Nic Freeman

Sharing the wonders of travel & everyday adventures

The road to Glasgow, Scotland: the Highlands, Ben Nevis and Loch Lomond

When you look at the squiggly black line on a map, it’s hard to know what is in store for you on the road ahead. That 3cm patch of green ‘vegetation’  never quite translates to those tumbling fields of pastel green, the scraggly woodland thickets or proud lines of Scottish pines; that blob of blue is hard to interpret as the white rapids gushing from the black mountains above.

One of my favourite things about travelling the UK in a Wicked campervan is daily serendipity inherent in the adventure. No matter how much you read or plan or scour the map, you never quite know where you’ll end up, what you’ll find there or how deeply the unexpected wilderness will touch you.

 Panda Wicked van loves the views - The Highlands, Scotland

The roads from Isle of Skye to Glasgow in Scotland seem made for such an adventure; they meander past grand views of the highlands and the UK’s highest peak, Ben Nevis, before skirting the glassy waters of Loch Lomond and into Scotland’s biggest city, Glasgow. We covered most of the 200 miles in just a day, but the varying landscapes that we saw along the way were enough to fill a whole holiday.

The Highlands

Uncompromisingly rugged with its rich earthy palette, rocky slopes and wiry shrubs, the Highlands is where I felt I’d found the real Scotland. Within this bold wilderness you’ll find long-haired cows, multi-coloured sheep, broad Scottish accents and the traditional Gaelic tongue, all of which are apparently characteristic of the ‘Highlands’ that spread roughly north of Glasgow, Sterling and Edinburgh to the tip of the country. 

We took the A87 road from Skye, through the areas of Skye and Lochalsh and Inverness, Lochness and Nairn, stopping often to take photographs and stare at gallant ranges and moody moors and marshes.

 The Highlands, ScotlandThe Highlands, ScotlandThe Highlands, Scotland

Fort William and Ben Nevis

Our original itinerary had included a full day to hike around Ben Nevis, but as we pulled into the nearby town of Fort William with the windscreen wipers pumping full speed, we were less than enthusiastic to get outside in our waterproofs. It was all quite disappointing unfortunately. The Ben Nevis area is well-known for outdoorsy delights – hiking, cycling, even skiing in the winter months – but it is also an area best enjoyed when the wind is not blowing sideways and rain is not nearing the ‘sleet’ stage. 

Fort William serves as a very practical hub for activities in surrounding Glen Nevis (national park area) but otherwise has few attractions to note. We popped in for a quick coffee, then kept driving south, catching glimpses of the Ben Nevis peak through the shifting fogs as we went.

Loch Lomond

Reflecting the pink and green hues of the surrounding hills, Loch Lomond is a delight to the eye. We drove the A82 from Fort William to just outside of Glasgow, following the complete western edge of the glassy loch. As the road ducked in and out of mossy woodlands, the rain decided to clear, leaving the proverbial storm cloud behind us and only crisp, clean air to carry the peaceful loch views.

Being a couple of weeks into my career as a Wicked camper, I was particularly impressed by the frequent ‘Respect’ signs pinned to trees along the loch; a sign of Scotland’s healthy approach to the joys and rights of campers in their country. (Read more about the rules below).

Loch Lomond, ScotlandLoch Lomon, Respect, camping Scotland

Glasgow

Only an hour from the national capital, Edinburgh, Scotland’s big sister, Glasgow has a much more robust, matter-of-fact feel. While still offering a hearty menu of urban culture, a grungy nightlife and some pretty historical buildings, Glasgow does it all with a edge of industrialism and a charming tint of soot. Ashton Lane, Glasgow, ScotlandMerchant Square, Glasgow, ScotlandGlasgow, Scotland

Sadly, Glasgow doesn’t offer much in the way of city-accessible campsites, especially in the winter months. So, unwilling to compromise on proximity, we decided to make the situation work for us:  we drove Panda right on into the city centre, parked in a hotel and let her take a load off for a couple of days.

Once in the city, it was easy to scout the inner shopping district spurring off along Buchanan Street, where chain stores have spread like cane toads across the broad boulevards. We found the more vintage, boutique and quirky stores and eateries in West End, which is on the western side of the M8, about a 30 minute walk up Woodlands Road or Argyle Street.

Kelvingrove art gallery and museum, Glasgow, Scotland

After spending the previous five days in the Scottish wilderness, both Dave and I were craving some cafe time, some art and a bit of intellectual engagement. Glasgow provided all of the above, with book time in Biblocafe, floating heads in  the aged but lovely halls of The Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, and an Aye Write lecture at the Mitchell Library

Kelvingrove art gallery and museum Glasgow, ScotlandBiblocafe, Glasgow, ScotlandKelvingrove art gallery and museum Glasgow, Scotland

Tips for travelling the road from Skye to Glasgow:

Know your wild camping code and local rules in the Loch Lomond area. Of all the places we’ve wild camped, the Scottish Highlands and Loch Lomond area seemed most open and accommodation to touring folk. There is a Scottish law of the land that you can camp in a tent anywhere, private land or no, if you follow the code. This doesn’t apply to vehicles, but there are plenty of places where a campervan is acceptable. The biggest thing to remember is that camping on the east side of the loch is totally banned in certain months. Check out these sites for more info – Outdoor Access Scotland and Loch Lomond Camping Byelaws.

Be prepared for wet, cold and rugged landscapes in the Ben Nevis / Glen Nevis area. We just rocked up hoping for weather to suit some walking, but with clouds covering the peak, soggy ground and an icy wind, we thought better of it once in Fort William. There are heaps of walks around, ranging from the hardcore peak climb (where is snows for many months of the year) to loch-side strolls. www.VisitScotland.com has good basic info and the tourist info centre in the main street of Fort William is well stocked with maps, brochures etc.

Take the subway to move quickly around central Glasgow. Glasgow is a little harder to walk around than neighbouring Edinburgh. Whether it’s the 30 minute walk between the City and West End, or the 20 minute walk around the centre district and riverside, keep in mind that Glasgow streets are wide and are bigger than they look on the map. You can take the subway around the centre district (£1.40 adult single). Hill Head is the nearest station to the West End main street, Byres Road. You’ll  notice the subway is a loop and you can take the inner circle or outer circle, which just determines which direction you head in.

For a good bite to eat, a drink and a bit of atmosphere, go to…

  • ifullcoffee – this friendly, cosy cafe sits between the city centre and West End but feels like a world away. They do a mean GF salad (and I don’t say that often) and have free wi-fi (although it was a little flaky when we were there).
  • Bibliocafe – I feel like this was ‘the find’ of my Glasgow experience. Bookish, warm and serving a wide range of very yummy GF cakes, this cafe seems to attract those looking for a writing/reading nook combined with free wi-fi.
  • Baby Grand – This thriving little piano bar in Elmbank Gardens was a bit tricky to find. In the immediate vicinity there are signs for Elmbank Street, Court and Lane… but alas, no Gardens. Just head down a lane towards the M8 and you’ll find it behind a mound of scaffolding for the nearby construction site. Despite the less than promising exterior, Baby Grand has a wonderfully soothing resident pianist, super friendly staff and smells amazing as you walk in the door.
  • Otto -  In line with all the other lovely eateries in Byres Road, Otto is a chic restaurant with delicious food. This was a bit of a splash out for us, but quite well priced for anyone not on a super tight budget. I enjoyed the salmon with asparagus, a glass of red and the flicker of black and white movies mixed with lounge beats in the background.
  • Ashton Lane – this is where all the trendy Glasgow bars live. It’s hidden in behind Byres Road, the main West End restaurant and shopping strip, and offers art-house cinema, cocktail bars and traditional Scottish music. What’s not to love?!

You can also seek out Glasgow’s night life through…

  • The List – this website and cultural mag lists events for both Edinburgh and Glasgow.
  • The Gig Guide – there is a weekly list published for Glasgow. Check out the website and look for the guide in pubs and cafes.
  • The Mitchell Library – this beautiful building is also the centre for some very cool happenings. I attended a free lecture on social justice in the media by International Network of Street Press (INSP) and Amnesty International Scotland as part of the Aye Write Festival. There are plenty of other cool, nerdy events going on, so check out their website or the information in their foyer.

For other tourist-like info, check out…

Stay tuned for the next leg of the adventure – we head across grey waters to Belfast, Northern Ireland, for more scenic drives and interesting cities.


A big cheers to Wicked Campers UK for the awesome van (Panda) and for making this trip possible. Every day offers more delights!

Wicked-Camper-logo-for-sponsored-bloCheck out Wicked Campers online for hire info, travel stories and more:

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18 comments on “The road to Glasgow, Scotland: the Highlands, Ben Nevis and Loch Lomond

  1. kaie w. bird
    March 27, 2012

    Wow, such a complete travel report and great photos! That little campervan is pretty awesome, too! I’ve been to the Highlands and don’t know if I’ve seen any landscape like it. Plus the camping anywhere rule (with respect, of course, to those around) is the bestest. Great post and thanks for sharing.

  2. Nic Freeman
    March 28, 2012

    Thanks Kaie – glad you liked it. I love this little Wicked campervan (you can hire them from http://www.wickedcampers.co.uk) and love the freedom we have to get off the beaten track and into the real wilderness. I’m going to miss this van when our road trip is over. Thanks for reading!

  3. Klangspektrum
    March 29, 2012

    So many places I have to travel…

  4. The Retiring Sort
    March 29, 2012

    Thanks for the subway & cafe trips – my sister & I are hoping to get to Glasgow soon!

    • Nic Freeman
      March 29, 2012

      No worries TRS – hope you have a great trip!

  5. JamieRene
    March 29, 2012

    My boyfriend and I hope to marry in Scotland =) He’s been to the highlands, and would be taking me for the first time as his wife. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!!

    • Nic Freeman
      March 29, 2012

      Hey Jamie, Scotland would be such a beautiful place to marry. Congratulations to you too!! All the best for the wedding and the trip.

  6. Peter
    March 30, 2012

    I’ve really enjoyed this series of posts, thank you! I’m heading to Edinburgh and then Wick, then the Speyside region in May to tour several distilleries. This will be my first time in Scotland…needless to say, I’m a little excited.

  7. Heather Tamara
    March 30, 2012

    Nice post, and lovely photos. Scotland was the last stop on our RTW trip (the rest was in Asia) on the way home. Your Isle of Skye post made me want to return already, though we ran into some of the same winter issues you did. We had a Wicked camper in Australia on our first RTW in 2008-09. It was a blast!
    Tamara
    http://www.turtlestravel.wordpress.com

    • Nic Freeman
      March 30, 2012

      Hey Tamara, Thanks for your comment. So glad you liked the post. How fantastic is travelling in a Wicked Camper! I’m so glad we did it that way. It gave us so much freedom but also added a bit more character to the adventure. Thanks for reading.

  8. tradersolstice
    March 31, 2012

    A couple of years ago I arrived in Glasgow by bus and on a whim decided to hike the West Highland Way, a trail that leads from Milngavie to Fort William. I hiked past Loch Lomond and eventually climbed Ben Nevis. It was some of the most beautiful country I’ve ever seen, and quickly felt like home. Thanks for the reminders of one of my favorite traveling periods.

    • Nic Freeman
      March 31, 2012

      Hey tradersolstice – thanks for sharing your story. What an amazing adventure! I imagine walking those parts would have made for a satisfying journey. Cheers for reading.

  9. hennacornoelidays
    April 9, 2012

    Congratulations! We nominated you for a Liebster award! Briefly it is an award/ chain letter. We gave you a shout out on our site and now you are suppose to find five blogs that you like and provide a link to them. And maybe a link to us too. No pressure. This is what we wrote: http://hennacornoelidays.wordpress.com/

    • Nic Freeman
      April 9, 2012

      Hey Hennacornoelidays, thanks so much for the nomination and your kind words. It is so lovely to hear this kind of feedback after all the hard work. Glad to know there are people out there like you who enjoy what I do. Not sure I’m entitled to the nomination though, as I exceed the follower limit you outlined in your post. Thanks again!

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This entry was posted on March 27, 2012 by in Culture, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , .

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