For our international trip in 2016, Scotland looked like a great option. So, in May we loaded up and headed to the Scottish Highlands. The plan was basically to drive around almost all of Scotland, explore the countryside, and day hike whenever we found a nice trail.
On May 21, we arrived in Glasgow, rented a car, and headed to Glencoe. I knew we would be tired from the flights, but we arrived in the morning, so I figured a short drive to Glencoe would be fine. I wasn’t too stressed about driving on the left side of the road since we had already done it in New Zealand, but the roads in Scotland were very different from New Zealand. The road we took from Glasgow to Glencoe went through some very windy, narrow roads that made for a nerve-wracking drive. At one point, there were rocks jutting out into the road on the left, while buses and tractor trailers were passing on the right of a road that was about the width of a single interstate lane. It was not fun. But we made it to Glencoe without a scratch and found the first beauty of Scotland. We walked around town, found a pretty park, and had a nice night at the Isle of Glencoe Hotel on the side of Loch Leven.
The next day, we took a great hike up Route 19 just outside of town.
We then drove a couple of hours to Arisaig, and stayed at the great Old Library Lodge on Loch nan Ceall. We walked around Arisaig, and just generally enjoyed the countryside. We really liked Arisaig, and wished we had more time to spend there. It was just a really quiet, small town.
We were supposed to go kayaking the next day, but we decided that we would rather explore the area on the ground, so we found a trail to hike near Mallaig. This trail was really pretty and was a nice, pleasant walk to a lake.
From there we headed to Inverness. On the way, we hiked around the Glenfinnan Viaduct, which I was told was used for a scene in the Harry Potter movies.
We then drove by Loch Ness, looking for Nessie. Of course, we didn’t see any lake monsters, but we made it to the Balachladaich Loch Ness B&B. This was a great bed and breakfast on the opposite side of Loch Ness. It was right on the lake, very quiet and secluded, and very nice. This was easily the best night of the trip. It was so far out in the middle of nowhere that the closest restaurant was nearly 30 minutes away, and that restaurant was a little weird of an experience because it was down a narrow driveway and just kind of seemed like a house that served food. After dinner we hiked a little bit, and then headed back to the B&B.
We begrudgingly got up early the next morning and drove to Inverness to catch a train to ride to Kyle of Lochalsh. We had never ridden a train before, and this was a great first experience. The ride wasn’t very expensive and it was very pretty.
We learned that the train stops at some very remote stops for hikers who can use the train to access trailheads. This would be a fun way to do a loop hike, using the train to get home.
Kyle of Lochalsh was also very pretty, and it made me wish we were spending time on Isle of Skye. I had debated visiting the island, but ultimately decided against it. Now I know we have to go back. We caught a bus to the Eilean Donan Castle, of Highlander fame, and spent several hours exploring the beautiful castle.
We then took the bus back to town and took the train back to Inverness. We stayed at a hotel in Inverness and spent the evening walking along the River Ness.
The next day we headed to the Cawdor Castle, which had some really pretty gardens and trails through the woods.
We then hiked on the Speyside Way near Garmouth, and then headed to our next great night’s stay at the Kildrummy Inn. One of the owners of this inn was a great chef, and the food here was just outstanding. The inn was in the absolute middle of nowhere, and there wasn’t anything nearby to do, but the food made it worth it.
The next day we hiked at Loch Kinord, which was a very pretty trail.
From there we headed to what we expected to be the highlight of the trip: we were staying the night in a castle. The castle was called the Dalmunzie Castle. It was a very remote estate, surrounded by mountains and nice trails. We spent the evening hiking on the estate.
The trail was very pretty and we enjoyed the hike. But that’s where the good stuff ended at the castle. I soon learned that the castle was actually a hunting lodge that had been built in the 20th century to look like an sixteenth century castle. This fact was not even remotely clear on the website. To make matters worse, the “castle” was being completely run by two people, as far as we could tell, and they provided horrible customer service. If the room had cost half as much, this would have been a decent stay. Because it was so expensive, though, it truly felt like we had been cheated.
But we made the best of it, and the next morning we got up and spent the day hiking again on the estate. After leaving Dalmunzie, we hiked at Loch Callater, which was a really nice hike.
From there we drove to Pitlochry and stayed at the Atholl Villa Guest House. This was another very pleasant stay, and we enjoyed walking around Pitlochry.
The next day we drove to Stirling and spent the day exploring Stirling Castle. This is a huge castle and fortress, and it was very fun to explore the grounds and imagine the history that took place throughout Europe…it’s such a different history than anything we’re accustomed to in the U.S.
We stayed outside of Glasgow after leaving Stirling.
The next morning we drove to Glasgow, turned in the rental car, took our first Uber ride, and had an exciting trip to some Highland Games in Carmunnock. This was a lot of fun. It was more of a local event than a tourist event, so it was fun experiencing some Scottish culture. Tracy thought the announcer was hilarious, so that made it fun, too. For me, the best part was the bagpipes and getting to meet locals.
Eventually, the games wound down, and we took a taxi back to the hotel in Glasgow. We spent the night packing, and the next day we walked the 100 yards to the airport and headed home.
This was a great trip. I had hoped to mark Scotland off the list, but there were so many great places that we wanted to see more, that I know we’ll have to go back. The next time, we will probably spend more time in the north-west corner of the country. There are some nice trails and mountains in that area, and I think we should see more of it. Every hotel served the Scottish breakfast…be prepared for that. I actually enjoyed it every morning for the whole trip…except for the black pudding. That stuff was absolutely horrible. I would like to do more hiking there, using the train to get around. The country is just really pretty and really relaxing. Scotland is amazing and well worth more visits. I look forward to going back.