Meg is a Norfolk-based food blogger who blogs at No Mean Feast. When Coronavirus meant their overseas holiday was cancelled, they decided to go on a road trip to the Scottish Highlands. Meg shares her route and top tips on what to see and do and where to stay.
Before official lockdown, our South Africa adventure was cancelled on the day we were meant to be flying so we were left with bags packed, ‘out of offices’ on and no holiday to go on. The weather forecast looked good, so we decided to drive up to Scotland that afternoon, with Wilfred our dog, and do the Scottish Highlands road trip we’d always wanted to do.
We knew there might be a possibility that it would be cut short if a lockdown was announced, so our trip was about 10 days. However, you could so easily extend it and do 2-3 weeks as there’s so much to see. So many people replied to my Instagram stories at the time asking for our route that I wanted to share it, so Kirsty kindly let me write this post!
Here’s the route we took.
First stop: Edinburgh
We arrived late at night as we’d set off in the afternoon. We weren’t keen to stay in a city too long, given the circumstances, so only stayed in Edinburgh for one full day. You really need more days to do it justice.
Edinburgh castle and the surrounding stony streets are very picturesque. Once you climb the stairs to get up there you’ll need to catch your breath, which is good because it’s a beautiful view to admire.
Also make sure you take the time to walk around Holyrood Park as it’s really pretty and you can climb up to Arthur’s Seat for great views.
If you have a sweet tooth like me, stop in at Fudge Kitchen for smooth and creamy slabs of fudge that are made in front of you. For those interested in fine dining, the tasting menu at Michelin-starred No.1, which sits in the impressive Balmoral Hotel, was really brilliant.
Accommodation: As we needed somewhere dog friendly at late notice, we stayed at the cheap and cheerful Holiday Inn Express Royal Mile. Nothing glamorous but clean, comfortable and a great walking distance location to everything we wanted to see.
Loch Ness via Loch Lomond
Top tip: Set off early, fill up your fuel tank and pick up snacks, water, medicines, toiletries etc. BEFORE you leave Edinburgh. Any kind of shops are few and far between in the Highlands.
First things first, ignore Google and your Satnav. Really, just trust me. Take the M8 out of Edinburgh towards Glasgow and follow the A82 all the way through to Loch Ness. It’s a longer route but the scenery on this drive is incredible. Make lots of impromptu stops at the roadside to take photos, follow trails or walk along the edge of a loch – it really made our trip.
This drive took us the whole day with lots of stops and short walks.
Stop 1: Duck Bay
Duck Bay has amazing views over Loch Lomond and is a good picnic spot too. There’s also a restaurant inside the Duck Bay Hotel, which looks over the loch. We didn’t eat there as they’re not dog-friendly but went in to ask them and it looked a lovely spot to have a drink (though I imagine it gets super busy).
Loch Lomond itself is an area that we were planning to do more of on the way back down but alas, we didn’t get time. You could easily spend a few days here exploring so I’d recommend adding a few days in here now or on the way back!
Stop 2: Falls of Falloch
The Falls of Falloch are just off the A82, in the county of Stirling, and situated in The Trossachs National Park. It’s only a quick walk from the small car park to get to the waterfall. Really worth stopping here.
There are also some great viewpoints and walks to stop at on the roadside as you pass through Glencoe and Fort William too.
Accommodation: The Lovat was one of our favourite hotels of the trip. If you can get one of the garden rooms they have their own gated patio, perfect for dogs and for sitting out and watching the sunrise or sunset over the mountains. Their locally-sourced Full Scottish breakfast is a must-try and their tasting menu in the restaurant for dinner was decent too.
Loch Ness to Golspie
This was quite a full on day so you could definitely break this up into two days if you wanted to chill a bit more!
Stop 1: Loch Ness
You can’t do the Highlands without visiting Loch Ness, it just wouldn’t be right! It’s in walking distance from The Lovat and we were lucky enough to get there in the morning and have the whole place to ourselves. It was so warm I even dipped my feet in.
The next bit of the drive goes up into some really windy, hilly roads with amazing views and very changeable weather. We also saw some rare birds according to some lovely birdwatchers we met on a riverbank who lent us their binoculars!
Stop 2: Falls of Foyers
The Fall of Foyers is a waterfall on the River Foyers. To visit it, just park across the road and then descend a lot of steps… but it’s really worth it when you see the power and strength of the main waterfall. It’s one of the UK’s biggest waterfalls.
Stop 3: Fairy Glen Falls
Okay… I think I have a thing for waterfalls! We didn’t see any fairies…. but this is a really lovely walk through woodland, which takes you to a set of cute little waterfalls. Look out for the wooden “wishing logs” with pennies stuck in them for good luck.
Stop 4: Dornoch beach
The golden hour here made for amazing photos. There’s also a chocolate shop in Dornoch which I wanted to try called Cocoa Mountain, but unfortunately it shut early that day. We had takeaway fish and chips from local favourite The Trawler in Golspie and ate them overlooking the beach whilst the sun set. Bliss!
Accommodation: I’m not going to share the hotel I stayed in because I wouldn’t recommend it. It was very dated and the people there gave me the creeps!
Golspie to Lybster via John O’Groats
This is another pretty full on day if you do it all in one! Instead, take it easy and spend a couple of days visiting these stops and incorporating a few longer walks.
Stop 1: Whaligoe steps
Amazing views and a really interesting fishing history but hard work to get to (or more precisely, to get back up from!). The steps are uneven, steep and without barriers – next to a sharp drop. Not for those with a fear of heights. I’d be a bit wary about doing this with young children or dogs that are excitable too.
We were lucky enough to get chatting to local fisherman Davy, who it turns out is somewhat of an unofficial tour guide and local celebrity! He was so interesting and even got some old photos out of his house to show us.
Stop 2: John O’Groats
I’m only putting it here because everyone will ask you if you’ve been and you’ll probably feel you should go, but in all honesty I wouldn’t bother. It’s touristy, not that pretty and the sign was getting renovated when we visited so we didn’t even get “the” photo! It’s not even the most northerly point of mainland UK… which brings me on to….
Stop 3: Dunnet Head
The *actual* most northerly point of mainland Great Britain and much prettier! We had the place to ourselves, though I don’t think under normal circumstances you would. Apparently it’s a great location for bird watching, if you’re into that kind of thing. We even saw puffins!
Stop 4: Dunnet Bay
This side of the highlands is blessed with endless, gorgeous, sandy beaches. This was probably the busiest beach we visited but it was still really quiet! Good size car park right next to the beach so it made for a good quick stop and walk.
If you like seafood, you have to stop at The Captain Galley’s Seafood Shack in Scrabster. There is a main restaurant but it was closed when we visited so we ate in the shack. It is literally a shed in a car park that seats probably no more than 15 people, adjoined to the main restaurant on Scratby Harbour. The seafood was locally caught and so fresh.
Accommodation: We got one of the dog-friendly cottages in the forest grounds of Forss House Hotel. Our lodge had been recently redecorated and was done out as a fisherman’s cottage and it was perfect. Really highly recommend staying in one of the cottages in the grounds if you can.
Lybster to Durness
This ended up being our final stretch of our road trip. With lockdown starting to be talked about, we felt that it would be irresponsible to carry on and that we should head home. We’d have loved to carry on down the West coast and across to Skye before returning via Loch Lomond, which you could do and easily add on another 1-2 weeks onto this itinerary.
Stop 1: Melvich Bay
Another day, another deserted beach! There’s a small car park marked off the road (that’s easy to miss so keep a lookout) and a 10 minute walk over the dunes leads you to this bay and some nice viewpoints over the hills.
Stop 2: Borgie Forest – The Unknown
This is a quick and easy walk to stretch your legs that maybe took us 30 – 45 minutes and breaks up the driving. It’s a well-marked loop up the hill and down again to see the sculpture “The Unknown” at the top. The sculpture itself is a bit creepy but the view across to the other hills and mountains is nice. Good picnic spot!
Top tip: There’s not many shops en-route but if you need a convenience stop for some snacks, we found a small shop in Tongue which is mid-way on this drive.
Also make sure you stop by the lochs to hop out and walk down to the shores, they’re stunning and the water is so clear, so perfect for a dip (I was only brave enough to dip my feet though).
Stop 3: Ceannabeinne beach
I still have no idea how you pronounce it but this was one of our favourite beaches and Wilfred loved it! Park in the car park opposite, cross the road and walk down the hill past the sheep into the cove. It was so pretty and sheltered from the elements with perfect white sand.
We ran out of time and it was starting to get dark but Smoo Caves and Sango Sands Beach, which are about a 10 min drive from this beach were on our list to visit too.
We saw so many massive stags right by the car during dusk on the drive inland to Loch Shin and around Loch Shin! There was lots to do that we ran out of time for too…
Accommodation: We drove inland to stay at the most cosy, peaceful shepherd huts near Lairg and Loch Shin. The views from the huts were lovely to wake up to and it’s an area I’d definitely like to explore more. The drive we did from Durness to there was one of the most remote and wild ones we did.
The next day we headed home with a stop overnight in the Holiday Inn outside Stirling.
This is a really rough guide and should give you some ideas of stops and a route if you want to spend 10 days driving this beautiful area of the UK. There’s so much I feel like you could spend weeks exploring and still not see everything!