range, and end up in Elgol, with a nice view on the see. And, also, this will be the beginning of… the passing places, where you must stop to let other cars go by. Be careful, and patient!

As usual, the weather will change many times, giving you sun, and rain, several times in the same day.

Coming back, go up to Portree, the main town of the Isle. Fill up your gas tank! And grab some cash if you need too, because you won’t get many more opportunities, and the B&Bs rarely accept credit cards.

 

Then, start the Trotternish peninsula drive.  As usual, rock formations, landscapes, sheep, sea views will be part of the drive.

You may stop at the Old Man of Storr for a walk up to the Old Man.

Don’t miss the Kilt Rock either, with its impressive rock formation and waterfall falling directly into the sea!

Other routes will lead you to Dunvegan, where you can visit McLeod’s castle, Neist point, with beautiful cliff landscapes, and Carbost, with the Talisker distillery.

If you choose to stay in Carbost, you will find the Old Inn, ambiance assurée!

You may also push down to Glenbrittle, for another view on the Cuillins, from the other side, and a bay with black sand. Also another sport to start a walk.

 

The Highlands (west)

Here, we enter what should be the reason of any road trip to Scotland (apart from whisky, of course): Cliffs, Lochs, Mountains, passing places, lost villages, you name it, you’ll find it.

As anywhere in Scotland, even in the most remote towns, you’ll always find a B&B to welcome you, with advice to the nearest good restaurant for dinner, and a great breakfast in the morning. Choose wisely, and pick one with a view!

 

Gairloch coast loop

 

As we had seen alot of Isle of Skye, we chose to skip the first Applecross coast loop and went directly to the second one, starting in Kinlochewe and following Loch Maree. The arrival on Loch Maree is majestic, with the road winding down as if ending straight in the loch.

You can skip the Victoria falls, unfortunately small and surronded by, what we have noticed happened quite often, a ransacked forest, probably by the wood industry.

You’ll then arrive in Gairloch, small town with a nice coffee shop, The Mountain Coffee Shop, also a library. They serve imaginative coffees and desserts.

The road then leads you to Gruinard bay, with a fabulous view from above. With sun, it must be even better!

 

Ullapool & around

 

 

Ullapool is a small port town, with a promenade in front of the bay. Probably not much to do, but a gas station and an ATM will be there if you need them.

Heading north, the landscape is still as breathtaking, with even more to come towards Achiltibuie.

 

Achiltibuie & The Summer Islands

 

 

For extreme remoteness, don’t miss Achiltibuie and it’s fantastic string of rock islands. A tiny road right after Drumrunie will lead you there, passing next to small mountains and lochs, and a circle road goes along Achiltibuie and Poolbain. In Altandhu, you will find the Am Fuaran bar, an old family run place, now held by the children of the late founders of the place. Good whisky at the bar.

 

On leaving Achiltibuie, don’t go back on the road that led you there, but go north towards Lochinver and Point of Stoer for more small roads and landscapes.

 

Am Fuaran Bar, Althandu, open everyday

http://www.amfuaran.co.uk/

 

Point of Stoer coast loop

 

 

Don’t miss this little lighthouse at the end of the road to nowhere. Quite difficult to find, as the roads circle around, and the sign is difficult to see.

The black rocks and the cliff here are impressive, and, if the weather is good, you might want to walk up the small path or simply grap a cup of coffee at the trailer or rest on the nice green grass.

 

Edinburgh

 

Capital of Scotland, but not the biggest town, as that would be Glasgow (remember, from the top of this post?), Edinburgh has quite alot to offer.

Gloomy streets, clubs inside churches, medieval buildings as well as modern ones, universities, parks, moutains, still, all of these are part of the essence of Edinburgh.

As well as in Glasgow, I didn’t spend much time in Edinburgh, therefore, I only had time for a long walk around a few neighbourhoods.

Don’t miss the view of the castle from different sides, a visit of St Giles’ Cathedral, a drink at Grassmarket, and a stroll down the Royal Mile and Prince’s street.

 

 

In order to get yourself to the airport, grab the tramway anywhere on Prince’s street, it is efficient. Don’t forget to buy a ticket before getting on, as there is an employee in each tram that will check your ticket and have you get off if you don’t have one.

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