Roads Less Travelled
The North Coast 500 has been a huge success. This route which follows the coastline around the top of Scotland has captured the imagination of locals and visitors alike and has had a huge impact on tourist numbers. But there is far more to driving in Scotland than just the north coast, as more and more people flock to this route they are often neglecting other hidden gems. Amazing scenery, challenging single track roads and quiet corners of the country, where you can still rarely see another vehicle, await the intrepid traveller.
Had the road from Lochinver, south to Achiltibuie and Drumrunie been able to accommodate caravans and campers then it would have been a certainty to be included in the North Coast 500. The fact that it is so narrow and winding means that it can’t really handle large volumes of traffic, but that just means it is quieter for the rest of us. The road sneaks past Loch Lurgainn and the car park that is the jumping off point for those wanting to climb Stac Polly before re-joining the main road north of Ullapool. From the junction here head north again to re-join the official North Coast route then turn off for Culkein Lodge. A stunning coastal retreat that is still within easy reach of the mountains beaches and islands that the North Highlands is famous for.
The landscape north of Portree on the Isle of Skye is so stark and otherworldly it has been used as the backdrop for many science fiction films. The Quiraing and the Old Man of Storr are both easily accessible from the road but the driving is so good you may not want to stop. It is even possible to do one long loop all the way out to the tip of the peninsula and back to Portree without having to double back on yourself. For those real aficionados of rugged driving experiences then the Beach House, just south of Portree, offers the chance to arrive at your holiday home by driving along the beach. If you prefer a sports car to a 4x4 then it’s only a short walk.
The Golden Road on Harris got its name because of the expense incurred in construction. It cuts through the gloriously rugged and rocky terrain of the east of Harris from Tarbert to Rodel and is a magnificent and challenging drive. The road is twisty single track and locals advise driving it from south to north so you have the sun behind you. It is possible to make a circuit of the whole of Harris by returning to your starting point via the west coast which in stark contrast has the famous beaches of Scarista and Luskentyre to tempt you out of the car for a bit. St Clements View is right on the south coast of Harris and the perfect starting point for this classic drive where you may pass more sheep on the road than other motorists.
The Cowal Peninsula has long been a popular destination for adventurous drivers from the central belt on a long day trip. The scenic roads here are better however enjoyed at a gentle pace. It’s the kind of landscape where you want to stop frequently and savour the views and the pretty villages along the coast. Jeremy Clarkson once described the road between Colintraive and Tighnabruaich as among his best British driving experiences. Iain Banks on the other hand reckoned the road from Sandbank to Tighnabruaich was one of best wee roads in Scotland. Both are easily drivable in a day so you can judge for yourself. It’s an extraordinary journey but not for the faint hearted. Kilfinnan House, nearby on the west coast of Cowal, is a spectacular retreat with sauna, Jacuzzi and hot tub. It feels like another world but is still only an hour and a half drive from Glasgow.
The Road to the Isles is the spectacular and historical route from Fort William to Mallaig. It is without a doubt the most scenic and romantic way to get to Skye but it also a drive that is steeped in history. Some of the highlights on the way include the Glenfinnan Monument, the Viaduct featured in the Harry Potter films and the Caribbean-esque White Sands of Morar. The School House is located right in the middle of this drive so you can day trip in either direction, west towards the ferry to Skye or east to the mountains of Glencoe.