The worst bit about Scotland is getting there from Great Escape Camper Van Hire in Derbyshire. Once there, it is a magical place full of stunning scenery, magical castles, an abundance of wildlife, virtually every form of adventurous activity you could imagine and……whisky.
Whichever route you go in order to get to Scotland its likely to be dull, bland and involve long stretches of Motorway, be it the M6 and A74, M74 towards Glasgow or the M1 & A1 into Edinburgh, the latter is certainly the prettiest and subject to another itinerary but for the purpose of this journey I will take you back to the first time we toured Scotland in a camper in 2010.
I will use our time machine to transport us to Erskine Bridge on the A898 North of Glasgow and begin in earnest our tour. From Erskine Bridge you need to take the A82 towards Loch Lomond. At the southern tip of Loch Lomond is the small town of Balloch where you will find a Sea Life Centre, a visitor centre, access to various Loch based activities, a fun crazy golf course and a train station that serves Glasgow and Edinburgh.
This was the place of our first stopover at Lomond Woods Holiday Park www.woodleisure.co.uk/our-parks/lomond-woods/. The town itself was small but offered everything we needed for a one-night stay including a lovely Chinese Restaurant and Fish & Chip Shop.
After departing Balloch we continued North on the A82 following the Loch shoreline. The Loch itself is some 36km long and 8km wide at its widest point and is often referred to as the divide between the lowlands of Central Scotland and the Highlands. It is surrounded by hills including Ben Lomond which is 974m high and the most Southerly of the Munro Peaks.
Towards the North end of the Loch and somewhere we stayed on a different trip is Loch Lomond Holiday Park www.argyllholidays.com/parks/loch-lomond-holiday-park. A simply stunning location set directly on the shores of the Loch, overlooked by Ben Lomond.
There are facilities nearby for water skiing, paddle boarding, sailing, windsurfing and kayaking as well as endless hikes. There are several pubs nearby that serve good food.
North of Inveruglas and staying on the A82 is the Falls of Falloch, a beautiful and easily accessible waterfall that is a must when passing. Parking can be busy and restricted but if you are lucky enough to find a parking spot the gentle walk to the Falls is worth the effort.
Carrying on North along the A82 it is not long before you feel as though you are well and truly in the Scottish Highlands. The scenery changes in earnest when you reach The Bridge of Orchy, look out for the large lay-by as you ascend the road. Not only is it a good viewpoint of the route you have travelled and Loch Tulla but you may be fortunate enough to see the lone piper playing his bagpipes as you admire the view, a real sense that you are in Scotland.
The A82 from hereon is a simply stunning road, no other words can describe it as you head out towards Glencoe and the Glencoe Mountain Resort. www.glencoemountain.co.uk
There is more than a good chance you will see a red deer, Scotland’s largest wild land mammal along the way.
Descending down from the peaks admire the beauty of Loch Leven and Loch Linnie, crossing over the latter at South Ballachulish before continuing your journey to Fort William at the base of Ben Nevis.
Fort William is a major tourist centre with Glen Coe to the South, Ben Bevis and Aonoch Mor to the East and Glenfinnan to the West.
We based ourselves at Glen Nevis Caravan & Camping Park www.glen-nevis.co.uk/campsite for a few days whilst we explored the area. The surroundings of this campsite for me, are the best in the UK.
This area has to be one of our favourites in the UK and offers so much to do for all the family. I will list a few things to do beyond the obvious for all the family: –
- The Nevis Range – www.nevisrange.co.uk Here you can walk, cycle, ski, take a gondola ride, sledge, take part in a tree adventure to name a few. The range is also the home of Mountain Biking UCI Downhill World Cup and offers superb courses for all abilities.
When we did our visit in April 2010 we took the gondola up the 850m north face of Aonoch Mor. The kids were able to build a giant snowman, went sledging, witnessed blinding sun, a complete white out blizzard, ate lunch and went for a walk. Later that day they were playing on the beach in shorts and t-shirt. This will live long in the memory of our entire family and has been one of the best days we have ever had.
- For the whisky drinkers, a visit to the Ben Nevis distillery is well worth a visit, even if only for a wee sample www.bennevisdistillery.com
- The Jacobite Steam Railway runs from Fort William to Mallaig, and back…Described as the greatest railway journey in the world, this 84 mile round trip takes you past a list of impressive extremes. Starting near the highest mountain in Britain, Ben Nevis, it visits Britain’s most westerly mainland railway station, Arisaig; passes close by the deepest freshwater loch in Britain, Loch Morar and the shortest river in Britain, River Morar, finally arriving next to the deepest seawater loch in Europe, Loch Nevis! westcoastrailways.co.uk/jacobite/steam-train-trip
Along the route you will cross over the 21 arched Glenfinnan viaduct, made famous by a certain Harry Potter in the Chamber of Secrets when Harry, having missed the Hogwarts Express caught up with the train at the viaduct in a flying car.
- The small village of Banavie, just four miles north of Fort William, is overlooked by the magnificent Ben Nevis and is home to the impressive Neptune’s Staircase.
This amazing feat of engineering raises the canal by 19m (62ft) over a quarter of a mile of continuous masonry and takes around 90 minutes for a boat to travel up or down the locks. Built by Thomas Telford between 1803 and 1822, it is the longest staircase lock in Scotland.
Commando Monument, The Commando Monument situated on the A82 9 miles north of Fort William, is a Category A listed monument as a result of its historical importance. It was unveiled in 1952 by the Queen Mother and has been almost completely unaltered since then, with only a plaque added years later. It sits in a spectacular location, with views of Ben Nevis and Aonach Mòr. There is a war memorial path connecting the Commando Monument and the local High Bridge, where the first shots were fired in the Jacobite Rising of 1745.
After exhausting the Fort William area, it is time to move on, but it is decision time. Do we drive the Fort William to Mallaig coastal road or take the road to Inverness, in the hope that we get a glimpse of a certain monster on a certain Loch?
We elect to do both, albeit over two days. So, we first set off on the coastal road to Mallaig.
The drive is said to be one of the best in the area, and you should allow a full day to enjoy it. Head out of Fort William on the A830 signposted Mallaig and The Road to the Isles.
This route takes you past the National Trust site at Glenfinnan where Bonnie Prince Charlie raised his standard to start the 1745 rebellion. Stop here and you can explore around the monument, take a look at the railway viaduct famous from the Harry Potter films, and just a short walk up the hill is a superb gothic styled church enjoying an elevated position overlooking Loch Shiel.
Continue along the road, and on through Lochailort to Arisaig. Rather than continuing along the main road on towards Mallaig, the scenic coastal road (B8008) takes you all around the superb sandy and rocky inlets. It is definitely worth stopping and taking a walk through the dunes at Camusdarach Beach. Fans of Local Hero will recognise this as Ben’s Beach.
Continue along this road, and just before joining the main road again, it is worth a quick stop to amble along the silver sands beach at Morar. Turn left once back to the main road. There is the opportunity of a detour along the banks of Loch Morar, the deepest freshwater loch in Europe. Alternatively, continue along the road to the fishing port of Mallaig. It is possible to connect with a car ferry to Skye using the Caledonian MacBrayne Ferries www.calmac.co.uk/article/2982/Skye-Mallaig—Armadale
The downside to this particular part of Scotland are the roads, or more specifically the lack of them and the only real way of getting back is to retrace your route back to the A82, unless of course you choose to take the ferry out to the Isle of Skye, we chose to return to the Glen Nevis Campsite
The road from Fort William to Mallaig is around 45 miles each way, however with all of your stopping, sightseeing, walking eating and everything else you want to do you can easily extend your time.
Should you wish to stay out in Mallaig, Camusdarach Campsite is worth considering, www.camusdarach.co.uk
So onwards and upwards, we leave Fort William for Inverness. The route is a continuation of the A82 North, as a side point you will come to the A87 at Fort Augustus which is a stunning road out to the Isle of Skye, which includes the Loch Cluanie viewpoint and the famous Eilean Donan castle, considered to be one of the most iconic castles in Scotland but on this occasion we continued up towards Inverness.
At Fort Augustus you meet the southern shores of Loch Ness and I dare you, not to mention to the kids “Look out for the Loch Ness monster”. We did actually see the monster on our trip, although the picture is a bit grainy you can make out the creature in the water.
On a serious note, along the shore you will see Urquhart Castle, another wonderful Scottish Castle steeped in over 1,000 years of history www.historicenvironment.scot/visit-a-place/places/urquhart-castle/. The Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition is also well worth a visit www.lochness.com for all the family.
Continuing along the A82 you will eventually come to the ancient cathedral city of the Scottish Highlands, Inverness.
Inverness is a Gaelic word meaning “mouth of the River Ness”. The Ness is the river which flows out of Loch Ness into the Moray Firth (famous for its resident pod of Bottlenose dolphins) and where you have to make another decision on your route. The A9 north will you along the eastern coast towards the most northern town in the UK, Thurso or South towards the Cairngorms National Park www.visitinvernesslochness.com
For us it is South along the A9 towards Aviemore and the Cairngorms. This area has again something for everyone, wonderful forest walks, skiing, cycling, wildlife, the mountainous trails of Tolmount or simply relaxing on the beach at Loch Morlich. There really is so much to see and do cairngorms.co.uk
The Cairngorms contain 5 of the 6 highest’s mountains in the UK, as well as over 50 Munro’s (Mountains over 3,000ft) so I will leave it to your own imagination as to what you would like to do.After leaving the Cairngorms, a visit to The Hermitage, Dunkeld is well worth a visit. This nice walk along the River Braan you will come to Black Linn waterfall where you can stand in Ossian’s Hall and watch the water crash into the water below, we were fortunate enough to see salmon leaping up the falls, amazing. www.visitscotland.com/info/see-do/the-hermitage
Travelling further south you will come to the city of Perth where you can head for a stroll around the world famous Gleneagles Golf course before calling for a coffee and cake in the hotel www.gleneagles.com
And then continuing on to Stirling Castle and the William Wallace Monument – remember the man from Braveheart???
And then after leaving Stirling, it is the short drive into Edinburgh and, well that is an itinerary for another day.
The route in this itinerary rather takes care of itself, as I mentioned previously there are not too many roads to get lost on. I have broken the route down into smaller stages, to give an idea on distances: –
Belper – Balloch = 300 miles & 5hrs 10 minutes
Balloch – Fort William = 85 miles & 2hrs
Fort William – Inverness = 65 miles & 1hr 30min
Inverness – Aviemore = 30 miles & 40 minutes
Aviemore – Gleneagles = 100 miles & 2hrs
Gleneagles – Stirling = 20 miles & 30 minutes
Stirling – Edinburgh = 35 miles & 45 minutes
With so much to see and do, you will need somewhere to park up and rest, ready for your next adventure.
Places To Stay
- Blair Drummond Caravan Park, Stirling www.blairdrummondcaravanpark.co.uk
- Bunree Caravan Club Site, Onich, Fort William, PH33 6SE www.caravanclub.co.uk/club-sites/scotland/highlands/bunree-caravan-club-site/
- Culloden Moor Caravan Club Site, Newlands, Culloden Moor, Inverness, Highlands, IV2 5EF, Scotland www.caravanclub.co.uk/club-sites/scotland/highlands/culloden-moor-caravan-club-site/
- Edinburgh Caravan Club Site, 35-37 Marine Drive, Edinburgh, Edinburgh, EH4 5EN, Scotland www.caravanclub.co.uk/club-sites/scotland/edinburgh/edinburgh-caravan-club-site/
- Granton – on – Spey Caravan Park, Seafield Avenue, Grantown-on-Spey, Highlands, PH26 3JQ www.caravanclub.co.uk/club-sites/scotland/highlands/grantown-on-spey-caravan-park/
· Maragowan Caravan Club Site, Aberfeldy Road, Killin, Stirling, FK21 8TN, Scotland www.caravanclub.co.uk/club-sites/scotland/stirling/maragowan-caravan-club-site/
And for much more information, visit the following: –