Britain’s best road: the A82 through Glencoe

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Car driving through Scottish Highlands

Boundless members voted the A82 through Glencoe in the Scottish Highlands the greatest stretch of road in the British Isles. Read more about it here

It might have an ancient history, but the A82 from Loch Lomond to Fort William is as dramatic today as it ever was – especially the road that winds through the movie-set mountains of Glencoe.
Coursing through a Highland panorama sculpted by the gods, then coloured in by the four seasons, this 70-mile stretch of A-road has everything, from ruler-straight sections surrounded by blanket bog to a helter-skelter ride as it curls from its high point back 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 one of the UK’s top bucket-list drives.
We’re exploring it in a Ford Fiesta Active. The Fiesta might have finally gone out of production after 47 years in showrooms, but it’s still a people’s champion, having frequently topped the sales charts as Britain’s best-selling car during its seven generations. And this Active version – with its raised suspension and rugged style – is the perfect companion for Scotland’s great outdoors.
There are two ways into Glencoe, but seeing as the area to the north is one of the most sparsely populated in Britain – and 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 gathering 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.

How to drive the A82 route. 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).

After a short while we 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.
This is the land of Munros – Scottish mountains over 3,000ft (914 metres) high. We’ll pass several on our drive, although the most famous lies several miles ahead of us near Fort William – a highland town in the shadow of Ben Nevis. Famous for its hiking trails, Ben Nevis attracts 125,000 walkers every year from all over the world, who come to conquer the 1,345-metre summit. Forget London – this is Britain’s real Big Ben.
Back on Rannoch Moor, and just after we pass the entrance to Glencoe ski resort, we take a left turn. A seemingly nondescript road, and one of the only offshoots from the main A82, it leads to a magical place made famous by the movies…

Where was Skyfall filmed? Visit Glen Etive and other famous film locations in Glencoe

It’s called Glen Etive and it’s arguably the most beautiful valley 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, as visitors seek to have their very own James Bond movie moment – this is where 007 and M paused to survey the view down the misty glen beside Bond’s silver Aston Martin DB5 in Skyfall.
And while it’s a great way to indulge secret agent fantasies, it often ends up with a scrum of cars attempting to pass and turn on the narrow road. 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.
You could also explore more famous film locations nearby – including on the A380 to Mallaig. Halfway along is the Glenfinnan Viaduct from Harry Potter, where the Hogwarts Express steamed over the viaduct with its 21 arches through the enchanting glen. In real life you can see the Jacobite steam train cross it, around 30-40 minutes after it departs Fort William. Or, head a little further north along the A82/A87 and you’ll find Eilean Donan, one of the most famous Scottish castles, having starred in countless adverts, TV shows and movies including Highlander and The World is Not Enough.
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.

What to do in Glencoe

Back on the A82, we start the plunge into Glencoe itself, wiggling through black rocks and foamy waterfalls as the road wraps around steep cliffs. We stop in the 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 pointed 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 (north for Fort William and Ben Nevis; west for the Harry Potter viaduct; east to the Cairngorms and another all-you-can-eat buffet of scenic driving roads).
Or you could stay right here – there are countless things to do in Glencoe. Known as the Outdoor Capital of the UK, it’s a great base for exploring the surrounding mountains, ridges, and glens on foot or by bike. You can sail, kayak and paddleboard on Loch Leven, go canyoning, rock climbing and coasteering – or, for a gentler day out, there’s the Highland Folk Museum, a golf course, wildlife watching tours and sea cruises. Whatever you do, rest and recover in the Boots Bar of the old Clachaig Inn, right in the heart of the valley (look out for traditional live music nights).

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 views. Could this really be the best drive in Britain? After one last look, just to be sure, it gets my vote too.

Britain’s best drive: A82 route highlights

1. Bridge of Orchy

Bridge of Orchy

Named after the crossing over the River Orchy, built by the British Army following the Battle of Culloden in 1746. Famous for its hotel, popular with walkers tackling the West Highland Way – also known as the Old Military Road.

2. Loch Tulla Viewpoint

Loch Tulla Viewpoint

An essential stop to take in the view back towards the loch and the Bridge of Orchy in the distance, and grab a home-made bap from the snack van. On a dramatic day, mist may swirl up the valley like steam from a cauldron.

3. Glen Etive

Glen Etive

Some say it’s Scotland’s most beautiful glen. Famously used as a location in Skyfall, you can park or stand on the exact spot where 007 and M gazed down the glen – creating your very own Bond movie moment.

4. Glencoe Village

Glencoe Village

A perfect base for exploring the area. Walks on the doorstep include the Pap of Glencoe, the Lost Valley and the Devil’s Staircase (not as scary as it sounds). There’s also a great campsite, for tents, caravans and motorhomes.

5. Glencoe Mountain resort

In winter, the Glencoe Mountain resort is a ski centre with chairlifts, which you can also ride in summer – whisking you to the very top for panoramic views for miles around. If you’re feeling brave, you could even paraglide back to the bottom. 

6. Kinlochleven

The penultimate stop on the West Highland Way, at the head of Loch Leven. This was the first village in the world where every single house had electricity, thanks to the local hydro station built to power a huge aluminium smelter.

7. Eilean Donan Castle

Eilean Donan Castle

Located on its own little island with views out to the Isle of Skye, and surrounded by the forested mountains of Kintail, this is one of the most recognised Scottish Castles – built in the 13th century and now fully restored.

8. Visit Loch Ness

From Fort William, it’s only a 45-minute drive to Fort Augustus at the Head of Loch Ness. On the way you’ll pass the famous Commando Memorial at Spean Bridge, before getting your binoculars ready for some Nessie spotting.

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