Get your kilts out: road trip to Scotland
Scotland, located in the northern part of Great Britain, seems to be made for road trips. The stunning landscapes, great roads and charming villages are waiting here to be explored. You have to be a bit lucky with the weather (it often rains here), but during summer you can discover the land of whiskey and the monster of Loch Ness at its best.
The Borders, Scotland
Day 1: The Scottish Borders (180mi/275km)
We start our trip in Edinburgh to explore The Borders region in south Scotland. Our First stop is Rosslyn Chapel, located on a small hill above Roslin Glen. This 15th century chapel was only visited by a handful of people each year until it became famous when it was featured in Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code”.
After a beautiful drive through the grassy landscapes we arrive at Traquair House, the oldest inhabited 'castle' in Scotland, although it’s looking more like a fortified mansion. More interesting however is the brewery next to the mansion. It brews several ales which are known to be some of the best examples of Scottisch strong ales.
We start heading eastward to the Leaderfoot Viaduct. This viaduct was opened in 1863 to carry the Berwickshire Railway, but nowadays it is unused. The arches span over 43 feet (13 m) and are made of brickwork. The viaduct is in good condition, thanks to its renovation in 1995. Good views of it can be obtained from the modern A68 road bridge immediately downriver. Normally the viaduct is not open to the public, but access to the bridge is fairly easy for those who wish to take walk up there.
Leaving the viaduct behind us, we drive to the coast to see St. Abbs, a small fishing village. The rocks of St. Abbs Head and the land surrounding it are a National Nature Reserve. After a walk in the reserve, we go back to Edinburgh.
St. Abbs Head
Edinburg offers a lot to do and to see. If you like citytrips, you might want to stay an extra night here to explore it all. Carlton Hill is a good starting point, as it offers a wonderful view on the city. The Nelson Monument, National Monument and City Observatory are also located here. Another must see is Edinburgh Castle. Be sure to take the audio tour, it offers a lot of extra information about the Castle and its history.
Day 2: Edinburgh - Perth (150mi/230km)
Today we’ll drive from Edinburgh to Perth. The shortest and fastest way to do this, is to take the M90 highway, but we like to go slow and take the scenic route following the coastline. At the Firth of Forth we stop to see the enormous Forth Railbridge. This giant bridge spans over 2460m of water holding up the railway 45m above the surface. It contains 55.000 tons of steel and has 7 million bolts to hold everything together.
After crossing the bay we arrive in Dumferline, where the local abbey deserves a visit. Then we follow the coast eastward. This region is also known as the East Neuk, and features a lot of charming fishing villages. We drive trough Elvie, St Monans, Pittenweeen, Anstruther and Crail to arrive in St. Andrews, the home of golf. This is in part because the Royal and Ancient Golf Club exercises legislative authority over the game worldwide. People were playing golf here already in the 15th century. Shielded from Atlantic weather systems by several mountain ranges, St Andrews is also one of the driest and sunniest parts of Scotland.
We drive further north to Dundee and pay a visit to Glamis Castle and its wonderful gardens before we arrive in Perth. Although the Earl and Countess of Strathmore and Kinghorne still live in the building, it is also open to the public. Just like the Forth Bridge, the castle is one of Scotlands listed buildings. A listed building may not be demolished, extended or altered without special permission.
Day 3: Perth - Aviemore (249mi/ 383km)
Today we drive past Glenshee and follow the magnificent Royal Deeside route who parallels the river Dee towards Aberdeen. This is a bit of a detour, but it’s a lot less boring than taking the A9 highway. Later on our way, we can see Balmoral Castle. This castle can be visited, unless a member of the British Royal family is staying here. In that case the castle is closed for the public (like it was when we arrived there). We drive further to Aberdeen.
Aberdeen's architecture is known for its use of granite, which has led to its nickname of the Granite City. This hard grey stone is one of the most durable materials available and helps to explain why the city's buildings look brand-new when they have been cleaned. Unlike other Scottish cities where mostly sandstone has been used, the buildings are not weathering and need very little maintenance on their masonry.
As we head back west to Aviemore, we enter the Scottish Highlands. The scenery is beautiful, and we stopped to visit Frasier Castle, Kildrummy Castle and Glenbuchat Castle. After a long day we finally arrive in Aviemore. Situated within the Cairngorms National Park, this city is known for its outdoor activities such as hiking and skiing.
The Scottish Highlands
Day 4: Aviemore - Ullapool (184mi/276km)
We drive north via Cawdor Castle and Kilravock Castle to the Culloden Battlefields. In 1746, there was a big battle here. Thousands of Scots were slaughtered by the English army. We continue our trip with a tour around Loch Ness, the most famous lake in the world. We didn’t see any monsters though. On the east side of the lake we visited Foyer Falls and had lunch in Fort Augustus. We continued to Urquhart Castle, a very beautiful ruïne, before driving further to Ullapool.
Urquhart Castle, with Loch Ness on the background
Day 5: Ullapool - Isle of Skye (238mi/357km)
This is the longest drive of our road trip. Today we drive through the Wester Ross region. We follow the A832 on the Southern bank of Little Loch Broom. The route takes us to the coast and past Loch Ewe, Loch Gairloch and Loch Maree. Then we start following the A896 to Upper Loch Torridon and Loch Shieldaig until we arrive at the exit to Applecross. This is a hardened dirt track and very cool to drive on. At the remote Applecross peninsula we visit the harbor before taking the infamous Bealach na Ba, or cattle road to the East. This road was until the late seventies the only way into Applecross. It’s the second highest road in Scotland, and with its steep sections of over 20% and hairpin turns it needed some Alpine know-how to get it constructed.
Bealach na Ba
After this adventure we arrive at Scotland’s most photographed building: Eilean Donan Castle. This 13th century castle was built on an island at Loch Duich to protect the region from Vikings. The castle was renovated in the 20th century and is now open to public. It was also featured in many movies such as Highlander and James bond: The World Is Not Enough.
Eilean Donan Castle
Next stop on our route is Plockton, where we can see some palm trees. These trees were imported from New-Zealand and can survive here due to the mild sea climate. We drive further to Kyle Of Lochalsh where we take the Skye Bridge to The Isle Of Sky.
Day 6: The Isle of Skye
The Isle of Skye is Scotland’s biggest tourist destination after Edinburgh. Some say that Skye is conclusive proof that, sometimes, God was just showing off. And we can only agree with them.
The island’s coastline is littered with bays, sea arches, stacks, caves, massive cliffs, waterfalls, fossils and tidal islands. Enough to keep you busy exploring for a while.
After we visiting the coast, there is still plenty to see inland. There are mountain ranges like the Cuillin and the Red Hills. In the north-east we find the Trotternish Peninsula, with the world famous ridge or escarpment that forms its backbone.
The Sleat peninsula to the south offers a different sort of scene. Lush, wooded glens and a mild climate give the area a look more of south-west England than north-west Scotland.
The isle of Skye
After exploring Skye we drive back to Glasgow, where we can take a flight home.