Exploring Scotland by road in the Hyundai i20 : 5 days, 2200km!

  • Sep 02, 2013


Location: Scotland
Best time to visit: Year round except winters (too cold and snowy for driving)
How to reach: Fly into London or Edinburgh and rent a car from the airport
Currency: Scotland accepts UK pounds though their currency differs a bit
What is special: The Hebrides and the lakes!
Average petrol prices: Rs 125-130 per litre.
PS: All pictures, except the 1st, were taken by a Samsung S3 Smart Phone

Introduction: Summers are typically the best time to visit the UK and this time around specially, the sun was out for more than a fortnight, turning the sky crystal clear for beautiful views of the countryside. Hence I decided to explore the lovely countryside of Scotland which is a part of the United Kingdom.

Day1: Heathrow to Weatherby: 320km

I got free from the new Range Rover Sport drive by noon and was driven to the Europcar Rental office outside the airport by early evening. I had already made a pre-booking for a car and the process turned out to be easy. I was asked to choose a car from the parking area and immediately zeroed in on the Hyundai i20 as I drive the same car in India. It was a top of the line petrol version and had less than 500 miles on the odometer!
I signed all the documents, turned on my Google Maps on my phone and drove towards Stevenage to pick my friend whom I had known for over ten years by now. He is settled in the UK now and would be my guide for the trip too!
By late evening, we were on the motorway towards North UK. This time of the year, the country sees longer days which meant we had over three hours of day light and hence decided to drive for the night to Weatherby, just over 160 miles away. For a first timer to the UK, it is essential you make use of a GPS device. The motorways however are well marked but make sure you don’t over speed. Speed limit on the motorways is 70mph or 112km/h and the cops will, in most cases, not stop you unless you are doing over 75mph or 120km/h. Stopping by the road side is only allowed in designated areas and fuel on the motorway is generally more expensive than inside a town. The i20, inspite of being brand new, felt calm and smooth at an indicated 75mph / 120km/h. What is interesting is that the UK version of i20 comes with a complete driver information display including fuel economy display - something that is missing on the Indian version.
Weatherby is a small town located just off the main A1 motorway and we checked into Swan Guest house on the main road. It did take us a good ten minutes before finding it but thankfully, it had its own secured parking area. We took a walk in the small town, discussing our plan for tomorrow.

Day2: Weatherby to North Uist island: 800km
With 750km to drive to North Uist (including the ferry distance), we had to leave early from this little town of Weatherby. As fuel is cheaper in small towns than on the motorway, we first decided to fill up, pick up a few snacks and continue ahead. As is the case with most European countries, one fills up the car himself, notes the pump number, goes inside the shop and pays. Simple as that!

Capturing the scenic views

As we neared Scotland, the views around changed dramatically

The motorway drive is pretty interesting and boring too – you have to make sure you stick to the speed limit of 70mph and but at the same time, the drive can become generic too. However, it does kill distance quickly and that is what we wanted!

The Loch Lomond Lake

Watersports in the lake

In just over three hours, we hit Glasgow city and immediately took the outer road to bypass the town and within half an hour, got our first glimpse of the massive Loch Lomond lake. Now the word “loch” means a lake or an inland sea in Scottish language and hence all the major water bodies have the prefix “loch”. The view of the lake on the right side, alongside the road was indeed beautiful and we did stop by for the a few pictures.

Lunch on the go

Over the next couple of hours, we also came across other majors lochs and I can safely say that Scotland is the country of lakes! We also stopped and walked into the Loch Lochy, experiencing the cold and fresh water first hand. Lakes in this part of the world are very clear and the whole area is clean with not a single piece of trash or waste seen around.

The North part of Scotland has amazing views

A small town enroute Isle of Skye

After driving past other lakes like Loch Garry, Loch Loyne, Loch Cluanie, Loch Dutch and Loch Aish, we finally took the massive Isle of Skye bridge into our first major island. Isle of Skye is a pretty big inhabited island and we drove right to its ferry terminal at Uig for our ferry journey to Hebrides – North Uist.

A lake we walked down to

We decided to walk down into one of the lakes

Beautiful roads of main-land Scotland with scenic views around

Portree, Isle of Skye

We had reached well on time and parked in the queue of vehicles waiting for the ferry to arrive. This form of transportation is pretty common here as the number of islands is many and people often use ferries to go from one island to another. The ferry mind you is huge and it’s common for long truck-trailers to use these as well.
By late evening, we were driving into our ferry for the journey ahead. This was my first real experience like this and the pristine beauty of the islands around as we continued deep into the Atlantic sea was simply breathtaking. Inspite of being summers, the air was chilly and the right side of the sky wore a magical look due to the sun-set. Even by 10pm, we had day light in the sky as we were moving West. I spent most of the time sitting on the upper desk enjoying the cold breeze.

The Uig to Uist (Lochmaddy) ferry

The ferry finally entered the terminal at North Uist at a place called Lochmaddy at midnight and we drove out into the isolated and dark island to find ourselves a room! Thankfully, youth hostels are famous here and we drove into a quite parking area, walking into the hostel whose door was unlocked – safety is not an issue in Scotland I guess and we slept cozily in one of the rooms here.
The moon was out in all its glory and helped lit up the room on the inside. Day 2 had been brilliant for us – covered 750km, experienced the lakes, drove across the bridge into an island and finally took a ferry ride to the Eastern most islands of Scotland!

Day3: North Uist – South Uist – Barra islands: 160km

The 'youth hostel' of North Uist

Only when we got up in the morning did we realize the beautiful location this hostel was set in. A tributary of the water body was flowing right outside the hostel and the place was set in the middle of nowhere. We spent the morning interacting with other tourists who were staying for the night and left by 10am for the North Uist beaches – they are known for the isolation, beauty and views.

Exploring North Uist island

Crystal clear waters of North Uist beaches

We parked the i20 on the small grassland and walked down to the beach

The complete North Uist island is pretty small – the main road which goes around the island for example measures just around 50km! We spent an hour at one of the beaches which by the way were completely isolated with just a few couples around with small kids. We then proceeded north towards to the island of Berneray to shoot the bridge and pick up a few supplies from the small shop in the town area.

Interesting stone outside a shop in Bernerary

Our destination for the night was the Barra island for which we needed to take a ferry again from island of Eriskay – an hour’s drive away. The route was beautiful with majority of it being isolated without any civilization around. These islands are really scenic and beautiful and everyone we met kept telling us the fact that we were lucky to have come here in sunny weather which also mean clean views everywhere, devoid of mist, fog or low hanging clouds.

The road leading to South Uist from North Uist

View of Eriskay Ferry Terminal from the road we came down

Heading to Barra Islands from Uist Islands

By evening, we were at the Eriskay terminal, waiting for our short ferry ride to the town of Barra. Getting onto the island roads, our first priority was to find a place to crash. Barra itself is a hot tourist place, mainly because it is one of the last major islands after which everyone goes back to mainland UK and yet, the roads were literally empty as expected.

Barra Island : picture taken 5 minutes after we got off the ferry

Finding a good hotel became difficult as the town was running full and inspite of exploring the complete island, we got nothing. Finally, the owner of a hotel that was full helped us book ourselves into the best property of our stay. It wasnt expensive, had a view to die for and to top it off, came along with a kitchen and all the essentials required to cook our own food! We were to share the little 4-room cottage with five other ladies, all in their 50s, who were on a holiday together without their better halves!

The main town center at Barra - CastleBay

Later, we drove around the island and stopped by to witness the best sun-set I have ever experienced in my life. Our four-wheeled companion, the i20 stood right there besides us with its audio system putting out the best of tracks. Those few minutes, when the sun went down into the horizon, were the best across the complete trip for me. The sky seemed to have been colored in a magical way, not a soul was to be seen around and the views around simply mesmerized me.

Beautiful sun-set

Another shot of the setting sun

The night was spent at the hotel, talking with a group of ladies in their 50s - learning some new fundas of life and so on!

View from our hotel in Barra - Croft 183

Day4: Barra – New Castle upon Tyne: 500km

With a 5 hour long ferry scheduled to leave by 9am, we had to be quick today. We managed to check-out just in time to leave for the ferry terminal, but once there, were shocked to see the line-up of vehicles waiting to get into the ferry.

Line-up of vehicles waiting to get into the ferry

From motorcycles to trucks, there were no less than a hundred odd vehicles. Turns out, as this is the last major island, connections to mainland UK are far and few.
Thankfully, we managed to get into the ferry and were among the last few vehicles allowed. This was a huge ferry indeed with seating across various floors. Our plan was to sit on the upper open deck to witness the changing landscape.

The huge parking bay of the Barran-Oban ferry

The idea of transporting your car by ferry is something one must witness for sure. We caught up on sleep, loved the deep seas, witnessing a few dolphins and ate decent Indian food during the lunch time in the ferry restaurant!

The 'special lunch of the day' on the ferry

The calm seas

Another big ferry leaves Oban as we enter the city

Our i20 in the parking bay of the Ferry

View from ferry as we entered the town of Oban

Oban was our next destination and the ferry reached there by 2pm. The last 400odd km to our night halt (New Castle Upon Tyne) were not done on the usual route but through narrow country side roads. The scenery on these roads was much better and we loved stopping at the Scotland – England border just on the border of the Northumberland National Park. By evening, it turned cloudy, bringing down temperatures to under 20 degrees, something very typical of the UK!

At the England - Scotland border near Northumberland National Park

We booked our hotel on the go and drove straight to the Ramada in New Castle city. Interestingly, inspite of being a global chain of hotels, they charge for the parking fee which here stood at 5 pounds!

Back to big cities and typical commerical hotels - Ramada, New Castle Upon Tyne

Day5: New Castle – Stevenage: 400km

The last day of our trip was a straight forward drive to Stevenage where I had to drop off my companion for the trip and close friend. While the 400km drive back was possible in just over 4 hours, we decided to take a detour to the Squires Bikers Cafe in Sherburn-in-Elmet. Now inspite of this day being a Monday afternoon, there more than a dozen off bikers and the place was indeed done up in a rather nice way. The interiors had a biking them with posters, stickers and even the good old Kawasaki on display! We munched on a heavy burger, enjoyed the exhaust notes of the Superbikes and finally drove our last leg back to Stevenage.
My flight back to India was the next day and returning the car at the Europcar rental office was a 2 minute affair!

Squires cafe in Sherburn in Elmet

Traffic jam on the motorway - note the lane discipline

This road trip easily demonstrates how easy it is to undertake a self-drive holiday abroad and why Scotland is one of the most beautiful countries to explore in a car. Yes, Europe is expensive but trust me, my trip turned to be worth every single penny! Do leave a comment here incase you need to know anything about a roadtrip in Scotland.


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