Hit the road
While a Scottish road trip may not have the romance of crossing America on Route 66, or the buttock-clenching terror of a single track route through the Andes, it does offer some great scenery and a chance to explore the country. Hire or borrow a campervan or motorhome and hit the road. You could even pack up the car with some camping equipment and rough it in the wilds, or check in to some of Scotland’s best hotels along the way for a more sophisticated experience. Here are some of our favourite routes…
If you have a week to ten days to spare, head up to Shetland on the Northlink Ferry out of Aberdeen.
Shetland offers some superb diving and water sports, including surfing and stand-up paddle boarding and a wealth of prehistoric heritage. Nature lovers can spot seals, whales, dolphins and otters as well as feisty little Shetland ponies. Noss Nature Reserve is home to sixty thousand squabbling seabirds, so a hat is strongly advised. There are plenty of outlying islands to visit too.
There’s something for everyone from the fire festivals in January, to the Northern Lights, the food festival in October and this year, the Tall Ships are visiting form 26-29th July.
From Shetland, it’s back on the ferry to Orkney, which offers up a great road-trip blend of history, local artists and craftspeople and artisanal food and drink. Unmissable attractions include Skara Brae, Maes Howe, the Ring of Brodgar and the chapel built and decorated by Italian prisoners of war. Orkney abounds in designer-makers, particularly jewellery makers, and there’s a host of galleries and craft shops worth visiting. If you’re looking for something for your home, visit Leo Kerr mirrors, settle on a traditional Orkney chair from Scapa Crafts, or pop in to the sublimely named Harray Potter.
Back to the mainland. The short crossing from Stromness to Scrabster is sometimes challenging for those who get sea-sick, but the journey through the empty reaches of Scotland’s far north are worth it. From here you have a choice, you can head through Thurso, perhaps with a detour to the Castle of Mey and John O’Groats before picking up the coast road through Wick, Brora and Helmsdale and through Dornoch, the Black Isle and Inverness, or you can head right to the beach and Caravan Park at Bettyhill. Pick up some provisions in Tongue, then take the A836 down the banks of Loch Loyal, through Altnaharra and past Loch Shin. It’s a deserted road and a desolate landscape where the only other living thing might be a Golden Eagle soaring overhead. The empty miles make your first sighting of Lairg feel like Las Vegas. From here, you’ll pass through Bonar Bridge, the Black Isle
and back over to Moray.
If you’re looking for a shorter break that packs a lot in, then consider the South West Coastal 300. It’s a gentle route that winds through green hills, picturesque villages and beguiling coastlines. The route includes Galloway Forest Park, Scotland’s first Dark Park, which is perfect for star gazing. You can meander through castles and picnic in the ruins of Sweetheart Abbey.
The route offers plenty of sandy beaches in the Mull of Galloway, though Rockcliffe’s stony strand offers the chance to roll up your trousers and guddle about like a seven-year-old with a shrimping net, exploring for strange marine creatures.
If art and literature’s more your style, then Kirkcudbright’s many galleries and the bookshops of Wigtown should be on your list of stops. The route heads north and inland to pass through Wanlockhead and Leadhills with a narrow gauge railway and a mining museum. You can have a go at gold-panning and, if you’re lucky, your finds may just pay for the trip!