West Coast of Scotland Road-Trip Route: Ardnamurchan, Morvern & Mull
Scotland’s West Coast is ideal road-trip territory. My adventure focused on Morvern, Ardnamurchan and Mull, and it was nothing short of amazing! Discover my suggested road-trip route, with ideas on where to eat, sleep and explore – plus inspiration for some island-hopping, along the way.
This blog is part of a paid campaign to promote Scotland’s West Coast Waters
West Highland Peninsulas and the Isle of Mull are like a match made in heaven. They sit side-by-side, like super-scenic neighbours, and are connected by regular ferry crossings over the Sound of Mull. The range of sights, sounds and experiences between the two is enough to blow your wee socks off! If you’re planning a road-trip around Scotland’s West Coast, it would be rude not to show them both some love.
I don’t drive, and I have no intention of changing that anytime soon, so my version of a road-trip usually involves trains, buses and lifts from locals. There are pockets of Scotland which are largely inaccessible by public transport however, and that’s where my friends come in. Kim from Adventures Assemble stepped in as road-trip pilot for this trip, and took to the wheel with ease and confidence; while I did my best to read Google Maps correctly.
While part of this route follows the well-beaten path into the Highlands – with several iconic locations along the way – this is largely a journey through blissfully remote and stunningly beautiful destinations. Every time I locked eyes with the landscape, I felt a sharp tug on my tartan heartstrings. This is a spectacular loop, by land and sea. I loved it, and I know you will too.
I’ve deliberately not written this post as a day-by-day itinerary, so that you can choose how long to spend in each destination. Instead, I’ve detailed each section of the journey with practical information and ideas for things to see, do and experience. My advice, as always, is to take your time.
How long will this West Coast road-trip take?
To do this road-trip justice, and ensure that you’re not rushing around, allow yourself at least 7 days to complete this route at a leisurely pace. If you have less time than this, you could just focus on individual sections, for example:
- Combine Section 1 & 4 for a West Coast road-trip on the mainland
- Section 2 to focus on Morvern & Ardnamurchan
- Section 3 to explore the Isle of Mull – and visit nearby islands
There are numerous opportunities to extend your adventure onto other islands, so be sure to account for any additional island-hopping. On this trip, I also visited Tiree and Coll, and I’ve included more suggestions throughout the post.
Buckle your seatbelt, turn the tunes on, and let’s get going.
West Coast Waters
2020 is the Visit Scotland Year of Coasts & Waters, and as an avid island-hopper, you can imagine how much this floats my boat. West Coast Waters focuses specifically on the regions across Scotland’s West Coast; from Loch Lomond & the Firth of Clyde, all the way to the Outer Hebrides. The campaign promotes the many ways you can #ImmerseYourSenses, and I hope I can inspire you to do exactly that.
SECTION ONE: EDINBURGH TO MORVERN
Our journey into the Highlands was a breeze: the excitement of our forthcoming adventure carried us seamlessly through the first long drive. The brightness of the blue sky was unwavering, and the visibility was so perfect, I could see every wee detail of the mountains, and ripples on the surface on the water. Stepping outside the car, I breathed in the cool, crisp air and felt the unexpected warmth from the sun on my skin.
STOPS/THINGS TO DO
Doune Castle – if you’re a fan of Outlander or Monty Python & the Holy Grail, this well-preserved 13th century stronghold is worth a visit. The castle was also featured in Outlaw King, and in the pilot series of Game of Thrones as Winterfell.
Callander – this pretty tourist town sits at the gateway to the Highlands, the mountains ahead guiding you north. There are a couple of supermarkets where you can pick up supplies, and if you’re feeling peckish I highly recommend one of the steak and haggis pies from Mhor Bread. If you need to stretch your legs, go for a walk to beautiful Bracklinn Falls.
Loch Lubnaig – not far beyond Callander is one of my favourite lochs in Scotland. Loch Lubnaig is a taste of the scenery to come, and the water is often so glassy-still, it perfectly reflects the mountains, trees and sky. I often grab a hot drink from The Cabin then sit near the water’s edge.
Glencoe – after driving through the vast wilderness that is Rannoch Moor, you will arrive into one of Scotland’s most dramatic and breath-taking landscapes. Glencoe is very popular, and for good reason. If you can’t get a space in one of the two car parks, continue through the glen until you can find somewhere to stop, or go to Glencoe Visitor Centre to see the view from there.
Glencoe Village – Glencoe Café is a lovely wee lunch stop. I recommend the cheese & chive scones and homemade soup. Just across the road is the Glencoe Folk Museum which is well worth a visit if you have time, or if you decide to stay overnight in Glencoe. For more ideas on what to do in the area, including Glencoe Lochan, check out my blog post on Glencoe here.
Corran Ferry – when you’re ready to travel over to Morvern, catch the Corran Ferry from Nether Lochaber over to Ardgour on Ardnamurchan. This super-scenic short journey over Loch Linnhe only takes around 10-minutes and costs £8 per car (passengers are free). Please note you can’t pre-book the ferry; just turn up and wait in the queue. For more information visit the CalMac website.
Clachaig Inn, Glencoe – if you would like more time to explore the Glencoe area, I would recommend staying in this historic inn which is surrounded by mountains. Expect crackling fires, an impressive whisky collection, and good, hearty food. If you’re staying on a Friday or Saturday, there’s a good chance you’ll hear some live music.
- Read more about my experience at the Clachaig Inn here, or search for accommodation in the Glencoe area here.
SECTION TWO: MORVERN & ARDNAMURCHAN
Once you’ve arrived on these remote peninsulas, all your worries slip away. You’ll also feel inevitably smug when you don’t have to negotiate your way through crowds of tourists or queues of traffic to immerse yourself in the wild surroundings. Every time I locked eyes with the landscape, I felt a sharp tug on my tartan heartstrings. My love for Scotland intensified with every loch, mountain, and wee settlement.
STOPS/THINGS TO DO IN MORVERN
Ardtornish Gardens – these pretty gardens are wrapped around Ardtornish House, showing off a variety of vibrant foliage and flowers. The enchanting towers extend upwards from the house, peeking out over the treetops, with views right down Lochaline and across to Mull.
Nc’nean Distillery, Drimnin – this tiny, small-scale distillery is a real hidden gem. Nc’nean is Scotland’s first organic whisky distillery, and the team are working on a few exciting ideas and initiatives. They are expecting their first bottling of single malt to be ready in 2020, but in the meantime, you can do a tour of the distillery, which includes cake, cocktails, and a taste of the ‘new make’ spirit. Pre-booking is necessary.
Clach Na Criche Wishing Stone – this unusual stone dyke juts out from the rock, and has a naturally-formed hole the middle. It was once used to mark the border between Gaelic and Pictish lands, and medieval church parishes. It is believed that you’ll be granted a wish if you manage to pass through the hole three times without touching the sides. Worth a try! Personally I’d be scared to try… Outlander and all that!
Whitehouse Restaurant, Lochaline – lunch or dinner at this culinary gem is an absolute must when you’re in the area. The dishes change daily, and you can choose between two and six courses from the tasting menu, which features beautiful seasonal ingredients which are sourced or foraged from the local area. The food is unbelievably good!
STOPS/THINGS TO DO IN ARDNAMURCHAN
Kayaking with Otter Adventures – since launching the company in 2017, Karl’s kayaking trips on Loch Sunart have already been listed as one of the top things to do in the area. I you’re a first-timer, Karl is very experienced in outdoor education and will make sure you’re well looked after. The surrounding scenery is absolutely stunning, and the whole experience is good for the soul. The trips leave from Otterburn B&B in Strontian and advanced booking is recommended.
Resipoles Studios Art Gallery, Acharacle – this fine-art gallery and artists’ studios are housed within a bright and beautiful converted farm building, showcasing the work of numerous artists. The gallery is a member of the ‘Own Art’ scheme which aims to make art more accessible to all, by offering an interest-free loan for 10 months for purchases from £100 up to £2500. Very tempting!
Puffin Café, Kilchoan – this friendly wee café is a great stop on your way to Sanna Bay and Ardnamurchan Point, or for a refreshment before the ferry to Tobermory. I had a lovely cappuccino and a ‘pizza’ toastie. Yum!
Sanna Bay – this beautiful beach is an absolute jaw-dropper. Sand dunes give way to the picturesque bay with sweeping white sands and turquoise sea; it even looks that colour on a grey, overcast day. A perfect place to clear your head, as you listen to the waves.
Ardnamurchan Point – visit the most westerly point on the UK mainland, and its iconic lighthouse, which has been a prominent – and very important – feature of the landscape since 1849. Have a coffee and some home-baked treats in the quirky Ardnamurchan Lighthouse Coffee Shop, then purchase your very inexpensive ticket to go up to the top of the lighthouse. The views are amazing!
Kilchoan Ferry – take the small car ferry from Kilchoan over to Tobermory on the Isle of Mull. The journey takes around 35 minutes, and costs £8.90 for the vehicle and £2.85 per passenger. You can’t pre-book this ferry, and it is first-come, first-served so make sure you arrive in plenty of time – particularly for the last sailing! You can view the timetable on the CalMac website.
SUGGESTED ACCOMMODATION IN MORVERN/ARDNAMURCHAN
Ardtornish Estate, Morvern – accommodation in this neck of the woods doesn’t come more interesting than this Victorian mansion. Beautiful from the outside, and with a truly unique interior, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time when you stay here. Make sure you go in search of the original bells which were used to call the servants.
Island Add-on: Isle of Carna
If you’d like to have an extra-special experience during your time in the area, you can book to stay in a cottage or house on the private Isle of Carna. The island sits on Loch Sunart, between Ardnamurchan and Morvern, and is accessed by boat from the wee hamlet of Laga.
There’s no WiFi, no TV, no cars and no phone signal. In the house, there’s also only one electric light, and the rest are gas. I can’t think of a better place to switch-off, have a ‘Digital Detox’, and immerse yourself in the wonders of the West Coast. You can read more about my time on the Isle of Carna in my full blog post about Ardnamurchan and Morvern, here.
SECTION THREE: ISLE OF MULL TO OBAN
I have been to Mull several times, but I had never had I seen it quite like this. Dark, heavy clouds hovered above the land, while the sun beamed brightly through the vacant patches of clear sky. As well as the bright autumn colours, the sky swiftly shifted from bold blue to the moodiest of greys; stark contrasts with equal amounts of eye-popping beauty. I also saw a part of the island I had never been to before: the ‘scenic route’ round the west coast was something special.
STOPS/THINGS TO DO ON MULL
Tobermory – your arrival point is the colourful port of Tobermory, which is the main settlement on Mull. Browse the independent gift shops, go for a seafood lunch or dinner at Café Fish (advance booking is necessary) and pick up any supplies at the COOP Supermarket. Check out my blog post for more things to do in Tobermory.
Am Birlinn, Dervaig – if you’re staying in the north of the island, this dinner venue is a must. The striking chalet-style building looks beautiful at night with the inviting glow from the interior lights and fairy lights outside. The front of the menu details exactly where (in miles) all their local produce is sourced, including their very own Highland cattle from, literally, across the road. The portions were very generous, and everything that came out of the kitchen looked amazing. I can personally recommend the seafood stew and the sea bass.
Calgary Bay – this bonnie beach is one of the most popular on the island, and for good reason. White sand stretches out between rocky chunks of land, and the colour of the water is a dream. Pop into Calgary Arts for a look around the gallery, walk the woodland sculpture trail (£2 entry), or opt for a coffee and a bite to eat in the lovely café.
Traigh na Cille – this unusual black sand beach is something of a local secret – until now! On the drive towards Torloisk, you go over a wee stone bridge and you’ll see a wooden gate on your right sand side, which you can pull in next to. Walk down the farm track until you reach the hidden beach.
The Hen House, Ulva Ferry – on the way to Ulva Ferry, look out for a wee wooden cabin on the left side of the road. Inside you’ll find a local lady Anne, and a selection of homemade treats: soup, scones, sausage rolls, jams, and the best meringues – served with cream for extra naughtiness.
Eas Fors Waterfall – this picturesque spot boasts a triple whammy of waterfalls! The viewpoint for the Upper Falls is the easiest to get, and the other two require a bit of (muddy) downhill walk. The final cascade drops off the cliff face into the sea, so please keep a safe distance from the edge. The views along the rocky coastline are stunning!
Isle of Ulva –take the wee ferry from Ulva Ferry over to the community-owned Isle of Ulva. The system for summoning the ferry is a novelty in itself! After a short crossing, you arrive at The Boathouse, where you can collect a map of the walking trails on the island. If you’re short on time, you can simply have a delicious seafood lunch or some home-baking.
Mull Charters – the west coast on Mull is a hotspot for sea eagles and marine life. Mull Charters offer regular wildlife cruises from Ulva Ferry. We sadly missed our trip due to a road accident and it being close to the departure time, but the trip is high on my list for the next time I visit Mull.
Take the ‘scenic route’ – The journey takes you along the banks of Loch Na Keal, with the imposing Ben More towering over the landscape. Further round the coast, mighty chunks of rock jut out from great heights, and waterfalls cascade from the cracks and crevices. This isn’t the quickest route round to the Ross of Mull, but it is definitely the most beautiful.
Fionnphort – go for a walk on the picturesque Fionnphort Beach to admire the pink granite rocks and bright blue water, then grab some seafood from The Creel. Fionnphort is the departure point for the Isle of Iona, and for trips to the Isle of Staffa; if you’re travelling in summer you can see the puffins! You can also visit the tidal island of Erraid from just outside the village, which is mentioned in Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Kidnapped’. I’ve yet to visit.
Isle of Iona – leave the car behind, and hop on the ferry from Fionnphort to Iona, which takes just 10 minutes. This serenely beautiful island with capture your heart before you’ve even stepped off the ferry. My top recommendations are: visit Iona Abbey, climb Dun I and walk round to the beaches on the north-west. If you’re staying for dinner, the Argyll Hotel is fantastic but must be booked in advance. I would allow at least 4 hours to properly see the island, or even better – an overnight stay.
Loch Buie Standing Stones – on the drive to Craignure to catch the ferry to the mainland, take a detour past Loch Spelve and Loch Uisg. The stones are very much hidden. So much so, that we found a small stone circle and thought that was it! I will return to find the actual standing stones, but the location we stumbled upon was an enchanting find nonetheless.
Craignure – this is the departure point for the ferry from Mull to Oban. Pre-booking your car onto the ferry is essential, and you can do this on the CalMac website. It is also advisable to arrive at the ferry terminal around one hour before departure.
SUGGESTED ACCOMMODATION ON MULL
Ross of Mull Bunkhouse – this lovely bunkhouse is the best I’ve come across on my travels. Housed within a newly renovated, historic cottage, it was SO cute and cosy! The rooms were spacious with comfortable bunks, and the brand-new bathrooms with hot power showers were such a treat. There’s a well-equipped kitchen for self-catering, and I loved relaxing on the Chesterfield couch with the fire roaring.
Island\s Add-on: Coll and Tiree
If you’re not quite ready to leave behind the island way of life, you can replicate my trip by also adding in a visit to Coll and Tiree. I did this part of the trip solo, and without a driver, but having a car would allow you to cover more ground in less time.
I would recommend travelling to Tiree first, for a couple of reasons. It’s the furthest away, taking 4-hours from Oban, so you can get the longest journey out of the way first. It is also more action-packed (if you want it to be) than Coll.
Tiree is famed as the Surf Capital of the UK, and the beaches are absolutely stunning! There are a number of adventurous activities you can try: paddle-boarding, windsurfing, or surfing with Wild Diamond Tiree, exploring on an electric bike from Tiree Fitness, or taking a high-speed boat trip with Tiree Sea Tours. For more details, check out my blog about activities on Tiree, which includes where to eat and stay.
When you’re ready to slow down and relax, the Isle of Coll awaits. The ferry journey from Tiree to Coll takes just under an hour. Coll almost instantly became one of my new favourite islands. The main village of Arinagour has everything you need; two shops, a Post Office, a café, the community centre, the bunkhouse, and the hotel/pub. The rest of the island is rocky landscapes and breath-taking beaches. Read my separate blog about all the things I love about the Isle of Coll to help you plan your trip.
MORE ISLANDS TO VISIT FROM OBAN
Oban is the ‘Gateway to the Isles’ so you’re spoiled for island-hopping options. You can take a day trip to the Isle of Kerrera, and walk to the Kerrera Tea Garden, or visit Lismore and explore by bike. You could visit The Slate Islands, hop between Colonsay, Islay and Jura in The Southern Hebrides or go even further to the Outer Hebrides, with direct ferry links to the Isle of Barra and Lochboisdale, Isle of South Uist.
SECTION FOUR: OBAN TO EDINBURGH
Back on the mainland, Loch Awe served as a gentle stepping stone back into reality. The whole trip – and even this last leg of the journey back to the city – more than lived up to the notion that ‘West is Best’. Not only is this section the perfect finale to a West Coast Waters road-trip, all these destinations are also served by public transport from Glasgow.
STOPS/THINGS TO DO IN ARGYLL
Oban – this bustling seaside town is the ‘Gateway to the Isles’ so there’s always a buzz in the air! My favourite lunch spot is Food from Argyll at the Pier, which proudly displays a list and map of all their local suppliers. I highly recommend their steak sandwich or the mac ‘n’ cheese, which is made with Mull of Kintyre cheddar. Take a walk along the waterfront, and up to McCaig’s Tower, which looks like Oban’s answer to the Colosseum.
Kilchurn Castle, Loch Awe – this iconic castle has sat on Loch Awe since the 15th century, but has lain in ruin since the 18th century. It’s still such a bonnie sight to behold, and you can only try to imagine how it looked in its former glory; complete with a five-storey tower-house. For the best photos of the castle, drive round to the other side of the loch. You can also hire a boat to explore or go fishing on the loch from Loch Awe Boats, who are based in Dalmally.
Inveraray – this picturesque town sits on Loch Fyne, and for such a small place there are numerous attractions. Visit Inveraray Jail, walk through the lavish interior and glorious gardens at Inveraray Castle, and climb up to Dun na Cuaiche for stunning views. Check out my blog for more things to do in Inveraray.
Rest and Be Thankful – the drive on the A83 towards Loch Lomond is an absolute cracker. You can really savour scenic Argyll at this famous viewpoint before arriving back to the city. Outlander fans may recognise this view from the opening credits in season one!
Glasgow – if you have some time to spend in Glasgow at the end of your trip, read about all my favourite things to do and places to stay in the city in my Glasgow blog post.
SUGGESTED ACCOMMODATION IN ARGYLL
Ben Cruachan Inn, Loch Awe – stay in one of the attractive rooms in the main building, or in a modern Garden Suite with views out to the loch. For dinner in the restaurant, expect good quality and huge portions. My chicken burger was outrageous – and so good! I also recommend the vegetarian breakfast, purely for the addition of the halloumi cheese (for the record, I’m not veggie).
Inveraray Inn – The Inveraray Inn opened in 1755, and it has since undergone a major refurbishment, which finished in January 2018. The interior is tastefully Scottish and charming, with bright and comfortable rooms, and there’s an on-site bar/restaurant. Inveraray is a lovely place to spend the night once the road-trip traffic has died down and most of the visitors have left in tour buses.
Road-trip Top Tips
- To enjoy even more of this route to yourself, consider travelling in the off-season. I travelled at the end of September and the autumn colours were breath taking.
- If you’re not used to driving on the left-hand side, or on single track roads, please take some time to educate yourself in driving etiquette. The most important things to remember are to keep left, use the Passing Places, and allow other drivers to overtake you.
- Print off the route map before you leave, as it’s likely some areas won’t have any internet connection to use Google Maps.
- Take the suggested driving times on Google Maps with a pinch of salt; the roads are often narrow and winding, and if there is any traffic you will need to stop regularly in passing places.
You really do a fantastic job Kay.
Too old to make trip Although sure could not run across a better guide & usher.
A true pathfinder. Do you really need 39 million cups of coffee.
Very good stuff,
Thanks so much Andy. I love what I do, which definitely helps! 🙂