Scotland won me over back in May when I visited Edinburgh with my mama. We learned a lot about Scottish history and saw some fantastic sites. We simply didn’t have enough days to make it into the highlands, but I’ve heard from “everybody” that they are spectacular. When I found out about my training course with London Business School, I did some research and determined it was the best opportunity to visit the highlands. After all, it’s much easier to reach the north of Scotland when you’re already in the UK.
An expat friend from Switzerland flew to London to meet me after my course, and then it was off to Inverness. We got in really late to one of the tiniest airports I’ve seen (rivaling Texarkana, Texas and El Calafate, Argentina). We roamed around the parking lot to find our rental car, since they don’t even have an official rental car lot. It was a snazzy Mercedes hatchback (and likely the only automatic car in the fleet). Thankfully, it didn’t take too long for me to adjust to driving on the other side of the car / road. Our GPS worked, and we made the very dark drive to our hotel. No light pollution to be concerned about in northern Scotland! (Probably because only 3% of the population lives in the highlands.)
The next morning, we had some breakfast and went for a walk along the water to visit St. Andrew’s Cathedral. The sun was shining, which was such a wonderful surprise when I planned for rain!
After our walk, we drove out of town to the Culloden Battlefield. We walked through the Visitor Centre to learn all about the last major land battle fought on British soil. The battle was between the Jacobites under Bonnie Prince Charlie and the government (Hanover dynasty / King George II’s family). It took place in 1746. The battlefield is really somber. An audio guide takes you all over the grounds explaining the strategies of the two sides and where the battle lines were drawn. In one day, the British killed roughly 1,500 of the Jacobite troops.
After our history lesson, it was time for some monster hunting! We drove south along Loch Ness in search of Nessie, the Loch Ness monster! I got a kick out of how much they play up the monster! So many souvenirs, statues, etc. It’s hilarious! Unfortunately we didn’t see her, but we did get to take in the beauty of the Loch as well as one of the castles that juts right out into the middle of the water. Simply stunning! One fun fact I learned from one of the children’s books in a gift shop…you could stack Big Ben three times under water, and it still wouldn’t reach in the surface!! In other words, there’s plenty of depth for Nessie to be lurking far below the surface.
[Do you see any trace of a monster?]
Urquhart Castle is mostly ruins at this point, but it still boasts the best view on Loch Ness! A structure was present on this site from roughly the 6th century until its final destruction in 1692.
We stopped briefly in Fort Augustus to see the locks, but they weren’t running. Of course, they had a giant Nessie statue there, too.
Then, we raced to Eilean Donan Castle to see it before dark. We arrived at sunset and took some beautiful pictures of the castle and the surrounding landscape. It’s one of the iconic Scottish castles that has been featured in a number of movies and is likely to be pictured in any calendar of Scotland.
It definitely got chilly as the sun was going down! We cranked up the heat and drove over the bridge onto Isle of Skye. We stayed at Hotel Eilean Iarmain, which was really remote. (Think, no cell phone service.) The hotel was precious. We changed and enjoyed a drink by the fireplace while waiting for our dinner to be prepared.
Our dinner was SUCH a surprise! They have a daily menu of fresh seafood, and guess what was on it that day?!? LOBSTER!! I love all seafood, but I really love lobster, and I haven’t had it in ages. Couple that love and scarcity with the fact that it was extremely affordable, and you have a triple win! We each ordered one, and we LOVED it! The only thing we were missing was a bib…and some wet wipes! I guess those are American things.
[A day of adventuring on the Isle of Skye called for the token road trip photo!]
Skye is really rugged. The population is small, and it all feels very remote. We used our paper map highlighting the few roads on the island to get around (and our GPS a couple of times to ensure we were headed in the right direction). Our first stop was the Fairy Pools. What a beautiful hike across lots of little streams and next to babbling brooks and waterfalls!
[Follow the yellow brick road…]
I tried to refrain from photographing as many sheep as I did in Ireland, but sometimes it’s hard to resist…
We wanted to tour the Talisker Distillery (the only whiskey distillery on the Isle of Skye), but we were going to have to wait too long for the next tour and risked missing our lunch reservation. There just aren’t enough hours in the day!
We drove up north to a restaurant called The Three Chimneys to have lunch. It was AMAZING! Beautiful food, really nice servers, cozy setting, and again, far less expensive than a nice meal out in Switzerland! What a treat!
I hoped to see a Highland Cow during our road trip. Our eyes were peeled at all times looking for a place to pull over and photograph one! We found two during the course of the weekend. (Though, the second one looks more like a Highland Bear to me!)
There was so much beautiful scenery along the way! We couldn’t resist pulling over a few times to take it all in!
We wanted to squeeze in one more hike, so we drove over to the Trotternish Peninsula to do the Quiraing walk. All day long, I was marveling at the weather, but it wasn’t until the local woman working at the food truck at the base of the path told us that they only get four or five days PER YEAR like this that I really understood how wonderful it was to experience Skye this way! Abundant sunshine, no wind, and no rain!
[This same woman was selling “Hot dogs & Tea.” What kind of combination is that?!]
Completely unrelated…we also bumped into the first St. Louis Cardinals fan I’ve seen in the past two years in Europe! I probably scared her with my enthusiasm when I saw her hat, but I simply couldn’t help myself.
I know I told you I tried to refrain from photographing the sheep too much, but the crazy animals were literally scaling the side of the mountain to eat the grass! We were in shock! I don’t know if these picture portray how steep it was, but let’s just say there’s no way I would attempt to climb where they were! They’re nature’s lawn mower! (And some of them appear to be Michigan fans…)
We wanted to find the sunset, so we jumped back in the car after our hike and started driving to the northeastern coast. We arrived just before the ball of fire dropped into the sea! How beautiful!
The sheep were reluctant to share the road, which is a challenge when you’re already driving on a single lane road meant to accommodate two cars!
We stayed in Portree for our final night and woke up to this stunning view of the Cuillin Hills! Our final morning was a bit grey and cloudy – giving us a feeling of what the north of Scotland is usually like.
I think we squeezed in as much as humanly possible into our weekend. I thought Scotland was beautiful, and I really appreciated the sunshine! The amazing seafood was a fun surprise, too. And as always, I loved the good music and good chats that come with a road trip!