The Highlands of Scotland is an area I will never tire of exploring. Visiting the Highlands always makes me happy. Sometimes you just want to escape your daily life and get away from it all and travelling to the Highlands certainly does that for me. When I unexpectedly found three days free to explore the area I was over the moon.
With my planned trip up Ben Nevis put on hold for a few months I now had three empty days, as I had already booked the Invercoe Highland Holidays Campsite. As much as I say I want to relax it's impossible for me to visit a new area and not want to squeeze in as much as possible, so I got out my map and built myself a pretty exciting itinerary.
When I'm building an itinerary I always use Google maps to find out the distance between each place I want to visit. Don't forget to build in some time to sit and appreciate your surroundings, take a walk and have some lunch.
I am definitely the type to not sit still for any length of time on holiday. I'm a member of a forum about Scottish travel on Facebook and there always seems to be a debate about tourists from America coming over with a packed itinerary so they can see as much as they can and people who live here always say knock a few places off, spend more time in each place and slow it all down. Now this of course sounds very sensible but if you've ever seen my itineraries such as The Dumfries and Galloway Food Trail you'll notice that's just not me. Fair enough if you've visited the area before and seen everything you want to then slow down the next time but the first time? I'll be the one with the camera hanging out the window as I dart around each photo stop.
Leaving after breakfast the first stop was a cheeky visit to Stirling Castle as we were passing it anyway and I'd never been. I know, shocking. As Taylor took Crusoe for a walk I had an hour to myself to explore the castle in peace and I loved it. A school choir and band was playing in the Chapel Royal which could be heard around the castle and gave me some background music as I walked the wall walk. Here I found a hole in the wall which Mary Queen of Scots had the gardener make for her when she was too wee to see over the top. The brightly coloured and elaborate state rooms were brilliant to see, a glimpse into what life would have been like for the young queen.
An hour was nowhere near enough time but the mountains were calling and it was back in the car for one of my favourite drives in the country.
The drive through Rannoch Moor and Glencoe really shows off Scotland at its best. The weather wasn't on our side, it's was cloudy, drizzly and foggy but Glencoe wouldn't be Glencoe without crappy weather. It helps to bring out the mystical and magical atmosphere that makes Glencoe such a special place. We stopped off in a lay-by for a walk and get some photos and got pretty filthy in the boggy valleys. You can't help but feel tiny and insignificant when you are surrounded by these massive and imposing mountains, the mighty Buachaille Etive Mor hovered above us as we wound our way along a gorge, heading for the valley. After Crusoe found and jumped in the biggest muddiest puddle he could find it was back to the car again to continue our drive, but not before plenty of photos of Fhada, Gearr Aonach and Aonach Dudh, collectively known as the three sisters which are Taylor's favourites.
The campsite we found sits on the banks of Loch Leven and when we got there I was over the moon to find a pretty stunning view from where we would be sleeping. I'll write a wee blog about the campsite and link it here.
The second day's itinerary was completely dependant on the weather and as I was assured a nice sunny day I chose today to visit Arisaig and Morar to finally see those beautiful beaches. We stopped off first at Neptune's Staircase in Fort William, a series of 8 locks raising boats 62 feet above sea level so they can continue their journey along the Caledonian Canal. Built by Thomas Telford between 1803 - 1822 it's the longest staircase lock in Britain. It's an impressive sight and so is the colossal Ben Nevis in the background!
With the tunes playing and the biscuits open it was time to drive along the "road to the isles", another stunning road to drive. Also known as the A830 it connects Fort William to Mallaig where you catch the ferry to Skye. This road has a bit of everything as it winds its way to the coast - picturesque lochs, mountains, pretty villages and plenty of history. We stopped at Glenfinnan to see the monument where Bonnie Prince Charlie raised the standard to begin the doomed Jacobite rising of '45. We saw the "Harry Potter Bridge" as I now call it, which is actually the Glenfinnan Viaduct. Although we didn't see the steam train here we were lucky enough to see it close up a little further on. As we approached the underside of a little bridge we saw the steam approaching and pulled over to watch as it passed right in front of us, so close the people waved to us as they enjoyed their afternoon tea on board. A real treat.
The sun had not appeared as promised by bloody google weather so we didn't get an afternoon on the beach but we stopped at the famous Silver Sands of Morar which was breathtaking. I can only imagine what it would look like in the sun. We had a walk around the pretty harbour of Arisaig and thoroughly enjoyed the drive up to Mallaig where we indulged in some scones and Cullen Skink in The Tea House, while we watched the ferry leave for Skye. What a lovely wee cafe and Crusoe got to come in too! If you ever get the chance to drive along the road to the isles do it, it's an amazing road and the scenery is outstanding.
If I couldn't climb the mountain I was at least going to be in the vicinity so we spent out third day in the Nevis Range. We planned to have a go on the Gondola but took the wrong turning in Fort William (one charging socket in the car and a dead phone meant no tom tom). We ended up in the heart of the Nevis Range and had a beautiful drive on a single track road through landscape that can only be described as straight out of a fantasy film (since writing this I've discovered it has indeed been used in a film, in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire).
After realising we weren't going to reach a Gondola we turned around and stopped at the Glen Nevis Visitor Centre who I hoped would point me in the right direction. While I was there I took Crusoe for a walk where he was a little too interested in the sheep, he definitely has all the traits of a border collie. As I was walking the path looked very familiar and I realised it's the exact path I would have been walking the night before had I been climbing the mountain. So I walked a bit further on and actually ended up walking for a good hour before heading back.
When we eventually found the Gondola (it's actually really easy to find if you take the Inverness road) the fog had appeared but that didn't stop us as we climbed aboard. Crusoe picked this moment to decide he was terrified and had to be carried on, although he settled straight away and was fascinated by the sights it seems. The Gondola climbs 2150 feet up Aonach Mor, Britain's 8th biggest mountain. The carriages hold 6 people but we had it to ourselves which gave us plenty room to look around. Up the top there is a self service cafe and gift shop and two walks which lead to, I'm assured, stunning mountain views points but as we were surrounded by thick fog we couldn't see a thing. It was still a lovely walk though and the fresh mountain air felt amazing. Crusoe found a stream to play in and had a mad half hour jumping in and out. We had a cup of tea on the large balcony of the cafe and it was magical, like we were floating on a fluffy cloud, and so peaceful! We stayed there for ages, it felt like another world. By the time we got back on the Gondola the fog had lifted and we watched the mountain bikers tear down the tracks below as we bobbed gently back down. What a perfect way to see the mountains up close without actually climbing them, ideal for families and those less able. This, along with the funicular railway in the Cairngorms, are absolute gems for people who would rather not climb the mountains but still want the spectacular panoramic views from the top.
3 day itinerary
We really packed in the activities during the day on this trip but relaxed in the evening in the campsite, on our little chairs beside the loch. I came back chilled out and refreshed, the ideal trip. How to you plan your trips? Do you, like me, pack it in?
Here is a wee video from my Instagram Stories, if you'd like to see more of what I get up to while I'm travelling around Scotland you can watch my stories by following me there (funkyellas_scotland)