I travel. It’s a passion.
I want to go everywhere. Just to be there, to wander, explore, eat, photograph and feel. I aim to travel for months each year. I choose a place and stay there for a while just to feel at home, to sit and watch the world go by. I write constant notes to myself – to nic – and want to share with you.
SCROLL DOWN TO VISIT SCOTLAND WITH ME
Scotland August 2017
Scotland is stunning. It’s soft colours – heather purples, moss greens, muted greys, deep blue oceans and storybook fluffy clouds. Be prepared to be amazed.
A note on the weather. All I will say is, if the sun is shining, get out there and enjoy. It’s cold, damp, cloudy, misty, windy, sunny and warm. That’s all in one summers day. As a Scot said to us – ‘ If you can see the hills it’s not raining but it will soon, and if you can’t see the hills, it’s raining.’ Bring the big jacket with the serious hood, the gum boots, the layers and the scarves. Pack keeping in mind another great saying, ‘no such thing as bad weather just bad clothing’.
Scottish and English pounds are the same value. I am getting 56p per $A.
Scotland is full of castles and great museums – look into a museum pass before you get there. There seem to be 2 main groups, Historic Scotland and The Scottish National Trust. Check out the discount packages available. Most sites are £12 and the popular ones like Edinburgh castle £17, so that should help you in your calculations.
There are some great Scottish train journeys, check out the Fort William to Mallaig line.
Now a note on the food. Outside the cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh the food is mostly how English food used to be. Limited to pubs serving lots of average burgers, bangers & mash and fish & chips, with a salad being lettuce with a tomato and cucumber, on the side. The seafood is amazing, and things are changing, so would be worth researching some good dining where you are going. The further north you head the worse it is. If the weather is fine there is huge opportunity to picnic – so I would buy a good insulated bag and buy when you could/ carry plates/ openers etc. Fruit and vegetables are hard to come by in the north so plan ahead and buy to take up. Try Haggis, it’s rich & tasty and usually accompanied by delicious whiskey sauce. Cullen Skink is a creamy smoked fish soup, excellent on a cold day. Of course the Scottish salmon is a must, as is the venison. Scottish breakfast can be an amazing thing -pork sausages are to die for and black pudding is yum – great for an entree too with scallops.
We were told again and again not to go to Scotland in August – those midges are crazy. Yes we saw them, they like wet, coastal areas. We dressed, in the early mornings and at dust, in long sleeves (was cold anyway) and used a recommended product by Avon, called Skin so Soft – the original version. You can see a swarm of them and just run away – no great problem.
Cash is gold. Many places in the north, from hotels to cafes, don’t take credit cards. There are not many ATM’s so cash up big time when you find one.
If you haven’t watched the Netflix series Outlander, based on the books by Diana Gabaldon (or read the books) do so. It’s well worth it to get the history of the clan system and the clearances, as well as many hours of enjoyment. Warning – it is addictive! Follow the trail of the Jacobites, so rich in history, every town, every Glen (valley) and every loch (lake). This series has increased tourism to Scotland and it will be talked about as you travel.
Hire a car – no other way to do this country. Very generally, the further north you go the more remote and amazing the landscape, so think of catching the train up to Inverness and driving from there if time is short. We did 2,500 km in 14 days and saw a life changing amount but missed so much!
Driving has its moments, most of them AMAZING, where the view in front is as stunning as the view in the rear vision mirror. However don’t ever get low on petrol – see a petrol station and fill up, they can be hours apart. Animals are on the road – cattle and sheep, so get used to looking out for them (those highland cattle so cute but would NOT want to hit one). Try not to drive at night. This is easy in summer as it doesn’t get dark till 10pm. A roads (the big ones) can suddenly turn into one lane only, really – one lane and two directions – with passing places – which is quite fun. It’s like a giant game of chicken, when you get used to it, but daunting at first. It all takes time, not that the roads are bad its just that its SO awesomely, amazingly, beautiful that you can’t stop, stopping, just to look and take a photo that will do no justice to the scene at all. I guarantee that you have never seen anything like it before – you just get used to a forest scene then you turn a corner and it’s huge granite rocks, then another, a valley stark and vast, then a fishing village, then a wave crashing beach.
Our journey – up the west coast, along the top Northern coast and down the East coast is called the ‘North Coast 500’. It’s a tourist promotion thing and you see the signs all about. It starts and ends in Inverness but you can adapt. If this is your path buy the book – “The North Coast 500” by Charles Tait. He details every inch of the trip. It’s the best guidebook ever. Have that and a larger map and you are good to go. Google maps are amazing but it is remote and sometimes not in range.
If you are travelling in August book ahead.We are travelling in August and as everyone says – ‘oh I hope you have booked accommodation’. Of course we haven’t. Our road trip is going to be all about freedom and deciding on a whim which way to go. Not going to happen. We go to bookings.com and they say Scotland 100% full. Edinburgh has the festival, Inverness some golfing competition and the rest – ‘well it’s always full in August – its peak season you know’. Various tourist offices we popped into confirmed that we best go to Birmingham. So on we went with heads high, going with the flow, which in fact meant driving silly miles every day to the only places with accommodation, but hey, it was fun.
Book ferries. Again, we thought they were joking but no – some ferries go only hourly and if you want to take a car they can be booked days in advance – especially anything to do with Skye.
Off we go
We trained from London to Glasgow – which was in itself was wonderful. I love sitting on a train and watching the beautiful English countryside flash by. It’s unlike me, but I didn’t pay attention to details when booking, never thinking a train would be full, it was, so there we were travelling backwards – hate that.
In ignorance, I had low expectations of Glasgow. I would have almost gone straight on but for friends living there. What a surprise. It’s a great mixture of new and old. Their city slogan, “People make Glasgow” worked. It’s friendly.
We stayed on the west side, and had a great dining and pub experience in Radnor Street, around a great restaurant called Crabshak.
We did a two hour walking tour of the town centre. Well worth it, we got a great feeling for the history and essence of the place. Georges square, the cathedral, the cemetery (Glasgow Necropolis – so worth the trip for the views alone), the East End, Merchant city, street art, Glasgow green and a walk down the Clyde River. Then through Anderston, the statue of Wellington, the Museum of Modern Art. We visited the Willow Tea Rooms and enjoyed a moment of the great architect Mackintosh who lived and worked in Glasgow.
Remember we are travelling for accommodation so our first night out of Glasgow is Tobermory on the Island of Mull. It is more than our budget,( £60 – £80 per night we thought would be our mark) at £130 for a double, and looks like Faulty Towers in the photos. Brilliant – lets go!
We pick up our hire car and drive from Glasgow heading northwest. The drive delights us from the get go. It’s a picture perfect mix of – beaches, lakes and fishing boats. Loch Lomand and Loch Awe were gorgeous, topped off by an interesting ‘church’ at Dalmally. We ticked boxes – highland cattle, black faced sheep, flowing rivers, flowering heather, mountains, green forests. It was our first, of many, WOW moments!! In fact we became the ‘WOW’ girls, we said it so many times a day.
Oban is a large town by Scottish standards and full of seafood restaurants. A bit English old fashioned for my likings but am sure would be a good place for a night, if one could find accommodation.
None for us, so onto the cute ferry to from Oban to Craignure on the Island of Mull. I am already in love – it’s just simply, beautiful. We drive the hour to Tobermory in the afternoon sun –yes sun. The town itself, as our guidebook described – ‘just makes you smile’, and it did. Coloured buildings, fishing boats, a whiskey distillery, cute shops selling horn, tartan and cashmere. Our hotel ‘The Western Islands’ could have been beautiful. It is elegant in a faded glory sort of a way. Mind you, nothing elegant about our top story shoebox room. They are slowly renovating and if I was rich I would have booked the Balvenie suite on the first floor and stayed for a few days. We dined on seafood at the pub and thought ourselves very lucky.
Explore more of Mull – stay at or at least have lunch at the beautiful looking and recommended by friends, Boathouse, at Ulva Ferry.
Stay a night on Iona at least, not that it would be easy to find accommodation only one cute looking hotel.
After exploring the shops of Tobermory we drive to Fionnphort, in a Scotland induced WOW haze, and on the foot ferry to the Island of Iona. You need a special license to take a car to Iona – so we ferried and walked. The water is crystal clear, the sand, white and stark in a stunning way. The shops are stylish, especially Aosdana jewelry, beautiful pieces in a stunning gallery. One day I will return and stay here and explore. It’s a tiny place but somewhere you could really stop. Not for us – no accommodation. So it’s back on the foot ferry and a drive to Fishnish and a ferry from there to Lochlaine and on to explore the mainland. We drive to the average town of Salen and have an average night in the only accommodation available (I think she had popped her kids off and put us in their room) but the plus was the discovery of Acharacle and the nearby stunning Loch Shiel. Make sure you walk down past the Loch Shiel Hotel to the loch and see the fisherman’s hut complete with lounge chairs and BBQ.
We should have taken the nearby Malliag ferry to Skye, but no – that one you needed to book and they where full for the whole day!! So check out Cal Mac ferry site and book anything related to Skye early.
We drive on the A861 and A830 WOW roads towards Glenfinnan, the bridge they used for the Harry Potter movies. The crowded car park reminds us that we are not the only tourists in Scotland. We walk the steep but easy walk to the viewpoint. It is impressive, as is the nearby Jacobite memorial to Bonnie Prince Charles. The place that really appealed on our journey was Glenuig. The Glenuig Inn looked ok for accommodation but better, next door a stand alone cottage with a dripping apple tree rented out by Viking Cottages – www.vikingcottages.com (probably booked till 2020)
Fort William is a busy and average town with more traffic than we have seen in a while. Glencoe was pretty and we enjoyed the museum – sort of quaint and daggy all rolled into one. A drive around Loch Leven is worth it on the B863.
Our next bed called, so had a total WOW drive north of Fort William via Loch Garry (OMG), Loch Cluanie (OMG) and Loch Dulch (OMG) and the five sisters (OMG) to the sweet village of Dornie where those sensible with booked accommodation would have stayed. Eileen Dornie Castle was just stunning set on an island in Loch Alsh and a great bakery just over the bridge with a bit of style (sadly lacking in other places).
Skye is linked to the mainland by a modern bridge (we marvel at Scottish engineering) at the wonderfully named Kyle of Lochalsh. So over the sea to Skye we go, whilst singing the song. ‘Skye Boat Song’, Bear McCreedy (Outlander theme song).
Great job done, breath easy and adopt this policy forever – organisation is a lovely state of mind. Chaos to calm.
We only had 2 hours in Skye. The BBC was warning the bridge maybe closed – SO many tourists in the area – la la la….
We walked and drove and fell in love with its beaches, its skies and its tiny villages. Next time more time on Skye. Off we go again back to mainland and onto Gairloch. A long and amazing (OMG) drive though the Loch’s of Carron and Maree.
We missed a large chunk of amazing here. We missed the areas of Plockton, Lochcarron, Applecross and Torridon. Next time!
Gairloch itself has a lot of English seaside town about it. The lovely beach amusingly called ‘Big Sands,” is totally ruined by a HUGE camping ground – but it has a bed, a few seafood restaurants and is fine enough for the night especially as this is the view from the bedroom window.
The drive to Poolewe and around Loch Ewe was more OMG, it is a cute town and great for a lunch stop. If you luck the Isle of Ewe smoke house to be open, it looks like it would be worth it, alas we didn’t. The rest of the drive to Ullapool was almost too much for the senses Aultbea, etc etc.
Time didn’t allow for places like, Achiltibuie (which came much recommended, as did the wonderfully named Summer Isles) Lochinver and that whole part of the world. Next time!
On to Durness via some the most totally, seriously stunning roads I have been on anywhere in the world. Ullapool via Kylesku to Durness was simply beautiful. We just ran out of things to say. Huge vistas, dotted with lochs, castles such as Ardvreck, ruins at Calda, vast, lonely, stunning, gasp until all we could stammer was WOW. Back to the world – don’t leave Ullapool without petrol.
What I can’t understand is why there is nothing here. You drive for an hour between villages and they may only be 4 houses large. Most houses are kind of average if not poor looking. Where are the castles and houses of the rich that should adorn these amazing lands? Where are the helipads and glamour restaurants – because the settings are worthy of them??
Where are all the birds and wildlife? We see the stag sign on the roads and hope for the best (ok, not on the road) see nothing, and not sure why, the water flows and it’s lush and green. 12 days of driving and not one sight of road kill, yet in the hot stark, barren Australian countryside you could hardly travel 12 minutes without a dead fox or kangaroo. Where did they all go and why?
Durness town was nothing much, but the beaches – white sand, waves and rocks. I would not have believed that a Scottish beach could look like this.
Folk say the journey out to Cape Wrath is amazing but the road is too bad to drive on and you have to do an all day bus trip and that doesn’t ring our bells..
On we drive – our bed calls at Betty Hill. After today’s drive we are already shell shocked but this one continues to amaze. The road around Loch Eriboll, Sango Sands the Kyle of Tongue. Thank god we finally get there – we have scenery overload.
We have the most remote airbnb possibly in the world – sheep are the neighbours, its perfect.
We visit great old country house hotels, the Betty Hill Hotel and the Tongue Hotel. Check them out for accommodation and lovely, faded glory restaurants. We saw the most amazing sun set from the balcony.
Here’s your challenge. To swim at Farr Bay. It is August, and we swam, but the water was a more than breathtakingly cold 6 degrees. So give it a go. It was exhilarating! The beach (stunning pebbles) and countryside at Skerray was just beautiful and lots of walks along headland sea paths, cattle sheep and interesting graveyards with views to the Betty Hill beaches.
At Portskerra we walked up to the cliffs to see the memorial for the drowned fisherman – not so much for the memorial but for the views. Dunnet head lovely for beaches and big ocean views.
Next stop is the Castle at Mey. This was the home of the Queen Mother and well worth the visit. It is only by guided tour, which you have to book. A lovely insight into the royal family with lots of photos and private items.
The drive to John o Groats was lovely, not as wild as we have seen with gentle farmland rolling down to the coast. Some bleak settings, not helped by pouring rain.
Take your photo at the John o Groats finger post sign and then drive on to the lighthouse. Park and go for a walk down to the Stacks of Duncansby, the rugged coastline seems to fall into the sea making islands. The Ness of Duncansby is supposed to be a great beach for collecting seashells, back to rain, so next time.
We didn’t go over to the Orkney Islands, the trip – only an hour by boat was hugely expensive – like £200 for the car + 2 of us for the return journey. Weird, the other trips where about £20. Maybe pre booking helps?
So now we start the journey south. The castles (ruins) of Buchollie and Sinclair & Girnigoe are worth a stop. Visited the lovely tiny harbour of Keiss and walked around the beach to view the ruins of castle Keiss. Others had seen seals there the day before but no such luck.
Wick is a big town, which is kind of freaky after so long without a shop, wow – a chemist and a super market. The little harbour is cute, we drove and walked out to Wick castle ruin on the coast. Then to our first whiskey distillery, Pulteney. Learnt what it was all about and had a nice little sample – the afternoon flows nicely after a wee drum. The standing stones of Achavanich at Latheron /Lybster where worth the couple of miles drive from the road for their amazing remoteness, just the stones and NOTHING…
We spent a couple of very worthwhile hours exploring the house and gardens of Dunrobin Castle. The town of Golspie had some style and was very pretty but not for us, moving on.
Dornoc is beautiful. It’s all stone like a Cotswold village, it’s classy and elegant and full of bars and restaurants. Yay. We lucked a night’s accommodation at the Eagle Hotel, where we also had dinner. Not that it was the best looking – it was the only one we could get into. Luigis is the restaurant of the moment – of course, bookings needed. Dornoc castle is right in the middle of the town and has been turned into a classy looking hotel, with a great little, have to visit, whisky bar. The golf course looks amazing if that is your thing. I am leaving the best to last, Dornoc beach. A great place for a walk and swim. It was awarded Scottish beach of the year this year, 2017. I could stay here for a couple of days.
Down the coastline and over the bridges to Inverness. The Black Isle looked like a lovely explore but we didn’t have the time. Next time.
The old part of Inverness, opposite Inverness Castle on the River Ness, was pretty and lined with restaurants and hotels. It would be a lovely place to stay for a night.
We drove down Loch Ness to the beautiful Urquart castle. It was a crazy mad tourist mess, the car park was full and you had to walk miles back, too hard – next time. Nessie land was funny, with a giant Loch Ness monster, Australian style, the full touristy hype.
Culloden was the site of the major Jacobite battle. The battlefield was very interesting with a wonderful new exhibition centre. We did a battlefield tour and watched a 4 screen battle movie. Modern café with many choices – even salad. Don’t leave the area without going the few extra miles to the Clava Cairns. A cairn is a stone burial site and this one doesn’t disappoint.
Drove past Cawdor castle, looked stunning but next time, Fort George the same. On to Nairn which was bigger than we expected – lovely white sand beaches and to our B & B in tiny Brodie. It’s claim to fame another castle and a shop in Brodie Countryfair selling well, just everything .
Elgin was huge town and a massive traffic jam, so we skirted the outsides and had a lovely time exploring the ruins of Elgin Cathedral. From here we left the coast, (thou coastal places like Portsoy, where highly recommended), for the very pretty drive to Dufftown, the heart of whiskey distillery land, which again surprised with its granite prettiness. Would be a good town for the night, a couple of great looking restaurants. The road to Aberdeen took us through endless hills of flowering heather and castles, we visited Fraser Castle, but could have visited many more.
Aberdeen, ‘the granite city’, was a very pleasant surprise. I was expecting a grey drab industrial town but it was smart and quite beautiful, and a great mix of old and new. Surprisingly great beaches too.
We followed the Deeside tour along the River Dee to the gorgeous homely Drum castle where we spent a few hours enjoying the house and grounds – Could have visited many more – Crathes at Banchory looked good too, next time…
Driving now down the coast, we loved the cute harbour at Stonehaven. Ordinary looking little town but inviting restaurants and hotels on the coastline, a night here would be rather nice. Just south was the amazing ruins of Dunnetton castle on an island on the coast, worth parking and walking.
Montrose nothing special but the beaches at Lunan Bay where vast.
Arbroath has a lovely, pretty harbour but a terrible shade of its former glory. We visited the ruins of the abbey and wondered when the town would follow. It used to be a thriving fishing port with family operated boats and home of the Arbroath Smokey. A few shops still surviving selling them and well worth trying.
Edinburgh is just a lovely, historical city. Give it some time, walk the Royal Mile, visit the Castle and Holyroade Palace, walk up Crathen Hill for the views, do the hop on hop off. Have a drink in the elegant Balmoral Hotel, eat Haggis Balls in a restaurant called Rollo. Explore the wonderful Cashmere and tartan shops – I liked the one called Marchbrae. The August Fringe festival was amazing for its ease and for the colourful folk all about, some events you needed to book for and some you just walking into. You find people of all sorts (usually the actors and their friends) touting in the streets and you get talked into popping by.
Just go you will love it.
The islands of Harris and Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. Explore a Hopscotch ferry ticket and hop from island to island starting at Arran.Spend more time exploring the area of Applecross, Ullaport and Ceilidh.
Other places coming up soon Rome, London, Greek Islands.