Bonnie Scotland: An Alternative Road Trip Across the Highlands to Skye

Bonnie Scotland: An Alternative Road Trip Across the Highlands to Skye

With international travel plans on hold, staycations are at the top of our agenda. Embarking on a road trip across an unusually sunny Scotland, over the Cairngorms to the wild north-west coast and the Isle of Skye, one writer gets a much-needed fix of escapism.

by months spent at home and guided by a concern for
safety, we took to the road on a route that circumnavigated the
best bits of Scotland. With its vast emptiness, fresh air and
postcard-perfect panoramas, it’s a go-to destination for domestic
escapism. While England was submerged in showers, the sun shone
down on Scotland during our trip, perfect for wild swims, walks and
picnics en route. We were fortunate enough to complete this route
before tiered travel restrictions were imposed; make sure to
check the current state of play before setting
off yourself.


Setting off from Oxfordshire,
our journey north is broken by a stopover in the Lake
. The Cumbrian countryside quickly makes up for the
fairly dull drive straight up the M6; its rippling hills
interspersed with stone-walled farms. What you have to remember
about road tripping is that, between all the driving and humdrum
stop-offs, you need a few “wow” moments on the itinerary. We set
our sat nav for Ambleside’s The Drunken Duck Inn, where comfortable rooms
are outshone by the globetrotting menu. You come here for the food,
specifically the sticky toffee pudding.


Another road-tripping tip? Don’t hang around in the morning. Get
up and go. In the early hours, we run along the silent shores of
Lake Windermere in front of Wray Castle before resuming our journey
north across the border.

Diverting off the A9 at Perth and into the Cairngorms National
Park, we soon realise why people make such a fuss about the
Highlands. It’s mid-August and the heather is beginning to turn.
After an hour’s journey through the park, passing only a handful of
cars, we arrive at
The Fife Arms.


At the heart of Braemar town, The Fife Arms is one of those
“wow” places I was telling you about. Art and culture is the
hotel’s lifeblood, and we take up the offer of a tour to see its
many pieces and installations.

We pick up our picnic lunch and set off – on foot this time – to
conquer the Morrone ascent. The route is misleadingly chiselled
with false summits, but the 360-degree views at the top are well
worth the blisters. Packed lunch feels positively gourmet as you
crunch down on cheese and biscuits slathered in the chef’s
housemade chutney. It’s so good, in fact, that we later ask for a
jar to take home.

As night falls, before diving into the hotel’s dangerous
cocktail menu, we take a short drive up the road to Braemar Castle
where Martin Creed’s outdoor neon sign reads “EVERYTHING IS GOING


We set off out in the direction of Balmoral Castle. Her Majesty
was in residence so we weren’t allowed in, but I’m assured that the
landscape over the surrounding moors is better – and we’re not
disappointed. It’s the type of place where you pull over every two
minutes to take a photo. By the end of the day, we would have what
seemed like 1,000 near-identical photos, none of which quite
capture its majesty.

At this point, we veer west towards Beauly, just past Inverness,
the starting point for the North Coast 500. Things to see and do
here: Campbell’s of Beauly, Iain Marr
and a river walk to Lovat Bridge. Grab a picnic lunch
from Corner on the Square and drive on to the vast expanse
of Dornoch Beach to enjoy your delicacies by the sea.

We check in to the Dornoch Castle Hotel just down the road, though
for something more remote, spend the night at Loch Shin Luxury Pods at Forge Cottage.


While we skipped the north-east, Scotland’s wild north-west is
unmissable. This is where the country starts to get really good.
Head up the A836 and re-join the North Coast-route at Tongue for
one of the most enchanting drives. Make sure you don’t cut any
corners along this section; Loch Eriboll is stunning as are the
white sands and crystal-blue waters of Ceannabeinne Beach. As we
beat around the corner, the sun shines down ferociously and the
deserted beach lights up on our right-hand side. We immediately
pull into the parking lot, strip off, whip on our swimsuits and run
into the water. It’s hands down the best moment of our entire trip.
For me, this is Scotland’s best beach, if not one of the world’s

A couple of hours driving south takes us on to Kylesku Hotel,
where we park for the night. Pristine beaches are in their plenty
on this north-western edge; some harder to get to than others.
Regularly compared to Caribbean beaches, Oldshoremore is a two-hour
hike away and not an option for my blistered feet. Instead, we take
in the sunset from Loch Inver. It’s far from disappointing.


After a (seriously cold) morning dip with some of the loch’s
resident seals, we power down to the Isle of Skye, stopping around
the Summer Isles for a picnic lunch and later to take in the view
of Loch Maree. You could easily break up this section with an
overnight at either The
or Shieldaig Lodge.

We cross the bridge to Skye, arriving at Kinloch Lodge
just in time for sundowners; there is certainly no better spot for
this particular event. Try not to be lured by snacks; dinner is the
star of the show here and we don’t let anything get in the way of
enjoying the evening menu.


It’s impossible to do the Isle of Skye in two days, especially
when it’s basking in sunshine. After a morning feasting on chef
Jordan Webb’s famous porridge (voted the best in Scotland), we set
off with a personalised map from Isabella Macdonald, Kinloch’s
director, in hand. There’s no “best” route to take on Skye – every
inch of this island vaunts impressionable views. We head to Loch
Harport for lunch at The Oyster Shed. This place shucks more than
200,000 oysters for its queues of hungry visitors every year. We
eat a dozen from a tray with shallot vinegar and lemon, and follow
up with lobster and chips wrapped in foil. There are some small
hammers attached to the bench tables for assistance. It isn’t
luxury by any means – this is a place to get your hands dirty – but
it’s the best lobster and oysters we eat on our trip. We finish off
the A863 in the north of Skye, just for the views.

If you wanted to extend your trip on Skye, The Three
comes highly recommended, as does newcomer Hame On Skye. I’d suggest splitting the north
and south for a night or two each, so you have the time to explore
the neighbouring landscape.


Saved by Isabella once again (she’s part of the furniture on
Skye), we board the ferry to Mallaig and
made headway towards Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park.
The road we travel is one of the main arteries that leads north
towards Inverness and beyond it to the NC500, which is perhaps the
reason it’s one of the busiest roads we encounter. It’s stunning
too, but by this point in the trip, having already travelled north,
I fear we’ve been spoiled by the real-life art on far quieter

We veer off towards Loch Venachar and are met with total
serenity on the banks at Loch Venachar Cabins. There’s no traffic here whatsoever.
If you’ve got this far through this article, you’re welcome,
because you’ve now discovered Scotland’s best-kept secret. The word
“cabin” feels almost undignified for this accommodation; these are
architectural masterpieces.


Another morning dip, this time followed by a barbecue breakfast.
The chef-owners happen to be in residence when we visit, so we
feast on the freshest, local ingredients foraged and line-hooked
within a few miles.

We could (should!) have stayed longer, but we are booked and
paid on a Loch Lomond Seaplane tour. A perk of Covid-19 is that we
enjoy a semi-private flight experience for the same price as the
“riff-raff” ticket. For some reason, we weren’t expecting too much
from this; to say we are pleasantly surprised is an enormous
understatement. We soar above the clouds to bright-blue skies
interrupted by green grassy peaks erupting from the seawater below.
It’s a fine way to see some of Scotland’s most impressive,
ancestral architecture too. A flawless finale.

Landed, we began the journey south, with a final stopover at
The Punch
in Crosthwaite. The location of this night is strategic –
we have a dinner reservation at L’Enclume in nearby Cartmel. That
is another story in itself; there aren’t the words to adequately
describe Simon Rogan’s dining ritual in this itinerary. If you
know, you know.


An early-morning departure and the pathetic fallacy could not
have been more pertinent as the rain poured down spattering our
windscreen and dampening our mood. As we rejoined the M6, I closed
my eyes and fell asleep, my mind mourning the bonnie, bonnie banks
of Scotland.

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