Countryside drives in Scotland

Take a drive through the Scottish countryside and the view through your windscreen is a constantly changing panorama of castles, mountains, lochs and glens. BRITAIN brings you three of the very best routes

Loch Broom, Ross and Cromarty
Loch Broom, Ross and Cromarty © David Robertson/Alamy

Scotland has some of Britain’s most beautiful and remote routes. In fact it’s one of Europe’s finest driving destinations and boasts over 10 per cent of its coastline. With mile upon mile of often deserted roads, it is harder to find a route that isn’t scenic than one that is.

Ultimate Highlands Highlights

Leaving Glasgow, it doesn’t take long to escape the urban sprawl of Scotland’s largest city as you head west following its lifeblood, the River Clyde. Soon after crossing the Erskine Bridge the shipyards and Georgian grandeur are left behind as the road curls around the green lung of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. Here the Highland Boundary Fault scythes right through island-studded Loch Lomond and Ben Lomond, the first Munro (a mountain over 3,000ft/914m) of many you will encounter on this Highland adventure. Numerous car parks offer photo stops and the trim wee village of Luss is on hand with pretty traditional cafés.

Pushing further north the Highlands proper arrive over the vast expanse of Rannoch Moor, where a flurry of snow capped Munros shimmer all around. The arrow-straight road across the moor is soon replaced by a spectacularly winding spiral down through what is perhaps Scotland’s most famous and beautiful glen. Glencoe is wrapped in legends, ghosts and brooding mountains and your car will feel very small as you descend through its jagged rock faces and skyscraping peaks.

There is a whiff of salt in the air now as the road drops to sea level and you catch your first sight of the Atlantic Ocean. The dramatic span of the Ballachulish Bridge vaults you over to the former English garrison town of Fort William. The UK’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis, towers over the scene. Its icy, snow-ravaged slopes are best left to the mountaineering experts in winter, but a drive or low-level walk through Glen Nevis takes you into quintessentially Highland scenery. It will come as no surprise to learn that scenes from the Hollywood blockbuster Braveheart were filmed here.

Loch Ness Urquart Castle
Loch Ness Urquhart Castle © BRITAINONVIEW

You are now in the mighty Great Glen and our route sweeps northeast straight down its centre. The sparkling lochs that lie beneath the mountains on both flanks are connected by canals and locks to form the Caledonian Canal, which you follow all the way to Inverness. The most famous loch, of course, is Loch Ness, so keep an eye out for the monster as you pass. Urquhart Castle is one of Scotland’s most dreamily romantic castles. It reclines right on the shores of Loch Ness where you can ramble along its ramparts.

As Loch Ness turns into the River Ness we reach the Highland capital of Inverness and swap the Atlantic for the North Sea. A stroll amongst the Ness Islands is a highlight, while the main attraction lies just to the east of the city at Culloden. It was here that the dream of returning a Jacobite king to the British throne and indeed the whole Highland clan way of life died on the boggy moor in a hail of British Army musket and cannon fire in 1746. The new award-winning visitor centre tells the story in an admirably balanced way with lots of audio-visual tricks and treats too. Taking a walk on the baleful moor, amongst the old clan graves, tells its own story.

View towards Ben Nevis, Fort William and Loch Linnhe
View towards Ben Nevis, Fort William and Loch Linnhe © BRITAINONVIEW

Time to turn tail now and head south to Aviemore with a wee drive through Grantown-on-Spey to take in a slice of Scotland’s whisky heartland, Speyside. We are not stopping, though, as we are off west following the River Spey to Aviemore. This resort is the hub of the Cairngorms National Park and really comes into its own in wintertime, with everything from skiing and snowboarding right through to dog sledding. For a more relaxing experience, a drive up to the foot of Cairngorm mountain is a scenic one as you delve through rich pockets of native Caledonian Forest. A mountain railway awaits, whisking you up to a Munro-height visitor centre, restaurant and café.

Still further south we leave the Highlands proper. This is also a drive swathed in majestic glens, misty peaks and swathes of forest. The next stop is in Scotland’s old capital of Perth. This Cittaslow (slow food town) member makes for a great lunch or dinner stop with an array of excellent eateries including the award-winning 63 Tay Street.

Journey’s end comes down the motorway with the spectacular Forth Bridge, straddling the estuary. In the distance the Pentland Hills wave in a capital welcome. Arriving in Edinburgh with your thoughts still in the mighty mountains and tumbling glens you’ll no doubt leave a part of your heart in the Highlands too.

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