Scotland is a vast country and, with narrow mountainous roads and plenty of opportunity to stop the car and stare at surroundings, the only problem you might face is the lack of time to see it all. We recently were lucky enough to borrow the Range Rover SDV8 Autobiography and complete our own 600-mile drive around the Scottish Highlands and the west coast. Below is the itinerary and what there is to see and do on the 5-day journey…
Day 1: Edinburgh to Inverness (via the Cairngorms and Craigievar Castle)
230 Miles / 6 Hours
There are faster ways to get from Edinburgh to Inverness that take you straight up the not-so-scenic A9, but there is plenty do see and do on this city-to-city route. Aberdeen is always an option but, to do this journey within a day, a detour through the Cairngorms National Park is definitely your best bet. Head across the Old Military Road from Pitlochry through to Braemar and Balmoral for some incredible scenic driving. Steep hills give way to plains of highland and lakes, before you descend back down from the Cairngorms highest points. If time allows, the trip to the beautiful Craigievar Castle in Alford should be on your itinerary. Said to be the inspiration for the iconic Disney Castle, this 17thcentury pink palace is a rarity in that you can drive right up to it. Rejoin the A9 at the northernmost tip of the Cairngorms for an impressive drive down to Inverness on the banks of the River Ness. The northernmost city in the UK, and the de facto “Capital of the Highlands”, there is plenty of impressive architecture and history to explore here both morning and night.
Day 2: Inverness to Applecross (via Torridon and the Fearnmore Coastal Route)
100 Miles / 3 Hours
While the sat nav may optimistically clock this drive up at 3 hours, you really do need to allow for an entire day on this stop/start route. We routinely stopped the car every half hour or so simply to gawk and this incredible drive. It is simply stunning and, just when you think the A832 from Inverness to Torridon has taken your breath away, the coastal road through Fearnmore and Applecross is peak West Coast Scotland. We encountered every terrain and season imaginable, from waterfalls, cliffs, lochs, highland cattle ranches… You could probably drive this road every day and see something different; one of the most impressive views was out to the Isle of Skye which seemed to be absorbing the brunt of an incoming tropical storm. At the end of the line is the tiny village of Applecross. Consistently overpopulated by visitors, it stands as the last bastion before the endless expanse of the Atlantic Ocean. Accommodation here is at a premium and the weather is very, very changeable so do book ahead.
Day 3: Applecross to Fort William (via Eilean Donan Castle)
130 Miles / 5 Hours
You can’t go all the way to Applecross without taking on one of the greatest driving roads in the world. Bealach na Bà boasts the steepest ascent of any road climb in the UK, rising from sea level at Applecross to 626 metres (2,054 ft), and is the third highest road in Scotland. Unpassable in winter, and only just passable in the driving rain, it is one of the most breathtaking (and slightly terrifying) descents you can drive. The road up from Applecross is an unforgiving single track road, albeit with the comforts of having vast plains disguise any real sense of height. The descent, however, consists of numerous hair pin turns and a dive into the valley beyond. Words and pictures do not do it justice; do allow an hour for this pass if you are a slightly less confident driver. An hour south of here is Eilean Donan Castle, near Dornie. It is a beautiful structure, complete with moody backdrop and medieval bridge that extends over a point where three different sea lochs meet.
Day 4: Fort William to Killin (via Glenfinnan Viaduct)
100 Miles / 2 Hours
While Fort William lacks real charm, the nearby Glenfinnan Viaduct is a must-see for any Harry Potter fans. The A380 isn’t the most scenic of drives, but it is all about the destination. The iconic Jacobite steam train crosses the viaduct at 10am and 3pm; the earlier time perhaps being the better option to beat the seemingly infinite coach-loads of tourist that turn up hourly. From there, the roads are a little more scenic; the A82 through Glencoe is simply stunning and the road to Glen Etive is instantly recognisable as “that road” from James Bond’s Skyfall. From here, it is a short drive to Killin; a beautiful village on the north-east edge of the Trossachs. It is the ideal launchpad to explore Loch Lomond and beyond, offering decent options for accommodation as well as the nearby Falls of Dochart.
Day 5: Killin to Edinburgh
80 Miles / 2 Hours
The home leg takes you through a few small villages and it is definitely worth stopping at either Crieff or Gleneagles if you need to take a break. Otherwise this is arguably the easiest and most routine of all the legs, so put on the tunes and enjoy!
Here is the route for you to copy to your Google Maps: