ROAD TRIP AROUND SCOTLAND: DAY 1
Scotland is home to some stunning, untouched countryside: dramatic mountains, deep lochs, steep sea cliffs, and wonderfully fluffy highland cows. And what is a better way to experience all of it than touring these rugged landscapes by car? Without much hesitation, myself and a friend of mine decided to take on a self-guided driving tour of this beautiful country.
Even though we did not have much time on our hands, we wanted to see as much as possible. Our handcrafted itinerary included a driving distance of 889km (552mi) or nearly 13.5 hours travelling in the course of three days. Since we were travelling in July, when the sun does not set here until 22:00, it allowed us to drive until later in the evening and therefore fit quite a lot in one travelling day.
The tour started and ended in Glasgow, covering two national parks, numerous lochs, and plenty of charming towns and cosy villages along the way. This route took us through some of the country's most breath-taking scenery in the highlands to the northeast coast, in Inverness, and the west coast, in Mallaig. Click on the map above to see all the stops on the tour.
DAY 1. DRIVING DISTANCE: 281km/175mi
GLASGOW >> STIRLING >> PERTH >> AVIEMORE >> INVERNESS
We picked up our rental car from the Glasgow Airport at about 14:00 and hit the road. The first stop on the route is Stirling, an wee historic city. Stirling is mainly known for its 14th-century stone castle that sits atop atop an extinct volcano, 72m above the plateaux. This castle is one of the largest, finest, and most important in Scotland, one of the reasons being its location. Surrounded by steep cliffs, it has a strong defensive position that played a key role during the 13th and 14th century Wars of Independence.
Today, visitors can have a glimpse life in favourite royal residence of many of the Stuart kings and queens, following a £12 million project to restore the royal fortress to its Renaissance grandeur. The castle also offers amazing panoramic views over the city and surrounding valleys
Allow for at least 30 min to explore the city. Stirling makes for a great stop to stretch your legs and walk those cobbled streets of the well-preserved Old Town and the winding Back Walk footpath, the oldest publicly maintained road in Scotland. Built between 1724 and 1791, it follows the old city walls going uphill and encircles the castle.
STIRLING >> PERTH
About 45 min on the country road with forests and farms around us, and we got to our next stop, Perth. Once upon a time, this small city on the banks of the river Tay was Scotland's de facto capital for five centuries due to the frequent residence of the royal court. As it grew and expended, the city built its prosperity on weaving, fishing, and brewing industries (it is home to Dewar's and Bell's, both whiskey distilleries). Later on, Perth also gained the nickname 'The Fair City', thanks to Sir Walter Scott's work Fair Maid.
With that in mind, we expected to spend a bit of time here, but soon realised there was not much to see in the city itself. Provided we were there around 6 o'clock on a Saturday evening, Perth seemed very quiet and altogether underwhelming. However, while the town centre does not live up to the image set up by its great past, you will find a couple of castles in the surrounding areas - Balhousie Castle and Huntingtower Castle might help make this stop a bit more interesting.
PERTH >> AVIEMORE
After Perth, the road takes you into the highlands and the Cairngorms National Park. From here, Aviemore is about two hours away. This is the longest yet also the most picturesque leg of the first days's journey - the Scotland of postcards and travel brochures comes to life. Your camera will have a work out capturing the lush forest, lochs, glens, rivers, and mountains.
Funny enough, the English and the Gaelic names of the park do not quite align. Whereas the Cairngorms National Park gets its name from the single mountain Cairn Gorm (An Càrn Gorm), which means 'blue or green hill', the Gaelic name Am Monadh Ruadh would be translated as 'red hills". What colour the mountains are - blue, green or red - you should see for yourself.
This national park is one of the two established in Scotland as of today. It covers 4,528 km2 - that's bigger than Luxembourg and three times the size of the city of Greater London! So, not that small. Had we had a couple more days to spend in Scotland, I would have loved to explore this national park a bit better. For example, the hidden Loch an Eilein would make for a great photography spot (there is a 13th-century island castle!), whereas Kingussie and Newtonmore would be amazing for hiking. There are also 480km of cycling routes throughout the park that go through quiet roads as well as off-road trails. In winter, the Cairngorms become a popular ski destination.
AVIEMORE >> INVERNESS
Finally, we got to Inverness shortly after 21:00. We enjoyed some incredible views while getting there - the sun setting down on the Moray Firth and the Great Glen in the evening glow made a great welcome.
Despite dating back to the 12 century, the city hardly has any buildings of historical significance and real age standing today. The Old Town is mainly comprised of constructions from the period of the Caledonian Canal, which was completed in 1822. It is worth taking a stroll along the banks of the River Ness to the Inverness Cathedral and the Old High Church and through the Ness Islands to see Inverness at its best.
We were there on a Saturday night, and the Old Town had plenty of lively pubs and bars to have a drink or enjoying a ceilidh session (live Scottish folk music and traditional dancing). There are a couple of restaurants that still serve food at this hour as well, so you won't be left starving after a long day of driving.
We stayed at CityHeart Campus Accommodation on the outskirts of Inverness, which serves as student accommodation during the school year and tourist apartments in the summer. Almost brand new (opened in 2015), this place offers all necessary facilities for a short stay. My friend and I were quite impressed by how well-equipped and high-tech this place is, especially provided it is a university dorm. Our room had an en-suite shower room, a small double bed (3/4 size), a desk, and a wardrobe. We also had access to the living space and kitchen with a microwave, a fridge, a kettle, an oven/stove, and a toaster that is shared with a few other rooms. There is also WiFi in all rooms. Overall, we enjoyed our stay here and would recommend it to others.
However, this place might not be ideal for those who are not travelling by car as the campus is located about 3.2km (2 mi) away from the city centre. While there are buses running to and from the centre, I am not sure how frequent and reliable they are. The campus grounds were really pleasant, though, and a supermarket was just a short walk away.
>> How to get to here: Glasgow Airport, the second-busiest in Scotland, is situated 15.9 km from Glasgow city centre. It operates routes throughout Europe, North America and the Middle East. Alternatively, you can fly into Edinburgh.
Have you been to Glasgow or done a road trip around Scotland? Share in the comments below!
Happy travels! x
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