Scottish Travel: the long drive from Edinburgh to the Highlands

The Long and Scenic Road to the Highlands

Our drive from the Kingdom of Fife to the Western Highlands might as well have been called “the trip that just wouldn’t end.” Who knew 139 miles could literally take six hours to drive? The Scottish, that’s who—that’s precisely why they think we Americans are so crazy to do all the driving we do. I used to laugh when my Edinburgh-based friends thought it “too far” to go home to Aberdeen or Newcastle or wherever for the weekend. After all, SVV and I don’t think anything of driving three hours down to Birmingham, then three hours back up to Tennessee, in a single afternoon to pick up an armoire we bought on a whim. But after our road trip to the Highlands, I’m starting to think the Brits are onto something.

Scotland Road Trip

We chose to drive the southern route, which took us along the northern fringe of Loch Lomond. It was a bit longer, sure—only by 12 miles—but we were never lacking for scenery.

We passed the time by gawking at all the funny Gaelic town names.

Gaelic names

We listened to Grace Potter and Mumford and the Avetts and sang loudly to Taylor. We pulled over and took impromptu photos. It was just too gorgeous not to. If you’re stuck in the car for six straight hours, Scotland is a good place to do so.

Scotland Highlands

We had some crazy weather along the way, which only made for more dramatic scenery—and a whole lot of double rainbows.

Scotland Highlands

Once we reached , where the traffic was flying over the hill on a questionable two-lane road, at a particularly dangerous part of the curve, we were flagged down by a Prius “parked” on the side of the road and jutting out onto the pavement. Cautiously, I pulled over; there wasn’t really a shoulder so my car boot was sticking out in the middle of the highway, and it was starting to rain pretty hard.

The victims were a Spanish couple who didn’t speak English—and all of a sudden, all those years of Spanish I took just flew out of my head into the abyss of ignorance—and had broken down. Their cell phones wouldn’t work to call the rental car agency, and our only iPhone with international capability was long dead from GPS use.

Scotland Highlands

We could tell they wanted a ride—but we were in a compact car with three people sandwiched among three suitcases and a whole lot of carry-ons and shopping bags … plus, this is exactly how most slasher flicks begin, am I right? So instead, we took down all of their rental information, noted where exactly they had broken down (not having any highway signs or mileage markers meant we had to clock it exactly on our own odometer) and sped to the nearest town.

Scotland Highlands

Once we reached Glencoe Village, it was after 6pm and all businesses had long shuttered their doors. But in typical Scottish fashion, there was a lone phone booth in the middle of the town, and so we pulled over and I hopped on a 20-minute call with Europcar (who were very lovely, but not local so they hardly knew the area I was trying to describe! plus, who knew you had to have all the breakdown information, from the cause to the model of the car to the moon and the stars).

After they assured me that they would send someone out to remedy the situation, we moved onto Fort William, nervous that our Spanish friends would be left to fend for themselves but not sure what else to do.

At around 8pm, we arrived in Fort William—the biggest town in the area—where we nabbed a booth at the first pub we saw, the Grog & Gruel, and I forced Kari to try one of Scotland’s delicacies: black pudding.

black pudding in Scotland

I think the facial expressions say it all.

Black Pudding

Actually, we both agreed it was good, but Kari was still a lingering shade of green from recurrent carsickness—if you’re driving in Scotland, particularly as a backseat passenger, you’d be smart to pack some Dramamine or Bonine in advance—and I am a psychological eater who just couldn’t get over the fact that I was voluntarily eating pigs’ blood. So we nibbled and left half the dish for the busboy.

black pudding in Scotland

And who do we see from the window at that very moment but our Spanish friends walking down the main pedestrian stretch! We couldn’t make it out of the crowded pub in time to say hi, but we all knew we’d sleep better that night knowing they’d made it to shelter (and less than an hour behind us at that!)

It was another 20 minutes down the road to Spean Bridge, where we had booked a triple room in the Riverside Lodge Gardens for the night (finally! a room for three! and it only cost us $160, including a full Scottish breakfast for all). I felt terrible when we woke up owner Colin at nearly 11pm to get into the B&B—I don’t think he was too pleased with us, but he forgave us the next morning—and we had a slumber party in our cute room before crashing (them) and cramming a full day of work into the midnight hours (me).

Riverside Lodge Gardens, Spean Bridge

  • October 17, 2012

    These pictures are gorgeous!!! Scotland is certainly on my to visit list!

  • October 17, 2012

    It looks like it was an absolutely stunning drive! I had no idea that Scotland was so picturesque, makes me a little ashamed I made no effort to visit it.
    Lindsey recently posted..I Just Booked My One Way Ticket…My Profile

    • October 18, 2012

      There’s always time! I do think Scotland is a highly underrated gem (which is good for those like me who love it, as it’s never *too* crowded when I want to go back and get my Scotland fix!).

  • October 17, 2012

    Such a green landscape. Scotland is soooo stereotypical 🙂

    • October 18, 2012

      Gosh, I know Scotland. Way to be boring by meeting expectations!

  • October 17, 2012

    Scotland is one of the most magical lands! The history, the beauty & the people make it so unique and rightly so. Magic castles, murder & mayhem and the beloved Mary Stuart Queen of Scots is a favourite of mine. I loved Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace and the entire country side is awesome. My sister lived there for 5 years and I was fortunate enough to be able to visit and see the many sites of Scotland. It should be on everyone’s bucket list. Thanks for sharing your story & pictures.
    Debbie Kelly recently posted..Royal Resorts Vacation is calling YOU!My Profile

  • October 18, 2012

    I have taken at least that long to sometimes drive less. But then I have to drive hours just for groceries. Isn’t that the nature of travel, no rush. Wouldn’t it be nice if restaurants offered sampler plates. Loving the landscape of green because it rains so much.
    Gaelyn recently posted..Starved Rock State ParkMy Profile

    • October 18, 2012

      Well, there’s a difference in driving that long for that little mileage when you’re doing it leisurely, but even if we hadn’t stopped for photos, it would have taken us at least five hours! So crazy.

  • October 18, 2012

    ha ha, funny name for a bloody sausage. I also had that back home in Romania and we make it with rice.
    coolnewz recently posted..How do you book your multi-city transatlantic flight?My Profile

    • October 18, 2012

      You know what I LOVE that comes from Romania? Palinka! My husband and I drank quite a bit of it the Christmas we spent in your beautiful country =)

      • October 19, 2012

        actually “palinka” is more of a Hungarian name, but widely used in the western part of the country: Transilvania etc … The national equivalent is “tzuika” made of plums.
        coolnewz recently posted..Photo Friday: Beijing – facesMy Profile

        • October 22, 2012

          Hmmm, I had no idea! Thanks for educating me–sounds like I need to come back and try tzuika instead =)

  • October 18, 2012

    Pretty sweet room setup! I’ve heard that Scotland road trips are epic but longer than they look. Wicked that you’re doing it!
    Hogga recently posted..Are Travellers Flaky People?My Profile

    • October 22, 2012

      Yes, you should give yourself double the time you think you need—and then that’s still not enough!

  • October 18, 2012

    The views are stunning! I wish my commute looks a little more like that, haha. And your soundtrack sounds perfect for where you were.
    Ashley of Ashley Abroad recently posted..6 Lessons I Learned in the First 6 Weeks of BloggingMy Profile

    • October 22, 2012

      Agreed! I’m actually going to start putting together soundtracks on my blogs per trip, as I find so much music that seems to fit the country perfectly.

  • October 18, 2012

    Only you can turn a long car ride into an adventure!

    Also? Would totally try blood pudding.
    MonsteRawr recently posted..Unintentional Consequences of Having Pink HairMy Profile

    • October 22, 2012

      Oh I know you would–that’s why I want to travel with you…you can sample all the gross shit for us both! =)

  • October 18, 2012

    “If you’re stuck in the car for six straight hours, Scotland is a good place to do so.” This is the line I keep hearing in my head as I look at all these amazing pics. Why did it take so long – just because of all the turns and curves?
    Scott – Quirky Travel Guy recently posted..Photographs of photographers taking photographs at the Chicago Bean sculptureMy Profile

    • October 22, 2012

      Probably that. The speed limit was actually 100km/hr, but we rarely went that as there were a LOT of hairpin turns! The whole route was twisty and flanked a lake or veered up into mountains!

  • October 18, 2012

    omg i thought black pudding was a chocolate cookie/cake/brownie when i ate it rotfl

    also cant believe u made a picture of grass pretty. thumbs up for stellar photography …but we arent surprised since you made a can of cake pretty previously

    scotland is always fun! it’s such a charming place: )

    • October 22, 2012

      Oooh I bet you were in for a HUGE surprise! Did you like it though, not knowing what it was?

      • October 23, 2012

        i didnt know what it was until i already ate it and found out much later (it was a quick buffet at the university of edin. and i was running late so just grabbed things and nom nomed). nonetheless i thought it was fine. tasty? ha. do you remember the restaurant/cafe/shop “chocolate soup”? that one slays hehe

  • October 18, 2012

    Amazing photos! I’ll have to put black pudding on my to eat list. I wonder if it tastes like the French delicacy andouillette.
    Curious Nomad recently posted..Camping at Grand CanyonMy Profile

    • October 22, 2012

      I’ve never had andouillette so I can’t compare–but it was a bit salty and actually had some nice seasoning. I just wish I could have put out of my mind what it was I was consuming!

  • October 22, 2012

    Awesome pictures is it true that red heads come from scotland or is it ireland?

    Was the food better than the beer?

  • October 23, 2012

    I think I’d go crazy on a 6 hour car ride that covered such a short distance, but that scenery! It’s amazing!
    terra recently posted..Crying on Monday mornings, radio silence, girly bits & the part where I hate this.My Profile

  • October 24, 2012


  • October 26, 2012

    GORGEOUS shots!!!!! Love the double rainbow.
    Andi of My Beautiful Adventures recently posted..Andi’s Pick: Jardin EscondidoMy Profile

  • November 1, 2012

    The start of the walk is on the opposite side of the road to a large cairn, at the Lairig Eilde footpath in Glancoe. Wonderful views to the Aonach Eagach ridge, Glen Coe and as you progress, to Beinn Fhada and Buchaille Etive Mhor. This is a circular walk with a total ascent of 550m. The path is mainly good, although a bit undefined in parts. Can take 6-7 hours.
    idebenone recently posted..No last blog posts to return.My Profile

  • November 8, 2012

    The village of Tyndrum has a few places to eat and also a gas station should you need to re fuel your car (you WILL find this EXTREMELY expensive!!). After Tyndrum it’s a wonderful drive on a good road to Glencoe .
    silver account recently posted..No last blog posts to return.My Profile

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