3 day road trip from Glenarder to Aberdeen and remote places in between.
Who does not love a road trip? Packing the car early in the morning, setting of with an air of adventure, imagining places never seen before. Our route was to be a circular tour starting at Glenarder, Ballindalloch in Speyside and ending up in Aberdeen. Our main stops were Avimore, Kinloch Kinloch Rannoch, Rannoch Moor and Breamar. Each day consisted of no more than 1-3 hours driving with numerous opportunities to stop along the way.
This was our most ambitious day of touring so we headed out bright and early driving through Ballindalloch and towards Granton-on-Spey. 50 minutes later we arrived in Avimore around 9 am ready for a much needed first coffee off the day and breakfast. Immediately upon entering into Avimore you are surrounded by the magnificent great Cairngorm mountains, eager back-packers up ready to go and full blasts fresh mountain air ….the spirit of the outdoors takes over! There is adventure enough to keep you in Avimore but this was not our aim on this day. Refuelled with coffee and maps in hand (because we’re old school) we were back on the road heading down the A9 towards Perth and our ultimate destination for the day, the remote village of Kinloch Rannoch.
It is an easy and beautiful drive along the A9 towards Perth, one of the most scenic drives in Scotland. You pass through the pretty town of Dalwhinnie, home to the highest distillery in Scotland – stop and try their chocolate and Scotch tastings ….it was a bit early in the day for us to partake. Our next stop along the way was the beautifully designed shops and visitor center of the House of Bruar, traditional makers of fine tweeds and cashmere’s. They have a fantastic selection of quality outdoor and traditional clothing brands as well as a beautiful food hall, and gift center. Be sure to schedule time enjoy lunch or tea in the elegant glass conservatory restaurant.
Our next stop shortly after was the magnificent Blair Castle. One of Scotland’s most historic and beautiful castles, standing strong and white in the iconic Perthshire scenery. Walk the grounds and tour the castle. Don’t forget to pop into the historic small nearby village of Blair Atholl, nestled in the hills and centred by the picturesque tiny train station which the London to Inverness train trundles through every day. Don’t miss the Watermill Bakery and Tea Room by the station and Blair Athol Distillery, one of the oldest in Scotland.
We reached our destination of Kinnloch Rannoch around 3 pm and checked into the Macdonald Loch Rannoch Hotel. The view is what you are paying for here so be sure to book a loch side room. Kinloch Rannoch is a small village close to Pitlochry, off the beaten path and sitting at one end of the beautiful Loch Rannoch. At the other end of 9 mile loch is the remote and wild Rannoch Moor, the real object of our desire and which was to fulfil one of my bucket list desires by staying at the remote Moor of Rannoch Hotel ….but I digress, that is tomorrow’s adventure.
The Macdonald Loch Rannoch Hotel is not the most soulful hotel in Scotland ..but it is beautifully situated on the loch and there are pockets of charm in it. The best spot is the lovely Victorian looking terrace overlooking the loch. A gin and tonic in the late afternoon and the loch views nestled below Schiehallion are all you really need. The extent of our activity that evening was a walk into the small town of Loch Rannoch to the local shop for some supplies and a long walk around the loch. The outstanding memory of our night in Kinloch Rannoch is the magnificent views of one of the mountain Schiehallion, one of Scotland’s most loved mountains. Songs have been written about this mountain and to stir the Scottish heart, now I know why. We were blessed with a beautiful sunset casting purple and pink shades over the sides of mountain, one of those sites you want to bind into your memory forever. We got up the next day well rested and ready and excited for Day two.
We only had two missions for this day…stay at the Moor of Rannoch Hotel and visit the neighbouring Corrour Station, only a 7 minute train ride away and known as Britian’s highest and most remote train station in Scotland.
Let’s just say we love remote so the Moor of Rannoch Hotel ticked all the boxes.we had ‘heard the call’ and could not wait to adventure out. The adventure started straight away as it took about 50 minutes of winding along a one track road along the side of the loch to reach the Moor of Rannoch Hotel. On the way we passed small estates and tiny cottages, as well as view of the great Loch Rannoch Power Station feeding power and water literally from the streams to the lochs, to the cities below.
It is a beautiful drive that comes to a complete and utter end at the hotel and Rannoch Station. There is nothing beyond, no more road..only miles and miles of Heather, peat bogs, lochs and the distant mountains of Shiehallion and Ben Nevis – magnificent, moody and undisturbed. The West Highland Rail line is the only path through the moors. Thrillingly the Caledonian Sleeper train from Euston Station, London to Glasgow/Mallaige trundles through 3 times a day providing iconic type photographs as it clatters on accross the moor towards the hills and mountains. While waiting for one of only three trains to pass through that day we enjoyed a cup of tea in the Station Tea Room filled with the smell of fresh coffee, cakes and home made soups.
We hopped on the train at Rannoch Station and got off at Corrour Station, the next stop only 7 minutes later, but 7 minutes of stunning and remote scenery you will never see by car. The views toward Fort William, rain or shine are stunning. Corrour Station is the most remote and highest train station in Scotland. There is no road in, you have to take the train. The reward…getting off the train at the tiny station surrounded by moors and distant mountains. It is a sight to watch the train roll away into the hills leaving you standing in the middle of some of Europes most remote wilderness. No worries though….remote though it be, this is Scotland and a Tea Room is always at the other end. The Station House Resturant welcomes you with friendly faces, a roaring fire, fresh brewed coffee, heart meals like Venison Lasagna…a good supply of malt whisky. No better a location to enjoy a spot of civility surrounded by open moors. You may finds you never want to leave.
This area is a walkers paradise. The walk from Carrour to Rannoch Station is a moderate 4 hour walk through stunning desolate scenery. Make sure you check the times of trains, only three a day in and out mean some scheduling is involved.
After our adventure to Corrour we took the train back to our home for the night. At the Moor of Rannoch Hotel. Sitting at the very far end of Loch Rannoch, surrounded by 130 km of uninhabited moor the hotel is a real outpost hotel, no TV, no internet, which actually makes it actually a real treat. Switch off your phone, relax and enjoy the location. A fantastic and quality meal was served up by the owners, who are true hosts; a cup of tea on arrival and and full of local information. Pre-dinner drinks and dinner was shared with the other guests. There are only 5 rooms so by the end of the evening everyone becomes best friends, at least for that night. Through dinner we were delighted by the heard of local deer surrounding our little dining room. I have to say it was one of my most enjoyable evenings in a hotel I have ever had, there are comparative places in the world but I would say there are not better.
It was hard to beat day two because staying at the Rannoch Moor hotel had always been a dream of mine and it lived up to all expectations. We left early, with true intentions of returning and headed along the long and windy road round Loch Rannoch and onward to Pitlochry. Another stunning drive. We stopped in Pitlochry for more coffee and a walk around. It is a beautiful town in the heart of stunning Perthshire, close to Loch Tay. Days could be spent in this area, alas we only had a few hours so we headed back into the Cairngorm National Park and on toward Glenshee.
Driving into Glenshee Ski Centre area is like no other ski area I have been to. The bare rolling mountain of the Cairngorms stand wild and intimidating. I could only imagine a cold winters day bravely heading up on the ski lift. Upon arrival in Bramar the rain found us, however we were still able to enjoy the outpost feeling of this town as the starting point for many walking and outdoor enthusiasts. It is a pretty town, on the upper banks of the River Dee. Breamar and Ballater are well worth a visit. Take time to stop in at Braemar castle as well as Balmoral Castle (if the Queen is not in residence) as well as Lochnagar Distillery.
This was the end of our three day trip, we headed back to Aberdeen airport ready for our flight back to Toronto. Every trip gives stand out memories, ours was by far our night on Rannoch Moor. It is one of those last remaining magical and remote places in Europe, where you can never go just once, we are already planning my our return.