Scotland is one of THE best countries in the world to take a road trip. Here are 20 of my favourite routes, many of them easily linkable for longer trips. Note: Place names located above the central belt of Scotland have been translated into Scottish Gaelic to help with navigation.
1. Selkirk → Moffat (Scottish Borders, A708)
From Selkirk, cruise up the side of St Mary’s Loch, at the head of the Yarrow Valley in the heart of the Scottish Southern Uplands. Stop at Tibbie Shiels Inn for an excellent pub lunch. The surrounding area forms a nature reserve spanning 922 hectares, owned by the National Trust for Scotland. To work off lunch, climb up the pass and drop down to view one of Scotland’s finest waterfalls, the Grey Mare’s Tail. The Southern Uplands are a wonderland for botanics, bird watchers, and hill walkers.
2. Ayr → Turnberry (Ayrshire, A719)
As you leave the town of Ayr (Inbhir Àir, “Mouth of the River Ayr”), head south on the A719 and visit the birthplace of Robert Burns, Scotland’s most famous bard. Jump back on the coastal main road and check out the Electric Brae, or Croy Brae as it’s known locally. The hill is an optical illusion where you appear to be going uphill when actually you’re traveling down. Next, stop at Culzean (pronounced “Culain”) Castle and Country Park, where General Dwight D. Eisenhower had an apartment during the Second World War. Finish at Turnberry and enjoy a walk down the magnificent beach bordered by a championship golf course.
3. Fort William → Inverness (A82)
Follow the Caledonian Canal north from Fort William on the A82. The canal links the lochs of the Great Glen to form a maritime route from west to east, precluding the need to sail round the often stormy seas off the north coast. Stop at the Commando Memorial just north of Spean Bridge, which commemorates the men of the original British Commando Forces of World War II. Look back south and on a clear day you’ll see Ben Nevis, Scotland’s highest mountain.
Continue north along the banks of Loch Lochy (Loch Lochaidh) and Loch Oich (Loch Omhaich) to lunch in Fort Augustus. As you go further north aside Loch Ness, keep an eye out for the elusive monster, Nessie. Stop at the visitor centre just after Urquhart Castle in Drumnadrochit (Druim na Drochaid) to learn about the hunt for the monster. Continue north along the loch to Inverness, where the canal finally joins the sea spilling into the Moray Firth.
4. Crail → Elie (Fife, A917)
Drive southwest along the A917 and visit the fishing villages of the East Neuk of Fife. Don’t miss the Anstruther Fish Bar down at the harbour, one of the best chippies in Scotland. Journey on to Pittenweem and St Monans, finishing up at Ship Inn in Elie, which overlooks the natural harbour.
5. Lochgilphead → Tayvallich (Argyllshire, A816/B841/B8025)
Trace the Crinan Canal north up the A816 and turn off at Cairnbaan (An Càrn Bàn). Follow the country road all the way to Crinan (An Crìonan), where the canal opens into the Atlantic. Walk around the little harbour and look northwest across the Sound of Jura (An Linne Rosach) to the Gulf of Corryvreckan (Coire Bhreacain); whirlpools stir the sea here. Return partway along the B841 and turn south down the B8025 to Tayvallich (Taigh a’ Bhealaich), Scotland’s prettiest natural harbour tucked up Loch Sween. Enjoy the locally caught seafood at the pub in the village.
6. Balloch → Inveraray (Argyllshire, A82/A83)
Cruise north up the “bonnie banks” of Loch Lomond (Loch Laomainn) and turn left at Tarbet (An Tairbeart) onto the A83. Climb up through Glen Croe (Gleann a’ Chrò) and stop at the summit of the Rest and Be Thankful. Look back down the valley to view the old road twisting its way up the pass. Drop down off the top and stop at Loch Fyne Oysters to enjoy some of the very best of Scottish seafood. Finish up at the wedding cake, Inveraray Castle, home to the Duke and Duchess of Argyll.
7. Craignure → Tobermory (Isle of Mull, A849/B8035/B8073)
Take the ferry from Oban (An t-Òban) to Craignure on the Isle of Mull. Drive north and turn left at Salen (An t-Sàilean) onto the B8035, then right onto the B8073 up the northwest coast of the island. Stop off and take the pedestrian ferry over to Ulva (Ulbha) Island for a pint of prawns at the Boathouse. Continue to Calgary Bay, where island emigrants boarded ships for the New World after being evicted from their crofts during the Highland clearances. Enjoy a bracing swim in the Atlantic off the stunning beach. Journey on to Dervaig (Dearbhaig) and finish up at Tobermory (Tobar Mhoire), with its multicoloured houses. Don’t miss a pint in the Mishnish bar on the harbour front.
8. Salen → Ardnamurchan Point (Arnamurchan Peninsula, B8007)
Follow the edge of Loch Sunart (Loch Shuaineart) west along one of the most challenging roads in the country through Glenborrodale (Gleann Bhorghdail). Keep an eye out for red deer as you swing inland through the hunting estate of the same name, then stop off at the Kilchoan Hotel. Continue west to the lighthouse at Ardnamurchan Point, the most westerly point on mainland Scotland. Backtrack 3 miles and turn north to Sanna Bay. Stop at the end of the road and walk down to one of the most beautiful beaches in Scotand — skinnydip if you dare!
9. Crianlarich → Ballachulish (A82)
Follow the West Highland Way (Slighe na Gàidhealtachd an Iar) north to Tyndrum (Taigh an Droma) past the Green Welly shop. Climb up onto the moon-like landscape of the Great Moor of Rannoch, past the ski centre, before dropping down through the stunning scenery of Glen Coe (Gleann Comhan), site of the massacre of the MacDonalds by the English. Take time to stop and try to spot the many climbers and walkers on the surrounding Munros (mountains reaching over 3,000 feet).
10. Pitlochry → Aberfeldy (Perthshire, B8019/B846/A827)
Go west from Pitlochry (Baile Chloichrigh) to Loch Tummel (Loch Teimhil). Stop at Queens View for a look at the stunning view favoured by Queen Victoria. At Tummel Bridge, continue west to Loch Rannoch (Loch Raineach) and on to Rannoch Station, the most remote railway station in the UK. Return along the unmarked road on the south side of the loch, then turn right over the hill. Take a detour right to Fortingall and down to Fearnan on the banks of Loch Tay (Loch Tatha). Turn left along the loch to Kenmore at its head, then on to Aberfeldy following the banks of the River Tay, Scotland’s most famous salmon river.
11. Fort William → Mallaig (Inverness-shire, A830)
Take the A830 west from Fort William along the Road to the Isles. Stop at Glenfinnan (Gleann Fhionghain) to admire the railway viaduct made famous in a number of Harry Potter films, particularly The Chamber of Secrets. Walk down to the shores of Loch Shiel (Loch Seile) and view the monument where Bonnie Prince Charlie called for the local clansmen to assemble in 1745, proclaiming the throne of Great Britain to be denounced and rightfully returned to his family, the Stuarts. Continue on to Mallaig (Malaig), where the road finishes at the ferry to the Isle of Skye (Eilean a’ Cheò).
12. Armadale → Elgol (Isle of Skye, A851)
Take the ferry from Mallaig over the sea to Skye. Visit Grumpy George’s shop on the right as you come off the ferry and say hi to his parrots, then drive north up the A851 till you reach the A87. Turn left, then left again after two miles onto the B8083. Follow this challenging road all the way to the end at Elgol (Ealaghol). Park and take in the views south to the islands of Eigg (Eige), Rhum (Rùm), and Canna (Canaigh). Grab the picnic and catch the boat across the bay, then walk up to Loch Coruisk (Coire Uisg) into the natural amphitheatre of the Black Cuillin and marvel at the scale of the mountains.
13. Kelso → Duns (Scottish Borders)
Follow the Jim Clark Rally, the only closed-road motorsport event on mainland UK, over the Scottish bank holiday weekend in May. Action takes place across the “Merse,” the rich rolling farmland in the Tweed Valley. Don’t miss fish and chips at the iconic Duns chippie.
14. Invergarry → Plockton (A87)
Leave Invergarry (Inbhir Garadh) west along the north side of Loch Garry (Loch Garraidh). As you climb up from the loch, stop at the viewpoint and drink in the view west up the glen. Turn left past Loch Cluanie through Glen Shiel (Gleann Seile), where the Five Sisters ridge (three of which are Munros) dominates the view to your right. Drop down to Shiel Bridge, and at the head of Loch Duich (Loch Dubhthaich) is the iconic Eilean Donan castle built on a small island. After Kirkton, turn right off the A87 onto an unclassified road over to Plockton, which fringes a natural harbour just inside Loch Carron (Loch Carrann). Try either the Plockton Hotel or the Plockton Inn for excellent seafood.
15. Lochcarron → Sheildaig (A896/Unclassified)
From Lochcarron, drive west to Kishorn (Loch Ciseòrn), then turn left onto the unclassified road toward Applecross (Chomraich, or “Sanctuary”), up over the Bealach na Bà (“Pass of the Cattle”). This is THE road to experience in Scotland — it goes from sea level to over 2,000 feet in just five miles. The pass is so called as this was the drovers’ route with their cattle on the way to market in Glasgow. Before you drop down the other side round the numerous hairpins, stop to take in the view across the sea to Skye.
At Applecross, stop at the inn for fantastic seafood and the craic — Judith Fish, the owner, is a legend. Turn north up the coast of the peninsula, and after a few miles look out for a small bothy (hut) at the north end of a beautiful beach. This was the home of the TV broadcaster and marine biologist Monty Halls and Reuben his dog in the summer of 2008 for the series Great Hebridean Escape. Take a walk down for a look around, but be careful not to stray onto the military installation next door. Continue north to Shieldaig (Sìldeag), where you rejoin the A896.
16. Aviemore → Findhorn (Inverness-shire, A95/A941)
Leave Aviemore (An Aghaidh Mhòr) north on the “old road” up Strathspey Valley. Don’t miss the opportunity to visit one of the leading malt whisky distilleries along the trail — my favourite is Dalwhinnie. Turn left to Elgin (Eilginn), then left again onto the A96.
Just before Forres (Farrais), turn right to Kinloss (Cinn Lois) and onto Findhorn (Inbhir Èireann), where in 1962 “hippies” set up camp. Believing they were in contact with extraterrestrials through telepathy, they prepared a landing strip for flying saucers at nearby Cluny Hill. Today, it has become a charitable trust, the Findhorn Foundation, and includes an award-winning ecovillage community. Finally, take the opportunity to visit the beach, one of the most impressive on the east coast.
17. Ullapool → Achiltibuie (A835/Unclassified)
Go north from Ullapool (Ulapul), then left onto an unclassified road. Drive up the north side of Loch Lurgainn, with the mountains of Cul Beag and Stac Pollaidh on your right. Turn right, south down to Achiltibuie (Achd Ille Bhuidhe, or “Field of the Yellow-Haired Boy”) and visit the Summer Isles Hotel, which overlooks the islands of the same name, a summer haunt of the Royal family on the Royal Yacht Britannia. The yacht is now moored in Leith, Edinburgh — definitely worth a visit.
18. Durness → John O’Groats (A838/A836)
Drive the route along the roof of mainland Scotland. From Durness (Diùranais), go east on the A838, past Tongue (Tunga); Bettyhill (Am Blàran Odhar), which has a great pub; and then onto Thurso (Inbhir Theòrsa). Take a detour left to Dunnet Head (Ceann Dùnaid), the northernmost point on mainland UK. On a clear day you can see the Orkney Islands to the north. Visit the Castle of Mey, the former holiday home of the Queen Mother, before finishing up at John O’Groats (Taigh Iain Ghròt).
19. Banchory → Blairgowrie (Aberdeenshire, A93)
Start at Banchory (Beannchar) and drive west up upper Deeside to Ballater (Bealadair), then onto Crathie and past Balmoral, the Scottish holiday home of the British Royal family, which they visit every summer. Go on to Braemar, then south past the ski slopes and over the Spittal of Glenshee before dropping down into Perthshire and finishing at Blairgowrie, the “raspberry capital” of Scotland.