Forget the NC500! The journey from Ben Nevis to the Isle of Skye is just as spectacular and if you’re visiting Scotland it’s a route you shouldn’t miss.
This became part 2 of our honeymoon road trip. (Read Part 1 here: Loch Lomond to Glencoe).
We took 72 hours going from Nevis to Skye then all the way back onto the mainland and Loch Ness. We stopped at various places to explore but would recommend you take far longer to really enjoy all that the Western Highlands (and Skye) has to offer.
Let’s get going…
Fort William and the Nevis Visitor Centre
After a wet and windy night wild camping on the roadside with Ben Nevis looming in the background, we decided on an early start. Without making any real plans, little did we know that we’d end up on one of the many islands off the west coast.
(Although we usually plan road trips in advance, on this occasion we let serendipity lead the way).
A five minute drive from our wild camping spot and we were in Fort William, stocking up on supplies before spending a wee while in the town centre. The museum deserved a much longer perusal but we were keen to hit the road and headed to the Glen Nevis Visitor Centre.
We pulled into the car park – still sounding like a tank because Hobo Gav hadn’t fixed the hole in the exhaust. He made another attempt here, trying to cable-tie tuna fish tin lids and then a coke can over the hole – without success. Fool!
(Yes, he really did this! We’ll say more about this quite pathetic attempt later!)
In the foothills of Ben Nevis
So, after faffing with the hole for a good 45 minutes, Gav gave up. Time was getting on. We’d thought about making an attempt at climbing Ben Nevis. However, even though the sun was shining now, the weather forecast for later was not so good. And we’d probably left it too late anyway.
CLIMBING TIP: we’re not mountaineers but can say that if you’re planning to climb Ben Nevis (or any mountain) allow plenty of time. We reckon it would have taken us 7 to 8 hours to get up and back down. If you’re younger and fitter, of course, you’ll do it much quicker but we like to plod along and stop every so often to admire the scenery; it’s more like a pilgrimage to us than a feat of endurance – or a race.
It goes without saying that you should take everything you need. You’ll have waterproof clothing and proper footwear (not sandals or flipflops – yes, we’ve seen people trying to climb mountains with these on their feet!)
You’ll need another layer or two the higher you go as it can be freezing at the top even during the height of summer. And if you’re out all day, a good supply of energy-boosting food and enough water for the trek is vital.
Danger on the summit
One other thing to be wary of if you’re heading to the summit: be mindful of the power of the wind. On the way back down a chap told us how he’d saved a girl from being blown over the edge when the wind got inside her festival poncho and lifted her up like a parachute!
See what we mean about the right clothing!?
On this occasion, having decided we were far too late for the whole climb, we were happy going just part of the way up. It was enough to see some lovely scenery and we met some elders of the tribe who were still climbing in their late 70s. Good on ’em!
What we did spot from this vantage position was a wonderful road, snaking off into the distance.
Gav was keen to explore, so off we headed back to the van to hit the road. This winding, twisting track (the C 1162) took us right along the river Nevis and we parked up when it became too narrow for our van. (If you’re travelling by car you’ll be able to continue).
We enjoyed spending time walking a little way by the river before the road called us again. We headed back the same way we’d came, said ‘bye for now to the highest mountain in the UK (at 4,413 feet) and decided to follow the A82 northward.
The A87 to the Isle of Skye
We passed Loch Lochy (with over 30,000 lochs in Scotland, they must have run out of names!) then turned west onto the A87 at Invergarry.
The A87 is a lovely drive, especially in the early evening as the light shimmers on the water. We passed Loch Garry and then at Loch Loyne we decided to pull over and enjoy the evening sunset.
We ended up staying the night parked here; it was very quiet and made for a perfect spot to relax and soak up the peace and tranquillity.
A young French couple parked behind us in their little hatchback and wandered off with their camping gear toward the water’s edge to sleep the night. Oh to be young again!
We would have thought that being so close to the loch, they might have needed some midge spray. We had no such problem, being half a mile back. Maybe it was the Avon ‘Skin So Soft’ we’d sprayed on earlier that kept the little blighters at bay?
Seriously though, it was the best thing we found to protect us from being bitten to death!
The Old Man of Storr
Next morning, after a blissful night’s sleep, we continued on the A87, deciding to go all the way onto the Isle of Skye. The journey becomes more mesmerising the closer you get to the island, sunlight shimmering on the water all the way.
An hour or so later and we crossed the road bridge at Kyle of Lochalsh.
Soon after arriving on the Isle of Skye you enter a different head space. Time slows down and there’s an olde-worlde feel to the place. You might call it the ‘hypnosis of the highlands and islands’.
We drove on, still sounding like a tank, with the noise of our exhaust bouncing off the narrow streets through the main town of Portree.
We turned right onto the A855, heading toward The Old Man of Storr and were lucky enough to find a parking space in a layby. It gets busy here and there were many folks, like us, going up and down the mountain.
If you’re coming to Skye, it’s a place you must see and a walk you must take.
Camping on the Isle of Skye
Further north, the weather turned and the remainder of the day’s drive along the narrow roads – with some horrendous potholes – was done in a light drizzle so that the wiper blades hypnotised us even more!
We went all the way around the northern tip, before heading south and rejoining the better roads of the A87 and then up the A850 past Loch Snizort Beag. What a great name!
Come early evening as the grey skies turned salmon pink, we found a lovely Camping and Caravanning Club Site overlooking the water at Greshornish.
To note: much of our honeymoon in Scotland was spent wild-camping. However, like all van loos, ours needs emptying every two or three days. This seemed like a good place to stay and we also got rid of the waste water and topped up the fresh tank too.
RELATED CONTENT: If you’re touring Scotland by motorhome or campervan make sure you get a copy of Martin Dorey’s excellent ‘Take the Slow Road – Scotland’. Read our review of the book and how it helped us find some amazing places.
Fairy Pools on Skye
After a lay in and with our departure slightly delayed by the shower block being cleaned, we eventually headed off just before midday. The sun shone as we followed the A850 until turning south onto the A863 at Dunvegan.
We enjoyed a quick walk at Dun Beag Broch – the remains of an Iron Age hilltop fortress – then continued on down, entranced once more by the magic of this island.
Every turn gifted us a new vista and Hobo Trudi’s camera got extra busy, especially when the light took on an other-worldly hue. Even Cree’s exhaust seemed to quieten down here and we kind-of freewheeled all the way to Sligachen back on the A87.
Like we mentioned before on our road trip around Anglesey, we’d entered the ‘Twilight Zone’ on the Isle of Skye. It’s almost as if such places awaken another part of our brains, a part that’s usually lying dormant as we hurry through the busyness of life.
On Skye we’d aligned ourselves with nature, our pulses and brainwaves synchronised to that of the living, breathing environment surrounding us. A sacred meeting between human being and Mother Earth – something our ancestors probably knew far more intimately than us.
To extend our time in this altered state, we contemplated visiting the Fairy Pools. However, our left, logical brains regained authority over us and decided that our van might have found the single lane roads too rough.
Next time, we’ll either brave it, rent a smaller campervan, or stay in the dreamtime!
Whatever, we had the next best thing: a fish and chip supper overlooking the water at Broadford. And what fish and chips they were! We both agreed they were the best we’d ever tasted (and we’ve been eating fish and chips all our lives!)
Back on the Scottish mainland to Drumnadrochit
Looking back now, we often ask ourselves why we didn’t stay for a second night on the Isle of Skye. The island surely demanded more of our time. We could have stayed a week…or a lifetime.
But somehow, our van wanted to get going and before long we’d crossed over the bridge back onto the mainland. We passed several lochs where vans had already parked to wild camp for the night overlooking the water. It looked so inviting but, not wanting to intrude on others’ spaces, Gav drove on…and on…and on…
The light was fading fast when we reached the shores of Loch Ness and we were relieved to find a public car park in the village of Drumnadrochit. We found a space and felt safe here, nestled in amongst fellow van-lifers.
RELATED CONTENT: for more on Drumnadrochit and other great places to see in Scotland check out Graham Grieve’s superb website
We didn’t see the ‘No Overnight Camping’ signs until daybreak. Uh oh!
We always adhere to such signs but on this occasion we had two valid excuses: a) we didn’t see the signs as it was dark when we arrived and b) there were already many vans and motorhomes parked up here for the night. It was pretty obvious that nobody was taking any notice.
Anyway, by now we were keen to look for Nessie.
And if you’re wondering what happened with that hole in the exhaust? Well, it stayed with us all the way home to Suffolk! (We estimated that we drove with the hole – sounding like a Chieftain tank – for over 1000 miles). Sorry if we spoiled your peace!
Check out our other road trips…
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading about our road trip from Ben Nevis to the Isle of Skye and back to the mainland.
To keep up to date with the latest stories as we publish them, please consider subscribing to our free quarterly newsletter