Driving Route to Skye - make a day of it
A driving route to Skye from Edinburgh (or Glasgow) should include Glencoe and Glen Shiel on the way. Make a day of it - lots to see en route including Eilean Donan Castle. (And yes, we prefer heading for the Great Glen via Rannoch Moor, not via the A9 and Dalwhinnie etc.)
Driving Route to Skye
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.
Question: Edinburgh To Skye Via Perth And A9 Or Via Stirling And Crianlarich?
The difference is only a few miles. (Going via Perth and up the A9 ‘Highland Road’ is fractionally shorter. It’s c 200 miles [320km]).
As you can see from the map - oh, I so hope it's nearby - this page describes the route by way of Callander, Tyndrum, Rannoch Moor, Glencoe etc. Honestly, it’s more interesting and scenic.
Talking of maps, the Ordnance Survey West of Scotland and the Western Isles road map is pretty good value for this journey.
Let's get going...
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.
Skye gets very busy - so make your accommodation bookings early.
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
Peckish, eh? Here’s Tyndrum, minutes west of Crianlarich, with a landmark for plenty of visitors in need of refreshment.
The Green Welly Stop is quite a 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 just fancy a mug of soup or a plate of fish and chips then try the award-winning Real Food Cafe, just along the road. It’s also in Tyndrum. Big sign. Can’t miss it. Their coffee is good as well.
The massively popular Green Welly is just fine of course, but it’s just a habit. Having said that, its popularity over the years is testimony to the fact it definitely fills a need as a kind of clean and efficient 'service area' - it's the real deal for all kinds of Scottish stuff - on the road to and from the west.
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.
The mountains - the Munros - of Rannoch and Glencoe
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.
From Glencoe into the Great Glen
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.)
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.
(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.
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 Skye (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...
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.
(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.