Every year in September I organise an on the road trip with my trusted companions and for 2019 we have chosen a beautiful seven-day Scottish car tour to discover the Highlands.
A tour on the Road is always an exciting, but tiring experience, so if you decide to do it together with other people, fellowship and the same vision of the journey are essential. Ornella and I have a couple of friends for these specific occasions, John and Piera, who are perfect travelling companions.
Usually we choose a destination together during the return journey of the journey we are making at that moment. So on our way back from Portugal the “roulette ball” stopped over Scotland. John was very curious, but I have to say a bit skeptical: “You want to take me to see some green meadows”, but our Scottish Road trip was one of the most beautiful trips we did together, so much so that the choice for next year fell again on Scotland, for a second tour to discover the Orkney Islands of the magnificent Scottish landscapes and the areas we didn’t see on this trip.
Where is Scotland
Scotland is located in the north of Great Britain and occupies more than a third of its surface, the ancient Romans would have described it as the land north of Hadrian’s Wall.
Scotland, in English Scotland, in Scottish Gaelic Alba, has no international borders. It is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and its territory includes another 790 smaller islands including the Orkney Islands, the Hebrides and the Shetland Islands.
Scotland has a flat territory with reliefs with different characteristics from those of the Alps. From my studies in Geology, I remember that it is one of the oldest places in the world created with Caledonian orogenesis.
Flights low cost Scotland
You can reach Scotland with many low cost flights and as far as I am concerned, from Pisa Ryanair has available routes to both Edinburgh and Glasgow and we spent about 110 euros per person round trip with luggage in the cabin and 1 in the hold.
Don’t make our mistake though! Bewitched by the amount of luggage we could take with us, we didn’t take into account that we should have rented a van instead of renting a car. Although flights from Pisa, the nearest airport to us, were available to both Glasgow and Edinburgh, we opted for the latter as the objective of our Scottish car tour was to visit Fife, the Higlands and the island of Skye.
Our tour of Scotland departed from Edinburgh and returned to Scotland after seven days travelling 1700 km by car. A journey that took us into the heart of the Scottish highlands to discover its nature and incredible landscapes.
What to see in Scotland
The trip to Scotland that we had built up touched on many of the destinations of the do-it-yourself highlands.
What to visit in Scotland
Given the great distances we had to cover, we asked ourselves what to visit in Scotland and considering our way of conceiving travel, we concentrated on the naturalistic aspects, leaving aside, at least for this time, the visit of the hundreds of Scottish castles that characterize the territory.
Scotland places of interest
On our highlands tour from Edinburgh we focused on visiting film locations, landscapes and visiting the most famous distilleries that produce the original scotch whisky. We visited many of the locations of the Harry Potter films, those of the film Skifall by 007 and finally those of the timeless scenes of the film Highlander.
Scotland what to see – First day – Edinburgh what to see
The first day of our tour in Scotland we dedicated it to visiting the city of Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland. With only one day available we concentrated on our visit to the Royal Mile with its palaces, St Gile’s Cathedral, the hub and finally Edinburgh Castle.
Another highlight of the city is Holyrood Palace, the Queen’s residence when visiting Edinburgh, whose interiors and gardens are a must-see attraction.
Calton Hill is an incredible place, a park located on one of the hills surrounding the city from which you have a 360 degree view of the city to the sea.
Harry Potter Edinburgh
We had a first taste of the locations of Harry Potter movies when we visited the Greyfriars Kirkyard, an ancient cemetery that represents the place where Voldemort, oops “You know who” gets his body and his magic powers back.
Reading the names on the gravestones you can find out how many people are familiar with the characters from the Harry Potter story, until you find Tomas Riddle’s gravestone.
If Diagon Halley’s exteriors are those of London’s Ledonhall Market, the most famous shopping streets for magicians are those of Grassmarket, an area characterised by steep streets with rows of dark brick buildings, interspersed with yellow, ash blue and opaque red buildings.
Rowling was inspired by this very area in order to descivere the Wizards’ market.
Where to sleep in Edinburgh
For our stay in Edinburgh we have chosen to stay outside the centre, in Grand Harbour Apartments in Leith to be exact. An ideal place, especially if like us we had the car, but we were told that it was also well served by public transport to the city centre.
These apartments are very beautiful and equipped with all the comforts of the sea, ideal as a base for visiting all the surrounding areas. Also the price was very good, we spent 100 euro per night for a flat for 4 people with 2 bathrooms.
Scotland Tour – Second day – The Fife
On our second day the real Scottish 7-day tour to discover the highlands would begin. Before heading north, we made a diversion to the south, as we saw, because we couldn’t miss one of the main attractions in terms of filmography: The Rosslyn Chapel.
One of the key scenes of the da Vinci Code takes place in the chapel of Rosslyn: when Dr. Langdon and Sofie discover the secrets of Professor Sauniere.
I highly recommend visiting it, because more than a chapel I would call it a miniature cathedral that hides many oddities such as, although its completion dates back to 1450, the representation on the columns and friezes of tobacco leaves, corn and agave that would claim that William St. Clair’s went to America before Columbus’ travels.
I can assure you that the visit will leave you with many questions mixed with anxiety and mystery.
Scotland to see – Discover the fife
I had read a lot about this area, I must say that it reflected all our expectations fishing villages with their multicoloured houses, wheat and barley fields bordering the sea and breathtaking views.
The first village we visited was Elie where we stopped to visit the lighthouse and its characteristic beaches.
Back on the road we reached Anstruther where it is impossible to miss the beauty of the small multicoloured village, but above all the most famous fish and chips of the east coast of Scotland.
Continuing on we arrived in Crail a very characteristic old fishing village where traditional buildings and small shops framed the small harbour.
As well as cultivated land, cliffs and postcard views, Fife’s territory is literally dotted with golf courses which is one of the national sports in Scotland and our course could not miss the place where the sport was born.
St Andrews where Golf was born
The Saint Andrews golf course is not just a golf course, but THE GOLF FIELD par excellence.
Old course st Andrews is the oldest and most iconic golf course in the world. The Swilcan Bridge and Hell Bunker are recognised all over the world, but the biggest feature of the old course is that despite its great status, it remains a public golf course, open to everyone even if you have to book at least 6 months in advance to play.
It was one of the key places on our Scotland tour and it was really a thrill to be able to walk on the ground that in some places really looked like carpeting and take a picture on the bridge most recognized by golfers around the world, the bridge of the 18th.
Saint Andrews is a very pretty town where the wealth and high level of its visitors does not escape.
Aberfeldy, a pearl surrounded by nature
Scotland Highlands – Our journey continues to the place we had chosen for the night: Aberfeldie. A village within the Tay forest park leads to the Highlands. A place with an industrial past thanks to the processing of wool thanks to the many water mills on the Tay River and of course to the distillation of whisky. We would have liked to start with our tasting of Scottish whisky, but unfortunately when we arrived the village’s distillery, one of the best known in Scotland, was already closed. We would have made up for it in the following days!
Highlands Scotland – third day of our road trip
There are definitely many things to see in Scotland. Even what was supposed to be a stage of relocation has given us many surprises and landscapes that will bring tears to our eyes. We had to leave early in the morning and it was not possible to visit the local distillery in Aberfeldy, but our close encounter with the best Scotch whiskies would not be long in coming. A few kilometres from our departure we stopped at Blair Athol for a visit to one of the most characteristic distilleries in Scotland.
I had never drunk whisky before, let alone at 10 a.m., but the occasion was one not to be missed. After the trip we entered the Cairngorms National Park in the middle of centuries-old forests along the Loch Ericht to Dalwinnie, the site of the most famous distillery in the Highlands.
Here too the stop for a taste and a visit to the distillery was a must: 11 o’clock and we were already on our second whisky.
The Dalwinnie distillery is really beautiful, a white building that shines in a deep green landscape.
We continued on our way back to Fort Augustus and Loch Ness, our point of arrival, we skirted Loch Laggan and passed under Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Scotland, and then Loch Lochy.
Port Augustus e il Loch ness
Finally around 2 p.m. we reached Port Augustus, the southern end of the famous Lake Lochness. Fort Augustus is also located at the beginning of the Caledonian canal, built by Queen Victoria to allow us to cross Scotland from Inverness to Oban for about 130 kilometres.
Higlands where to sleep
Once we arrived at Fort Augustus we started looking for our accommodation that we had booked with Booking.com. The navigator took us right on Lake Lochness but we could not find our flat, in front of us only an abbey of 1500, until, asking around we discovered, with extreme amazement, that our flat was right there, inside the abbey. Now I understand why it was called Sacresty.
The Higlands club is by far one of the most charming accommodation I have ever found during our travels and if you happen to follow our itinerary I highly recommend it as a base to visit the surrounding areas. An abbey converted into luxury flats where you could find every kind of service, from the swimming pool to the tennis courts, from the cricket pitch to the billiard room. A marvel at affordable prices! We spent about 100 euros per day for a 2-storey house with two bedrooms and two bathrooms.
The Castle of Urqhart
As soon as we recovered from the magnificence of our flat, we drove back to Urquhar Castle, a real wonder on the shores of Lake Lochness. Beyond its important history is one of the locations of the film that made an epoch in the eighties: Highlander! It was there that the scene where Sean Connery was killed was filmed.
The atmosphere in this place is really magical and we spent over an hour contemplating this wonderful place.
Tour of Scotland – fourth stage
The garden of our flat bordered directly on the Lochness and needless to say when it was suggestive to get up at dawn to admire so much beauty.
The lake at dawn had the characteristic mist on the surface and the rising sun made everything fiery. Enjoying this view, even though I didn’t see Nessie, sitting on the bench in front of the house surrounded by bunnies and ducks had a fairytale feel to it.
Skye island not to be missed
Early on we left for the island of Skye. One of the problems in Scotland is that there are not many roads and even if they are well maintained, you are almost always forced to make long trips on the usual routes. This does not help when you take a car tour because you are faced with the usual landscapes already seen.
The island of Skye is connected to the mainland by a huge bridge, the Skye Bridge, which provides an excellent view over the whole bay.
The weather was not the best, but by doing as the locals did we banned the umbrella. I have to say that Scotland has much more charm with the traditional rainy weather than with the sun.
The first stop on our Skye tour was the Talisker distillery and a place to eat that we had found in our research before departure: The Oyster Shed. When we say Shed (Barracca) we mean a barracca, where local fishermen bring freshly caught oysters, salmon, scallops that are cooked on the spot.
The Talisker distillery is the only one on the island, but it is one of the most important in Scotland. It is located right on the sea and the scents of peat burning mixed with sea air are the main essences of this famous scotch whisky. Needless to say, we did our usual tastings and since the time allowed it, we opted for what they call “Flight”, the vertical tasting that is done for wines: three whiskies in sequence.
Neist Point lighthouse
After lunch we headed for the Neist Point lighthouse, one of the most beautiful places on the island. The route cbe crossed the island of Skye until we reached the lighthouse had an incredible charm. Walking by car in small roads on the moor surrounded by flocks of sheep and contemplating indescribable views of the landscape gave us a wonderful feeling.
At the end of a journey of over 30 minutes we arrived at Neist Point, the westernmost point on the island. From there a short walk to the lighthouse, trampling over meadows that looked like foam rubber immersed us in the charm of the island. A huge cliff hiding on the opposite side of the lighthouse, we stopped at the highest point to contemplate the magnificence and to have a good Italian coffee with my portable coffee machine.
Time passed inexorably, I must say with regret that one day was not enough to visit Skye, we could not get to the Storr or the Fairies’ Falls. We started our journey back to Fort Augustus via the picturesque village of Portree, crossing the island on a very narrow scenic road through the mountains.
Small farms scattered along the way, flocks of sheep returning to the sheepfolds, but it was by stopping at the top of the hills that we had the feeling of the infinity and magnificence of nature.
The castle of Elian Donan
On the way back to Fort Augustus, we couldn’t help but stop to see what is considered one of the most beautiful castles in the world. Elian Donan’s castle is located on a small island on the Duich loch connected to the mainland by a stone bridge. Location of many movies, from Highlander (the scene where the Macleod clan leaves for battle) to the usual Harry Potter, we were lucky enough to visit it at sunset… without rain and the atmosphere was really suggestive.
Inverness and Speyside – the fifth stage of our trip to Scotland
On the fifth day we headed towards Inverness and Spyeside where most of the over 130 Scottish whisky distilleries are located.
After a stop in Inverness, a very nice city and capital of the Highlands, we headed towards the Spyeside region to visit some distilleries such as Glenmorey, Glangrant and the most beautiful Macallan.
The Macallan distillery
Glenmoray has retained its industrial charm, Glenngrant immersed in a huge garden has a great charm and its whisky shop looks like a jewellery shop, but the one you can’t miss is the Macallan distillery, which produces one of the most famous Scottish whiskies in the world.
From the outside it looks like the house of the Teletubbies, small green hills that form the roof of the structure that is all below ground level.
Entering the interior, however, the real surprise: immense and very modern spaces, glass walls made up of all the bottles produced, to be read with an open mouth. A reception area worthy of a five-star hotel and the tasting area on the upper level.
Occasion for our umpteenth “Flight” a taste of three vertical scotch whisky including a selection of which only 8000 bottles have been produced and a special selection at 65° to be diluted at will with water from nearby streams.
In the tasting area, a huge glass wall divided the area accessible to the public from the production area with the huge copper stills.
Walker short bread
Along the way, a stop at the world’s most famous short bread factory. They are among our favourite biscuits and after the numerous tastings, we have made a bunch of them to take home at really convenient prices.
GlenCoe – Sixth stage of the tuor in Scotland
We sadly left our lodging on the lochness to face a stage that would take us to the locations of some fim we love: Harry Potter and 007 Skyfall.
Always immersed in the forests along lakes we arrived in Glenfinnan. The place is historically famous for one of the Jacobite battles for the throne of Scotland, but the many tourists present, Japanese in the lead were there to visit the railway viaduct.
Glenfinnan and the Harry Potter train
One of the most famous scenes in the saga is the train that takes the little magicians to Hogwarts school and both the train, which every day makes its way from Glenfinnan to Fort Williams, and the famous viaduct are located right here. The Hogwarts Express train was right in the station, red just like in the movies and on the platform trolleys with vintage suitcases and the apprentice magicians’ brooms.
The Glenfinnan Viaduct
The viaduct is no different from the many I have seen on my travels, but it is the setting and the suggestion that makes it really special. One of the rare moments in this trip where I was able to fly the drone because of the always strong wind and the effect was really magnificent.
Glenco is an immense valley surrounded by mountains that leaves you breathless. Walking through it by car it seems to be in the middle of a trek in the mountains. an endless and magnificent nature was the frame of our wanderings. A place that I highly recommend to visit. We promised ourselves, in a next trip of stops more to make a walk among the dozens present.
Unfortunately we would never have thought of so much beauty and the time we had was very tight to be able to dedicate ourselves to exploration.
Still returning to Harry Potter, some scenes from the film and the location of Hagrid’s house were abjured here.
Glen Etive looking for Skyfall
Like many, I too wondered where Skifall was, where James Bond takes M to hide it. Googling I found out that it was right around here, so we got back in the car to look for its location. We drove into the narrow Glen Etive valley, a gorge with a small river in the middle and after about 20 minutes we finally found the place that is depicted in the movie poster.
An icy wind and a temperature of about 5 degrees made us forget that we were always in summer, but the excitement and amazement made us fully savour these moments too, looking for the right shot and immortalising the moment.
Towards the Loch Awe, stage point for the night
We set off again in a southerly direction, finally skirting the rapids of a river where they were rafting, we arrived at our hotel. Although really out of the way (knowing where it was I would not have chosen it) it was a truly unique experience.
The Taycrheggan Hotel is a small corner of paradise on the banks of the Loch Awe in the Argyll region. A fairytale place where we have spent unique times. Huge windows looking out onto the lake, rain and mist at the windows, the chimney accessed while sipping the usual whisky.
Even the dining room was really suggestive: an old wagon shed where instead of the doors there were huge windows overlooking the lake. The rooms, in typical English style, looked like something out of a period film.
From Oban to Ediburg via – Last day of our tour in Scotland
After a short journey we arrived in Oban, a port town from where all the ferries leave for the islands and therefore very busy with tourists. Home to the world-famous distillery of the same name, it gave us the opportunity for the last taste of excellent Scotch. We also took advantage of the last purchases before resuming the return journey.
Falkirk e the Kelpies
Before we got to the airport, we made a stop in Falkirk to see an impressive hydraulic work: The Falkirk wheel. I had a memory of when a Scottish delegation came to Viareggio for the carnival and they gave me a bottle with the effigies of this structure.
The Falkirk wheel is a hydraulic lift that connects the Union Canal with the Forth and Clyde canal, which are located at different levels. I had never seen anything like it before and it was very impressive.
The last stop on our Scottish journey was a visit to The Kelpies monument, two huge horse heads that stand in one of the gates of the Forth and Clyde canal and are a tribute to Scottish horses and their contribution to Scottish industry and economy.
Our journey has come to an end, when we returned our Vauxall Mokka (Opel Mokka for the Italians) we discovered that we had covered 1700 kilometres in seven days, wandering around the Scottish lands.
Scottish tour – Useful information
Below is some useful information for those who would like to make this trip, if you are looking for other information do not hesitate to write in the comments.
The weather in Scotland is constantly changing. In the period of September, when we made this trip, the weather was really variable. Talking to a gentleman in a pub he told me that in Scotland you can have all three seasons in one day. Summer is not contemplated!
In spite of the rain, no one wears an obrello. Only some tourists do, so don’t let them recognize you! A good rain jacket is also enough because the constant wind will dry you out in no time.
Temperatures in Scotland
The temperature we found at the beginning of September was from 18 degrees on a sunny day to a minimum of 4 degrees. The average during the day never rose to 16 degrees.
Driving in Scotland
I remind you that in Scotland you drive on the left, so get ready. The most difficult thing, however, is not the most difficult thing: many roads in Scotland, especially local roads and tourist roads, are one lane away with frequent lane markers along the carriageway to allow cars to cross.
What to eat in Scotland
I ate really well, both in restaurants and at home. Very good meat (I remember that the quality is Angus) and amazing fish. Also if you go shopping in supermarkets the prices are very low for being in Britain. Let’s say that the costs of the basic necessities are calmed down.
Where to sleep in Scotland
For the type of trip we have done, I prefer to stay in flats and cottages. More comfortable and gives you more freedom. You will be spoilt for choice. We chose very nice facilities and the prices were affordable, about 100 euros per night for 4 people.
What to buy in Scotland
First of all whisky, but also other typical products, especially textiles such as tweed and cashmere, are easy to find. If the prices for food products are low, for everything else they have very high costs, so unless it’s something you can’t really find, take note and buy on the internet when you return.