If there’s one thing that our first few year’s travelling around Scotland have taught us, it’s what to do and, maybe more importantly, what NOT to do.
From ferry trips out to the islands, to short weekend breaks in the forests or near the mountains, there’s a lot that goes on before we get to the places that you see in our photographs.
And so, we thought we’d share our top tips for getting out on adventures in Scotland. Hopefully it will help you navigate your own way around this epic landscape.
1. Picking the right time of year
There’s no wrong time to come to Scotland, but summer and winter certainly both pose more challenges for getting around than other seasons.
In summer, you’ll find the roads are a lot busier, so we try to set out really early or late in the evening to get to where we want to be without sitting in traffic. Ferry crossings, just like accommodation, also book up well in advance, so if you are heading to some of the popular islands (Mull, Skye etc.) make sure you book in advance. We’ve made that mistake and ended up having to drive for hours to get across by different routes! Always worth remembering that there is a bridge to Skye for those who can’t get a boat.
Come winter, ferry crossings are a lot more unpredictable (if they are running at all) and the roads in places like Glencoe and Assynt can become really challenging in snow without a proper off road vehicle. We always have sleeping bags and warm clothes in the car just in case we get stuck!
Either side of these seasons though would probably be our favourite time to explore Scotland. Spring and Autumn are much quieter and the weather up here hasn’t started to resemble something from Game of Thrones. In fact, these are also the best times to see so much of the wildlife in the area.
Don’t forget that in the winter months it can be dark by 3pm!
2. Avoiding Bugs
Finding a tick on your body is probably a rite of passage for anyone looking to really explore the country, but it’s safe to say we definitely learnt our lesson early on. Ticks are mostly found in the long grass and normally where wild deer graze. Places like Glencoe are hotbeds for ticks.
One morning we thought we’d struck gold photographing stags in the early mist. Fast forward to an hour later back in the car when we were covered in the tiny critters. It goes without saying that we’ve been more careful since!
On the whole though ticks are harmless, so don’t let this put you off. We’ve had to remove plenty now and there’s tips on what to look out for on the Internet. It always pays to check yourself after a day’s hiking or sightseeing. For those that want some added advice, you can also buy tweezers that make getting them out really easy and safe.
Midges are probably the other creepy crawly which have become legend in Scotland. Sure, on a still day in summer, near water and in the early evening, they can be a nightmare. However, we don’t often have still days in Scotland so you are ok a lot of the time. Sprays do help a little (we use Smidge), but if you think they will be an issue just plan to not be outside past a certain point, or check the midge forecast in advance!
3. Driving on the roads
One thing that caught us out when we first started travelling around the country was the amount of single lane roads you’ll come across, particularly on the islands or down to places like Glen Etive. At busy times, it means you can be pulling over almost every 100m to let cars pass and it makes journeys a lot longer than you expect.
As well as single lane roads, it’s worth checking up about the route before you set out. Getting to places like Rattray Head involves a long stretch over uneven and rough ground – it means low-lying cars (like the one we used to have) might not survive the journey in one piece!
All that said, the roads in Scotland must be some of the best of the world. Sometimes it’s hard to focus on the actual driving with the amazing landscape surrounding you. Some of our favourite drives are through Glencoe, around Assynt, hugging the coastline of Mull and of course, the north of Skye. So, enjoy the journey as much as the destination, because it can be just as good.
4. Embracing the weather
We’ve already mentioned the weather but travelling around Scotland at any time of year can be unpredictable no matter how well you plan. You just have to embrace the elements. Chances are you haven’t come to visit Scotland for its weather and we’ve often found the times we’ve enjoyed places the most have been when it’s anything but sunny. There’s nothing more rewarding than sitting in a warm pub, whisky in hand, after a day spent hiking in wind and rain, or even after accidentally standing in mud up to your knees while on a walk (you can ask Tom about that one!)
It goes without saying that it pays to be prepared. Always pack waterproofs (yes, even on days where your phone says it will be sunny), and, if you can, a spare pair of everything.
And finally, another one of those things we’ve learnt the hard way – if you are climbing one of Scotland’s many legendary munros (mountains) and you sense the weather might be changing for the worse, head down and don’t risk it. You don’t want to face a tricky descent, trust us, or even worse get stuck.
5. Travelling on a budget
Despite so much of the land being uninhabited, travelling around Scotland isn’t cheap. Ferry crossings to places like Harris, especially with a car, can cost nearly £100 and accommodation in some places is equally expensive.
There are ways around things getting too costly of course. Wild camping (which is legal across most parts of the country) is free and there are some amazing places to set up for the night. It can sometimes be nice to do a few nights under the stars before staying in some of the amazing places Scotland has to offer for the rest of the trip.
The price of food is about what you expect wherever you go in the UK. If you are looking to eat somewhere nice, book in advance during peak seasons – many of Tobermory’s famous fish restaurants are really popular, for example.
All in all, there are ways to travel around on a budget if you plan in advance and are happy to pitch a tent every now and again. We’ve even slept in our car on a few occasions. Often the landscape and wildlife you wake up to in Scotland is worth the stiff neck!
We hope you found this useful and do feel free ask us any questions that you have in the comments below.
Enjoy exploring Scotland!
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