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Some ideas for your road trip

In conjunction with Visit Scotland the North Coast 500 route has been developed which takes the traveller from Inverness across to the west and then up and around the north coast of Scotland. The purpose is to offer a pre-researched scenic road route taking in a variety of cultural and historic attractions together with ideas on food and drink. It’s interactive, well worth a look for travellers seeking a planned itinerary and definitely worth considering. You can find details here:

But……it’s not all about the North Coast 500! To our minds the joy of traveling in Scotland is the discovery of the more remote places that are well off the beaten track. Sometimes they take a bit of getting to but once you’re there you’ll find yourself well away from the crowds. Perhaps you will have 2 miles of golden sandy beach all to yourself or a stone circle as historically significant as Stonehenge but this one only gets a couple of visitors each day.

We’ve made a couple of suggestions for you to think about whilst planning your trip. It is not intended that you follow them too rigidly – they’re just ideas, feel free to head off down your own road as you see fit. You might consider adding two or three of these routes (or part thereof) together for a longer trip. Please also have a play around with our Trip Planner – we hope you find it helpful.

Finally, a few words about wild camping in Scotland. Scotland is a land of open spaces and is the  ideal country for touring. One major advantage is that you are permitted to camp on public land accessible to vehicles, this includes laybys, parking areas, disused roads, areas adjacent to roads etc. Effectively it means that if you are not on private property or there are no specific local bye laws to preclude it you may pull over and stay the night. You are of course required to follow the Highway Code and Countryside Code and act in a responsibly way but this entitlement is of huge benefit to those seeking to get away from campsites and crowds. It is important that responsible access is practised and as such Visit Scotland have a handy video that hints at the do’s and dont’s here: Click for Video.

Skye and the ‘Road to the Isles’

Day 1.
Starting from North Berwick head west and bypass Edinburgh. Look for the M9 and signposts for Stirling. You’ll see the famous and iconic Forth Bridges to your right as well as the new Forth Crossing. You will be coming back over the Forth at the end of your road trip a week or more hence and you’ll get a closer look then so no need to stop now. Stirling itself is well worth checking out. It is historically significant due to its location, has a medieval quarter and a commanding castle overlooking the city.
Head west to Callander and into the Trossachs National Park and onwards to Tyndrum. You’ll pass to the south of Ben Cruachan on your way to Oban. You may stop here for the night, if you like. Oban is a busy but scenic little port with a choice of campsites.

Day 2.
Now you have arrived on the West Coast you can head north alongside Loch Linnhe and through the spectacular Glencoe, eerie and brooding. You can find out about the history of the Glen in the visitors centre. You may have a sense of deja vu – this area has featured in many films including Braveheart and The 39 Steps. Keep going to Ballachulish and up to Fort William (which is well worth a stop to look around) If you’re feeling active and have a day to spare you could consider walking to the top of Ben Nevis – Scotlands highest mountain – it’s not difficult but you’ll need a certain level of fitness.
From Fort William head West again to Glenfinnan where you can stop and have a look at the monument which stands with commanding views at the head of Loch Shiel. Half a mile or so to the west and you’ll find the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct (the second of two civil engineering masterpieces in two days – after the Forth Crossing – albeit constructed 120 years apart!) You’ve probably seen The Glenfinnan Viaduct before having recently featured in Harry Potter films Two and Three amongst many other big and small screen appearances. Head towards Arisaig and Morar where once Mac offered to trade his Houston life (including Porsche 930!) for Urquharts simpler and more charming existence in the cult film Local Hero* You will notice a few campers parked up for the night off the main road or in lay-bys etc. Alternatively there are several campsites.

Days 3 and 4
Take the ferry from Mallaig to Armadale (you will need to book this in advance, visit ) Over the next two days tour Skye and a real must is Staffin where you will find the Quiraing road. If you’ve brought your walking boots you’ll want to spend half the day here for the extraordinary walk out to The Table. If you aren’t able to get onto the Skye ferry via the Mallaig ferry – no problem you could drive up to the Kyle of Lochalsh and get onto Skye by road – about 50 extra miles. Portree has a mix of restaurants and amenities, all the campsites (and wild camping) come with amazing views on Skye.

Day 5
Using the Skye Bridge leave the island via The Kyle then towards Fort Augustus. Stop off at Dornie to look at the famous Eileen Donan – one of the most photographed places in Scotland and backdrop to scenes in Highlander and The World Is Not Enough. Continue to Drumnadrochit where you will find the famous Urquhart Castle which you can visit. On returning to your van please have a quick walk around check for any monster damage (which happens every now then here on Loch Ness) Turning around and retracing the road south aim for Spean Bridge and The Commando Memorial and across the desolate Rannoch Moor towards Dalwhinnie. If you have time you could find the UKs remotest and highest train station at Corrour. Here Tommy once implored Renton, Sickboy and Spud to appreciate the Scottish ‘fresh air’ – but as Renton memorably pointed out it was all of little consequence in the greater scheme of things to a trainspotter. Once at Dalwhinnie you could stop for the distillery tour and then continue to your last overnight in Blair Athol or Pitlochry.

Day 6
Blair Atholl and Pitlochry are both worth spending a little time in for a wander around, there is the fish ladder and Arts Centre amongst other attractions and as you continue south it is unmistakable – you are back in busier parts of Scotland. Head back South towards Edinburgh and over the new Forth Crossing. Look over to your left to see the famous and distinctive Forth Rail Bridge which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. North Berwick and campervan drop off is about one hour from here.

The Outer Hebrides – Europe’s Wild Atlantic Edge

As an addition to ‘The Road to the Isles’ trip you could consider adding an extra few days to your trip and visit the remote and wild Hebridean Islands of North Uist, South Uist and Benbecula. You can book your tickets with Calmac the national ferry operator giving you the option of round trip or returns – it is easy to use and well designed for touring and it’s all helpfully laid out on their site

The Outer Hebrides are a sparsely populated archipelago comprising of hundreds of islands. Even in high summer they are quiet and largely off the tourist trail. The scenery is spectacular, the way of life unique, the locals friendly and accommodating. If this unique way of life holds an interest to you it is highly recommended that you make the effort to go.
In terms of additional days you might consider the following.

Extra Day 1
If travelling from Skye use the ferry port of Uig in the far North West of the Island. The sailing is to Lochmaddy on North Uist – a great starting point to range further into the Outer Hebrides. If you choose the evening sailing you would be on North Uist at 19.45 (in the height of summer still another 4 hours of light:)) and could head North to Berneray and camp wild on the open grass heathland adjoining the beach in the most scenic wild camping location imaginable.

Extra Day 2 and 3
Slowly make your way south and tour the chain of Islands (all connected by causeway)
There are small museums giving an insight into Island life and history, the machair (fertile limestone grasslands famed for their wildflowers) wildlife including otters, beaches and a landscape that is as much water as land.

Extra Day 4
Either travel North to Berneray for the Ferry to Leverburgh on Harris and continue your Hebridean odyssey on Harris and Lewis. Or, you could travel south to Barra and Eriskay (here you can find out about the SS Politician and Whisky Galore) and thence take the ferry back to Tobermory from Lochboisdale or Castlebay. You won’t forget a trip to the Uists but it’s not a place for people needing non stop human contact.

As an Alternative….
You could potentially very easily do the reverse of this trip, sailing from Oban to Castlebay on Barra and next day drive north to Lochboisdale (time it so that you can have a seafood lunch in the Hotel) then north again to Lochmaddy over the next day or two and take the ferry back to Uig on Skye for a few days there. From there continue North if you have the time or head back via Fort Augustus and Loch Ness.

The Far West and North Coast

On departing Skye via the Kyle of Lochalsh you could add a few extra days on and continue north for a trip to the spectacular Caithness region. This is a trip into a sparsely populated and starkly beautiful part of Scotland. It’s largely off the beaten track and thrown into the ‘too hard’ basket by many, their loss is your gain. From Kyle of Lochalsh….

Day 1
Head North via Applecross to Poolewe (surprising place for a significant botanical gardens, but you should stop and visit) to Ullapool. There you will find a bustling port with restaurants and a couple of pubs (also a good campsite close to the town centre). If you don’t fancy Ullapool keep heading north through the amazing Assynt region in the shadow of Ben Assynt to Scourie and spend the night at the campsite there. If you have a little luck you will witness an amazing sunset over the North Minch in one of the most fantastically located campsites in Scotland (and one with the best value) There is pub 200 metres away with pretty good food and very proper beer!

Day 2
Head North to Rhiconich and Kinlochbervie. About 8 kms north of Kinlochbervie is the start of a walk to Sandwood Bay. It will take you a couple of hours each way but it’s well worth it and said by some to be one of the most scenic walks in Scotland. Take a backpack and picnic and after a gentle walk your reward is a glorious golden beach with sea stacks pounded by Atlantic breakers. There is also plenty of scope for wild camping in the Kinlochbervie area.

Day 3
Keep going North to Durness. Here you can take an excursion to Cape Wrath – the wild north west extremity of the British Isles jutting out into the North Atlantic. Have a cup of tea in a very unusual cafe (maybe Britains remotest) and learn about the significance of Cape Wrath to Lloyds of London! Though taking most of the day this excursion is well worth doing. Durness settlement itself has an artists colony and Smoo Caves as well as a nice clifftop campsite, though there is plenty of scope for wild camping in this area.

Day 4
Continue along the North coast around the scenic Loch Eriboll to Bettyhill via Tongue (another good place to overnight ‘wild’ camp) and onwards to Melvich. At Melvich turn south (unless you have a real desire to visit John O Groats or The Orkneys) Head down the beautiful Strath Naver to Forsinard and Helmsdale. This is a beautiful drive alongside the River Naver and some spectacular scenery. Continue southwards to Inverness (or Dornoch) for the night.

Day 5
Head back to Edinburgh and North Berwick via Pitlochry. Pitlochry is approximately 2 hours from Inverness.

Make sure you bring:

Decent footware and appropriate clothing including a waterproof coat.
Midge repellent (in still evening conditions from August onwards a midge net is actually the only way to preserve your  sanity. Very few underestimate the Scottish midge twice)
Soft bags (don’t bring hard cases – you’ll never get them to fit in the van!)
Day pack or small rucksack
Your Sense of Adventure
If you have an interest in the scenic locations that Scotland has provided to the British Film Industry then Visit Scotland has a handy resource to help you plan your trip