Alessio Michelini Photography

Five days on the Scottish Highlands

17 May 2015

I wanted to do this trip from a good couple of years, but as Scotland is not that far from here, just about an hour of flight from Dublin to Edinburgh, I always skipped this trip in favour to other places, like Amsterdam, Copenhagen or Iceland. And also because visiting these capitals it takes only a weekend, so no need to use days off from work, while Iceland has to be well planned and would be stupid if you go there for the first time only for a few days. But last Christmas myself and my lovely girlfriend decided to do this trip finally, so we booked the flight, and by using the bank holiday in March (St. Patrick), we did a 5 days trip in the Scottish Highlands.

Cairngorms National Park, Scotland

The Plan

When you are planning a trip that involves to drive for hundreds of kilometers, you need to plan well where you are going to stop each day. Generally what I do is to separate each stop by ~250km, which for me is the perfect distance that gives you enough time to stop several times on the road, giving you time to explore a bit.
If you can do shorter trips it’s better, but it always depends on how much days you have and how much you want to see.
I wouldn’t drive more than that, even if you think “yeah I can drive 1000 km in one day!”, as you might risk to pass most of the time of your trip on the seat of a car and watch everything from a window, which is pretty silly in my opinion.
So having this rule in mind, we decided to spend only one day in Edinburgh, as yeah cities are nice, but we prefer open spaces, then we head to Inverness, passing through the Cairngorms National Park, and leaving us the next day to be very close to the famous Loch Ness, then head to one of the most famous places in Scotland, the Isle of Skye, and after that head to another beautiful area, Glencoe, and the last day we simply drove from there straight to the Airport (we had our flight back late in the evening).
At the end this trip had even shorter chunks of road to do, as between Inverness and the Isle of Skye was about 180km, but as said above, that’s good, as it gave us more time to explore.

Down here you can see a map of the trip I've planned.

Day 1: Edinburgh

I have to say that I did regret to book the very early flight in the morning, as I end up sleeping just a couple of hours, and taking a flight at 6 in the morning and then walk the entire day on the streets of Edinburgh it was not a good idea. These factors probably didn’t put me in the best mood to visit this city, and that’s probably why I wasn’t really impressed by it. Well, don’t take me wrong, it is nice small city, it has this very gothic atmosphere that’s it’s kinda unique, and the city center and the Edinburgh Castle are really nice, but overall I didn’t like that much, not for a particular reason, and I know plenty of people will disagree with me as I know a hefty amount of friends who really liked this city, I’m just not one of them.

Day 2: Head to Inverness

On the second day we drove from Edinburgh straight to Inverness, and on the way we pass through the tiny and very nice village of Pitlochry,  then through the Cairngorms National Park, which is the biggest national park in Scotland.
About this park, we drove through the A9, which is the quickest way to get to Inverness, and while it’s quite convenient, it’s quite difficult to find a good spot where you can stop and enjoy the landscapes, so if you have some extra time to spend, I guess it could be better to pass on the east side of the park, which I guess you have more chances to stop and explore this park a bit more.
Then as we arrived to Inverness quite early, we drove a bit further to see the famous Loch Ness, possibly one of the most famous lake in the world due to the famous “monster”.

Old Bridge of Tilt, Scotland

I have to say that I’m glad we decided to visit the lake earlier, even if it was on the plans the next day. Leaving aside Nessy and all the merchandising surrounding this “mystery”, Loch Ness has beautiful landscapes all along his lengthy rivers, and it could be an attraction itself without any need to add any “monsters”.
And while "scouting" for some cool places to photograph along the lake Ness (Loch is essentially "lake" in Scottish, where in Irish is "lough"), I found on the road a spot where I could actually go down on the river and take a couple of long exposures, unfortunately the sun wasn't in the right position and it was still too high for my personal taste, but when you travel around, and you know that the patience of your girlfriend is not unlimited, you can't really waith a couple of hours until the sun sets :-)
But at least I got this nice shot of the Lake Ness:

Loch Ness

Day 3: Isle of Skye

I have to admit that so far the landscapes we have seen where nice, but nothing outstanding. We actually started to see what I was expecting from Scotland only when we started to drive alongside the northern river of the lake Loch Ness, where we also find, just a few kilometers after it, a quite spectacular dam.

On the way to Skye we also spent some time visiting the Eilean Donan Castle, a beautiful castle on the lake Loch Duich, between the castles we've seen in Scotland, it's probably the nicest to visit, as some other are beautiful from outside, but awful (and in some cases very, very expensive, like Stirling Castle, which cost us a fortune to enter and it was a completely rip off for what was inside), on the inside.

Eilean Donan Castle

Then we head to the Isle of Skye, and here the landscapes started to show their full majesty. The Western Highlands were simply spectaculars, with their mix of lakes, mountains and small rivers you can find on the way.
And the Isle of Skye is a goldmine for landscape photographers, everywhere you look you can find a beautiful scenery, and my favourite one is the valley that leads to the Black Cuillin mountains, which is simply breathtaking. Unfortunately in that place, while walking in the bush alongside the river that comes from those mountains, I underestimated the slipperiness of the rocks on the river, and overestimated my agility to walk on them, and I ended up with very wet (read “completely soaked”) feet which forced us to retreat to the B&B and it taught me two very important lessons: if a rock looks slippery is because it is slippery, and always bring a second pair of shoes with you.
Down here a couple of shots of the Black Cuillin Mountains before I fell on the river :D

Black Cuillin Mountains

Black Cuilling Mountains

Day 4: Again Isle of Skye and heading to Glencoe

As the road from the Isle of Skye to where we had our last B&B was quite short, we decided to spend some extra time on the Isle of Skye, especially on the south and west coast of it. While I didn't take many pictures there, or at least I didn't like the outcome as the light it wasn't just right, the place was absolutely beautiful, and it reminds me a bit the south west of Ireland. After that we headed to our next B&B in Fort William, and on the way we stop in another amazing place, Loch Cluanie, a beautiful lake in the middle of the highlands, and only there I think I took around 400 shots, and I think this is one of those places that makes Scotland to be "Scotland", and down here you can see a couple of the best ones.

Loch Cluanie

Loch Cluanie

Day 5: Harry Potter, Glencoe and back home

This trip was a crescendo in terms of beautiful places, and the last day it was pretty insane. Our B&B was at few kilometers from Fort William, right on the road along the banks of the lake Eil, and just after breakfast I was asking to our host if he could suggest anything to see nearby before we head to Glencoe, and he suggested this place, called Glenfinnan Viaduct, which probably most of you never heard before, but if you are a fan of Harry Potter, you already seen this place, as it has been used in one scene of the second movie (I think), but as a reminder for who doesn't remember it, here the scene:

And the place is totally worth to see if you are passing nearby, and this viaduct is still being used by the local trains, even if they have to slow down quite a lot. Here a couple of photos I took of the viaduct (all from below, as I couldn't figure out how to get on top of the hill):

Glenfinnan Viaduct

Here a train passing veeery slowly on the viaduct:

Glenfinnan Viaduct

So after that we headed back to the original destination, Glencoe, a village surrounded by beautiful landscapes, on the banks of the lake Leven, and we were super lucky to find a spot along the banks where I could take some photos of some boats on a perfectly flat lake, not a single tiny wave, it was essentially a giant mirror, with the light on our back, so with perfectly blue sky, and it was like mother nature was inviting us to take photos!


A few kilometers after Glencoe, another interesting point to photograph was the River Coe, right on the A82 on the way to Edinburgh and Glasgow, where you have this tiny river with small waterfalls surrounded by the mountains, it's very easy to get there as it's easy to not notice it if you don't pay much attention, but totally worth to spend half a hour there in my opinion.
After that, and after a few other very nice views on the A82, we thought "ok, that's it, we've seen all, let's head to Edinburgh and take our flight home", but we were damn wrong. Still on the A82, we found this place:

Bidean nam Bian, Highlands, Scotland

It was simply stunning. The mountains on the background are called the Bidean nam Bian, leaving Glencoe on the other side of the mountains, and the road pass through several small lakes, all interconnected by a river, which they form the lake Ba, and after that there's another lake called "Lochan na h-Achlaise" (don't ask me how to pronounce that), and we were so lucky to have a mirror like surface with perfect weather conditions that I just couldn't resist to photograph.
This is possibly one of the best places I've seen in Scotland alongside the Isle of Skye.

After that we headed south in direction to Glasglow, we passed along the rivers of the lake Lomond, which is part of the "Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park", which it was quite impressive as well to see, but unfortunately it was difficult to find a place to stop safely, and the ones we found weren't great for photos, so we just kept driving to our next and last destination before going to the Edinburgh airport, the Stirling Castle. Which as I said before, it was a completely rip off. Well, from outside is quite nice and quite impressive, and the town itself it's quite nice, but the castle inside was very disappointing, it looks like it has been repainted on the cheap and without caring much about what the word "restoration" means, also for some reasons their euro-sterling change was quite high, a good extra 10% to add on the not very cheap ticket. It was just a bitter experience that ruined a bit what otherwise could be a perfect trip.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed my report of my trip in Scotland, which is a great country to visit, even for a long weekend, and I'm only sorry that I didn't have enough time to see all the places I had to skip because of the tight schedule we had, for example the Falkirk Wheel, which is pretty impressive as you can see down here on a photos take by a good friend of mine, Giuseppe Milo:

Falkirk Wheel

There are tons of places in Scotland that I did want to see and I just couldn't fit in my trip, but you never know, it's only one hour of flight, and we might go again in the future :-)

If you want to know where are the places I talked about in this article, without going mad with google, I've attached another map with the best places I've seen during my trip:

So, to conclude, if you want to see the full set of the photos I shot in Scotland, you can click here to see my album on flickr, and I also have a set on 500px, where you can  buy prints of my photos if you like them, and down here some of the best photos I took and that I didn't use above :-)

Bidean nam Bian, Highlands, Scotland

Glencoe, Scotland

Sunset near Inverness




Bidean nam Bian, Highlands, Scotland

Isle of Skye

Isle of Skye

Loch Lomond