We are two NZers and have 14 nights planned in Scotland and are self driving. Following three nights in Edinburgh we are driving to Ballater for one night then on to Inverness for two nights, then Skye and Mull for two nights each before driving back from Oban to Edinburgh through the Trossachs and Stirling. We really want to go Dunnottar Castle and it looks like the best way to do it in one day is to go via Dundee and up the East Coast. My question is: which is the best ie the quickest way to drive to Ballater for a one night stay? Via Aberdeen or back down and then up to Ballater? Any advice appreciated!
The best way from Dundee to Dunnottar Castle is to take the coast road (A92) through Arbroath and Montrose. It's not quite as fast as the A90, but it's a heck of a lot more scenic.
You can get to Ballater from Stonehaven very easily, bypassing Aberdeen. Take the A957, which is known locally as the Slug Road, out of Stonehaven. It takes you to the A93 near Crathes Castle, just east of Banchory. From there, it's an easy and scenic jaunt along the A93 to Ballater.
The Slug Road does not intersect with the A90, so if you find yourselves back on the A90 after you leave Dunnottar, you'd need to get off at Auchenblae Road and make your way through Stonehaven. The easiest way to get to the Slug Road is to take a right out of the Dunnottar car park and follow the one way road down in to Stonehaven. It's a very pretty drive, with overlooks of Stonehaven town and harbour. (The monument at the top of the hill is Stonehaven's War Memorial. There is a very small car park if you'd like to visit it.) Turn right at the bottom of the hill, then follow that road (which is the A957) in to town. Turn left at the traffic light on to Evan Street. The town square should be on your right. The Slug Road should be your fourth right. Look for signs for A957.
If you're going on to Inverness after Ballater, it's a good drive up the A939 (the Lecht Road) through Tomintoul to Grantown-on-Spey. From Grantown, you have the choice of cutting across on the A95/A938 to the A9, or continuing up the A939 to Nairn, leaving you a short drive to Inverness on the A96.
Hi Mike and many thanks for the very comprehensive response. This sounds much better than driving on to Aberdeen from Dunnottar Castle just to get to Ballater by the end of the day. And much more scenic! We have two nights in Inverness after Ballater so if you had any recommendations for Inverness and it’s surroundings I’d look forward to them. We are keen on getting away from the normal tourist things ie a bit more off the beaten track. Megan
Hi again, Megan,
As you've probably deduced from other posts on this forum, Inverness is pretty much a working class city, and there aren't a lot of scenic things to do. Most tourists stay in Inverness due to its proximity to Culloden, the Clava Cairns, Urquhart Castle, and Loch Ness.
As you're heading to Skye anyway, you probably want to head north and west on day trips while you're in Inverness. Ullapool would be a good destination if you want to head west, or maybe northwest to Laxford Bridge via Lairg, and back by way of Lochinver.
You could head north on the A9 to Golspie and Brora, or as far as Helmsdale. Thurso may be a little far for a day trip, and the scenery through the Flow Country isn't as spectacular as heading west or northwest. But what am I saying? You're from New Zealand, so much of the Scottish scenery may seem tame by comparison!
You could also head east from Inverness, along the Moray coast. Nairn, Elgin, Lossiemouth, Banff, Buckie, and all the little towns along the coast would make for a great day out. Elgin has a grand cathedral; Nairn is well known for its association with Charlie Chaplin, who used to take his holidays there; Findhorn is well known for its utopian community; and Lossiemouth has one of the best beaches on the Moray coast.
Hope that gives you a start. You may want to check out one of the more comprehensive guides, like Lonely Planet or Rough Guide, for more information.
Don't let me put you off Inverness. There are some nice town walks, and excellent shopping. You didn't say when you're travelling, but from June through the end of August, Inverness can be overrun with tourists, making crossing streets on foot quite an adventure. If you're interested in the more traditional type of Scottish folk music, you can often find decent music at The Gellions, on Bridge Street, or Hootenanny, around the corner on Church Street.
Best wishes for your travels!
p.s.: If you're going directly to Mull after Skye, you may want to consider taking the Kilchoan to Tobermory ferry. There's a great scenic drive from Lochailort on the A830 down to Kilchoan, and sailing in to Tobermory harbour is a treat. If you go that way, you avoid having to go all the way east to Fort William, and down the A82/A85 to Oban. Check it out on a map and see what you think.
HiMike. Who needs Lonely Planet or Rough Guide after all your very helpful advice?? Really appreciate the tips especially around Inverness. We are in Scotland from mid August so suspect we will hit some of the tourist season, but all part of the fun. I’d heard that Inverness was more of a base and I’m glad we have two full days there to do at least some of the things you have suggested. And appreciate also the advice re the ferry to Mull as I was just about to book it from Oban. Will re think that as I’m sure I read somewhere that you can’t book the other ferries. Might just take our chances. Thanks again, Megan
Hi again, Megan,
You were right about the Kilchoan to Tobermory ferry. It's one of a very few ferries that can't be pre-booked. Claonaig to Lochranza is another. You just show up and get on board. You can prepay, but you can't pre-book. You may be able to put together an Island Hopscotch ticket (Armadale - Mallaig, Kilchoan - Tobermory, Craignure - Oban) and save a few pounds.
The last part of the drive from Lochailort to Kilchoan, on the B8007, is one of the best road trips in Scotland. The views over Loch Sunart and the Sound of Mull are amazing, and if the gate to Glenborrodale Castle is open, you should take a look at the building.
I've taken the Kilchoan to Tobermory ferry three times, and it has never been close to being full. Best to get to the ferry slip about half an hour before departure time, just to be on the safe side. It operates about seven times per day.
I trust that you have already sorted out accommodation for Skye and Mull. They get fairly well socked in in August.
Best wishes once again!