Day Two of our Scotland Road Trip starts on the Isle of Mull and takes a stunning U-turn that we’ll never forget.
Day Two Scotland Road Trip itinerary takes in Bunessan – Fionnnphort – Salen – Oban – Ballachulish – Glencoe.
One thing that every Scotland Road Trip will include is at least a single detour or spanner thrown into the works. The best-laid plans are sometimes laid to waste by Mother Nature, who cares not about your wish to see somewhere you may never return to.
It’s 6 am when the alarm goes off, those digital church bells met with unappreciative groans. Today’s plans are to drive to Fionnphort on the west coast of the Isle of Mull to take a ferry across to the ruined abbey at Iona. We’ve woken in a cozy crofter’s cottage, the fireplace is crackling and warming against the misty rain beating on the slates of the roof. We’re greeted at the breakfast table by owner, Minty, who has prepared a sumptuous spread of local bramble jam she’s made, alongside bacon, eggs, and sausages.
The roads are muddy, and the rain is teaming down as we drive towards the tiny port of Fionnphort. It is from here that ferries depart for the island of Iona and Fingal’s Cave, a basalt rock formation immortalized in musical form by Felix Mendelsohn in his masterwork, The Hebrides. As we’re traveling in the shoulder season, ferries to Fingal’s have stopped for the season as the weather can be too dangerous to land there.
Sadly, the winds are so fierce, that all ferries have been halted for the day. Period. Through the sheets of grey rain, we can see the ruins of Iona – they’re so close, but yet so far away. All plans are now off. It’s time to rethink our options. Mother nature provides the thinking time we need. Almost as if by script, a herd of highland cows trundles along the main road – which at best is only wide enough to fit two domestic cars, let alone trucks and giant ginger “coos”.
With a little time on our hands, we investigate the best way forward. There’s not quite enough time to get to Tobermory, a port on the Oban side of the island known for its colorfully painted houses, but there is an apparently scenic route. On Google maps, it looks a similar distance as the way we came the day before, so throwing caution to the wind, we drive back along the loch through Bunessan and turn left into the Scenic Way.
From the first turn, the Scenic Way delivers in a big way. Flooded springs cascade over heather, ancient stone bridges rise above churning burns. You breathe the freshest air – which you’ll need as the scenery will take your breath away. We come across deer, birdlife, and almost run over a sea otter, who scurries across the road looking back at the car in terror – you can almost see it muttering f-f-f-f-fck in shock.
On paper, we’ve allowed four hours to get back to the Craignure ferry terminal, but it’s not that easy. The Scenic Way rises up above the loch passing rocky outcrops, powerful waterfalls, and forestry plantations. At points, the road descends steep hills and tight turns, often without guard rails. The most terrifying moment is coming up against a petrol tanker, which expects us to reverse about 600m backward up a hill – no barriers to protect us from driving off the edge. By the time we get back to what resembles civilization, the town of Salen, the nerves are frayed.
After stopping at a cute teahouse, we happen across the ruins of a Pennygown Chapel, a medieval chapel from the 1200s, positioned in a barren, wind-swept graveyard. The chapel is little more than a room for a contemplative hermit, but it bears a fairly well-preserved base of a Celtic cross, similar to the ones found on Iona.
Returning to Oban via the Calmac ferry from Craignure, we have time to stop for some of the renowned seafood from the little green shack on the docks. Imagine the freshest, juicy lobster, garlicky scallops, and hot chips. It’s a must-do on your Scotland road trip.
Just a couple of miles north of Oban, stop off at Appin, just off the A828 behind the Old Inn for the best view of iconic Castle Stalker. You may recognize it from Monty Python and the Holy Grail and other movies.
The drive from Oban to Glencoe takes just under an hour. You’ll traverse impressive modern bridges and coast along lochs en route to the famed valley. Take the A828 along Loch Linnhe and turn into the A82 at Ballachulish to get to the township of Glencoe. Think of it as the trading post for a world of adventure. The town is little more than motels and adventure tour company headquarters because this is one of Scotland’s centres for hiking, extreme sports, and adventuring.
Glencoe’s name is forever etched in Scotland’s heritage as the site of a brutal massacre. On the 13 February 1692, 38 members of the Clan McDonald were killed in cold blood by members of Clan Campbell. A memorial marks the dark day and is a good place to start your explorations. Situated on Gleann Comhann, by the River Coe, you can drive along the bridge to the Glencoe Lochan road – a route that will take you to a popular hiking trail with loch views.
One of the essential stops in Glencoe, even if you’re not planning a hike or camping trip is Loch Achtriochtan. Follow the A82 along the River Coe to a cinematic vista where the river meets the loch. The white farmhouse, dominated by towering mountains is one of the region’s iconic viewpoints and there’s a car park to handle the crowds. Luckily, the skies open and add extra drama to the moment, with torrential rain falling into the already swollen river. It’s a moment we’ll never forget and the reason we’ll always have fond memories of this region.
Returning to Ballachulish, we settle in for the night with a delicious dinner and a couple of hearty whiskies, only to be disturbed by the hotel’s haunting resident.