Eurotrip 2019 - Scotland, Part 2
My husband loves watching old Top Gear episodes - and his love of this show and driving/cars in general is what led us to putting a drive along the North Coast 500 into our trip. We only did a portion of it - Wick to Applecross - the whole thing is a loop that starts and ends in Inverness. I guess technically we did some when we drove Inverness to Wick the previous day, too.
The drive itself can be a little daunting for a few reasons - first, a lot of it is single track roads, so if there are people coming the opposite way, you have to find a Passing Place to let each other by. Luckily there are a lot of those built in, but it can be a little nerve wracking. Second, don’t trust Google Maps to tell you how long it will be. While these roads technically have a speed limit of 60, you probably won’t go that fast most of the time, especially if it’s crowded enough that you’re behind someone slow or if there are a lot of people going the other way. Google told us it would take 8 hours and it ended up taking at least 11. Third, you have to be careful with how you put the route into your maps - you’ll need to pick a handful of places along the route that will keep you on the coast - at one point in our drive I realized that we weren’t actually on the right road, so I had to work to navigate us back to it. (This was a helpful map) That being said, the Scottish Highlands are gorgeous in general, so the non NC500 roads aren’t bad either.
Now, just because I gave you a few warnings doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do this. You absolutely should. The views are stunning - every turn is more beautiful than the next. There are plenty of towns to stop in if you decide to break it up and not do 11 hours straight like we did. There are fun surprises along the way like random (and delicious) coffee stands and Highland Cows. There are gorgeous vistas to stop and take pictures of, that include cows, sheep and roadside castles. This day was one of the best of the trip, hands down.
After driving the NC500, we ended on the Isle of Skye, which is absolutely breathtaking. We keep talking about going back to Skye and spending more time there. There are sheep EVERYWHERE (you have to be careful on a lot of the roads), including at our super cute hotel. One thing we didn’t get to do was go see a lighthouse - we tried that evening, but when we got to where Google Maps took us, there were lots of people camping, and sitting around in the parking lot and along the road, and no lighthouse in sight. I guess they turn it off, but that seems pretty weird to me 🤷🏻♀️ I think it was Neist Lighthouse, but without actually seeing it, it’s hard to remember…
The next morning we stopped by the Fairy Pools - I’d say it’s best to get there early. They charge 5 pounds to park, and it can take a while to get in. Also, getting out of the parking lot took us a LONG time - the people in front of us were not aggressive enough with the Passing Place, and kept letting people past us, rather than taking turns. Had we gotten there even earlier, I’d hazard a guess that being able to leave earlier would have made it easier to get out.
The pools are small little spots along a river with waterfalls - they’re very pretty, and if you want you can go on quite a hike. Since we were leaving pretty soon (and weren’t dressed for hiking), we only went about 15 or so minutes up the trail, taking pictures along the way. It’s GORGEOUS there, and even if you’re not a hiker, you don’t have to go far to enjoy the view.
We left Skye and made our way to the Glenfinnan Viaduct - the stone bridge you see the Hogwarts Express go over in the Harry Potter movies. This was a very popular spot. The parking lot was very full, but we found a spot just a little up the road on the side of the road (ours might not have technically been a legal spot, but it was next to lots of actual spots and we didn’t get a ticket!).
It’s not a super far walk to some great views, and if you time it right, you can watch the train come over the bridge! People actually pay to take the train for a fun little tourist experience. It looks like it’d be fun. The train itself is a beautiful steam engine, and would be pretty even if it weren’t moving. The train goes a couple times a day, and comes over the bridge about 30-40 minutes after it leaves the station (this blog was the best resource I found about this). The day we went, it left the station at 2:30 pm and we saw it go over the bridge just after 3:00. It was absolutely magical seeing it go over the bridge - it’s a beautiful piece of architecture, too, so I think even non-Harry Potter fans could enjoy it. We had insanely good weather, though, and I think that some clouds/rain/fog would have made it even more magical. As we were getting ready to leave, we heard it again, and it was coming backwards along the bridge, bringing the train back to its original station.
Our last stop of this whirlwind trip was Glasgow. We decided to spend two nights there so we would have a slightly slower pace to finish out our trip. Some people thought it was strange we’d include Glasgow on our trip, but we found the city quite lovely. It’s not as industrial as it used to be and we didn’t feel any less safe here than in other cities. Our first evening we just focused on dinner - we were tired and there wasn’t too much daylight left so we left our exploring for the next day, since we would have the full day.
We stayed at the Grand Central Hotel, which is right at their Grand Central Station, and a lot of great things are within walking distance. We went to George Square, where we heard some bagpipers. We did some shopping in Princes Square (Nathaniel got a soccer jersey and I got a tartan cape/scarf!). We watched soccer in a pub. And we even wandered through the Gallery of Modern Art, which was free, and had an Andy Warhol! We also noticed lots of statues of laughing children, which were put around Scotland for the Children’s Hospital. They’re good photo ops, too 😉
And so ends this European adventure (except I’ll still tell you about the food - our favorite meal was on Skye). In the UK alone, we put 1475 miles on the rental car, and saw so many beautiful sights along the way. While I definitely was glad to sleep in my own bed (especially after a 2 hour delay sitting ON the plane in Glasgow and then missing our connecting flight at JFK because of it), and especially excited to see my dog, I want to go back so badly. Especially to Skye.