Visit the Highlands
Today’s rain is tomorrow’s whisky
There is a Scottish saying that “today’s rain is tomorrow’s whisky”. And it was with this feeling of positivity that I set off on my road trip to the north of Scotland in the middle of winter!
After my 6 weeks of Workaway visiting the South West region, I wanted to see if the grass was as green in the North (and the answer is yes)! So I embarked on a 10 days trip to discover this part of Scotland. The trip was quite dynamic, due to the length of my road trip, so I had to make choices about what to visit. But even if it is not possible to see everything, it was possible to appreciate the spectacular landscapes that are on the road.
What to see in the Highlands in Scotland?
Time: 1 day
It is the second largest city in Scotland, and owes this to its former status as an industrial town. Moreover, this is what gives it its charm, with well-maintained buildings! Glasgow was built on a hill, which explains its unevenness. If you’ve been to New York, you’ll probably find similarities in the city’s grid pattern, and that’s normal! New York was built on the plans of Glasgow!
Go and get lost on the heights of the city, on Hill Street towards the west, you will have a magnificent view of the Woodlands and Kelvinhaugh districts. But to see the beauty of these places, go and visit the University of Glasgow, its architecture will remind you strongly of Hogwarts (Harry Potter)! Then, walk to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, it’s a museum rich in exhibitions, and the walk is superb!
The must-see street for its beauty and shops is Buchanan Street! You can also stroll along Queen Street for some window shopping or shopping sprees! Stop off at Georges Square to admire the Town Hall, before heading to St Mungo’s Cathedral! It’s a Gothic architectural beauty dating back to the 12th century, an old lady who hasn’t lost any of her poise. Behind the cathedral is the Glasgow Necropolis on a hill, the walk is as spectacular as the view!
I was seduced by the city, and would have liked to spend more time there. But in the middle of covid-19 and coming out of lockdown, many establishments were closed… However, you can feel that it is a vibrant and friendly city with a lot to offer in “normal” times.
2. Conic Hill
Time : 2h –— 4km –— 350m ascent
This walk is an ideal way to start a trip in the Highlands. The trail starts off slowly with a gentle climb through a forest, then once you are out of the woods, the real climb begins! Soon you can see Loch Lomond, and the further you go, the clearer the view becomes. The climb is not too steep, and the path is fairly even. Once at the top, you can see a string of islands, it’s quite fascinating!
A perfect walk to start the day and get your legs going! I was lucky enough to go early in the morning and to be alone for most of the walk! Nothing better to have the view to yourself! You might be lucky enough to see some highland cows grazing on the way 😉
3. The Glencoe Valley
Time : 1/2 day
The Glencoe Valley is known to have witnessed the massacre of 13 February 1692 when 38 members of the McDonald clan were executed. Their ghosts are said to haunt the Glencoe Road. But the valley is also known to have been the location of James Bond films, or Harry Potter. If you don’t have time to stop there, you should at least take the time to drive through it (Route A82). The valley retains its charm and grandeur even in the rain.
I have to share with you a gem I discovered in James Bond – Skyfall! And that is the Glen Etive Valley. It’s a dead end of a few miles in the middle of Glencoe Valley. This place is “hidden” with very few passages, and where at each turn, you discover a little more of the valley. And at the end of it, a Loch (yes, another one) wedged between the mountains. If time permits, you must go to the Three Sisters and do one of the walks!
Because of the pouring rain, I couldn’t do the walk, but that’s for another time! But even in the rain, the Glencoe Valley retains its beauty and hides its mysteries. The place seemed timeless. It was one of my favourites of this trip, especially the Glen Etive valley. I was overwhelmed by its grandeur. And by chance, I was able to cross a herd of a dozen deer and hinds! An unexpected and welcome sight with this weather not really on my side!
In short, Glencoe is a must-see, even when it’s raining, its mystery will be all the greater!
4. Glenfinnan Viaduct
Time: 10min — 300m — 30m ascent
If you are a Harry Potter fan or a viaduct fan or both, I advise you to come and have a look at it! The viaduct was built in 1897 and with its 30 meters high, it is quite impressive! But the highlight of the show is the famous Jaccobit Express (the train to Hogwarts)! And you don’t want to miss it, there are only 2 passes a day to see it from the right side of the hill. There are two departures from Fort Williams, one at 10.15am and the other at 2.30pm. The train takes 30min to reach the viaduct (10.45am and 3pm), but plan to be there 30min early. It’s a 15min walk from the car park, and 15min to find your ideal spot to see the Jaccobit Express! But beware, the train only runs from April to October. There are two choices for parking, the Centor Visit car park which is not free, or for the lucky ones there is the one near the church which is free.
I came here proudly with my 30min advance to have time to settle in and see the Jaccobit Express. But reality caught up with me when I realised that it doesn’t run in winter. In short, the ultimate frustration, but that’s the hazards of travel… On the other hand, it’s quite fascinating to see how quickly the weather and the colours can change!
5. Loch Ness - Urquhart
It is surely the most famous lake in the world thanks to the mysteries that surround it! Many myths are linked to it, but the most famous story is surely that of Nessie, the Loch Ness monster! The monster is said to have been roaming the Loch since the 6th century, but for mystery buffs or science fiction fans, there are museums lining the lake about it!
Loch Ness is 39 kilometres long, so you might wonder where to start! The best thing to do is to visit Urquhart Castle which overlooks the loch. It is a place rich in history as it was a strategic point on the lake during the wars of independence. It was built in the 13th century, but has undergone many destructions and improvements, which makes it a special place. And if you still haven’t had enough, there are many walks around the lake.
I didn’t have high expectations of the place, but the sight was really striking with the sunset. The castle is still well maintained for its age and history, and the view of Loch Ness is amazing!
6. Isle of Skye
Time: 1 day
Located in the north-west of Scotland, this island is famous for its rocky landscapes! There are several must-see sites on the island, but in one day, we had to make choices… Start with the small port of Portree, with its colourful houses, ideal for a morning coffee! Then head to the famous Old Man Storr, which is a 55 meter high monolith! The hike is not very long (2h), but is quite steep (288m). The view is splendid! Then, take the direction of the cliffs of Kilt Rock which lets the Mealt Falls fall into the sea after a 55 meters fall! The scenery is amazing, especially in the rain! To finish, if you feel like it, take the road towards the north of the island (Duntulm), the landscapes are impressive and the road is quite quiet (in winter at least).
In the middle of winter, I didn’t escape the rain or the gusts of wind, I finished the Old Man Storr soaked (literally), but with a smile on my face! Unfortunately for me, the rain was pouring down on the coast, and even the waterfalls were difficult to access because of the wind. I had decided to ride north, and I didn’t regret it, I was able to see a beautiful sunset!
When discussing with an islander, he advised against the summer periods (July – August), as the island is invaded by tourists, and loses its quietness, and therefore its charm. The best thing is to plan 2 or 3 days on the island to enjoy the gem of the island!
7. Stac Pollaidh
Time: 2h30 — 4,5km — 510m ascent
After a quick coffee on Ullapool harbour, I headed for a walk I spotted on Walkhighlands. You start at the foot of Loch Lurgainn on a small car park. Then you start to climb quite quickly in the heights to have a view on the Loch and the valley. The view is splendid! Gradually, you go around the mountain to arrive on the other side, and there, it’s an extraordinary view which is revealed before your eyes: dozens of Lochs as far as the eye can see (yes it’s possible), mountains, and the Irish Sea in a glance. But the hike doesn’t end here, and you have to keep climbing, sometimes with your hands towards the top! And after a few more efforts, you reach the summit between the rock piles. The view is so beautiful that it’s almost indescribable (yes, I’m pushing it a bit). The view is 360°C (or almost), and it is extraordinary. But as the saying goes “a picture is worth a thousand words” I’ll let you see the pictures!
I had (VERY) briefly spotted the place, and the pictures on Walkhighlands, I expected nothing extraordinary, but that was enough for me, I was on my way. On the spot, after 1h30 of walking and approaching the summit (510m of altitude), I was alone (nobody on the path), with my slight vertigo. But once at the top, the feeling is crazy. The view stretched for dozens of kilometres and was only for me. I was surprised by the beauty of the place and its power! One word to describe this walk: extraordinary. It is without a doubt my favourite hike.
⚠️ Not recommended in case of strong vertigo, rain, or wind.
8. Bow Fiddle Rock
Time: 30min –— 300m –— 20m ascent
Probably the easiest place to get to, as once you leave the street you only have to walk 10 metres before you come face to face with it! Located on the coast of the village of Pornockie, this quartzite rock arch was formed 750 million years ago and is an impressive formation! There are walks along the coast to this point, so be sure to check it out!
This site made me take a diversion in my journey, but the beauty of the arch made me decide to go! I advise you to go there early in the morning to watch the sunrise. It’s a beautiful sight accompanied by the dance of the seagulls, and it allows you to avoid the crowd!
9. St Andrews
Time : half day
Located in the Kingdom of Fife, this city is known as the birthplace of golf, but also for its historic university where members of the royal family studied! But what makes this medieval town so charming are its narrow streets which have kept their intensity, and the view of the North Sea! You should walk along the coast, visit the old cathedral, stroll the streets, do some shopping, and if you are lucky try the Old Course, the oldest golf course!
I think half a day is enough to do the whole thing. The city is not very big, but it is very elegant with its medieval streets and houses. I would have liked to have had a coffee there, but covid-19 was closed… So I was satisfied with the sunset on the cathedral and the harbour!
Time: 1 day
The Scottish capital is a place rich in history! One step in this city is enough to make you aware of its dynamism! As you can see, you won’t be bored in this city! Go for a walk along Prince Street which is the shopping street of Edinburgh, if you want to do some shopping, this is the ideal place! Then walk across the street near the station (The Mound) to the Old Town, the historic part of the Scottish capital! There are many things to see, such as Edinburgh Castle, where the royal family resides when they visit, but also Victoria Street and the Grassmarket area, which were the model for the Crossroads in Harry Potter! There are also many museums to visit, such as the National Museum of Scotland, or the National Art Gallery! You can also stroll along the streets along the quays that will take you to the North Sea or in the Stockbridge area.
I really loved it, and I can’t wait to visit this city in more “normal” conditions. With the covid-19, many places were closed, but I could walk around and still enjoy the city! I would have to stay there for at least 2/3 days to really enjoy the city!
It was a dynamic road trip and it was complicated to see everything, but travelling is about making choices. And I was quite happy with my choices, the Highlands is a magnificent region that you must see! Its richness of landscapes, but also of stories makes it a surprising and spectacular place, go for it!
With the article on the South West of Scotland, you have all the information you need to take your first steps on Scottish soil!
My fav places
Walkhighlands a free website that lists ALL the walks in Scotland (even in the south)! When I discovered this site, I swore by it!
Guides Voir, SCOTLAND – Édition Hachette: to understand Scottish culture and pick up some ideas for walks
Lonely Planet, SCOTLAND: for good deals on restaurants, accommodation, but also experiences