Loch Shiel and Glenfinnan Memorial is a highlight on a Scotland Roadtrip

Ultimate Scotland Road Trip Day 4: Lochs and Islands, Glencoe to Kildrummy

Day 4 of our Scotland Road Trip takes in: Glencoe – Fort William – Glenfinnan Viaduct – The Cairngorm National Park – The Whisky Trail- The Glenlivet – Kildrummy Castle

Glenfinnan offers a day trip destination to add to your Scotland Road Trip
The area around Glenfinnan is stunning in autumn

A Scotland Road Trip is an experience like no other – especially when you travel in autumn. The fall foliage glows from gold to a deep red, there’s a chill in the air that doesn’t cause frostbite and everywhere offers a warming fireplace to sit by at the end of each day. The plans for day four of our road trip across Scotland will see us depart Glencoe and head to Fort William to see the famous Jacobite train, then on to Glenfinnan to watch it traverse the stunning viaduct as seen in Harry Potter movies, then through the wilderness of the southern highlands and Cairngorms National Park onto the start of the Whisky Trail, culminating in an evening in a hunting lodge at Kildrummy. Yes – that’s probably two days’ worth of experiences for most travelers, so buckle up and enjoy the ride.

A Scotland Road Trip to Glenfinnan Viaduct in autumn is stunning
The Glenfinnan Viaduct is a worthy destination for any Scotland road trip, but in autumn it is glorious

Start the day on your Scotland Road Trip with a good breakfast
After a haunting night at Ballachulish Hotel, we wake to a delicious breakfast overlooking the Loch

Our Scotland Road Trip Continues…

Rising early, it’s a short drive from Glencoe along the grand Loch Leven towards Fort William. Fort William is a town known mainly for its network of locks that connect Lochy River and Loch Eil. Having visited here back in the 80s, not a lot has changed around the actual locks though the town is almost a city now.

We pause on out Scotland Road Trip in Fort William
The canal at Fort William feels like it hasn’t aged a bit since the 80s (the 1880s)

Fort William

Neptune’s Steps is the rather nautical name for the set of locks that raise and lower boats from the higher loch down over a series of gates. Today there’s no boats trying to get through but I definitely remember seeing a couple of them backed up in the past. It’s a process that can take quite a while.

Stopping at Fort William on our Scotland Road Trip we see Neptune's steps
Neptune’s Steps is a system of locks that step vessels between lochs.

Take your Scotland road trip onto the rails or off the rails
The Jacobite Railway is a day trip from Fort WiIliam to the coast.

The Jacobite steam train at Fort William

The other main appeal to visitors is an old steam train that runs out to the coast. Yes, steam trains are a novelty, but they’re a dime a dozen in the UK. What makes this one different if that it runs along the Glenfinnan Viaduct, the same track the Hogwart’s Express traversed in the Harry Potter movies. The Jacobite is hence marketed as a Hogwarts experience and the day trip includes touches from the movie like a snack cart that sells Harry Potter branded chocolate frogs. Many of the passengers have dressed for the occasion, with Hogwarts house scarves and uniforms or carrying stuffed toy versions of the owl, Hedwig. We manage to see the Jacobite up close at the Fort William station, where it’s loading excited passengers as the coal get the boiler to an ideal temperature for departure.


Bernie and Jess Watt on a Scotland road trip to Glenfinnan
In the distance is the viaduct, made famous by the Harry Potter movies

The Race to Glenfinnan Viaduct

Alas, we need to take the car and unfortunately ours doesn’t fly. Instead, we almost miss seeing the train cross the Viaduct after getting stuck at mile after mile of roadworks. It’s a mad dash from an illegal car park to catch just a glimpse of its thick cloud of black smoke as it crosses the Viaduct. If you don’t get caught up in roadworks, still plan to be there half an hour before the crossing. The traffic is insane and there’s barely any place to park. Most go for the vantage point a ten-minute climb above the visitor’s center but those in the know head down to the other side of the Viaduct and up above it for the optimum Hogwarts Express photo (with much less competition for a spot).

The Jacobite Railway crosses the Glenfinnan Viaduct, the highligh of any Scotland road trip
We just made it in time to see the Jacobite (Hogwart’s Express) cross the Glenfinnan Viaduct
The Glenfinnan Monument is part of a Scotland Road Trip to the north-west
The Glenfinnan Monument is a memorial to the Jacobite rebels

A Scotland Road Trip will make you take life at a slower pace

Road issues are a consistent theme when driving in Scotland. There is either roadworks, a crash or a breakdown causing major disruptions. Expect to be stuck for an hour behind a tractor as it casually trundles along the narrow drywall and hedgerows that appear on maps as major thoroughfares.

It is after stopping at a local tearoom where the road is blocked by a rolled semi-trailer truck where we spot a rare break in the traffic and make up for over an hour of lost time. At this point, the drive becomes truly stunning as the road weaves between patchwork fields and mountain climbs. We’re winding our way through the Cairngorms, one of Scotland’s most renowned wilderness areas.


Prepare to have your breath taken away

By now, we’ve adjusted to the Scottish pace, prompting those more impatient to overtake us while we soak in the grandeur. A change of tempo also means being open to stopping when we spot something interesting – like this old stone gatehouse to a manor. The Ardverikie Lodge is actually the front gate to the gloriously ostentatious estate that was first built in the 1800s. In its heyday, the sprawling hunting estate was spread over a 145,000 acre holding. It’s shrunk to a miserly 38,000 acres, complete with Ardverikie Manor, the setting for the BBC show, Monarch of the Glen.

Ardverikie Lodge is the ultimate place to stay on a Scotland Road Trip
Ardverikie Lodge, the former gatehouse to the estate is now available for holiday rentals

And while it’s this stately folly that prompts us to pull over, it’s the sound of rushing water that entices further exploration. Hopping between mossy stones and through rough brush takes us to a sight well worth the leap of faith and potential slips. It’s a torrential waterfall gushing out from a narrow gorge where it meets the brackish waters of the River Pattack. The raw captures the power of nature at its best.

The River Pattack is a quiet waterway we found on our Scotland Road Trip
The River Pattack is a brackish waterway until…

The River Pattack becomes a beautiful rapid at this point of the Scotland road trip
Hidden off the road and after skirting a series of rocky pools we’re treated to this sight.

Stop and smell the fresh highland air

Another way to take it all in is to stop at the Creag Meagaidh nature reserve. As we’re well into autumn, the heather and bracken have turned a rusty orange to brown, but the hills are still alive with color. A range of tracks take hikers to the hills above and local streams where you can see plenty of wildlife. Apparently. We’re just happy to stretch our legs and admire the light show of a double rainbow (all the way across the sky).

For all the animals we haven’t seen at the stop, they all make an appearance as we trundle along the open roads. We pass deer, grouse and even what we think may have been a badger.

Some of the animals you may meet on a Scotland Road Trip
We managed to see deer, grouse, rabbits and otters

The Whisky Trail

A Scotland Road Trip to the Whisky Trail shows a beautiful part of the country
The Whisky Trail offers a tempting array of Scotland’s finest whisky distilleries – you may need a designated driver
A Scotland Road Trip to the Whisky Trail is recommended
The mighty Spey River is the source of some of the world’s finest Scotch whiskys

The landscape evolves back to farmland as we reach closer or sea level again. We’re now just above the River Spey, a water course more known for what is produced around it – the original magic water, whisky. We have entered a mystical part of the distilling world known as the speyside. Within this region, some of Scotland’s most famous and loved Scotches are produced with labels that include Aberlour, Balvenie (our favourite), Cragganmore, Dalwhinnie, Glenfiddich and McCallan. We only have time for one stop on this whisky trail – The Glenlivet.


The Glenlivet

  • The Glenlivet is a must-do on a scotland road trip

One of our favorite drops, The Glenlivet is a must-see for scotch whisky aficionados (note the spelling – it’s different to American bourbon whiskey). Unlike the peaty, smokiness of Oban and the island Scotches, the Speyside scotch whiskies are smoother and more pure in their flavor. We spend a good hour and a half learning about what makes it different (like the fact the water is still drawn from the original 18th Century source).

WHAT?

The Glenlivet Distillery is where one of the world’s best selling scotch whisky is produced.

WHERE?

Glenlivet, Ballindalloch AB37 9DB, UK

HOW?

Winter (November – early March) closed

Summer (Mid March – Mid November) open

The tours cost 10 pounds per person and run for an hour and a quarter. You get your money’s worth with samples of cask ready (60%) scotch, a 15 year and an 18 year as well as a souvenir tasting glass. You have to be over 18 to go on the tours. Designated drivers can pay a little extra to take their tasting away.

For information or to make a group bookings of seven people of more please call + 44 [0]1340 821720 or email theglenlivet.admin@pernod-ricard.com


A Scotland Road Trip has to include the Highlands

Despite any urges to consume our sweet providence, we resist. Opting to take a quaint country road, the drive rapidly descends into an abyss of stress as we suddenly find ourselves at the highland’s top ski fields. The roads incline at such a gradient that the brakes and clutch are almost frying and so are our nerves. It’s pitch black outside and we are limited to what we can see with the high beams. A burning stench is seeping in via the air conditioning. The hire car is not liking this, and neither are we. We’ve been on tamer roller-coasters.

Scotland road trip through the highland ski fields
The road weaves almost vertically at times through Scotland’s winter ski fields in the Highlands

Back to Civilization

Finally, we hit the foothills which quickly morph into winding country roads. After the angst of the downhill run, we’re just happy to be back in civilization. We even find a village with a shop that’s still open.

A fitting end to a Scotland Road Trip, the Kildrummy Castle Hotel is an old hunting lodge
After a long drive, we’re greeted with a fitting reward.

After a long and challenging drive through the Highlands and the Cairngorms, we’ve never been gladder to see a hotel driveway. As if the universe is looking out for us, we’re greeted by a family of bunnies as we enter the gates of the stately Kildrummy Castle House, our accommodation for the evening. They play in the light of the car’s high beams before beating a hasty retreat into the undergrowth.

Kildrummy Castle is our destination for this night on our Scotland Road Trip
Kildrummy Castle is a magical place to visit in the early morning light

Thankfully it’s all been worth it as we enter the palatial former hunting lodge which will be our home for the night (if only it was ours for keeps!). After an elegant gourmet dinner, we enjoy a few beers and a dram of The Glenlivet by the fireplace. It’s a fitting finale for an epic day on the road.


Our Scotland Road Trip itinerary covers four days of countryside and we spent an additional full day on either end in Edinburgh. See what we got up to on Day 1, Day 2, Day 4 and all the things we recommend seeing and doing in Edinburgh.

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