Scottish Roadtrip Days 10 and 11: Journey home

Day ten was another rest day for the MX-5, well apart from some parking space shuffling. We spent the morning chilling out at the flat in Perth, before taking Simon’s Ka (we were three up, so couldn’t take the MX-5) and then the bus into Edinburgh to see some more of the festival, including an evening with David Hasselhoff, which was a great show!

Our last day was spent driving back from Perth to Rugby, the weather, especially for the Scottish part of the journey was rubbish, with heavy rain and a lot of spray making conditions difficult. The rain had eased off a bit by the time Jen started driving and almost stopped when I took over for the leg down to Nottingham to meet up with Partho for dinner. We enjoyed our last unhealthy meal of the trip, then I drove the final stint back to Rugby, about seven hours driving all in, so not too bad for a rainy bank holiday Monday.

Total mileage for the trip: 1549

Scottish Roadtrip Day 9: Back to Perth

MX-5 at Glencoe

The last day of our highlands/islands adventure started with the now traditional fry up, followed by a warning to watch out for French drivers on the roads! Our goal was to get back to Perth for lunchtime, we couldn’t be late as everyone was waiting for the smoked salmon we had bought on North Uist, we had 100 miles to cover on the A82 and A85! I’d heard that the A82 in particular was good driving road, but on the drive from Fort William to Glencoe ski centre we weren’t really able to enjoy it due to the traffic, particularly caravans, so we decided to stop at the ski centre to have a look around and take some photos (see above), the little huts they had to sleep in looked good, but I’m not too sure I’d want to stay in one in the middle of winter. We thought about taking a chairlift ride to the summit, but the webcam showed that it was in the clouds, so we saved our money and pointed the MX-5 back towards Perth, luckily managing to get some clear road to enjoy. The road wasn’t as twisty as some of the others we have driven this week, with lots of long straights, so probably more suited to something with a bit more power than the Mazda. The rest of the journey to Perth seemed to take ages, as we seemed to be stuck behind slow moving vehicles the whole way, but we did make it to Perth just after midday and the salmon went down well at lunchtime.

The afternoon was spent catching up with my family, mooching around Perth, then a great meal out at the Bothy in Perth to celebrate my Dad’s birthday.

Mileage so far: 1,154

Scottish Roadtrip Day 8: Skye

No picture from today as I didn’t take any on my iPhone due to the rain.

Our plan for the morning was to take the B885 to the east of the island and explore the fairy pools then go to the Talisker distillery. The B885 was a single track road over the mountains, but the A863 to take us to the end of Loch Harport was a much better road, with two lanes following the contours of the loch. As it was raining we decided to go to the distillery first, hoping the rain would stop. The tour of the distillery was only £6, which included a wee dram and £3 off in the shop, which seemed like a bargain to me. The tour was interesting, and I was surprised by how much of the process is still done by humans. Predictably the tour ended up in the shop, where we bought a tasting set for Jen’s Dad and a bottle of 10 year single malt to keep at our new house.

Our next stop was the fairy pools, a recommendation by Millie, we found the correct car park, but I’m not too sure we found the correct waterfalls and pools, but it was suitably pretty and the other set of waterfalls were too far away to walk in the rain, so we may have to go back.

After the fairy pools we took a leisurely drive down to Armadale to get the ferry back to the mainland, we took a few stops along the way, but it was still raining so not ideal weather for sightseeing. We got to ferry terminal early and we were the first car on the ferry, which meant that after the short crossing we were the first off the ferry and onto the A830 to Fort William, which is a road I’d particularly been looking forward to driving. The drive from Mallaig to Fort William was one of the best drives of the trip, with lots of tight corners and great scenery.

Rather than eating at a posh restaurant again we went for fish (haggis) and chips, followed by ice cream and a wander around town, before retiring to the B&B for a catch up online and early night.

Mileage so far: 1,050

Scottish Roadtrip Day 7: Five islands

Portree harbour

After another full breakfast, this time overlooking the beautiful white beach on Berneray we decided to explore the rest of the island. It took us all of about 5 minutes to drive from the north east part of the island to the south west, where it was still raining. We donned our waterproofs and took a walk to see the birthplace of the Nova Scotia giant, then to the beach that runs the full length of the west coast of the island, the tide was in, so there wasn’t much beach to see, but it was really peaceful and the rain had stopped.

We decided that we had fully explored Berneray and still had five hours before our ferry so after consulting the map we thought we would visit the three other islands to the south which were all connected by road. First was North Uist, where we stopped at a smokehouse in Clachan and bought some smoked salmon for lunch when we are back in Perth on Saturday, then continued south, past Benbecula to South Uist, where we stopped at Homore, which had some cute thatched cottages and church ruins to explore. By this time we were getting hungry, so turned back north towards Lochmaddy, stopping in Benbecula for a macaroni pie. The main road through the 3 islands was the A865, which wasn’t really a main road, most of the time it was a single track road, but the locals seemed good at letting faster traffic through, the A867 from Clachan to Lochmaddy was a bigger, straighter road which had just been resurfaced and it almost felt strange being able to use fifth gear in the Mazda, until cresting a summit to find sheep standing in the road, we were certainly still in the Outer Hebredies.

While waiting for the ferry in Lochmaddy we took a stroll to the little hut of shadows, a camera obscura in a small building next to the loch, an interesting way to kill time before the ferry.

The ferry took two hours to get to Uig on Skye, which instantly felt different to the other islands, much less remote and with bigger hills. The drive to Portree was fairly short and it didn’t take us long to find our hotel, which had a great view over the harbour and over to Raasay, which made a change from white sandy beaches!

Mileage so far: 920

Scottish Roadtrip Day 6: Harris and Berneray

Berneray Beach

After another full breakfast, we set off to explore Uig beach, which we had been admiring from our window after since arriving at Auberge Carnish. As the tide was in there wasn’t much beach to explore but we did have a good walk along the white sand, before setting off for Leverburgh on Harris to catch our next ferry.

The first part of the route was retracing our steps from yesterday on the B8011, A858 and A859, then continuing down the A859 towards Tarbert, all great driving roads, perfect! Once we got to Harris the A859 got even better, climbing up the mountains, a smooth new section of road at the top, then a twisty descent down to Tarbert, where we stopped for a light lunch before continuing down the A859 to Leverburgh to catch our ferry. We were now driving along the west coast of Harris, with more beautiful white beaches, but we seemed to miss the 3m high MacLeod stone which we had been planning to visit of the way down, so ended up in Leverburgh about an hour early. The ferry to Berneray was a lot smaller than the Ullapool – Stornoway ferry, there wasn’t a dock, just a ramp into the sea that the ferry pulled up to and opened its ramp for the vehicles to drive off/on.

The crossing itself was interesting as the captain steered the ferry around various small islands before pulling up at another ramp into the sea at Berneray, which is the name of both the island and town (in the loosest sense of the term). To get to our B&B it was a case of following the single track road right until the end, then along a track and over a sheep field, even with the standard 4×4 suspension my MX-5 brushed its undercarriage on a few occasions.

For the second night running the view out of our window is a vast empty white beach (photo at the top of this post), returning to Perth with the view of KFC, a gym and the police station is going to be strange! Much like day 5, we ended the day by exploring the beach, followed by a three course dinner, I could get used to this!

Mileage so far: 835

Scottish Roadtrip Days 4 and 5: Isle of Lewis

Carnish beach

Day four started with a lie in then a crofters breakfast (fry up) at our hotel (The Royal Hotel in Stornoway); we’re on holiday, it would be rude not to! After breakfast we jumped in the car to go to the Butt of Lewis, the most northerly point on the island, but somehow ended up driving to the lighthouse at the end of the Eye Peninsula, the most easterly point! We had been planning on going there anyway, so it wasn’t too much of a problem, we just headed back to Stornoway and started again, this time finding the A857 over the moors to the west coast, then up to the Butt of Lewis. Stornoway reminded me a bit of Reykjavik and the villages on the way up the coast reminded me of these remote arctic villages you sometimes see on TV, but I guess they aren’t too far off that, being remote themselves. The lighthouse at the Butt of Lewis was suitably impressive, as were the cliffs, we had a wonder around, took some photos and headed back down the coast to pick up the A858 to take the long way back to Stornoway.

The A858 is another great driving road, quite tight and twisty is places, generally well sighted but with lochs right next to the road with no crash barriers to give you a reality check! The traffic was next to non-existent so we were able to keep a good pace, but still slow down to check out the tourist signs, early afternoon the rain even stopped so we could get the roof down! The two main sights to see on the route are the Carloway Broch and the Callanish standing stones. We initially drove past Carloway and went straight to the Callanish Stones visitor centre, where we saw a familiar looking coach, it turned out that we weren’t the only people from Warwickshire on the island. As seemingly the main visitor attraction on the island, the visitor centre was suitably impressive, with cafe, shop and audio visual guide to the history of the stones and other sights on the island, including what we had driven past in Carloway (it hadn’t clicked that the Broch signposted was the one that we’d seen a picture of at lunchtime). We walked up the smalls hill to the standing stones, which we were free to walk around before heading back up the road to see the Broch, I actually thought this was more impressive than the standing stones, even if it was only the remains of someone’s (albeit impressive) house, rather than of spiritual importance. We were able to climb all over the ruins of the Broch, which I’m sure would be a health and safety inspectors nightmare. With the sightseeing done, we pointed the little Mazda back down the A858 towards Stornoway and after a walk around the town had a great dinner in the hotel.

Day 5 started much the same as day 4, but the rain was heavier! Our only plan for the day was to drive to Carnish, which according to Google would have only taken us an hour, so we decided to explore the grounds of Stornoway Castle. Unfortunately we couldn’t visit the castle as it is being refurbished, so we got absolutely soaked walking through the woods and admiring the view over the town, eventually ending up in the cafe for a nice warm drink.

Rather than heading straight to Carnish we went via the Ravenspoint centre, just off the A859, which is the road to Tarbert, we’ll be going that way tomorrow, but probably will not have time for sightseeing as we’ll have a ferry to catch. The road was much like the A858, so it will good to drive again! The Ravenspoint centre is a small community run shop/museum/cafe next to Loch Eireasort, we had a nice lunch and I took some photos over the loch.

To get to Carnish we had to head back up the A859, back along the A858, although not quite as far a Callanish then down the B8011, which seemed to switch between a new/old road surface and single track/two lane road, which made for an interesting drive. At around Miavaig we saw a sign for “Circular sightseeing route”, which of course we had to take, it was well worth the 20 minute detour to get a taste of the lovely beaches this area has to offer. The best beach however, is the massive one at Uig, which dominates the view out of our bedroom window at Auberge Carnish, a great recommendation by Rachel! Almost as soon as we had checked in we walked straight down to the beach, only to find that we were cut off from the main expanse of it by a river, so had to settle for the smaller, but equally beautiful Carnish beach (in the photo), which we had all to ourselves!

The day ended with a great Scottish/French fusion meal at the hotel, certainly one of the best I’ve had!

Mileage so far: 737

Scottish Roadtrip Day 3: To Lewis!

MX-5 at Glenshee

The roadtrip proper started today, we had to get to Ullapool by 17:00 to catch the ferry to Stornoway and just going up the main road seemed a bit boring.

So we devised a more scenic route via the A93 through Blairgowrie, to check out where my auntie has recently bought a holiday home, then Glenshee, so Jen can see where I escape to when we come to Perth during the snowboard season. Everytime I drive up to Glenshee I think what a great road it would be in the summer in my MX-5 and it was even better than I was expecting! The hills were purple with heather and the traffic next to non-existent, we stopped for a quick photo at the ski centre which for me was quite surreal without the snow, then headed down through Braemar and on towards Ballater.

We then cut across to the A939 towards Grantown on Spey, with a quick stop to eat our sandwiches at the Lecht ski centre. The A939 was also a great road but I could see why my Mum hated it when she drove us up to the Lecht to go snowboarding almost 10 years ago.

From Grantown we cut across to the A9 via Carrbridge and pressed on past Inverness and over the Kessock bridge which had great views over the Moray Firth, so good in fact that we stopped at the viewpoint almost immediately after the bridge. From the layby there was a path down the hill to North Kessock, which was a nice little village seemingly forgotten since the bridge replaced the ferry from Inverness bypassing the village.

The A835 up from Inverness was another awesome road, more open and flowing than the A93 and A939, but unfortunately busier, probably with people also catching the ferry to Stornoway. Jen woke up from a nap as we were passing Loch Glascarnoch, so I pulled over into one of the many laybys and let the traffic clear, once the traffic was out of earshot there was just silence, we really were in the middle of nowhere!

We made it to Ullapool with plenty of time to spare, filled up the MX-5 then parked up at the free car park next to Tesco – top tip: just check in for the ferry, their holding area is much nearer the town and you don’t have to stay with your car. Whilst enjoying a drink at a pub opposite the harbour we agreed that Ullapool felt a lot like Punterenas (see Costa Rica Day 6 on my blog) – a lot of people just waiting for a boat to arrive!

I’m writing this post as we cross over to Stornoway and yes, I have taken the traditional off the back of the boat picture!

Mileage so far: 541

Scottish Roadtrip Day 2: Edinburgh Festival

Edinburgh Fringe Festival

After the long drive yesterday (7 hours door to door) its a rest day for the MX-5, but we still had things to do! After a relaxed morning in Perth wandering around the city and buying a birthday present for my Dad, we jumped on a train to Edinburgh to take in the festival.

After a bit of rain in the morning the weather in Edinburgh was gorgeous, with all the bustling street and people sat outside cafes we could have been somewhere in France/Spain, but the architecture and Scottish accents reminded me where I was.

We spent most of the afternoon wandering around the old town and taking in the atmosphere on the royal mile, before heading to the Pleasance Courtyard to see YouTube sensation Brett Domino. The show was really funny and apparently we will be appearing in a video soon!

After the show we had our dinner outside at a Kurdish restaurant (different but very nice), took a stroll through Princes Street gardens and got the train back to Perth. Crossing the Fourth rail bridge we were treated to a spectacular sunset over the Firth of Forth.

Mileage so far: 355

Scottish Roadtrip Day 1: The M6 Carpark

Plenty of room!

The MX-5 is loaded up and we’re heading to Scotland! The mk3 MX-5 has a deceptively big boot for a car so small, we’ve managed to fit in both our clothes for a 10 day trip (including a very restrained 5 pairs of shoes for Jen) and my camera kit with room to spare.

I’ve been wanting to go to the Isle of Lewis for years, last year I got a car suitable for the roadtrip and for Christmas my parents bought us an island hopper ferry ticket with Caledonian MacBrayne and booked us some hotels, it was going to happen this year! Even before we went to Costa Rica we’d planned our itinerary and booked the remaining hotels and now we’re on our way up!

The worst thing about going to Scotland is always the slog up the M6 (although I still prefer it to flying or taking the train), but even before that we had a day at work to get through, which seemed to drag. After the out of offices had been set and the MX-5 brimmed with fuel I pointed it towards the M6 toll road to avoid as much of the V Festival traffic as possible, unfortunately we had to have the roof up due to the rain.

The M6 toll was great and we were making good time, until we hit the M6 which was a car park all the way up to Manchester. Jen took over the driving duties doing really well in the traffic and rubbish weather, despite being nervous having only driven the MX-5 a handful of times. I’ll take over the driving again at Carlisle and drive through to my parents flat in Perth where we will be spending our first few nights.

Mileage so far: 185

Rugby Cement Works

Cement Works

These cement works dominate the skyline of Rugby and over the four years I’ve lived here I’ve grown to like them, when returning from a long journey, seeing them on the horizon is a sign I’m nearly home.

I can see the cement works from my kitchen window and had been wanting to take a long exposure photo of them lit up at night for quite some time, but as it is so near to home I was waiting for the perfect sky, (slightly lighter and less cloudy than in this image) but sometimes you just have to go for it! I’m glad I did as I am pleased with the result and will certainly have a print of it on my wall when I move away from Rugby!