Many roads lead the motorcyclist to Scotland. A very good, but often overlooked option, is the route via Northern Ireland.
At the narrowest point, Northern Ireland and Scotland are barely 20 kilometres apart.
The ferry between Larne in Northern Ireland and Stranraer in Scotland has a few more miles to cover. But it manages to do so easily in a time of little more than an hour. With docking and disembarking, it's then about two hours of ferry time in total. There are several ferries a day and for motorcyclists the connection is also very inexpensive.
This opens up unimagined possibilities in the truest sense of the word: With the rental motorcycle you can easily make a combined Ireland -Northern Ireland - Scotland tour, starting from Ireland! In this episode I present you a combination of a Northern Ireland round trip with a versatile tour through Scotland:
You'll experience the pretty historic cities of Edinburgh and Stirling, drive through the beautiful Cairngorms National Park and then drive the gorgeous West Highlands.
The Highlights of this Tour:
2) The Causeway Coastal Route
3) The North Antrim Coastal Route
4) Edinburgh and Edinburgh Castle
5) Stirling and Stirling Castle
6) Braemar Castle and Balmoral Castle
7) Cairngorms National Park
9) Applecross Pass
10) Isle of Skye and Trotternish Loop
11) Eilean Donan Castle
12) Glencoe Valley
13) Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park
14) Belfast and the Titanic Belfast Experience
To 1) Londonderry:
From our motorcycle rental in Ireland, it is a day trip up to Londonderry in Northern Ireland.
Londonderry, as the British say, or Derry as it is called by the Irish, has one of the best preserved historic city walls in Europe.
The wall almost completely encloses the old city centre and you can walk around the old town in about two hours, walking on the wall.
In more recent history, Londonderry also played an important role in the Northern Ireland conflict of the 1970s and 1980s. Today, it is a city popular with tourists, with many sights to see.
To 2) The Causeway Coastal Route
You may have heard of the Giants Causeway, a geological feature on the north coast of Ireland. There are about 40000 basalt columns that rise from the ground and form bizarre steps.
According to legend, the Irish giant Fionn built a dam here out of chunks of stone in order to reach Scotland and challenge his adversary, the giant Benandonner, to a fight.
Or maybe the pillars were formed by a volcanic eruption about 60 million years ago – but who knows, anything is possible on the Irish island.
In any case, the Causeway Coastal Route is named after the Giants Causeway and runs along almost the entire north coast.
On the north coast you will also find the mighty ruins of Dunluce Castle. The derelict castle stands directly on the rugged cliff.
In fact, a part of the cliff broke off and pulled a piece of the castle with it into the foaming sea. According to legend - yes, another legend - the entire kitchen with the kitchen staff disappeared into the ocean.
Another highlight, only a few kilometres away, is Carrick a Reede, a long rope bridge, leading to a small island.
To 3) The North Antrim Coastal Route
This beautiful piece of coastline is particularly scenic and wonderful to ride by motorcycle. It is much less busy than the Causeway and the small coastal road often runs right along the water.
Especially impressive is Torr Head. From there, in good weather, you can see the Scottish coast, which is only about 20 kilometres away at this point.
To 4) Edinburgh and Edinburgh Castle
The ferry takes you from Larne to Cairnryan in Scotland in barely two hours. From there you drive on country roads through the hilly Galloway County to Edinburgh.
Edinburgh is really something special.
It is for good reasons, that the author Joanne K. Rowling was inspired by the small old streets for her Harry Potter book series.
Despite the many tourists, it is highly recommended to walk around the old town.
The Castle Edinburgh, towering high above the city, is also much worth seeing.
The mighty Edinburgh Castle was for a long time the seat of the Scottish kings and there you can visit today, among other things, the Scottish throne jewels.
To 5) Stirling and Stirling Castle
Much smaller than Edinburgh, but also very beautiful, is the small old town around the Castle Stirling. The medieval castle is still very well preserved, and I highly recommend a visit.
There are also many nice places to stay in Stirling. The distances are manageable on foot and you can combine all the sightseeing with a nice walk in light street clothes. One large hotel is even almost right next to the castle.
To 6) Braemar Castle and Balmoral Castle
Braemar is a small town in the eastern Highlands. It is famous for the annual Highland Games, where modern Highlanders compete in all kinds of power sports under the eyes of the Royal Family.
Just outside the town is the pretty Braemar Castle, built in the 16th century. The beautiful hunting lodge is currently undergoing extensive restoration and will soon be available for tours again.
A little further on you will find the magnificent Balmoral Castle. It is still a seat of the British Royal Family and the spacious gardens are open for visitors.
To 7) The Cairngorms National Park
You have been driving through the Cairngorms National Park for a while now. Here you can find 5 of the 6 highest mountains in Scotland and also 55 “Munros”, which are mountains over 914 metres high.
The mountainous landscape is perfect for motorcycle travellers and there are many nice little villages and hidden pretty corners to discover.
To 8) Inverness
Inverness is the capital of the northern Highlands. It has many hotels and B&Bs and is much visited. It is therefore advisable to book your accommodation well in advance.
An evening stroll through the historic city centre and to Inverness Castle is very nice and there are also all kinds of restaurants and pubs to end a nice motorcycle day.
To 9) The Applecross Pass
The small road from Tornapress to Applecross leads over the famous Applecross Pass, or "Bealach na Ba" as it is called in Gaelic. It is considered Scotland's and Britain's most dangerous pass. The small road is partly a single-lane road and in case of oncoming traffic. Passing can get a little tight.
The road surface is not always good and at the top there are a few tighter hairpin bends. If you take it slow and drive carefully however, you will have no problems with the pass and can really enjoy the great view at the lookout point at 626 meters above sea level. In clear weather you can see all the way to the Isle of Skye, which is where you will drive next!
To 10) The Isle of Skye and the Trotternish Loop
The Isle of Skye is very popular in summer - and rightly so, because it is very beautiful. You can access the Isle easily via a bridge.
Especially beautiful is the loop around the peninsula Trotternish in the northeast of the island.
There you will see the strange rock formations around the "Old Man of Storr", a high rock needle that stands out clearly from the steep slopes.
The further course of the tour around the Trotternish Peninsula offers more beautiful views of mountains and sea in all directions. Just follow the coastline.
To 11) Eilean Donan Castle
At the transition from Loch Duich to Loch Alsh lies Eilean Donan Castle. A long stone arch bridge leads to the castle, which is situated on a rock.
The fantastic castle has often been used as a film set, including for the movies Braveheart, Highlander, Rob Roy and James Bond's “The World Is Not Enough”.
The castle is one of the most photographed landmarks in Scotland and can be visited.
To 12) Glencoe Valley
The valley of Glencoe is one of the most beautiful landscapes of the Highlands. After a while you will see a striking mountain formation, the "Three Sisters".
Take your time and stop often for photo stops. Look back too, the valley is picturesque in both directions!
Shortly after Glencoe you reach Loch Linnhe, which is actually more of a fjord, or a bay, than a lake.
From Crianlarich you follow the A82 south. The small road leads wonderfully along the western shore of Loch Lomond.
After a while the road gets bigger and the traffic more and you come to Alexandria. You cross the River Clyde and drive past Glasgow, and follow the coast to the ferry port in Cairnryan.
There you can either take the P&O ferry to Larne, or go directly to Belfast with the Stenaline ferry.
To 14) Belfast and the Titanic Belfast Exhibition
Belfast is a rather modern city that offers many places to stay, including in the harbour area. There you can also find the very interesting Titanic exhibition.
Belfast was an important port for a long time.
Many large ships were built in the shipyards, including the famous Titanic and her sister ships Olympic and Britannic. The multimedia exhibition tells about this time and also about the Titanic and its tragic sinking.
Another short drive, perhaps a break at Trim Castle, a huge Norman castle, and you'll return to our rental station.
This route has a total length of about 2400 kilometres long. You can expect to travel about 250-300 kilometres per day for most of this route. On the northwest coast of Scotland, between John O`Groats and Applecross, I would expect about 200-250 kilometres per day.
So you can calculate at least 9-10 days for this tour. If you have less time, you can shorten the route in Northern Ireland or Scotland and if you have more time, you can extend the route according to your wishes.
It is a good idea to take a break in the historic cities of Edinburgh or Stirling and take advantage of the many sightseeing opportunities.
Londonderry has historical and modern elements and also the more modern cities of Belfast or Glasgow offer many possibilities to use a break day.
Depending on your preferences, you can easily turn this tour into a 12 or 14 day trip.
General Travel Information:
Northern Ireland and Scotland are part of the United Kingdom. You will need a passport to enter the country and the currency is the British Pound.
The Republic of Ireland is completely independent and a member of the EU. Here, for EU members, the identity card is sufficient for entry and the currency is the Euro.
On all islands you drive on the left. In Ireland the speed is in kilometres per hour, in the United Kingdom it is miles per hour.
As a motorcyclist, you get used to driving on the left very quickly, since the controls on the motorcycle are in the usual place, while in a car the steering wheel is on the right and you shift gears with your left hand. Also, the often quite narrow country roads are less daunting for the motorcyclist than for the car driver
The ferry service from Larne to Cairnryan is operated by P&O Ferries. For sailing times and prices, visit their website at: www.poferries.com.
The route from Belfast to Cairnryan is operated by Stenaline. You can find all the information at: www.stenaline.de.
Conclusion and Outlook:
There are many wonderful possibilities to combine a motorcycle tour in Ireland or Northern Ireland with a tour in Scotland.
In this tour 2 you have the possibility to do quite a lot of sightseeing and to experience city culture, but you are also on the road in the fantastic landscapes of the middle Highlands and the Isle of Skye. Therefore, the trip does not go quite as far north.
If motorcycling in beautiful landscapes is your priority and you want a little less sightseeing and culture, then you can alternatively ride the Tour 1.
The route in Northern Ireland is the same. In Scotland you drive to the northernmost end of the Highlands and follow the famous North Coast 500 Route. Mountains, coastlines and loneliness - what more does a motorcycle traveller need? The following link will take you to tour 1:
Ulrich Knüppel-Gertberg, March 2022
Picture credits: Cover picture: Isle of Skye Old Man of Storr, easycruiser.tours. The respective source is indicated for the pictures in the text. All maps are from Google Maps 2022.
Sources: easycruiser.tours, Wikipedia 2022, visitscotland.com.