When Wendy from Red Kite Campers got in touch asking if I wanted to take their new VW campervan away for a few days to try it out, I got pretty excited. I've been on a couple of campervan road-trips in Scotland already and I love the freedom of making up my route as I go along and parking up at the most beautiful places for a short stop or even a whole night.
That initial excitement soon turned to dilemma after dilemma. With so many rewarding journey options, I struggled to decide on a route! In the end I opted for a road-trip that would incorporate some of the best Highland scenery on Scotland's west coast. As I only had the campervan for 3 nights, I had to be selective in the places I could visit in order to reach a balance of having time to enjoy the adventure without spending too many hours behind the wheel.
The route I have featured below includes a few Scottish tourist classics with my usual mix of hidden gems thrown in. It is impossible to see all of Scotland in a few days but if you are short on time and big on scenic landscapes, my recommended 4 day itinerary should tick all the boxes. I've also included some extra suggestions if you have more time to spend.
DAY 1 - MILTON OF CAMPSIE TO GLEN SHIEL
APPROX 160 MILES
With no sign of the torrential rain easing, I decided that our planned walk in Glen Coe was best abandoned as our clothes were just about dry again after our earlier soaking at Loch Lomond.
Mr Adventures Around Scotland pulled our colourful VW campervan in to a layby near the mouth of the looming glen and we both hopped in the back, feeling quite smug that we had such a cosy shelter to wait out the worst of the weather.
The rain thrummed noisily on the roof as a pot of water bubbled away on the stove. As I poured two mugs of steaming hot coffee, I could just about make out the distinctive form of Buchaille Etive Mor through the sheets of water sweeping across the surrounding landscape. On days like this, the iconic mountain takes on a foreboding appearance as it guards entry to the gloomy glen beyond.
I've been to Glen Coe countless times and could number the times I've visited on a clear, dry day on both hands and this was definitely not one of those days!
As you might have guessed from the amount of time I spend there, I have quite a soft spot for Dumfries and Galloway in the south west of Scotland. Despite having covered much of the region there are still a few pockets that have eluded me and the stretch of the A76 from Sanquhar to Dumfries is one of those spots that I've yet to fully explore. Recently I was invited to experience a stay at Trigony House Hotel which is handily located just off the main road, in the heart of this very area. With a reputation as being genuinely dog friendly, National Pet Day seemed the perfect excuse to take our lurcher Willow away for a night at this multi-award winning country hotel.
Trigony House Hotel was the former shooting lodge for nearby Closeburn Castle which is one of the oldest continuously inhabited tower houses in Scotland. Today it is run as a country house hotel set in over 4 acres of woodland and gardens.
As we drove up the front drive, I couldn't help but think how romantic it looked with it's ivy exterior and characterful lanterns. The interior is a mix of period features and rustic country homeliness. I definitely felt more like I had arrived at a friend's home than a hotel as there is a really relaxed vibe, with guests chatting away to each other like long lost acquaintances and dogs lounging around the public rooms.
Dogs are great conversation ice-breakers and I'm sure their presence helps the conversation flow between fellow owners. During our stay there were 5 other furry companions being treated to a night away, with the resident Retriever Roxy also making a regular appearance to welcome canine guests. Having a dog is not compulsory to stay at Trigony House but I would think you would have to at least like them to stay here as they are permitted in all public rooms other than the dining room.
There are only 10 bedrooms at Trigony House and it's small size adds to the intimate atmosphere. On arrival we were warmly welcomed and shown to our bedroom which was in keeping with the homely country feel. It was light and spacious with a big comfy bed, sofa and plenty of storage space. Willow was pretty excited to find a welcome bowl on the bed with doggy biscuits, the canines definitely get looked after at this hotel. There was also a little map of the grounds showing the enclosed dog exercise areas which were perfect for letting Willow have a good run around.
Our room had a lovely view over the gardens to the hills beyond and we could hear plenty of bird song from the surrounding trees which I found very therapeutic. After a long day travelling, our room was a nice calming space to sit with a cup of tea and muse over the different leaflets and local walking suggestions.
Check out my Dumfries and Galloway blogs for more local inspiration
I'll be the first to admit that Royal Deeside is a part of Scotland that I don't know very well. Famous as a favourite stomping ground of Queen Victoria, the current Royal Family continue to enjoy their summer break at Balmoral Castle, one of many fine castles that dot the area.
The River Dee flows through the heart of the region which also encompasses nature reserves and part of the Cairngorms National Park, making it a favourite destination for lovers of the outdoors. All of this makes me wonder why, other than a visit to the Braemar Gathering, I've not spent more time getting to know this part of the country.
Recently, I was invited to stay at Mill of Dess Lodge on the Lower Dess Estate, and decided this would be the perfect opportunity to make a proper acquaintance with Royal Deeside.
Lower Dess Estate is situated next to the pretty village of Aboyne between the town of Banchory and the village of Ballater which means it is centrally located for exploring the region. Lower Dess is a relatively small estate on the north side of the River Dee which offers peaceful river walks and fishing on the doorstep.
Nearby Glen Tanar Estate has numerous walking and biking trails through Caledonian pine forests and acres of wilderness. If you prefer something different the estate also runs Land Rover safaris which from my experience in other parts of the country, can be a really fun way to get off the beaten track.
If castles are your thing, you will be spoiled for choice with so many just a short drive away. Some of the best local castle choices are Craigievar, Crathes, Drum, Kildrummy, Corgaff, Braemar and of course Balmoral, although check the opening hours and days for each castle as they do vary depending on the time of the year. For the complete Scottish experience, you can combine a castle tour with some local whisky from the Royal Lochnagar Distillery which runs tours and tastings.
Of course, you could just spend time exploring the pretty towns and villages that dot the river or follow the Victorian Heritage Trail which takes in many regal castles, estates and landmarks.
I've listed the things I got up to during my visit at the bottom of the page if you need any more ideas.
On arrival we were welcomed by Anna, the Lodge Manager, who gave us a quick tour before showing us to our bedroom. By luck Mr Adventures Around Scotland and I had the entire place to ourselves which made our stay even more special.
The lodge has 10 bedrooms, a sitting area and a dining room. You can stay on a bed and breakfast basis (as I did) or book the entire lodge and even organise private catering if you prefer to eat in.
As you can see from my photos, the decor has a light and contemporary feel with some bright touches and a rustic nod to the local wildlife. The lodge is furnished to a high standard and was spotlessly clean, it really did feel quite luxurious.
Regular readers of my blog will know I love taking in the history of the places I visit around Scotland. When you live in a country that is littered with countless historical physical remnants spanning many millennia, it is only natural to acquire a curiosity about the past.
Edinburgh is a city woven with tales from bygone times and has more stories to tell than most places, from the characters that lived there to the events that have helped shape it as one of the most iconic cities in the world.
With so many historical layers, it can be hard to get to grips with all the elements that make up the fabric of Edinburgh which is why a unique 101 guide has been devised to help visitors and locals out. At the weekend I popped over to Scotland's capital to find out more and have devised a 1 day itinerary for those wanting to delve deeper in to Edinburgh's past.
The story of Edinburgh in 101 objects
How do you easily convey the history, culture, heritage and everyday life of a city as complex as Edinburgh? You create a unique visitor experience that captures the imagination of course!
In this case 101 objects and curiosities from across the city have been chosen to tell the story of 1000 years of Edinburgh's past. A handy map shows the location of each object and discovering them is a bit like a treasure trail, complete with a tick list to keep track. It is then up to you to delve a bit deeper and find out the significance of each discovery.
The project finishes at the end of March 2018 so the upcoming Easter weekend is a great time to explore the trail. This is Edinburgh website currently has a page dedicated to the Edinburgh 101 experience and maps can be picked up around the city. You can also upload your discoveries using #Edinburgh101 on social media.
I personally found it great fun and managed to visit 15 of the objects on my day out, some were easy to find and some took a bit more of an effort. If you fancy following in my footsteps, here is my suggested itinerary although I've deliberately not given too much away about the background of every object as doing your own research is all part of the fun...
My suggested #Edinburgh101 itinerary
Stop 1 - St Giles' Cathedral
First stop of the day is one of my favourite places to visit on the Royal Mile as it is an oasis of calm among the hectic hustle and bustle of the surrounding streets. St Giles' Cathedral was founded in the 1120s and is free to visit. It has some beautiful stained glass windows, ornate carvings and runs a rooftop tour on certain days. It is also home to the famous Thistle Chapel, home of the Knights of the Order of the Thistle.
There are 2 objects inside the cathedral, The National Covenant (object 77) and The Ceiling of the Thistle Chapel (object 85) which is stunning and a must see in my opinion.
Outside the chapel on the pavement is The Heart of Midlothian (object 1). The heart shaped mosaic marks the site of Edinburgh’s old Tolbooth where debtors were said to spit on the pavement at the main entrance as they left. Spitting on the heart is a tradition that continues today although I personally think it isn't the most pleasant of customs to keep going!
I have fond memories of my previous stay at the Lodge on Loch Lomond Hotel although up until last week it had admittedly been years since my last visit. When I worked out just how many years it kind of scared me as I was convinced it wasn't that long ago that myself and Mr Adventures Around Scotland had slept in the same bed as Bill Clinton in the Carter Suite (not at the same time I hasten to add!). It sometimes panics me how quickly time seems to be speeding up as my life passes by in a blur of birthdays.
When I was recently invited to review the hotel after a refurbishment, I couldn't wait to see if it was as good as I remembered. Despite the passing years, stepping through the front door of Lodge on Loch Lomond was reassuringly familiar and I immediately felt at home.
The hotel has a relaxing and intimate feel which helps you to switch off from the moment you arrive. Our welcome was efficient and professional, meaning myself and Mr Adventures Around Scotland could quickly get to our room, unpack and unwind.
The hotel is situated about a 30 minute drive from Glasgow on the west shore of Loch Lomond next to the pretty conservation village of Luss. It has beautiful views across the loch from most areas of the hotel and it even has its own beachfront if you prefer to immerse yourself in the Highland scenery, which I highly recommend!
The hotel is ideally located for exploring the Loch Lomond and Trossachs area with numerous walks, mountains, boat rides and cute villages on the doorstep. A short stroll along the beach will take you in to Luss which has to be one of Scotland's prettiest villages, with quaint cottages and colourful gardens. There are also options to take a boat ride from the pier if you would prefer to explore Loch Lomond from the water or even take a little ferry to the historic island of Inchcailloch.
Further south is the village of Balloch with a lovely country park, outdoor activities and shopping at Loch Lomond Shores. Further north and you enter a picturesque Highland landscape, with the breathtaking Glen Coe just over an hours drive away.
During this trip I headed to the east side of the loch and climbed Duncryne Hill, which is said to have one of the best views in Scotland of all the wee hills. I then headed to Balmaha, another pretty village, to enjoy a relaxed lunch by the loch before making my way to the opposite shore for my overnight stay at the hotel.
When people think of Scottish islands, images of the sandy beaches of the Hebrides, the history of Orkney or the whisky distilleries of Islay might come to mind. However, not all of Scotland's islands lie out at sea and some are very easy to visit like Inchcailloch, one of 22 named islands in Loch Lomond.
Easily accessible by boat, Inchcailloch is a National Nature Reserve which sits between the Highland and Lowland landscape and offers some superb views along Loch Lomond. It might be miniature sized but its history and scenic walks ensure a rewarding visit.
How to reach Inchcailloch
There are 2 options for reaching the island, either by a 5 minute crossing from Balmaha Boatyard or from the pretty conservation village of Luss, which is the route that I opted for.
It takes 45 minutes to reach Inchcailloch from Luss on the Cruise Loch Lomond ferry but I really enjoyed the longer boat ride as we explored the waters around some of the other small islands, islets and crannogs that dot the loch, while listening to some fascinating commentary from our very knowledgeable captain. In fact I'd recommend the cruise even if you don't choose to get off at Inchcailloch.
If you travel from Balmaha you will get dropped off at the north jetty and if you travel from Luss you will get dropped off at the Port Bawn jetty in the south of Inchcailloch, because the island is so small the drop off point doesn't really make any difference.
The boat from Balmaha runs an 'on demand' service, however there are only a few seasonal ferries to the island from Luss each day so be sure to check the times for the boat back or you might get stranded!
History of Inchcailloch
Inchcailloch is Gaelic for the 'island of the old or cowled woman' and is named after St Kentigerna, the daughter of an Irish King and mother of St Fillan who is said to have set up a nunnery on the island. She settled there and died in 734 AD and the few remaining ruins of a church dedicated to her memory can still be visited. The church was built in the 13th century and along with its burial ground, is the only Scheduled Ancient Monument in or around the Loch Lomond area. It's amazing to think that every Sunday for 400 years, parishioners would row across to the island so they could worship there. The burial ground has some interesting old headstones with Macfarlane and Macgregor being popular names, in fact the uncle of the infamous Rob Roy Macgregor is buried here.
A complete guide to Hop on Hop off Edinburgh bus tours
I would always advocate walking as the best way to get to know a city but when you're on a tight schedule this isn't always the most practical way to make the most of your time. I often get asked about the best way to see Edinburgh in a day or a weekend and if this is your first visit to the city, I would recommend buying a ticket for the Edinburgh Hop on Hop off bus tours. Although it is a compact city, it is hilly, and pounding up and down the slopes, steps and cobblestones of the Old Town can be surprisingly energy sapping not to mention time-consuming. There are definite benefits to relaxing while being transported around and learning about the history of the places you pass on your journey. Your bus ticket will also give you a discount at some attractions (see below) which adds even more value.
I recently made a trip to Scotland's capital city and spent a couple of days trying out the different hop on hop off Edinburgh buses and routes and have put together this handy guide to help you plan your own visit. Below you will find -
What's the difference between the various Edinburgh hop on hop off bus tours?
There are three main Hop on Hop off Edinburgh sightseeing buses which can make things a little confusing so I have provided an easy explanation of each bus tour and ticket types below. Most people start their journey on Waverley Bridge, next to the Scott Monument, across from Edinburgh Waverley train station. There are always lots of assistants at the bus stop that will advise you on the different tours and sell you tickets - see the next section for ticket options and information.
Each full tour lasts up to 70 minutes and all the buses are fully accessible with dedicated wheelchair space. Each tour has its own unique benefits so I have listed the main points below so you can compare them and decide which best suits your needs.
WHAT EACH TOUR INCLUDES
After asking for feedback from you lovely folk last year about what you would like to see more of on my blog, I discovered quality accommodation recommendations were high on your list. This is definitely something I plan to do more of and I'm delighted to share my first hotel review of the year with you.
Earlier this month I was invited to check out the recently refurbished Murrayshall House Hotel in Perthshire. I must emphasise that I get quite a few offers to review accommodation and carry out lots of prior research before deciding if a place sounds like somewhere I could potentially recommend - I always decline invitations if I suspect the accommodation isn't up to scratch. I feel it is important to share this with so you can be assured that only the best places to stay in Scotland, based on my personal research and experience, make it to my blog.
After reading glowing public reviews about Murrayshall House, I was keen to find out what all the fuss was about and I'm glad to say it easily surpassed my high standards.
Murrayshall House Hotel is situated in Scone which is in the Perth and Kinross region of Scotland. It has a peaceful feel as it is surrounded by 365 acres of countryside which also incorporates two 18 hole golf courses and a driving range.
However, it is also only just over 4 miles from Scone Palace, the crowning place of Scottish kings, and just over 3 miles from the city of Perth, making it an ideal base for exploring this part of the country although you would really need a car if you were staying here as it is a bit off the main road.
Check out my Perthshire travel blogs for more local inspiration
Murrayshall House has an interesting history, dating back to 1664 when it was initially owned by Sir Andrew Murray whose descendants, the Earls of Mansfield, still occupy nearby Scone Palace. It remained in the same family for 260 years, with modernisation carried out in the 18th and 19th century. In 1927 it left the family and was bought by local businessman Francis Norrie-Millar, the founder of General Accident. In 1973 it was sold again and developed into a hotel. The hotel has recently undergone a major refurbishment, combining tasteful contemporary Scottish decor with retained historical features.
If golf is your thing you might be interested to know that the golf course was designed by Hamilton J. Stutt who was involved with the building or improvement of many famous courses including Turnberry and St Mellion Old Course.
There are 40 bedrooms and suites offering a choice of accommodation and from checking the website rates, the prices are pretty standard for this level of four star quality, ranging from £170 to £250 per night at the time of writing. It is worth noting that these are the maximum rates and the hotel does seem to offer much better deals on their website which are really good value so be sure to check them out.
I stayed in room 2 which I believe is going to be renamed The Millar Suite and it was amazing! On entering I was super excited to see the carved four poster bed and immediately felt like a proper pampered princess. The suite itself was huge with a comfy sitting area, a separate dressing room and an extra big bathroom. I did a little tour of my suite on my Instagram stories and got quite a few 'Ooohs' and 'Aaahs' and admiring comments which is always a good sign.
The decor had just the right hint of traditional Scottish with a contemporary twist and I loved the giant period feature windows with views towards the Strathmore Valley and Grampian Mountains. Of course having been recently refurbished it also had the modern extras you might expect like a giant TV and plenty of sockets. The only extra I would add is some fluffy dressing gowns and slippers to complete the luxury experience.
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