I know what you’re thinking. Why is a website about Edinburgh talking about Loch Ness and the Highlands? Well, Edinburgh is a fantastic base from which to explore the rest of Scotland. I’m hoping to show this in my new “A Day Trip to…” series, which will cover some of the top places in this fine country that can be quite easily seen in a day from Edinburgh, and you can be back in the city for dinnertime!
I must admit for my first instalment, I was quite ambitious. I was quite surprised to learn that you can see the Highlands and Loch Ness from Edinburgh in a day, but indeed it can be done – with an early start, a lot of driving and a few quick pit stops you can squeeze in a bite-sized taste of the Highlands in just over 12 hours.
The lovely folks at Gray Line Tours Scotland offered to take me on the trip, and I boarded the large coach in Edinburgh city centre at 7.30am. If you’re staying in a central Edinburgh hotel, they will pick you up from your front door at no extra cost.
En route to Kilmahog
By the time we had picked everyone up, it was around 8am by the time we were making our way out of the city via the M9. For being a motorway, it’s still an incredibly scenic route with lots of landmarks along the way: Linlithgow Palace, The Kelpies, Bannockburn, Stirling Castle and the Wallace Monument to name a few.
As we made our way up the road, our driver/guide Bill kept us amused with lots of stories about the monuments we were passing, including a vivid retelling of the story of Bannockburn. Of course, as there was so much to cram into the day already, we had no time to stop – so as we were driving up I was already making my plans to come back to each of these attractions and see them properly one day.
We left the motorway and made our way to our first stop at a woollen mill at Kilmahog. The roads got narrower and a little twistier, and by the time we stopped we could see our first snow-capped mountain of the day. As the rest of the group went to grab a coffee and a comfort break, I wandered around the car park to get some shots of the pretty spring flowers and blue skies.
The Trossachs and Glen Coe
As we pulled out of Kilmahog the scenery changed almost instantly. The snow-capped mountains became a lot more frequent, and rolling green fields were replaced with brown heather and dramatic lochs.
We were very lucky with the weather that day, so Bill very kindly squeezed in an extra five-minute photo stop at Black Mount so we could take proper photos of the scenery (as opposed to rushed snapshots taken from the bus window on our iPhones!). We had only been on the road for a couple of hours, but the land could not look more different than the city we had left that morning.
After rounding us all up into the bus again, it was only a few more minutes’ drive until we were at our first “official” photo stop – Glen Coe. As we drove along the twisty roads, Bill told us the tragic story of the massacre of Glencoe, where 38 people were murdered in 1692 because the MacDonald clan were not quick enough to pledge their allegiance to the king and queen at the time.
Despite its sad history, the scenery is absolutely breathtaking and it is easy to see why so many tourists were gathered at this spot to take pictures and admire the view.
Fort William, Ben Nevis and the Commando Memorial
From Glen Coe it was a short drive to the shores of Loch Linnhe up to Fort William. This is a popular town for visitors as it is an ideal gateway to the Highlands and Ben Nevis, the tallest summit in the UK. While we didn’t make a stop in the town, I managed to sneak a picture of the loch from the bus window…
We drove a little further north out of Fort William and made a stop at the Commando Memorial to get a closer look and to take in the view of Ben Nevis. Sadly the summit of Ben Nevis was covered in cloud, but we also took the opportunity to wander around the poignant soldier memorial.
Ben Nevis is in there somewhere… I promise!
Commando Memorial overlooks the training ground of the Commando Training Depot from 1942, and was originally unveiled as a monument for those who served in the Second World War. However, as more wars have come and gone since it has become a tribute for all Scottish soldiers who fight and die for our freedom.
St Augustus and Loch Ness
We drove through Spean Bridge and up to the northernmost stop of the day and our lunch break at St Augustus. This is a charming little village which also acts as the gateway to Loch Ness. We spent two hours here, which was plenty of time to enjoy a bit of food and take in the beautiful scenery.
In St Augustus you could take the option to go on a Loch Ness Cruise. While the cruise is an additional cost, you do get a discount if you buy it on the bus. I paid £13 for my full adult ticket and the cruise lasted one hour, taking in stunning panoramas of the loch. There was no sign of Nessie, though…
…or was there?
After lunch we started to make our way back down southwards. We passed even more stunning scenery on the way before making our final stop of the day at Pitlochry in Perthshire around 5pm. This wasn’t my first visit to this charming country town, as I had been here for a wedding of a friend a couple of years ago.
You can see why it is so popular for nuptials as well as relaxing countryside retreats. There are fantastic views, lots of opportunities for scenic walks and the charming wee streets are just postcard perfect.
I would have loved to spend a bit longer here, but it was getting late and we had to get on our way, so I grabbed a quick coffee before we got on the bus one last time.
We arrived back in Edinburgh at around 7pm, just under 12 hours since we left that morning. I couldn’t believe that we had managed to squeeze so much into one day!
Of course, I do believe the Highlands is something that should ideally be savoured over a long weekend, but for those who are a bit pressed for time and just want to catch a glimpse of what the north of Scotland has to offer, this is a great option – I’d heartily recommend to anyone who is looking to pack in as many Scottish Highland sights into as little time as possible!
Many thanks to Gray Line Tours for showing me around the Highlands. I took the Loch Ness and Highlands of Scotland tour, which runs every day and costs £42.00 per person (excluding lunch, the Loch Ness cruise and gratuities).