TABLE OF CONTENTS
Prior to our departure in mid april 2014 we conducted quite a bit of research. Apart from watching several documentaries on YouTube , we found quite a few good things to know on visitscotland.com but mostly relied on the Lonely Planet guidebook “Scotland’s Highlands and Islands” (ISBN: 9781740595377, approx. 16,50 EUR). We also used the Great Britain Super Scale Road Atlas 2014 (A-Z Road Atlas: 9781843489511, approx. 17,50 EUR), and MotionX GPS (http://gps.motionx.com/ )- an app for the Apple iPad which lets you download fantastic, super scale street/terrain maps (maps are free) so you can navigate even if you are offline. We also used this app to record our route – a truly fantastic piece of software. Last but not least we had a little map of the whole of Scotland, which we used to mark all the things we wanted to see and the most important roads we wanted to take. Like this we always had a very good overview throughout the planning and at all stages of the trip.
There are a few things you might want to consider before setting of on your own Scottish adventure: – mobile broadband service: if you want/need to stay online during your trip to the most northern lands of Great Britain, be warned that this might prove to be a challenge. We bought a data SIM for the iPad from O2 which proved to be useless. Unless you are in one of the main cities (Edinburgh, Glasgow, Fort William, Inverness, etc.) you’ll have no data coming through at all. Some towns will have GPRS signal, but that takes too long for most modern websites – even Google Maps gave up! Your better option is to buy a data SIM from Orange (a.k.a. EE in the UK). They have the best infrastructure and are your best bet to surf the net. – fuel prices: unfortunately for all drivers of thirsty vehicles such as LandCruisers, the UK is one of the worst places in the world to get fuel. Make sure to fuel up as much as possible in continental Europe before catching the ferry. If you come via Calais, go to one of the local supermarkets (Carrefour has a 24/7 station) – it’s a 1-minute detour from the road to the harbour and definitely worth it. Once in the UK you’ll find the cheapest fuel at ASDA filling stations. Slightly more expensive diesel can be found at Tesco filling stations, followed by Morrisons. Unless you have too much money to spend, avoid going anywhere else. Be aware, that the Inverness area has the last cheap fuel for a long time. One thing that helps improve your fuel efficiency is Flashlube’s Diesel Conditioner. This stuff reduced my avg. consumption from approx. 13,7l/100km to 10,7l/100km and comes in very handy whenever you need to save fuel due to long distances or outrageous prices. – cash: you wont have any problems finding ATMs in Scotland, where you can withdraw cash with your Visa or MasterCard. Just make sure to get rid of all Scottish bills before you re-enter England, as many English businesses wont accept the Scottish notes. Coins are the same – just the bills differ 😉 – headlight adaptors: if you have a left-hand-drive vehicle you will need to buy headlight adaptors, in order to not to dazzle oncoming drivers. Find out more about headlight adaptors: http://www.motoring-into-europe.co.uk/product-eurolites.html
Once we had decided on what to see, we connected all points of interest on a map and came up with the route, which would both connect the individual places and provide scenic drives on minor roads through the vast wilderness of the Scottish highlands. While planning the route I often read about it being impossible to find offroad tracks in Scotland. Indeed Scotland is not the offroad heaven per se, but if you look hard enough, you’ll find the occasional unsealed track. Especially the Caingorms National Park proved to be a vast playground for offroad enthusiasts. Don’t expect heavy offroading like the Old Telegraph Track in Australia, but there are quite a few nice unsealed tracks up the mountains which will take you away from the already isolated main road to nowhere. You’ll find other tracks elsewhere – just keep an open eye and mind and never give up – the next track may be right around the corner 🙂 Same goes for places suitable for overnight “wild” camping: there are loads of places fairly easily accessible, and others that are harder to spot: as a true overlander you’ll enjoy finding the perfect camp spot. And don’t worry about it: you WILL find a beautiful spot – just stay clear of towns and main roads, and you’ll be laughing! Another beautiful and handy thing for your wild camping experience is the abundance of fresh water. Streams, falls, lochs: you won’t run out of water – just make sure to boil it properly before consumption. So here you go, our route and camps (some wild, some on caravan parks for the occasional shower):
From Bavaria we visited family in the Rhineland (West Germany) and then continued on to Calais, where we took the ferry to Dover. This proved to be the most cost- and time-efficient way of hopping the channel. Once in left-hand-drive territory we continued to Manchester via London to see further family and friends. The next stop before actually entering Scottish soil was a daytrip through Cumbria – England’s beautiful Lake District.
Fàilte gu Alba & Edinburgh Heading to the countries capital – Edinburgh – we took the historical A7 from Carlisle and enjoyed the first glimpse of typical Scottish hills and experienced the first hint of the remoteness to come before reaching Scotlands second biggest city. Edinburgh is a must-see for all Scotland visitors, but 24 hours will be plenty of time for you to get a good first impression. Try and avoid “typical” pubs along High Street which are very touristic and branch out to the suburbs, where you are a lot more likely to find proper food and real ales.
Cairngorms National Park After spending just under 24 hours in Edinburgh we were ready to finally attack the highlands and set off towards the Cairngorms National Park – Scotland’s top ski destination in winter! Due to the fairly mild winter of 2013/2014 most of the snow had gone when we passed through – yet some summits were still partially covered with snow fields. Just south of the famous Glenshee ski resort we found an unsealed track up the mountain (travelling north you’ll pass a parking place on your right – the track starts here and you can’t miss it). There is a steel chain that can be used to close the track, but it wasn’t in place when we were there, so nothing indicated prohibited access to the track which leads right into the Glenshee ski area.
After a big loop through the Cairngorms we headed south toward Tay Forest Park and Loch Rannoch. You’ll find beautiful “wild” campsites next to the road on the northern shore, where nobody will bother you except the occasional fishing addict, searching for a good spot. Make sure to arrive early, before all campsites are occupied – but don’t worry: there are many along the road and there is enough distance between each one so you’ll feel completely alone – except for the (romantic) campfires of your fellow wild camp neighbours down the road. Next day we continued south toward the River Lyon which runs along a spectacular minor road to Loch Lyon – an absolute must-see! You’ll pass the famous Fortingall Yew Tree – possibly the oldest living being on this planet. From Loch Lyon follow a tiny and unserviced road southward towards River Lochay and Killin, where you’ll join the A827. Make sure to properly close the farm gates as you pass them if you don’t want angry farmers coming after you. 😉
From Killin we took the A827 and hit the A85 and A82 towards Glencoe. Although they are major roads with quite a bit of traffic, the landscape is spectacular and a must-see. Also, don’t miss out on the so called Scotsburgring around Loch Leven on your way to Fort William. It’s worth the detour! From Fort William it’s a lovely drive along Loch Lochy before you reach Scotland’s most famous water: Loch Ness! Make sure to take the minor road to the east of the Loch to drive North. First, this will take you to the hinterland of Loch Ness before rejoining the shores of this beautiful and never-ending loch.
After getting the last cheap diesel for a long time in Inverness, we took the A-road on the western shore of Loch Ness and headed south again towards most famous Glen Affric. Continue all the way to the end of this nature reserve to reach Loch Affric, where you can go for a stroll and discover Plodda and Dog falls.
From Glen Affric we continued up North: Vast emptiness, tiny roads, almost uninhabited, this is probably my favourite bit of the whole of Scotland. The road continues for ever and you are as alone as you’d be in the Sahara desert. If you are lucky, you’ll encounter a mob of Scottish cattle strolling along the road. Pull over and enjoy the sight of these odd looking animals with long horns and funny fur. Once we reached the coast at Tongue we headed east and continued along the Atlantic coast towards Thurso and Dunnet Head – Britain’s most northernly point.
From Dunnet Head we returned the way we came the day before (it’s worth doing it twice), enjoyed spectacular scenery to both sides – with beautiful bays to your right, and never-ending, hilly emptiness to your left – towards Durness and Ullapool down the stunning North-West coast.
From Ullapool it’s not too far to the famous Isle of Skye, where we ran out of “wild camping luck” and had to stick to caravan parks. Nevertheless, we loved our time on Skye as it is so very different to the Scottish mainland. We did a few fantastic walks to Coral Beach, Neist Point and The Old Man of Storr – which all three are must see’s for outdoor lovers as we are!
Skye is accessible over a toll-free bridge, but can also be entered and left by ferry. We opted for a tiny ferry from Kylerhea to Glenelg – yet again one of the most spectacular Glens of Scotland. From here it’s a comfortable 2 hour drive to Fort William, where you’ll find fairly affordable diesel (after Inverness), supermarkets, pubs, shops, wifi and everything else you need to prepare for the climb up Ben Nevis – Britain’s highest mountain. Make sure to see the guys at the visitor center before heading up – too many people underestimate the conditions they will face up on the sub-arctic summit and have to be rescued by helicopter. After you’ve conquered Ben Nevis drive along Glen Nevis till the end of the road and hike to some of the tallest falls of Scotland, if your feet can carry you along the rough track. If you don’t feel like walking anymore, treat yourself to the major but nonetheless stunning costal road toward Oban, where you’ll find the last Tesco (including affordable diesel) before heading towards Loch Awe – which got it’s name for a good reason. You’ll find plenty of wild camping spots along the minor road and enjoy an unforgettable sunset on the banks of this fantastic place. Next morning we continued towards Loch Lomond – the Glasgowian’s most favoured Loch. Indeed it is very beautiful and within an hours drive to Glasgow – Scotland’s biggest and busiest city. After 13 days of unforgettable roads, camps and hikes, we had to say “good bye” – for now, as we are surely coming back some day in the future 🙂