Driving Scotland | On & Beyond the NC500 & Scottish Highlands

RootlessRoutes A838 Scottish Highlands 2018

Driving Scotland is a distinctive pleasure. Like a gift, you never knew you needed or even existed. A reward you cannot believe you ever lived without. The roads of Scotland wind through the most diverse and breathtaking bits of the United Kingdom.  Rustic, often single track, these roads allow for the thrill of maneuvering along formidable pavement through some of the most alluring scenery on the planet.

It was in the Scottish Highlands that I first fell in love with Scotland. But long before the NC500. Long before ever driving a single mile of Scotland, I was already smitten. Once I got behind the wheel and experienced actually driving through Scotland, Scotland then enmeshed itself in my heart, and embedded into my soul.

I’ve now driven over 5000 miles of Scotland. It was not enough. A month long, solo trip in Autumn. Almost a month with a friend in Spring. I cannot wait to return and do it all over yet again… and then some.

Driving Scotland in Aberdeenshire 2017 RootlessRoutes
Kildrummy / Alford Scotland Aberdeenshire. Unknown sheep road 2017 Driving Scotland RootlessRoutes

England is beautiful with rolling, winding country roads. Ireland lush and exquisite, with some quite notable roadways. But driving Scotland! Have you seen the Bealach Na Ba?

Driving Scotland is pure ecstasy! If you enjoy driving as much as you enjoy visiting castles, learning of history and taking in scenic views, you simply cannot miss out on the joys of driving Scotland.

Scotland is a Land of Remarkable Variety

Even if you know Scotland, live there or have visited it. You cannot appreciate the varied spectrum of characteristics it contains within its borders, until actually driving Scotland. The NC500 carries you along the outer roads of a magnificent coast, but to drive through the depths of the Scottish Highlands is an entirely different and equally spellbinding adventure.

Across the less lauded, yet beautiful Ayrshire. Up the West Coast or through the stirring forests of Argyle. Over the fantastic Churchill causeways to the divinely anomalous Orkneys. The castle strewn, unfairly disparaged Aberdeenshire with its wildly remote sheep filled roads. The ancient, historically rich roads of the quirky Scottish Borders. Through lovely Perth onto the Old Military roads. There are far too many varied places, roads and routes to mention here.

The melange of elements that make up Scotland, become as vivid as the landscape when driving through it. The spectrum of its variety becomes infinitely striking as you roll along the road. Within the 40 miles between Glasgow and Edinburgh, the glaring differences between the two ancient cities and everything in between is palpable. Inverness, only a two hour straight shot from Glencoe on A82. Yet the unique elements of one is nowhere to be seen in the other.

Sheep on A836 while driving Scotland 2018
Northbound sheep on a Southbound drive. Driving Scotland A836 near Tongue Scottish Highlands 2018

A land both abiding and tentative. The Scottish Highlands offer greatly varied and uniquely surreal vistas, megalithic mountains, rolling plains, beautiful beaches and some of the most exhilarating roads in all of Great Britain. The lush and isolated rural roads of Aberdeenshire and the Scottish Borders are equally unique, challenging and sublime. The diversity of the Scottish landscape can make you feel as if you’ve not only driven into another country, but onto another world. Yet the one absolute when driving Scotland today, are the sheep. They have become as enduring a part of the landscape as  the heather and sedges.

Limits, Expectations & Dangers of Driving Scotland

Driving Scotland is an unique experience. Undeniably beautiful to behold. Oddly barren yet lush. At times otherworldly. The roads are narrow, often one track. Largely barely wide enough for even one vehicle, yet considered for two.

The second you see that Welcome to Scotland sign, traffic seems to collectively accelerate.  The speed limit itself does not change, but if you are not driving 80 MPH in the fast lane on an M road (which is on the right BTW). Get the Hell out of the way. There are those speed cameras, but it doesn’t seem that they are much of a deterrent for Scots.

In most of Scotland, especially in the Scottish Highlands, the police are as few and far between as are the toilets, trash bins and AT&T phone signal. I saw a police car in front of the police station on the A838 at the Kinlochbervie turn off. It was after all a police station. There was also a toilet, a red telephone box, a trash bin and low and behold cell phone signal. I pinched myself. Yep, still alive.

With no police, few guardrails and limited places to pull over, maniacal white commercial vans speed your way undaunted. Daring you to make it to a ‘Passing Place’ quickly or lose  your side view wing mirror. Shit head tourists park in said ‘Passing Places’ to take pictures. Suicidal feral goats jump into the road from out of nowhere, at the crux of a blind turn. Right as you begin to contemplate the meaning of the “Feral Goats” sign.  Filicidal sheep graze their newest lambs at the edge of the narrowest, single track, again often right after a blind turn. And I fucking love it!

Don’t Freak Out While Driving Scotland

This may make some people totally freak out. But I don’t get nervous. Not even remotely anxious. I become exhilarated. My senses, innately focused. Honed in on my surroundings, distinctly alert to my driving and everything around me. I guess you could say, I become with one the road “Ohm” Yeah so… you get my point.

RootlessRoutes A836 Tongue Scotland 2018
A836 Kyle of Tongue. Scotland road trip 2018 Driving Scotland

The speed limit on A roads in Scotland is 60 MPH UOI (unless otherwise indicated). I’m talking about miles per hour, not those measly kilometers to which you Europeans are so accustomed. M class roads ( the major motorways) are 70 MPH  UOI. Most roads do NOT have speed limit signs, because you are meant to know this. B roads vary, but for the most part I found them to be 60 MPH.

Transport Scotland manages 95% of the trunk roads in Scotland. Scotland’s trunk road network is as diverse as is its scenery. The trunk road network is 3,507 km (2,179 miles) long, including slip roads and roundabouts. Ranging from the somewhat intimidating 10 lane M8 in Glasgow’s center, to the scrawniest of single track carriageways in the west Highlands. But there are far more roads there than this. God only knows who maintains them.

Police are few, because they are unneeded. Know the rules of the road and the speed limits. Drive courteously and with confidence and care. The lack of police does not mean it is an idiots free for all like in the US.

More to See & Do When Driving Scotland

To visit Scotland means an unfathomable variety of  places to see and things do. Castles, neolithic and historic ruins, the Scots themselves. A county full of rich history, ancient cities and equally ancient pubs. Vast open vistas, monolithic mountains, fairy pools, flags and glens. Azure water beaches, alien like landscapes, the list goes on and on. When driving Scotland you get to add the many grand roads and routes you can experience to this already jam packed list.

There are so many fantastic road trips and routes to take when driving Scotland. I will mention only a few here and as I post about them, I shall connect the information here as well. Let’s start with the mother of all Scottish roads, the Bealach Na Ba!

The Bealach Na Ba / Pass of the Cattle -Applecross Peninsula – Scottish Highlands

An extremely narrow, crazily winding, one track, mountainous road with near 20% gradients, deadly hairpin turns, blind spots and suicidal sheep. The Bealach Na Ba consists of a “High Road” and a “Low Road” to Applecross. Both are exciting, but obviously, the high road is a bit more fun. I had no choice but to take the low road up, due to the Bealach Beag cycling event. I took the High Road down and then headed over to Shieldaig.

Applecross itself is minute, but stunningly beautiful. As is Shieldaig. The drive was absolutely thrilling. Give yourself at least 2 hours and stop off for a bite in Applecross.

If you are not a confident left side of the road driver, do NOT do it. And if you are driving an RV up there, you are an asshole! The speed limit is 60 MPH and the passing places are NOT for stopping for a view or pictures.

“Narrow road – no more than three sheep abreast”

A836 Tongue – Tain  & Tongue – John O Groat – Highlands

Read about driving the A836 here

Considered the most remote category A road in Scotland. A836 narrows to nearly a bike path at some sections and opens up to a dual carriage roadway in others. It runs east west along the North Coast, as part of the NC500. The remotest part of the A836 runs north south. Straight through the middle of the Highlands, is this far less trafficked and wonderful driving route. You can do them both by taking the A9 to A836 all the way around to A9 again.

A838 Tongue – Durness –  Lairg – Tongue – Highlands

Connecting at A836 at Tongue, this wonderful drive that winds through some extremely challenging mountainous and wonderfully scenic road, then on to the gorgeous beach of Durness. Shortly from there it begins to head more south, through Laird and back to A836 where you can head North back to Tongue or South East to Tain on A836. You pass 5 amazing lochs on the A838. There is a rest stop,  at the turn off to Rhiconich.

A82 Inverness – Urquhart Castle – Loch Ness – Highlands

This 17 mile route runs along Loch Ness, giving you ample opportunity and well marked verges, at which you can stop and view the lovely loch. I believe it to be a dual carriageway the entire way and a fairly easy drive. A good test of your skills and confidence as huge tour buses speed by at what seems only inches to us more accustomed to wider roads.  The route blooms a bright yellow when the Gorse is in bloom and it has just enough winding and bending bits to offer a wee thrill. You drive right through the village of Loch Ness where you can stop for a bite and Urquhart Castle is well worth a visit for absolutely anyone.

A93 / A939 Perth – Ballater – Aberdeen or Grantown on Spey – Aberdeenshire (OLD MILITARY ROAD)

80 miles of sheer ecstacy to drive. I drove part of this route by accident and freaked out a little. Then went back to do the entire thing. My exaltations on the GoPro are hysterical. An easier, but thrilling ride on a well maintained road

Pick up A93 at Perth and head northeast for Braemer. At Bridge of Cally, your heart will start to race as the road rises. I believe this is where I exclaim to an empty car, “are you f***ing kidding me?” Once past Glenshee Ski Station, it is a jaw dropping ride towards Braemar. Check your fuel, use the toilet now, there isn’t a damned thing around until the next Ski Station at best.

You have a choice at Braemar to head to Aberdeen, which is a nice ride and driving through the rural sheep roads of Aberdeenshire is highly recommended.  Or turn north on A939 and head for Moray. If you follow the A939 and signs to Grantown-on-Spey, the drive becomes even more thrilling. The drop once past the ski station at Lecht is a thrill for cyclists, motorbikers and autos alike. (and for suicidal sheep as shown in the video). Once you think it is over as the scenery begins to dull, there is a short but spectacular drive onto Grantown-on-Spey.

A961 – St Margarets Hope – Churchill Causeways – Kirkwall – Orkney

I landed on Orkney in the wake of hurricane Maria, completely unprepared and ignorant of the Churchill Causeways. This series of four causeways link the mainland to the smaller islands. Built in the 1940s, primarily as naval defences, they now connect A961 to Kirkwall (where I stayed) and Burwick.

I braved the insanely rough seas with my trusty Mitsubishi Outlander Hybrid on the ferry from Scrabster to St Margarets Hope.  The causeway was insane. Huge waves slammed into the car so hard it pushed it from its lane. Through the rain, waves, mist and a wee bit of hysteria, I saw sunken ships within the wake. Of course my GoPro had just timed out.

RootlessRoutes 2017 photo courtesy of Ian Balcomb
How the barriers looked on my first  crossing it. BBC photo by Ian Balcomb

Going back to do it again once I had checked in I found that the weather had greatly calmed. Later I was told the waves often bring rocks with them that dent cars and break windows. Regardless, driving the mainland of Orkney is well worth the drive. I regret having only three days there. I drove every main road and road in between that I could find.

Aberdeenshire The Castle Circle

Rural unmapped farm roads with blind entrances, fearless sheep, gorse so high you cannot see around the bend and in the east, the unexpected view of a red ferrari in the rearview easily exceeding 100 MPH. Please check back for this thorough route. I will attach it here once complete.

A836 Tongue to Tain | Scotland Road Trip | Scottish Highlands

2018 RootlessRoutes A836 Scotland road trip Scottish Highlands

The A836 in the Scottish Highlands. Made up of steep gradients and sharp turns, that wind through a bleakly stunning and starkly remote landscape. One of Scotland’s most stunning drives, the A836 is a distinctly Highland route. An awe inspiring journey, this “must do” Scotland road trip culminates and ends within the farthest reaches of the Scottish Highlands. It is the northernmost A-class road on mainland Great Britain. Truly off the beaten path!

A formidable drive, the A836 consists of 122 miles of variable types of roadway. The mainly coastal route runs 58 East West miles along the North Coast from John O’Groats to Tongue, making up part of the NC500. The other 64 miles run North to South-ish from Tongue to Tain. You cannot get much further off the beaten path, than driving the Tongue to Tain section of the A836, unless going off road. This isolated length of stimulating road, cuts through some of the most secluded and foreboding bits of the Scottish Highlands, offering one Hell of a ride.

RootlessRoutes A836 Tongue Scotland 2018
A836 Kyle of Tongue. Scotland road trip 2018 The Scottish Highlands

If the A836 is so remote, why drive it?

If you read my blog or know anything about me, I am driven. Seriously driven by my passions. One of my favourite things to do (obviously) is to travel. Right close to travel is my love for driving (or riding, but that’s another post). If something is going on over a thousand miles away. I’m just as happy to hop into my car and drive to it than to fly (although I quite enjoy flying too).

A Scotland road trip, is a challenge for the driver. Regardless of which side of the road to which you are accustomed. The excitement of driving 60 MPH, on an unfamiliar (for me) side of the road, on a curvy, hilly, crazy narrow, one track sounds spectacular to me. Add up all of that wonder, put it in Scotland and I’m in. I am so very very in! Are you?

A836 Scotland road trip RootlessRoutes 2018
There are a few trees in the Scottish Highlands. Section of the A836 in Lairg. BTW that is a 2 way road.

Drive the Scottish Highlands

“Life is a journey”

What an utter load of crap. Why people find this saying so meaningful when on literal terms, it means nothing at all, is beyond me. Life is a journey! Duh! Thats a definition, not some deep and meaningful metaphor.

 “Life is a journey, not a destination.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson never said or wrote that. It was some preacher in the 1920s. Of course Emerson didn’t, it’s insipid. The only end destination we all share is death. If your journey is focused on getting to your destination, then… I don’t know. Maybe you’re reading this blog for a greater reason than you realized.  Perhaps it’s time to experience “the journey” with more intensity, so you can stop worrying so much about the destination. Why don’t you start by taking your first Scotland road trip?

“To finish the moment, to find the journey’s end in every step of the road, to live the greatest number of good hours, is wisdom.”

That’s what Emerson did write. It’s neither the journey nor the destination. It’s the drive… it’s reveling in the damned drive. Enjoying the shit around you, or if you are not, finding the things that bring you joy  and doing them.

How to get to the A836

From the NC500

If already driving the NC500, you can hit the A836 from various locations. A838 heads East at Durness and turns into A836 at Tongue, heading east to John O’ Groats. If on this route, once you cross that awesome bridge that takes you over the Kyle of Tongue, follow the signs to head South on A836 at Tongue.

The route in total on the A836 from tongue to Tain is about 1 hour 35 minutes, without stops. Follow the route all the way over the Bonar Bridge. A836 will end at just about Tain. From there you can either return on the A836 , or take A9 North to hit the East West part of A836. A9 turns a bit at Latheron and meets with the A836 road at Thurso. Here you can either head west back towards Tongue or East towards John O’Groats. You can also take the A9 to A99 which will land you at John O’Groats.

From Inverness

The drive along A9 from Inverness to A836 is also a commendable Scotland road trip. If you are tentative about driving in Scotland, it is a good route on which to get your ‘feet wet’. It isn’t as winding as some but it still can be fast and a busy route. The roadway itself is wider, well marked and I’m pretty sure none of it is single track. It even has dual carriageway sections. Take A82 to A9. Cross the Moray Firth, then the Cromarty Firth then follow the signs for for the A836 that appear just around Tain. This route, without stops takes about 2 and 1/2 hours.

From Ullapool or Skye

Follow the NC500 Instructions

From Edinburgh

Take the A9 to Inverness. It’s a Hell of a drive. Far more challenging than the A836. I shall write about it soon. See the Inverness route for further instructions

I will write about the NC500 portion of the A836 soon. It is also a lovely drive, remote but not as remote as the tongue to Tain portion. Challenging, yet again, not quite as challenging as the other. It is far my picturesque.

 

Drive the Scottish Borders to Edinburgh | Scotland Road Trip

Scottish Borders Rootless Routes Scotland 2017

The Scottish Borders are quite different from much of Scotland, nonetheless distinctive from bordering England.  Additionally the Borders are full of exceptional wonders and unexpected gems.

Flanked on the Northwest by England’s Northumbria and Cumbria. The North Sea to the East, the Lothians on the North, with South Lanarkshire and Dumfries and Galloway to the West.

The boundary line between Scotland and England wavered riotously through the centuries, consequently creating an even more stormy relationship than the two countries already had.img_3926

Known for an impressive collection of abbeys, due to the Scottish Borders being the perfect location for Kings of yore to prove their dominance. How else to show who’s king then to erect enormous religious houses right along a regularly disputed border? This typically pissed off the English (especially Henry VIII) as a result, the Scottish Borders have one Hell of a bloody history.

Rootless Routes Scotland Road Trip 2017
the Scottish Borders are simply gorgeous in October.

Detour Through the Scottish Borders

My journey began from a friends house in Frodsham near Manchester heading for Edinburgh on the M6. Due to randomly deciding to make my way to a smaller roadway at about Gretna Green, I found myself deep in the Scottish Borders. A place I had not visited and knew little about.

Upon hitting the Scottish Borders on A7, I exclaimed to an empty car “Holy shit!” (I likely have it on my GoPro video).  It was the first time of many I’d expound to an empty vehicle because of the unbelievable beauty or wonders I witnessed in Scotland.

The Scottish Borders are magnificent, and largely unscathed by over tourism. Filled with so many things to see and do, it would take a week, if not more to see them all.  I don’t know why so few people seem to know of it, but hey… let’s just keep it a secret between you and I. At least for a little while.

Scottish Borders Road Trip Routes

Below is a list of some of the places I discovered. Some are fairly well known, many are quite obscure. There are far too many included for just a one day drive, so I ‘greened’ all of those that were my  favorite. I will create a second Scottish Borders Route that takes you along the coast once I am able.

I have shared links (where available) for all stops along the way. Do call ahead to make sure everything you wish to visit is open before you head out. All times and observations are approximate and subjective.


the Scottish Borders to Edinburgh

Road Trip Route I

Gretna Green to Edinburgh – Trail of the Stuarts – Interior Route

About 100 miles total (161 Kilometers)

  1. Gretna Green
  2. Hermitage Castle & Graveyard
  3. Jedburgh
    • Jedburgh Abbey
    • Mary Queen of Scots House
  4. Cessford Castle (not the most exciting on this list)
  5. Kelso Abbey
  6. Dryburgh Abbey
  7. Melrose Abbey
  8. Innerleithen
    • St Ronan’s Well
    • Traquair House & Brewery
  9. Neidpath Castle
  10. Edinburgh

1) Gretna Green – Gretna Green

In the mid 18th-century English marriage laws were tightened forcing couples to wait until the age of 21 before they could marry without their parents’ consent and their marriage had to take place in a church. Scotland, laws, well yeah, not so much. So with Gretna right there on the border, resulting in, well you can figure it out.

The ensuing new laws meant Gretna became a marriage hot spot. You could marry your first cousin, your sisters 10 year old friend. IN result, running off to Gretna with the stable boy, became a rather regular thing. It’s a fun little town to visit and check out. And as one may expect, it has an awful lot of wedding chapels.

Starting at Gretna Green you can follow the Borders Historic Route , yet none of the suggested stops along that route were particularly interesting to me, you may feel different.

Photo Alert: Plenty of great photo ops

Sheep Alert: Some sheep roam freely in the area

Parking Alert: Fairly abundant amount of free parking

Next Destination: Hermitage Castle Drive Time: 45 minutes


2) Hermitage Castle & Graveyard – Hermitage Castle

Newcastleton, Roxburghshire TD9 0LU

Hermitage Castle Rootless Routes
Hermitage Castle the Scottish Borders on my 1st Scotland Road Trip

Known as the “Bloodiest Tower House in Britain” this ominous ruin, located deep in the wilds of the Borderlands, is a beautiful drive and a quick but memorable visit. The area is abundant with wildlife. Click here for info Hermitage Castle

Photo Alert: Everything is extremely photogenic, particularly the castle interior

Sheep Alert: It’s the Borderlands expect sheep to show up anywhere and everywhere

Parking Alert: decent enough basic car park

Kid Alert: I’d keep an eye on the kids

Additional Information: about 600 feet (200 meters) from the car park you will see a grassy (sometimes muddy) path. Portions of the path are steep. You will pass the Visitor Center for tickets along the way to the castle. Watch your step. Steps into the castle are steep

Toilets: I believe there to be toilets in the visitor center

Worthy Local Stop: Jedburgh Abbey – Abbey Bridge End, Jedburgh TD8 6JQ

Next Destination: Mary Queen of Scots House Drive Time: 45 minutes



3) Jedburgh – Jedburgh

The Village of Jedburgh is a wonderful and ancient village but somehow I missed this Abbey. I drove around but could not find it. It’s freaking HUGE too.  I returned to visit it on my way back from the Highlands a month later. It was well worth it for the history itself, let alone the amazing condition it is in, but it was NOT as close to Hermitage Castle as I expected.

If you are short on driving time, I’d skip heading to Jedburgh. The journey ads 65 minutes total drive time to the trip. There are other similar (but not quite as impressive) Abbey’s along the way. Depends on how much you like Abbeys.

Abbey Bridge End, Jedburgh TD8 6JQ

The remains of this abbey are impressive and largely intact. Building started in the 1100’s, but continued for nearly 80 years. This long expanse of building time created a wonderful conglomeration of Romanesque and Gothic architectural styles.

Jedburgh is the largest of the four great abbeys including Dryburgh, Melrose and Kelso. They are all worth a visit for those of us who never tire of such things. When looking for it you will see the Abbey on the hill dominating the sky.

Alternately, Cessford Castle is sort of the least exciting Castle on this trip. If you skip Cessford, you make up  for at least half the time lost if you choose to do Jedburgh Abbey

Photo Alert: Great Photo ops here

Sheep Alert: N/A

Parking Alert: Adequate public car park

Kid Alert: N/A

Next Destination:  Drive Time: 

Next Destination: Mary Queen of Scots House Drive Time: 2 minutes


Queen St, Jedburgh TD8 6EN, UK

FREE TO VISIT or  £1 for an audio tour (it’s worth it)

A weird yet wonderful place in which Mary may have never actually stayed. Nevertheless, worth checking out. Opened in 1987 on the 400th anniversary of Mary’s death, this house belonged to the Kerrs of nearby Ferniehirst Castle, which is probably where she may have been cared for instead. The house has an interesting feature, a left-handed staircase built for the Kerrs (who were left-handed) in the 16th century, to enable them to wield their swords more easily.

Photo Alert: Not a top photo site.

Parking Alert: N/A

Kid Alert: Kids may be bored by this

Toilets: I’m pretty sure there are toilets there, if not there should be some close by

Additional Information: 45 minute tour is extremely interesting

Note: Be careful not to enter the Mary Queen of Scots BnB into your GPS

Next Destination; Cessford Castle – Drive Time: 20 minutes


4) Cessford Castle – Cessford Castle

Kelso TD5 8EG, UK

FREE TO VISIT

Atmospheric ruin of a formerly massive L-plan castle, entrenched in history. Rising to three storeys in the main block and four in the wing. Confirmed from the 15th century and likely earlier. There remains a portion of the large courtyard wall. It is deemed dangerous to enter, but people still do. Although the address says Kelso, this location adds 40 minutes to your trip and was not one of my favourites.

Photo Alert: Fabulously photogenic. Numerous great selfie spots

Parking Alert: Off road car parking only. Do not block anyone or park in a designated passing place.

Kid Alert: A lot of open space to run around, but the castle is an unstable ruin

Toilets: Nothing close by

Additional Information: N/A

Note: Visit and enter at your own risk

Next Destination: Kelso Abbey  Drive Time: 20 minutes


5) Kelso – Kelso

The ancient and simply sublime burgh of Kelso has been the focal point of painters since the 1600’s and remains as quaint and lovely today. A welcoming market town, the drive to Kelso is stunning. Worth stopping for a bite to eat or pre booking a place to stay during your road trip to Edinburgh.

40-44 Bridge St, Kelso TD5 7JD, UK

FREE TO VISIT

Scottish monastic architecture is unique and Kelso Abbey, is a prime and earliest example of style. It was one of Scotland’s largest and wealthiest religious houses. Founded by monks invited over by King David I in 1128

The abbey was founded by monks invited by King David I. Nothing remains of the actual monastery, but what remains of the church is considered to be one of the greatest architectural achievements in medieval Scotland.

The little burgh of Kelso is absolutely gorgeous, hence it is well worth the visit. If you’re interest in seeing absolutely everything on this road trip route, booking a place in or near Kelso would make a great middle point.

Photo Alert: Gorgeous photo ops at every turn

Parking Alert: Free parking in Kelso Town Center

Kid Alert: N/A

Toilets: At the visitor center

Additional Information: 

Next Destination: Dryburgh Abbey Drive Time: 20 minutes


6) Dryburgh Abbey – Dryburgh Abbey

St Boswells, Roxburghshire, TD6 6RQ

This abbey is a bit off the beaten path and not as popular with tourists. Hence why I like it so much. Found in a rather secluded forest. A wonderfully quiet and contemplative place. Established in 1150 by Premonstratensian canons in 1150. It is a lovely spot and worth the drive, since it is much less frequented by visitors than the other abbeys on this road trip route.

Photo Alert: Endless. Start looking for photo ops as you near the site.

Parking Alert: Small car park

Kid Alert: N/A

Next Destination: Melrose Abbey Drive Time: 20 minutes


7) Melrose Abbey – Melrose Abbey

Abbey St, Melrose TD6 9LG, UK

Not quite as obscure as some of the others on this journey. Yet right along the way and a really lovely place to have a look and see. A need to see if you are a Scottish history buff or a fan of romantic feeling architecture and lore.

Founded as a Cistercian monastery in 1136… and then the English … Rebuilt in the 1380s. Its active end came at the Protestant Reformation of 1560, the building is remarkably unmolested by the test of so very much time.

It is believed that the heart of Robert the Bruce’s is buried here. fabulous Medieval object collection in the Museum.

Photo Alert: Great photo ops

Sheep Alert: It’s the Borderlands expect sheep to show up anywhere and everywhere

Parking Alert: Pay and display public car park 75m from the abbey (Scottish Borders Council). On-road parking nearer the site. Free parking in Winter.

Kid Alert: N/A

Additional Information:  Watch your step. Steps into the castle are steep. This location can get quite busy

Toilets: At the visitor center

Next Destination: Traquair House Drive Time: 35 minutes


8) Innerleithen – Innerleithen

Innerleithen, a prominent golfing community and simply a lovely, if not quirky little town. Originally mostly an agricultural village. In the early 19th century, the sulphurous “healing” springs known as St Ronan’s Wells began drawing people to the area. The resulting Spa and Resort saw visitors such as Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott. Scott helped to popularize Innerleithen with his novel Saint Ronan’s Well. As St Ronan’s Well’s popularity grew, the need for a golf club became obvious. St Ronan’s (golf) Club started in 1827 with the first St Ronan’s Border Games that continue to this very day. The Innerleithen Golf Club was formed in in 1886.

3 Wells BraeInnerleithen EH44 6JE

Quirky little visitor center offers information on Innerleithen history, as well as the story of the wells. Situated on a hillside, overlooking the Leithen valley with pleasant gardens.  Here you can sip from the well or purchase bottle of water its water.  An interesting stop for those that enjoy quirky, historic and quaint. I love the entire area.

Photo Alert: Plenty

Sheep Alert: any sheep in the area appear to be fenced

Parking Alert: Plenty of parking

Kid Alert: Kids may like this funky little place.

Next Destination:  Traquair House & Brewery Drive Time: 10 minutes

Traquair House the Scottish Borders Rootless Routes Scotland 2017
Traquair House, long connected to the Stuarts. Innerleithen Scottish Borders Scotland Rootless Routes

Visit Traquair House | Just Do It!

My entrance to Traquair House began with stumbling on completely unperilous rocks on a flat driveway, resulting in landing flat on the ground on top of my iPhone. I entered the grand historic property, covered in mud, with ripped knees, bleeding and clinging to my disemboweled iPhone. The staff were kind and in return helpful. They all seemed sincerely concerned about my well being, upon seeing my disheveled state.

Traquair House is the oldest still inhabited house in Scotland and I absolutely love this place. The drive through Innerleithen is… “Holy crap!” amazing. The roads tight, with high stone walls on either side, make it an interestingly challenging drive for US Americans.

The history of Traquair House, especially pertaining to the Stuarts (later the Stewarts) is just about as rich with Scottish history as it gets.  Lived in for over 900 years. (Gosh, 900 years? I’m American. We think older houses were built in the 1950s.) With a quirky and extremely knowledgeable staff that all love the house and its historical background. I spent hours chatting with various staff members about obscure historical facts with glee.

  • Traquair House History

Gifted to James Stewart in 1491, who became the 1st Laird of Traquair. The famous Bear Gates were closed in 1745 after the Bonnie Prince rode out and the 5th Earl promised him they would never be opened again until the Stuarts gained throne. Consequently, they were never opened again.

Catherine Maxwell Stuart continues to call this extraordinary place her home and her recorded revelries in some of the rooms are just fantastic. The brewery is well worth the visit as well. Do not miss this hidden gem. I’d move in, if they’d let me!

Photo Alert: Limitless photo ops

Parking Alert: Nplenty of well signed parking

Kid Alert: I think Kids will enjoy this.

Food: Cafe and Tea Room

Shops: Bought a great handmade celtic not ring here.

Toilets: Bathrooms on site

Additional Information: Self designed tour and guides on premises to answer questions are just awesome

Note: Maybe go to the brewery first so you have time to walk it off

Next Destination: Neidpath Castle Drive Time: 20 minutes



9) Neidpath Castle – Neidpath Castle

Tweeddale, on A72Peebles EH45 8NWNeidpath Castle

Mostly utilized for films or as a wedding venue, but luckily, they were setting up for an event when I drove up. I was permitted to look around, but did not meet the owner or get a tour. If you call the owner they will set up a private tour, which is likely well worth it. Sadly my camera battery had died and I had just crushed my iphone at Traquair House so I was unable to take photos. Picture courtesy of the Neidpath Castle site.

Photo Alert: Holy crap, this location is fantabulous. You can get great pictures of the castle from the hill across the way

Sheep Alert: I did not notice any

Parking Alert: There is a car park there

Kid Alert: It’s pretty cool, I think kids would enjoy it

Additional Information: 

Next Destination: Edinburgh Drive Time: 50 to 60 Minutes depending on traffic and where in Edinburgh you are headed.

10) Edinburgh – Edinburgh

Read more about visiting Edinburgh below!

Edinburgh Above & Below:

Less Touristy, Obscure & Free Things to Do & See in Scotland’s Capital

Walking Edinburgh

Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle upon a bed of volcanic rock.! Photography by Elizabeth Whitener 2017 aka januarymoon.

End of trip

Driving On Skye – What To Know Before You Go

Uig Scotland Rootless Routes Scotland 2018 photo by Elizabeth Whitener
Uig Scotland Rootless Routes Scotland 2018 photo by Elizabeth Whitener
One track road at the Fairy Glen. Driving on Skye is not easy, but it is magical. Rootless Routes Scotland 2018 photo by Elizabeth Whitener

Should You Drive on Skye?

Driving on Skye is not for everyone. It can be more challenging than driving in other parts of rural Scotland. Although driving on Skye may be the easiest and possibly best way to tour this eilean, it is important to understand the semantics and expectations of taking on such a task. Knowing the challenges involved with driving on Skye before you get there and understanding that it may not be the best choice for you, is key.

If driving on the island stresses you out, makes you nervous and takes your focus away from best experiencing the trip, then what’s the point? It can put you and your travel companions, put others on the road in danger as well as diminish your experience. If you are not a confident left side of the road driver, you should not be driving on Skye or any part of Scotland.

Shocked Scottish sheep. Rootless Routes Scotland 2017 photo by Elizabeth Whitener
Sheep shocked by the dreadful driving skills of tourists driving on Skye. Scotland 2017 Arnisdale / Glenelg by Elizabeth Whitener Rootless routes

Me… I’m a driver. Give me a driving challenge and it is just as exciting to me as is the place I am visiting. Mastering the roads and learning to drive up to par with the locals, is as big an adventure for me as is the actual trip. I love to drive. LOVE IT! I much enjoyed driving on Skye. Yet it had its challenges. Many of which were the poorly driving tourists.

Navigating my way around without much assistance. Feeling as if I have not only taken in all of the new things around me, but have in some small way become a part of it. these tings heighten my travel experience. Driving in new places does not make me nervous, it invigorates me and in the end, I feel I have achieved something. As if I understand it better now that I can navigate it with confidence.

If you are hesitant on the roads in your country. Then driving on Skye is certainly not for you.

There are plenty of alternatives. Private tours, public transportation, smaller mini-coach tours. Or Heck, just call me. For the price of a plane ticket, food and a couple of adult beverages here and there, I’ll drive ya wherever and whenever you wish to go. (I’m not kidding either)

Scroll to the end of this post to find more information on tours and transportation alternative to driving on Skye yourself.

Mealt Rootless Routes Elizabeth Whitener Isle of Skye 2018
Mealt Falls and Kilt Rock Isle of Skye 2018 photo by Elizabeth Whitener Isle of Skye 2018 Rootless Routes

Skye is loaded with ethereal landscapes. Rich with history, teaming with waterfalls, wildlife, all  sprinkled with a fair amount of fairy dust. If you have decided you are indeed driving on Skye. The next step is to decide where to go.

When driving on Skye, a well pre-planned driving route is a must.  Skye is a very popular destination, it gets very busy. Yet it remains an extremely rural location.

Navigating rough, pothole ridden,steep, often unmarked roads is easier when prepared. Knowledge of what and where you plan to go and do, helps when navigating unfamiliar territory, and allows a better chance of taking in the views.


Preparing for and Understanding Driving On Skye

To get to the the Isle of Skye, you must first cross the Skye Bridge. This spits you out onto the one main road on Skye, A87. The second important road to remember is 855. Both of these roads vary from dual, to single track. Speed limits run around 60 MPH, unless right in the heart of a village then it decreases to 40, sometimes 30 MPH as is usually indicated. If a road is unmarked, the speed limit is usually 60 MPH.

Skye Bridge
The Skye Bridge Chas MacDonald of Spirit of Scotland

You are expected to to drive at the designated speed limit, even on winding single track roads (which as I said is usually 60 MPH).

Preload google maps while you have a good connection. SABRE maps is an interesting UK road mapping system that shows uncatagorized roads. Printing out pre planned routes from Google or SABRE Maps ahead of time, will aid you in finding uncategorized and remote roads even if your GPS is failing.

While driving Skye, I found almost every location with ease. I had a bit of difficulty with the Quiraing pass entrance (it is indeed uncategorized). I saw no sign saying Quiraing (at the time) just a warning sign about potential road conditions. Apparently there is a sign for the route on the other end of the pass.

I am in the process of posting two (2) full day driving routes for the Isle of Skye. These routes offer in depth locational information and should aid you in choosing your stops, and help get to each location safely, efficiently and stress free. You will find further information on these routes, below.


Before You Hit The Road for Skye

SCHEDULING:                                                                                                                                                          Leave early. Be on the island by 7am / 8am if possible. Car parks, roads and trails get insanely crowded. Stops nearest the bridge are unrestricted and always open, beyond dangerous weather conditions. Get them out of the way to beat the crowds. Obviously Castles and Museums have opening and closing times. The Quiraing viewpoint gets packed early. Leave yourself with ample time to enjoy your trip.

DRESS APPROPRIATELY:
Weather on the island is even more unpredictable than on the mainland. As well as colder and windier. Wear water resistant walking or hiking shoes / boots. Even ‘easy to access’ locations can be swampy, rocky and or muddy.  Bring extra clothes, and a hat. Wear sunscreen (even if there is no sun).

BE PREPARED: 
Fill up with petrol, utilize the toilets, make sure you have everything you need before you cross the bridge. It’s a bigger pain in the ass to get to or do any of these things once on the island and often much more expensive. You are advised to eat before you cross the bridge.

If you intend to eat out, I still suggest that you bring snacks and drinks in the car. Make reservations ahead of time.

Input all data into your GPS ahead of time. If you, can pre-download maps. Signal can be very dodgy on the island. Be careful there is The Old Man of Storr (yes!) and the Old Man of Stoer (No).

BE DILIGENT: Sheep roam freely all over the island and there are active hidden driveways and uncategorized roads around blind bends. This is an active rural community. You never know when you’ll rear a turn to find a stopped tractor on the road.

There also tends to be a lot of inexperienced drivers and stupid people walking in places they obviously should not be. Add to this cyclists, bikers, hikers, dog walkers and drunken young people and well… just be careful. See my video of the tourists wheeling luggage along the Quiraing Rd and you’ll get what I mean.

KNOW THE RULES & COURTESIES OF THE ROAD:                                                                                      Passing places are not just for those driving towards you, they are also there so that a slower driver can stop and let those stuck behind them pass.

Make sure you are confident enough to drive extremely narrow, single track, winding, roads that are in bad condition and have a lot of blind spots, at the recommended speed limit. Which is 60 MPH. Not 60 KPH, 60 MPH. This is so very important when driving Skye.

If you cannot drive with confidence at a reasonable speed, you likely should NOT be driving in Scotland, let alone driving Skye. It is actually considered more unsafe to drive under the speed limit there, since it causes great impatience with the locals (and ME), causing them take unreasonable risks to get around you (so that they can get to their destination on time).

Passing Places are NEVER parking spots, so DON’T DO IT! (yea, I am talking to you, the asshole on the convertible red BMW on the Bealach Na Ba last month). Here is more thorough information on Driving in Scotland by ZigZag on Earth


 Driving Routes for Isle of Skye

I have developed two (2) full day driving routes covering every amazing thing I could, given the hours in a day. These driving routes are coordinated to help you best maximize your time on Skye. The itineraries include 20 potential stops on the Island, offering alternatives for various needs, interests, as well as locations for toilet breaks, petrol etc… Make use of the destinations as mapped out on the itineraries, or adjust them according to your interests, time and needs.

(if the links below are not active, I have not completed the posts yet. They will be complete within 2 days of this post, if not earlier)

Isle of Skye Driving Route 1: The Flora and the Old Man in the Skye 

  1. Portree
  2. Old Man of Storr
  3. Tobhta Uachdrach
  4. Kilt Rock
    1. Mealt Falls
    2. Staffin Dinosaur Museum
  5. Quiraing
    1. Viewpoint
    2. Drive
  6. Duntulm Castle
    1. Flora MacDonalds Grave
  7. Skye Museum of Life

Isle of Skye Driving Route 2: Fairies & Lights in Skye

  1. Loch Ainort
  2. Dunvegan Castle & Gardens
  3. Neist Point
    1. Neist Point Lighthouse
  4. Fairy Pools
    1. Coire na Creiche
  5. Eilean Ban
    1. Kyleakin Lighthouse
  6. Eilean Donan Castle (outside of Skye in Dornie)

Skye Tours, Information & Public Transportation / Scot owned Scotland based

Chas MacDonald of Spirit of Scotland offers various private and small group tours with a focus in Clan history, Clan gatherings, wildlife viewing, photography as well as personally curated themes of your choice. He also offers tours by More Gay the Gordon. A unique perspective with a like minded guide that delves into history of gay Scotland as well as LGBT exclusive tours.

Rabbie’s is a highly regarded small tour operator in business for over 20 years. This seasoned tour company has maintained their top reputation even after great growth.

You can find information on bus services to and on Skye here

Cycling routes and bike maps, in and around Skye.

Hiking routes maps and trails on Skye.

Traveling with kids?

Gay centric tours of Skye.

Driving Scotland Tips for your Scottish road trip

Scottish Highland Sheep

Driving Scotland; 2000 miles of Scotland at that, was one month of my life I shall cherish for an eternity and I learned some things I hope will help you on your journey driving Scotland.

First off, you do not need an SUV or 4WD truck in order to drive the Scottish Highlands, unless you’re hauling sheep shit, or maybe a gaggle of screaming kids. But I got talked into a plug in hybrid Mitsubishi Outlander… ironically making me an Outlander in an Outlander.

Outlander at Brough of Birsay Orkney Driving Scotland
Mitsubishi Outlander. Brough Birsay, Orkney Mainland Scotland photo by Januarymoon aka Elizabeth Whitener

I flew into Gatwick and stayed in London for the first 5 days of my month long journey of mostly driving Scotland. Quite frankly, driving in London just outright sucks. Last thing you need is something long, heavy and wide with 500 controls you don’t understand and I’ve driven in Rome, Berlin, NYC, Boston without even batting an eyelid. I say avoid driving London at all costs. If you must, avoid the rush hour and definitely get a small and easily maneuverable vehicle.

If you are comfortable with a manual stick shift, I still suggest you pay the extra money for an automatic. I have no issue driving a stick, I rent stick shifts in countries all over the world… but driving in traffic on city streets or navigating one track roads with unexpected wildlife crossing your path, on a different side of the road than you are accustomed is asking for trouble and I do NOT recommend it. The start and go style of traffic in both of the above mentioned scenarios, will making shifting gears a huge and potentially dangerous pain in the ass.

Parking (as in any major city) even more than outright sucks and seriously, anyone that tells you driving on the other side is easy, is an asshole.

Parking an Outlander in London before driving scotland
Parallel parked my Mitsubishi Outlander in London on first attempt

You do get the hang of it. Once you’ve hit a few curbs, and lopped off a couple of side mirrors. By then, if no one has been decapitated or mutilated you’ll likely be right as rain. But it isn’t easy. Yes you’ll get the hang of it, but still it isn’t easy. The second you’re a wee bit tired, or have taken even a short break, it’s a little daunting again, and you’ll find yourself chanting “left side, left side, left side” for a bit. Remember, driver is always closest to the center line, wherever you may go.

When driving Scotland, the motorways are ok. You’ll get the hang of them pretty quick. But only pass on the far right lane, don’t dawdle there. It really pisses people off if your not hauling ass in the fast lane. They will tail you within inches. Flustered in the fast lane, on an uncomfortable side of the road,  is not where you really want to be when driving Scotland.

When driving Scotland after England, expect traffic to drive 10 miles per hour faster than what you got accustomed to in England. If you are not confident enough to drive at least 10 miles over the speed limit, then stay out of the far right (the fast lane) once you’ve hit Scotland.

If you’re driving in London or Birmingham (God help you) or into the countryside… last thing you need are distractions. Rent a car similar to the one at home. If you drive an SUV or truck at home, rent a similar make car. Then gag the kids, put the damned phone away (or have it set only for GPSing), stick some reminder in front of your face on the windshield to stay left, and you’re on your way!

Make sure you know if you’re running on diesel or not. Petrol nozzles are interchangeable unlike in the US where diesel nozzles won’t fit into non diesel tanks (and still people manage to make the error here). There are a ton more diesel cars there. The noxious scent of diesel permeates every truck stop with glee. If you make the error, DO NOT START THE CAR. For an exorbitant fee most garages are ready and willing to drain your tank. That’s far less expensive than ruining the rental car with the wrong gas. You’re not covered for it either.

Most onboard navigation systems created for automobiles outright suck. Where do bad UI designers go once the game industry has snuffed them out? They go on to make onboard automobile navigation systems, or so say my UI industry friends. So if you have a decent data plan (and are NOT relying on ATT) then WAZE is by far the best navigation option, google maps is second. Both are free, easy to use and extremely reliable, as long as your service provider is NOT ATT.

NC500 Rainbow Driving Scotland
North Coast 500 rainbow, not a lot of signal out there

You need a local provider, especially when driving Scotland. Anywhere North of Inverness with ATT (and likely other non UK providers), there are times when you are shit out of luck. If you put a map of Scotland in front of you, take a ruler and line it up with Inverclyde and Inverness then draw a line across from ocean to ocean. When driving Scotland, north of that line, is pretty much where your connections will get dodgy, and even non existent the further North or East driving Scotland that you go. You need a solid local provider, direct, not through your provider if you plan to rely on your cell service anywhere North of that line. In places like Durness, the Orkneys, deep in Glenelg to Arnisdale or way up in Skye you’re still going to struggle with signal at times.

When off of the highway, even the main roads in the U.K. are skinny, windy, at times surprisingly congested. Many roads are expected to manage two way traffic, when only one vehicle barely fits. Many roads (London) are built for horse buggies (London), and now carry anxious and impatient motorists (London), from sunup to sundown. Did I mention London? Oh and Birmingham (holy shit, Birmingham) what a cluster fuck. Next to the word Clusterfuck in the dictionary, should be traffic in city center Birmingham.

London is a driving nightmare. Logistically speaking not only are there far more motorists than it can handle, London drivers, especially in the business districts, are relentless and impatient. They know you’re a tourist driving the wrong side of the road, and they don’t care! In fact I think they hope you die. I now know why they have such strong gun control in the U.K., otherwise there’d be hourly gun battles in the streets of London and Birmingham.

Driving Scotland’s more remote roads are skinny, often one track for two way traffic and many are open range. If you see a sign that says “Sheep Road” or “Feral Goats” expect to soon come upon said creatures in the middle of the road, usually after a blind turn.

Scottish Highland Sheep Driving Scotland
Surprised sheep in Arnisdale

Surprisingly (especially for an American where the entire US road system and infrastructure is crumbling beneath us) the roads in the U.K even many of the remotest roads in Scotland are very well maintained. Here’s the fun part though, the speed limit on most of these roads is 60. Yeah, you read that right. And I mean 60 mph, not those silly kphs the rest of Europe so much enjoys screwing up Americans with.

Passing Place Scottish Highlands Driving Scotland
NC 500 near Glenelg, Scotland Highlands Photo by Elizabeth Whitener 2017

On the above picture yo can see a “Passing Place” sign, these are here for you to let people pass on one track roads. Be courteous, pull to the left and let them go, especially if you are not willing to go the speed limit. Visit Scotland has a great guide to utilizing passing places and driving safely on the other side of the road.

I found Edinburgh, Inverness and Glasgow fairly easy to navigate. Driving was not stressful and signage was clear and abundant. At the time I was driving Scotland, there was no excessive traffic. I was able to find parking in all three cities with ease. Although I was there off season and I assume it is more difficult during season especially when it is festival time.

You’ll find that a great deal of the remotest areas when driving Scotland, the Borderlands, the country roads of Aberdeenshire and along the NC500, roads are freshly and recently paved, I simply don’t recommend that beyond the obvious reasons, such as a larger group of people, that anyone needs an SUV when driving Scotland.

Seems to me the entire country, especially the “wilds of Scotland” and the North Coast 500 aka NC 500 have been trampled on well enough from tourist driving Scotland, tour buses and the like. Just take it easy. Treat the areas you visit with respect. Park in designated parking areas as much as possible and be aware of where and on what you are parking when you choose to pull over in areas with no parking. Be alert so as not to block anyone’s way, and move over to the left at passing places if someone wishes to pass, and you’ll be good to go.

Also, Lallybroch doesn’t REALLY exist. Jamie isn’t hanging out at the other side of Clava Cairns. Midhope Castle  aka Lallybroch (which isn’t  castle at all) is often overrun by overzealous tourists, causing havoc with the locals and the busy farming community. So let them be. How’d you like people parking all over your neighborhood, running over the local livestock, flora a fauna and blocking your way in and out all day and night. Sure you can visit these places, but just be considerate… please.

Outlander in an Outlander Driving Scotland

I’m not sure that the Mitsubishi Outlander was named after the series or the book, or if it’s just a coincidence. I cannot imagine it’s named after the movie Outlander, which really kinda sucked and had nothing to do with Scotland. I’m not sure if the Hertz guy had a sick sense of humor or just needed to move out extra inventory, but there I was… an Outlander in an Outlander. Hogging the road in an unnecessary SUV.

I semi enjoyed the vehicle in some ways, but not that I allowed the Hertz guy to talk me into it last minute. It was after midnight, I’d just flown 8 hours and I just wanted to get into London, connect with my Airbnb contact, have a big glass of wine and sleep.

“Only $75 extra” he said. It sounded great until I realized he meant $75 a day (that’s a standard Hertz upgrade trick, so beware)

“But I’m driving Scotland for a month, that’s a lot of money.” I replied.

“I’ll give you a great deal!”

… now I know this trick well. I’ve rented cars a lot. They will give you a deal on a sports car or SUV when they have an abundance of them and are light on or actually out of the car you had reserved. Always haggle at this point! ALWAYS (especially if you’re footing the bill). I knew this trick. I don’t know what happened. I was tired. It was after 1am now. I just wanted the fucking car and to be on my way. So nearly $700 later, (far more than I could  spare) off I went into the dead of a moonless, starless night driving from Gatwick into the heart of London, in a plug in hybrid (not even knowing what that was) with all sorts of buttons and levers, driving the other side of the road for the first time in almost 30 years.

Learn from me! And enjoy!

Great Britain, Ireland & Colin Farrell (What You Didn’t Know About The UK)

img_5326
Johnny Rotten wants to save the Queen

The Union Jack is the flag of the United Kingdom of Great Britain.

That is Johnny Rotten standing in front of said flag… to me he is about as British as one can get. He really has a thing for the Queen. Although he goes by John Lydon these days and he lives in LA. LA is in fact not part of Great Britain.

Now the flag of Great Britain, consists of the English flag

St. Georges Cross
St. Georges Cross aka The English Flag

The flag of Scotland

Scottish Flag
St Andrews Cross aka The Flag of Scotland

and Northern Ireland’s flag

St. Patrick's Cross
St. Patrick’s Cross aka The flag of Ireland

Wales, you don’t get a mention.

Already united with England when the Union Jack was created, Wales ends up screwed and does not get a represent! (You’d think for stickin’ it out with the imperialist monarchy for so long, they’d at least get a mention.)

GB Great Britain
GB ‘Great Britain’ logo

Great Britain is not a country. Really, it’s not! It is an island consisting of England, Scotland & Wales.

The U.K. (United Kingdom) is a country consisting of four (4) nations or perhaps provinces, that are really also technically countries depending on to whom you speak.

For centuries many Scots have resisted being part of the U.K. and pockets of daring souls have periodically risen up through time against the English to gain their solidarity.

Kildrummy Castle
Kildrummy Castle. Kildrummy prospered for centuries until that little English rebellion bit.

Scottish rebellion against the English pretty much has always lead to the complete ruination of everyone involved including ancient dynasties…

Ireland is NOT a country. It is an island, like Great Britain. It is mostly not part of the U.K., beyond that wee little Northern bit. Many of the Irish had rebelled against English rule for centuries.  The Irish Free State officially gained their absolute independence in 1922 when both parliaments ratified the Treaty, formalising independence for the 26 county Irish Free State. Ireland dropped the “Free State” part in 1937, and declared itself a Republic in 1949. The 6 county Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom.

Map of Ireland
Map of Ireland

Cork is in Ireland and it makes great gin. Colin Farrell is from Castleknock, which is 2.5 hours from Cork and completely irrelevant to this post, but now you know. Remember it! Oh and I’m pretty sure Colin lives in LA. LA is not in Ireland.

img_4964
Colin is not a Brit.

Ewan McGregor is a Scot and as you can see, wears a kilt. He is also a Brit. I kinda think he may also live in LA. LA is not in Scotland.

img_4966
Ewan is a Brit and a Scot. He doesn’t look unhappy to be in a kilt

I have no fucking clue why Colin Farrell is wearing a kilt. He certainly does not look very please about it.

Colin Farrell in a kilt
Colin Farrell is not a Brit, is not from the UK, is not a Scot.

As mentioned before, Ireland is made up of two (2) provinces or countries, depending on to whom you speak. Northern Ireland is part of the U.K., The Republic of Ireland is not.

Everybody knows this but for Americans. As in those from the United States, not North Americans, because Canadians know this. They learnt it in school. Unlike Texans, who learned Texas history over US history.

Now I’m not sure if Mexicans know this, because I’m American and know little to nothing about Mexicans, even though they boarder us and I’ve visited there a few times.

What I do know is that all of Great Britain and all of Ireland (even those in the Republic of Ireland) and likely even Ewan Mcgregor and Colin Farrell… maybe even John Lydon, drink far too much tea. Not that yummy herbal stuff but that caustic, tannin filled, black, black tea shit you must add milk to or die. They also almost all think Nescafé is actually coffee and not an insult to coffee.

coffee in a tea cup
Coffee; not that very black tea shite and not that crap called nescafe’

That’s real coffee in that enormous I ❤️ Tea cup. Thankfully my Airbnb host in Arnisdale Scotland provided me real coffee, yet also provided the ironical cup.

In much of Great Britain, showers look like this.

British shower
Shower in Great Britain (actually Glasgow Scotland)

< lt; lt; lt; lt; lt; lt; lt; lt; ne dials the power, the other controls temp. And they don’t have clothes dryers. Clothes dryers are made up of clothes lines with clothes pegs (not clothespins)

bathroom heater towel warmer
Bathroom heater/towel warmer

< lt; lt; lt; lt; lt; lt; lt; lt; ut they do have bathroom (aka toilet) heaters that function as towel racks. Which don’t suck! Many Brits end up hanging their wet laundry bits to dry upon these heated racks. Apparently, dryers are not energy efficient, but turning your heat up so that your knickers dry quickly, is.

Wine Glasses
Wine in Great Britain

< lt; lt; lt; lt; lt; lt; lt; lt; hen you order wine in the U.K. they ask you, small, medium or large? I’m not kidding! Order the large. It’s the American way. Oh yeah, they also drive on the wrong fuckin side of the road. And their yield signs say ‘give way’. (how polite)… and you can’t fucking turn right, you must circle first. Once miscounted, you must turn about the fucking circle again. There are rules to this, but no one knows them. They just close their eyes and pray to the Queen. In Inverness a roundabout ends you up at the police station, because it imitates exit number 4, when actually it’s the damned police station. I did it numerous times and shared the experience with confused tourists every time and likely a few Scots as well. But it was Sunday so the police station was closed. Because police stations actually close in the UK. But Inverness is quite lovely, once you’ve found your way out of the damned police station car park.

Glasgow scene
Inverness

< lt;lt;lt;lt;lt;lt;lt;lt;ell so, I’m in Glasgow. Three (3) large wines in, filling the tub as the towel rack warms and have little more to give than this post. Hope it suffices.If not “give way” man. Give way!<<<<<<<<< t;<<<<<<< lt;<<<<<< <<<<<< ;<<<<< t;<<<< gt;<<< ><< p>< /p>

Pictures of Edinburgh

scottish breakfast
Scottish Breakfast
edinburgh passage
Edinburgh Passageway
scottish dinner and ale
Scottish Dinner and Ale
edinburgh street
Edinburgh Street
edinburgh bag piper
Edinburgh Bag Piper
Edinburgh church and statuary
Edinburgh Church and Statuary
Edinburgh Church Stained Glass
Edinburgh Church Stained Glass
Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle passage
Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle turrets
Edinburgh Castle turrets
Stained Glass, Edinburgh Scotland
Edinburgh Castle tourists, Scotland
Edinburgh Castle tourists, Scotland
Edinburgh Scotland, Stack
Edinburgh Scotland, Stack
Edinburgh Castle, Scotland
Edinburgh Castle, Scotland
Edinburgh, Scotland street scene
Edinburgh, Scotland street scene
The new and the old, Edinburgh, Scotland
The New and the Old, Edinburgh, Scotland
Edinburgh Castle from afar
Edinburgh Castle from afar

The Highlands, the Scottish Coast & an Angsty Nomad Behind the Wheel

 

Scotland in and of itself is a remarkable place. Driving Scotland, well, that’s pretty new to me. I have visited Scotland before, but on September 26 I will be making my way from Frodsham to Edinburgh to begin a unique adventure.

I found myself in the Scottish Highlands in the 1980s, purely by accident. It is a long and interesting story (at least I think so), that perhaps I will share here one day soon… but these next few posts will be about my upcoming trip, the planning involved, my rather ambitious aspirations involving all that I wish to see and do during this Scottish adventure, as well as driving some of the most treacherous roads of the UK, while driving a manual transmission on the wrong side of the road. (stone cold sober too)

Route Planner Scotland East Coast
Route Planner Scotland East Coast

The first half of my Scottish journey via the AA route planner

To know the story of how I ended up on this journey, check out my about page.

It has taken me an entire month, but utilizing this amazing app (and no I am not connected to them in any way) Travefy, I have finally booked the bulk of it. Mostly staying at AirBnB , with a castle and an Inn thrown in for good measure.

The NC500 is a more popular coastal route and I have gotten quite a lot of shit from people, including Scots, questioning me as to why I wish to drive the grey, dreary, rocky and rather desolate East Coast of Scotland, and well… that IS exactly why.

Soon… the tourists seeking out their very own Craigh na Dun will join the nature seekers and explorers drawn originally by the Northern Lights, over to the less popular but equally starlit skies of Sctoland’s East Coast.

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Northern Lights, Scotland

Northern Lights, Scotland

The Millennial adventure travellers, digital nomads and rough travellers, blogging their way through life will inspire the jet setters and eventually your 1/9th part Scottish grandmother, to visit its bleak beauty. The tours will quadruple, the exclusive resorts dig in. Buses will begin clogging the treacherous roads, while yachts fill the quaint fishing piers, in the same manner as they now do Scotland’s Northern Coast. From Edinburgh to all of Aberdeenshire, from Fraserburgh to Inverness and up to the Orkney’s, I wish to see it in all of its Scottishness. (and early Fall is the perfect time of year to experience it that way as well) without too much taint of the visitors soon to come.

Aberdeenshire is rich with ancient history, as well as the castles and ruins of castles to allow one to get lost in the past. From Dunnottar Castle to the beauty of the Fraserburg fishing village, and all of the bits in between.

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Dunnottar Castle, Aberdeenshire Scotland
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Inverness, Scotland

From Culloden to the extremely strong ties to the American Revolution of which (amazingly to me) so many are unaware, that a great deal of the soldiers that fought for the right to be free, were disposed Scots, sent to the colonies as punishment for their rebellion, Inverness then the seed and ever the gateway to the Highlands, has its own unique grace and varied history or triumph and strife.

The craggy cliffs of Scotland have been here practically since the beginning of time. They look unreal, precarious and dank. They are survivors, standing strong and tall against the wind, and sun and rain. Standing tall and proud, as they weather the elements much like the history of the Scots that were born there.

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Planning My Road Trip Scotlands North Coast East Coast & more…

When I originally planned my UK road trip, as an American driving my way through England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland (basically the U.K. plus 1), and including the entire Scottish coast, I figured the hardest part of it would be driving on the other side of the road and travel blogging my way along, without killing myself (or someone else for that matter). I had no idea that driving ‘Scotlands North Coast’ was not only a “thing”, but a popular “thing”. I also did not realize the sheer extent of planning such a trip.

Highland Cow
Highland Cow

Two years ago I spent 3 weeks driving three of Italy’s coasts. Planning and booking the trip including only AirBnB for stays, was pretty straight forward and in the end, I only came short on one date and only had to move one reservation.

In Italy I drove for an easy 6 1/2 hours at one point, from the Amalfi Coast to Ravenna, and I managed it like champ. I was driving between lanes on the white lines of the highways, speeding around cliff hung, death curves at fearless speeds, and flipping people off like a true Italian driver, happily, in no time and enjoying it!

But… because I had a deadline for landing in Ravenna, I missed a great deal of the ‘spur of the moment’ site seeing, I so very much like to do.

For me road trips, be they European road trips, across the US, or anywhere for that matter, are all about being able to see something interesting, turn off and seek it out.

Although I knew this trip was to be much larger, I did not realise the sheer immensity of the endeavour, and the vast amount of things to see and do.

Even for someone who has travelled the U.K. more than once in the past, it is quite remarkable to realise the vast scope of what is crammed into 4 countries, whose landmass could all fit into the state of Texas.

Bluebells in Austin Texas
Bluebells in Austin Texas 2015 (this park is likely the size of London)

I could live in the Scottish Highlands for a full year, spending each waking moment exploring, and I’d still feel swindled at the end of the year. Add England, Ireland and Wales into the mix and holy sh*t.

If you’re from Australia, parts of Asia or from the US, the land mass of these four (4) countries is diminutive at best. But the immense depth of history, variation of cultures and landscape, architecture, museums, pubs, wilderness, historic sites, people, food, pubs, beaches, cities, farmland, did I say pubs?… it’s just astounding to say the least.

Because of my experience of feeling as if perhaps I missed out on too much on the Italian trip, even if I saw and experienced far more than most do on one such trip, I planned this trip with many more stops, hoping to broaden my chances for more exploration. I’m just not exactly sure how this rigid timeline, in one of my favorite places on the planet, the Scottish Highlands, is going to pan out.

I’ve crammed a Hell of a lot of places to see and things to do, along the rugged trail of the NC 500, no matter how short the actual drive might be. So much, that I am unsure if it is even remotely reasonable, let alone doable, in the sort of stress free and freewheeling style, in which I like to travel.

I realize now, (only one month prior to the trip) it’s quite a stringent timetable for such a tempestuous traveler as myself, so keep your fingers crossed and as usual, I’ll just play it by ear.