Great Scottish Highland Road Trips: The Road to the Isles
Round and round the roundabout. A Fort William roundabout. In a part of the world where coming off in any direction will present you with one of the finest drives in the world it has been a conundrum for many a spontaneous driver. On this occasion I know where I’m going though and can’t wait to immerse myself with The Road to the Isles – the drive between Fort William and Mallaig.
Fort William has always been hugely popular for tourists. Being, to an extent anyway, the only real hub in this glorious region it has been the starting point to many great Highland road trips. Glen Coe, Skye, Ben Nevis, Loch Ness…many of Scotland’s most loved destinations are within reach. The coastal meander to Mallaig though is one of my personal favourites. So fill the tank, stock the boot and head west on the A830.
The first part of the road follows the beautiful Lochs Linnhe and Eil and the first real stop on the route is Glenfinnan. It is famous as the starting point of the Jacobite rebellion of 1745 and, more recently, of Harry Potter familiarity. You can read more about this magnificent spot in my Glenfinnan blog.
With images of kilted warriors and wizards left behind, the drive continues west towards Arisaig. If you are using sat-nav it will most likely try to keep you on the most direct route as the journey continues to the coast. As you near Arisaig, though, look out for the brown road signs for the ‘Alternative Coastal Route’. This is a slower but nicer route for the stretch between Arisaig and Mallaig.
Arisaig is one of my favourite Scottish villages and if I could have a second home in Scotland it might just well be here. Idyllic in itself, Arisaig is also close to some amazing beaches. Camusdarach is particularly special and is famous for its role in the film Local Hero. The beach car park is a little further north of the signposted Camusdarach Campsite and it’s just a short walk from here to the sand. There are several inlets along the coastline so a wander is advisable. Golf lovers take note – Traigh is one of my top picks for a round. A stunningly set course, it is a good challenge for any level of player.
Back to your car and continue to follow the Alternative route until it takes you back onto the A830 (just before the village of Morar) and the final sprint to Mallaig. A departure point for the islands of the Inner Hebrides, Mallaig is also the end destination of the famous Jacobite Steam Train route. The iconic machine will need no introduction to Harry Potter fans. Plentiful day trippers coming off the train can be spotted hovering around the pier, not quite sure what to do with themselves after such a journey. As such it is always buzzing in peak summer season and is a great place to tuck into some first class seafood. Regular readers will be aware that all of my west coast drives end with a plate of something from the deep. There are several to choose from but I love The Cornerstone. Fresh and delicious, it has yet to let me down.
The drive is a straightforward one. The A830 is in good condition and the route is well signposted. The main challenge, in high season on sunny days, is finding parking. This is particularly true at Camusdarach Beach and you may have to wait or be creative with your parking. The journey can be done in as little as an hour but with all of the above stops expect to reserve most of a day. Why on earth would you want to rush it?
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