Enchanting, peaceful, adventure...three words we would personally describe our week away in the Scottish highlands and Isle of Skye in January 2023.
Scotlands beauty never fails to amaze but there is something so magical about driving through the winding roads of Glencoe whilst enveloped in a crowd of magnificent yet slightly intimidating munros (any of the 277 mountains in Scotland that are at least 3,000 feet high).
As we were currently part-way through our van build, we decided to mix our trip up with part van-life and part hotel-life. This meant we spent no more than one night at a time in the van where it was at a point of being fully insulated and boarded out...more like a 'ready to go' shell.
In this post, I will talk you through our itinerary and any recommendations and tips for a winter trip to the Scottish Highlands and Isle of Skye.
DAY 1- Sunday
Travelling to Glencoe
We are based in New Mills, High Peak and to drive to Glencoe it took circa 5.5hrs. Previously when making the drive to the highlands, we have found it a perfect excuse to stop off in the Lake District. Whether you fancy a day in Kendal, Windermere, Ambleside or Keswick, these popular areas are all really easy to join back on to the M6 via the A6 or A66.
Tip: Make sure to be well-fuelled when passing Glasgow as once you get to Loch Lomond there is not a lot in terms of fuel until Fort William.
DAY 2- Monday
Explore Glencoe On Foot
Whether you like low-level walks or the higher the better hikes, Glencoe is a must-see place to explore. We fancied bagging a munro and chose Beinn a' Chrulaiste, sister to the most famous munro in Glencoe Buachaille Etive Mor. This route started from the car park of the Kingshouse Hotel and meant we could stop for an amazing lunch post hike at the hotel (extremely recommend the venison pie!). This route (on a clear day) gives you a great view of Etive Mor! Unfortunately, we had a bit too much cloud but the scenery and the snow was still stunning! Be sure to be wearing crampons, gaitors and have all the layers possible. If you fancied looking at the route we did for inspiration, please see link below:
We followed this route via OS Maps and ofcourse took a paper map as insurance.
Beinn a’ Chrulaiste (Aug 2014) • Hiking Route » outdooractive.com
Some not so strenuous walking alternatives include:
- LOST VALLEY Length: 4km, Time: 3 hours, Level of difficulty: easy/moderate
- LOCHAN TRAIL Length: 1.6km, Time: 1 hour, Level of difficulty: easy
1. View of Etive Mor from Kingshouse Hotel
2. Trig at the top of Beinn a Chrulaiste
DAY 3- Tuesday
Skiing at Ben Nevis Range
Ski pass, skis, boots, helmet and poles hire cost totally £65 each for the day...a bargain in our eyes campared to £100+ in most areas of Europe. To avoid the rush as much as possible we arrived at 9am to get kitted out...no need. It was so quiet, we were the only ones getting skis and one of the first to get the gondola up to the mountain. No cueing...a haven for any snowsport enthusiast. Due to it being quiet and new to us, we found signage the only downfall the Ben Nevis Range in terms of exploring different routes and knowing what was open. However, incredibly friendly staff were great at filling us in on conditions and updating us on lift openings. Although maybe half the resorts routes were closed, there was still plenty of amazing wide, non-icy slopes to have fun on. The Snowgoose Bar & Restaurant was serving hearty hot food and drinks for lunch and not expensive compared to the usual ski resort up-pricing.
Massively recommend a trip up Ben Nevis Range even if you are not a snowsports fan. There are great walks to give stunning view of Loch Linnhe & Loch Eil.
Tip: Try as much as possible to go in the week, the team said it had been incredibly busy as the weekend. Also keep an eye on the weather before booking as you want as many runs to be open as possible until the last gondola at 4:30pm.
Skiing on Nevis Range with the slope to myself
DAY 3- Wednesday
Isle of Skye Day 1
Old Man of Storr
We had the Old Man of Storr all to ourselves when we set-off for a sunrise hike at 8am. Despite being cloudy and a bit windy, you could not fault the incredible sites from Storr. An absolute must-visit. We had a morning coffee at the foot of the pinnacle rock formation and decided to venture back to the van for breakfast. The classic walking route is about 4.5km and it's got a sizeable car park with facilities and about a 10 min drive from Portree.
Pics 1 & 2 Old Man of Storr
Heading North up Skye, we stopped to enjoy breakfast at the Lealt Falls viewing platform. A must visit with a stunning view of the Trotternish Cliffs. Other waterfalls to visit include:
- Mealt Falls
- Rha Waterfall
- Talisker Waterfall (enjoy with a swim by Talisker Bay if you're feeling brave)
Landscape view from Lealt Waterfalls
As part of the Trotternish ridge, the Quiraing is an amazing spot for your camera to picture the most spectacular landscape of Skye. The Quiraing walk is about 4.2 miles long and takes 2-3hrs. However the walk is not essential as you can take in the other-wordly views almost immediately on the route. There is a paid car park at the highest part of the single track road, circa 5.5 miles from Uig.
Tip: If driving up from Staffin however in snowy conditions, ensure you have snow tires to avoid getting stuck up the winding steep road. Even if you do have snow tyres, best bringing a shovel just in case...we needed it.
Cliff edges of Quiraing- near car park
Isle of Skye Brewing Co.
From the Quiraing, heading to Uig, it is essential to stop at the Isle of Skye Brewing Co, (The Pier, IV51). After digging snow a few times from getting stuck with the van, this was a great reward for the other half (Mike). Literally all the merch you could ask for and a range of amazing beers and gins to choose from. They even had faulty bottles where labels were incorrectly printed for half the price. Well worth a trip for a treat or gifts.
Portree- Caberfeidh Bar & Restaurant (THE BEST WOOD-FIRED PIZZAS)
We stumbled across this gem after a long day outdoors. We love a pizza...who doesn't and these were honestly incredible. Highly recommend, circa £15 per pizza and an array of delicious cocktails from just £6. Perfect!
DAY 4- Thursday
Isle of Sky Day 2
For the adventurers, Spar Cave is a must when exploring the southern area of Skye. The cave is located near Elgol and boasts magical surroundings with its flowstone steps which a surprisingly grippy. However, the journey getting to the cave is thrilling in itself. This hidden wonder can only be reached at certain times of the day when the tide is low, so a visit requires a fair bit of pre-planning. The cliffs close to the cave are a great secluded place to enjoy a picnic or just enjoy the calmness of the sea.
To get to the cave, we used this really handy guide.
The Spar Cave, near Elgol (Walkhighlands)
1. Walk along and around cliff edges (some scrambling).
2. View from the entrance of the cave out to sea
Beautifully clear pools entice visitors from all over the world to the foot of the Black Cullins near Glenbrittle. Those wild swimmers among you will know its an absolute must to take a dip providing you are well-equipped and experienced. The walk to the pools itself is stunning, taking in the incredible landscape (especially under a blanket of snow). The dip was refreshing to say the least and we had our ski clothes and hot water bottles at the read to heat up asap...but wow an incredible experience.
1. Paved walk from the car park to the Fairy Pools
2. My 30 second dip in one of the Fairy Pools...extremely cold but incredibly rewarding
DAY 5- Friday
Driving from Isle of Skye to Fort William
Eilean Donan Castle
This must visit castle sits on an island where 3 lochs meet just off the A87 (road from Skye to lead back to Fort William). This 13th century castle is honestly stunning, we were lucky to have the most amazing weather. The castle itself was closed however entry onto the island was free and the usually bustling tourist attraction was beautifully quiet.
Bridge crossing to Eilean Donan Castle
The Glenfinnan Viaduct
A popular attraction, especially for the Harry Potter fans among us, the railway viaduct is located at the top of Loch Shiel. There is a cafe and gift shop next to the car park with well-signed routes to viewing platforms. We took a stunning 4km walk on a clear path that winds around the viaduct and gives the most incredible views of Loch Shiel to then loop back to the car park via the Glenfinnan Station.
Details of the walk below:
Glenfinnan Viaduct trail (Walkhighlands)
Glenfinnan Viaduct from the trail (link above)
Day 6- Saturday
Travelling Home via Loch Lomand & The Trossachs NP & Edinburgh
To break up our journey home, and to drive a different route, we followed the A85 through The Loch Lomand & The Trossachs National Park, stopping off at Loch Lubnaig where there are great facilities and swim spots. We then drove towards Edinburgh and parked in a park & ride near Edinburgh airport. This allows us to park the van safely for free and a return tram ride into the centre took 30 mins and circa £3 each. An afternoon wandering the bustling streets of Edinburgh was a great way to end our trip before making the 4.5hr journey home.
Places To Go: Kingshouse Hotel, Glenfinnan Viaduct, Eilean Donan Castle
Things To Do: Snowsports on Nevis Range, bag a Munro, walk the Glenfinnan Viaduct Trail
Places To Eat: Kingshouse Hotel, Chlachaig Inn, The Glencoe Isle Hotel, Ben Nevis Inn
Places To Stay: Kingshouse Hotel, The Isle of Glencoe Hotel, Campervan spots everywhere! (park4night app)
Our view at breakfast at The Isles of Glencoe Hotel
Isle of Skye...
Places To Go: Old Man of Storr, the many amazing waterfalls (list below), Fairy Pools, Spar Cave, The Quiraing
Things To Do: Shop at Isle of Skye Brewery Co., Visit a distillery (unfortunately these are not open until at least February but we wanted to visit Ise of Raasay Distillery) Visit the Highland Coos (Sconser is a great place to see them), walk walk walk...take in all those amazing views.
Places To Eat: Caberfeidh Bar & Restaurant (pizza), The Oyster Shed (fish) a massive Co-op in Broadford & Portree
Places To Stay: Skye Shepherd Huts (Booked through Canopyandstars)
Our view out of the shepherds hut in the morning.
To summarise, Scotland in January was magnificent. The snow was stunning, the driving was extensive but part of the fun and the best thing was...it was ridiculously quiet! Highly recommend!
Love Laura x
Founder of MY URBAN TRAIL