At the beginning of July, Joe and I set out on our first proper holiday in almost two years: a two week road trip around bonny Scotland!
Although we were fully prepared for it to be raining and cold, it actually turned out to be the most beautiful sunny summer holiday as we were there just in time for the UK’s heatwave. Who needs Greece when you’ve got mountains, lochs, and 25 degree heat?!
We knew that Scotland would be a popular ‘staycation’ destination this year, so we specifically booked it for before schools broke up for summer, and we also decided against doing the North Coast 500, as every man and his dog seemed to be doing that this year and we wanted to stay away from crowds (no thanks rona). So if you are thinking of heading to Scotland sometime soon, here’s a great alternative route to the NC500. PS. Check out the map of our route at the bottom of this post.
The first stop on our journey was the southern tip of Loch Lomond, where we stayed in a little glamping pod at Lomond Woods Holiday Park for two nights. This was the only time it rained on our trip so we had a soggy day walking Balloch Castle & Country Park and had a hilarious ferry ride on the loch, where we huddled in our waterproofs under the roof and got battered on all sides by wind and rain – not the best experience but a funny one to look back on. The cruise itself was actually really good as there was a voiceover pointing out different places we passed and giving us a bit of history about the area, so I’d recommend for a sunnier day.
Kilchurn Castle and Oban
After our stay at Loch Lomond, we drove all the way up the west side of the loch; the road hugs the water’s edge and we had to stop at Firkin Point for photos as it was our first day of blue skies and sunshine – little did we know we would be lucky with the weather for the entirety of the trip!
Our end destination for this travel day was Fort William, where we would be camping for 5 nights, but we took the scenic route across to Kilchurn Castle, the ruins of which perch on the edge of Loch Awe and offer beautiful views of the surrounding mountains. We stopped here for a leg stretch and a walk around the castle, but there wasn’t much else there so continued on to our next stop, Oban.
Sitting on the west coast and acting as a gateway to the Isle of Mull, Oban is a gorgeous little port town known for its stunning views, local seafood, and whisky. We stayed here for lunch and ate at the Waterfront Fishouse, devouring the best mussels I have ever eaten and fresh catch of the day while being serenaded by bagpipes. If you like whisky, make sure to book a visit to the local distillery just off the high street; we turned up and they were unfortunately fully booked.
After a couple of hours in Oban, we continued our drive up the coast and Loch Linnhe to Fort William, where our campsite was situated just outside of the town in the valley of Glen Nevis, at the base of Ben Nevis.
Our stay at Glen Nevis Campsite was amazing and I will 100% be going back. They had capped numbers due to Covid so we had a huge pitch to ourselves and it was really relaxing, just what we needed for a few days with limited signal (and therefore a digital detox!) out in nature. I will quickly sum up what we got up to during our stay here and really recommend you check these things out if you are staying near Fort William!
- Glenfinnan Viaduct. Known as the ‘Harry Potter train’, Glenfinnan has great historical significance as being the place where Bonnie Prince Charlie began the 1745 Jacobite rising, so make sure to check out the monument here. The viaduct is indeed impressive, with trails offering hikes up and around the surrounding hills above the railway and the loch. If you want to see the train chugging past, this only happens twice a day so make sure to check the train times and arrive 30 minutes early.
- Inverlochy Castle. This old ruined castle on the edge of the River Lochy is a short drive from Fort William and so we stopped by briefly on our way back from Glenfinnan. Worth a look if you enjoy walking around castle ruins but not much there so take a picnic and enjoy the views from the riverbank.
- Neptune’s Staircase. We weren’t going to bother with this originally but decided on our last day to have a look at this historic series of locks on the Caledonian Canal. We actually saw more of these impressive locks when we travelled east towards Inverness and saw them in action in Fort Augustus.
- Glencoe. My dad had told me that this was one of the most beautiful roads in the world and he was so right, Glencoe is incredible! We stood with our jaws on the floor at the viewpoint looking back down the valley. Photos don’t do this place justice and I spent the whole time just looking around and trying to commit it all to memory. I have also read a lot about the Jacobites and Scottish history recently, so visiting Glencoe and looking around the visitor centre was one of those moments when you’re standing where history was made. The scenery is just stunning and I highly recommend visiting if you’re in the area or passing through!
- Glencoe Lochan. Just down the road from Glencoe is a lovely hidden man-made loch nestled in the woods and surrounded by mountains. It was a gorgeous little spot for a short walk around the loch and there were a lot of families there doing nature trails and having picnics.
- Steall Waterfall. Down the road from our campsite, along the twisting, winding road through the valley, is a dead end with a small car park and footpath leading to Steall Waterfall. The hike takes about an hour and a half there and back, twisting among the trees and impressive rock formations until it opens out into a beautiful glen and the waterfall at the end. This was really enjoyable but beware of midges and wear boots or grippy trainers as spray from the falls makes the path slippery!
- Ben Nevis. One of the main aims of our trip around Scotland was to complete the famous hike up the UK’s tallest peak: Ben Nevis. We set out at 7am which was a good decision because it was surprisingly hot, especially with the first section being very steep. At times seemed like it would never end, but the views that we were blessed with half way up, and the sense of achievement at the summit, made it well worth it. We were so proud of ourselves and surprised that we were back at the campsite for lunch time, however if you are new to hiking, make sure to get a good pair of walking boots, take it steady, bring plenty of water, and give yourself enough time to complete it (usually around 8 hours).
Inverness and Loch Ness
After our lovely sunny stay at Glen Nevis we had a travel day to our bed and breakfast in Inverness. It was a bit of a drizzly day so perfect for driving and stopping when the sun came out for short periods. Our first stop was Fort Augustus as the most western tip of Loch Ness, where we again saw the Caledonian Canal locks in action and had coffee and cake in a little café overlooking the canal.
We then drove on to Urquhart Castle, about halfway along the northern side of the loch. This 13th century castle is famous for the role it played in the Wars of Scottish Independence in the 14th century. It changed hands countless times, faced attacks from the water, and was finally destroyed to prevent its use by Jacobite forces in the late 17th century. From various places in the ruins, you can look out in both directions along Loch Ness, a truly impressive sight. Entry cost £9.60 each and we were able to park up and pay online, using a QR code to gain access to the grounds.
When we reached Loch Ness, we settled into our B&B near Ness Islands, about a 20 minute walk into the centre of the city. We spent two nights here and again were blessed with gorgeous sunshine. An entire day here was spent at the loch; we had only planned to visit Dores beach for an hour or two but realized after getting the bus there that the return bus wasn’t for another 5 hours…luckily we had brought a picnic! The sun came out in full force and we regretted not bringing our swimwear (and suncream, oops), but went for a freezing cold swim anyway before drying off on the quiet pebble beach. We were shocked at how few people were there, it felt like we had the whole place to ourselves! The nearby woodland was great for a walk in the shade too. This is one place I absolutely recommend visiting if you are staying in or near Inverness.
Culloden and Whisky Tasting
After our second night we left the B&B and headed to Culloden, where we spent a couple of hours walking around the visitor centre and battlefield, learning about the tragic battle of Culloden which took place in 1746 and was the last battle to ever take place on British soil. This was a sobering experience, but one that is so vital to understanding Scottish history and the significance of the end of the clans. Entry cost £11 and visitors must book in advance for a specific time.
From Culloden we drove an hour east to whisky country, where we had booked a tour around the Glenfiddich distillery. The tour had been adjusted for Covid safety but was a fantastic immersive experience. At the end of the tour, each guest was given four samples to try, and as I was driving, they gave me a little takeaway sample! The tour cost £20 per person for around 90 minutes and was booked in advance.
After a busy day on the road, we finally arrived at our next campsite at Glen More, near Aviemore, in the Cairngorm National Park. We stayed here for 3 nights, 2 days. One day we went for a few hours’ hike through the woods up to a spectacular ridge overlooking Loch Morlich, and then went into Aviemore for a wander around the sports shops. I can imagine in winter this place is heaving with skiiers!
The second day, we chilled on the beach and went kayaking at Loch Morlich Watersports (£25 for one hour). This was one of my favourite days of the whole trip; the weather was beautiful and we were sunbathing! In Scotland! Whilst looking up at snow capped mountains!!!
After a wonderful couple of days at Glen More, we headed down to Edinburgh for the final few days of our trip. By this point we were on such a high and wanted to stay camped out in the sunshine hopping from loch to loch.
On our way to Edinburgh, we made a stop at Midhope Castle, where I became a crazed fangirl as this is one of the filming locations of Outlander. Joe begrudgingly became an ‘insta-boyfriend’ and took photos of me grinning like mad as I stood outside of Jamie Fraser’s home, Lallybroch. I have no regrets. We also then quickly stopped at Blackness Castle for a picnic lunch before heading into the city.
Once we had located our B&B, we walked about 15 minutes to Newhaven harbour, where our hosts had recommended we eat at Fishmarket, but there was a huge queue so make sure to book in advance for this one as it looked really nice and had lovely views.
The next day, we got a day rider bus ticket (the bus stop was just outside our B&B) and ventured into Edinburgh. The walk down was only about 20 minutes, but we found this to be the best mode of transport and meant we could avoid the hill on the way back! Our first port of call was a tour of Holyrood Palace, which I had prebooked online at a hefty cost of £16.50 each. We found this well worth it though as we did the audio tour and spent about 2 hours looking around. The castle was fully booked the whole weekend we were there so if you want to visit either of these places, make sure to book well in advance.
After the palace, we walked up to Arthur’s Seat, a deceptively difficult walk in the blazing sunshine. Beautiful views from the top were a great reward for the sweaty climb, even though I then fell over on the way down and had to walk around Edinburgh with a muddy bum.
This didn’t stop us, and we continued on foot all the way up the Royal Mile. I have to say, Edinburgh is one of my favourite cities and I already can’t wait to go back! We walked past the famous Elephant House café, where JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter, and marveled at the beauty of the castle perched high on the hilltop. My biggest tip for visiting Edinburgh, especially on a summer weekend, is to pre-book absolutely everything. It was so busy and if we had been there longer, I would’ve loved to have visited the National Museum, the Camera Obscura and World of Illusions, and gone inside the castle itself.
After a quick trip back to the B&B to shower and change, our final night was spent getting very merry at various bars along the Royal Mile. I thoroughly recommend dinner at Ecco Vino, just off the main drag, where we enjoyed delicious Italian food and lots of very nice (and expensive) wine.
I hope this blog post might come in handy for anyone looking to spend time in Scotland! Whether it’s a two week road trip like we did, a week’s camping in the Highlands, or a weekend break in Edinburgh, you are bound to have a wonderful time. Let me know in the comments if you have any further questions about our itinerary!