5 Eye-Opening Scotland Road Trips
Scotland isn’t just famous for whisky, the Loch Ness monster and bagpipes – it’s also a country with some of the most astounding scenery that you’ll find in the UK and Western Europe, and one perfect for a family road trip. With minimal traffic and spectacular scenery, get out of the cities and take a Scotland road trip with the family.
Here’s five of my top picks of less well-known road trips that you should consider if you’re travelling to Scotland anytime soon.
#1 — Bealach na Bà (The Road to Applecross)
If you’re an experienced driver who’s looking to really impress your kids with Jurassic scenery, towering mountains and incredible views, tackling the Bealach na Bà (pronounced bee-ul-loch noo bah) is probably a road trip that you’ll be itching to get on.
It’s known as ‘The Road to Applecross’, and it’s a single track that winds its way through the breathtaking mountains of the Applecross Peninsula to the remote village of Applecross on the Wester Ross coast.
Sharp, hairpin turns and gradients of 1 in 5, make this the third highest road in Scotland, rising up to 626 metres (or 2,054 ft) above sea level, and one of the most difficult roads to drive in the UK. It has the honour of being the only road in Scotland that has a sign warning learner drivers from taking the route. It’s definitely not a drive for the inexperienced or the faint-hearted – but it’s truly incredible scenery more than makes up for this, if you think you’re up for the challenge.
In Scots Gaelic, Bealach na Bà translates as ‘Pass of the Cattle’. It was originally an ancient drove track, used to move cattle and livestock from the Highlands to Applecross. In 1822, a gravel road was built along the route of the track creating the challenging road we know today. Amazingly, up until 1970, Bealach na Bà was the only road that connected Applecross to the rest of the UK.
- Start: Lochcarron, Wester Ross
- Finish: Applecross village, Wester Ross
- Distance: 5 miles
#2 — Rathad nan Eilean (‘The Road to the Isles’)
The Road to the Isles (or Rathad nan Eilean as it’s called in Scottish Gaelic) is a really easy roadtrip you can take to the enchanting islands of Eigg, Rum, Muck, Skye and Canna. The 46-mile route starts in Fort William and finishes in Mallaig, taking in some breathtaking sights along its way.
The Glenfinnan Viaduct has become a shrine for a lot of Harry Potter fans. It’s been featured in a lot of the films, notably in the Prisoner of Azkaban, where the Hogswarts Express is attacked whilst crossing it by soul-draining Dementors.
The road has also seen some history in its time too. It was once travelled by Bonnie Prince Charlie, who both started and ended his attempt to reclaim the Scottish and English thrones here in the 1745 Jacobite Uprising. A monument on the shores of Loch Shiel marks the spot where the first highlanders joined his army and his standard was raised. Within a year, he was was travelling back along the road (it would obviously have been a rough dirt track at the time), fleeing to the Outer Hebrides.
- Start: Fort William, Highland
- Finish: Applecross village, Wester Ross
- Distance: 46 miles
#3 — Argyll Coastal Route
The Argyll Coastal Route gives you an incredible cross section of the some of the best scenery that Scotland has to offer.
It starts on the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond, then cuts through the awe-inspiring wooded mountains and lochs at the Western end of the Argyll Forest Park, before crossing the ancient kingdom of Dalriada at Lochgilphead and winding its way up the coast to Oban and then on to Fort William.
It’s also a fairly easy drive. The road is quite wide and it’s as busy as some other roads in Scotland (wider and quieter than the A82 Tarbet to Fort William road, which most roadtrippers will be relieved to hear anyway).
The road winds quite a bit in places, but most drivers with a couple of years of experience under their belt will be able to handle it.
If you’ve been out to Falkirk, you’ve probably seen the beautiful Kelpie statues designed by sculptor Andy Scott. Well, did you know that the mythological Kelpies were actually from Loch Lomond?
These mysterious creatures would appear as friendly ponies, drawing victims towards it then grabbing them and dragging them into the Loch and a watery demise!
- Start: Tarbet, Argyll and Bute
- Finish: Fort William, Highlands
- Distance: 129 miles
Snow Roads (Without the Snow)
Although they’re best known for their skiing, the Cairngorms are still a blast when you swap your skis for wheels. The Snow Road Scenic Route is the best known road trip in the region and takes you through and past some of the finest sights in the Cairngorm National Park.
The route includes the highest public road in Scotland and if best tackled in the snow-free summer months. However, even with good weather the Snow Road can be a handful with steep climbs, blind summits and enough turns to make a rally driver blush.
Taking your time is definitely the best strategy as it lets you turn your attention to the achingly beautiful Highland scenery beyond your windows. You also might spot the Fearlas Mor (the Big Grey Man), the Cairngorms’ answer to Big Foot. Known locally for decades, the myth surrounding the Fearlas Mor really took off when Professor Normal Collie reportedly spotted the giant in 1889.
Unfortunately, sightings have been thin on the ground since then, especially since the invention of the camera phone!
- Start: Blairgowrie, Perth and Kinross
- Finish: Grantown-on-Spey, Highland
- Distance: 90 miles
South West 300
While the new NC500 is the poster boy for Scottish tourism at the moment, the South West 300 is far older and just as spectacular. A 300-mile loop encircling the Galloway Forest Park in the southwest of Scotland, the SW300 runs through some of the most beautiful countryside Scotland has to offer.
Along the loop, there’s a huge amount of variety with secluded beaches, rugged cliffs, vast moors blanketed with purple heather and postcard perfect coastal towns.
While the official route takes you along the A710, I’d advise you to head north to the the A75 — a stretch of tarmac dubbed the “most haunted” by John Hill of Mostly Ghostly paranormal investigators.
Whether or not you believe in the supernatural, there’s something spooky about this stretch of road and you could even spot “screaming hags, eyeless phantoms and a menagerie of unearthly creatures,” according to Hill.
- Start: Dumfries, Dumfries and Galloway
- Finish: Dumfries, Dumfries and Galloway
- Distance: 300 miles
About the Author: Tom Butcher is a freelance writer, covering a wide range of topics, including finance, business and motoring. At the moment, he is helping LeaseFetcher tell the world about car leasing.