Travel Scotland through Castles, Bagpipes and Whiskey Distilleries
We had a little taste of Scotland through this short but intense travel through the UK. It was a trip that we had very much in mind for a long time. This has been a special trip for us. It was the second time we were traveling to Scotland. Deciding the route and choosing the different accommodation points, is usually what takes more time when planning a trip.
Once the flights were confirmed, and with the route already planned, the next thing was to look for accommodation. For this, we use the omnipotent Google. The truth is that there are few accommodations that are not found in Google Maps. Once located on the map, we selected the ones that fit within our budget. Then we contacted them through email and if they had availability, we formalized the reservation.
Day 1 - Edinburgh
In the end the day arrived. It seemed like it would never come! Two hours before the departure of our flight we arrived at the airport. After checking on the screens that our flight would leave at the scheduled time, we showed up at the counter to check-in our bags.
After having a coffee, we passed the security checkpoint and headed towards the boarding gate. The line was considerable. A person went through the queue, checking that we all had the correct documentation and that the hand luggage met the requirements.
With British punctuality, we were walking the track, ready to take off. Our flight takes off after a considerable delay from the airport that takes us to Edinburgh. The United Kingdom is outside the Schengen area. On arrival, there are passport checks and customs formalities. There is a long line and we were a bit irritated at the delay as our time is short and in these few days we will have to travel a lot.
When we are finally outside the airport, we take the rental car and head to the apartment we booked. Bad luck has it that we struggle to find the address because at that stretch of road there are works in progress, but then we make it. Upon arrival, we see the beautiful apartment.
It has a super modern bedroom, a living room with fireplace and dining table, kitchen, bathroom, and backyard. In the fridge, there's even breakfast for the next day! In this comfortable house, all the fatigue of the journey disappears.
We support our things and we try not to lose more time because we would like to move straight into the historic center. The bus stop is located within a minutes walk. Once accommodated on board here I start chatting with a lady sitting next to me in perfect English, of course!
Fortunately, they had told me that the Scots speak a little understandable English, and instead understand (almost) everything. The very polite lady advises on the most convenient stop for us to reach Edinburgh Castle.
We get off the bus after crossing the North Bridge and we are immediately on the corner with the famous Royal Mile. It is the oldest pedestrian street that leads straight to one side of Edinburgh Castle, and the one opposite the city's harbor. We start walking to breathe a little Scottish air!
Along the walk, we see several local restaurants with painted doors and windows, bagpipers, and Scottish souvenir shops. Arriving at the castle, however, we realize that it is too late to enter and consequently many rooms are already closed. We buy tickets for the next morning, so as to avoid the queue, and we go wandering around the old town.
We visit the St. Giles' Cathedral and then went to Arthur's Seat area. And there we went climbing the hills! Once up it started to rain! When we got down, we were dripping! Tired and still a little soaked, we decided to go to dinner in a typical pub. We dined next to the hotel, and have a beer, camembert, risotto, and burger. The day ends early because we were a bit tired.
Day 2 - Fort William
After breakfast in the room with coffee, juice, and cookies, we once again head to the Edinburgh Castle that stands on a hill overlooking the city. From here we enjoy a wonderful view of the sea. The front facade has the statue of William Wallace, the hero of Scottish independence. Then there is the Royal Palace, with its gallery of monarchs portraits and the magnificent Great Hall.
We also see the National War Museum, where there is the history of Scottish fighters to the present day. There is also the photographic project dedicated to the return of British fighters from Afghanistan. I quietly admire the view from where we can enjoy the city. Slowly the gray morning clears and the sun is coming out.
We have lunch in the cafeteria on the Esplanade with a sandwich and a drink. Our Edinburgh visit was very short. We went to our next stop, Glenrothes. We were in the cradle of golf! We see one of the St Andrews courses, in the Castle Course. Our driver offered to help me play in the afternoon at Gleneagles, which is where the Ryder Cup was played!
Then we went to Dunnotar Castle an hour and a little from St Andrews. Time gave us a break and the sun came out, and I have no words. It is one of the best images I keep in my memory of this trip. We did not get inside. We only saw it from the outside, from various perspectives. From here we then head to the free tour of Glenfiddich Whiskey Distillery in Dufftown.
As it was late instead of heading to Inverness, we start towards Fort William in the Scottish Highlands. We took the ferry in Luss crossing the Loch Lomond between its islands to Inchcailloch. We eat a sandwich on the pier of Inchcailloch while waiting for the ferry to come back.
Once in Luss, we take the car and go to Inveraray Castle, better known as the castle of the Downton Abbey series. The truth is that it is very beautiful and we take some beautiful photos. We do not buy the ticket to see it from the inside. We just go into the gardens and the store. About 5:30 pm we went to our next stop.
As the weather did not improve, we decided to leave the visit to the Kilchurn castle for another time. We took some pictures from the train station of Loch Awe on one of the banks of the lake with the same name.
The rental car has GPS which naturally makes us take a different path which seems to me much longer than they should. But who knows maybe it calculates routes based on traffic! The fact is that we begin to delve into the green of the Scottish scenery, and with a trip of about 2 hours, we arrive in Fort William. The town of Fort William is located on the banks of one of the many beautiful Loch of the region, the Loch Linnhe.
The Scottish Loch are different depths lakes with all the long and narrow characteristic shape. There are some freshwater lakes such as Loch Ness and others are the fjords, where the sea creeps, and are therefore saltwater. In this region, the water is one of the absolute protagonists, and one of the main reasons for its beauty.
With rivers, lakes, waterfalls, and sea, Scotland is a celebration of nature! We head to our cottage is located in the countryside in an idyllic situation with a beautiful garden and a pond with ducks. We also have the view of Ben Nevis, the highest in the UK, a winter ski mountain.
We have a veranda, a kitchen, bathroom with shower, a skimpy double bedroom and nicest thing of all a second bedroom loft with two single beds and balcony. In the evening we had to turn on the heat because it was chilly. That night we ordered some pizzas and they were brought to the house and we ate them in the family kitchen.
Day 3 - Inverness
After a great breakfast, we start our day by visiting the Dunstaffnage castle, located in the vicinity of Oban. It is one of the oldest stone castles in Scotland. On the way to Glenfinnan, we stop to visit the Old Inverlochy Castle. Now in ruins and a bit neglected, it was once one of Scotland's most famous castles as the setting for two great historical events, the first and second battles of Inverlochy.
We continue to the Ben Nevis distillery, located in Fort William. In the visitor center, it begins with a fun movie projected on the wall. Here the giant MCDram tells the story of the origins of Scotch whiskey. We then begin the guided tour learning the processes of the drink!
An interesting story that has impressed me is concerning the part of whiskey that evaporates every year in barrels. It is called Angel's Share, perhaps because it is assumed that the evaporation is for the benefit of the latter. The tour ends with a small course tasting, reserved for adults only. Of course, there is also a shop where one can buy, but the prices seemed exorbitant though the whiskey was good.
After the visit to the castle, we continue our way to Glenfinnan to watch the Harry Potter train pass at 10:45 by the viaduct. When passing through Banavie, we saw that there were people standing on one side of the road. As he knows that there are many people waiting, when he enters the viaduct the steam train starts to play the horn. We take some beautiful photos.
Our next destination was at the Castle Tioram. On the road leading to the castle we could enjoy some beautiful landscapes. The sheep seemed to pose for us. The castle was the home of the Clanranald clan. According to legend, the clan chief burned his own castle, predicting that he would die when he joined the army of the Count of the Sea in the Jacobite uprising.
Until our next destination, the Ardnamurchan lighthouse, there was a hour trip on the road. There was a very strong wind that made it uncomfortable to be there.
After lunch, we head towards Fort Augustus, the town which is located to the south of Lake Loch Ness. The Caledonian Canal is a navigable canal built to connect the different lakes with each other. After Fort Augustus, we see the Falls of Foyers, a very cool waterfall and then head to Loch Ness.
The Nessie, after all, is not the first thing that comes to mind thinking of Scotland, after the whiskey! Today was a special day for me because as a child I had wanted to go see Nessie. The lake has been explored far and wide with a sonar. In the 90s, a documentary was also made. In the museum of the Loch Ness Exhibition Center in Drumnadrochit, the history of Nessie has been documented throughout.
There is the possibility of a kind of dinosaur that survived extinction and has been trapped in the waters of the lakes. The first documented sightings in some way date back to 1500 years ago. We hear the videotaped testimonies of people who claim to have seen the creature. Our short but intense journey comes to an end already.
From here we went to Urquhart Castle. This one is very beautiful. Although it is demolished, it has a privileged location and a very interesting history. We ate some sandwiches. We wanted to stay until sunset, but it was totally cloudy and sparkling and we would not have taken any spectacular pictures.
And before the lights went out, we had time to make a quick visit to the Chanonry lighthouse on the opposite shore of Fort George in Fortrose. We made an attempt to visit Clava Cairn, a circular funerary chamber from the Bronze Age. We arrived after 8:30 pm and there was hardly any light. So with my regret of not getting the photos we had seen, we went to our hotel in Inverness.
Our host welcomed us and showed us our room. Just when we were going out again to find a place to dine, we received an unexpected visit. The owner's wife presented us with a bottle of sparkling rose wine and strawberries as a welcome gift.
We went to dinner outside with a beer, salad, Chicken Balmoral, chicken breasts stuffed with Haggis and garnish and some tagliatelle. It was not bad, but it was not anything special either.
Day 4 - Isle of Skye
At early dawn, we see a nice sunrise from the bed. We have another spectacular breakfast, although I had yogurt with natural fruits. After recovering strength, we went to John O'Groats considered the northernmost town of the island of Great Britain. We assume that they have exploited this to make it a very touristy spot. It is also departure from one of the ferries that go to the Orkney Islands.
Given the nice weather, we decide in the morning for a boat trip on Loch Broom, departing from the pier in Fort George at 10 am. We could watch the Ben Nevis in all its splendor as the sun rises higher in the sky.
The guide explained to us that only a few days a year one could enjoy such a clear view of the mountain, and we were lucky! The cruise lasts an hour and a half. We stand on the deck admiring the scenery and watch from the large windows, sipping hot chocolate from the bar. On the way to the Isle of Skye that is also connected by land, we enjoy great and unique views.
Before arriving on the island we stop at Eilean Donan, a small castle located on a small island connected by a stone bridge. In the films of the 80s, many scenes of the movies have been set right here. This small castle is set in a spectacular natural setting at the confluence of three lochs and the Isle of Skye in the background.
Inside we visit the rooms, but we were not allowed to take photos. The bedrooms, kitchens, tables are laden and clothes in the closets recreate the atmosphere of a castle of 1800. After having a chocolate cake at the small visitor center, just opposite the castle, we start towards the Isle of Skye, where we find some landscapes taken from fairy tales.
Shortly before arriving at Kyle of Lochalsh we stopped at a viewpoint on the road. From here there are beautiful views of the Kyle of Lochalsh harbor on the right, the Skye bridge in the background and the village of Kyleakin on the left. Once inside the Isle of Skye Our first stop was in the Eas a' Bhradain waterfall.
Continuing along we arrive at Sligachan where the crossroads are located where we can choose to continue north or go west of the island. In this small settlement at the foot of the Cuillin Mountains, there is a hotel built in 1830 and a stone bridge dating from 1820.
Although we had intended to visit the Talisker distillery, it, unfortunately, was closed to visitors. We, of course, like Edinburgh Castle, arrived late. The next stop on our way was the Neist Point lighthouse, located at the westernmost point of the island. On the way, we were enjoying the incredible landscape that we had before us.
Sometime before 2pm we arrived at Neist Point. We parked the car and went down the stairs that lead to the lighthouse. As we went down we went thinking that we would have to climb those same stairs. Despite the sun, it was windy and the temperature was not very high.
Neist point is considered the best place in Skye to see whales, dolphins, porpoises and the basking shark. The sea that surrounds the point is full of sea birds like gannets and cormorants. It is also famous for its rock formations, which are very similar to those of the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland. It is said that the causeway extends under the sea of Northern Ireland to the Isle of Skye.
We went down to the lighthouse, took hundreds of photos and after an hour we returned to the car. It was almost 3 o'clock and we had not eaten yet. So we made our way to Dunvegan Castle in the hope of finding somewhere to recharge. When passing through Glendale, we saw a tearoom and stopped to see if we could still eat something.
It was run by two ladies who give us a mixed sandwich and a soda. Although they had a counter with some amazing looking pies, we decided that we could not waste any more time because we still had to get to Dunvegan Castle. Then we went to Uig to see Fairy Glen, the landscape they say resembles Hobbiton. It's nice, but I think there are other nicer areas.
We continue towards Kilt Rock, a spectacular cliff formed by columns of basalt 60 million years ago. We hear the sounds produced by the water in the cascade of music. On the way back, we stopped at some vantage point with an open mouth at the Old Man of Storr. From below, the pointed rock seems to be close, so we started the climb.
After the first slope, the perspective changes and the rock looks much farther. The road was quite muddy and the sky did not look good at all, but we kept moving forward a bit. When we were up there it started to rain, but we took some amazing photos.
It take about 1 hour to come to our hotel near Portree. The truth is that the room was spectacular and huge. The owner was a little special, but very nice and tried to help us in everything. We went to dinner in Portree. We had a lot of trouble finding a place, as everything was booked. In the end, we find a hotel restaurant and had salmon, and other fish and beer. We come back to our room and go to rest.
Day 5 - Glencoe
After a breakfast with freshly laid natural eggs from the owner's chickens, and after a very interesting talk with him about the independence, we start our journey. The road we take on the return is not the same as the first leg, in which we have been guided by the navigator. After we left Dornie (very sadly, by the way) we stopped to take a picture of a beautiful reflection on Lake Duich at the height of Ault A'chruinn.
A little later we went to Dalmally taking the road that would take us through the Glencoe Pass. But before reaching that point, we stopped at Ballachulish where we took a short walk to see the Burial Islands. Soon after we reached Pass of Glencoe. From a viewpoint that is next to the road you have magnificent views of the Three Sisters.
We passed through Glencoe and in one of the lakes we stopped to eat our sandwich. This is one of the most spectacular valleys of Scotland, and despite the rain, we still enjoyed its majestic views.
The amount of water, waterfalls, rivers, and streams is impressive. From a hill come down dozens of streams, which seemed to gush from the top cloud in which was to disappear the top of the hill itself. I was enchanted! We head to our next destination at Pitlochry and headed towards Lake Tummel.
On one of the banks is the Queen's View. Before going to Killiecrankie, we decided to go through Queen's View to see if we had more luck with the subject of light. Although we had seen pictures on the internet, the truth is that we did not know exactly where it was!
We found the beginning of the lake without problems, but something did not fit. We went to the water level and the photos we had seen were quite high. After about 15 minutes we were convinced that the viewpoint could not be on that road and we decided to put a destination point on the GPS that was on the opposite shore.
Our beloved GPS put us on the correct shore of the lake and after undoing the walk, in just 15 minutes we reached the Queen's View. In addition to the viewpoint, there was a small shop (just closed). As we could see in an informative poster, from there leave a few hiking routes.
The viewpoint is two minutes walk from the car park and as explained in an information panel carved in stone, it became famous after the visit of Queen Victoria. The sky was quite covered and the sun was in front. So, despite not being the best time, we took some pictures to record the visit.
We head to the Falls of Bruar. These waterfalls are at the end of a path that starts from House of Bruar. When we reached the parking lot, it started to rain. So we thought it was a good time to have a hot chocolate and wait to see if it would go down. In half an hour, the sky opened and we were able to start the walk towards the waterfalls.
Halfway through the tour we realized that there was just a little bit of time before we could see the Blair castle. So we accelerated a bit. As soon as we got out of the car we were already impressed with the majesty of the castle. Its completely white exterior does not go unnoticed. Despite the fact that on the website of the castle they announce the availability of free tours, they did not offer it to us. I guess because we went at the last minute.
Shortly we were in Killiecrankie. After paying the parking, we went through the information center to see if they had any detailed map of the trail. What they showed us was quite similar to what was in our Scotland travel guide but bigger. In the middle of the route is the Loch Faskally, an artificial lake.
Without losing time, we left for Birnam where the Highland Games are held. Although the most famous competition is held in Braemar (the Royal Family attends), we prefer to go to a smaller town where we could safely move around the site.
As we were nearby, we went to Doune Castle. This castle is very small and almost everything is demolished. Today, fully restored, it offers a vision of how royalty lived in the Middle Ages. From the top of the tower, there are beautiful views of the town.
After the visit to the castle, we went to Balquhidder in the heart of the Trossachs National Park. Taking advantage of the fact that we were inside the park, we went to Loch Katrine.
When we arrive at our last stop at the Stirling Castle, the sun was finally out. We have little time, but we decide to visit the same. The coolest thing about the castle is probably its location and the view of the valley from its walkways. We ate some sandwiches outdoors and then we went to the William Wallace Monument.
We did not get to go up, but we saw it from the cafeteria, where we had a coffee and a chocolate in the windows overlooking a fascinating cemetery. Our next destination of the day was Falkirk Wheel. A rotating platform that acts as a lock to communicate the Forth and Clyde channels that are at different levels. It was opened by Queen Elizabeth II and is one of the great engineering works of the United Kingdom.
Although we had no intention of getting on the barges, we wanted to see it in operation since it seemed very curious to us. And the truth is that he did not disappoint us. When we finished, we then take the way to the airport, where the return flight awaited that take us back home after making a stopover in Amsterdam.
We loved this short tour to Scotland and would certainly return with more days available. It is a trip that combines so many different aspects and is suitable for both those who are fond of nature. The landscapes are stunning and there are many possibilities for outdoor activities.
It is a very suitable trip for those traveling with children. The only problem would be to find a suitable accommodation if you travel with more than two as the majority of the bed and breakfast apartments have a few rooms. If you want to travel in high season (summer) you have to book well in advance.