The Best of Scotland in a Day
Don’t let the title confuse you. This is not a post about an – absolutely impossible – attempt to experience this fabulous wee country in 24 hours. Rather, it’s about capturing Scotland’s broad appeal in one day. The assets that have made it one of the top destinations in the world to visit this year; the attributes that are so synonymous with its past and the natural wonder of our legendary Highlands. All add up to deliver one overwhelmingly Scottish day on the road. If I was to sum up Scotland in a day it would look something like this…
For Glaswegians certainly, the sight of Loch Lomond is where it all begins. Highland allure kicks in and the promise of another day to remember beckons. A mist that would have Sir Walter Scott scurrying for a quill and paper shrouds the eastern shore and Ben Lomond remains hidden as I hurtle along. Autumn is very much in the air too. Crisp, chilly and refreshing. It’s most peoples’ favourite Scottish season for a reason and the savvy traveller spends as much time in our fabulous rural areas as they can get away with at this time of year as the crowds disperse, the midges leave us all in peace and it rains marginally less than usual.
Head to the Hills
Of course a mountain was going to be on the itinerary. My answer for most of the world’s problems and my go-to support system when I’m just having a bad week, Scotland’s peaks are an omnipresent reassurance and comfort. While Loch Lomond presents a more convenient day out from Glasgow, it’s not quite got the solitude I’m after and I’d nudge you just a little further up the map. Argyll has seen a huge amount of attention from me this year and it’s amongst my favourites for good reason. A plethora of mountains await but why not head straight for the top and go after Ben Cruachan. The highest point in the region is a challenging hike – but a supremely rewarding one.
North of the utterly magnificent Loch Awe, it’s a pretty steep climb throughout and (outside weekends and peak-season) you may find you have the walk entirely to yourself. Expect a little scrambling and reserve at least 5 hours for the return trip. As my map explains, there are additional options for extending the route into a longer circuit but, for the purposes of this pretty packed day, let’s just stick to the one Munro. On reaching the summit within the clouds, the views over most of the Southern Highlands are jaw-dropping. This is Scotland at its best.
A nod to Engineering
If mountains and lochs haven’t satisfied your thirst for Scottishness yet, take a bow to another great Scottish attribute – our excellence in the field of engineering. The brand new bridge over the River Forth is rightly getting lauded worldwide at the moment and is a suitable reminder to our contribution in this area. The steam engine, the Falkirk Wheel, lighthouses and bridges aplenty, canals….the list goes on. But, me, I’ve always loved a good tunnel. Cruachan Power Station runs directly into the structure of Ben Cruachan. A remarkable hollowed-out tour route heads deep into the core of the mountain – the same one that you’ve just climbed.
Guided tours are available year-round and you will be spirited by bus into the fully-functional power station. No cameras are allowed unfortunately for safety reasons but their website has all of the info you’ll need.
Go back in time
Who does history better than Scotland? While choices abound for the 21st Century visitor to marvel at, there’s something about castles that see them take the lion’s share of the attention. With this in mind, I’d point you in the direction of arguably Scotland’s most evocative and photogenic ruin, Kilchurn Castle.
A 15th Century structure deep in traditional Clan Campbell territory, it sits on a sliver of a peninsula at the north end of Loch Awe. Backed impeccably by neighbouring mountains and within a whisky-induced stumble of the waterline, this ticks many peoples’ box for the quintessential Scottish castle experience. I include myself willingly – only a handful of ancient ruins I’ve visited have had quite this level of impact. Loch Awe is the longest in Scotland and has been an ever-present in today’s various adventures for good reason as it’s amongst my favourites. It’s deeply blue/black waters send a shiver and are the ideal partnering act for the castle’s eerie disposition.
Lately, I’ve taken to coming at Kilchurn from the sky by drone – one of my top aerial picks. The perfect site for such a flight, Kilchurn amazes from all angles and its craggy ruins just set the creative minds into overdrive. Painters, photographers, poets, writers….all can have a field day with this place.
Scotland gets a tough rap when it comes to food. To be quite blunt, we’ve earned that. An astonishingly strong natural larder surrounds us but, too often, culinary laziness and lack of confidence and imagination nullify these assets. Deep frying has too long been the default answer to everything. Chips galore and cringe-worthy attempts at a side salad see our reputation as one of the most unhealthy countries in Europe well justified. Stop boiling vegetables to death! However…..
Not all of our restaurants fall into this category and there’s no doubt that, slow, improvement is upon us. After an intense day on the hoof like this, something proper has been well-earned and, if there’s one area of cuisine where Scotland can take on anyone, it’s seafood. Glasgow (the only place such a wonderful day should end) has several go-to establishments here for me, but Crabshakk has been a family favourite for years. Every fish and seafood type imaginable finds its way onto the menu in some form or other and this congested little place is constantly bursting at the seams with patrons who know their stuff. While I’ve never once had anything other than a fabulous meal here, the crabcakes are on a different level so find a space for them somewhere.
Lose yourself in local produce to your heart’s content and then spill out into Finneston in search of our national drink to finish you off. The Ben Nevis is appropriately just across the road from Crabshakk and a strong candidate to seek out a malt of your choosing. Whether you’re headed to the smoky-peaty western isles or up to the sweetened drams of the north east is down to personal taste but either will have you reflecting back wistfully on a most Scottish of days.
Just don’t be surprised to see Nessie out for a wander in Kelvingrove Park on the way home.
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