July'15 - Scotland and Iceland (part 1)

Community Highlights Europe July'15 - Scotland and Iceland (part 1)

In November'14, we watched an amazing TV documentary on Iceland. And a week after we watched Ben Stiller's movie "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" which had partly been shot in Iceland showing some of its wonderful landscapes.
We then decided early December'14 that Iceland will be our destination for the next summer holidays. But when looking at the map, I was thinking... why not stopping in Scotland on our way to Iceland :-) ?

Scotland is twice as big as Belgium and Iceland is three times bigger. So, when planning the road trips, my first question was how to squeeze Scotland and Iceland in two weeks? Hmm, quite challenging...
Well, as we wanted to see as much as possible in Iceland, the ring road was a no-brainer.
In Scotland, we really wanted to see the Highlands and the Isle of Skye.
So, first I had to find a flight from Scotland to Iceland and, based on that, design my 7-day road trip in Scotland with the airport as final destination. I found some cheap one-way tickets to Iceland from Edinburgh airport (flying easyJet). So Edinburgh's gonna be our final stop in Scotland.

I spent a week reading lots of materials on Scotland and Iceland (traveller's guides, blogs, web sites,...), building lots of different itineraries, searching and booking hotels/B&B/rental cars/... to finally end up with the following 1-week road trip in Scotland followed by another 1-week road trip in Iceland:


This article will outline our 1-week road trip in Scotland. The 1-week road trip in Iceland is available in part 2 (soon to come).

Scotland spectacular driving routes

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As you may have read from my post on our Noway's road trip, I do believe that road trips are a great way to experience a new country and I really enjoy driving the most beautiful scenic routes a country has to offer.
Scotland proposes 13 spectacular driving routes providing scenic alternatives to the main roads, with a range of great attractions en route.
Starting from Aberdeen, we'll drive part of the Deeside Tourist Route till ballater.
Then, we'll drive a portion of the Highland Tourist Route in the Cairngorms National Park.
After visiting the famous Loch Ness we'll drive up North till Durness partially through the Moray Firth Tourist Route.
Then all way down the North and West Highlands driving a large part of the famous North Coast 500.
After that, we'll drive around the Isle of Skye (no Tourist Route there - strange) and on our way to Edinburgh, we won't take any Tourist route due to lack of time.

What surprised me all along the road trip was the narrowness but also the quietness of the roads. Most of the time, we really felt alone in the middle of nowhere surrounded by breathtaking scenery and wild landscapes. Most of the small roads in the highlands are single track roads but they usually have plenty of passing places in case you cross someone else. Many roads in upland sheep-rearing areas are unfenced, and sheep have vanishingly little road sense. But it's not just sheep: it's not uncommon to come across cattle or even goats or deers on the road like it happened to us.

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Day 1: from Belgium to Aberdeen (125 km)

If Edinburgh was our final destination in Scotland (to take our flight to Iceland), I had several options for the first day in Scotland.
As I had some spare Avios points to spend, BA's gonna fly us from Brussels to Heathrow and then from Heathrow to Scotland, either to Glasgow or Edinburgh or Aberdeen. The only flight I found with 4 Avios seats was to Aberdeen.
So I had to build our 1-week itinerary from Aberdeen to Edinburgh and make sure I could rent a car in Aberdeen and return it to Edinburgh. I ended up with the following 1600 km road trip:

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See the itinerary of this trip, and details about each destination.

We were finishing packing up everything the day before the flight when I received at 6:30pm a laconic text message from BA telling me the flight from Heathrow to Aberdeen had just been cancelled! Oops... Not really the kind of news you expect several hours before travelling.
15 minutes later, I received an email confirming the flight cancellation and that BA was busy reallocating seats to other flights... some to Aberdeen but some others to Glasgow or Edinburgh as well. I immediately phoned BA call center to tell them I had to land in Aberdeen as I'd booked a rental car there with a B&B around there. A couple of hours later, I finally got the confirmation we'd been moved to another flight to Aberdeen 3 hours later than the initial schedule.

On D-day, all flights were on-schedule and we landed in Aberdeen around 2pm. Time to pick up our luggage and get the keys of our rental car and we were ready start our journey on Scotland soil. But it was my very first time right-hand driving and it took me a couple of minutes to find new reference points, especially guessing the front left part of the car when you have to keep left on a narrow road. Hopefully, I rented an automatic so one less problem. As I started driving from Aberdeen airport with some traffic, I could get used to right-hand driving by following local cars. And it was extremely helpful the first time I arrived to a roundabout. Finally, it was much easier than I feared. The only difficulty is when you're driving alone and you arrive to a crossing. When turning left or right, you have to remember to take the right lane...

As we arrived later than initially expected, we had to skip some visits like the one to Crathes castle. We headed straight to Dunnottar castle but we arrived just after closing time. Anyway, external access was still open.

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As it was already late, we drove till Ballater to reach the guest hotel No 45 in Ballater (very nice and cosy rooms with very good breakfast).

Day 2: Ballater - Balmoral - Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle (200 km)

We started the second day of our Scotland road trip by visiting the Balmoral Castle and its gardens. Balmoral Castle is one of two personal and private residences owned by The Royal Family.

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Next we drove North-West through the Cairngorms National Park with lovely landscapes showing lots of gradient of green. We also drove next to the isolated Corgarff castle.

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On the East side of the Loch Ness, we also stopped at Falls of Foyers waterfall. Afterwards we drove up the West side of the Loch Ness to stop at the famous Urquhart Castle.

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At the end of the day, we stayed one night in the very nice Loch Ness Inn at Lewiston.

Day 3: Lewiston - Easter Ross - Sutherland - Durness - Kylesku (290 km)

This day was our longest drive towards the North of the Highlands passing through the rugged landscapes of Easter Ross and Sutherland, two of the most breathtaking and untouched parts of Scotland. Sutherland (Europe’s “last great wilderness” as they advertised - so true) makes up a significant portion of the North Coast 500 and is often broken in to two sections; North West Sutherland and East Sutherland. We didn't drive East Sutherland but Middle Sutherland to reach North West Sutherland.
We stopped at the Falls of Shin waterfall where you can watch salmon hurl themselves up the falls, attempting to return to their place of birth to spawn. Well we didn't see any but it was not the season.
At Lairg, we couldn't take the road along Loch Shin towards Kylesku because it was surprisingly closed forcing us the take the only road up North to Tongue, Durness and then down to Kylesku. Although it was longer than foreseen, it was worth the trip as we saw beautiful wild landscapes, making us feel alone in the middle of Sutherland without any house or car for miles. And the coastal road around Durness showed us unexpected and splendid mediterranean-like sandy beaches.

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As it was already running late, we've had to skip Cape Wrath and we kept on driving the North Coast 500 west and down to Scourie and Kylesku. If Kylesku is known for its bridge, it's also known for its beautiful Kylesku Hotel, a 17th century old coaching inn on the shores of Loch Glendhu, where we stayed for the night. The hotel has been awarded several times and it truly deserves it (the best place to rest and eat of our whole trip). The place is so quiet (as the ferry slipway is no longer used thanks to the bridge) and the view on the Loch is breathtaking.

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Day 4: Kylesku - Ardvreck castle - Ullapool - Gairloch - Torridon (250 km)

This place is so quiet that, when I woke up in the morning, I was pleasantly surprised to watch two deers walking around the hotel parking. Awesome!

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The Kylesku hotel's landlady recommended us to drive the coastal road B869 (still on the North Coast 500) up to the Stoer Lighthouse where a lady was tracking dolphins, grey seals and whales out at sea. And she was there in her van with a blackboard recording the dates and hours when she spotted dolphins and whales in the Minch. Amazing. We didn't see any of them but the views were superb.

Next we drove to the Ardvreck Castle built by the Macleod Clan in the fifteenth century on a promontory of land that juts into Loch Assynt.

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We entered Wester Ross and the scenery and landscapes until Ullapool are splendid.

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Still driving down the North Coast 500, we passed next to another beautiful sandy beach at Gruinard Beach.

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And the landscapes kept on showing all their beauties as we drove down to Gairloch and Kinlochewe up to the Torridon Inn, our final destination of the day.

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Day 5: Torridon - Applecross - Eilean Donan - Isle of Skye (230 km)

This day was our last day on the North Coast 500 route with a spectacular drive on the winding coast road of the Applecross wild peninsula in Wester Ross. The views out across the bay to Raasay and Skye were incredible.

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After these amazing views, we drove up to and visited the famous Eilean Donnan Castle.

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And the day was not yet over since we had to cross the Kyle of Lochalsh bridge to enter the Isle of Skye and drive up to Uig, our final destination of the day.

Day 6: Uig - Dunvegan - Fort William - Onich (280 km)

A single day to view all the wonders of Skye is sure not enough but we had no other choice as our road trip in Scotland had to fit in a week and Iceland was waiting for us.
We started visiting the Quiraing, one of the most photographed landscapes in Scotland. And it's worth the visit. The landscapes seemed to change at every move of clouds with different shades of green. We had no time for the walk but the views were still splendid.

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Still in the North of Skye, we drove to Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls.

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Five minutes below, we stopped again to hike the "hidden" Brother's Point (aka Rubha nam Brathairean) with stunning views on a waterfall.

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Back in the car and 10 minutes later, another stop to the Old Man of Storr, properly the most famous walk on the Island. We didn't take the whole walk but just enough to take some pictures of the beautiful landscapes.

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Afterwards, we drove West to the famous Dunvegan Castle and Gardens, the ancestral home of the Chiefs of clan MacLeod for 800 years.

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What a beautiful day on the Isle of Skye but it's yet time to leave and go back to the main land via the Glenelg ferry, the last turntable ferry in Scotland, crossing the Kylerhea Narrows.

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We passed along Fort Williams and the famous Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in British Isles. Another place that would have deserved a longer stay for hill climbing but that's gonna be for our next visit.

We reached the Creag Mhor Lodge Guesthouse to stay for the night (note: the guesthouse featured a whisky Bar with 340 different single malts!).

Day 7: Onich - Glencoe - Trossachs - Stirling - Edinburgh

And this was already our last day in Scotland. We started with the Three Sisters of Bidean nam Bian in Glen Coe with stunning landscapes... and our first bagpiper.

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We kept on driving through Glen coe, Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park to reach Edinburgh airport at the end of the afternoon where we returned our car, checked in and took off to... Iceland for another amazing week...

What a week in Scotland! It totally met our expectations with so many breathtaking wild landscapes making you feel at the "edge of the world".
I knew that we would miss some places due to lack of time but I really wanted to go through most of them to discover which ones really deserve spending more time... for another future road trip in Scotland :-)

This featured blog entry was written by frncks from the blog Travel Memories.
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By frncks

Posted Wed, Feb 20, 2019 | Scotland | Comments