If, like me, you work full-time then your holiday days per year are incredibly precious. You want to see the world but your work just keeps getting in the way.
Well, I’m here to tell you that just because you work and have limited days off does not mean you can’t see the world.
It doesn’t even mean that you can’t see the highlights of Scotland in just a few days by car. How do I know? Well, because I’ve done it!
Edinburgh, Loch Lomond, Glencoe, Glenfinnan, Loch Ness and Isle of Skye can all be seen by those of us on a time budget. Heck, you can even throw in a stop off at the Lake District to help break up the driving!
Let me share with you my story and then you can decide whether you too would like to embark on a Scottish road trip…
Day 1 – The South to Lake District
My boyfriend and I were very new to the world of road trips when we decided to embark on our mini adventure. We’d never done a road trip before and this would also be our first time camping together (we were also on a financial budget). So, with that in mind, we knew that many hours of driving would have taken its toll on us so we wanted to break up the drive a little bit.
Neither of us had been to the Lake District before and yet, we’d heard so many great tales about vast lakes, rolling hills and chocolate box landscapes. Given it was on the way, we thought “Why not?”
And boy, am I glad that we did stop here?! Just take a look at the view we had from our tent!
We set off in the early hours of the morning (6am) so that we could be pitching up our tent at Ullswater, Lake District by lunchtime.
With both of us sharing the driving and not driving for longer than 2 hours at a time each, the drive was actually spectacularly easy. It was finding the campsite that was the hardest part. We must have driven past the entrance sign in excess of 4 times. Our GPS had stopped working in the depths of the Cumbrian countryside so we decided to explore on foot and find out where we needed to go. Next, we found ourselves rumbling along a dirt track before finally reaching the campsite (bang on time for 12 noon).
£20 later, we were investigating the best spot for camping. After all, we hadn’t come all that way to not have a view of the lake when we awoke the next morning.
Did I mention we were camping newbies? No-one told us to pitch our tent on a flat patch of grass … although come to think of it, common sense should have told us that. Nope, instead, we found a perfect view of the lake from the tops of a small, grassy slope. All we could think was that we were in luck and would enjoy our first night of camping.
So, off we went to ramble through the woods to admire the lake from the other side. I cannot put into words just how vast this lake was and we hadn’t even arrived in Scotland yet!
Next, we found a traditional country pub on the way back to the campsite, where we feasted on thick, succulent sausages; cold English beer and played some pool together.
Now, it should come as absolutely no surprise that our first night of camping, although in a truly beautiful spot was not comfortable at all. Our choice of grassy slope found us sliding to the foot of our sleeping bag and getting cramp. However, our view in the morning really did make it all seem worth it.
Day 2 – Lake District to Edinburgh
Luckily we had thought ahead and realised that our camping skills may leave a lot to be desired. So our night in Edinburgh was to be in a comfy double bed in someone’s warm home as part of an Airbnb offer.
Despite Edinburgh being a large city in the UK, the drive through it was far more peaceful than I think either of us were expecting with not too many cars around and well signposted main roads. This slightly shorter drive meant that we could spend the best part of the day exploring the sights of Edinburgh.
So, we left the car at the house and hopped on a tram (conveniently located behind the house we were staying in) and found ourselves within Edinburgh City Centre in about half an hour.
First stop on our list of must-see spots was Edinburgh Castle. With views across the city and plenty to learn about here, we enjoyed taking a relaxed pace walk around the Castle with a free tour guide.
Did you know that the Scottish crown jewels were lost in the castle for over 100 years? The jewels were locked away in a chest and stored in the castle, but had been forgotten about. A group of men, including Sir Walter Scott, set out to recover the jewels in 1818. More Edinburgh Castle facts can be found here (or when touring the castle with a guide).
Once we had seen all that there was to see here, we walked back into the City Centre ready to find Arthur’s Seat. Our time in Edinburgh was mainly seen on foot but I do have to confess that it is a little bit of a trek to Arthur’s Seat from town, taking you about an hour to walk it.
What I should also confess is that a trip to Arthur’s Seat is not for the faint-hearted. Be expected to climb a very steep hill. Many an average walker has fallen at the last hurdle and not made it to the top, so you do have to be quite fit to manage it. But hey, if I could do it, then you definitely can!
One last stop before heading back was for some typically Scottish food. We wanted haggis. We wanted shortbread. You too can try out some traditional Scottish food at The White Hart Inn.
Once our feet started to ache from all of the walking, we decided to call it a night – we had to be up super early again the next day to head to Loch Lomond, Glenfinnan and Loch Ness.
Day 3 – Edinburgh to Fort Augustus (Via Loch Lomond, Glencoe and Glenfinnan)
Scotland is a country made for road trips – there has just got to be a reason why so many of the popular locations are all perfectly dotted around the map to help make road trips like this one as easy as possible!
We were able to drive to Loch Lomond in a couple of hours and have a spot of canoeing on the lake. Thankfully, we didn’t fall in (despite me rocking the boat and us crashing into the banks)!
As it was still quite early in the morning, we decided to stop for some breakfast in Cafe Zest overlooking the southern part of the lake.
Now, my boyfriend is a resourceful man. He knew that our next stop would be Glenfinnan Viaduct to see the ‘Harry Potter’ train go past and he knew it would be just after lunchtime when we would get there. So, what did he do? He bought us some scones, cream and jam from the cafe and told me that we would eat scones whilst the train went past – oh, how very British of us! I fell a little bit more in love with him right there and then.
Loch Lomond to Glenfinnan is a couple of hours in the car and you will have the chance to drive through Glencoe (you could even make a few photo stops along the way like we did).
If you want to spot the train going past in Glenfinnan then you do have to be calculating the time in advance. We’d spent some time researching before our trip and had worked out that arriving in Glenfinnan for about 2pm would give us a bit of time to find a good spot for photos and patiently anticipate the arrival of the infamous train.
It turns out that lots of other people had the same idea as us. If you also want to join in, then here are some tips on seeing the train, where to park and where to take photos from (including photos of the stunning sights behind you)!
Right on time, we could hear the chugging of the steam train and suddenly the clicking of dozens of cameras going off around us. Just one more corner stood between us and the train and my excitement was bursting at the seams. Gasp! There it is!
For other Harry Potter lovers out there, I have to tell you that this is a must see – the films are really brought to life for you in that moment. Now, add in a couple of scones to the mix and you will be a very happy person indeed!
Other must sees for fans would be visiting the Harry Potter Studio Tour in Leavesden.
Once we’d taken a bunch of photos of the train and had eaten the last of our scones, we knew it was time to head back on the road to camp near Loch Ness. This was a lovely little campsite and we were even able to buy some haggis steaks from the local shop. I’m not sure barbecued haggis is how the Scots do it, but it worked for us!
At this point, we thought a ramble near Loch Ness was our best option but we also knew that we would be driving past the world famous loch the next day as well so we saw it twice!
Day 4 – Isle of Skye
Isle of Skye can be seen in a day when driving and you can easily circle the mini island to see the main sights.
When I say it takes a full day to drive around, this does include stopping off for food and photo breaks throughout – we really took our time around here given how beautiful it really is.
Now, you’ve circled right around the Isle of Skye; you have a choice to make. You could choose to keep venturing north (we went right up to Inverness ourselves) or you can choose to start heading south for another point on the map.
Something I should mention is that we did get stuck in a traffic jam near to Loch Ness, which had put our time back by a little bit. It turns out that someone had had an accident ahead of us. With the roads being quite small and windy and so many distractions around, it was a bit of a wake up call. Things don’t always go according to plan and we learned that you should leave extra time just in case. Luckily we had trusty Netflix and my boyfriend’s unlimited data to keep us entertained as we sat stationary for about an hour.
So, although we’d chosen to head north to Inverness, I’m not necessarily going to advise that for those who are pressed for time. My advice would be to either spend longer in some of these places than we did or pick another spot on the map. I’m happy to be corrected but Inverness just wasn’t worth the extra driving for me personally.
I’m not one to do speed sight seeing everywhere I go, but sometimes we have to. I knew we didn’t have very many days of holiday to spend but I also knew that we could find the time to do everything we wanted to and see the main sights. What I hope this mini guide does highlight to you is that your work doesn’t always have to get in the way of you travelling. You can see the world (or at least one small part of it every time you travel somewhere new).
Would you embark on a mini adventure like this? Have you been to Scotland yourself? Is there anywhere I’ve missed that you’d recommend? Share your own thoughts, experiences and memories of driving around Scotland in the comments below…
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