Coast to Coast
Photo: The end of The Southern Upland Way
There is something intrinsically appealing about journeying from one coast to another, travelling over the spine of the country from the Minch to the North Sea for example gives you a satisfying beginning and end to your journey. Scotland is blessed with a huge host of options for making memorable trips like this by a variety of different methods. Here are a few of our favourites.
The path from Ullapool to Croick and then Ardgay is an old drover’s road, used by crofters to take their cattle to market. The path is not tarmac so makes perfect terrain for a day out mountain biking. It is about 40 miles so one of the shortest traverses of Scotland that you can do but beware, the route is not signposted so a certain amount of map reading skill is required. There are no big hills in the way, or any shops along the route, in fact you are unlikely to see another soul for the duration of the day and only scant evidence of civilisation for much of it. An old schoolhouse now turned into a bothy makes a good shelter about half way; it is also a curious reminder of how busy this now deserted part of Scotland was at one time. The route can be done in any direction and you can even return in the same day if you are fit and the long summer days allow but it is something of a mountain bikers tradition to start by dipping your wheel in the sea just opposite the train station at Ardgay, and finishing by dipping your wheel into the Minch just outside the Seaforth Hotel in Ullapool. Migdale Water Mill lies just a few miles from Ardgay, and makes a brilliant base for exploring the many mountain bike trails in the area. There are technically challenging trail centres a short drive away, quiet roads for touring and easier family friendly paths that everyone can enjoy.
The best way to drive coast to coast must surely be along the top of the country. Although you cannot take your own car to the furthest north-west point of Scotland at Cape Wrath, it does make the logical starting point for a journey. So the best way to start the day would be with the short ferry journey then mini bus to the lighthouse before returning to pick up the car in Durness for the main part of the drive. This is all on the North Coast 500 route which has boosted tourism significantly by highlighting the attractions of driving along this remote and stunning landscape. It is only a few hours’ drive but it is best not to rush so you can take in the scenery. Once at John o Groats you could make a loop by continuing south then returning to Durness via Lairg and retiring to Cul na Craig, one of the North Wests most luxurious retreats.
For those feeling a bit more active and who have more time on their hands then The Southern Upland Way offers a challenging way to hike across the watershed. It commences in Portpatrick, overlooking the Irish Sea and winds its way for over 200 miles across some of the most remote parts of southern Scotland to finish at Cockburnspath just south of Dunbar. This is a huge undertaking to complete in one push but because the route passes through a number of towns and villages you can break up the challenge a bit, or do the entire path over the course of a number of visits. Lagafater lies close to the start point Glendow is almost half way and Thistledown is right at the end so you can reward yourself with some luxury after all that effort.
It is also possible to complete a coast to coast journey by boat but without having to negotiate the open sea. The Great Glen Canoe Trial runs from Fort William all the way up Loch Ness and the Caledonian Canal. It takes experienced paddlers about 5 days in total, an amazing challenge for sure but it does offer one of the most unique ways to see the fantastic scenery around Loch Ness. Point Clair House sits right on the shores of the loch and makes the perfect location to launch your own boat. You can get a taste of the attractions of the official Canoe Trail but after a day on the water you can retire to one of the most luxurious houses on the loch to dry off, instead of retiring to a damp tent.