“Breathe,” my wife tells me as I navigate the endless succession of roundabouts outside of Edinburgh. I need the reminder—20 minutes in the car, and my flippancy about driving on the other side of the road is quickly catching up with me. But I take a deep breath. I roundabout like a champ. And before I know it, we’re sailing up the M9, ready to tackle the Heart 200.
The name gives away the route: This is a 200-mile tour of, well, the heart of Scotland. Starting in Stirling, the drive weaves through the country’s center, with enough side trips to keep you busy for a summer, let alone a weekend. Lochs? Tick. Castles? Tick. Mountains and waterfalls? Tick and tick. It’s an Outlander fan’s dream.
Our first stop is high atop a volcanic crag, and as we drive up and up the twisty cobblestone streets, I begin to understand the old saying that “he who holds Stirling Castle, holds Scotland.” Next, less than 10 miles to the northwest, is Doune Castle, which isn’t quite as historic but is definitely more recognizable, thanks to Outlander, Game of Thrones, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The latter particularly appeals to my family of four; with the help of a friendly docent, we search out various locations from the film. When one of my daughters tells the other, “Your mother is a hamster, and your father smelt of elder berries,” I tear up a little.
We’re still laughing when we get back in the car and head west, into Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park. I’ve been coming to Scotland since I was a child, but this is the first time for my kids, and I relish seeing this land I love through their eyes. We motor through the Duke’s Pass on the A821, running out of words to describe the vistas. Just after Loch Lubnaig, we turn onto a curvy one-lane road to the little village of Balquhidder, so I can pay my respects to an old relative. The grave of folk hero (and my kin) Rob Roy MacGregor is marked with a stone, as well as a memorial that says “MacGregor Despite Them,” a reference to the ever-rebellious clan’s name being banned in the 17th century.
Doubling back, we hang a right onto the A827, passing over the Fa l ls of Dochart and hugging Loch Tay. Clouds cover the peak of Ben Lawers behind us as we make our way to Kenmore, where we have a late lunch of tomato soup and homemade bread at a charming café called The Paper Boat.
In nearby Aberfeldy, we stop at The Watermill, a lovely bookstore, and then take a walk through Lower Birks Park. It’s a picture-perfect day, and before we know it, we’ve hiked up the two-plus-mile path along the Moness Gorge. Thanks to last night’s heavy rain, we’re surrounded by waterfalls. There’s a reason Robert Burns memorialized this path in his ode “The Birks of Aberfeldy.”
Our stay for the night, Ballintaggart Farm, is only 15 minutes away. The farmhouse is still operating, and we have it all to ourselves. My daughters rush to visit the chickens, my wife explores the garden, and I go for a stroll through a field of wildflowers. We eat a phenomenal meal at the farm’s sister property, The Grandtully Hotel, sharing bites of pumpkin pithivier and Hebridean salmon pastrami before heading back to our farmhouse to watch the sunset over the Tay Valley. We can’t wait for it to rise—and for us to get back on the road—tomorrow.
2022 Range Rover
Now in its fifth generation, the Range Rover has been shepherding people around the lochs and through the valleys of Scotland since 1970—but none of the previous models have been as luxurious as the current one. The “hot stone” massage seats erase the stress of a long trek, the four-zone climate control system keeps the whole family comfortable, and the world’s first headrest speakers create quiet pockets for those who simply want to focus on the beauty of the drive.