Happy New Year! Happy Hogmanay!
This post is a supplement to the previous post from Tuesday about visiting Edinburgh from London by train. Now that I have you as far as Edinburgh on Hogmanay (New Year celebration Edinburgh style) with the promise of a bold new year before us, what should we do? Tour Scotland, of course.
From Edinburgh, with all of Scotland set out before you like a banquet table, it's hard to beat back the urge to rent a car and travel this mystic land. The allure doubles and triples if a member of your touring party is a golfer. There are Edinburgh rental offices for Hertz at 10 Picardy Place and for Avis at 5 Westpark Place, Dalry Road. Selecting a good route for a satisfying driving tour through Scotland is only difficult becuase there is so much to chose from. Frommer's publishes a nice guide on scenic drives in Scotland. Here is a good (and free) website from About Scotland that sets out an excellent driving course using Edinburgh as your base. Note that if you click on segments of the route the About Scotland map neatly displays the driving distances and highlights.
Where to begin with a car tour of Scotland? “Go west, young man” is pretty good advice in general, the west coast being packed with great sites, but it's not as simple as that and much of the famed Scottish Highlands (north of a diagonal line from Aberdeen to Glasgow) has great scenery and historic import. The scope of car touring possibilities here is more than I can cover, so I will offer some notes, some references and defer to a detailed guide like the Frommer's Driving Tours book previously referenced. To offer a car touring gold standard for you to consider first, there is pretty much a chorus of agreement that one of the best routes is the Great Glen Way along the north side of famous Loch Ness (here is a map of the Great Glen Way that also provides an idea of Scottish topography). The southwestern end of the Great Glen Way is cited as Fort William, but I would expand that to include the striking vista of Glencoe that also has the bloody distinction of being the site of the deceitful massacre of many of the MacDonald Clan in 1691.
Let me also highlight, and pay respects to a great, informal reference for making a Scottish driving tour: Armin's Tour of Scotland. Armin planned and executed an eight-week tour of Scotland (here's a map of the route) that he reports about in great detail, with key cultural and architectural references and copious, good-quality photographs. If you are like me and appreciate a photographic preview of a destination, then you will be very pleased when you cross reference Armin's pictures with your own travel plans.
It's worth noting two particular aspects about car tours of Scotland, a note for golf enthusiasts and mention of Aberdeen. First, Aberdeen, the Granite City by the Sea, is a popular destination that isn't on many of the touring maps that tend to highlight the drama of the west coast and the Highlands. True, the east coast near Aberdeen is a little on the flat side, but this makes for lots of golf courses. The relative scenic value of the coastal drive from Edinburgh up to Aberdeen on the A92 motorway is second to the route from Perth on the A93, which travels up the Glen Shee, across the Devil's Elbow and over the Cairnwell Pass, the highest main road in Scotland (avoid in Winter). The coastal route is a straighter shot, it is more leisurely and has fishing villages and plenty of golf courses. Once in the Aberdeen region, consider staying at the Kildrummy Castle Hotel slightly west of Aberdeen. The home website for Kildrummy doesn't throw many sparks, but Tripadvisor, and several trusted travel guides heap praises on this hotel as the best in the region.
A closing note to golf enthusiasts; about fifty miles out of Edinburgh either northwest (Gleneagles) or northeast (St. Andrews), will take you to some of the finest golfing in the planet. Gleneagles, in Auchterarder, is justly famed, but St. Andrews is truly the birthplace of the sport. The drive over the Firth of Forth bridge from Edinburgh and along the coastal route (roadways 921 to 955 to 917) toward St. Andrews is striking in good weather and is often used as a scenic cycling route. The top-rated golf hotel at St. Andrews is Rufflets. [cloudtravel]