Adventure on Our Doorstep: Autumn in the Scottish Highlands

Swathed in all the majesty of autumn, the Scottish
Highlands set the scene for an otherworldly adventure right on our

As a Londoner I am often inclined to look to the continent and
beyond for a fix of escapism. The quest for the exotic often
distracts from the travel treasures the UK has to offer. Yet when
it comes to sensational landscapes, there aren’t many countries
richer than that of our neighbour: Scotland.

Cloud-topped mountains run seamlessly into ancient lochs, deer
roam wild across the glens and stone-walled castles nod proudly to
the country’s rich heritage.

With each change in season comes an opportunity to experience
this extraordinary part of the UK afresh – and autumn is arguably
the most dramatic of times. As the Highlands turn from a patchwork
of greens through to golden browns, it beckons those keen to
explore – whether by foot or car.

Day 1

My adventure starts in London
– Euston to be precise – where I board the Caledonian Sleeper. This
is more than just a means of transport; it’s an experience.
Settling into the Club Carriage for a Scottish feast, I’m presented
with a menu of Great Glen venison, steamed sea trout and braised
lamb shank, which I wash down with a glass of Scotland’s finest
Auchentoshan whisky. When I can eat no more, I retire to my private
cabin and drift to sleep as the train chugs north towards the

Fuelled by a hearty Highland breakfast, I arrive in Glasgow
and rent a car for the drive north, winding past Loch Lomond,
through the vast lowlands before entering the Highlands. This has
to be one of the most picturesque drives in the UK.

I wind through the Glencoe and Glen Etive, in which misty
mountains are punctuated by a river – a single-track road runs
parallel, making my journey all the more dramatic. Those willing to
persevere along this track will reach the view made famous by James
Bond and Q in the film Skyfall.

By late afternoon I arrive at 57 Nord. Hidden in the hills
surrounding Loch Duich, this Scandi-meets-Scotland cabin is a
boutique hideaway like no other, with an open fire, beautifully
designed interior and large glass windows framing the nearby Eilean
Donan Castle.

I spend the evening unwinding by the fire with the hotel’s care
package of red wine and Scottish smoked salmon, taking in views of
the loch and castle swathed in autumnal majesty.

Day 2

After a breakfast of fresh eggs, locally produced bread and
coffee, it’s time to hit the road and head towards the Isle of
Skye. In the north of the island, after a 45-minute walk, I reach
The Old Man of Storr, an immense pinnacle of rock that was left
behind after an ancient landslide. Ample snacks and a thermos of
tea are a must on this expedition.

I drive across Skye to the tiny fishing village of Elgol at the
end of the Strathaird peninsula. It marks the start of several
coastal walks as well being the launching point for ferries to Loch
Coruisk, a loch made famous by many a Scottish poet. After years of
being battered by the sea and Scottish winds, the rocks here have
been carved like sculptures. For those brave enough, a cold but
magical sunset swim here is a must.

Day 3

I start the day with a cinematic drive along the Ratagan Pass,
making eighteen miles of twists and turns climbing up through the
thick forest. At its highest point the road turns sharply on itself
revealing views of the Five Sisters of Kintail. The bend forces me
to slow down, and I stop to admire Scotland at its best.

Continuing along the single track, I descend into the village of
Glenelg. In the bay here, overlooking The Sound of Sleat, is the
cosy Glenelg Inn, a traditional Highland pub and the
perfect place for a hearty lunch of Stornoway black pudding
fritters and local langoustine before the walk ahead.

Peeling myself away from the comfort of the inn, I make the
short drive along the coast before parking up for the walk to the
Sandaig islands. After an hour wandering downhill, I catch an
uninterrupted view of a long, deserted stone beach. Moving towards
it, I navigate a small rope bridge over a stream (not the easiest;
it consists of only two ropes) and wade through the bracken.

With isolated white-sand beaches and turquoise water, the
Sandaig islands wouldn’t look out of place in the Caribbean. Easily
accessible at low tide and a short, shoeless wade at high tide, the
islands are home to several beaches, wild flowers and views back
over the mainland. If you’re lucky enough to catch them on a warm
day, the calm waters are perfect for a swim.

Satisfied by my beach fix, I make my way to the other side of
Glenelg to board MV Glenachulish, the last manually operated
turntable ferry in the world. This tiny car ferry is operated by
local volunteers who bought it in 2017, when the previous owner
retired. There is something special about this short but
spectacular crossing to Skye.

Back on the mainland, I visit the famous Plockton
for a well-earned dinner. Stunning seaside views are
complemented by an impressive menu – I try the hand-dived king
scallops and a Plockton ale (or two).

Day 4

Another early rise and I’m on the road again, driving a section
of the famous North
Coast 500
, a 518-mile drive around Scotland’s north coast. The
morning leg takes me up the dramatic Applecross Pass, a steep,
winding single-track road popular with hardened cyclists and
motorbikers. The views back over the pass below are

Arriving at the coastal village of Applecross, I’m devour a
Highland breakfast at the pretty Walled Garden. This potting-shed
cafĂ© and restaurant is about more than food, however; it’s a
gathering place for like-minded adventure seekers. I meet a
brilliantly bizarre array of characters from around the world who
have made the pilgrimage in order to complete the 500, the result
of which is a real sense of excitement and community.

Having digested with a stroll around the gardens, I hit the road
towards Shieldaig. Hugging Scotland’s wild coast, every bend seems
to offer a new surprise. I drive slowly, taking in my surroundings
while encountering many Highland cattle taking up position in the
middle of the road, completely unconcerned by my desire to

I lunch in the coastal village of Shieldaig, gawping at
white-washed cottages, before heading back to Loch Duich in time to
buy fresh seafood for dinner. (You can also continue along the N500
from Shieldaig.) I meet Duncan at the local fisherman’s shop a
five-minute walk from 57 Nord. His sells me the most delicious
fresh crayfish I’ve ever tried, while regaling me with stories of
life in the Highlands. I take my dinner back to the cabin and cook
up a feast as the sunsets on the loch.

Day 5

I pick up fresh bread and coffee from the award-winning
Manuela’s Wee Bakery, a brilliantly bizarre breakfast spot owned by
a German couple. The bakery looks like something out of a
fairytale, with small Bavaria-style huts overlooking the loch. I
stock up on a delicious selection of baked treats for the drive

On the drive back to Glasgow, I take time to stop along the way
and take in the last of the fresh Scottish air and views before
returning to the real world.

Things you should know

It’s no secret that Scotland’s weather can be temperamental so
be prepared. Pack layers, waterproofs and decent footwear. The
reality is that the Scottish weather gods will most likely deliver
a mixed bag but that’s all part of the fun, plus if you’re looking
for guaranteed sunshine then this is probably not the trip for

A combination of very limited public transport and spectacular
roads means that driving is most certainly advised once you arrive
in Scotland. The roads are well kept and there is a wide choice of
car-hire options in Glasgow – pre-booking is advised.

57 Nord can be booked through CoolStays.