Road trip in Scotland: from Ullapool to Durness
Whether you want to explore majestic mountains, rolling valleys, or atmospheric lochs, a drive through the Highlands of Scotland offers scenery as mysterious and diverse as it gets.
This autumn we have jumped in our cars for a great Scottish road trip all over the country and here’s one of the best, most scenic routes we’ve encountered: coastal road from Ullapool to Durness.
Let’s have an overview of the route you will take.
Google or your GPS will tell you to follow the below route (via A838, A894 and A835) which is approximately a 2 hours drive.
Well, you don’t want to do that!
Take the coastal road from Ullapool to Durness instead: it is longer but it will offer you jaw-dropping ‘WOW’ sights along the way. Approximately 7 miles after Ullapool you will have to turn left to reach the coastal road. Beware that this will be a single track, particularly narrow and twisting road almost all the way, but there are plenty of passage places everywhere and we felt safe. If you are not very comfortable driving though maybe that will not be your cup of tea :)
The coastal road we suggest, is shown in red on the below map – blue is what Google maps will suggest you. Just follow the red dots instead :)
Map: Ullapool to Durness coastal road
Point 1: Ullapool
Start your trip from Ullapool, a charming town of around 1,500 inhabitants. There are plenty of festivals in the area such as a Guitar festival in September and a Beer Festival in October, so be sure to check Ullapool’s Tourism and Business Association website for more special events.
Where to stay: If you want to spend a night in Ullapool we stayed at The Sheiling Guest House and we definitely recommend it: great loch views from the garden, lovely owner, super-delicious, cooked breakfast, 5 min walk from the town.
Check out the view we had:
Where to eat: For dinner we ate at The Ferry Boat Inn: they cook fresh, local seafood. Try the smoked salmon directly from Ullapool Smokehouse, the langoustines and the oysters. They also have excellent wine.
Point 2: Ardvreck Castle, Calda House and Loch Assynt
Ardvreck Castle is a ruined castle dating from the 16th century at the east end of Loch Assynt. The castle is thought to have been constructed around 1590 by the Clan MacLeod family who owned Assynt and the surrounding area from the 13th century onwards.
Clan MacKenzie attacked and captured Ardvreck Castle in 1672, and then took control of the Assynt lands. In 1726 they constructed a more modern manor house nearby, called Calda House.
The castle is said to be haunted by two ghosts.
- A tall man dressed in grey: on 30 April 1650 James, Marquis of Montrose was captured by the Laird of Assynt and held at the castle before being transported to Edinburgh for trial and execution. The ghost is supposed to be related to the betrayal of Montrose and may even be Montrose himself.
- A young girl, Eimhir: The story tells that the MacLeods procured the help of Clootie (a Scottish name for the Devil) to build the castle and in return the daughter of one of the MacLeod chieftains was betrothed to him as payment. In despair of her situation, the girl threw herself from one of the towers and was killed. Some believe that instead of jumping to her death, Eimhir plunged into the caverns of the Loch and, hiding from the devil to whom she was promised, made a new home beneath the water's surface, becoming the elusive 'Mermaid of Assynt'.
The nearby ruins of Calda house are also supposed to be haunted. The legend says that the Mackenzie family organized a family gathering there one Saturday and that the celebrations continued past midnight into the Sabbath day. At some point a fire broke out, possibly caused by a lightning strike, and all the inhabitants perished as the house burned to the ground. The causes of the fire are uncertain, but inhabitants of the Assynt area state that it was a manifestation of divine wrath as the family had been merry-making on the Lord's Sabbath day. Indeed, stories are told that there was a survivor of the fire, a piper who was spared the flames because he refused to play the pipes past the midnight hour.
Apart from the atmospheric landscape and its legends, Loch Assynt is a nice brake point when you have been driving for a while?
Point 3: Lochinver
Lochinver is a small village on the coast in the Assynt, a few miles northeast is Loch Assynt.
Where to eat: You have to have a stop at this village and visit the Lochinver Larder: they do the tastiest, homemade sweet and savory pies to eat in or take away if you wish to have picnic somewhere in the area. Absolutely loved the ones we tried!
Point 4: Oldshoremore Bay
A lot of guides will tell you to take the walk to Sandwood Bay a little southern than Oldshoremore. Well if you don’t have much time for this walk and if you would like to see a similar beach that is as atmospheric and pretty (if not more), we definitely recommend Oldshoremore Bay. There is no need for a big walk here since you can reach there is a car park next to the bay and you can spend your time walking in the bay. As soon as you leave the car at the car park, you walk over a small hill with a graveyard and the view takes your breath away: white soft sand, crystal clear waters and wonderful views.
Point 5: Durness - Smoo Cave
Once in Durness, don’t miss the Smoo Cave, so serene place. All you hear is the birds singing and the water flow – check it out:
After you have done that climb up the left side as you look towards the sea once at the cave. Reach the end of the cliff and look around you: seals could be swimming around and we spotted one just for a few seconds! Plus: the view is simply amazing!
Where to stay: We stayed at the Aiden House B&B and we were satisfied. Great views from our room and from the garden, modern place, well maintained, cooked breakfast.
So, what are you waiting for?
Pack your bags, grab your maps, roll down that car window and enjoy a drive that you’ll be talking about for loooong time to come.