We love Scotland. We lived in Edinburgh for 30 years and travelled the length and breadth of this beautiful country, but we often return and find new places to explore. We never tire of Scotland – there is just so much to see and enjoy. Time for a Scottish road trip!
And the vehicle for our Scottish tour? Our motorhome! We also have a tiny scooter which fits inside the “garage” of the motorhome. This enables us to explore more easily as the roads in Scotland are quite narrow in places. In addition to the scooter, we also have electric bikes. These give us complete flexibility and really allow us to get into the nooks and crannies of places.
(Incidentally, if you wanted to experience a different mode of transport to tour Scotland, you might want to consider a barge cruise along the Caledonian Canal. The cruise on the Spirit of Scotland includes lots of day trips to iconic places along the route. This trip is very high on my wish list!)
The North Coast 500 is very popular these days for road trips in Scotland, but there are other fabulous routes to take for a Scottish road trip. We took in a little of the NC 500 along the way, but chose our own route to take in what we wanted to see. There were three stages to our plan for this trip:
- set out from Edinburgh and head north to the Aberdeenshire coast;
- drive to Speyside to visit some of the many whisky distilleries in this area;
- drive up to the very north of Scotland and take the ferry across to Orkney.
A grand tour!
A Scottish Road Trip: Aberdeenshire and Moray Coast
The drive up from Edinburgh to our first port of call took about five hours with a few stops along the way. Much of the route is along the coast and is very scenic. Our first campsite on this trip was in a tiny CL (certificated location – a privately owned campsite endorsed by the Caravan and Motorhome Club) at Gamrie Bay. Gamrie Bay is near Gardenstown in Aberdeenshire. The campsite has just six places but is very well serviced and well located with views across to the coast.
The coastline on this part of the north of Scotland is fabulous and I can hardly believe that, even though we lived in Scotland for almost 30 years, we had never visited before. Admittedly, we were blessed with perfect, blue-sky weather, but the scenery is absolutely beautiful with the most wonderful beaches and very characterful fishing villages all the way along. We also had some magnificent sunsets!
Day One on the Moray Coast
On our first full day in this area, we took the scooter and went into the nearest village, Gardenstown, which is really pretty.
We walked along the path at the bottom of the cliff to the next village along, Crovie. Crovie consists of a row of houses along the sea front and it is not possible to take a car of any description down there; everything has to be carried from the carpark above the village. It is quite unspoiled, like stepping back in time.
We ventured east along the coast road this first day and a highlight was visiting Pennan, the village where the 1983 film “Local Hero” was filmed. The phone box is still there! If you have never seen the film you will not understand that reference, but if you have, this will make you smile! We went in the Pennan Inn for lunch. I can never walk past cullen skink and they served what is probably the best I have ever had!
Pennan is a really characterful village with lovely views over the bay, but I would hesitate to take a large vehicle down the steep, winding, narrow road. (There is a car park, which will accommodate a couple of motorhomes at the top of the hill.) Fortunately, our trusty scoot coped wonderfully.
Another highlight in this area is Aberdour Beach, just a little further along the coast. The beach is really picturesque and a little way along there are some interesting caves.
Mid-afternoon we called by the Scottish Lighthouse Museum tearoom on the outskirts of Fraserburgh. This tearoom has a fabulous 270 degree view of the bay and is worth it for that alone – but the tea and scones were very good too! The beach at Fraserburgh stretches on and on for miles.
A final takeaway from this first day of exploring was Rattray Head. The tip of this headland is along a narrow, very bumpy, unmade road, but it is worth it to see the fabulous beach,sand dunes and the lighthouse at the end. The views are wonderful.
Day Two on the Moray Coast
On day two we set off on the scoot again, but this time we headed west along the coast road. Again the weather was superb, not a cloud in the sky. People whose opinions I trust tell me it is not always like this, but I am thankful that it was for us. It was breezy, but then again, we were on the coast. The poor scoot was going nearly 60 mph in one direction and struggling to reach 45 in the other!
As we did the previous day, we visited a number of small towns and fishing villages along the coast road. They were all delightful, each with their own character. What we did note was that the villages going west were rather more manicured than the ones to the east of where we are staying and perhaps more on the tourist route. That is in no way a criticism; all these villages are beautiful and well worth visiting. The beaches along the way are stunning and the harbours quaint and attractive.
We had a fabulous day just pootling along the coast road, dropping into the many villages en route. A highlight from this second day though would be the first distillery visit of this trip. We called at the Glenglassaugh Distillery and I have written about this in more detail On the Whisky Trail. The distillery is beautifully situated overlooking the sea.
Another highlight was the village of Portnockie, where we had lunch looking over the Bow Fiddle Rock. This is a remarkable feature and well worth visiting.
We were also impressed by Findochty where we walked along the coast path. We called by the pub and someone said that the dolphins were jumping out there. We did not see any, but it was beautiful anyway!
Sandend Bay has the most fabulous beach which stretches on and on. It is very quiet and very beautiful.
We went as far as Spey Bay on the scooter. Spey Bay was very different from the places we had visited earlier, but no less interesting. The beach was pebbly and we walked along to where the River Spey tips into the sea. The Scottish Dolphin Centre is situated here, but again, we did not see any dolphins! Tomorrow maybe.
On our way back to the campsite we stopped in Cullen, the home of cullen skink. Had to be done! We went into the Cullen Bay Hotel which boasted “award winning” cullen skink.
Peter went for the “special” recipe which had chillies, sweet potato and dark rum added into the mix. I don’t think you should mess with cullen skink, so I had the traditional version. Peter enjoyed the quirky variety and said he would have it again, but would not choose it over the traditional soup. Mine was okay, but I found it light on fish and the potato had really cooked into the sauce too much, making it starchy rather than creamy. Perhaps I had just been spoiled in Pennan the day before!
A Scottish Roadtrip: Speyside
The next stage of our Scottish road trip took us to Speyside, whisky country! Speyside is famed for its proliferation of malt whisky distilleries and we visited several on this road trip. I will not go into detail here, however, as I have written about them in a separate post, On the Whisky Trail.
Speyside also happens to be very beautiful and we have fond memories of visiting the area on bikes when the children were young, about 20 years ago. We got the bikes out again on this trip. Believe it or not, they are the exact same bikes, but with a bit of an add-on: batteries! Peter converted them to e-bikes a few years ago. (See I love my e-Bike)
We stayed at the Speyside Gardens campsite near Aberlour. This is fairly central for touring the distilleries and is a lovely site. It is much bigger than our last site and has facilities such as a laundry and showers, but no internet. It was very clean and tidy when we were there.
We took to our e-bikes for much of our exploration, making full use of the Speyside Way, a fabulous trail for both walking and cycling. Sometimes we had to venture on to the roads, but they were very quiet. The Speyside countryside is absolutely beautiful and we were seeing it in the best possible blue-sky conditions. We covered many miles on the bike and I was grateful for the battery assist on the hills!
There are some lovely old bridges in Speyside and we encountered several.
And some rather more flimsy ones!
Dufftown is a very attractive town in the heart of Speyside. I was promised an ice cream but we decided on fish and chips washed down with Irn Bru and an 18 year old Glenlivet, typical Scottish fare!
On another bike ride we raised the stakes a little and had lunch at the Glenfiddich Distillery, which was lovely. The Cullen Skink was almost as good as the one in Pennan and certainly much better than the one we sampled in Cullen.
Close by the Glenfiddich and Balvenie Distilleries is Balvenie Castle, so we called by to have a look. There is not a great deal of it left.
Before we left Speyside, we visited the Speyside Cooperage. I have written about this in more detail in On the Whisky Trail. It is, however, worth mentioning here that this was a fascinating visit and the £4.00 entry fee is excellent value.
A Scottish Road Trip: into the Northern Highlands
We left Aberlour and continued our journey north through Elgin and Nairn, touched Inverness, crossed the Cromarty Firth and headed towards Tain, taking in the Glenmorangie whisky distillery. We took a tour of Glenmorangie and you can read about it in On the Whisky Trail.
We stayed overnight near the Tarbat Ness Lighthouse on a spit of land right out at sea. It was a beautiful evening.
It was quite murky when we set out the following morning, however, and the lighthouse was no where to be seen! We headed north and stopped for a coffee (and bacon and egg butty!) in Helmsdale, The Garrison Cafe. It was in the cafe that we met the local philosopher, who shared his view on life!
On the advice of the lady in the cafe and because we had plenty of time, we took the scenic route (A897) rather than the main road. This is a single track road with passing places (there are many such roads in the north of Scotland), but it is absolutely beautiful and perfectly do-able, even in the camper.
Our ferry from Scrabster to Orkney was booked from early evening, but as we had plenty of time, we drove out to Dunnet Head, the most northerly point of mainland UK, taking in the Dunnet Bay Distillery (the Rock Rose gin distillery).
We sailed from Scrabster, just having time to walk out on the headland before we had to board the ferry. It was a beautiful evening.
Our Scottish road trip continued in Orkney. Orkney is a wonderful place to visit with a unique history, a rugged and dramatic landscape, several quirky towns – and a couple of whisky distilleries! In fact, there is so much to see on Orkney that it deserved a post all to itself! Please click through to Let’s Visit Orkney!
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