I was in student exchange in Scotland during four months. It got me really excited because I had a lot of free time so it was a great chance to discover this amazing country! It’s only 2 hours from South France where I live by plane, so we could think it’s not really different but we would be totally wrong : the diversity of landscapes we can find there is amazing. In two hours, we can cross mountains, sheep pastures, scrublands and finally reach sandy beaches with huge coastal cliffs. As a nature and travel lover, it was unthinkable for me to leave Scotland before doing a road trip all around the country. So I decided to rent a car for two weeks, and let’s enjoy!
Let’s hit the road
My start point was Edinburgh. I first headed up North to the Fife region: separate from Edinburgh by the Firth of Forth, it opens out the North Sea with a lot of little fishing villages (Aberdour, Kirkcaldy, Lower Largo, St Andrews). Although all these villages are really cute, there is not a lot to do apart from having little walks on the beaches. So, as the sun was shining, I decided to continue my road to the Cairngorms.
Excuse me, Cairnwhat?
The Cairngorms National Park is the biggest national park of Scotland. It has more mountains, lakes, wildlife reserves and hiking trails that you can even think about. If you want to take a break for your busy life, this majestic quiet park is the place for you. I crossed awesome landscapes. Very often, I stopped to take a look at deer herds just on the side of the road. The singing of the birds, the wind on my face, the proximity with animals, all of this turned this moment into a very relaxing time.
Cairngorms National Park
Second step: Findhorn Bay
From local people I met during my trip, I heard that Findhorn Bay, located on the coast near Inverness, is the perfect place to find wild seals. As I didn’t really plan what I was going to do this day, I decided to go there and see if I can really find the animals. I walked about 3 hours in the forest around the bay. Finally, I reach a little beach where I decided to have a stop and enjoy the landscape. What a surprise when, when I turned my head, I saw a hundred of seals less than 200 meters from me! I stepped back a little not to disturb them. They were so funny, having a sunbath and playing just like little kids! Then, I was joined by two hikers who told me that if I enjoyed watching animals, I could go to Fortrose because this is a well-known dolphin hotspot. As I apparently was in a lucky day, I went to Fortrose. But after two hours of waiting and three hot chocolates because it was really cold, I was a little bit discouraged… As I was leaving, I saw something moving in the sea: 4 dolphins were here! It was definitively my day of luck.
Wild seals in Findhorn Bay
The North coast
The next step of my trip was to drive the road along the North coast of Scotland. The weather there is bad pretty much all the time, but who really cares when the landscape is so exceptional? I went to Dunnet Head and Duncansby Head, which is a little place just above impressive cliffs. The dark blue of the sea, the clouds in the sky, the light rain and the sheep all around made the atmosphere really particular: I felt like I was really in Scotland now! Then, I drove to Smoo Cave and Faraid Head, two places you must see if you plan a trip in this region of Scotland. And not really far away from there, there is a coffee called The Cocoa Mountain, where they make “the best hot chocolate ever”! And no kidding, it’s amazing (and I’m not talking about their pastries…)!
A sheep in Faraid Head
Applecross: such a beauty
One more time I was lucky, the weather was amazing this day, so I decided to do one of the most beautiful part of the Scottish touristic road. Thus, I drove next to Ardverck Castle on the Loch Assynt, the Falls of Measach (a suspended bridge above a waterfall), Gruinard Bay, Loch Ewe, Loch Maree … To finally arrive to Applecross: probably the most amazing landscape I saw during my trip. It was indescribable, a mix of mountains, sea, valleys… After this, I spent the night in Fort William after doing a stop to Eleian Donnan Castle which is one of the most reputed castle in Scotland! But this one is not known to be haunted, sorry … 😉
Because Scotland wealth is also the many little islands…
For the last step of my trip, I wanted to experience something a little bit different. This is why I chose to go on the islands of Islay and Jura. So I first took the ferry to Islay which is mostly reputed for its deer herds, groups of wild geese and above all its distilleries: no less than 8 on this small piece of land! If you are interested in birds, you definitely should go to the two RSPB nature reserves of the island, Loch Gruinart & Mull Of Oa. There is an incredible diversity of birds, which are only found in this part of the world! But for me, the most beautiful part of the island is Ardnave, where we find long sandy beaches, sheep and wild seals all around. Finally, I took another ferry to the isle of Jura. Honestly, this was not the best part of my trip although it was still pretty! But there is only one road which cross the isle end to end, and not a lot a particular landscapes to see!
Isle of Islay
This is the end for now of these adventures around Scotland, but I will soon write about a trip that I made to the Hebrides islands, and also about Edinburgh, this amazing city where I had the chance to live during four months! I hope this story made you feel like travelling around Scotland, where nature is so intense, people so friendly and weather so … nice! 😉
A little tip: if you are planning a trip to this country, I recommend you to visit the Visit Scotland website which is full of useful information about places to visit and to stay!
See you soon,