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From Edinburgh to Inverness - which route?

Coming up in a few weeks, I'll be driving from Edinburgh to Inverness, and I'm wondering about the best route for me. The plan is to do this drive in a day - admittedly, a long day with lots of driving, punctuated by regular (but brief) stops to enjoy the scenery and a few of the more noteworthy sites along the way. I know this will not be a high speed motorway (that's OK), and I know much of the route will be beautiful (that's great), I'm just trying to pick the optimum route that balances speed/efficiency and scenery (I know we'll get mostly scenery, maybe not a lot of speed/efficiency). We would like to finish this route along the Caledonian Canal/Loch Ness, so we can make the obligatory Nessie stop (silly as that is, my dear wife wants to) and Urquhart castle.

I see several possible ways to do this trip. Opinions on the merits of each?

  1. The route that appears most "direct" would be taking M90 north, west of Edinburgh, via Perth, then following A9 through Pitlochry, Kingussy, Carrbridge, etc. However, this would bypass the Caledonian Canal/Loch Ness/Urquhart castle so it doesn't seem like the right route for us.
  2. Edinburgh, Falkirk, Stirling via M9, then to Glencoe and Fort William, via either A811-A82 (Dryman, Balloch, Inveruglas) or A84-A85 (CallanderStrathyre, Auchlyne), on through Crianlarich and Tyndrum - from Tyndrum, either west on A85 (to Connel) and north on A828, or north and then west on A82 (Achallader, Altnafeadh, Glencoe), in all cases following A82 from Corran to Fort William and eventually to Inverness.

Some version of route #2 above seems like it would provide a nice mix of scenery (an understatement, I know) but would still be do-able in an (admittedly long) day. But I'm not sure which variation to follow. Any opinions from those that know the area?

And yes, I do know that this is a long drive, though some of Scotland's most scenic regions. We do have just one day to make this drive. I'm just trying to make the best of it. Which way would you recommend?

Thank you!

Posted by
244 posts

Check out Secret Scotland website here. They have many driving itineraries that include scenic stops along the way. We bought some for our trip to Scotland in September!

Posted by
1280 posts

It would be a long day either way, the A82 route will be much longer than the A9 which is a better road. But as always it depends on what you want to see on and off the road. Once you get to just after Glencoe the A82 follows the Great Glen, the diagonal seismic fault that runs through Scotland. That includes the full length of Loch Ness.

The A9 runs up the centre of the country and you would need to plan in advance where to stop because it has been designed to be a main fast route, and is being upgraded, between central Scotland and Inverness, so bypasses a lot of places.

If I was going to the north I tend to go one way and back the other.

Posted by
977 posts

The route which takes you through Glencoe and The Great Glen without a doubt. Have recently done this route. Spectacular scenery.

Posted by
5011 posts

Thanks for the replies so far.

We will only be driving one way (flying back to London from Orkney), so we only get one bite of the apple (er, haggis...).

Yes, in either case our intermediate goal is to get to Glencoe/Fort William, then from there to Inverness I think it's a (scenic) no-brainer along A82 and the great loch/canal/seismic ditch. Really my question is which way to get to Glencoe/Fort William (after that, it's pretty obvious)?

The first goal would be to get from Edinburgh to Crianlarich. I see two ways that look reasonable: first, via Falkirk, Stirling, Callander, to Crianlarich (A84 - A85 ). Or, from Edinburgh we could zoom west on the motorway through Glasgow and to Dumbarton, then go North/Northwest, past Luss, Ardlui, to Crianlarich (A82).

From Crianlarich and Tyndrum, it looks like there are two logical routes: either go "north then west" (Crianlarich, Tyndrum, Achallader, Altnafeadh, Glencoe - A82), or go "west then north" (Crianlarich, Tyndrum, Dalmally, Connel, then along the coast north to Glencoe - A85, A828).

Eirther way, once we got to Glencoe (North Ballachulish, actually) then it's just A82 all the way to Inverness.

I'm assuming that pretty much ALL of the scenery along all of the routes I've mentioned is going to be good eye-candy. Any of these stand out as particularly better or problematic in any way?

Thanks again!

Posted by
1280 posts

My recommendation would be the A82 from Crianlarich up to Ft William. This way will take you over Rannoch Moor and down through Glencoe itself. It cuts off the corner, but if you get Rannoch Moor in the right weather and light conditions it is unbeatable.

Posted by
5011 posts

Thanks, MC, exactly the info I was looking for. Two follow-up questions, if I may...

  1. You say this is your recommendation (at least in part) because "if you get Rannoch Moor in the right weather and light conditions it is unbeatable". Of course, there's no way to know in advance how the weather will be that day. But we will probably have some sense of the weather there on the morning we set out from Edinburgh. If the weather looks awful (continuous, driving rain) would the more coastal route be a better pick - or would you still give the A82 route the nod (of course, if it's raining hard across Rannoch Moor, it may be raining hard along the coast, to, but perhaps not - I'm assuming I'l be able to get current weather conditions online before we set out).

  2. Assuming we do head off for Crianlarich (which I think is likely), which way would you recommend to get there from Edinburgh?
    There's (Option A) the M9 to Stirling (we could pause for a quick peek at the castle there, and check out the William Wallace monument), then take A84-A85 to Crianlarich (via Callanfer, Strathyre, Auchlyne). Or the other way (Option B) would be heading for Glasgow on the motorway, through Dumbarton, then north on A82 along Loch Lomond, through Ardlui and Inverarnan to Crianlarich. This looks like a tough call to me - Option A looks to be MAYBE a little more direct (although maybe more hilly?) but offers a peek at Stirling Castle and the Wallace monument. Option B might be faster (it starts with a good stretch of motorway) and I'm guessing that the spectacular scenery would start right after Dumbarton, and continue all along Loch Lomand & The Trossachs National Park; since most of this route is along the shore of waterways, I'm guessing it's relatively flat, though possibly with lots of twists and curves. So....if you could only pick one way to get from Edinburgh to Crianlarich, which way would you choose? I'm quite torn.

Many thanks for your insights!

Posted by
1280 posts

The thing with the weather on Rannoch Moor is it has to be utterly awful for it not to be stunning. Despite being on the main route to the West Highlands you do feel you are in the middle of nowhere. One of the best memories I have of driving the A82 was coming back through Glencoe and then over the moor in a storm. Then again, that may be just me.

From Edinburgh I would suggest going via Stirling rather than Glasgow and Dumbarton and then up the A84 via Doune and Callander. The section of the A82 via on the shores of Loch Lomond is very twisty and narrow, although it is being improved. In terms of where your start and finish is I'd stick with the Stirling route.

Posted by
5011 posts

Perfect - I believe that is the way we shall go. A BIG thank you for helping me sort this out - much appreciated!

Posted by
453 posts

David, I did the Crianlarich via Callanfer, Strathyre, Auchlyne route through Glencoe to Ft. William across the moor and it was awesome! With a bit of jet lag it made for a long afternoon from EDI to Fort William so be sure you are rested before taking this route especially since you are continuing on to Inverness. By all means plan in a few stops to view the scenery! As the driver I was too much locked into driving to truly enjoy the moor and Glencoe but was able in the following days to return to those areas and soak in the beauty. Make some stops. I returned via A9 after a visit out to the Isle of Skye and there is no comparison in the beauty of the two routes, the only thing to consider is that the northern A9/M90 route is easier on the driver as the roads are wide and comfortable to drive! Go through Glencoe!

Posted by
5559 posts

I agree. If you have the time and the stamina take the route through Glencoe. As MC says, unless the weather is terrible, it is worth it.

So perhaps the next question might be, how would we define terrible? I hope MC chime in, as I'm interested to hear what he thinks is terrible. I do know that we drove from the Black Isle to Applecross and back one day. It poured rain all the way, the mountains absolutely wept water, but the sun came out when we were in Applecross and it was beautiful. So, I think that my definition of awful, is if there is going to be truly black cloud pouring rain in the west all day and into the evening. You need to watch a Scottish TV station to get the weather, as I think that sometimes the BBC has a black cloud over all of Scotland just on principle. Again, would love to know MC's recommendation!