The Golden Road, Harris

How long? 45 miles, allow 4-6 hours with stops

What makes it so special? Sweeping bends on a single track road, machair, wildlife and walking on the moon.

From Tarbert head south on the A859 towards Leverburgh where the first signs of the unique lunar landscape become obvious. Soon you will reach a small side road branching off to the left signposted The Golden Road, so called because its tortuous route through the intricate landscape of the Bays of Harris made it extremely expensive to build. Before its construction in the 1940s, all traffic between the villages went either on foot or by boat.

Head downhill into the village of Miabhaig which is the first of many villages you will pass through. The Golden Road winds and twists through the east coast of Harris, sometimes called the Bays because of its miniature fjords. The single track road connects all the clachans or townships, which have either Viking or Gaelic names.

The best part of the route is that it is the bends are almost 3D and every few seconds the view changes and shows the rough side of Harris. So if you get to the Golden Road, you see the other side of the island known for some fantastic beaches.

As you wind your way along it, at no great speed, you will pass small cottage industries, local artists, crafts and traditional Harris Tweed weavers along with seals and otters relaxing on the seaweed clad rocks. Many little bays are seen on the sea side of the road and old paths are signposted for walks on these vintage ways that were the only ways before the road was build.

The mixture of sea, loch, Lewisian gneiss, heather and wet green and little rounded hills makes for a striking landscape as the road winds through lochans with water lilies and bog bean in amongst the lunar rocky landscape. It's like nowhere else in Scotland.

Along the way stop at the Tweed exhibition Clò-Mòr at Drinishader, where you can see the sheds of the weavers next to many houses. The Bays of Harris has enticed many artists over the years who have been attracted by the ever changing light and complex landscape.

If you fancy a break, call in at one of a number of galleries along your way – some have excellent cafés. Just after the turn off to one of these – Holmasaig Gallery at Cuidhtinis – the road descends to the shore. Keep following the signs for Roghadal (Rodel), ignoring any side roads, and once there you will find St Clement’s Church, perched spectacularly on a rock.

Rodel was once the main town of Harris and the Skye ferry used to leave from here but now it is a tranquil harbour and many divers view Rodel as a perfect diving destination in Scotland.

From here head towards Leverburgh and back onto the A859 towards Tarbert. On the way marvel at Luskentyre Bay, possibly the finest white beach outside the Caribbean and follow the road for the final climb of the day back over the moonscape. So alien is its appearance, the area was used by Stanley Kubrick as the surface of Jupiter in his famous film, 2001 – A Space Odyssey.

Scotland's greatest drives: Part two 

The climb is long and unrelenting, but eventually you will be rewarded with a tremendous sweeping descent back to Tarbert.

Pit stop: Various cafes in Leverburgh, including the Butty Bus


The A68

How long? 128 miles, three-and-a-half hours

What makes it so special? Driving into Scotland by the scenic route

Left, right or middle? Left is the quickest, straight up the A74 (M) from Carlisle (“pulling up Beattock at a steady climb” if you're lucky and there are not too many articulated lorries). Right, via Berwick on Tweed, you wind your way along the south-east coastline, past Lindisafarne, beaches and caravans and a nuclear power station, which has its own sci-fi charm.

But middle is best. Middle is the A68. Middle starts in Darlington, runs up over the Tyne and rolls and bumps through rural Northumberland and then begins to climb into the Cheviot Hills until, at 1371ft (418m) in altitude, it reaches Carter Bar on the border and suddenly Scotland is laid out in front of you.

Ancient Romans, English soldiers, Scottish soldiers; they’ve all come this way (a short diversion onto the A696 in Northumberland will take you to the site of the Battle of Otterburn of 1388; the Scots won that one, although their commander, Sir James Douglas, was killed).

It must have been a miserable march. But driving it is a rollercoaster of blind summits and stunning vistas and, once you’re in Scotland, the delights of Jedburgh and Lauder.

If you have the time, detour at St Boswells to Dryburgh to see Walter Scott’s famous view.

Pit Stop: Try Carfraemill in Lauder at the foot of the Lammermuir Hills.


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A198 Golf Coast road (Musselburgh-North Berwick)

How long? 17 miles, 35 minutes

What makes it so special: A scenic coastal drive with points of interest round every bend.

This section of East Lothian is being branded as Scotland's Golf Coast – starting at the Musselburgh Links, Scotland's oldest golf club, it takes in fine links courses such as Longniddry, Gullane (which has no fewer than four courses), Muirfield, Archerfield and North Berwick. Watch out for cyclists – part of this route is also the John Muir Way.

Don't worry if you don't want to pack the plus-fours and the Pings – this short stretch has something for all the family. Starting at Musselburgh, you take the left fork down the coast (avoiding the quicker but tedious A1) and proceed through Prestonpans (you'll have heard of the battle, but perhaps not of its collection of fine murals). You will quickly pass through Cockenzie – now minus the iconic twin chimneys of the recently-demolished power station – and Port Seton. Each boasts a picturesque harbour, and the three villages are something of an artists' colony, Port Seton being the birthplace of John Bellany.

There's a fine picnic stop at Longniddry Bents, where you can exercise youngsters and empty the dog, before the traffic crawls through Aberlady and Gullane. Take a short detour to see the ruined medieval fortress of Dirleton Castle (there's a rather fine pub there, too) before ending up at North Berwick, where you can take in the beach, some bespoke shops, and marvel at how many 4x4s can cram into such narrow streets.

Pit stops: Since this is such a short drive, pit stops are best on the return journey: start with fish and chips in North Berwick and follow it with ice cream from Luca's in Musselburgh (or Di Rollo's at the other end of town if you don't want to queue).


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The Five Ferries (Ardrossan-Brodick; Lochranza-Claonaig; Tarbert-Portavadie; Colintraive-Rhubodach; Rothesay-Wemyss Bay)

How long? 60 miles but it will take all day

What makes it so special: Ferries and islands. Five in one day. That's pretty special.

From the ferry, turn right at Brodick and head to Sannox, where the gentle scenery and winding road from the port is replaced by open hillsides and a much faster, sweeping highway, almost devoid of traffic, with the ragged, jagged peaks of Cir Mhor in the distance. Coming down into Lochranza you pass the Arran Distillery and the ruins of Lochranza Castle, which must rank alongside Eilean Donan and Urquhart Castle for its spectacular location.

From here, the ferry for Claonaig make its way across the Kilbrannan Sound to Kintyre. Then it's along the narrow B8001 onto the A83. It’s like a superhighway after the single track: wide, with fast, sweeping corners to Tarbert, with its pretty harbour, like something out of a Katie Morag book. Back on to the ferry, the next stop is Portavadie on the single track before it opens up towards Tighbnabruich and heads for Colintravie. Then it’s on to the day’s shortest crossing, to Bute, which takes less than three minutes, then along to Rothesay and onto the fifth and final ferry to Wemyss Bay.

Some of the roads are poorly surfaced but that doesn't matter. This is a route to take in the scenery, the castles, wildlife, lochs and, of course, the sea views.

Pit stops: The Sandwich Stop at Lochranza is the perfect place for a piece. They also do artisanal sandwiches (whatever they may be) and soups and coffees.


Tornapress to Applecross, Wester Ross

How long? 11 miles, around 30 minutes

What makes it so special? Hairpin bends and the promise of a seafood feast.

It may not seem very far on the map, yet this drive packs a punch, traversing Bealach na Ba – a winding, single-track road through the mountains of the Applecross peninsula – complete with hairpin bends, jaw-dropping views and plentiful nature sightings.

Starting from near sea-level at Tornapress next to Loch Kishorn, the road rises to 2054ft (626m) in 5.6 miles (9.1km) of climbing, reaching 20 per cent at its steepest gradient. There is a viewpoint at the top with panoramas across to Skye and beyond on a clear day.

You may not want to hang about too long as the reward of a hearty feed awaits at the Applecross Inn once you descend the other side.

Pit stop: Grab coffee and cake at the Bealach Cafe in Tornapress but save room for a pint of prawns at the Applecross Inn.


North East 250

Circuit from Spittal of Glenshee, Perth and Kinross.

How long? Approx 250 miles, four days (or longer if you want to see more attractions).

What makes it so special? If you have already driven the hugely popular North Coast 500 or you are a looking for a quieter destination, the North East 250 is an ideal alternative for a multi-day driving route.

The circuit heads through the north-east of Scotland, visiting the Cairngorms, Speyside, Moray, Aberdeenshire and Royal Deeside. Famous for its drier and sunnier climate, the north-east also delivers with a fantastic diversity of landscapes, from majestic mountains and wild moorlands to glorious glens, rocky coastlines and pristine beaches.

The 250 miles could be driven in one day although that would be missing the point of such a great journey. Instead, four days to a week allows you to stop at numerous attractions, including castles, heritage centres, distilleries, golf courses and nature reserves.

A suggested starting point is Spittal of Glenshee in the Cairngorms National Park. Travelling clockwise, day one will take you to Aberlour in the heart of whisky country. There are plenty of visitor sites including two mountain resorts, Glenshee and The Lecht; Ballindalloch Castle; the distilleries of Glenlivet and Aberlour; and a walk to Linn Falls.

Day two heads north to meet the coast at Spey Bay before turning east to reach the seaside town of Banff. Mountain vistas turn to rolling farmland and then the fabulous Moray coastline.

Spey Bay is famous for dolphin watching, while a string of pretty shoreline villages, including Findochty, Portnockie, Cullen and Portsoy, are recommended for a stop-and-stroll.

Take a walk along a section of the Moray Coast Trail and marvel at rock formations called Bow Fiddle and Whale’s Mouth and visit the atmospheric ruins of Findlater Castle.

From Banff, day three will take you to towards Aberdeen for a suggested overnight at Maryculter. In the far north-east corner is the fishing town of Fraserburgh, home to a vast expanse of sandy beach and the fascinating Museum of Scottish Lighthouses. Further south are other highlights, including the natural phenomenon of Bullers of Buchan, Cruden Bay and Slains Castle.

On day four, the NE250 heads west again through Royal Deeside, where the attractions came thick and fast. The castles of Crathes, Balmoral and Braemar beckon, or why not park the car and take a walk into the countryside for yet more wonderful views of hills, mountains and the winding River Dee?

Pit stop: Treat yourself to a cone at award-winning Portsoy Ice Cream, enjoy a dram at the Quaich Bar at Craigellachie Hotel and dine at highly rated Rothesay Rooms, Ballater.


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Lennoxtown to Aberfoyle

How long? 23 miles, around 45 minutes

What makes it so special? Steep climbs and sweeping descents.

This drive begins with the steady climb out of Lennoxtown on the hallowed Crow Road (B822). As you near the end of the first stretch, it is worth pulling over to enjoy the views for a few moments from what is dubbed “the car park in the sky”.

Continue up through the Campsies towards the summit and then follow the sweeping road back down towards Fintry. It’s a popular route for cyclists so do take care and give them space.

From Fintry continue on the B822 where you will reach a turn-off and head left for Arnprior or straight on for Kippin.

Both routes offer pretty scenery but via Arnprior is shorter as the crow flies to meet the B8034 which runs past Lake of Menteith (Scotland’s only lake) and Inchmahome Priory. Turn left onto the A81 and follow signs for Aberfoyle.

Pit stop: The Courtyard Cafe, Knockraich Farm, Fintry is home to a coffee shop and artisan dairy. Be sure to try the farm-made ice cream.


Orkney mainland

How long? 100 miles (or more) depending on the route, allow 4-5 hours

What makes it so special? Neolithic monuments and stunning landscapes

To be honest, there is no one set route to follow on the Orkney mainland. Rather prepare for a magical mystery tour as you venture off the main roads to scoot along B routes and single-tracks.

Head west out of Kirkwall along the A965 to the junction for the A966. From here head north and follow the road in an anti-clockwise direction around the mainland. It is a pretty drive with plenty of points of interest, not least an opportunity is to visit the iron age Broch of Gurness near Evie.

The Neolithic monuments at Orkney’s heart – Skara Brae, Maeshowe, Ring of Brodgar and Standing Stones of Stenness – are within easy driving distance. Built 5,000 years ago, this former settlement, large chambered tomb and two ceremonial stone circles form a Unesco World Heritage Centre.

On the west of the mainland is Yesnaby with its towering sandstone cliffs and majestic sea stack which is a wonderful spot to watch the sunset. Heading south, the turn off is on the right, around a third of a mile before the junction where the B9056 meets the A967.

No visit to Orkney would be complete without driving over the Churchill Barriers, a series of four causeways linking the mainland to the islands of Lamb Holm, Glims Holm, Burray and South Ronaldsay.

Lamb Holm is home to the Italian Chapel, built from two old Nissen huts by prisoners-of-war in 1943. Continue south across Glims Holm and Burray towards the farthest tip of South Ronaldsay and the Tomb of the Eagles, a Neolithic chambered tomb located on a cliff edge.

Scotland's greatest drives: Part two 

Pit stop: Gerri’s Ice Cream Parlour, Stenness. Try the monster cone with seven scoops if you dare.


The Three Lochs forest drive, Aberfoyle

How long? 8 miles, one hour

A bit unusual, this, but it will allow you to indulge your Colin McRae rally driver fantasies – albeit at a much slower pace.

This forest drive takes you through the woodlands of the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park on a quiet forest road from March to October. Beware, it's bumpy going.

The route, which costs £2, is one-way and takes you past three lochs – Lochan Reoidhte, Loch Drunkie and Loch Achray.

The entrance is on the A821 (known as the Duke’s Pass) just north of Aberfoyle. There are several car parks on the route as well as picnic areas and short walking trails.

Pitstop: The Lodge Forest visitor ventre on the A821 has a cafe, walks, a shop and also the Go Ape aerial adventure trail. The Brig o' Turk Tea Room is a charming spot for a coffee and a cake.


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The Foss road, Perthshire

How long? 13 miles, a nice half-hour drive … but there are so many places to stop, best leave a full afternoon.

What makes it so special? The unexpected, off-the-beaten-track beauty.

The sign just past Pitlochry heading north on the A9 is unassuming – "Clunie 2, Foss 11" – but the road itself is an absolute joy. This little single-track route to Tummel Bridge, along the south side of Loch Faskally and Loch Tummel, takes you to places that you may not have seen before, but which you will never forget. Leave an hour at least to explore the Linn of Tummel – an amazing gorge where this grand river is pushed into a series of boiling pots and waterfalls; check out Clunie Dam – a properly wild feat of engineering at the foot of Loch Tummel; stop (dozens of times) long the lochside to marvel at the views.

At Tummel Bridge, you have a choice … go back to your starting point along the usual, north side of the Loch (stop at Queen's View and see if you can spot the road you've just been on), or head into the mountains, past Schiehallion and down into Tayside. A real treat either way.

Pit stop: Take a picnic … you’ll be glad you did!


Scotland's greatest drives: Part two 

6 great songs about cars and driving

1. The Beatles: Drive My Car (1965)

DECIDEDLY about more than merely driving a car, as becomes clear from the lyrics: "Baby you can drive my car/ Yes I'm gonna be a star/ Baby you can drive my car/ And maybe I'll love you." One of the highlights of the Fab Four's Rubber Soul LP.

2. The Stills/Young Band: Long May You Run, 1976

PLAINTIVE tribute, on album by Neil Young and occasional cohort Stephen Stills, about Young's first-ever car, a 1948 Buick Roadmaster hearse. "Well, it was back in Blind River in 1962/ When I last saw you alive/ But we missed that shift on the long decline/ Long may you run..."

3. The Beach Boys: Little Deuce Coupe (1963)

FROM the classic album of the same name. "Like many of rock's early artistic statements, [the album] was inspired by a subject of teenage fascination, in this case the hot-rod phenomenon," says Ultimate Classic Rock magazine. Sample lyric: "Well I'm not braggin' babe so don't put me down/ But I've got the fastest set of wheels in town."

4. Wilson Pickett: Mustang Sally (1966)

PICKETT'S great version of this classic hit made it into Rolling Stone magazine's poll of the 500 greatest songs of all time. The Commitments recorded it in the early 90s. "Mustang Sally, think you better slow your mustang down/ You been running all over the town now."

5. The Eagles: Ol' 55 (1974)

TOM Waits, author of this song, has often spoken about his love of old cars. He disliked the Eagles' "antiseptic" version, but that version, with its gorgeous harmonies and pedal steel, deservedly reached a vast audience.

6. Tom Robinson Band: 2-4-6-8 Motorway (1977)

Great pop single about the joys of night-time driving. "Drive my truck midway to the motorway station/ Fairlane cruiser coming up on the left-hand side/ Headlight shining, driving rain on the window frame..."

How to make the most of Scotland

Scotland has topped a list of the world’s most beautiful countries as voted by Rough Guides readers. Here’s how to make the most of your trip.

1) Drive slower and smarter. Your vehicle will get better fuel efficiency and emit fewer greenhouse gases by avoiding hard accelerations or slamming on the brakes. Remove heavy items, roof racks and bike carriers when not in use. Check tyres regularly: if they are under-inflated, this can reduce fuel efficiency and release more harmful pollutants into the air.

2) Don’t let environmentally-friendly habits slip when you travel. Recycle, avoid products with unnecessary packaging and take litter home with you.

3) Eat local produce and support homegrown businesses that prioritise responsible sourcing, manufacturing and recycled materials.

4) If staying overnight consider eco-friendly accommodation such as hotels, hostels, lodges, cottages and cabins with carbon neutral footprints.

5) Stick to the path. If you are out walking or hiking, it may seem harmless to take a short cut off sign-posted routes, but it could be that you’re treading unnecessarily through the delicate ecosystem of protected or endangered plants and animals.