I was tempted to call this post ‘An iar na Gàidhealtachd rathad air turas’ as it’s always good to immerse yourself in the local customs and language but decided to go with the English translation of ‘West Highlands Road Trip’ instead. Why? Well probably because I just couldn’t say a single word of it without sounding stupid!
We’re up in the Scottish Highlands living and working with a lovely couple called Tina and Norman for a few weeks. We help them look after holiday accommodation on a couple of sites in exchange for lodging and food and hopefully get to see a bit of Scotland whilst we’re here. For the past few nights we’ve been staying in a Yurt by their house in Pitlochry. It’s so much more than a tent! Perfect for us.
Very kindly they have let us use their little Renault Clio, so when we managed to get two consecutive days off we decided to set off for the West Coast of Scotland and see what we could see.
After lots of research and a mass of map-reading we settled on going north west to Fort William, then right out onto the west coast, before crossing Loch Linnhe, going through Glencoe, and heading back via the northern Trossachs to Pitlochry. A round trip of roughly 270 miles not including several spur-of-the-moment diversions. We booked a reasonably priced room at the Salen Hotel at our halfway point to make a full two day trip.
Pitlochry Pit Stop (or not)
Just one little job to do before we got moving and that was getting some oil for ‘Patra’ the Clio as she was seriously low. A quick stop at the Pitlochry petrol station would sort it surely? Nope. Only high performance super-expensive oil available so we decided to try the next one we saw. Unfortunately we didn’t realise that this is Scotland and as we motored another 10 miles, 20 miles, 30 miles, 40 miles we were starting to panic. There was no oil at all and Jo was starting to smell burning (in her imagination maybe). Luckily we chanced upon a tiny little 1950s style petrol station in the middle of nowhere that stocked mars bars, powdered egg, haggises, and three cans of engine oil! Saved by the skin of our teeth. Stressful though.
A fabulous drive along the edge of Loch Laggan took us through Roughburn, Killechonate and down into Fort William around the base of Ben Nevis. Sadly the weather wasn’t great and low cloud completely obscured the mountains so we could only guess where Ben Nevis actually was. Next time perhaps but we took a stroll down Fort William main street to see what drew so many visitors there. The town was first recorded around 1654 and was actually a fort created by the King, William of Orange, to control the Scottish clans. It went through several name changes subsequently from Maryburgh to Gordonsburgh to Duncansburgh before being renamed ‘Fort William’ again. Bizarre.
Now it’s the beginning, or the end, of the ‘West Highland Way’ hiking route as well as the ‘Great Glen Way’ walk and cycleway and also the famous ‘Road to the Isles’ which we planned to follow on the next stage of our trip. After a quick coffee and a bun and a wander around the town of course. I don’t want to appear too negative but let’s just say we won’t be returning anytime soon and were pleased to be on our way west.
Road to the Isles
The road from Fort William to Mallaig out on the west coast is called the Road to the Isles and is cram-packed with romantic stories and traditions. We were diving off the road at Lochailort to head south towards Salen, our overnight stop. So west along the banks of Loch Ail to Glenfinnan, where the famous viaduct attracts thousands of Harry Potter fans to see where the Hogwarts Express crosses on its way to the school. The road south from Lochailort took us along the rugged west coast from Loch Ailort to the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a wild place over there and some of the scenery just takes your breath away. Not many houses as it must be a tough place to live but we absolutely loved the twisting turning drive down to Glenuig and then inland to Kinlochmoidart. Hardly saw another car the whole afternoon.
As we reached Acharacle we went off-piste and hit a tiny track north along the River Shiel. Jo had read about a castle stuck out in Loch Moidart so off we went. It looked like the castle in Highlander (film starring Christopher Lambert and Sean Connery, heard of it?) as it perched atop a rocky island across a sandy causeway. Castle Tioram was like a fantasy sitting in the mist protecting the coastline so we obviously couldn’t resist a walk out and explore.
Overnight in Salen
We’d booked a reasonably priced room at the Salen Hotel to break the journey and we’re so pleased to get inside as the heavens finally opened on our arrival and torrential rain began. Scottish weather is so unpredictable and changes hour by hour and from glen to glen. Not a problem to JWalkers of course as we’ve got all the gear, well some of it!
The Corran Ferry
Nice breakfast to get us going before a leisurely drive along Loch Sonart through to the village of Strontian. This was where the chemical element Strontium was discovered back in the 18th century and is the only place in the UK that has a chemical element named after it. Fascinating huh? Isn’t it? Anyway, we pushed on to the Corran Ferry which would carry us across Loch Linnhe on our way to Glencoe.
We love a boat trip even if it’s a short car ferry like the Corran Ferry. It’s another little part of the adventure I guess.
Glencoe and Kinlochleven
Instead of heading straight for Glencoe we diverted all the way around Loch Leven to visit Kinlochleven at the eastern end. Jo’s Dad used to visit and drive through here in the 80s and 90s on his motorbike when he took multiple solo trips to Scotland and it felt like a connection back to him and a place he knew so well. Can you believe that he would set off on his bike from Kent and drive to the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides taking several days when he was well into his 80s? Once he even took three days to almost get there but turned round when the weather changed and rode home. An amazing guy.
Now before we’d left Pitlochry, Jo had found a little place for sale in Kinlochleven and wanted to check it out for real. It was the old Post Office and she reckoned it was a real ‘do-er upper’ and would make fantastic holiday homes. I wasn’t so sure as I’d need a big hammer and a hell of a lot of nails to ‘do it up’.
Glencoe is of course one of the most famous places to visit in the whole of Scotland and we noticed the tour buses and coaches immediately. Weather wasn’t great but that didn’t stop hoards of selfie-obsessed tourists wandering all over the road risking life and limb for a ‘cool photo in front of some mountain’. It would be a fabulous place to go very early in the morning on a clear day as the scenery is awe-inspiring.
Falls of Dochart and the Oldest Tree in the World
Meandering back via the Bridge of Orchy (we love all the amazingly evocative fantasy-like names of so many Scottish places) we reached the Falls of Dochart in Killin. Unbelievably impressive they reminded us of rivers and falls in New Zealand and we couldn’t believe that we’d never heard of the place before.
From Killin we headed for the tiny village of Fortingall above Loch Tay where we’d heard tales of a 3000 year old yew tree that had claims to be Europe’s oldest living thing. The Fortingall Yew is between 2 and 5 thousand years old apparently and sits in the local churchyard. Its huge and pretty impressive as trees go.
Oh, and the village also claims to be the birthplace of Pontius Pilot. Not sure about that one though ….
Back to Pitlochry
By the time we returned to Pitlochry we’d done over 250 miles in ‘Patra’, been through countless beautiful villages and glens, passed so many lovely rivers and lochs, and had the best time ever. This year was supposed to be all about seeing more of the UK and our first week in Scotland has been exactly what we dreamed of. We’re back working on the lodges and land now but loving our wee adventure in Scottish Scotland so far.
An iar na Gàidhealtachd rathad air turas
11/06 – 12/06/2017