Scottish highlands: The 12 best ways to explore – Part One

Check Ewe out!

I had always wanted to visit the Scottish highlands! And they very much exceeded my expectations. There is something quite magical about the highlands – the extreme and ridiculously fast weather is extraordinary and creates a different feel – you can imagine. if anywhere has fairies and dragons this place does!

  1. Make it a road trip!

You absolutely want to have a car and your own car to explore the Scottish Highlands. The key reason for me is that the weather changes so often and so quickly that when you get some good light you want to be able to pull over and take photos asap. I saw quite a few big tour buses going by on my road trip and I do think they would have missed quite a few great shots.

scottish highlands 12 best ways to explore
The stunning Glen Coe

Your own car also allows you to get the best intel from the locals. When I checked out of each hotel I would tell them where I wanted to end up that night and ask where I should go to get great photos that day. Their knowledge of the area plus the weather that day meant that I explored tiny B roads that would never have worked for a bus.

I picked up my little bmw at Glasgow airport and dropped it off ten days later at Inverness. The bmw and I were then off to our first stop – Fort William. Sat nav in hand it was easy to navigate my way out of Glasgow and head north.

  1. Take your time with Glen Coe

Leave Glasgow and head north on the A82 main road. This drive takes you through the stunning Glen Coe. It is frequently commented on in travel books for good reason – it is so beautiful. But it is always about the light and the weather when it comes to photography – and you have to be quick in Scotland! The weather moves so fast that a beautiful shot would have disappeared by the time I found somewhere to pull over! I enjoyed Glen Coe so much that I drove through it again the other way two days later with my extra day in Fort William (I climbed Ben Nevis inbetween which has its own separate post!). Leaving Fort William I headed for Rob Roy’s grave which is quite a way south – I like having a destination like this that allows you to stumble across little towns and views. It is a big drive down to the A84 and then the small backroads that take you to the little town of Balquhidder and the grave but it was beautiful and allowed for lots of interesting views. And the grave was very photogenic which was much appreciated!

scottish highlands 12 best ways to explore
Rob Roy’s Grave

From there I put the original Loch Fyne into the sat nav. Again this was a descent drive but was perfect for exploring random B roads and making discoveries. I managed to make it to Loch Fyne for a late afternoon oyster snack. The oysters were good – although I’m not sure they quite met my expectations. I had mostly miserable weather over the day but there were several points were the sun shone and I got some stunning shots – so more than worth it!

  1. Eat Scottish Breakfasts

    Oh my goodness the Scottish Highalnds has BIG breakfasts! They make Irish breakfasts look like nouvelle cuisine! There is only one size – ginormous! So there are of course the usual fry ups you would expect but then less expectedly there were a lot of pancakes! And French toast. And in Durness at Glengolly B&B a very unexpected whiskey porridge. Heavy on the whiskey.

The Lime Tree Hotel breakfast was one of the best – great selection. Closely followed by the lovely Pennyland House B&B in Thurso which was a slightly healthier breakfast – much needed at the end of a trip of big breakfasts!

  1. Check out the wildlife!

So I never would have expected wildlife when it comes to the Scottish highlands. It’s not exactly a place you associate with safaris. But I got to see quite a range of deer and some pretty spectacular goats! Plus some very strategically placed highland cows and sheep for photo opportunities in great light. This is yet another reason to have your own car for the trip.  My best deer shots were when I pulled over to fill up the car – you seldom get your best shots in the car park of petrol station!

Scottish highlands 12 best ways to explore
Scottish Deer by the side of the road

Around Ullapool and further south there are lots of boat trips on offer. I think we managed to get on the first one of the season. It was cold but we did see quite a few seals and a lot of bird life.

scottish highlands 12 best ways to explore
Check Ewe out!
  1. Visit a castle or three

Gosh do the scots do a scenic castle well!!! Dark, moody, mysterious – these places are amazing! Eilean Donan was a major highlight on the way to and then the way back from the Isle of Skye. It juts out into the loch from a very cute bridge and is worth a brief explore. It is most stunning from a distance.

scottish highlands 12 best ways to explore
Eilean Donan Castle

Naturally most of these castles are not too far from towns where you can stay as they are fab tourist attractions. As a result I would recommend visiting them twice for photography – shoot them on the way into town and then on the way out. The Scottish weather changes so dramatically you can get completely different shots – and of course you double your chances of getting some decent weather for a nice pic!

  1. Walk the Cuilin Hills – with a guide.

After a full on experience on Ben Nevis I was very relieved that I had booked a guide for the Cuillin Hills! Mitchell from Skye Ghillie came and picked me up at the hotel and was such a lovely guy. We headed to the base of the hills and grabbed a coffee at the little pub there. He then took me through the walk in detail and the different options we would have. I did think it was quite a bit of detail – until he explained why. The year before another guide had gone out with one tourist – a woman – to walk the hills. They were standing on a ledge and a freak gust of wind blew the guide off the cliff. He could not move from where he landed so instructed the woman that she needed to go and find help. She of course had no idea where she was so had to wander with his directions from there. She finally found help. However once she did she could not direct them to where the guide had fallen. The guide was found dead 3 days later.

scottish highlands 12 best ways to explore
The Cuillin Hills

I paid a lot more attention after this story.

So we headed to the stunning hills. The winds were harsh and we managed about 1 ½ hours. He then told me that the weather was not looking great so I was very happy to suggest we head back to the car – particularly as he offered to give me a sight seeing drive around the best bit of the island!

Click here to read Part Two of the 12 Best Ways to Explore the Scottish Highlands

And why not look at Climbing Ben Nevis while you’re in the area?

Click here to see all my posts on Scotland


Also published on Medium.

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