The Ultimate Scottish Coastal Route
For most people, including me, the west coast of Scotland offers some of the most beautiful scenery in the country. And yet, for some unknown reason, there is not something like an ‘Official Coastal Route’ which would cover most roads on the Scottish west coast, to let you admire this stunning part of Scotland. It’s of course not easy, the west coast isn’t straight, it has many inland sea lochs, islands and other obstacles, making the journey a rather lengthy and time consuming yet very pleasant enterprise. If you want to make this journey along the coast you have to figure it out yourself. That’s why I travelled the entire west coast of Scotland myself and came up with my personal version of the ‘Ultimate Scottish Coastal Route’ to make your life a little easier. It’s a great alternative of the popular north coast 500 route and you can also combine this route and the north coast 500, that’s a great ride!
We all know the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. I will use Stranraer in Dumfries & Galloway as the most south-westerly tip of our journey and Durness in Sutherland as the most north-westerly point. The distance between Stranraer and Durness, as the crow flies, is 254 miles (355 kms). To travel this distance over the shortest route by car via Glasgow, Perth and Inverness is 356 miles (573 kms), roughly a 8 hour drive.
Culzean Castle and Country Park in Ayrshire
And then there is the Ultimate Scottish Coastal Route as I like to call it, covering almost every road on the Scottish west coast, including three islands, from Stranraer to Durness via the Isle of Arran, the Isle of Mull and Isle of Skye. That particular route, my personal choice, is 549 miles (884kms) long with a total road travel time of 20 hours, which is calculated by navigation software. As I have not counted in the time you spend on the various ferry crossings, five in total, and the time you need to rest and sleep, this journey will take you roughly four to seven days to complete. (See link to detailed map at bottom of post)
There are many accommodation opportunities along the way, from campsites to Bed and Breakfasts and Excellent Hotels. This journey is also suitable to travel with a motorhome. For a motorhome itinerary and campsite tips visit this page. Below I will explain in detail which logical stages make up this best Scottish driving tour.
Stranraer to Oban
The first stage starts at Stranraer in Dumfries and Galloway. The A77 north follows the beautiful Ayrshire coast and as you pass the beautiful Culzean Castle and Country Park you head north to Ardrossan to take the ferry to the Isle of Arran. From Brodick on Arran you can follow the north coast over the A841 to Lochranza and take the wee Calmac ferry to Claonaig in Kintyre. From there you can follow the A83 to Lochgilphead and the A816 to Oban. The journey over the road is 166 miles (267kms) and is approx 6h 15 min. As there are two ferry crossings it’s very unlikely to make this stage in one day.
The Silver Sands of Morar near Mallaig
Oban to Mallaig via Mull and Ardnamurchan
In Oban take the ferry to Craignure on the Isle of Mull. Close by is the beautiful Duart Castle. 5 miles further down the road to Tobermory there is another ferry crossing awaiting you, the one from Fishnish to Lochaline in Morvern crossing the Sound of Mull. From Lochaline to Mallaig it’s a 2 hour drive through some spectacular scenery via Strontian, the Moydart peninsula and Arisaig which nearby beaches at Morar were featured in the movie Local Hero. This stage is only 86 miles (138km) and the total travel time over the road some 4 hours, but with two ferry crossings it’s more realistic to use two days for this stage.
Mallaig to Shieldaig over Applecross
This stage will take you over one of the most challenging roads in Scotland, the Pass of the Cattle to Applecross. In Mallaig, where this route overlaps our Highlands 140 Driving Route, take the ferry to Armadale on the Isle of Skye and drive north over the A851. Then head east over the A87 and cross the Skye Bridge at Kyle of Lochalsh. Keep driving east and take the A890 to Lochcarron. From here head west in the direction of Shieldaig and then follow the signs to Applecross. This is actually the place where our coastal route joins the north coast 500 route.
From Applecross take the coastal road north along the Inner Sound where you have amazing views over Raasay and Skye until you head east and follow the shore of Loch Torridon until you reach Shieldaig. This stage is 110 miles (177kms) and 4 hours travel time over the road. As you have another ferry crossing in this section it is realistic to use one day for this stage.
Shieldaig to Durness
This is the only stage without a ferry crossing and the stretch to Durness also covers a part of the north coast 500 route. It offers amazing scenery as you travel through Wester Ross and the far north-west of Scotland. Spectacular mountain scenery and breathtaking views over the sea are yours in what is probably the most beautiful part of Scotland. It all starts at Glen Torridon which you follow until Kinlochewe. From there head west along the shore of stunning Loch Maree to Gairloch, the pretty and rather touristic village with its many restaurants and shops. From Gairloch keep heading north along the dramatic coastline until you reach Ullapool, the pearl of the north. From Ullapool the scenery changes with the mountain formations becoming ever more breathtaking. Head west following the signs to Lochinver, a nice fishing town, and continue on the single track road until you reach the A894 and head north. From here it’s one beautiful road all the way to Durness, the end of the Ultimate Scottish Coastal Route. This stage is 187 miles (300kms) with a total road time of around six and best enjoyed if you do it in two days to have plenty of time to properly enjoy the stunning scenery.
Visiting Cape Wrath
When you’ve arrived in Durness you might want to visit Cape Wrath, the most north-westerly tip of the Scottish Mainland. Before Durness at Keoldale Pier is the Cape Wrath Ferry, foot passengers only, over the Kyle of Durness. This crossing takes approx 15 mins. On the other side is a minibus waiting for you which can bring you in approx 50 minutes to Cape Wrath Lighthouse. Total round trip is 3 hours. The Cape Wrath Ferry Service runs 7 days per week May to September. Tel. 01971 511246 or email [email protected]
Ferry and Fuel Costs
For an average car this journey will cost around £150 for fuel, that’s only the one way journey. The costs for the single journeys on the five ferries, which totals £199,15 for a car and two persons, are as follows:
- Ardrossan to Brodick (Isle of Arran) – £54.50
- Lochranza to Claonaig (Kintyre) – £39.30
- Oban to Craignure (Isle of Mull) – £51.10
- Fishnish to Lochaline (Morvern) – £21.05
- Mallaig to Armadale (Isle of Skye) – £33.20
- From Stranraer to the lighthouse at the Mull of Galloway – 36 mile (58 kms) roundtrip
- Circular tour over Kintyre Peninsula from Claonaig via Campbeltown to Tarbert – 70 miles (113 kms)
- Knapdale circular tour via Kilberry from Tarbert – 36 mile (58 kms)
- Instead of the A835 and A837 north to Lochinver take the single track road from Drumrunie to Lochinver and save 6 miles.
- Halfway between Lochinver and Durness is a turning to the west coast, to Tarbet, where you can get a small passenger ferry to the Isle of Handa, a stunning nature reserve.