The Superb Drive from Glasgow to Mallaig
West Coast Waters Part I
A West Coast of Scotland Road Trip to Remember
Most of September saw me on the road as I ducked and dived, weaved and charged over the length and breadth of our western Highlands and Islands. So begins a 4-part west coast of Scotland road trip blog series that will detail the highlights along the way and that will unearth the best activities on, in and overlooking our coastlines and lochs. That will pick out some of our finest seafood restaurants. That will alert you to our most promising up-and-coming distilleries. And that will paint a picture of a part of the world that lives long in the soul.
West Coast of Scotland Road Trip Day 1
Glasgow to Fort William
Several hundred journeys departing Glasgow on Great Western Road have not detracted from its appeal in the slightest. Like a dog that knows he’s off to the park, this is a route that brings up excitement and anticipation for this traveller every time. As I depart my city, the West Highland call begins.
Having passed the majesty of Loch Lomond and the barrenness of Rannoch Moor, interspersed with the odd sumptuous vantage point, the immediate, immersive appeal of the Highlands is clear. This is what you were promised in the guide books. This is Scotland with its soul laid bare.
The misty peaks announcing the approach to Glen Coe signal something else. Enter now the land of the warrior poets, where legends reign and tragedy lingers. Knowledge of the 1692 Massacre means Glen Coe will forever be a melancholic place, similar in atmosphere to a war grave. Listen hard, you may still hear the pipes. You may still feel the desperation.
The familiar roadside stops notwithstanding, the Glen remains a place of hidden alcoves, still lochans and deep calm. And where better to experience that calm than on those lochans, under the watchful gaze of its peaks and guarded on all sides by its knowing trees. Rugged Paddleboard are located near Glencoe village and offer multiple locations for boarding in the vicinity. Perfect for beginners and enthusiasts alike, the effortlessly graceful paddleboard may be the perfect middleman to make the introductions between you and this most powerful of glens.
Crannog Restaurant, Fort William
I’ve long been a fanatic about the excellent Loch Leven Seafood Café whenever road tripping through Lochaber and I can now safely add this little beauty into the mix for competition. Sat right on the water in Fort William, crannog-style, the quality of produce is magnificent. Expect the residents of the deepest depths of local waters to make their way onto the menu in what is an almost-too-convenient stop for travellers passing the urban town.
West Coast of Scotland Road Trip Day 2
The Road to the Isles
Departing the Outdoor Capital of the UK, the road now leads west. A well-named road at that as the Isles start their own call. And it’s a call with a hint of Jacobite defiance as this is where Bonnie Prince Charlie’s doomed pursuit of the throne both started and ended. A 46-mile stretch densely packed with magnificent scenery, you’ll slowly observe yourself slipping from Highland to Island mindset.
The compulsory stop (chaotically mobbed during the summer season be advised) is of course Glenfinnan. Both Charlie’s Monument and the now-even-more-iconic Harry Potter viaduct overlook the effortless Loch Shiel. One of the most visually impactful spots in Scotland, it joins Glen Coe in pairing natural beauty with complex history leaving you staring down the barrel of this most Scottish of scenarios. Reach for the hip flask and take a moment.
Offering a delicious sweet spot between rugged, un-explored peaks and pristine sands, interspersed with machair and rocky islets, lies dainty little Arisaig. The Silver Sands of Morar dot the coastline between here and Mallaig further north. The call of a departing ferry may tempt you to pass through this stretch at pace, but it would be a dire mistake.
My favourite mainland beach in Scotland, this one’s special. A short walk over dunes from the same-named campsite, Camusdarach is compact enough to feel intimate yet big enough to render you insignificant. Ben’s Beach in Local Hero, it retains a cult following in 80s movie circles and haunts and captivates today’s visitors just as much as it did the film’s besotted Texans.
A truly unforgettable sunset elevated the beach to another level. I rarely have the time or opportunity to enjoy sunsets doing what I do (who does?) so to find myself on the sand, speechless and entirely captured, I watched a spectacle of natural light that would silence Parliament. The distant silhouette of the Rum Cuillin, more on Rum and the Small Isles (minus Canna which I couldn’t squeeze in this time) later , bore the full intensity of the fiery sunset behind. The blacks, blues, turquoises, oranges, pinks, yellows and reds battle for supremacy in the last of the day’s light. The sand is soft, the water temperate. The breeze is kind and the waves gentle.
It’s just you and Scotland. Make this a memory.
Back on the Water
This stretch of coastline could hardly have been better suited to kayaking and the Arisaig Sea Kayaking Centre obliges. Various, weather-dependent, routes are possible that all aim to give you an alternative understanding of the terrain, the wildlife and the natural vibes. Half and full day trips, under excellent expert supervision, are available and they provide all the gear. An activity that tends to lull me off into a relaxed, contented slumber, you’ll want to try and keep your eyes peeled for seals, hidden inlets and caves, soaring eagles and maybe even the odd coastal rainbow.
Dinner at Arisaig House
Another of the Highlands’ most impressive dining options, the seafood here is up there with the best I have tasted. In ever. Fresh-off-the-boat langoustines and lobster, an excellent wine list and locally sourced ingredients rule. Set in a beautiful Country House Hotel, the leafy grounds and terraced gardens ease you into an evening of luxury. Enormously talented chef Colin, warmly welcoming owner Sarah and a friendly and efficient team guarantee a wonderful meal.
This first chunk of my west coast circuit can be done in as little as 2-3 days but don’t let my pace influence you in the slightest. The Road to the Isles is big enough to absorb easily double that, particularly for hikers and water activity fans. I based myself at Fort William and Mallaig for logistical ease as much as anything but there are several more intimate options between the two. While the route makes for a fabulous Scottish road trip, there are trains running all the way between Glasgow and Mallaig, via Fort William, as an additional transport option.
Next up in this series
Stay tuned for more next week, same time, same channel, as I head to Knoydart and the Small Isles……
This blog post is the result of a sponsored marketing campaign with West Coast Waters, promoting the endless highlights of Scotland’s west coast. The West Coast Waters 2020 Campaign is a partnership initiative and has received funding from the Visit Scotland Growth Fund – more information at https://www.westcoastwaters.
All experiences had and any recommendations within are, though, based purely on passing the test of my considerable experience working in this industry and exploring my homeland. I’ll stick my neck out and say that you’ll not be disappointed with what awaits you.
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