It’s Easter and because we have a couple of bank holidays we decided to plan a mini break. Looking through our list of dream destinations we saw the Highlands of Scotland. They are only 500 miles away from London and in the ten years I’ve been living in London we haven’t even been there. It was about time we fixed that.
We had five days and four nights to discover the region and there were a few places we really wanted to see. We came here for the nature and not so much for the culture so don’t expect city guides but be prepared for views of beautiful bens, lovely lochs and gorgeous glens.
For our first day, we made our way to the region around Loch Ness, we then went to the Isle of Skye for a couple of days before making our back to Edinburgh via beautiful Glencoe and Loch Lomond.
If you are curious about the Highlands or are planning a trip there, here’s a ‘wee’ (like the Scottish people would say) guide to our road trip.
Fasten your seatbelt, let’s go!
Day 1 – Edinburgh to Loch Ness
We hit the road quickly and made our way to the Cairngorms National Park. We left the main road to see more of the countryside and stumbled upon Loch An Eilein and the Rothiermurchus Estate. It was a great first introduction to the Highlands.
We stopped for lunch in Coylumbridge and had some great local food.
We then continued on all the way to the famous Loch Ness. We stopped at a view point before making our way to Urquhart castle. No sign of the monster I’m afraid…
We finally made our way to our B&B for the night, the Balavil farm and had dinner in nearby Dingwall. Nothing amazing to report here.
Day 2 – Conon Bridge to Skye
We had a chat with our host Clare over breakfast and we decided that our first stop would be the Rogie Falls. We hoped to see the Salmon Run (when salmon, which have migrated from the ocean, swim to the upper reaches of rivers where they spawn on gravel beds) but it was too early unfortunately.
We went back in the car and drove all the way to the Donan Eilean Castle in Dornie. I have to say that it was the Easter break and it was quite busy so we only took a few photos, had a quick spot of lunch and left. We were excited to finally see the Isle of Skye.
We drove on the Skye bridge and were not disappointed, the drive through the Cuillins is simply breathtaking.
Our first stop on the Isle of Skye was the Fairy Pools. At the foot of the Black Cuillins near Glenbrittle, the Fairy Pools are crystal clear blue pools on the River Brittle. This a nice and easy hike that takes you along the pools for about 2.5 kilometres. The water was so clear, so inviting, I had a sip and it was so fresh!
Our second stop was our B&B in Annishader near Portree. Our hosts just started out their B&B and I’m sure they will have much success. The house is stunning and built around the stunning views they have over Loch Snizort Beag.
And finally, we went to Portree for dinner. Our hosts Beck and Chris recommended we booked and they were right, this place is popular! We ordered the seafood platter for two and had amazing salmon, langoustines and mussels. Everything is so fresh, it just tastes of the sea. Go with your eyes closed!
Day 3 – The Isle of Skye
After a hearty breakfast, we hit the road to Neist Point and its famous lighthouse. The views on the road were spectacular.
Chris recommended we drive on small, winding roads along the coast to get great views. Make sure you do the same. You’ll have a different perspective and enjoy the drive even more. Once we took a turn and arrived at a farm. The farmer said we could park the car and continue on foot in the sheep fields. We walked until we faced the Dunvegan castle, the seat of the clan MacLeod.
Back on the road, we went back to Portree to visit Trotternish. Once again using Chris’ recommendation, we drove on the coast anti-clockwise and make sure you do the same. The view you get of the Old Man of Storr is simply stunning. It’s much better to have it facing you rather than have it in you rearview mirror.
We started the hike to the Old Man of Storr but didn’t finish (silly us!) and instead went back to the car to tour the rest of that part of the island. We went to see Kilt Rock and the Mealt Waterfall.
Our next stop was the Quiraing. We took the small road from Staffin to Uig and were rewarded by stunning views of the rock formation.
We then decided to to the north part of Trotternish so turned right at Uig and drove past a very dramatic coastline. We took the minor road to Uig at Staffin again and the weather was worse up in the Quiriang so we were glad to have done it before.
We had dinner at the Uig Hotel. Average food here despite the recommendation from our host.
Day 4 – Skye to Loch Leven
Remember when I said we didn’t finish the hike up to the Man of Storr? Well we decided to do it that day. So off we went back to Trotternish even though we had ferry to catch in Armadale at 1pm.
We really don’t regret our decision. The weather was very different, we had snow and hailstones up there but it was worth it. the hike is not that hard. It takes about 45 minutes to an hour to climb all the way and if you’re lucky with the weather (like us) you’ll get views the Sound of Raasay. We stayed a good hour up there to photograph the Storr and its old man under every angle possible.
We almost ran down the mountain to make sure we could make it to Armadale in time for our ferry. And we did. While we waited to board we grabbed hotdogs and chips. We ate them during the crossing, which lasts about 30 minutes.
Back on firm land in Mallaig and after refuelling we noticed a steam train at the station and thought it must be the steam train that goes on the Glenfinnan viaduct so decided to go straight there instead of driving down the coast to see Castle Tioran. While driving we spotted a few white sandy beaches and stopped at one to make sure we were not dreaming. The water was crystal clear and the sand pure white but yet we were in Scotland. It was really beautiful.
Back to business, we had to make sure we would be on time at the Glenfinnan viaduct to see the steam train and we did! But we didn’t have the best views unfortunately as we didn’t have much time to prepare.
We then drove past Fort William and drove along Loch Leven to Kinlochleven for our final night. We had dinner at the Lochleven Seafood Cafe and once again I went for the seafood platter. I had oysters, razor clams, mussels, lobster, crab, langoustines, clams and palourdes. Simply scrumptious!
Day 5 – Loch Leven to Edinburgh
Our last day. And we don’t really want to go back home.
After Heather’s full English breakfast, we drive to Glencoe. We had dreamt of this place for a long time. When we were planning this trip we kept referring to the Skyfall movie and the scene of Daniel Craig standing over a glen looking in the distance. Well guys, we found were they shot that scene and it is down a tiny road in Glen Etive so make sure you turn right on your way to Loch Lomond. The minor road offers great views of river and Loch Etive. We saw a few kayakers along the way who seemed to be having a lot of fun in the rapids.
Back on the main road, it was hard to not stop at every turn. the glen is probably the most scenic but the weather is often very bad. We did have snow after all.
For the afternoon, we decided to drive in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park. I don’t if this was because it was our last day or the bad weather but I wasn’t too impressed with this part of the Highlands. When you are in this national park, you are really close to Glasgow and Stirling so it was quite busy and that probably didn’t help either.
850 miles later we were back at Edinburgh airport. Not ready to go back to city life in London. At least, now we know that we can get our nature fix within an hour flight of London. We’re thinking of driving the North Coast 500 next time.
Useful information for a road trip in the Highlands
We flew from London City Airport to Edinburgh with British Airways for £180 for two. The flight took about 1h20m. But Inverness is also a good place to start, probably where we’ll fly to when we do the North Coast 500 road.
Driving in the Highlands
We booked a car with British Airways, who have a partnership with Avis. Once in Edinburgh they offered us a better car, a Jeep Renegade!
We met a few travellers in our B&B who were travelling with public transport and I have to say this is not the best way to enjoy the highlands. There are too many things to see on the road and you’ll miss too much by being on a bus or train which only takes you from A to B.
We also recommend to ditch the SatNav and take the tiny winding roads, they are often the most beautiful!
Often, you’ll end up on tiny road where it’s difficult to pass other cars but the Scottish have thought of everything and have added passing places along the road.
We took a ferry once from Armadale in Skye to Mallaig and we booked our tickets in advance to ensure we had a place in the Easter rush.
Be prepared! You’ll have rain, wind, sun and maybe snow so pack properly. It will be cold and wet but it is worth it. It is the weather that has made the landscape this stunning and it is the weather that creates the perfect light for photos.
And you know what “today’s rain is tomorrow’s wishky”!
We are fans of Airbnb and it worked well for this trip.
We booked one night in a farm in Conon Bridge near Inverness and loved staying with Clare.
In Skye, we booked two nights at the new Dunn Cruinn bed and breakfast. Becks and Chris were brilliant hosts, full of useful hints and tips.
For our last night, we had a room in Heather’s B&B in Kinlochleven.
Go for seafood! It’s the best. Or you can always try haggis…which is actually good when you don’t think about the main ingredient.
I recommend Sea Breezes in Portree (make sure you book) and Lochleven Seafood Cafe on Loch Leven.
I’m not a game eater so I can’t really give much recommendation on this despite the fact that we saw Venison on every menu. I had meat once though and it was really good. Scotland is, after all, renowned for its world-famous Aberdeen Angus beef.
The signs are in English and Gaelic and they have different words to describe their landscape. A Mount is a Ben, a Lake (or sea inlet) is a Loch and a Valley is a Glen. Now you know why the tallest mountain is called Ben Nevis, why Nessie lives in Loch Ness and what Glencoe refers to. You’re welcome 🙂
Other details we noted
They have their own Scottish pounds but they can be used in all the UK and vice-versa, you can use British Pounds in Scotland.
The signal isn’t great over there. We rarely had service while on the road, we sometimes had GPRS if we were lucky! All our hosts had wifi though so we could do our research (and Instagram) once at the B&B.
Avoid going there in the Summer when the Highland midge strikes. A voracious bloodsucking little insect that will drive you insane.