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Driving Route to Skye - make a day of it

A driving route to Skye from Glasgow or Edinburgh should include Glencoe and Glen Shiel on the way. Not to be hurried.

Driving Route to Skye

Edinburgh to Skye
Via Perth and A9
Or Stirling and Crianlarich?

The difference is only a few miles. (Going via Perth is fractionally shorter. It’s c 200 miles [320km]).

This page describes the route by way of Callander, Tyndrum, Rannoch Moor, Glencoe etc. Honestly, it’s more interesting and scenic.

All set for a driving route to Skye, eh? I love these all-day drives. Well, not quite all day, but by the time you’ve had a coffee or two, stopped for pictures and all that stuff...there isn’t a lot of day left by the time you’re across the bridge at Kyle of Lochalsh. From starting points in Lowland Scotland, Google tells you it is more than 200 miles / 320km if you go via Glen Coe (and you should). Sure, you could skelp along and drive it in, ooh, under five hours - but why would you want to? There is so much scenery to enjoy on the way.

Well, we’re off from Edinburgh, whizzing along the M9, past those weird but impressive Kelpie horse-things that actually slow the traffic as people gawp at them. Take care there - and also where the M80 from Glasgow joins us - though by then the fastest part of the driving route to Skye is almost over. Just by Stirling, it’s off north-west on the A84 to enter the Highlands just beyond Callander.

The River Teith at Callander, with Ben Ledi in cloud. The edge of the Highlands. From now on it gets interesting. The main A84 comes in from the right and actually enters the Highlands proper at the Pass of Leny, just beyond Callander.

The River Teith at Callander, with Ben Ledi in cloud. The edge of the Highlands. From now on it gets interesting. The main A84 comes in from the right and actually enters the Highlands proper at the Pass of Leny, just beyond Callander.

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Skye gets busy - don't delay your accommodation booking.

Callander, Lochearnhead, left and westward at Lix Toll and into Glen Dochart

Through the Pass of Leny - no time for the waterfalls here today - on past Loch Lubnaig, Balquhidder, Lochearnhead, then over the watershed at Glen Ogle, finally, turning west. Good roads now, easy and, remember, if you are driving from Glasgow, then your route, via Loch Lomond, joins the one described here north of the loch, at Crianlarich.

Grab a bite on the road to Skye

Just don’t rush this Edinburgh to Skye route by road. Lots of scenic places to stop. The route from Glasgow up the side of Loch Lomond joins at Crianlarich.

Just don’t rush this Edinburgh to Skye route by road. Lots of scenic places to stop. The route from Glasgow up the side of Loch Lomond joins at Crianlarich.

Peckish, eh? Here’s Tyndrum, minutes west of Crianlarich, with The Green Welly Stop as an extraordinary magnet on the road journey to Skye (and the west). Ooh, they come from miles around for the soup and the scones, the mince and tatties and the souvenirs and the Ordnance Survey maps you forgot to get before you set off…and the (very clean) toilets, sorry, rest rooms, and good Wi-Fi.

If you fancy a mug of soup or a plate of fish and chips then try the award-winning Real Food Cafe for a change. It’s also in Tyndrum. Big sign. Can’t miss it. Their coffee is good as well. The GWS is just fine of course, but it’s just a habit…

On to Rannoch Moor and into Glencoe

North again on the Road to Skye, hmm, looks like rain (below). The landmark cone of Beinn Dorain like a child’s drawing of a mountain. Then on to Rannoch Moor with big hill vistas opening up and (often) completely berserk drivers not appreciating them.

Ben Dorain beyond the watershed and Rannoch Moor. As well as the road, note in the cutting the Fort William/Mallaig railway line (great journey) and, further right, the West Highland Way path, en route north to the Blackmount.

Ben Dorain beyond the watershed and Rannoch Moor. As well as the road, note in the cutting the Fort William/Mallaig railway line (great journey) and, further right, the West Highland Way path, en route north to the Blackmount.

The mountains - the Munros - of Rannoch and Glencoe

Cyclist in Glen Coe. It looks deceptively quiet in this picture, but streams of traffic and heavy goods vehicles use the road. Good on him…

Cyclist in Glen Coe. It looks deceptively quiet in this picture, but streams of traffic and heavy goods vehicles use the road. Good on him…

Once, I climbed Ben Dorain (pictured here) – because it is a Munro (a Scottish mountain over 3000ft). And I came down on the skyline. And I just kept going, wading through the river and back to the car. It’s a pretty dull triangle, to be honest. But I always remember that day when I drive north from Tyndrum and on to Rannoch Moor.

Next, the gloomy portals of Glen Coe, high on atmosphere, closing in on both sides. This is probably landscape that’s actually improved by lowering clouds and dramatic light. (Nah. Who am I kidding?) The NTS Glencoe Visitor Centre is a popular stop here – learn about the massacre and the glen in a walk-round exhibition– and there is a small cafe, gift shop and rest-rooms here too.

See? Glen Coe is still impressive when it's gloomy. Just a single shaft of sunlight in this October picture.

See? Glen Coe is still impressive when it's gloomy. Just a single shaft of sunlight in this October picture.

From Glencoe into the Great Glen

At Laggan Locks in the Great Glen – always something going on. Crikey, how did that big cruising-thing squeeze through?

At Laggan Locks in the Great Glen – always something going on. Crikey, how did that big cruising-thing squeeze through?

Soon, there’s a decision to make. Further on, along the bendy road by Loch Linnhe: is there any reason to stop at Fort William? No, really…do you need a supermarket shop? Or some outdoor gear? Fort William is a natural route centre, or, putting it another way, hard to avoid. The town itself doesn’t do picturesque. And time might be pressing…och, keep driving.

Tell you what, buy a picnic in Fort William and keep going to, say, the great mountain views from the car park at the Commando Monument just after Spean Bridge, or at the Laggan Locks, signed off the A82.  They are between Lochs Lochy and Oich on the Caledonian Canal.

Always something to look at there. (You’ll be glad of a break anyway, the Fort William to Invergarry section in the Great Glen is fast and busy at peak season and my least favourite section of the driving route to Skye.)

Left for Skye, out of the Great Glen at last

It’s left and west again at Invergarry, the A87 out of the busy coast to coast route through the Great Glen. Then it's climbing, climbing to where lots of folk stop because Loch Garry looks a bit like the map of Scotland. The trees are growing high here, but a wee path opposite the car park gives a better view from a high bank, though the midges may have got there first. (That's an Amazon link: midge protection for US and UK visitors. Midges do not discriminate on a nationality basis.)

Does that loch down there look like a map of Scotland to you? Well, I suppose, a bit. The hills on the horizon are in that famously remote part called the Rough Bounds of Knoydart.

Does that loch down there look like a map of Scotland to you? Well, I suppose, a bit. The hills on the horizon are in that famously remote part called the Rough Bounds of Knoydart.

The road to the Isle of Skye - with a not very encouraging road sign, weather-wise.

The road to the Isle of Skye - with a not very encouraging road sign, weather-wise.

Then onwards and further west to where you don’t want to see this road sign (pictured) lit up. Well, thanks. I drive all this way and you tell me it's going to rain, big time...Note the road signs in Gaelic to (A87) Dornie, Kyle of Lochalsh, Skye Bridge, Uig and Outer Hebrides Ferry and (A890) Lochcarron in Gaelic. How exotic! 

Spectacular Peaks in Glen Shiel

Then it’s into the drama of Glen Shiel. (I love it.) The mountains on either side, also alluded to in our Skye and Lochalsh page, are spectacular mini-alps. There are quite a few road-side stopping points for photography, but the traffic can move quite fast through the glen, so give plenty of warning before you bounce on to the verge for just one more shot.

Eastern approaches, Glen Shiel, en route for the Isle of Skye and well on your way.

Eastern approaches, Glen Shiel, en route for the Isle of Skye and well on your way.

(Pictured) The eastern end of Glen Shiel and it looks like the heavy rain that illuminated sign mentioned won’t be far away. (Actually, it stayed off most of the time and didn’t arrive till next morning!)

A Driving Route to Skye Highlight: Eilean Donan Castle

You meet the salt waters of the west coast at Loch Duich, beyond Shiel Bridge, then the main road goes by the shore and passes probably one of the most famous landmarks of the journey: Eilean Donan Castle. It turns up as a film location, on postcards, shortbread tins and many a guidebook as an icon of Scotland. And visitors of all nationalities come in their thousands, though fortunately there’s a car and coach park that is usually (just about) big enough to hold them.

Eilean Donan Castle, iconic image of Scotland, on the road to Skye

Eilean Donan Castle, iconic image of Scotland, on the road to Skye

This angle on the famous Eilean Donan Castle can be found by driving past (if northbound), then turning left at the end of the bridge/causeway over Loch Long. Lighting effects of cloud and sun are ever changing – classic Scotland – so if you see some dramatic illumination, then leap out and get that shot – it won’t be there two minutes later. That’s what happened on the August day I took this picture, there were overseas visitors tumbling out of their hire cars in all directions, dropping camera cases and fumbling with settings. (As indeed was I.)

If you are serious about visiting Syye (as you've read this far!) then I can't emphasise enough that it's best to get your accommodation sorted out as early as possible. Check this out...

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It isn’t far from Eilean Donan Castle to the Skye Bridge and the road is easy, alongside Loch Alsh. The white houses of Kyleakin soon come into view.

Skye Bridge and the mountain Blaven on the horizon

Skye Bridge and the mountain Blaven on the horizon

(Pictured) The Isle of Skye is living up to its description as ‘The Misty Isle’. The jagged horizon is part of the Skye mountain called Blaven, a kind of Cuillin Hills outlier. The Skye Bridge on the right.

Over the Skye Bridge - you've arrived!

The Skye bridge at Kyle of Lochalsh is an elegant structure – though remember there are two other ways of reaching Skye from mainland Scotland. The Mallaig to Armadale ferry to the south is an option to make a circular tour. Meanwhile, the Glenelg to Kylerhea ferry is a real piece of history – a small community-owned car ferry – running in summer and using a traditional crossing point. It is also a great vantage point for spotting sea eagles. The only turntable ferry in the UK. Consider it a possible part of your Isle of Skye experience.

Well, that’s us in sight of the bridge crossing on the road to Skye at Kyle of Lochalsh. Welcome to Skye...

More great information on the Isle of Skye and other tour destinations here.