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.

Isle of Skye | Scotland Road Trip | Scottish Highlands | NC500 | II

The Fairy Glen, Isle of Skye. Rootless Routes

Scotland Road Trip | Isle of Skye | Part II 

Isle of Skye road trip route itinerary. Total trip time, about 8 hours. Find everything you need to know for your Skye road trip and more, right here. Check out Part 1 here.

Isle of Skye Road Trip Route Itinerary Part 2 / Fairies in the Skye

  1. Skye Bridge
  2. Portree
  3. Fairy Glen
  4. Dunvegan Castle & Gardens
    1. Seal Watching Tours
    2. Guided Tours
  5. Neist Point Lighthouse
  6. Fairy Pools
  7. Skye Bridge

    A Quick Note

    First read Driving On Skye – What To Know Before You Go prior to planning your Isle of Skye road trip.  Splendor on The Isle of Skye Scotland offers important general information about the Island.

    Times are approximate and vary based on individual needs. Both Isle of Skye road trip itineraries can be completed within a day, if you stick with the general timetable offered.

    A map is included at the end of this post. The letters indicated on each location, correspond to those on the map and the written directions.

    Although I did not travel Skye on my own, I am regularly a solo traveler. Everything on the itinerary is appropriate for solo travelers. The Island is friendly and safe (crime wise). It is not a good place to hike along public roads. You should have some sort of transportation planned ahead of time.

    GPS can be dodgy in the Scottish Highlands and even more so on Skye. It really is important to read the above mentioned “Driving On Skye” to help you best prepare and understand the key challenges to visiting and driving on the Island.


8 Fairy Filled Stops on The Isle of Skye

Note: Scheduling this route back to front (starting with The Fairy Pools, works out well too)

A] The Skye Bridge / Drochaid an Eilein Sgitheanaich / A87

Take the Skye Bridge from Lochalsh. Once you’ve crossed the bridge onto the Isle of Skye, remain on A87 by taking the third (3) exit on the roundabout. After 32 miles you take a right onto Bridge Rd / A855.

Photo Alert: The lighthouse on the wee island of Eilean Bàn (White Island) below, is a particularly nice shot, as is the bridge itself. Best time for Skye Bridge photo opportunities is before you get onto the bridge.

Kid Alert: Check out the lighthouse on Eilean Ban as you cross the bridge.

Approximate time: 3 minutes

Toilet Alert: Main Rd, Broadford, Skye (about 10 minutes after the bridge) on A87 after the Cooperative, across from parking lot, next to church on right

Next Destination: Portree – Drive Time: 45 minutes


B] Village of Portree / Port Righ

Portree. An adorable fishing village. The ‘Capital’ of Skye. Portree is the only actual village on the Island. It can get very busy. Be prepared for that. It is difficult to find a sit down meal if you have not booked ahead here or anywhere on the Island. There are supermarkets, shops, petrol stations and restaurants. Portree is a lovely spot for photographs. The Visit Scotland visitor center is easy to locate.

Don’t dawdle. Enjoy it, but be on your way. You can come back later if you wish, it is not a huge detour on your way back after the Fairy Pools.

Photo Alert: About 15 minutes after Portree is where you will find some of the best views  (and shots) of the ‘Old Man of Storr” if you wish to get some decent pics along the way. Once past that point, you may not be able to see it well until you have hiked up to it., which is included in this route. Isle of Skye | Scotland Road Trip | Scottish Highlands | NC500 | I

Toilet Alert: 1) Bridge Road behind Somerland Square, across from courthouse 2) Off A87 at the Aros Center. You’ll find no toilets for a bit, so make haste and be smart.

Approximate Time: 30 minutes – Total Trip Time: 1 hour 20 minutes

Next Destination: The Fairy Glen – Drive Time: 25 Minutes


C] The Fairy Glen / Gleann nan Sìthichean 

I adore the Fairy Glen . I spent two (2) hours romping about the alien like terrain, covered in a sea of vivid green grass and foliage. The Fairy Glen seems exactly the sort of magical landscape in which any respectable fairy would choose to dwell.

A land rife with superstition, folklore and legend. Located so near Dunvegan Castle, where an ancient “Fairy” flag is displayed with pride. It is ironic that the “Fairy Glen” is little connected with lore or superstition. It is no doubt magical to behold.

Tourists have mucked it up a bit with ridiculous stone circles, that local volunteers eradicate regularly. If you are moving rocks about in places like this, you are an asshole and the locals do not appreciate it. Neither do the visitors that are NOT assholes.

Great spot to picnic. No facilities, but there are some benches about.

Please do not utilize the Fairy Glen as your personal potty. The locals are really sick of it. Plan your bathroom breaks like a grown up ahead of time. Or give me your address and I’ll come pee on your lawn, see how you feel about it.

Photo Alert: Everything is fantastic opportunity for great photos at The Fairy Glen, but sweeping views from the top come out extraordinarily well.

Sheep Alert: Sheep roam freely on this road and during lambing season April – June. little sheep inexperienced with roads and frightened by cars are unpredictable. The sheep with horns get very protective when there are  lambs around.

Toilet Alert: There are public toilets at the Ferry terminal in Uig

Parking Alert: Parking is a pain. There are a couple of broad laybys on the way and a very rough small bit of extremely rocky spot of dirt right after the little pond on the left. Beyond that, it is difficult to park when the lot fills. If you are up for a little walk, you can park in Uig. 

Pothole Alert: Large jagged rocks and rough spots abound

Kid Alert: Kids will either love it or not care at all. There is a lot of space for them to run about. The hills are steep but rolling enough that there is not really any treacherous cliffs. This would be a great place to picnic and run off some steam, before locking them down in the car again.

Additional Information: If you pass the Fairy Glen (on your right) there is really nowhere to go but to turn around. You end up at a private croft. Please do not park anywhere but the obvious locations or in Uig. Do not use passing places as parking space.

Approximate Time: 1 hour – Total Trip Time: 2 hours 45 minutes

Next Destination: Dunvegan Castle & Gardens Drive Time: 45 Minutes


D] Dunvegan Castle & Gardens  <–Click for website

 Dunvegan Castle. A privately run, magnificently beautiful destination. Full of history, lore, remarkable gardens and outstanding views. The McLeods have lived in this castle for centuries and continue to do so to this very day. Within the castle walls hangs the “Fairy Flag”

Chock full of history, Dunvegan Castle and Gardens still stands today. The McLeods chose to stay out of the last Jacobite Rebellion and in so doing, kept their amazing home. Ironically they ended up connected to Flora MacDonald and have items belonging to the Bonnie Prince. If such history is in your interest, it is really cool stuff to see.

This beautifully maintained castle is extremely significant when it comes to key points in Highland history. I found the place enthralling. The Gardens vast, diverse and extremely well tended. Loved every minute of my visit here.

Photo Alert: Photo opportunities everywhere. Check out the gardens and walk behind the castle to the edge of the waterfront. Fantastic photo opportunities. Mostly outside.

Sheep Alert: N/A

Toilet Alert: to the left just before you get the the actual castle (I believe there may also be toilets in the parking lot)

Parking Alert: Large, paved, well marked parking lot. Kinda comes up suddenly on your right. There is a gift shop and toilets in the parking area

Kid Alert: Some kids will find the castle boring. Lots of stuff not to touch. There is a special kids tour offered at the castle. I’d call ahead.

Approximate time: 40 minutes castle 40 gardens – Total Trip Time: 4 hours 50 minutes

Next Destination: Neist Point Lighthouse – Drive Time: 35 minutes


E] Neist Point Lighthouse (Glendale)

Neist Point . Stunning and picturesque. A remarkable location. If you enjoy remarkably scenic views, amazing photo opportunities, hiking, wildlife and/ or lighthouses, Neist Point is not to be missed. It is a bit out of the way and only offers views. It can get crazy busy there. You must be the  judge if it is worth it based on your desires. Fantastic photo opportunities.

Regarded the finest viewing point on Skye for dolphins, whales and even sharks. The area is a treasure trove for bird watching. If you are a birder check this out.

An fairly easy 15 minute walk from the car park, but the stairs down & back up to the point are pretty steep.

Photo Alert: Endless photo opportunities. If you head to the first hill to the right of the parking lot, you can quickly get good shots of the lighthouse without trecking out to the point.

Kid Alert: Good place for a picnic or snack.

Kid Warning: There are many steep drops and ungated cliffs. The sheep can be garrulous, especially in lamb season. Keep an eye on your kids.

Parking Alert: Parking is plentiful, but the car park fills up

Pothole Alert: If the lot is full, the extended area can be a bit rough for parking

Approximate time: 1 hour – Total Trip Time: 5 hours 25 minutes

Next Destination: Fairy Pools – Drive Time: 1 hour 5 minutes


F] The Fairy Pools

The Fairy Pools are magical and  lauded place for hiking and wild swimming. This collection of naturally occuring watersheds, fed by a myriad of springs and waterfalls is  exceptional.

Located at the base of the Black Cuillins in Glen Brittle, near Carbost, Isle of Skye.

The site is well marked (well at least comparably) and more established for visitors. Fairy Pools “Glumagan na Sithichean” The extremely rough and rocky car park fills up quickly. There is no barrier to keep from backing up over the steep edge. At least there is signage.

Rootless Routes 2018 Isle of Skye road trip II
Glumagan na Sithichean Fairy Pools sign Isle of skye

Unlike the Fairy Glen, The Fairy Pools have a long history of Norse and / or Celtic fused Scottish lore connected to them. The mineral rich waters have been long known for their healing abilities. Similar to Clootie Well lore, the Fairy Pools luckily are not littered with offerings. No rotting rags hanging about.

The Fairy Pool, Isle of Skye. Rootless Routes. Scotland 2018 by Elizabeth Whitener
Vibrant green pool of The Fairy Pools f Glen Brittle

Sadly most of the legends of the area were passed down through word of mouth in Gaelic and are either lost or not available for public consumption. None of my research brought forth any actual tales.

The hike down is easy enough for most. After a very long day the mildly steep incline at the very end with the sun beating down on me was kind of a bitch and there is nowhere to sit or get away from the sun to take a break. But for the most part anybody with average mobility can do the 40 minute walk there and back with relative ease

Photo Alert: Photo opportunities everywhere.

Sheep Alert: Sheep hop out from everywhere and tend to graze along the hiking trail. No, they are not tame, nor do they like being approached.

Toilet Alert:  (Pee before you get there)

Parking Alert: Fairly large car park / parking lot, graveled with large jagged rocks. The lot gets busy, people park randomly and at the very end of the lot, it is difficult to see where the land ends, so be careful. Use your parking break and skew your wheels.

Kid Alert: I think this much for real small kids, but a solid walker can do it. It does take an average adult 20 minutes to make it to the first pool and 20 minutes more to get to the last one.

Approximate time: 2 hours  Total Trip Time: 7 hours 30 minutes

Next Destination: Sky Bridge – Drive Time: 35 minutes


G] The Skye Bridge / Drochaid an Eilein Sgitheanaich / A87

You’ve been here before. This road trip is complete.

Next Destination: Done – Drive Time: 8 hours 5 minutes


Useful Information:

  1. Southwest of the bridge is Balmacara, where you can find petrol and a well stocked Spar (convenience store / small grocer).
  2. Balmacara Hotel has a nice little pub like restaurant in the back (I did not eat there)
  3. The Clachan and The Dornie Hotel both serve great food, just a few minutes beyond Balmacara, in Dornie. Dornie is right across the way from the Eilean Donan Castle. Check their hours. Call ahead if you can. The Clachan serves food later and both places get packed at times.
  4. Eilean Donan Castle is just 15 minutes SW of the Skye Bridge. The castle is extremely photogenic with fantastic photo opportunities from the outside. When the castle is closed you can get great shots and the gate (although it looks locked) is often unlocked allowing visitors to cross the walkway to the castle.
  5. Dornie  is 15 minutes SW of the Skye Bridge. It’s a great but miniscule little village. There are a couple of shops  and restaurants there. Eilean Donan Castle is across the way.
  6. Plockton is about 18 minutes from the bridge and is a fantastic little village with gorgeous views and a few shops, pubs, inns and restaurants. It is a heckofa crazy one track road drive (I loved driving it). Itis a romantic spot. Well worth the visit! Note: The locals are impatient with slow drivers.

 

A] Sky Bridge

B] Portree

C] The Fairy Glen

D] Dunvegan Castle

E] Neist Point Lighthouse

F] Fairy Pools

 G] Sky Bridge

Skye Tours & Alternative Transportation  / (Scot owned and 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, that has maintained their top reputation even after becoming a rather large company.

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.

Isle of Skye | Scotland Road Trip | Scottish Highlands | NC500 | I

Isle of Skye road trip rootless routes 2018

Scotland Road Trip | Isle of Skye | Part I

Isle of Skye road trip itinerary. Total trip time is about 8 hours. Included in this itinerary are calculations on estimated spent time at each location, time to park, a quick bite and toilet breaks. Below are the locations included on the itinerary. You can check out Part 2 here, once it is posted.

Isle of Skye Road Trip Itinerary Part 1 / Flora and The Old Man

  1. Portree
  2. Old Man of Storr (Storr)
  3. Tobhta Uachdrach
  4. Kilt Rock
  5. Mealt Falls
    1. Staffin Dinosaur Museum
  6. Quiraing
  7. Duntulm Castle
  8. Skye Museum of Life
  9. Kilmuir Cemetery (Flora MacDonald)
  10. Portree
  11. Skye Bridge

A Quick Note

I suggest you read Driving On Skye – What To Know Before You Go prior to planning your Isle of Skye road trip.  Splendor on The Isle of Skye Scotland shares general information about the Island.

The approximate estimate on timing, is just that… approximate. Time spent on this journey will vary greatly based on individual likes and desires. Both Isle of Skye road trip itineraries can be completed within a day if you stick with the general timetable offered.

A map is included at the end of this post. The letters indicated on each location description, correspond to those on the map and the written directions.

Although I did not travel Skye on my own, I am regularly a solo traveler. Everything on the Isle of Skye road trip itinerary is totally appropriate for solo travelers. The Island is friendly and safe (crime wise). It is not a good place to hike along the public roads. You should have some sort of transportation planned.

GPS can be dodgy in the Scottish Highlands and even more so on Skye. It really is important to read the above mentioned “Driving On Skye” to help you best prepare and understand the key challenges to visiting and driving on the Island.


13 Magical Stops on the Isle of Skye

A] The Skye Bridge / Drochaid an Eilein Sgitheanaich / A87

Take the Skye Bridge from Lochalsh. Once you’ve crossed the bridge onto the Isle of Skye, remain on A87 by taking the third (3) exit on the roundabout. After 32 miles you take a right onto Bridge Rd / A855.

Photo Alert: The lighthouse on the wee island of Eilean Bàn (White Island) below, is a particularly nice shot, as is the bridge itself. Best time for Skye Bridge photo opportunities is before you get onto the bridge.

Kid Alert: Check out the lighthouse on Eilean Ban as you cross the bridge.

Approximate time: 3 minutes

Toilet Alert: Main Rd, Broadford, Skye (about 10 minutes after the bridge) on A87 after the Cooperative, across from parking lot, next to church on right

Next Destination: Portree – Drive Time: 45 minutes


B] Village of Portree / Port Righ

Portree is a lovely spot for photographs, in addition there is a Visit Scotland visitor center too. This adorable fishing village claims to be the ‘Capital’ of Skye. It also claims to have everything you might need. That being said, everyone is likely going there for the same reason as you. It can get busy REALLY busy. It is usually quite difficult to find a sit down meal if you have not booked ahead. But there are supermarkets, shops, petrol stations and restaurants.

Don’t dawdle. Enjoy it, but be on your way. You can come back later if you wish, it is not a huge detour on your way back after the Fairy Pools.

Photo Alert: About 15 minutes after Portree is where you will find some of the best views  (and shots) of the ‘Old Man’. Once past that point, you may not be able to see it well until you have hiked up to it.

Toilet Alert: 1) Bridge Road behind Somerland Square, across from courthouse 2) Off A87 at the Aros Center

Approximate Time: 30 minutes – Total Trip Time: 1 hour 20 minutes

Next Destination: Old Man of Storr – Drive Time: 10 Minutes


C] Old Man of Storr / Bodach an Stòr – The Storr / An Stòr

(not to be confused with The Old Man of Stoer in Sutherland)

Likely the most iconic location on the Isle of Skye, The Storr is a large pinnacle of jagged rocks precariously jutting from the mountain face including the “Old Man” of Storr. You will see it in the distance on your left when coming from Portree. The best place to take pictures of this unusual geological display is before you get there.

The path up to the The Storr is invigorating yet pretty easy, well marked with an obvious trail. It takes about 45 minutes up and 40 minutes down for adults in decent shape, if not lugging kids. I’d give it an hour if you are taking pictures, for you may need to stop and rest often or if you’ve got kids in tow.

Just go through the wooden gate at the end of the carpark. Click here for the Isle of Skye trail guide.

After hiking The Storr, perhaps it is time for a little snack and some photo opportunities. Please leave the Old Man of Storr parking lot to make room for others.

Parking Alert: The carpark fills up fast. (I told you to head out early and not to dawdle in Portree). Luckily, there are laybys along the road designed for overflow parking if need be.

Note: It takes almost exactly an hour to get to the Old Man of Storr car park from the Skye Bridge (if you decided to forgo Portree) and about 10 minutes from Portree. (6.6 miles)

Next Destination: Tobhta Uachdrach – Drive Time: 5 minutes

Approximate Time: 3 hours – Total Trip Time: 4 hours 30 minutes


D] Tobhta Uachdrach / Upper Ruins

Just about 3 miles up the road on the right is an amazing viewpoint. There are green areas on which to picnic, while viewing the breathtaking scenery before you. This location offers only a view, but it really should not be missed.

A couple of things to note. Many people camp here so it can be crowded. The parking lot can be riddled with holes and sharp stones jutting up.

Photo Alert: Endless photo opportunities, look all around and down, not just across the water. The sheep gate on the cliff is not locked. Be careful if you head out there. Make sure to close the gate behind you and when you leave.

Kid Alert: Good place for a picnic or snack.

Kid Warning: As mentioned above. the sheep gate that blocks entrance to the cliff is NOT locked. Keep an eye on your kids.

Parking Alert: Parking is plentiful

Pothole Alert: The parking lot is a nightmare, big holes, sharp protruding rocks, puddles.

Approximate Time: 15 Minutes – Total Trip Time: 4 hours 40 minutes

Next Destination: Kilt Rock – Drive Time: 7 minutes


E] Kilt Rock & Mealt Falls / Creag an Fheilidh & Eas Mealt

Keep heading North (right turn) on A855 for five (5) miles until you come to Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls on the right. The parking lot is ample but it fills up quickly.

You will see hear then see Mealt Falls  to your left. The magnificent sea cliff known as Kilt Rock is beyond the Falls in the distance. The vertical basalt columns that make up this unique cliff, looks like the pleats on a kilt.

Photo Alert: The views are truly lovely here. Make sure to walk all the way over to the right and circle about as well. If you face back towards the road from which you came, there are lovely shots of lonely houses in rolling hills

Sheep Alert: There are often sheep close to the fence here. They tend to be less camera shy than others.

Kid Alert: If you are traveling with small kids or are limited for time, this is the place I’d skip.

The Staffin Dinosaur Museum  <– (check their site on the link given) is open Easter to October and although small supposedly has a significant collection of dinosaur bones.

Approximate Time: 20 minutes – Total Trip Time: 5 hours 20 minutes

Next Destination: Quiraing – Drive Time: 10 minutes

Alternate Next Destination: Staffin Dinosaur Museum Drive Time: 1 minute

  1. Staffin Dinosaur Museum

     Staffin Dinosaur Museum was established by Dugald Ross over 40 years ago and he is       still there today. The museum includes specimens from Stegosaurus, Megalosaurus,   Cetiosaurus, Hadrosaurus, and Ceolophysis. They also offer tours of the infamously hard to find Staffin dinosaur footprints.

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

F] The Quiraing / A’ Chuith-Raing / Kví Rand / Round Fold

Continue north on A855 for 3 to 5 minutes to bring you upon the entrance to the Quiraing Road. It is a fairly hard left at a little white house. There was no Quiraing sign when I was there, just a sign warning that the road may not be accessible in bad weather. But yeah, that is it. There should be a Chuith-Rang sign, but I did not see it.

The Quiraing was created by Tertiary age lava rock crushing Jurassic age sedimentary rock below it for millenia, resulting in a massive and ongoing landslide. This alien landscape is jaw droppingly stunning. The most dramatic vistas of the Quiraing  are the Table, Needle, Prison, Dùn Dubh and the Old Man of Storr.

I found the drive disappointing and drab. The roads are not in good condition. Many of those driving it are really poor drivers. It was in no way the thrill many blogs claim it to be. The views are spectacular from the carpark and the many hiking points. The drive, not so much.

You enter near Staffin and exit near Uig, (NG386643) Lat : 57.593464 Lon : -6.373546) It can be steep and curvy and filled with sheep, but the biggest challenge for me was the huge holes in the road. It is nothing like the exhilarating Bealach Na Ba.

Photo Alert: Most of the best photo ops occur once you hit the car park or the other viewing points along the Quiraing Rd. Once you walk out to the viewing area, you will be awestruck. There are a few unmarked stopping points that will be obvious when you come upon them. They are usually there due to a good view of something or for a hiking point entrance.

Sheep Alert: Sheep roam freely on this road and during lambing season April – June. little sheep inexperienced with roads and frightened by cars are unpredictable.

Parking Alert: The carpark often gets jammed packed early and stays that way throughout the day. There is an obvious wide layby to the side of the lot for overflow, but that often fills up as well. Please park courteously and with other people in mind.

Kid Alert: Your kids may or may not appreciate the views. It’s already been a bit of some time in the car. Maybe a wee hike is in order? I am unsure driving the entire Quiraing route would be worth it if your kid/s are already edgy. I am not sure it is actually ever worth it.

Pothole Alert: The roads suck on the Quiraing. The potholes are deep enough to cause injury to your vehicle.

Approximate Time: 45 minutes (per stop) – Total Trip Time: 5 hours 35 minutes

Next Destination: Duntulm Castle – Drive Time: 25 minutes


G] Duntulm Castle / Dun Dhaibhidh

You cannot enter this absolute ruin of a castle. Without a lot of imagination it isn’t much to see. Yet it is a dramatic location rich with ancient history. Fortified in the Iron Age. 

Clan Douglas, the McLeods and the MacDonalds fought over the damned thing for hundreds of years. The MacDonalds abandoned it in the 1730s and built a new house using stone taken from the castle.  Untended in such an exposed location  for nearly 300 years has taken its toll. The main tower collapsed into the sea in the 1990’s.

Gorgeous location, fantastic drive.

Photo Alert: Endless photo opportunities. About 3 miles up the road on the right is another viewpoint, with grassy areas for a picnic. View from the Minch to the Isle of Lewis is breathtaking.

Kid Alert: Good place for a picnic or snack.

Kid Warning: The castle is very unstable. The cliff rocks are as well. Keep an eye on your kids.

Parking Alert: Keep your eye out for the small parking area before the castle.

Pothole Alert: Parking area is ok The walk to the castle is often wet and muddy.

Toilet Alert: There are no facilities until you get the the next stop

Approximate Time: 45 hour – Total Trip Time: 7 hours

Next Destination: Skye Museum of Island Life – Drive Time: 7 minutes


H] Skye Museum of Island Life

The museum offers visitors a unique experience and true insight into island life a 100 years ago. This award winning attraction is a must for all visitors to the beautiful Isle of Skye. A perfect place to end this day long journey.

Photo Alert: Beautiful location with wonderful views.

Kid Alert: Kids may enjoy this, even more than you

Approximate Time: 45 minutes – Total Trip Time: 8 hours

Next Destination: Portree Harbour – Drive Time: 40 minutes


I) Village of Portree / Port Righ

Since you’ve already been here, it is time to take a break. Now you have time to take in the view you missed while rushing to get to the Old Man of Storr earlier. It is another 45 minutes to the Skye Bridge.

Photo Alert: There are many lovely spots to take pictures of the colorful houses along the harbour as well as the harbour itself

Toilet Alert: 1) Bridge Road behind Somerland Square, across from courthouse 2) Off A87 at the Aros Center

Approximate Time: 15 minutes – Total Trip Time: 8 hours

Next Destination: Skye Bridge – Drive Time: 45 minutes


J] The Skye Bridge / Drochaid an Eilein Sgitheanaich / A87

So you are back where you started. This road trip is complete.

Next Destination: Done – Drive Time: 8 hours 45 minutes

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.

Splendor on The Isle of Skye Scotland

Waterfall at the Fairy Pools, Isle of Skye 2018 Rootless Routes by Elizabeth Whitener

Isle of Skye Scotland 

An t-Eilean Sgitheanach / Eilean a’ Cheò

The Isle of Skye. Awash with astonishing scenery, enchanting locations and otherworldly landscapes. Skye also holds historic significance in the tumultuous story of the Highlands of Scotland.

Brimming with pure splendor. Packed into a mere 650 square miles of immutable space. Skye is quite simply a wonder.

Driving the magical island is truly a one of a kind experience. Staying there is simply brilliant.

Looking back on the Old Man of Storr
The Storr, taken from Tobhta Uachdrach view point. Isle of Skye Scotland Rootless Routes photo by Elizabeth Whitener 2018

The Island may be compact, but it is filled with resplendence.

And… don’t forget the fairies.

The Fairy Glen near Uig, Isle of Skye Scotland / Scottish Highlands Rootless Routes 2018 by Elizabeth Whitener
The Fairy Glen near Uig, Isle of Skye Scotland / Scottish Highlands Rootless Routes 2018 by Elizabeth Whitener
NC500 Fairy Pools Isle of Skye Scottish Highlands Scotland 2018 Rootless routes by Elizabeth Whitener
Fairy Pools / Glen Brittle / Carbost / Isle of Skye Scottish Highlands Scotland 2018 Rootless routes by Elizabeth Whitener

Skye’s deep connection to fairies, prehistoric archeology and geological anomalies is as entrenched in its heritage and lore, as is its formidable terrain. With such mystical vistas, it is no surprise that Skye is rich in ancient Norse, Celtic and Pagan lore.

Skye’s distinctive topographies are both lush and barren, contained and wild. A perfect analogy for much of Scotland and the Scottish Highlands. Historically, environmentally and geologically.

Abundant in wildlife, including Red Deer, Golden Eagles, Sea Eagles, Gannets, Seals, Whales, Puffins, Otters, Pine Marten and a large variety of birds. The Island offers much to do and see.

It is not difficult to imagine a fairy choosing the Isle of Skye as their home.

Dunvegan Castle Gardens holds the precious Fairy Flag Isle of Skye Rootless Routes 2018
Gorgeous falls at Dunvegan Castle Gardens. Isle of Skye Scotland Rootless Routes 2018 Elizabeth Whitener

Everybody Wants a Piece of Skye

Since the Norse stepped foot on this ethereal land thousands of years ago, the magic of the Island has been a fairly well kept secret. First savoured by the Brits, then by parts of Europe. This is no longer the case.

More than 600,000 vehicles cross the Sky Bridge / Crossing every year. Scotland’s boom in tourism is indeed taking its toll. Its effects can be seen on the environment as well as on the infrastructure. A common plight with which all of Scotland is now attempting to cope.

Isle of Skye puzzle piece like coastline. NC500 route. 2018 Rootless Routes
Water view from Tabhta Uachbrach view point. Rootless Routes 2018 Elizabeth Whitener Isle of Skye

An Enduring Skye

Yet unlike the ever unstable and inimical Quiraing, created by ancient rock crumbling beneath the weight of the invading rock above. The people of here remain warm, welcoming and unremitting. I imagine it is difficult to feel overcrowded with views like this.

The largest, northernmost, major island in Scotland’s Inner Hebrides. Skye has been inhabited since the Mesolithic period. Much like the Orkneys, Skye’s ties run deep with early Norse occupation.

Fairy Glen NC500 Rootes of the Routless
The Fairy Glen near Uig, Isle of Skye Scotland / Scottish Highlands Rootless Routes 2018 by Elizabeth Whitener
Dunvegan Castle NC500 Isle of Skye Rootless Routes 2018
Dunvegan Castle Home of the MacLeods Isle of Skye 2018 Rootless Routes

The Powerful Clans of Skye

Skye’s legacy includes a lengthy ascendancy with Clan MacLeod and Clan MacDonald  and was greatly impacted by the final Jacobite uprising.  You can find Flora MacDonald’s grave site here, as well as fascinating relics of her history in Dunvegan Castle . This ancient fortress and home to Clan MacLeod, is a fantastic visit. I should know, I’ve visited a lot of Scottish Castles. And within the walls of antiquity, this formidable castle, that remains inhabited by MacLeods yet to this day is the prized Fairy Flag

Jacobite Connections

After the the failed rising and the tragic end at Culloden. Flora, dressed the Bonnie Prince in women’s clothing and helped to secret him away and out of Scotland. She is seen by many as a brave Jacobite heroine. Ironically she was not likely a jacobite at all, just a very sweet, nurturing woman who liked to help people. But regardless, she likely saved Prince Charles life and her connection to the Island of Skye runs deep.

Portrait of the Bonnie Prince

The resulting clearances that continued for over 100 years after the uprisings tragic end, resulted in a huge population decline on Skye, the effects of which are still keenly felt today.

Fairy Glen, Isle of Skye NC500 route
Fairy Glen sheep with an attitude problem Rootless Routes Isle of Skye 2018 by Elizabeth Whitener

Most of the land is still owned by those that do not live on the Island. The sheep farms are mostly (if not all) tenant run with little rights over the whims of the land owners. And although the island is teeming with tourists, much of that money does not find its way to the crumbling infrastructure, nor to the people that live there.

Wages on the island are lower than average and rents are much higher (so tip… yes you should indeed tip). Long term rentals are nearly non existent. Nonetheless, the people of Skye seem to maintain an indubitable spirit. As do their sheep.

Visit The Isle of Skye

It is well worth a full day, if not two, to explore this magical place. In fact, you certainly would not run out of things to do or see, if you spent an entire week there. Sky offers endless attractions for young and old alike.

If you are planning to visit Scotland, do not miss out on this stunning place. I suggest you do it soon. For even the most enduring of communities can only bare the weight of such a severely overburdened infrastructure and countryside, for just so long.

Routes for traveling this gorgeous little island will be added to RootlessRoutes very soon and then linked here.

Outlander & the NC500 The End of Unexplored Scotland?

Devils Pulpit aka Finnich Glen 2018 by Rootless Routes NC500 Stirlingshire Undiscovered Scotland

I’m not Scottish.  In fact, it is likely not a single drop of Scottish blood runs through my veins. Yet Scotland calls to me. For this reason, I’ve been exploring Scotland for quite some time now. Especially the more remote parts of Scotland.

St Andrews Cross, Saltire
Scottish Flag. A flag of blue and white

Since I’ve had this love for Scotland for most of my life, I’ve been gobbing on about it and its wonders for years. As many times I have visited Scotland, I never tire of it. Yet inevitably my friends certainly get sick of hearing about it.

My Scotland?

So there I was…. sharing my love for Scotland, with the completely disinterested. Researching Scotland’s history as if it were of my own and visiting Scotland whenever possible. Accordingly, regaling friends with tales of of my Scottish travels. Reveling in the bits of unexplored terrain as I found them. Heartbroken over the challenges this country has enduringly had to face. Subsequently, I’d mention Scotland a lot. But for the most part, nobody cared!

Then it happened. First the Outlander series, then the creation of the NC500 tourist route. As a result, suddenly everybody loved Scotland too.

This led to a completely new reaction to my Scottish musings. Now when I’d mention Scotland, people got excited and to be sure,  everybody wanted to listen. Finally my friends took note of Scotland’s beauty. Undoubtedly it was Outlander & the NC500  that drove public interest to new levels  of interest and for that reason, Scottish tourism began booming.

Edinburgh Castle Interior Clock Tower Far from an Unexplored Scotland
Edinburgh Castle Clock Tower 2017 Elizabeth Whitener Rootless Routes

Beyond Loch Ness and the Loch Ness Monster, Loch Lomond, tartans, kilts, haggis and bagpipes, it seemed most people in the US knew little about Scotland, if it was not a part of their ancestry. But on account of Scotland’s new found popularity, that was no longer the case.

Royal Mile bagpiper, Edinburgh Photo by Elizabeth Whitener Rootless Routes Unexplored Scotland
Bagpiper in Edinburgh 2017 Picture by Elizabeth Whitener RootlessRoutes

I was happy that now people was seeing what I saw. But also, somehow Scotland wasn’t mine any more. Not that it really ever was.

Haggis for breakfast, Orkney Scotland
Yummy fresh made haggis with breakfast at Highland House BnB in Kirkwall Scotland Orkney Rootless Routes

NOT MY SCOTLAND

In consequence to its new found popularity, all one hears on travel blogs, in magazines, across the interwebs and beyond, are the praises about the magical land of Scotland. My Scotland. My unexplored Scotland. The proud and beautiful land with the flag of white and blue.

It’s like when the world discovers your favorite band. You are happy for the band but also feel cheated in some way. The band becomes no longer unique to you. You in no way aided them in their success. Your only connection was a love for their music. Happy for their success, yet you still somehow feel cheated. A need to mourn the loss of something unique to you in some way.

I am well aware that Scotland was never mine. I’m not even a Scot… And none of it is actually unexplored. Yet as the world awoke to the beauties of Scotland, I felt that a road trip was in order immediately!

My Scotland Road Trips / 5000 Miles of Scotland

That road trip turned into two (2), one (1) month long trips across, around and through Scotland. Covering both the well known and the most unexplored Scotland bits. One in Fall, the other in Spring. I learned a lot from these trips. I shall do my best to share the experiences that ensued.

But this post is about the result of all of this tourism. Tourism on a land that in many places that has remained (or been forced into remaining) simple and remote. A land that has never seen, and seems in no way ready for the masses appearing on their shores from day to day. And in result, the bits often referred to as unexplored Scotland, or hidden Scotland, obscure Scotland… become less and less obscure.

highland roadway near Glenelg Scotland
Single track ‘Passing Place’ along the NC500 route between Glenelg and Applecross and the tail end of my Mitsubishi Outlander Rootless Routes

OUTLANDER & THE NC500

It appears that Scotland’s sudden and well deserved boon came from a perfect combination of the popularity of Outlander & the NC500 craze, aided by the surge in travel in general.

The popularity of travel blogs added to the sudden mass realization of Scotland’s largely unappreciated, infinite and unique beauty.

Many Scots never saw it coming. Most of them had never even heard of Outlander (or Cross Stitch) until recently. They were unaware that Outlander romanticized the countries beauty and passion in such an idolized way, that soon crazy tourists would be blocking roads, stopping traffic to photograph sheep and cows, climbing into ancient dangerous holes, building campfires in the middle of Neolithic stone circles, driving poorly and with no understanding of the rules of the road and camping on private property. Unexplored Scotland was getting pretty damned well explored and exploited.

Visit Scotland’s “Scotland is now” ad campaign helms this Scottish tourism assault. Scotland is seemingly now on the tip of everyone’s tongue and it is also now teaming with tourists.

Atlas Obscura, Undiscovered Scotland, Culture trip, (my favorite travel source), Rough Guides, NC500. All great publications that hype the undiscovered and unexplored Scotland bits. But when everybody knows of the unexplored, how long can these places remain so?

Royal Mile Edinburgh 2018
Edinburgh’s Royal Mile off season. Elizabeth Whitener 2018 Rootless Routes

Scotland became a hot commodity overnight and I hadn’t even driven it yet.

DSC00273
Dunnottar Castle. A true 16th century courtyard castle. Stonehaven Aberdeenshire. Photo by Elizabeth Whitener 2017 Rootless Routes

CASTLES CASTLES CASTLES and the BEALACH NA BA

Endless hiking, free camping, invigorating roadways, stunning vistas, otherworldly mountain ranges, all appreciated by driving and riding aficionados alike. Motorbikes, bicycles and hikers love the roads and paths of Scotland equally…  and don’t forget the castles. The endless array of castles. 

I drove every coast of this magnificent place and even after traveling a great deal of this planet, I must say… Scotland is truly magnificent. Both the explored and the unexplored Scotland.

But for me and likely for many, part of its magnificence comes from its remoteness.

How does Scotland maintain its most beautiful locations integrity, if they become no longer remote?

Kildrummy Castle Ruins 2017 by Rootless Routes
Kildrummy Castle – 13th Century ruin – photo by Elizabeth Whitener Kildrummy Scotland 2017 Rootless Routes
Craigievar Castle (tower house)
Craigievar Castle (tower house). Is a pink harled structure near Alford, Aberdeenshire Scotland. Photo by Elizabeth Whitener aka januarymoon 2017 Rootless Routes
Castle Fraser, Aberdeenshire Scotland Rootless Routes
Castle Fraser. 1636 preserved Z plan Tower House. Photo by Elizabeth Whitener, Inverurie Scotland, Aberdeenshire 2017 Rootless Routes
SCOTLAND: THE MOST BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY IN THE WORLD

Voted in the top most welcoming, as well as the #1 most beautiful country in the world in 2017, Scotland has long been high on the scale for offering many wonderful things, yet it remained a bit obscure as a major tourist attraction even through the 1990s when the first Outlander book, known as Cross Stitch in the UK, exploded in the US.

Outlander book cover. by Diana Gabaldon 1991
First edition Outlander book cover from 1991.

UNEXPLORED SCOTLAND

The more obscure, less explored places in Scotland touted online by so many travel blogs or in any way connected to Outlander, nowadays tends to be pretty damned well explored, no matter how remote. Some completely trampled on and in dire need for some sort of control by county officials, but amazing places to visit nevertheless.

I set out to discover if any of the “unexplored” still existed in this proud and enduring land and… I found it. But it isn’t just me and my tiny little unread blog that know of these places.

Soon they will be amongst the amazing places known as undiscovered, but are actually quite frequented by many, and often left to an disturbingly unknown fate.

THE DEVIL’S PULPIT – FINNICH GLEN

The Devils Pulpit aka Finnich Glen. This stunning and dangerous location, that has been here for millennia, is a perfect example of the plight of some these beautiful spots when overexposed and under maintained.

The best way to find it nowadays, is to follow the illegally parked cars and the trail of discarded socks.

Visiting the sight left me with very mixed emotions about Scotland’s new found popularity, even if my experience there was truly fantastic! For others the experience has not been quite as rewarding, as described in The Scottish Sun Outland-ish Behaviour.

The Devils Pulpit Finnich Glen as seen on Outlander
The Devils Pulpit. Photo by Elizabeth Whitener 2018 Rootless Routes

Climbing down into the Devils Pulpit is far more difficult and dangerous than many are led to believe. Apparently this place was highlighted in an Outlander episode, so now it is overrun with visitors.

Due to this new found interest, there have been numerous rescues from the site. Similarly numerous injuries have been reported and the steps, although they look like real steps at the top, are practically non existent just a few feet into the 70 foot climb down.

With no true car park or parking spaces specified, most park in a small public lot down the road. The local road is skinny, winding, quite busy and maintains a speed limit of 60 MPH, making it dangerous to park or walk on.

Since The Devils Pulpit was an Outlander location, as well as in the new movie King Arthur, the place is packed with people. Consequently it has become hazardous  nd apparently the perfect place to toss litter and wet socks.

I am quite certain the Stirlingshire council will do something about this soon. But this gorgeous place (that needs to be preserved) is the perfect example of how unready Scotland is for some of the insanity that the Outlander & the NC500 hype has created in their wake.

THE FAIRY GLEN UIG / PORTREE ISLE OF SKYE

The Fairy Glen, a magical place in Uig Skye is more remote. Not a particularly dangerous spot like the Devils Pulpit. Yet parking is scarce, not well signed and huge busses roll up right to the main curve, trampling the ground, often blocking the way for anyone to pass, and freaking out the sheep.

The Isle of Skye is so overwhelmed by tourists in Summer, that the police have been forced to make it illegal to visit the island without a hotel reservation.

Small, windy, poorly lit, pothole filled roads become jam packed with tourists both on foot, cycles, motorbikes and RVs.

Young people hanging out with no place to go, and no way to get around, walk alongside extremely perilous roads. Tragically a young girl was killed hitchhiking there last year. She is likely not the first, nor the last.

The Quiraing, amazingly was packed with RVs when I was there and bizarrely,  3 young Japanese tourists were walking along the edge, wheeling their luggage along some of the most dangerous parts of the Quiraing roadway, as cars, cows, sheep and cyclists rode by. (I have it on video)

Yet the Fairy Glen is a fantastical place to visit and free (for the time being). You could spend hours there, just walking, photographing and enjoying the unusual terrain. No place like it on the planet.

Fairy Glen Unexplored Scotland Uig
The Fairy Glen Isle of Skye Uig / Portree Scotland 2018 Elizabeth Whitener Rootless Routes

THE STANDING STONES OF STENNESS

itener Unexplored Scotland” src=”https://rootlessroutes.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/dsc00763-2.jpg” alt=”Stone Circle Orkney Scotland by Rootless Routes Unexplored Scotland” width=”760″ height=”640″ /> Standing Stones of Stenness Orkney Scotland Neolithic Stone Circle 2017 by Rootless Routes[/caption]
It was not until late in 2014, when the Outlander TV series rocked the US market and pushed the

It was not until late in 2014, when the Outlander TV series rocked the US market and pushed the Starz network into an unexpected new realm. The NC500 came shortly behind it creating the Outlander & NC500 tourism phenomena we see today. Both hold a significant role in boosting interest not only in Scotland, but of Scotlands Neolithic sites as well.

Outlander significantly boosted the interest in Scotland’s many standing stones and the NC500 helped to bring the traffic to these extremely remote locations

Orkney, a place so remote to Scotland, that some of those from there barely consider themselves Scottish. Now plagued with unprecedented traffic, the older locals look quite literally terrified at times and neolithic relics are getting trampled underfoot.

Standing Stones of Stenness. Orkney Scotland by Rootless routes, Elizabeth Whitener 2017

INVERNESS

As tourism soars, so does the economy. A much needed and appreciated boost indeed, especially in the highlands and the Islands. But with this came the blogging (just like I am doing here) and lesser known, unexplored Scotland bits started to see more and more visitors.

Even Inverness took awhile to boom, the self proclaimed capital of the Highlands continued to struggle with economic strife, until Claire and Jamie road through town and things changed quickly.

If visiting Inverness, remember that it is slowly growing to meet the tourism demands. Book a place to stay well in advance. Make reservations to eat ALWAYS. And please be kind to the grounds of Culloden. Many of the locals are already devastated over building that will soon go on near sights considered to be sacred.

Flora MacDonald Inverness Castle
Flora MacDonald statue in front of Inverness Castle. The heroine of the Jacobites, even if she may not have been a Jacobite herself.

Due to the surge in tourism, finding bits of Scotland that are less travelled or unexplored has become quite difficult these days. There is a variation of a similar saying that I heard locals proclaim while visiting the Highlands. It went something like “We were always here, you just now noticed us.”

FINDING UNEXPLORED SCOTLAND

In sharing all of the above, I actually was able to find some more remote and less explored fantastic locations, aka unexplored things to see and do in Scotland.

The surge in tourism has actually brought forth finances to renovate, restore and revive sites that had been neglected, ignored, even forgotten for centuries.

Many from the list below have benefitted from this bounty. I will add information to finding and visiting each of these locations and then link each post to the list below as my posts are complete.

I am also preparing routes that you can follow that will help you visit many of these sites in a single day with ample time to enjoy each one, catch lunch and return to where you are staying to relax for the night and prepare for your next days journey.

Castle Advreck - Lock Assent
Castle Ardvreck – Lock Assent

Ardvreck – Loch Assynt

RootlessRoutes 2018
Castle Sinclair Girnigoe by RootlessRoutes 2018 Scottish Highlands Sutherland Scotland
Ruins of Castle Varrich truly a part of Unexplored Scotland
Tongue Scotland 2018 by Rootless Routes Castle Varrich

Castle Varrich – Tongue

Portencross Castle Ayrshire 2018 RootlessRoutes
Portencross Castle Ayrshire / West Kilbide 2018 RootlessRoutes by Elizabeth Whitener

Portencross Castle – West Kilbride

Dundonald Castle RootlessRoutes 2018
Dundonald Castle RootlessRoutes 2018 South Ayrshire

DunDonald Castle – South Ayrshire

Wariston Cemetery Edinburgh 2018
Warriston Cemetery Edinburgh 2018

Warriston Cemetery – Edinburgh – Victorian Cemetery recently being lovingly restored by Friends of Warriston Cemetery a local group

Visit Scotland

In brief, do not hesitate to visit any part of Scotland. Just be conscientious and conscious of your surroundings and by all means, enjoy! Understand that people live here and love their home. Be vigilant, careful and respectful to the Earth, the animals (both tame and wild) and the people.

Do not park in passing places or block anyone’s path. Learn about the rules of the road ahead of time and follow them.

If driving on the other side of the road makes you nervous, don’t do it! Find alternative transportation. The speed limit on most of these back roads is 60 MPH and if you can’t drive that fast, let others pass you or simply do not drive. The locals have jobs and appointments and visitors need to be sensitive to these things.

Be smart and well prepared, be kind, take your trash with you (even wet socks) and enjoy beautiful Scotland.

After all what’s mine is yours.

The Fairy Glen of Skye Scottish Highlands Scotland’s North Coast

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View from Castle Ewen of The Fairy Glen below

Deep in the farthest reaches of the Scottish Highlands. Tucked between the gold, amber and brown monolithic peaks of t-Eilean Sgitheanach. Across winding, single track, sheep filled roads. There is a land that the Fae call home.

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A fairy trail below Castle Ewen

The Fairy Glen

Where eerily ridged and ragged, irregularly shaped hills and dales are flocked by mossy green vegetation. An alien world, amongst an already seemingly alien background of monochromatic tones and craggy mountains.

There it is, blanketed in a lush and vivid velvet verdancy. Castle Ewen calls to you, so you begin to climb. You wander through the worn paths of those that graced this mystical expanse before you.

Castle Ewen and the highest peak in the Fairy Glen

Time stands still, sheep bah and graze. New lambs bleat, suckle and frolic in the sun. As you  climb you periodically gaze up at the flat topped peak, drawn.

At certain angles the tower above appears to be man made (Fae made?) as do the miniature rock fronted burrows below (Fae den?).  As a result of the scenery, atmosphere or perhaps something even less tangible, you get a sense of magic.

The hills are steep but not too daunting. You stop to catch your breath. A calm falls upon you. A cool wind kisses your cheek and there you are at the apogee of The Fairy Glen.

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The Ferry Glen from above

Gazing out across the greenery, to the brown and golden ranges that surround you. Waterfalls, pastures, bluffs, lochs and roadways are all in view. Yet none of what you see beyond the point at which you stand is in any way as green or as lush.

The Fairy Glen Skye
View of distant waterfalls from the Fairy Glen

 

 

The Fairies of the World

There are so many things one could say about the Fairy Glen. If only one could find the words. So easy tis it, imagine magical, delicately winged creatures living here. Like “The Glen” in Ireland, it is simply surreal.

As you stand there, communing with whatever it is that seemingly created this magical place, it is hard not to believe that if the Fae lived anywhere, this would be a place of choice.

Each little  mound, sculpted by their wee fairy hands and tamped down by their wee fairy feet. Every rock flown by iridescent wings and tapped into place with fairy spit and fairy dust.

It takes little imagination to know this place as The Fairy Glen.

Geological anomaly, The Fairy Glen
A Fairy Glen or a geological anomaly

Science? Magic? Or a Little Bit of Both

In the non magical world, The Fairy Glen is a geological anomaly. An ancient landslip, that landed in just the right location to create a semi micro climate, allowed simple mosses, grasses and lichen to flourish and grow on the rock. As the plants broke down and rock eroded, the rocky base became rich with fertile soil, encouraging a normally much more hostile environment. Years of sheep poop likely helped too.

Yet even though the rational mind knows the scientific rationale behind the flourishing surroundings on which you stand. It remains difficult not to feel a sense of the unreal and revel in the magic of such an pleasingly atmospheric quarter.

Directions to The Fairy Glen:

The Fairy Glen is located in the North West of the Isle of Skye. Sadly, it is not as obscure as it was once, so to get there you can simply enter it into your GPS as The Fairy Glen.

It will likely take less than an hour to get there from anywhere on the Island of Skye by automobile.

Take A87, which at one point turns into Dunvegan Rd (but also remains A87). Just follow it around until you see the sign for the Fairy Glen. You will see cars parked about 1/2 mile before the actual location, but I was able to park on a dirt patch directly in front of the sight.

Please PLEASE do NOT park in any passing places. It is illegal, dangerous and just plane rude. Do not park in a way that obstructs the road, obvious sheep crossings, or that in any way negatively impacts the locals or the environment.

To Know When Visiting The Fairy Glen:

There is no admission fee or attendants there. There are no toilets or parking specifically for The Fairy Glen. It still can get very crowded. Even tour buses show up there.

There is really no need for a walking map once there, but here is  a link nevertheless.  If you get turned around, just a small trek up one of the hills will allow you a view to anywhere you need to go. It is easy to traverse the area by meandering. Some may find it difficult to get to the top, but that is ok, there are plenty places to walk that are only mildly hilly. It is worth the viewing, even if you do not intend to, or cannot walk around.

I think kids would enjoy it there just as much as adults.

Although you could essentially walk for miles around The Fairy Glen, you likely could walk around, climb and photograph within an hours time. I personally spent 2 hours there and enjoyed it.

I suggest you wear hiking shoes if you have them, it can get pretty muddy.

A rain jacket is also suggested.

Photography Advice for The Fairy Glen:

When on the road facing the glen, there is a hill behind you. This hill is an excellent location for snapping shots, as is the top of the glen itself atop Castle Ewen.

Good to Note:

Be careful that your GPS does not confuse The Fairy Glen in Uig with the Fairy Pools in Glen Brittle (also on Skye), nor the Fairy Glen Park in Wigan, or The Fairy Glen Hotel in Penmaenmawr.

Other places to visit when in the area Dunvegan Castle and the Fairy Pools.

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!

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.