Scotland NC500 – Staycations aren’t that bad after all!

It didn’t take me long to fall in love with Scotland. In fact, I was seduced by its charms within just a few hours of setting foot in Edinburgh over 10 years ago. My first ever holiday without someone’s parents would see me setting off on a roadtrip to Scotland with two very good friends. We cried with laughter at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh before throwing ourselves down the longest zip wire (at the time) in the UK near Loch Lomond. We gawped in awe as we drove through the breath-taking Glencoe before reaching Fort William, where we tackled the mighty Ben Nevis.

Photo of a small white hut in front of a formidable mountain in Scotland
Glencoe

In such a short period of time, Scotland had stolen my heart, and I knew I would be back one day. It is fair to say, however, that I did not expect it would be my main holiday this year. We had planned a two week road trip across Croatia, Bosnia and Montenegro, however, COVID-19 put a stop to that and instead we re-routed to sunny Scotland. Well… we planned for cold rainy Scotland, not balmy Mediterranean Scottish weather! We even complained it was too sunny to get good photos! Has anyone ever complained of that in Scotland before?

A Photography Tour of Scotland

Our week in Scotland was for all intents and purposes a photography tour. We bought ourselves Dougie Cunningham’s Guide to Photographing Scotland and set off in search of stunning scenery. And stunning places we found! This is going to be a somewhat different blog to my usual travel diaries. There was no culinary excellence or exciting experiences. It was simply us and nature and patience as we waited for the perfect photo. So instead of using my words to describe the locations, I’ll let the photos do the talking.

The Scottish Lowlands

The Kelpies

Just off the M9, Helix Park is incredibly easy to access and with parking only costing £3, a very cheap day out. The park offers miles of cycling and walking paths, however, we were there for the main attraction: the 30 metre horse head sculptures! They are also incidentally the largest equine sculptures in the world, created as homage to the horses that used to pull the barges. I hadn’t realised that a canal runs straight through the middle of the two sculptures! It would certainly make for a scenic trip!

Best time to visit

They look magnificent all year round and in any weather. At night they are lit up by floodlights as well as being illuminated from within. Just before sunrise and after sunset apparently offers a really good balance between the artificial and the ambient light. The other benefit of visiting early or late is that benefit of avoiding the crowds, thus allowing you to take uninterrupted photos.

How to get there

They are well signposted and the sat nav will take you straight to them: FK2 7ZT

The Loup of Fintry

Just 15 miles from the Kelpies lies the impressive Loup of Fintry waterfall. The photos in the book show a dainty fall cascading down a number of rock steps before entering a broad gorge at the base. It describes how you can scramble down the side of the fall to capture it’s beauty from different angles.

This is the waterfall we were expecting to find – below is what we got! Image courtesy of Steffan Chave at Inwanderment

It certainly wasn’t the case for us. We had had some really heavy rainfall and the waterfall was a raging torrent. We spotted a small path dropping down the side of the fall which we decided to follow to try and get a better view. It was a tricky descent, made more difficult by the recent rain. We made it to the bottom of the first fall only to find the river was so swollen that there was nowhere to perch to be able to capture a good shot. However, don’t let this put you off. After drier spells the delicate waterfall trickles down the rocks putting on a mesmerising display.

Not quite the dainty little waterfall we were expecting!

Best time to visit

The falls face the north west and therefore catch the light of the setting sun beautifully. The book does suggest that it lends itself well regardless of the flow of the river. I would argue that after torrential rain it becomes a little too treacherous. However, it is still worthwhile the visit to listen to the thundering water.

How to get there

You’ll find the falls hidden down the narrow B818 lane. There is enough space to park a couple of cars at the start of the walk, but if busy you’ll need to be prepared to park up at Todholes car park which is about a 800 metre walk away. From the road you go over a style and follow (for us at least) a very muddy path to the top of the river. As you walk you will be afforded a short glimpse of the full scale of the waterfall.

Post code G63 0XH

Eastern Highlands

Loch Morlich

Standing between Aviemore and the Cairngorm Ski Centre, Loch Morlich affords fantastic views over the Caingorms massif. It is the perfect place to get lost in your own thoughts as you admire the scale of the mountain range looming over the loch. Other than setting off into the mountains themselves, Loch Morlich offers as good a view as any. And having stood high on 5 of the tallest peaks in the Cairngoms, I would say in many cases maybe better! Or maybe that is just because visibility was 0 when I did my 10 Peak Challenge!

The lake has two car parks, the Western one, which you will come to first, and then the Eastern one. We didn’t find anything of interest to shoot in the East, however, we did get one of my favourite photos of the holiday from the West: Suki, her ears, water, mountains and a rainbow. My idea of perfection! Although I could be biased on the subject!

Suki with her ears on point in Loch Morich with the Cairngorms in the background
Those ears make me laugh every time!

Rocks line the shore in the Western car park lending themselves well to add interest to the foreground. Do check out the book to see how Doug Cunningham has worked them into his photos, not something we were able to replicate.

Best time to visit

With the mountain ranges being directly south from Loch Morlich, they lend themselves best to be photographed at sunrise or sunset. If it’s a sunny day it is likely the sun will be too hard during the middle of the day. The one nice thing with Scotland though is that grim weather and mist still lend themselves well to a good photo, particularly as there is enough detail along the trees and shoreline.

How to get there

From Aviemore follow the signs to the ski centre. About 5 miles down the road you will see both the loch and the sign for the car park!

Postcode: PH22 1QY

The North

Whaligoe Steps

From a photography point of view we were unable to get anything good here, however, it was worth the visit nonetheless. The best bit about travel is the people you meet along the way, and this was one of those moments. As we parked up a man of small build came marching up towards us holding some form of oversized spanner. I looked over at Doug nervously and said “Maybe we shouldn’t park here, does say residents only”. “If I pull forward I’m not in anyone’s bay so he can’t say anything” Doug replied.

I wasn’t so sure. This greying man may have been small, but I still didn’t want to take my chances!

I shouldn’t have worried though. David (or maybe it is Davey), as we would later learn his name, was the proud restorer of the steps, having worked on their maintenance for over 23 years. His grandad had been one of the last fishermen to work from the Whaligoe harbour and Davey had nothing but pride and stories to share. The spanner he had been yielding was in fact an old artefact.

Photo of David holding an old photo of Whalligoe Steps
David… or was it Davey?

Had we not bumped into Davey we would have just seen the Whaligoe steps as just that. 265 steps leading down to a little platform that served as a harbour. We wouldn’t have known that the women did all the heavy lifting, carrying each day’s catch up the 265 steps. Or that the dents half way up the steps were their resting place! We may have spotted the random holes in the ground, but we would never have known that these were used to light a fire to boil cows’ urine which would then be used to clean the nets.

I hope that when you visit you also bump into Davey, a true character sure to brighten your day!

Photo of Suki looking out at the sea
The views at the base of Whalligoe Steps

How to get there

Postcode: KW2 6AB

Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

Although not much more than a ruin sitting on the cliff edge, Castle Sinclair Girnigoe is every little bit the type of castle I expected to find in Scotland. Whenever I visit old dwellings like this I can’t help but imagine what they may have been like in their former glory. Oh to be able to travel back in time and be a fly on the wall!

Having walked along the cliffs we scrambled down to the water’s edge, sitting between the outcrops of rock where we enjoyed a peaceful 30 minutes, listening to the sound of the waves slowly crashing against the shore.

Best time to visit

Ideally on a gloomy day. Blue skies and bright sunshine don’t suit the history and landscape. Somehow Scotland suits mist and dark skies much better. It’s quite possibly the only holiday I’ve been on when I’ve cursed glorious weather! We were there in the middle of the day, however, the guide book suggests it is a great spot at sunset, particularly during the equinoxes.

How to get there

Postcode: KW1 4QT

Duncansby Head

Most people assume John O’Groats is the most northernly point on the British mainland. Truth be told, Duncansby Head is the most northern point. It is most famous for the impressive pointy sea stacks that line the coast. The light was all wrong for us to photograph them though, so instead we clambered down to the shore lines in the hope we might spot some seals. None close enough to photograph, but we did see them bobbing about in the sea.

Outcrop of land in the most northern part of mainland Scotland
No staks or seals for us. It was still a nice view to admire though!

Best time to visit

With the cliffs facing south east this location is best visited at sunrise.

How to get there

 Postcode KW1 4YS

John O’Groats Sign

Since we were this far North it didn’t make sense not to get “the” photo with the John O’Groats sign. We weren’t the only ones with that idea though. A guy had parked his old Honda Civic in front of it and was trying to get a photo of him standing with his car, something that he found much harder than it should have been. His friend was unable to take the photo so a comedic dialogue between tweedle dum and tweedle dee ensued. We finally took the photo for them, however, having held everyone up for a good 5 minutes he then proceeded to walk away admiring the photo but without moving the car.

I wish now that I had asked if it was something special. I bet there was a good story behind it!

John O Groats sign
The start and end of many adventures!

Chanonry Point

During the summer months the salmon return and with them come the dolphins, eager for a feast. We got up early to arrive at Chanonry Point around an hour after low tide. It was calm and quiet and beautiful. There were no dolphins, but we did see quite a few seals and thoroughly enjoyed the hour we spent simply admiring nature.

Best time to visit

As with any wildlife you can’t guarantee they will be there, however, from what I have read you are most likely to be lucky about an hour after low tide, but be prepared to wait.

How to get there

Postcode: IV10 8SD

Fairy Glen

One of my favourite spots from our week in Scotland were the two waterfalls at Fairy Glen, a location which could easily be the home of the elusive fairies. It is short walk from the car park through an enchanted forest, a beautiful walk in its own right. Both waterfalls are very photogenic and we were lucky to have them to ourselves.

Best time to visit

Autumn is certainly the time to come if you want the beautiful orange hues, however, it is perfect through from Spring until Autumn whilst the forest is alive with colour. It also works whatever the weather. 

How to get there

Postcode: IV10 8UP

Rogie Falls

Much bigger in scale than the charming Fairy Glen falls, Rogie was the kind of falls to simply admire, watching whilst the water rushed through the rugged rocks. During late summer and early autumn salmon jump up the river to spawn. Doug did spot one but I missed all the action.

Best time to visit

Best visited after rainfall as they can be somewhat underwhelming at low water. Because they run through the forest, autumn offers great colours. And of course, if you want to chance seeing the salmon then visit between July and October.

How to get there

Postcode: IV14 9EH

Mellon Udrigle

A beautiful beach with an incredible backdrop. On a clear day you can see the Coigach hills, Stac Pollaidh and An Teallach in the distance. As well as the distant vistas there is also plenty to entertain around the shore, whether that be dunes, the stream or the rocks. And if you have got a dog, well then the sandy beach is perfect for some mad hooning around.

Nothing makes me happier than seeing Suki happy!

Best time to visit

Facing North East it lends itself best to shooting at sunrise rather sunset. If you want to capture the mountains in the distance then it is best to visit on a clear day.

How to get there

Postcode: IV22 2NT

Slioch

As we drove South along Loch Maree it was impossible not to notice the imposing Slioch looming in the distance. There is no doubt that Scotland has beautiful scenery, sometimes easy to take for granted as you drive through outstanding landscapes, however, there are times when its beauty is so astonishing that you can’t help but gawp in wonder. That’s the effect Slioch had on me.

Best time to visit

According to the book there is no bad time to visit this area. This photo was taken mid afternoon, however, apparently the light of sunrise and sunset catches Slioch well all year round.

How to get there

Getting to the loch is easy and there are plenty of car parks. However, this spot was a little more obscure. If you look on Google Maps, directly across from Slioch you will see the road curves at 90 degrees before going over the stream. 100 yards on from there you will find this tree. You can pull off the road at the bridge.

Isle of Skye

Old Man of Storr

Visible from miles away, the Old Man of Storr is without a doubt one of the most recognisable features in the Isle of Skye. It’s a sharp ascent to get to it, but easy enough for anybody with moderate fitness. Everyone congregates around the 4 main fingers, however, we found that to get the best shots you need to wander a bit further afield. Be careful not to get too close to the cliff edges though, rock falls happen often.

Potentially, an even better viewpoint is somewhat further away, from the Bride’s Veil Falls. They are easy to miss as you will likely be focused on the Old Man Storr, however, as you drive along the shores of Loch Leathan keep an eye out to the east for a small layby and the waterfall.

Best time to visit

A perfect sunrise location, however, we still enjoyed our time there in the middle of the day.

How to get there

Postcode: IV51 9HX

Fairy Pools

Revered as one of the most beautiful spots in the Isle of Skye it is also unfortunately incredibly touristy. We arrived late in the evening on a hot summer’s day and found a packed car park, and followed throngs of tourists as they marched the 2.5k up to the final waterfall. Everyone was enjoying the cool water, and I can’t say I blamed them, but it did make getting a photo all the more challenging.

Photo of Fairy Pool waterfall
Too sunny for Scotland!

Best time to visit

It is meant to be good for evening photography. I’d venture to say that an overcast day would be much better than the bright sun we had. The biggest challenge however, is how many people there are, so “the early bird gets the worm” may very well apply here.

How to get there

Postcode: IV47 8TA

The Bridge at Sligachan

This really photogenic bridge is on the main road to northern Skye. You can simply park up and shoot the bridge, or if feeling adventurous head out for a hike into the Cuillins which would afford you beautiful views.

Best time to visit

A perfect location both for sunrise and sunset.

How to get there

Postcode: IV47 8SW

Western Highlands

Eilean Donan Castle

When you think of Scottish castles, this is probably one of the ones that comes to mind. Perched on the side of sea surrounded by hills it is incredibly photogenic and definitely warrants a visit. It’s only a stone throw away from the Isle of Skye so can easily be visited if in the area.

Best time to visit

A great sunset location.

How to get there

Postcode: IV40 8EZ

The Wreck of Corpach

Not far from Fort William lies an old abandoned wreck, and looming behind it the north face of Ben Nevis. Once again we were challenged by the harsh sunlight, however the chance of being able to admire Ben Nevis without a crown of clouds over its summit is a rarity and it was 100% worthwhile.

Best time to visit

During the early morning the sun lights up the top of the crags beautifully.

How to get there

Postcode: PH33 7LR

Glenfinnan

For any Harry Potter fan this is a must. There were no flying cars, we did however get a chance to see the steam train. This was quite possibly the only location where we also had the expected moody Scottish weather. Even without the train the viaduct is worth visiting, a beautiful curved structure in its own right.

Best time to visit

You want to tie your visit in with the train, ideally when it is coming from Fort William as it will be pulling. It often pushes on the way back which doesn’t allow for as good a photo. Check online for the Jacobite train times. It takes about 30 minutes to reach Glenfinnan from Fort William, however, there will likely be people so make sure you arrive early to get the best spot!

How to get there

Post code: PH37 4LT

You want to try and park at St Mary’s and St Finnan’s Catholic Church. Then walk down the hill and follow the unmarked lane North. The path to the viaduct is very obvious from here. Parking is limited so make sure you arrive with plenty of time.

With Glenfinnan our Scottish photo tour comes to an end. We did stop at a few extra locations but the harsh sun made it impossible to capture a good photo. And of course, there were the endless hours we spent driving, admiring the scenery, etching into our memories forever.

If you also want to come back from a roadtrip in Scotland with Instaworthy photos, then I highly recommend you buy a copy of Dougie Cunningham’s “Photographing Scotland”. The above doesn’t even scratch the surface!

For more adventurous tales of Scotland check out my 10 Peak Challenge blogpost.

For other great photography tours check out Cambodia and Vietnam as well as the blog “How to get awesome photos on holiday!

28 Comments

    1. I highly recommend it. The Kelpies are great, and there is a lot more to explore in the park which we didn’t have time for. I highly recommend spending as much time as you can in the West Highlands, the scenery is spectacular!

  1. Gorgeous photos thought I am partial to the ones with your pup! This has definitely moved Scotland up my list of places to visit!

    1. She is definitely the most photogenic member of the family 🙂 I’m glad it has moved Scotland at the list. It has made us realise too that we should visit more often, as it is truly spectacular!

  2. Wow I’m amazed that Scotland has waterfalls and a really pretty beach like that. I visited Scotland a long time ago but I hadnt see such beauty except for the fields and gorgeous mountains! I love being able to see a different side and now I want to go back to see these!

    1. Scotland has so many hidden gems! Using the photography was great as it took us away from the tourists spots and instead we ended up getting lost down beautiful lanes that provided us with the most beautiful views!! Highly recommend it!

  3. I was planning to go back to Scotland in 2020 for my 2nd visit. I have visited a couple of these spots and I wanted to return to some and visit more of this gorgeous country. Your pics are stunning and have me dreaming of a 2021 (fingers crossed) trip. Thanks for this fabulous and inspiring post!

    1. Thank you Lynne! I’m glad you enjoyed the post! And yes, you should definitely visit again. We don’t feel we have even scratched the surface and can’t wait to explore more of it. Would also love to get up some of the munros which we didn’t get a chance to do this year.

  4. I was in love with Scotland even before I saw your stunning photos. Wow. Now I really want to go back. We only spent a week, and it was several years ago.

    1. Thank you, that is really kind. It really is a beautiful country which we often overlook as it isn’t exotic! We could have spent so much longer up there. In fact, I keep telling my husband we should move there… but I think the weather would get me down in the end!

  5. Scotland is such a beautiful country. I grew up just on the border and love visiting. You’ve captured the country so well, and I just love the train picture. I can’t wait to explore Scotland again. There are worse places to be “stuck” during covid

    1. Agree! The one good thing about COVID is that it has made us explore places closer to home and we truly do live somewhere beautiful! Although it was still 14 hours of driving to get to the North!

  6. How gorgeous! I love the rugged beauty of Scotland. I’ve been to a couple small towns but it didn’t nearly do it justice. Can’t wait to plan my next road trip!

  7. What beautiful locations! I really want to explore more of Scotland! For some reason when we were in the area a few years ago we never visited the Kelpies and I’m gutted! Although it’s a great excuse to go back! The Wreck of Corpach looks incredible too! Thanks for the great guide!

    1. Hi Hannah

      We’d been to Scotland a number of times and had never thought to stop off at the Kelpies which was a shame as they have always been on route and at a point at which we needed a break anyway! Hope you make it back and you can visit.

      Bea

  8. I would love to go to Scotland, it is such a beautiful part of the country. I hope to be able to drive the NC500 sometimes soon, taking my time to explore as much as possible.

    1. 100% recommend it. We didn’t quite do it properly as we didn’t want to be moving from one place to the next with everything that was going on with COVID so we opted for a base in the east and the west, however, it did mean we ended up driving a lot each day. I hope you make it to Scotland soon!

  9. Scotland looks beautiful omg I miss traveling so much!! I always wondered where those horse heads were located lol. The waterfall is amazing too!! Also the shipwreck area and the Harry Potter train like omg!! Great adventure!!

    1. I’m missing travel too. I’m so glad we managed to get away for a week and Scotland is just so photogenic. We really should go more often since it is “relatively” close. And it’s all nature so can leave the crowds behind!

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