When you think about it, what are the wild places at our front door in Europe? Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Scotland are the first that come to my mind. Having done Norway already, not being able to travel Iceland with my dog (as they still have a proper quarantine for pets) and having stepped many times in Sweden my choice turned to Scotland. Here is in a nutshell, the summary of my trip. I drove over 8000 km in 43 days with a budget of 2600 euros.
I did not know much about Scotland. I had this general knowledge that most people have. It is in the north of Britain. It is a wild place where mountains meet the sea. It is a land with difficult weather conditions (ruled by the rain). It is where the whisky comes from. The rate of Red-head in the population is high. It has two main cities : Glasgow and Edinburgh… and that was pretty much it.
Doing my preliminaries researches, I learned that like Norway, the best time to visit it is May / June. Driest months, longer days, generous nature but the return of the midges! (Here I have to make a little digression and tell you about those Midges. Midges are the best kept secret of Scotland… to give you an idea of what those are, the simple definition I could give you is: the only insects that make you miss mosquitoes! Imagine little flies, who look totally harmless, even cute when outcast. But danger is in the numbers! Midges move in group of 100 to 400… and if one bite is harmless and a bit itchy, 400 is a living hell). I also learned that bringing a Dog over into Scotland is the most easiest thing in the world: Bring your Dog passport, have his vaccination up to date and an intestinal worm treatment done in the 5 days before stepping in England.
I traveled Scotland clockwise, starting from the south east with Edinburgh. A very nice town, but so tiny… I understand now why most people go there for weekends, two days are more than enough to check it out. From there, I pushed a bit more east to check the town of “North Berswick” that was recommended by some locals I met. It is a nice little seaside vacation village with lots of charm. Then I went to Stirling. A little town built on a hill with a castle on the top of it with a very nice view from it. Glasgow was my next stop. I did not expect much of it, but loved it so much more than Edinburgh. It felt like the little New York of Scotland. A main town buzzing of life. Again, if you are there to visit it, 2 to 3 days will be enough… but unlike Edinburgh, Glasgow it has a real soul. You can feel the city life buzzing around you.
From there I traveled south east down to Arran Island. It’s a very good introduction to Scotland… as it is a small version of Scotland. With flat green pasture in the south of it, and mountains in the north. Driving around the island take 2 to 3 hours, allowing any visitors to change the atmosphere and the scenery around them very quickly. The island have so many nice hikes, a real “must see”.
I followed up with the South West Peninsula which kind of felt to me a bit like Ireland. To anyone who will ever go there, I highly recommend checking out the southern cap with its lighthouse (from which you see the Irish coast) and the cemetery of “Southend” town.
I headed then north, up to Oban. A very nice town with lots of charm and the gateway to all the western islands (north and south). From there I took the ferry to check the Outer Hebrides Islands, going from the north to the south… one of the most surprising and beautiful places in Scotland. The southern one, the isle of Barra is just an unknown jewel. I would have never imagine that Scotland would have places looking like tropical places. The next ‘one’, Uist, composed of two Islands link to each other by a bridge. They have nothing particular, and I would recommend to just drive through those two. I finished the Herbrides with Harris and Lewis. Two amazing islands with tropical beaches, mountains, many Stonecircles well preserved and a northern cap: The Butt of Lewis, really worth to be checked out.
I took back the Ferry to the mainland and checked out Fort William. If the town has nothing to be remembered, its surroundings are just amazing! Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the entire United Kingdom is the main attraction, but all the surroundings are very nice. If you go there, do not hesitate to climb Ben Nevis tho. There is no real physical challenges. You will find stairs all the way to the top. Anyone can do it… and should be doing it because it offers a stunning view from the top (if you manage to climb it under a good weather).
I then moved to Skye Island. A marvelous playground for hikers. I did walk the Skye Trail. A track that takes you through the entire Island, from North to South. 120 km that are usually done in 7 days. If you were to do it (and you should!) you would be walking above some cliffs along the coast, do the “best ridge walk of the UK”, walk among fjords… A hike of a life time. On the side of this, the island offers nice little natural attractions. A 15 m high waterfall diving from the cliff into the sea, a crystal clear stream of water filling up natural pool (know as the “Fairies’ pool”) and a small tropical beach (to see for those who are visiting the Outer Hebrides..)
From Skye, I reached the north coast of Britain. The coastal road from Skye to Durness is really one of the nicest roads I ever drove. The scenery is changing (from mountains to rough cliffs) but also the colours! You have white sand beaches, red sand beaches, rocks that goes from black to almost light grey. It is really something. In terms of towns the only noticeable one is Ullapool. Honestly I have no idea why it is so famous in the area… The town has nothing for herself. Maybe just a little harbor, but only noticeable if you were to go to Scotland without checking out any before. No the only good thing Ullapool has for itself: it is the only “town”! (Understand here with a supermarket, and a gaz-station and more than one pub as a place to eat in the all north west area.)
Reaching Durness, I really have a thing for this village that I can not understand. There you have many things to do around. Checking out the “Cap Warth”, the northern cap of the British Island. A magnificent cap… that reveals its beauty to the adventurous tourist. To really see what the cap has to offer you need to climb over old rusty fences, and walk on the Edge. From there you can see the Lighthouse standing on the last corner of the island with two giant caves carved by the sea in the cliffs and the current from both side of the island meeting each other in a never ending battle of waves. Not too far from there you also have Ben Hope. The highest mountain of the area. The view from there is really breath taking. As I already mention I would have no idea why I get attached to this place so much, but I know that if I had to buy a place somewhere remote and wild in Scotland that town would be in my short list!
I then moved east along the coast to Thurso. There is nothing much there. A flat country… I mean it is still beautiful, but seems a bit dull driving out of the West Coast. There are two things there: First for the people who like to surf, Thurso has the best reef brake of the entire United Kingdom. And if you look in a touristic guide, the other noticeable thing in the area is… a nuclear plant. I think that says it all.
From Thurso, I took the Ferry north to the Orkney Islands. Again, very flat Island ten meters above sea level. It is really charming and becomes really impressive when the sun shows up. The colors of the nature are … so warm! It’s like someone boosted all the contrast of every single plant. In terms of touristic activities, there is nothing but tombs!
Am exaggerating a bit, you have a nice “Italian Chapel” built during the war by the prisoners of a camp that was set up there, and some nice standing stones.
I would have loved to push upper north to check out the Shetland, but the round trip was around £300 for the smallest island! At that stage I didn’t have the budget anymore… So instead I headed south down to Iverness and the Loch Ness. The Loch Ness is basically a long lake surrounded by trees and hills but under the fog it becomes really eerie and one can understand why they many people could swear to have seen a monster! From there, I finished my long loop driving through Aberdeen. The coast there was really … dull. It looks ok, but just ok.
All in all, this trip was a great adventure… and if it didn’t reach all my expectations when it comes to mountain scenery, it really blow them away with coastal views and all the tropical beaches!