A road trip is one of the most compelling ways to experience a new country: you’re free to stop where you want when you want; free to move at your own leisurely pace, and as you move from one place to another you’re able to watch the landscape and culture changing around you. The potential to cover great distances, but not feel disconnected from the surroundings, enables you to absorb a huge amount of detail in a relatively short period of time. And while a good road trip starts with a plan, a great road trip features an element of spontaneity.
In Scotland, this is par for the course.
Firstly, there are the bumpy single tracks that peel off invitingly from the main roads, following narrow spate rivers into hidden glens. The itch to know what is at the end of them can be overwhelming – how can it get more remote and wild than the stretch you’re currently travelling? It’s usually worth the detour. These long, winding diversions tend to lead to isolated lochs with Gaelic names you can’t begin to pronounce, to crumbling relics steeped in history and beauty, or to rugged coastlines battered and shaped by strong oceanic forces.
Then there are the handmade signs hammered into heather verges, prompting a pit-stop to visit a local café or seafood restaurant. Again, it’s worth taking your foot off the pedal – anything these unassuming establishments lack in aesthetic appeal they more than make up for in the quality of their seasonal menus. Choose the right spot and you can often watch fishing boats returning to the harbour with a successful haul – seafood in this part of the world is literally minutes from creel to crunch.
And, most influential of all, are the locals you meet along the way, who politely rip up preconceived plans and encourage you to try something you hadn’t thought of – usually over a whisky or two. If the tour buses are turning right, you listen to the man who tells you to turn left. “You can’t go there and not cast a fly on the river”…“Don’t leave without trying the oysters”…“You’d be a fool to miss the view from the ridge”… And so you start chopping at your ideas, with absolute freedom to do so, fully aware that they’ll probably change again tomorrow. Try as one might to stick to the route, it’s all too easy to get a little distracted when exploring the beauty of Scotland; this is when a road trip becomes a journey of discovery.