When we were planning our trip to Scotland, I knew I wanted to do a road trip. It was only a matter of convincing hubby that it was a good idea. Road trips are great for exploring a country because there is more flexibility to plan routes and make lots of pit stops on the way. Since there are so many stunning landscapes it would be a shame not to stop.
Scotland is the perfect country for a road trip because it is pretty compact and easy to drive. You can cover a lot of ground in a day, and see a lot of the beautiful Highland landscapes full of looming mountains, rolling glens, and shimmery lochs. The stress of daily life slipped away as we hit the open road, and all that’s left is the sense of freedom, like we can go anywhere.
Our road trip took us from Edinburgh all the way up to the Isle of Skye and back. We picked up and dropped off the car at Edinburgh airport, renting from one of the lesser known car companies for $15 per day. Leaving Edinburgh was a bit hectic because of all the early morning traffic and road closures, but we found our stride once we got out of the city. We took the A9 all the way north to Inverness and then swung over to the Isle of Skye, where we spent 3 days (check back next week for most posts on Skye). On the way back we drove through Glencoe and took the A82 all the way back down to Edinburgh. This is the map of our road trip and all our stops along the way:
1. Old Horse pack Bridge
On the way to Skye, I knew that I wanted to make a detour over to this little known village at the edge of the Cairngorms National Park. It was also a nice pit stop to grab some pies from a local store for lunch since after about three hours of driving from Edinburgh, we were ready to get out and stretch our legs.
One of the most famous landmarks in the Cairngorms is a 300 year old pack horse bridge across the River Dulnain located in the small village of Carrbridge. The bridge was built back in 1717 to allow funeral processions to access Duthil Church when the river was flooding and became known locally as as ‘the coffin bridge’, It is the oldest stone bridge in the Highlands.
After the great flood of 1829, the bridge was severely damaged and became unstable. All that remains of the bridge today is a single span, arcing high into the air across the swiftly rushing river below. It is best, viewed from the lower platform, easily accessed from the river bank.
2. Urquhart Castle
Urquhart Castle is one of Scotland’s largest castles and most picturesque landmarks. Perched on the shore overlooking the length of Loch Ness, it is also one of the main sites for reported sightings of the legendary Loch Ness Monster. It’s no wonder that it is one of Scotland’s ten most popular attractions.
Founded in the 13th century, Urquhart Castle was one of the most important castles in Scotland and played a key role in the Wars of Scottish Independence during the 14th century. Control of the castle passed back and forth between the Scots and English as both sides struggled for power. The castle was eventually blown up in the 17th century to prevent it from falling into the hands of the Jacobites, and subsequently fall into decay. The site has stood witness to some of the most dramatic chapters in Scottish history.
In the 20th century it was placed in state care and re-opened to the public. The castle walls are now partly reclaimed by nature, with stone and vines seamlessly blending together becoming one. At first sight, the ruins amidst the emerald green grass, overlooking the simmering blue water of the loch is magnificent to behold.
3. Eilean Donan Castle
If you’ve ever purchased a calendar or a postcard of Scotland, you’ve probably seen pictures of Eilean Donan Castle. This Scottish icon is located on a small island where three great lochs meet. It is connected to the mainland by a stone bridge with three arches. This picturesque landscape looks like a fairytale painting but the only difference is that it actually exists.
Eilean Donan Castle was built in the 13th century and has served as a stronghold throughout Scotland’s turbulent past. Clan Mackenzie, and later clan Macrae occupied the castle through many years of raids and sieges. Its strategically important location was perfect for defending large stretches of land from incoming attacks. Until 1719, when it was finally destroyed in a Jacobite uprising, the castle had been built and rebuilt at least four times. The castle stayed in ruins for two hundred years until it was bought and restored by Lieutenant Colonel John MacRae-Gilstrap.
Due to some road work, we couldn’t make it to the castle before the ticket booth closed. Instead we ended up walking around the castle grounds for free. Unless you want to see the inside of the castle I think the best time to get there is after 5 p.m when most of the tourists have already left and you have the place mostly to yourself. Even though it rained all day, the sky cleared up while we were there. We sat on the nearby bench and admired the faint rays of sunlight peaking through the clouds and dancing across the water. The wind blowed through our hair as we huddled together to keep warm as we lingered to admire this unforgettable view. Words and photographs are inadequate to express how we felt at the moment.
4. Glenfinnan Bridge
Every time I watched Harry Potter and his friends pull away on the Hogwarts Express, I always wished that I was also on that train on my way to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Imagine my surprise when I learned that the Hogwarts Express is real and it’s actually called the Jacobite Express! This iconic steam engine train runs twice a day from Fort William to Mallaig. For the best view to capture the iconic photo of the train as it cross over the bridge follow our guide here.
5. Glen Coe
Glen Coe is landscape of stunning beauty full of lush green mountains and shining lochs. Even in the pouring rain, the awe-inspiring landscape is still magnificent. There are several distinctive mountains in Glen Coe, including Buachaille Etive Mòr and the Three Sisters ridges of Bidean nam Bian .
Glen Coe is also the site of the famous Massacre of 1692. The treacherous slaughter of the Clan MacDonald at the hands of British soldiers after they accepted hospitality and shelter from their host. Thirty-eight men were killed and many more died of exposure on the hills as their homes had been burnt down.
6. Glen Coe –Three Sisters
The A82 is one of the most beautiful roads in Scotland running from Glasgow to Inverness. The most impressive section goes through the magical Glen Coe full of high summits, desolate landscapes, and lochs. Right off of the highway is the Three Sisters viewing point where you can pull over and marvel at the majestic mountain ranges. It was a wet and windy day, and the mountains were covered in thick cotton clouds turning everything grey.
The famous Three Sisters are the steeply-sided ridges forming part of the mountain complex Bidean nam Bian along southern side of Glen Coe in the old county of Argyll. Two of the sisters, Gearr Aonach (Short Ridge) and Aonach Dubh (Black Ridge) converge at Stob Coire nan Lochan, the lost valley. The final, most easterly sister, Beinn Fhada (Long Hill) joins at the summit of Stob Coire Sgreamhach. Bidean nam Bian are popular with walkers and mountain climbers.
7. Luss Village
Before coming to Scotland, I stumbled upon a picture of the quaint lochside village of Luss and knew that I must add it to my list. The rows of picturesque cottages surrounded by colorful gardens look like something straight out of a storybook. Luss was built originally as a ‘model’ village for workers employed by local lairds to work at their nearby slate quarry and sawmill.
Since it was conveniently located off of Highway A82 between Glasgow and Glencoe, this village became an attraction for a lot of the bus tours. We were a bit shocked to see the parking lot full of coach buses. Even when we were there at 9 am, there were already hordes of tourists around. Interestingly, we found out that there are only about 100 permanent residents in the village but they get about 750,000 visitors a year. Yes you read that right!
We walked through the village and took pictures of all the pretty houses before heading down to the lake for some ice cream.
8. Lomond Lake
For the best view of Loch Lomond head up to Dundryne Hill, located just south of the village of Gartocharn. This local favorite, known as “The Dumpling” for its round shape, is an easy gradual climb on a short, steep path. Even though it’s just under 500 feet, the viewpoint at the top offers one of the most dramatic views of the surrounding loch and islands.
Before attempting the climb, make sure you have sturdy pair of wellies if it has been raining because part of the path is covered in mud. This was when we were congratulating ourselves on our £9 pair of wellies that we bought in Skye. They came in handy when we were ankle-deep in mud. The view of the countryside spread out over the horizon as we climbed up. Along the path, wild blackberries grow in abundance, a refreshing treat on a hot day.
At the top, there were not too many people around, just a few families enjoying their picnics. It was a perfectly clear day, so we sent our drone up to capture aerial pictures of the surrounding area. A lot of kids were curious to see a drone in action and gathered around to watch Fausto as he attempted to navigate.
9. Devil’s Pulpit
Finnich Glen, more commonly known as The Devil’s Pulpit, is a 100 feet deep gorge just south of Drymen near Loch Lomond. If you’re a big fan of the TV series Outlander you may have seen this place in season one as the location for Liar’s Spring. Legend has it that the Devil’s Pulpit was the meeting place of the ancient Druids and where Satan himself preached to the monks.
This not-so-secret hidden gem is a bit hard to find since there are no signposts. Park your car at the A809 and B834 junction and walk along the road until you get to the end of the bridge. Keep an eye out for a gap in the stone wall where you can climb over to the other side. Once you’re across, follow along the mud covered path that circles the perimeter of the farm next door for another 5-10 minutes. Keep an ear out for the sound of water to make sure you’re on the right track.
To get down to the bottom, you have to find the Jacob’s Ladder – perilously steep stone steps that are carved into the Earth. It’s on the left side, hidden by the foliage and very easy to miss. These 200 year old steps were muddy, wet, and slippery. I clung desperately to the ropes as I made my way down the uneven steps, taking care not to slip.
Once we’ve made it down to the bottom, we were rewarded with a gorgeous mix of colors. The surrounding rock and water is a rusty color from the red sandstone. The rock walls are covered in bright green moss, giving this place a pre-historic feel. In the mid afternoon, the dappled sunlight sparkled across the water. It was a lovely day, so there were a lot of people at the bottom taking pictures of the gorge.
To get across to the pulpit, you have to wade in knee-high freezing water. Even with wellies, it’s inevitable that you’ll get wet. We played around for a little bit splashing in the water and took some pictures and then came right back up.