: Chris Rees
: Skye loop from Fort William
: Alfa Romeo SZ
Want to get away from it all? To Scotland!
"We're following a sensational circular route from Fort William around Skye and back again. Both of the main approaches to Fort William - the A82 from the south or the A86 from the east - are spectacular, but I personally favour the A82 through Glen Coe, as it avoids having to trudge up the over-trafficked, camera-infested A9. In addition, the A82's other-worldly plateau above Ballachulish is one of the great experiences in British driving.
"Once in Fort William, follow the A830 west to Mallaig, following Loch Ail. As more and more locals peel away, you're left with a traffic-free stretch twisting up over pretty hills with fantastic views of peaks, lochs and islets.
"Mallaig is a busy fishing port with a small vehicle ferry across to the Isle of Skye, though it's summer only (end of March to late October). Since most people access Skye via the A87 bridge, the ferry is a quieter way to greet the island, a pleasant 30-minute glide into Armadale.
"The roads in Skye quickly open up and are surprisingly wide, so you can make progress although beware mobile cameras. Join the A87 towards Portree for a short distance before peeling off west on the A863. The stretch to Dunvegan over hills is quiet and even offers overtaking opportunities.
"Follow the A850 out of Dunvegan and either take the northern loop via Uig or head straight down the A87 to Portree, which offers plenty of cafes and hostelries but is teeming with tourists. As you carry on eastwards on the A87, catch the superb view north to the islands of Raasay and Scalpay before you leave the island via Skye Bridge (now toll-free). Then take time to enjoy the long, undulating, largely unpopulated run back on the main roads to Fort William.
Ferry only runs from March until October
Why it's a dream drive
"If you think the west coast of Scotland is all slow-speed single-track roads, this drive should convince you otherwise. While the famous Applecross road further north is barely one car width across, the roads nearer Fort William are broader, two-lane affairs. Many roads here have widened, brand new, smooth surfaces courtesy of EU funding; very few sections remain unmade. This allows you to drive with pace and appreciate the scenery, with less need to concentrate on what may be coming the other way. That was, I'll admit, a worry in the left-hand drive Alfa Romeo SZ, which can be tricky to place on single-track roads. In fact, the SZ proved the perfect companion for this touring route: comfortable yet sharp, although I did press the adjustable suspension button to its 'high' setting just in case...
"Some of the scenery here is simply awe-inspiring: Britain's tallest mountains, endlessly changing sea lochs, wildlife including whales and eagles, while the dearth of population means that your progress is often completely unhindered by other traffic."
This place comes recommended!
Highlights and lowlights?
"Pretty much everywhere is spectacular up here. The further you get off the tourist trail, the better. There are options to go really off the beaten track - for instance, the 20-mile single-track "road to nowhere" off the A87 that ends at Kinloch Hourn, or the remote 'parallel roads' of Glen Roy off the A86 near Fort William.
"Choose the date of your drive with care, though: if you go in August, you could well spend your finest hours stuck behind a German-registered motorhome. And if you're unlucky with the weather, the Scottish 'dreich' can be oppressive. It'd be a shame to drive the route in a cloud, as you'll miss out on some of the most poetic scenery in Europe."
Guessing the car wasn't bad either, right Chris?
Sights, stop-offs and diversions
"Much of the pleasure of this route comes from appreciating whatever view or side road takes your fancy. Of course, you have spectacular mountains to explore like Ben Nevis (which we were lucky enough to climb on one of the 30-odd days in the year when it isn't covered in cloud) and natural wonders like the Old Man of Storr on Skye.
"Cultural highlights include the Glenfinnan Viaduct on the road to Mallaig, and the iconic, brooding Eilean Donan castle on the A87 near the Kyle of Lochalsh. For a lunch stop, I'd recommend the Lochside Crafts cafe at Dunvegan, which serves entirely local produce and offers superb sea views from its windows. Another pleasant detour on Skye is the Fairy Pools waterfalls via Carbost and Glenbrittle.
"Speaking of Carbost, a distillery tour is a must and Carbost is home to Skye's only whisky maker, Talisker. The tour here is far better than Fort William's weary Ben Nevis distillery; Dalwhinnie further east is also highly recommended. By the way, most establishments will let you take your 'tasting' whiskies away with you - remember that the drink-drive limit in Scotland is well below England's!"
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