The South-West Coastal 300

300 miles (approximately 400 if driving from the Central Belt). 2-3 days

What makes it so special? Quiet roads and the best climate in the country.

Whether you’re a flesh-and-blood motoring anorak or merely fond of a bimble when the sun has got his hat on, this 300-mile loop is a joy.

Officially the SW Coastal 300, it takes in stretches of East and South Ayrshire, the bulk of the Dumfries and Galloway coastline and a section from Dumfries to just north of Moffat, but the route is eminently customisable (and equally suited to two- or four-wheeled chariots, the latter preferably equipped with an optional roof).

What the journey lacks in soul-scorching views it makes up for in a low average volume of traffic, so instead of trudging through Glen Torridon nose to tail with the motorhome in front you can start the trip with a birl though the Mennock Pass and a blast across windswept moorland west of Dalmellington before a wondrous descent into Straiton and the verdant lower flanks of South Ayrshire. Hoon down the coast to Stranraer and end day one in the modest and cosseting embrace of Portpatrick.

Before noon on day two you will have visited the most southerly point on the Scottish mainland – Mull of Galloway – and, if you’re tuned into your inner Monty Don, the horticultural paradise of Logan Botanic Garden, whose thriving specimens from Chile, New Zealand and Asia are testament to the area’s balmy climate. Soon you will be easing down the lazy straights and sweeping bends on the west coast of the Machars peninsula past Elrig and Monreith – site of a bronze otter statue in memory of author, naturalist and son of Elrig, Gavin Maxwell – and on to Whithorn, before heading north to Wigtown and then into Wicker Man territory – Newton Stewart, Creetown, Gatehouse of Fleet.

Scotland's 10 greatest drives: Part one 

For the third and final day it’s a delightful scoot east through Kirkcudbright and Dalbeattie along the supple A711 to Dumfries – normal traffic takes the A75, leaving this road appreciably quieter than many coastal routes.

Two hours later and you’re as good as home, so take your time and stop wherever you want for as long as you want. Dundrennan, Rockcliffe, Carsethorn and New Abbey have plenty to offer, all of it with a sedate flavour. Did we call it a three-day loop? Make it five. Life is for living.

Pit stop: The Crown Hotel, Portpatrick. Fresh seafood, locally-brewed beers and a communal vibe make for a revitalising combo.


A939 Braemar to Grantown-on Spey via the Lecht

59 miles, allow two-three hours with stops

What makes it so special? Steep gradients, sweeping bends, ski centre and the smell of whisky

The road encompasses miles of stunning views through twisty hairpin corners, high elevations and steep grades and has gained infamy over the years as it is normally the first one in Scotland to be closed by snow and it doesn’t even have to be winter.

Turning left off the A93 Deeside road near Balmoral Castle, the road immediately changes with wide, sweeping bends climbing high over the rolling foothills of the Cairngorms before the ancient humpback Bridge of Gairn has to be tackled, which is not one for the faint-hearted.

Eventually the road joins the A944 and up towards the interesting part of the drive – from Cockbridge to Tomintoul.

Passing Corgarff Castle, a lonely but imposing white castle the road immediately starts a steep rise upwards in a one in 20 gradient, one of the steepest in the British Isles.

The road layout is fantastic with beautiful curves mixed with some rollercoaster-like ups and downs that makes you think you maybe should have skipped that piece of cake on your last coffee stop.

It is not for the weak-hearted but a viewpoint at the top offers magnificent views down Strathdon, over the Lecht to the mighty Cairngorms in the distance. Being in the heart of whisky country the air can be filled with the smell of drams from a nearby distillery.

Scotland's 10 greatest drives: Part one 

Exercise extreme caution when passing on-coming traffic, over-taking and around corners in this formerly important military road, which is a high mountain scenic drive, climbing up several passes: Dava Moor 1053 ft (321m); Bridge of Brown 1436 ft (438m); Lecht Ski Centre 2090 ft (637m) and Gairnshiel Summit 1836 ft (550m).

Then after that, you are left to tackle the zig-zagging 1 in 20 gradient back down towards Tomintoul. A road that should not be missed out on.

Pit stop: The Lecht ski centre, various hotels in Tomintoul


A830 Fort William to Mallaig Road to the Isles

45 miles, take as long as you need but it takes one hour without stopping

What makes it so special? Neptune’s Staircase, best view of Ben Nevis, Glenfinnan, Local Hero beach, Harry Potter.

The Road to the Isles is possibly Scotland’s most famous and scenic drive and should be enjoyed at a leisurely pace.

Leaving Fort William, turn left and a few miles in you will pass Neptune’s Staircase, a series of eight locks built by Thomas Telford to take boats from Loch Linnhe to start the long journey north up the Caledonian Canal.

Driving further along past Loch Eil the road suddenly becomes stunning with rugged mountain scenery towering above you.

Then you will arrive at Glenfinnan, where Bonnie Prince Charlie raised his standard at the start of the Jacobite Rising in 1745. The monument is on the left at the head of Loch Shiel, and offers spectacular views straight down the loch. Glenfinnan is also home to the famous viaduct which features in the Harry Potter films and attracts thousands of fans every year hoping to catch a glimpse of the daily steam train as it crosses on its way to Mallaig.

Glenfinnan stations is also home to a café in a railway carriage, which offers great home baking as you sit on a train carriage seat.

Further along you will pass two more lochs Eilt and Ailort before you cross the Ardnish peninsula to each Loch Nan Uamh where there is a stone that marks the spot where Charlie left Scottish soil in September 1746 in a French frigate and never set foot in Scotland again.

It is here where the road skirts the coast and offers views of the small isles of Rum, Egg and Muck before you hit Arisaig. The road actually bypasses the village but take the old coast road from Arisaig which takes you past beaches of silvery sands and sea views of the islands. At the end you comes across the famed white sands of Morar and Camusderach beach which featured in Local Hero. The spectacular dunes and white sand make it a popular spot for families and offers spectacular views to nearby Rum.

Morar is next and it is home to the deepest freshwater loch in Scotland, Loch Morar, which is also said to have its own monster, called Morag. The loch also offers stunning views of the distant Knoydart Peninsula.

Scotland's 10 greatest drives: Part one 

From here it’s on to journey’s end at Mallaig, a picturesque fishing port with great fish and chip stops. You can get a ferry to Skye or the Small Isles or a boat to Inverie on Knoydart and the chance of a beautiful lunch at the remotest pub in the UK, the Old Forge.

Pit stop: Glenfinnan Dining Car, Arisaig hotel


Trotternish Circuit, Skye

50 miles, allow two-three hours with stops

What makes it so special? Majestic rock formations, waterfalls and dinosaur footprints.

From Portree, head north east up the A855 where the spellbinding landscape of the Trotternish peninsula will soon make itself known as the Old Man of Storr looms into view alongside the dark waters of Loch Fada and Loch Leathan.

Continuing north there’s photo opportunities aplenty, first at majestic Lealt Falls and then the commanding Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls at Ellishadder. The small township is home to the Staffin Dinosaur Museum which has an internationally acclaimed collection of fossils.

This corner of Skye is world-renowned in palaeontology circles. Just off the main road through Staffin, megalosaurus footprints can be seen at An Corran beach, while a bit further up the coast there is a sauropod trackway on a rocky tidal platform near Duntulm Castle.

At Staffin, you have a choice to make. You can either carry on north up the A855 and follow the road as it loops past Flodigarry, Duntulm and Kilmuir towards Uig or you can take the minor road that crosses the peninsula to Uig via the Quiraing.

The Quiraing, formed by a massive landslip that has created towering cliffs, elevated plateaus and pinnacles of rock, is breathtakingly beautiful – and boasts a starring role in films such as Macbeth, The BFG and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.

If you continue on the A855, Flodigarry was the home of 18th-century heroine, Flora MacDonald, who aided Bonnie Prince Charlie’s escape after his defeat at Culloden. Her grave is at Kilmuir where there is also a memorial to the late fashion designer Alexander McQueen.

Both routes will bring you into Uig where you can begin the journey south down the A87, back towards Portree. A must visit for many visitors is the Fairy Glen which, just outside Uig, is around a mile-and-a-half along a single-track road.

The remainder of the drive to Portree offers varied scenery including crofts, farmland and heather-strewn roadsides. Keep an eye out for birds of prey soaring overhead.

Pit stop: A hot chocolate at Single Track Art Gallery & Espresso Bar in Kilmaluag


Electric Brae, Ayrshire

Half-a-mile stretch of the A719 between Drumshrang and Knoweside.

What makes it so special? Lovely views and a properly mysterious ‘gravity hill’.

Where else can you defy gravity and make your car magically roll uphill? The Electric Brae, or Croy Brae, is a mysterious stretch of road long celebrated by locals and tourists alike – even US President Dwight D Eisenhower took his friends along to have a shot at it during a stay at nearby Culzean Castle. It is a thrill to drive along it for children, especially if you fill their heads with tales of buried magnets, magical forces at work and even a strange kink in the planet’s gravitational field accounting for the weird effect. As usual, the truth is so much more boring, as it’s just an optical illusion – the west end of the brae, overlooking the railway viaduct, is actually 17 feet higher than the eastern end, towards Craigencroy Glen. The so-called "uphill" slope, in other words, is actually at the bottom of the hill, but the brain is tricked into believing otherwise.

Scotland's 10 greatest drives: Part one 

Pit stop: The parking lane at the side of the road, helpfully installed by the local council to stop cars randomly stopping on the main carriageway as people try out the gravity hill for themselves, is great. The rest of the A719, which runs along the South Ayrshire coastline and through the East Ayrshire countryside, is lovely too, with stunning views out to the Isle of Arran and Ailsa Craig.


The Cairn o’Mount road

22 miles … allow an hour-and-a-half, including stops.

What makes it so special? Winding roads, spectacular views, ancient woodland, history, leaping salmon … you name it.

You’ll know this road from the traffic reports – “the snowgates are closed on the Banchory to Fettercairn road” – and if you’re heading north to Banchory or Royal Deeside it’s a great alternative to the main A90.

From Edzell – make sure you allow time to wander about here before you begin – head to Fettercairn (if you like whisky, why not drop in to the distillery?) and then up into the mountains. The road gets so seriously steep, it’s like you’re climbing into the sky, and at the top of the Cairn o’ Mount, the view doesn’t disappoint, and a stop to see the giant cairn is essential. On the way down to Banchory, you really feel you’re in Deeside, with patches of Caledonian forest just waiting to be explored. Then, as a final treat, stop at the Bridge of Feugh (if you’re lucky, you’ll see salmon leaping the falls) before arriving in Banchory just in time for an ice cream at the Mackie’s shop.

Pit stops: Fettercairn, and the Clatterin' Brig café just before the climb into the mountains.


Glasgow to Ullapool

225 miles, around four-and-a-half hours

A journey right up the middle of Scotland that takes in forests, rivers, firths, lochs and mountains.

I have a soft spot for the A9. Yes, I know, the lorries and caravans on this main artery from the central belt to Inverness slow you down, and the overtaking can be perilous. But when it comes to quickly transporting and transitioning you from one world to another, lowland to highland, the A9 holds its own. Leaving the city behind in a flash, the M9 provides magnificent views of Stirling Castle and the Wallace Monument, and by the time you join the A9 just before Dunblane, the feel of the landscape has already moved on from town to country. As the drive through Perthshire gets greener and the hills start to roll, you glimpse flashes of the mighty Tay. Onwards north towards the Cairngorms, the signs for Killiecrankie remind you that this peaceful landscape was long fought over. North of Aviemore, the approach to Inverness, across the Kessock Bridge with the Beauly Firth on one side and the Moray Firth on the other, is simply stunning, and before you know it you’re in heading to the wilder west and the landscape changes again, becoming more rugged and remote as the peaks grow higher. Ullapool’s cheerful harbour, with its colourful houses and wonderful seafood is a most welcome sight, whether you’re going on by ferry to Stornoway or staying put.

Pit stop: The Druie Café on the Rothiemurchus Estate, just outside Aviemore, is the perfect lunch spot, serving delicious local produce – the estate-reared beef is superb – in stunning surroundings.


Glenrothes to St Andrews

20 miles, 35 minutes

A beautiful drive through the Howe of Fife, the rural heartland of this ancient Kingdom, on to its crowning glory.

Head northwards from the new town of Glenrothes on the A92 and within five minutes you’re already in rolling countryside. The pretty villages of Kettlebridge, Balmalcolm and Pitlessie – subject of one of Scotland’s greatest paintings, Pitlessie Fair by David Allan – are surrounded by fertile fields that overflow with soft fruit in summer. The historic county town of Cupar lies ahead, with its handsome architecture and elegant tearooms, and from there it’s on to pretty Dairsie, from where you can almost start to smell the sea. Eventually the road follows the River Eden and takes you there, and the approach to St Andrews, past the Old Course, with views over the West Sands towards the ancient spires beyond, always takes your breath away no matter how many times you’ve done it.

Scotland's 10 greatest drives: Part one 

Pitstop: The picturesque Pitlessie Village Inn offers top-notch nosh in a cosy setting, with lovely views across the Howe of Fife.


Inverness to Thurso

110 miles (two and a half hours)

What makes it so special? It takes you through the barren beauty of Sutherland and Caithness.

Get in your car in Inverness and put straight lines from your mind because this beautiful, unexpected route is made of jagged edges and steep climbs; it's like driving along a giant graph. It sticks to the north sea coast most of the way and the highlight is Berriedale - a 13 per cent gradient down into the village and a 13 per cent gradient out of it again - there's nowhere else like it in Britain. And then you're in Caithness where the trees can't fight the wind. Bleak can be beautiful.

Pit stop: The La Mirage restaurant in Helmsdale for chips as big as sailing ships (Barbara Cartland used to be a customer here and you can see her ghostly influence in the pink decor).


Galloway Country Park to Wigtown

45 miles (an hour and 10 minutes)

What makes it so special? It's surprisingly quiet, because most people are in all the obvious places like Loch Lomond or the Highlands.

Starting on the edge of the park at Dalmellington, there are various routes you can take through the park, but they're all worth it, especially if you appreciate wildlife. There's the red deer. There are the wild goats. And if you're lucky, there are the ospreys and the red kite. This route also proves it's not about the journey, it's about the destination because at the end of the 45 miles or so is Wigtown, the town with more book shops than any other in Scotland. Fill your boot with books.

Pit stop: On the way back, take a different route through the park up the A714 and stop for a late lunch at the House O'Hill Hotel, where you'll get a solid, handsome, locally sourced meal.



Bruce Springsteen: Racing in the Street (1978)

SPRINGSTEEN has hymned the automobile culture many times, but this song has an emotional power of its own. "Now some guys they just give up living/ And start dying little by little, piece by piece/ Some guys come home from work and wash up/ And go racing in the street."

Chuck Berry: Route 66 (1961)

EQUALLY, we could have chosen the 1964 version by the Rolling Stones. This standard, penned by US songwriter Bobby Troup in 1946, is an evocative travelogue of - well, Route 66. "Get your kicks on Route 66/ Well, it winds from Chicago to L.A./ More than two thousand miles all the way."

Queen: I'm In Love with My Car (1975)

UPTEMPO rocker, laden with double entendres, penned and sung by Queen drummer Roger Taylor, and long a concert staple of the band's. "The machine of a dream, such a clean machine/ With the pistons a pumpin', and the hubcaps all gleam ..."

Madness: Driving in My Car (1982)

QUIRKY but enjoyable hit by Suggs & co: "I've been driving in my car, it's not quite a Jaguar/ I bought it in Primrose Hill from a bloke from Brazil..."

Chris Rea: Driving Home for Christmas (1988)

NOT exactly a song to be enjoyed while you're cruising on the motorway in high summer, but even so this captures perfectly the anticipation of driving to be with your loved one at Christmas. "It's gonna take some time/ But I'll get there/ Top to toe in tailbacks/ Oh, I got red lights on the run/ But soon there'll be a freeway yeah/ Get my feet on holy ground ..."

Canned Heat: On the Road Again (1968)

LATE-sixties classic from acclaimed blues-and-boogie outfit. "Well, I'm so tired of crying/ But I'm out on the road again/ I'm on the road again/ But I'm so tired of crying/ But I'm out on the road again/ I'm on the road again."

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.