Facebook memories took me by surprise today. They reminded me that a year ago I spent 10 days on a sort of a road trip through Scotland with a work colleague. How has it been only a year? It feels a lifetime away, so many things happened since October 2019. So instead of continuing with the three drafts I already have waiting on WordPress, I decided I will tell you why Scotland is a perfect road trip destination and why autumn is a good time to do it.
“There’s no such thing as bad weather in Scotland, only inappropriate clothing”Billy Connolly
As mentioned above, this was a work trip. It was only my colleague and me, the UK booking team checking out hotels and different experiences Scotland has to offer. I also said it was a sort of road trip. Let me explain: we used the train to get to and from Scotland and then rented a car just for the Scottish part of the trip. We spent 10 days driving through an autumn coloured landscape with the bagpipes playing in the background (at some spots, all you can get is Gaelic BBC radio).
The train ride
We worked for a luxury travel agency so we travelled in style – on a sleeper train from London all the way to Inverness. The ride took the whole night. We left London Euston at 21:00 to arrive in Inverness around 08:00 the next morning just after we had breakfast. The sleeper cabins are compact but cosy and the train movement lulls you to sleep, but the bunks are very narrow and also quite short so if you’re a taller fellow (like my colleague) you won’t really fit… If you’re trying to cut down on your carbon footprint and have extra cash, the sleeper train is actually a nice way to travel on such long distances; 11 hours pass really quick when you’re asleep for most of the time.
On our way back we took the “normal” Virgin train from Edinburgh to King’s Cross. I think it took about six hours and was actually much cheaper than expected.
Inverness & Speyside
Inverness is a good place to start a Scottish road trip. You can go further up north and do a run on the North Coast 500. You can go west and drive all the way to the Isle of Sky. You can go visit nearby Loch Ness or you can go east and visit coastal towns like Nairn. Speyside is also close by in case you’re up for some whisky drinking and distillery touring.
We spent a freezing afternoon on a boat in Moray Firth hoping to see dolphins and other marine animals who live in the area. Alas, the boat ride was not as adventurous as we hoped; we only saw seals and seagulls, the other animals must have gone into hibernation. Yeah, October is cold that far up north but I still maintain autumn is a good season to visit Scotland.
Inverness is closer to the North Pole than Moscow or Vancouver! Does that mean Santa visits them first or last?
Loch Ness is the largest lake by volume in the UK. It has more water than all the lakes in England and Wales combined. No wonder Nessie chose this lake as a home.
Cairngorms National Park
This was hands down, my absolute favourite part of the whole trip. The rolling, autumn coloured hills and an empty road in front of you. Most of Cairngorms is uninhabited so it is just nature everywhere you look, the grass and trees changing from green to yellow, orange or brown with a white spotting of sheep grazing. In the mornings we had fog gliding down the hills, covering the ground in a silky white shroud.
One of the most interesting experiences we have done was going for a sort of a hike, more like a walk on one of the massive estates (this needs to be organised with local guides). We started in the morning when the mist still clung to the ground and continued into the clear sunshine of the afternoon. It was the middle of the rutting season for deer and you know what that means; the sound of the nearby stream rushing full of rain water broken by the sound of horny deer chasing tail around the hills.
See the photos above? This is one of the reasons autumn is a good season to visit Scotland – the colours make the landscape as picturesque as possible and it rains less than in mid summer. If you want to try and avoid the rain, go from late March to May or in autumn and avoid the west coast. From 10 days we were travelling, it rained only on three.
One more thing you will see while in the Cairngorms are the Highland cows, the fluffiest cows ever! They have big horns that are actually warm to the touch when growing. But they have a contender for the cute cow title – the Belted Galloway. Don’t they look like a giant tasty Oreo?
For all the lovers of the Royal Family – the Balmoral castle, the Queen’s summer residence, is close to Braemar, a village in the heart of Cairngorms.
You are more likely to have dry days in October than in August.
The eastern coast from Inverness across to Aberdeenshire and down to Angus, Fife and the Lothians, enjoys an annual rainfall that is actually similar to (or less than) New York, Barcelona, Rome or even Rabat in Morocco.
South of Cairngorms
It is funny, but you can literally see when you leave the Cairngorms, the landscape changes so much so quickly. One of the bigger towns here are Perth and Dundee. There are some famous castles to visit in the area, Sterling Castle and Glamis Castle (the childhood home of The Queen Mother and the inspiration for Shakespeare’s Macbeth) both with loads of history behind them and open to the public.
If you are more into nature, you might want to visit nearby Loch Lomond, the biggest lake in the UK.
My favourite part of the trip in this area was visiting Arbroath and trying their smokies. Smokies are a traditional dish made from locally caught haddock smoked over fire in closed space and it is absolutely delicious, the best cooked fish I ever had! Because we went there with work, we were privy to the “behind the scenes” of one of the fisheries that makes the smokies. This means you get to enjoy a few behind the scenes shots 😀
Dundee is Scotland’s sunniest city, with an average of 1,523 hours of sunshine per year.
For over 100 years Arbroath football club held the record for most goals scored in a professional football match. They won 36–0 against Aberdeen Bon Accord in the Scottish Cup in 1885.
Edinburgh & the Scottish Borders
The last leg of our trip included a day and a half in Edinburgh and a day visit to often overlooked Scottish Borders. I have visited Edinburgh for a quick trip in January 2017 – literally less than two days, I flew there Monday morning and came back Tuesday evening for £20 altogether. And no, 36 hours is not enough to enjoy this gorgeous Scottish city. The trip this time was not much better, we spent the majority of our time in hotels.
To be perfectly honest with you, I never before heard about the Scottish Borders. It’s not one of those places often mention on travel sites. When travelling to Scotland, people usually go Glasgow, Edinburgh, highlands or the Isle of Sky. But the Borders are actually a lovely place, full of abbeys, stately homes and castles, so if that is you sort of thing than this will be your favourite part of Scotland.
We visited Traquair house, the oldest continually inhabited house in Scotland also famous for its Bear Gates. The Bear Gates were closed in 1745 with instructions not to open until the Stuart Dynasty returns to the throne. Se yeah, they’re still closed. The Borders also host one of the oldest equestrian festivals in the world – Common Ridings.
I really wish I could give you more ideas about Scotland, but our trip was on a tight schedule, running from hotels to experiences and restaurants. The car rides were more or less the only time we could enjoy the landscape and the fact that we were on a road trip through Scottish Highlands! But until the husband and I get more free time (it takes a while to get up there on a bike) and the lockdown is over, this overview should give you a good picture of why you really should visit Scotland if you have a chance.
Have you ever been to Scotland? If yes, what did you like about it? If no, is it on your travel list?