James Oxley plots a spectacular route through the west of Scotland amid some of the most awe-inspiring landscapes the UK has to offer
With coronavirus travel restrictions easing across the UK, it’s time to pack up your bike and head off on a long-overdue motorcycle adventure. This route through the west of Scotland is the perfect antidote to a few frustrating months stuck indoors. The grandiose landscapes, fascinating stops, and sublime riding are guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
The three-day journey, covering 509 miles, is perfect for a long weekend away, but if time is short, there is a one-day option. Before you go, be sure to check the latest COVID-19 travel advice at www.gov.scot, and I’d recommend checking the availability of accommodation along the route before you leave. Also, bear in mind some of the attractions I’ve mentioned visiting may not have reopened following the coronavirus lockdown.
So, without further ado, let’s get going!
1. Ben Nevis
We begin this TomTom Amazing Britain route in the bustling town of Fort William, commonly known as the outdoor capital of the UK, thanks to the huge numbers of fit and healthy folk who flock there every year to enjoy outdoor pursuits. The town sits at the foot of Ben Nevis, the highest peak in the British Isles at 1,345m.
If you don’t fancy the eight-hour trek to the summit and back, a visit to Ben Nevis Distillery in Fort William is a less strenuous but equally enjoyable activity. It’s the perfect place to purchase a bottle of single malt to keep you warm at the end of a long and enjoyable day in the saddle.
2. Fairy Glen
From Fort William, we head west to Mallaig where a 45-minute ferry ride takes us to the Isle of Skye, a small island packed with enormous scenery. Our route loops around the northeast of the island, stopping first at Fairy Glen, a whimsical and enchanting area featuring small, rounded, grassy hills that sit below a protruding rocky outcrop known as Castle Ewan.
The whole scene looks like a miniature version of the Skye landscape, a natural model village if you like, and it’s not difficult to imagine how it got its name. To get to Fairy Glen, turn right just before the Uig Hotel and ride for about 1.3 miles until you see a pond on your right. The road here is slightly wider on the left, so park the bike up and take a stroll.
3. The Quiraing
The Quiraing was formed over millions of years by immense geological upheaval. The result is one of the most awe-inspiring landscapes in the UK, full of jagged cliffs, fortress walls of rock, and spikey pinnacles. The starting point for most walkers exploring the area is a small car park on a single-track road that runs between the villages of Uig and Staffin. Handily for us bikers, this is a stunning motorcycling road that snakes its way across the north-eastern corner of Skye, offering spectacular views and superb riding.
It’s definitely worth stopping at the car park and taking a short stroll further down the road to soak up the views of the coast below. You’ll also get a preview of the road you’re about to ride as it winds its way down the mountainside. Jump back on the bike and enjoy those hairpin turns.
4. Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls
After reaching the coast, our route heads south for about 12 miles before taking a left turn to Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls. Park up and wander over to the viewing area to enjoy the spectacular sight of the 55m-high waterfall cascading from the clifftop down to the ocean below.
It’s a mesmerising sight framed by the towering columns of basalt that form Kilt Rock. Once you’ve spent enough time soaking up the view, we return to the bike and travel further south along the coast to what is arguably the most famous landmark on the Isle of Skye.
5. The Old Man of Storr
At 50m tall, the Old Man of Storr showcases the island’s landscape at its most dramatic. This towering pinnacle of rock juts into the sky and can be seen for miles around, including from the road. It got its name due to the fact the outline of the rock is supposed to resemble the shape of an old man.
If you fancy getting up close with this natural wonder, you can stop at the Old Man of Storr car park and follow the path uphill on foot. However, it’s quite a long hike wearing motorcycle gear, so you may be better off enjoying the sight from the comfort of the roadside.
Leaving the Old Man of Storr behind, we make our way south to the picturesque harbour town of Portree and our first overnight stop. There are a number of hotels and bed and breakfast accommodations to choose from in town, as well as a selection of pubs and restaurants by the harbour.
For those of you on the one-day route, you have the choice of staying in Portree for the night before heading home tomorrow, or if you’re feeling fresh, you can cover another 100 glorious miles to loop back to Fort William. If this is your choice, pick up the A87 out of Portree and take the Skye Bridge onto the mainland.
Continue along the A87 as it follows the meandering path of the River Shiel through mountainous scenery (see Eilean Donan Castle stop below). You’ll then pick up the A82 at Invergarry and ride along the shores of Loch Lochy back to Fort William and the end of a long, yet hugely enjoyable day’s ride.
7. Eilean Donan Castle
Day two of this Amazing Britain route takes us 205 miles from Portree to the seaside village of Ullapool. I’d recommend making an early start due to the fact most of the day is spent on gloriously satisfying, but relatively slow-speed, country roads. Leaving Portree behind, we follow the A87 over the Skye Bridge, taking a short diversion east to Eilean Donan Castle, a picturesque structure perched atop a small tidal island where three sea lochs meet.
The site was first occupied in 634AD as the monastic cell of Bishop Donan.
The first castle was built in the 13th Century by Alexander II to protect the area from Viking attacks. The picturesque setting has also attracted the attention of filmmakers, having been used as a location for movies such as James Bond: The World is Not Enough, Highlander, and Loch Ness.
8. Bealach na Bà (Pass of the Cattle)
From Eilean Donan, we retrace our steps along the A87 for three miles until we turn off on the A890 at Auchtertyre. We then head north to Applecross Peninsula to ride Bealach na Bà, one of the finest adventure biking roads in the UK. This magnificent mountain pass snakes its way over a humbling landscape of enormous proportions. The road itself is reminiscent of the mountain passes of the Alps with a plethora of hairpin turns dotted along a twisting, narrow road. It’s a challenging but hugely satisfying ride and definitely one for your action camera. At the eastern end of Bealach na Bà, we ride north along Applecross Peninsula’s scenic coastal road before reaching Upper Loch Torridon. From here, we ride another 75 miles through the magnificent coastal wilderness to our next stop of the day.
9. Corrieshalloch Gorge
By the time you reach Corrieshalloch Gorge, you’ll probably fancy stretching your legs, so follow the signs, park up, and wander down the zig-zag path. You’ll be met by a spectacular sight. At 60m deep, the gorge stretches for a mile along the path of the River Droma which plummets through a series of waterfalls. Once you’ve soaked up enough natural beauty, leave Corrieshalloch Gorge behind for a short 12-mile ride north to the port town of Ullapool and our second overnight stop. There is a selection of local hotels and B&Bs, as well as a few cosy pubs to enjoy a well-earned pint or two.
10. Loch Ness
The final day of this Amazing Britain route sees us retracing our steps back to Corrieshalloch Gorge along the A835, passed Glascarnoch Dam, and onto the shores of Loch Ness. The loch is famous worldwide for the monster that supposedly lives beneath its waters. And, despite there being little evidence to support the legend, the chance of spotting Nessie, along with the picturesque scenery, attracts thousands of visitors to the area each year. Our route skirts the north of the loch to Inverness before joining the A9 for a cruise through the picturesque Cairngorms National Park. We then loop back to Fort William and the end of this TomTom Amazing Britain route through Scotland.
Create your own TomTom Amazing Britain route
As part of the TomTom Amazing Britain series, we’re asking ABR readers to create their own route and send it in to us. We’ll select the best submission, ride it, and then feature the route in the magazine. As is the case with all the TomTom Amazing Britain routes, yours will need to be in the UK or Ireland, it will need to be rideable in a weekend, and should feature a series of places to stop at and explore along the way.
So, if you’ve got a favourite ride you think others will love, plot it on the TomTom Road Trips portal at www.tomtom.com/roadtrips, publish the route to the community, and send the link of your marvellous ride to [email protected] to enter the contest. We look forward to seeing it.