Enjoy sweeping turns and panoramic views as you drive this famous road in the Scottish Highlands.
Coursing through a Highland panorama carved out by a glacial sculptor, then coloured in by the four seasons, this 30-mile stretch of A-road has a little bit of everything, from ruler-straight sections surrounded by blanket bog to a helter-skelter ride as it curls back down to sea level. Whether you’re here for the driving thrills or the thrilling views (they’re often inseparable), it doesn’t take long to see why it’s a people’s champion.
So here we are, on Britain’s best road with Britain’s best-selling car, the Ford Fiesta. There are two ways in to Glen Coe, but seeing as the area to the north is one of the most sparsely populated in Britain – indeed, in all of Europe – most visitors approach from the south, as we do.
We leapfrog Glasgow, skim the pebbly western shores of Loch Lomond and keep going, following the signs to Fort William as a glowering storm cloud chases us north. Staying on the A82, we pass through Bridge of Orchy, running parallel to the river rapids and the West Highland Way on the opposite side of the water, and eventually skirt Loch Tulla where the road rears up on to the high plateau of Rannoch Moor.
Take the fast road…
Ringed by distant mountains, the vast, peaty moor is a seemingly impassable wetland of reflective pools and one-tree islets, like something imagined by Tolkien across which hobbits might toil. Yet somehow they built this fast road over it – and a railway – by floating the tracks on a mattress of tree roots, brushwood and thousands of tons of earth and ashes. It serves Corrour station, the highest and most remote in the UK at 10 miles from the nearest public road (and a favourite alighting point for committed hillwalkers).
It doesn’t take long to leave the open moorland behind as the glen starts to narrow, funnelling us towards the perfect Toblerone peak of Buachaille Etive Mor; a lone pyramid rising from the ground as if guarding the entrance to the valley. We take a left just before it, to one of the only offshoots from the main road.
Discover more of our expert motoring reviews
Recreate the James Bond moment
It takes you into Glen Etive, arguably the most beautiful in all of Scotland. Once upon a time the only people who ventured down here were kayakers in search of white water, or walkers with a good map. These days it’s much busier, having starred in the James Bond film Skyfall. It was here, in a passing place, where 007 and M paused to survey the view down the misty glen beside Bond’s silver Aston Martin DB5.
It’s a scene thousands of people want to recreate. We consider doing it ourselves, but change our minds upon seeing a scrum of cars on the famous spot, which somewhat spoils the natural splendour of it all. Feeling we’ve become part of the problem, we decide to retreat. So if you want to see it – and it really is worth seeing – you could park at the head of the Glen and walk down instead. Next time we’ll do the same.
On our way back to the A82, the storm cloud finally catches up with us. A perfect rainbow appears against the pewter sky, trapped between sunshine and showers. Scotland has a habit of springing these dramatic backdrops on you, like a quick scene change in a stage show. The road is slick with rain now; windscreen wipers working overtime. Rocks are washed into our path.
Three sisters and one piper
Back on the A82, we start the plunge into Glen Coe itself, wiggling through black rocks and foamy waterfalls as the road wraps around steep cliffs. We stop in the gravelly lay-by opposite the Three Sisters, the giant shoulders of the mountain range stretching off far behind. A piper in full Highland dress plays for coachloads of tourists, who spend most of their time with their backs to the view, taking selfies. Remember when we used to point our cameras the other way?
From here the road rolls downhill and in 10 minutes or so spills into Glencoe Village, where you can strike out in all directions. A short drive north is Fort William at the foot of Ben Nevis. Go west from there to Glenfinnan – past the scene-stealing Harry Potter steam train viaduct – and onwards to Skye via the ferry from Mallaig. Or go east to the Cairngorms for another all-you-can-eat buffet of scenic driving roads.
Us? We’re on a deadline, which means doubling back on ourselves and doing it all over again in reverse (not literally). Up the glen. Over the moor. Windscreen always full of some spectacular view. Could this really be the best drive in Britain? After one last look, just to be sure, it gets my vote too.
Your memories of driving the A82
“We had a family trip to Ben Nevis – me and my wife in my BMW Z3, my sister in her Alfa Romeo Spider, and my brother not in his Toyota MR2 but in his wife’s Aygo instead. We had wall-to-wall sunshine for the whole journey, my sister and I both driving with the roof down. Bad luck for my brother in his tin-top Toyota... The scenery was spectacular though, with heathers, gorse, dramatic rock faces and a twisting road that never seemed to end. It was a very memorable day.”
“It’s 25 years since I first drove the A82 on my first holiday to Scotland. The gentle climb from Tyndrum through Bridge of Orchy, over the summit of Rannoch Moor and then through the Pass of Glen Coe revealed one glorious view after another. Dropping down into the village of Glencoe, I felt like I was coming home. After over two decades driving the same route for holidays, I finally took a job in the area and live in Glencoe Village. Now when I drive that route, I really am coming home.”
“Our journey on this road was stunningly beautiful. I had the most wonderful views of the loch, but my poor hubby didn’t as he was concentrating on navigating potholes. Even though there was snow all around, the roads were mainly clear of it. And would you believe it was late May/early June when we were there? That’s the best time to go – you might have snow, but at least you know you’ll avoid the ‘wee beasties’ (midges).”
Britain’s best drive: A82 route highlights
1. Bridge of Orchy
Most famous for its hotel, popular with walkers needing respite from the West Highland Way.
2. Loch Tulla Viewpoint
An essential stop to take in the view back towards the loch, and grab a home-made bap from the snack van.
3. Glen Etive
Some say it’s Scotland’s most beautiful glen. Used as a location in Bond film Skyfall.
4. Glencoe Village
A perfect base. Walks on the doorstep include the conical Pap of Glencoe.
5. Glencoe Mountain Resort
In winter it’s a ski centre with chairlifts, which you can also ride in summer along with mountain bikes.
The first village in the world where every single house had electricity, thanks to the local hydro station.