A few years back my parents and I undertook a mammoth road trip around Scotland – it was incredible, but looking back we endeavoured to take in a bit too much in the time we had, meaning we didn’t get to spend much time in each place.
So this time, when my boyfriend and I looked to do our own Scottish Road Trip we decided to try to take our time a little bit. In some ways, we definitely managed this and in others, completely failed. We had some super long days where we definitely did squeeze things in that potentially could have been avoided but there was a reason for this…
As the title suggests, this trip was done on somewhat of a budget – travelling in the UK isn’t cheap and we had just been to Croatia, plus a few other big trips in the year (Portugal/Belgium/York), so we had to tighten our belts. The main way of saving money was by not staying in some of the more expensive places and instead just stopping by them.
Saying that, I don’t think we particularly missed out on anything; we still managed to see so much of the incredible Scottish scenery that we had been hankering after and it was nice to do it all without breaking the bank.
Note that I’m going to split this trip into three posts as there’s quite a lot to cover and I’m not sure anyone would make it through a post that long.
ROAD TRIP ITINERARY
Our schedule for this trip looked like this:
- Early flight from London City to Edinburgh
- Train from Edinburgh to Inverness
- Drive from Inverness to Invergarry
Day trip from Inverness to Glen Coe (via the Glenfinnan Viaduct)
Drive from Inverness to John O’Groats
Explore John O’Groats
- Drive back to Inverness via Dunrobin Castle
- Flight back to London
Four Tips for Travelling in the UK on a budget
- Check if you’re eligible for a railcard. Both Fred (my boyfriend) and I have 26-30 railcards, which can be used to get 30% off rail fares but there are a wide range of railcards available, that are worth looking into. Generally they are also applicable for discounts on off peak tube journeys (in London) – just show your railcard to a TFL worker inside a station and they should be able to add the railcard onto your oyster card.
- Book trains ahead of time. National Rail has a cheap fare finder which is very helpful with this.
- Buy from bigger supermarkets like Aldi, Lidl and Asda when you have the chance.
- Use air miles – I get mine through my credit card and tend to use them once a year for shorter trips. They also sometimes do special offers such as seat upgrades and free seats for a partner (as I will mention in the third part of this series on road tripping Scotland on a budget).
DAY 1: LONDON TO INVERNESS
It still blows my mind to think that on Day 1, when we travelled all the way from East London to Inverness, we used 6 methods of transport. SIX! We got up early, leaving the house at about 6am to walk to the tube, to get to City airport for 7am ahead of our 9am flight.
We booked this flight using my British Airways air miles, which really had its perks (otherwise in all honesty, I don’t know if we would fly due to cost – we probably would have taken the train). For one thing, we got to fly from City airport which I’d never done before and was incredibly excited about.
As City airport is so small a lot of people I know who travel from there regularly arrive about 45 minutes before their flight is about to leave, as according to them you can just ‘walk’ through security as its so empty. This wasn’t something we got to experience as we were travelling during the extinction rebellion protests and so the airport was in high security mode, meaning everyone was checked at least three times before being allowed anywhere near a plane, which surprise surprise took a bit of time. Just to be clear, I had no issue with this – we actually always tend to get everywhere much earlier than needed just in case because we’re aware that if we miss a flight/train, its unlikely we’ll be able to afford to pay for another!
The flight itself was super short and we were landed in Edinburgh with our bags by 1030. From there, we caught the tram into the city centre (which takes about 30 minutes) and had 2 hours before our train to Inverness.
Now, I know what you’re thinking – 2.5 hours?! I thought you said you planned this so you had more time in each place? Well, yes – Edinburgh wasn’t actually part of the plan. All of the flights to Inverness through British Airways were at odd times and the train journey from Edinburgh to Inverness is known to be scenic, so we decided to incorporate it into the trip.
Also, Edinburgh isn’t a cheap place to stay so the idea of being able to explore the city a bit without paying the extortionate cost of a hotel was quite an attractive offer. Of course, 2.5 hours isn’t enough time to truly explore and get to know a city but we had both been before (me many times to visit my best friend Hamilton, who used to live there), so it was just nice to have a wander really! Who can say no to a whistle stop tour of Edinburgh which actually saves you money?!
Whilst in Edinburgh, we walked up to the castle to see the view from the top of the hill (and have a look at the castle) but didn’t go in. It costs £19.50 and seeing as we wouldn’t have a long time there to make the most of it, it didn’t seem worth it.
We then walked down to the gorgeous Victoria Street (my personal favourite in the city), to wander around the independent boutiques, in particular my most treasured print shop – the Red Door Gallery.
I’ve mentioned this place a million times before but its somewhere I really recommend – they do amazing prints and souvenirs from local artists, all at an affordable price. I can’t go in there and not buy something (not that my aim is to hold back).
This time we got this beer print, which as East Londoner hipsters obsessed with ale/good beer was perfect for us.
After wandering around there for a bit (and with beer on the brain), we fancied a drink. My friend Hamilton had recommended Paradise Palms to us, so we wandered in that direction via Greyfriars Bobby (a statue of a famous dog who become well known for guarding the grave of his owner for many years, before passing away himself.)
And you can’t visit Edinburgh and not rub Bobby’s nose for luck!
Paradise Palms is a cool hangout that does great vegan food and is also a record store. It was the perfect place to chill out for a bit before walking back to the station to catch the train to Inverness.
EDINBURGH TO INVERNESS TRAIN
We got the 2:50pm train from Edinburgh, which stopped at Stirling at 3:32pm, taking roughly 3.5 hours in total and cost £30.45 each with a railcard. The scenery is beautiful although obviously we only got a few hours of it due to the sun going down.
Seat reservation was not possible for the journey which was a shame, because unsurprisingly as a Friday evening service, it was very busy and not quite the relaxing time I had imagined.
Nevertheless it got us to Inverness – from there we took a taxi to Inverness Airport and collected a hire car, to drive to our accommodation (via a supermarket stop to stock up for breakfast and lunch the next day).
I’ll go into our accommodation in more detail in the next post but I must say, it was incredible. In fact, one of the best places I have ever stayed. It’s almost so good, I don’t want to recommend it.
It was called Balnagown Estates – we had a small but perfectly formed cottage in the grounds of the estate, which was only £130 for two nights (£65 each). They offer free bike hire, a games room, use of the observation tower and they even breed Scottish Wildcats, which you are allowed to go and take a look at (from a safe distance!)
After an incredibly long day, I cannot describe how nice it was to sit down with a beer in the cottage ready for our exciting plans in the days to come. Now, I realise I started this post by saying ‘We wanted to make sure we had enough time in each place’ and spent very little time in both Edinburgh (only 2.5 hours)/ Inverness (about an hour, on the way to Balnagown), but I can say now that day 1 was the only one as mental as this… Kind of.
Do you have any more hints/tips travelling in the UK on a budget?