From 25 April 2023, ferry travel is no longer included within the Scottish Grand Tour pass. Any ferry travel should be purchased separately and directly from www.calmac.co.uk
Read about photographer Little Scottish One's adventure as she completes the Scottish Grand Tour.
I’m passionate about showcasing beautiful Scotland, so when ScotRail asked if I’d like to try out their Grand Tour travel pass , I jumped at the chance. The pass covers a circular route of the country, taking in city hubs and remote landscapes – including some of my favourite places and many more I was keen to discover.
Day 1 - Departing Glasgow for the Highlands
My journey began in Glasgow, Scotland’s biggest city which offers a blend of galleries, stunning architecture, shops and vibrant nightlife. I’m originally from Edinburgh and there’s a long running (but friendly) ‘love/hate’ relationship between the two cities. I have to admit though, it is one of the most exciting cities you’ll ever visit. Its position on the western part of Scotland makes it the perfect gateway to some of the best parts of the Scottish Highlands so it’s the ideal place to begin my Grand Tour.
Arriving first into Inverness station, we dropped our luggage in the handy self-service lockers and made the short walk through the city, up towards Inverness Castle. We wanted to get the best view overlooking the city so headed up the Castle Viewpoint which offered uninterrupted 360-degree views of the Highland Capital and surrounding scenery.
Whilst wandering through the Castle grounds, which also houses Inverness Sheriff Court (unfortunately it isn’t open to the public) I spotted a little pub with a beer garden. With a few hours before our next train, we popped in to The Castle Tavern. As the sun was shining, it would’ve been rude not to, especially with its great views looking back over the castle.
Before we knew it, we were heading back to the station. The next part of our trip would take us along The Kyle Line , one of Scotland’s six ‘Great Scenic Rail Journeys' and it did not disappoint. This is a beautiful train journey, the variety of scenery along the way is outstanding with pretty coastal views from Inverness to Dingwall, before heading inland towards Loch Garve with large dramatic mountains everywhere. We indulged in some deer spotting while the line descended through woodland to Strathcarron, before re-joining the coast and reaching our next destination, the picturesque village of Plockton.
We got off at the quaint little station and walked into the village which is just 15 minutes from the station. We arrived just in time to enjoy a delicious meal at The Plockton Inn before wandering down to the harbour to soak up the peaceful panoramic views across Loch Carron, we were lucky enough to enjoy the most magical pink glow on the mountains as the sun set.
Day 2 - Plockton to Skye
Rising early to make the most of our time in Plockton, we went for a wander around the village. Photos just cannot do justice to the tranquillity and charm of this little place and it’s a must stop on the Grand Tour. Make sure to visit The Plockton Craft Shop which has delicious home-made tablet. With a heavy heart, we boarded the train from Plockton to Kyle of Lochalsh again soaking up more of those incredible Kyle Line views. We took the bus, included in our Grand Tour ticket, from Kyle of Lochalsh to the Isle of Skye and were treated to yet more incredible scenery on the way.
After a leisurely wander around and a hearty lunch in the Granary, we headed off on our next adventure. We joined Stardust Portree Boat Trip for the ultimate wildlife watching experience.
Cruising out of Portree harbour we spotted several sea eagles and lots of seals. The skipper was friendly and very informative and after a visit to see lots of jumping salmon at the fish farms we set off back to land.
It was time to find some dinner and as you would expect in the Scottish islands, seafood features heavily on most menus and rightly so. I opted for a giant bowl of locally caught west coast mussels and enjoyed my first taste of the creamy Skye Gold, a smooth golden craft ale brewed locally on the Isle of Skye (more on that later!). With a busy day ahead of us, we got an early night, excited to explore more of Scotland’s Land of Fairies.
Day 3 - Exploring the Isle of Skye
Tour Skye collected us the next day from the square in Portree, where we set off north to start our day of exploring. Our tour guide for the day was Rob, and he was brilliant, sharing all his local knowledge and stories along the way.
First up was The Old Man of Storr; The Storr walk is well pathed and takes you up past the ‘Old Man’ a large pinnacle of rock. This is a reasonably steep walk but the dramatic landscape and fantastic viewpoints make it worth the effort.
Back on the bus we travelled further North, stopping to watch local farmers shearing their sheep by the side of the road, a real insight into island life!
Our next stop was Kilt Rock with its distinctive pillars and beautiful waterfall, and then it was on to the Staffin Dinosaur Museum which is inside a little croft house. Here we learned all about the fascinating collection of fossils found on Skye. The most interesting item for me was the perfectly preserved footprints of a dinosaurs and their offspring.
Our lunch stop was a very pleasant surprise. We went to Mackenzie’s Store where we enjoyed the yummiest freshly made chicken curry wrapped in naan bread, well worth including in your Grand Tour itinerary!
Next, The Quiraing. The cliffs and stunning coastal views are like no place you have ever seen! The tour continued along the top of the island where we saw traditional black houses, the grave of Flora MacDonald and witnessed some of the Jurassic coastline we had learned about earlier in the day.
Passing through Uig we were treated to a quick stop at the Isle of Skye Brewery and having tasted their ales the previous evening, I knew I was going to enjoy this! After a sample of their ‘Cuillin Beast’ which is a staggering 7%, it was on to our final stop of the day, the charming Fairy Glen. We stretched our legs and explored the grassy hilltops of this quaint little place. If you let your imagination take over it is not difficult to see where the glen gets its nickname from.
Our time on Skye was nearly over so we made sure to enjoy one last stroll around Portree before we headed on to the next stage of our Grand Tour the following day.
Day 4 - Skye to Mallaig
We awoke to glorious sunshine and took the local bus from Portree towards Armadale to catch the 1pm CalMac Ferry (not included in the pass). Without a cloud in the sky we departed for Mallaig.
Sitting on the top deck of the ferry we had spectacular views across to the mountains of mainland Scotland and of course the dramatic Cuillins of Skye. We even spotted a pod of dolphins, a first for me!
Arriving in Mallaig we made the short walk to The West Highland Hotel where we would be staying that night. Set in a prime location on the highest spot in the town, the hotel is very welcoming with a large traditional reception hall and bar area. We enjoyed a relaxed dinner as the sun was setting, out on the terrace with spectacular views of the Isle of Eigg, Rum and the Cuillins of southern Skye. Our room was lovely and we were lucky enough to enjoy a colourful sunset to finish off a wonderful day.
Day 5 - Riding the West Highland Line to Fort William
After a lovely stay, we made the short walk to Mallaig station where we travelled along the West Highland Line , Scotland’s most scenic railway journey and undoubtedly one of the most incredible in the world.
We passed the beautiful white beaches of Morar and Arisaig before arriving at Glenfinnan station and then travelling across the famous Glenfinnan viaduct, set in an amphitheatre of mountains, overlooking Loch Shiel and the Glenfinnan Monument. To be so high up in such dramatic scenery while imagining you are off to Hogwarts, was a unique experience.
We arrived in Fort William, somewhere I’ve enjoyed visiting previously so I was keen to do something I’d never done before. We headed to the Nevis Range, which has Britain’s only mountain gondola.
We enjoyed the 10-minute ride up on the gondola, through the woodland before reaching the top at around 2000ft on the north face of Aonach Mor, the eighth highest mountain in Britain. Even though it was a little cloudy, we could still see for miles and miles.
There are two viewpoints to visit, both with really spectacular views. Look out for mountain bikers as they whizz by on the trails below, I was so impressed with their fearless speed! There is also a nice café at the top if you fancy a cold pint or hot chocolate with a view.
Back down at sea level we enjoyed a wander around the little town of Fort William spotting lots of lovely shops and The Lime Tree, a purpose-built gallery space that had a wonderful collection of artwork on display.
We sampled a few drinks and food in a local pub, savouring every minute of our last night on our Grand Tour, tomorrow we’d be making our final journey home.
Day 6 - Time to head home
We were sad to be heading home, but beautiful Scotland turned on the charm. Our journey home took us once more on the West Highland Line and there was barely a dull moment. I laugh now at the idea that I’d bought a magazine to read.
We passed some of the most isolated stations, notably Corrour (made famous by Trainspotting) where two excited young men alighted ready to start a day in the surrounding mountains with not another person or road in sight.
We were quickly approaching home with views of Loch Lomond, Loch Long and the Arrochar Alps whizzing by. Our view changed to urban landscapes before we knew it, we were back where we started just a few days ago.
I hadn’t travelled that far north in over 10 years so to re-explore Scotland with a fresh set of eyes was exciting. The idea of being a tourist in your own country may seem strange to some, but I love it.
This trip has been an eye opener. Travelling to the Highlands of Scotland by public transport really isn’t as difficult as it may sound and in fact, travelling by train is an incredibly rewarding way to experience the true beauty of Scotland.