When time is limited, lots of plans and ideas are important to making the most of your time outside the office – whether it’s a wander in the hills or along the coast, a pint from the local brewery or sup from local distillery or the best local grub on offer. Scotland, my homeland, what better way to see it than a road trip!
Early start for the 3 hours & 155 miles journey from Edinburgh, probably via Pitlochry for a leg-stretcher up Ben Vrackie.
- Hike Ben Vrackie (PH16 5BP) – at 841m/2,757ft high it’s not a
Munro but it looks like one and feels like one as you ascend its steep slope to the summit. From here you might spot Ben Lawers, Schiehallion, Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh and the Cairngorms
- Or hike Meall A’Bhuachaille from Glenmore Visitor Centre car park in Cairngorms National Park
- Culloden Battlefield – National Trust Scotland £11 – On 16 April 1746 the last battle to be fought on British soil took less than an hour to reach its bloody conclusion here on what is now know as Culloden Moor. It was not, as often portrayed, a battle between the Scots and the English: large numbers of Scots fought on the Government side while the Jacobite army included French units and some English Jacobites. Rather it was the last chapter in a sporadic civil war for succession to the throne that had been under way since 1688
- Black Isle Brewery (IV8 8NZ) – tour and shop
- Hike Loch Ness (IV63 6WF)
- Loch Ness Brewery (IV63 6UH) – attached to the Benleva Hotel in Drumnadrochit
- Shopping at Go Outdoors (IV3 8DL)
- Clachnaharry Inn (IV3 8RB) – somewhere to eat
- Ticket to Ride (IV2 4SZ) & Inverness Bike Hire (IV1 1EA) – a couple of options for bike hire
3.5 hours & 140 miles from Inverness to Britain’s most northerly mainland town.
- Dornoch – with it’s beautiful beach of soft white sand, was a camping holiday destination one summer as a child – perhaps stop for a walk or walk
- Duncansby Head – the most north-easterly part of the Scottish mainland, the headland juts into the North Sea, with the Pentland Firth to its north and west and the Moray Firth to its south
- Hike John o’ Groats – famed as the northeastern corner of the British Mainland, the small village receives a huge number of visitors. The true northeasterly point is nearby Duncansby Head, which has two truly spectacular sea-stacks just to the south. An excellent coastal walk
- Dunnet Head – a peninsula in Caithness that includes the most northerly point of mainland Great Britain – Easter Head
- Hike Staxigoe – near Wick including the ruins of Castle SInclair
- The Captain’s Galley, Scrabster
St Margarets Hope, Orkney (2nghts)
The 90 minute ferry trip from Scrabster to Stromness, across the Pentland Firth – one of Europe’s most dangerous waterways, a graveyard of ships that adds an extra mystique to this archipelago of mostly flat, green-topped islands stripped bare of trees and ringed with red sandstone cliffs.
- Orkney Brewery (KW16 3LT) – tours daily, throughout the day – £5 with sampling
- Skara Brae (KW16 3LR) – northern Europe’s best-preserved prehistoric village, predating Stonehenge and the pyramids of Giza, sits 8 miles north of Stromness – Historic Scotland £7.10
- Maeshowe (KW16 3HH) – a Stone Age tomb, constructed about 5,000 years ago, built from enormous sandstone blocks. Though nothing is known about who or what was interred here, the scope of the project suggests it was a structure of great significance – Historic Scotland £5.50, book in advance 01856 761606
- Standing Stones of Stenness – within sight of Maeshowe this may be the earliest henge monument in the British Isles, four mighty stones remain of what was once a circle of twelve
- Barnhouse Neolithic Village – alongside the Standing Stones of Stenness are the excavated remains ofa village thought to be inhabited by the builders of Maeshowe
- Ring of Brodgar – a mile north of Stenness is this wide circle of standing stones, some over 5m tall
- Brough of Birsay (KW17 2LX) – at low tide you can walk out to this windswept island, sight of extensive Norse ruins, including a number of longhouses – walk – check tide times here & here
- Mull Head Nature Reserve – Gloup car park, Deerness
- Tomb of the Eagles
- Hoy – Old Man Of Hoy, one of many sights to cycle round – hire bikes in Stromness before the 30 minute passenger ferry (£4.25)
- Pier Arts Centre (KW16 3AA) – in Stromness
- Yesnaby Cliffs – on the west coast of Orkney Mainland, south of Skara Brae, spectacular Old Red Sandstone coastal cliff scenery including sea stacks, blowholes, geos and frequently boiling seas.
- Somewhere fancy to eat in St Margarets Hope – The Creel – book in advance 01856 831311
- Highland Park (KW15 1SU) – distillery standard tour and sample £7.50
2.5 hours & 85 miles, from Scrabster ferry, with 72 miles of it winding along spectacular coast to Durness. The scattered village of Durness is strung out along cliffs, which rise from a series of pristine beaches. It has one of the finest locations in Scotland. When the sun shines, the effects of blinding white sand, the cry of seabirds and the lime- coloured seas combine in a magical way. Before Durness and Loch Eribol you are entering the Nort West Highlands Geopark that covers around 2,000 sq km of mountain, peatland, beach, forest and coastline across west Sutherland and south to Ullapool.
- Hike Durness & North Sutherland
- Smoo Cave – a dramatic and spectacular sea cave set into the limestone cliffs of Sutherland
- Cape Wrath – the end (or beginning) of The Cape Wrath Trail – a 200 mile trail between Fort William and the most north-westerly point of mainland Scotland
- Sandwood Bay – a minor road leads past Kinlochbervie, one of Scotland’s premier fish-landing ports to Blairmore. This is the starting point for the walk (4miles e/w) to the magnificent and isolated bay, guarded at one end by the spectacular sandstone stack Am Buachaille
- Hike Ben Hope, Kyle of Durness or Scourie Headland
1.5 hours & 53 miles from Rhiconich. With its otherworldly scenery of isolated peaks rising above a sea of crumpled, lochan-spattered gneiss, Assynt epitomises the wild magnificence of the northwest Highlands. The glaciers of the last ice age have sculpted the hills of Suilven (731m), Canisp (846m), Quinag (808m) and Ben More Assynt (998m) into strange and wonderful silhouettes.
The pretty port of Ullapool, on the shores of Loch Broom, is the largest settlement in Wester Ross and one of the most alluring spots in the Highlands, a wonderful destination in itself as well as a gateway to the Western Isles. Offering a row of whitewashed cottages arrayed along the harbour and special views of the loch and its flanking hills, the town has a very distinctive appeal. The harbour served as an emigration point during the Clearances, with thousands of Scots watching the loch recede behind them as the diaspora cast them across the world.
- Hike Assynt & Coigach
- Hike Loch Broom & Dundonnell
- Fish n Chips for tea!
- An Teallach Ale Company (IV23 2QT) – by Little Loch Broom, on the road from Ullapool to Skye
- The Old Inn (IV21 2BD) – in Gairloch, further along the A832 from Ullapool to Skye
Dunvegan, Isle of Skye (2nghts)
3.5 hours & 135 miles from Ullapool. The Isle of Skye (an t-Eilean Sgiathanach in Gaelic) takes its name from the old Norse sky-a, meaning ‘cloud island’, a Viking reference to the often-mist-enshrouded Cuillin Hills. It’s the largest of Scotland’s islands, a 50-mile-long smorgasbord of velvet moors, jagged mountains, sparkling lochs and towering sea cliffs. The stunning scenery is the main attraction, but when the mist closes in there are plenty of castles, crofting museums and cosy pubs and restaurants in which to retire.
- Hike the Isle of Skye
- Eilean Donan Castle – has to be one of the most easily recognisable castles in Scotland. Photogenically sited at the entrance to Loch Duich it sits on an islet linked to the mainland by a stone-arched bridge
- Elgol – On a clear day, the journey along the road from Broadford to Elgol is one of the most scenic on Skye. It takes in two classic postcard panoramas – the view of Bla Bheinn across Loch Slapin (near Torrin), and the superb view of the entire Cuillin range from Elgol pier.
- Cuillin Hills – The Cuillin Hills are Britain’s most spectacular mountain range (the name comes from the Old Norse kjöllen, meaning ‘keel-shaped’). Though small in stature (Sgurr Alasdair, the highest summit, is only 993m), the peaks are near-alpine in character, with knife-edge ridges, jagged pinnacles, scree-filled gullies and hectares of naked rock. While they are a paradise for experienced mountaineers, the higher reaches of the Cuillin are off limits to the majority of walkers.
- Talisker (IV47 8SR) – distillery tour
- Isle of Skye Brewery (IV51 9XP) – make some time to hit up the brewery shop for some ‘souvenirs’
Fort William (3nghts)
3 hours & 125 miles from Skye magical Glen Nevis begins near the northern end of the town and wraps itself around the southern flanks of Ben Nevis (1,344m), Britain’s highest mountain and a magnet for hikers and climbers.
- Hike Fort William & Lochaber
- Bike hire from Nevis Cycles in Fort William (PH33 6NG)
- Shopping – Ellis Brigham (PH33 6BT), Nevisport (PH33 6EU), Cotswold Outdoor (PH33 6AD) & Mountain Warehouse (PH33 6AT)
- The Grog & Gruel (PH33 6AD) – somewhere for food and beer
- The Ben Nevis Inn (PH33 6TE) – another option..