14 Jan A road trip around Scotland: The 10 best places to visit
While when I have time off work, I usually simply drive to the nearest airport and hop on a plane to sunnier climes, recent trips have reminded me just how much I have yet to see closer to home. We’re lucky enough in Britain to have some of the most diverse and spectacular scenery anywhere in the world. So, my most recent trip was spent driving around the highlands, lowlands, lochs and cities of Scotland. Here are some of the favourite places I discovered on my trip:
I have fond memories of Southerness as I visited with my parents as a child. So, I decide to relive my childhood a little and make this my first stop. I stayed at Parkdean’s Southerness site, chosen because it’s right next to the beach. I walked on the sands every morning and night, watching the stunning sunsets over the Solway firth.
Cut straight across to the north and, after some 70 miles, you get to Ayr. Glasgow is less than 40 miles away so lots of day trippers and weekenders make their way here. Parts of the centre have a certain faded glory, but there are plenty of gorgeous Georgian buildings and a stunning long sandy beach. Most things to do here in Ayr are Robert Burns related and I visit the Auld Kirk, the old church, where he was baptised, strolling in the atmospheric cemetery by the river.
Edgier than Edinburgh, Glasgow has been revived and rejuvenated in recent years and is now one of the world’s most stylish, cutting-edge cities. I make a pilgrimage to King Tut’s, a tiny but renowned venue which has helped launch the careers of some of the world’s most famous musicians, including Oasis and Radiohead. It’s still one of the best venues for spotting new talent. And I sail up the Firth of Clyde on The Waverley, the last remaining sea-going paddle steamer in the world. The ship appears in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.
Wemyss Bay and the Isle of Bute
Cutting back across to the west, Wemyss Bay is a destination worth visiting in its own right, with its pretty harbour. But, it’s also the departure point for visiting the beautiful Isle of Bute. On the ferry trip, I spot dolphins swimming along beside our boat. Once we arrive on this tiny island – just 15 miles by 4 – I head for Rothesay, with its string of bars and cafés. Here, the Waterfront Bistro, in an old chemists shop, serves up delicious Scottish salmon while you look out over the harbour.
Tay Forest Park
Back on the mainland, I start journeying east, stopping for a few days in the Tay Forest Park. A mix of ancient birch, spruce and pine spilling down to glimmering lochs, it’s a stunning part of the world. Here you might be lucky enough to see the pair of Ospreys fishing on Loch Tay. And, if you see a clutch of flies hovering over the surface of the water, keep watching, you might see salmon leaping out to catch them.
Continue north and you enter the magnificent Scottish Highlands. And no visit to the Highlands would be complete without launching your very own hunt for Nessie. You can book a boat tour to search for Scotland’s most famous monster, cruising the loch on a vessel fitted with sonar imaging so you can see what lurks beneath.
A holiday just doesn’t feel like a holiday for me unless we’re beside the seaside. So, wherever we go, I have to search out the most beautiful beach. And the white sands at Embo beach in Sutherland have to be some of the most stunning anywhere in the world. Here you can stroll from the village of Embo to the mouth of the River Fleet, walking along the paths which wind their way through the sand dunes.
For a true get-away-from-it-all trip, visiting the islands of the Scottish Highlands is a must. You can travel to the Isle of Skye on the world’s last sea-going, hand-operated turntable ferry, an experience in itself. You could then choose to go even further afield, island hopping around the Outer Hebrides though the ferry services and causeways. The islands attract creative types and are dotted with arts and crafts studios where you can buy original work to take home.
It may be renowned primarily for its oil industry, but Aberdeen has plenty more to offer. On sunny days it’s easy to see why it’s known as the Granite City because its buildings sparkle. The Aberdeen Art Gallery is well worth a visit for its contemporary collections and there are some superb restaurants in the city, many established to serve the moneyed workers and bosses the oil industry has brought in. Yatai serves up superb Japanese cuisine, including hand-rolled sushi and soft shell crab. The cosy moon fish café is another favourite – with a good value bistro menu.
Undoubtedly one of the world’s most beautiful cities, and compact so you can see all the sites on foot, Edinburgh is a must visit. The cobbled old town contrasts beautifully with the order of the new part of the city. Climb up to the castle where the guns still sound to mark 1 o’ clock, take a stroll down the retail heaven that is Princes Street and head to the Oxford Bar, the favourite watering hole of Ian Rankin’s fictional detective Rebus.
There’s so much to see and do just a short drive away from home, I might never hop on a plane again if it wasn’t for the fact that I’m usually such a sun worshipper.
This post was contributed by Katie Belle who shares some of the highlights from her road trip around Scotland.
photo 1 by parkdeanholidays.co.uk; photo 2 by Kenny Murray; photo 3 by Kirsten Loza; photo 4 by Elizabeth Thomsen; photo 5 by Raffsid; photo 6 by Paul Richards; photo 7 by John Haslam; photo 8 by mariejirousek; photo 9 by Martin Philip; photo 10 by Glen Bowman