ENGLAND’S stunning Lake District and Northumbria, along with France, South Africa and Malta have been holiday destinations in more recent times and other overseas trips, and these have been littered with plenty of visits to Cornwall, Devon and Dorset.

So what, we wondered, ought to be on the agenda for something a wee bit different? And the answer, or should that be decision, whilst not quite a snap one, was to undertake a road trip in the form of an overdue return to the incredible scenery of the Scottish Highlands and Islands.

Looking back across the decades it was definitely a long-awaited repeat trip, one that hadn’t been undertaken for more than 40 years!

How different would it be? What changes might be experienced? And what memories might it stir?

The trip was undertaken just as winter was stretching its ice-cold fingertips across the western isles, such as Skye, Rum, Eigg and Lewis, along with the imposing mountain areas of the Cairngorms, the Cuillins and others.

But first of all we had to get there.

A road trip, it had to be planned with almost military precision - destinations, routes, and stop-overs of varying durations at B and Bs and hotels.

Ten to 11 days was organised and to carry out the first part of the ‘campaign’ it was required to drive up the M6 and across the Scottish border to our first stop-over.

Easier said than done with all the road-works that have to be endured as so-called ‘smart’ motorways are constructed. All they are doing at the moment is creating hold-ups, due to lane diversions and speed restrictions, but thankfully once into Cumbria it was much easier going as we headed for Dumfries, known as the ‘Queen of the South’.

Four decades on it’s almost as if time has stood still - with little in the town that has seriously altered. Heading into the centre from our overnight base at Dumfries Villa, the place was pretty well deserted and it’s also a bit of a desert when it comes to eateries.

But the locals are still friendly and a lady kindly pointed us in the direction of a very good Italian restaurant - Le Belle. Warm, welcoming and with excellent dishes to treat two weary travellers.

Our B and B was relatively comfortable, and provided a decent breakfast to stoke up both driver and passenger, but our room was sadly dark and in need of re-decoration with a brighter and more modern colour scheme, along with a few other required improvements.

Day two on the road was distinctly different - taking us via Glasgow, Loch Lomond, Fort William and on to the Isle of Skye.

The first part was on A roads and then it was motorway, and having to negotiate Glasgow’s flyovers and more, as well as spotting the right roads amid a plethora of direction signs.

Two pairs of eyes and a spot of guesswork succeeded and it wasn’t long before we were enjoying the sights around Loch Lomond. As beautiful now as it was all those years ago.

No delays now with traffic levels petering out as we left Glasgow well behind and headed up to the isles on the A82.

Unfortunately heavy rain spoiled views of some of the scenic spots as we moved northwards past Glencoe and Fort William, but conditions had improved by the time we took in the Kyle of Localsh and started to cross the bridge over to Skye with the Sound of Sleat and Loch Alsh below.

An awesome entrance to the isle but lacking the romance of yesteryear when we caught the small car ferry at the Kyle of Lochalsh across to Kyleakin - no opportunity to reprise my Bonnie Prince Charlie performance or for any rendition of the Skye Boat Song.

This iconic island was our priority destination - a special treat of several days at a top hotel and with time to explore. And we couldn’t have chosen a better base than the Cuillin Hills Hotel on the outskirts of Portree which afforded magnificent views across the Sound of Raasay to the mountain range in the distance, the magnificent Cuillins - an impressive vista as ever.

Portree doesn’t appear to have altered too much. Still an interesting but small town-cum-village centre, lots of enjoyable walks, and a good number of eating spots in local hotels and pubs.

The Portree Hotel’s Antlers Bar and Grill, by the town square and bus station, was warm and welcoming with a blazing fire, but it was the other side of the square at a venue popular with the local population that drew our custom for each of our three nights stay.

If it’s good enough for the locals, and looks busy, then it must be offering good value for money and that’s exactly the way it was in the very friendly Isles Inn, which also offers accommodation.

First class food, to go along with charming and attentive staff.

The grounds of the Cuillin Hills Hotel, more on that later, offer a number of walks which in turn lead to other more adventurous routes but if you want something really challenging then head just a few miles up the narrow road to Trotternish, past Loch Leathan on the A855, to an off-road parking area from where you can set off up a rough track to the towering pinnacle of the Old Man of Storr.

Legend has it that it gets its name because the rock outline and the protruding pinnacle resemble that of the face of an old man.

This is definitely for the more adventurous and experienced hiker. Steadily climbing the path for close on an hour I began to wonder just who was the old man - me or that ancient rock?

A battering from gale force winds made progress harder still and the average time for the walk, I had been told, was around 1hr and 15mins without a stop. The hour mark had almost elapsed and with still quite a way to go a brief conversation with a couple of Australian visitors - who were on their way back down - convinced me it was time also to turn round, especially with the threat of rain!

Advantage to the rock - Old Man of Storr 1, Wallcroft 0.

Back in the warmth of the car, windswept but dry, it proved a wise decision as the heavens duly opened…

I would have been soaked through.

Then back to the comfort of our hotel which continued to impress with its facilities and its fare at meal times. Plenty of choice - well prepared, cooked and presented, and how wonderful it was to have a window seat at breakfast with views across the water to the distant Cuillins.

The following day produced one disappointment for us - and for others we spoke to on the car park, was Dunvegan Castle, which had closed for the winter months ahead of its advertised schedule.

Perhaps too few visitors, but having had a personal guided tour from Dame Flora McLeod of MacLeod, the 28th clan chief, the last time we were there we had to be satisfied with recalling some of those highlights as we admired the castle exterior.

On from Skye we headed east to the bustling city of Inverness., past the world famous Loch Ness - time here to muse on what might lie below its deep and murky waters and time too to reflect on the lack of watering holes. Those we spotted were closed. Wrong time of year really being somewhat out of season.

As for the capital of the Highlands there’s plenty of attractions here - just about all the tourist needs. It’s dissected by the River Ness, which is criss-crossed by road and foot bridges, so make sure you have plenty of time to potter around.

The place itself has certainly grown and appears to be a bustling, thriving and rapidly changing area.

Nearby is the famous battlefield at Culloden and this has certainly altered. I recalled from the past open fields, parking at the roadside and later feeling the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end as we inspected the memorial cairn and the graves of the various clan members massacred in what was the final confrontation of the Jacobite rising of 1745.

Dusk was just descending that evening and both my wife and myself sensed an eerie feeling as we read the inscriptions and there was not another person in sight.

No indication of that feeling on our latest visit. The site now has a big multi-million pounds visitor centre, with a restaurant, shop and exhibitions - but away from all the modern additions the battlefield itself still affords a moving experience as you visualise what occurred there.

The battle itself was on April 16, 1746, and the Jacobite forces of Charles Edward Stuart, Bonnie Prince Charlie, were decisively defeated by Hanoverian forces commanded by William Augustus, the Duke of Cumberland.

Casualties on the Jacobites side are estimated to have been between 1,500 and 2,000, while only 50 deaths and just over 200 wounded were recorded among Cumberland’s troops. It was the last pitched battle ever fought on British soil

Our penultimate port of call was Edinburgh which, sadly for us, had lost some of the glow and warmth of a visit a couple of years ago for the Festival and Military Tattoo.

Around the city centre it seemed life was a drudge for many along the busy streets. Hardly a smile, and a lack of manners as people in general bustled and brushed past with not an ‘excuse me’ or ‘thank you’ offered. Perhaps it was the cold and damp climate. But thankfully there were exceptions when seeking directions or or other information.

But it still has plenty of historic attractions to enjoy such as the castle and Holyrood House.

City centre eateries were busy on the night and we opted for an Oriental experience (The Saigon Saigon), not far from Waverley railway station, but were surprised when the bill came and we had been charged extra for fried rice (£6.40 for two bowls) when most of our home venues have this included.

The return journey south took us down the A68 via Lauder and Jedburgh and on to the A1M but was longer than planned as we headed for our final destination of York.

This was due to road works in the Borders area with not a ‘sign’ offering alternative diversion routes. A case of relying on a satnav, or in our case a road map and following our noses!

York - on eventual arrival - was most enjoyable with a visit to the National Railway Museum, York Minster and other attractions including the city wall and the River Ouse. And there are plenty places to dine.

We even took in a cinema visit to see the exceptional Bohemian Rhapsody. Quite a special venue with a cinema hostess, large comfy and cushioned seats, and food and drink delivered if required.

No queueing up here at the interval only to find the last strawberry ice cream had just been sold!

York has been marked down as a definite return.

As for our other stop-overs - it was the Holiday Express Inn at Inverness - very good value for money with an adjoining pub/restaurant to avoid the need to head back into the city for an affordable tasty and generously portioned evening meal, and the hotel also offered a wholesome traditional breakfast.

At Edinburgh it was the Hotel Ceilidh-Donia in the suburb of Newington. Welcoming and with a first class traditional breakfast to set you up for the day - but it had its downsides. Our room was in need of updating and parking nearby is a considerable problem.

Finally in York it was the Ibis York Centre Hotel. Not one we would recommend but our room was clean and relatively comfortable - although basic, not even a phone to contact reception. Pity too that the room walls were thin and flimsy with sounds travelling far at night, and it has only a small car park for which there is a considerable charge.

So the trip overall provided its ups and downs, as might be expected, but with the ups winning handsomely it was a wonderful experience to retrace our footsteps after all those years.

Good memories - and now we are set to boast about our Scottish road trip of just over 1,300 miles, and maybe bore our friends, before planning possibly a return.

This time it might be to the south-west area of Dumfries and Galloway, or maybe we’ll go west instead into Wales and take in its southern and western coastline.

It’s a little nearer and that could well sway the choice for 2019.