In the heart of the Highlands, close to Glencoe, the Glen Etive road is 12 miles of peak Scottish scenery – mountains, moorland, lochs and huge skies. It might be short but it packs in some seriously impressive views. But could this dead-end, single-track drive be one of the most beautiful road trips in Scotland? I think so, and I’ve got James Bond to back me up. Author Ian Fleming’s family had a lodge in the glen, and the road was used as a location for the Bond film Skyfall. So whether you’re channeling your inner Daniel Craig or just looking for some Scottish scenic beauty, here’s everything you need to know about driving the Glen Etive road.
Where is Glen Etive?
To reach Glen Etive, follow the A82 between Glencoe and Bridgy of Orchy. The turning is signposted off the main road close to the Kingshouse Hotel and Glencoe Mountain Resort – it’s on your right if you’re coming from Glencoe and on your left if you’re coming from the south. There are no facilities in Glen Etive (no shops, toilets etc) and mobile phone signal is patchy. But you basically just carry on until you run out of road, so you can’t go too far wrong!
Driving the scenic Glen Etive Road
The Glen Etive road might only be 12 miles long, but you’ll want to make lots of photo stops, so allow around an hour each way for the drive. It’s a single-track road with lots of bends, ups and downs along the way, so try and keep your eyes off the scenery long enough to watch the road. You’ll need to pull into a passing place if you meet another vehicle so be prepared to reverse if necessary. And if you want to stop, pull off the road and avoid blocking passing places.
Near the beginning of the road you’ll see two mountains, which are known in Gaelic as the ‘Herdsmen of Etive’ – Buachaille Etive Mor and Buachaille Etive Beag. Buachaille Etive Mor (aka the Buachaille or the Beuckle) is one of the most photographed mountains in Scotland, and looks just like a child’s drawing of a mountain with its perfect pyramid shape.
The first part of the road follows the banks of the River Etive, which has its source on Rannoch Moor and is a favourite for whitewater kayakers – it can get wild when there’s been a lot of rain. Around four miles along the road the Etive Mor Waterfall makes a good photo opportunity. And a bit further along is the spot used in Skyfall, where Bond and M stop off in the Aston Martin on the way to Bond’s childhood home, Skyfall Lodge (just a film set in Surrey unfortunately).
The road winds on through heather-covered moorland before running into a thick forest, where it gets narrower and more enclosed. It passes the Dalness Estate – which was owned by Ian Fleming’s family – as well as a couple of small lochs surrounded by towering mountains, before coming to the tiny hamlet of Gualachulain. Carry on through Gualachulain and you’ll reach the end of the road on the banks of Loch Etive, where there’s a small car park.
Loch Etive is 30km long, 1.5km wide and reaches a depth of 150 metres. Its vast clear waters stretch off into the distance and reflect the sky like a mirror on a calm day. And although it might feel like you’re miles away from the coast, the water is actually salty as the loch connects to the sea (if you zoom out on the map above you can see how it curves around to the west and eventually meets the sea at Ardmucknish Bay, just above Oban).
Originally the road carried on around the edge of the loch to Taynuilt and there also used to be a steamer service taking passengers on to Oban in the 1840s. But today the loch is the end of the line – unless you head out on the water. It’s a great place to explore by kayak, especially on a sunny day when the water’s as still as a pond. Otherwise take a walk along the loch before retracing your steps, with the views looking completely different from another angle.
What if I want to stay longer?
If a couple of hours isn’t enough Glen Etive for you and you want to spend longer exploring and do some of the area’s walks, then there are a few different accommodation options. Wild camping is allowed in Glen Etive, so you can just find a spot by the lake or along the river and pitch your tent for the night. There are no facilities though, so you’ll need to bring everything you need and take your rubbish away with you – the area’s had a problem with littering.
If you don’t fancy camping, there are a couple of places to stay in Gualachulain – a house rental sleeping eight (from £150 a night, minimum stay three nights) and a six-bunk bothy (from £70 a night, minimum stay two nights). Or you can live like a laird at the Dalness Estate. The estate’s refurbished Victorian lodge sleeps up to 14 and comes with a housekeeper and chef. A three-night stay costs £3600, though there’s also a more modest four-person cottage.
What’s your favourite road trip in Scotland?