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I love finding hidden gems in Scotland and am often asked about where to find them in areas that tourists are visiting. Tourists visit Scotland with an itinerary which often includes the Isle of Skye, the Highlands, Edinburgh and Inverness and I love to encourage them to explore Scotland away from the usual tourist trail. Places that are rarely talked about, rarely photographed, places that are off the beaten track and away from the usual "must sees". I thought I'd ask some of my favourite Scottish travel bloggers about their best hidden gems. These are the blogs I read to inspire my travels and these ladies really know their stuff.
The Highlands of Scotland is an area I will never tire of exploring. Visiting the Highlands always makes me happy and I love nothing better than going on Scottish Highlands tour in my car. 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. Time to plan a 3 days in Scotland itinerary.
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 tour of the Highlands
Our last section of Scotland’s North Coast 500 took us from John o’ Groats back to Inverness. After spending the night in Bower we headed back up to Thurso where I’d heard rumours of a popular American themed cafe. The Blue Door Cafe and Diner is situated in the Thurso Bay Caravan and Camping park and is certainty not what you’d expect to find on the North Coast 500. Decorated fully in red, white and blue, the pretty painted chairs, bunting and homely decor are not garish and there’s a nod to its Scottish location which mixes nicely. I couldn’t resist a corn dog and my daughter’s eyes almost popped out her head at the sight of pancakes with bacon and maple syrup – a firm favourite.
I recently spent a weekend at the Oban Winter Festival and what an amazing weekend it was! Now in its sixth year it has grown from a reindeer parade and craft fair into a ten-day all singing-all dancing twinkling Christmassy extravaganza. The harbour town is a popular gateway to islands such as Mull, Colonsay and Barra but it’s also a pretty amazing wee town in its own right. It’s a town where the residents all know each other, everyone is on first name terms and you feel part of a community. It’s a nice feeling.
I can highly recommend getting up there and experiencing it for yourself the next time it’s on. Why? Here are my highlights…
Corran Halls Craft Fair
Stalls and stalls filled with homemade Christmas decorations, yummy cakes and tablet, photos of the incredible scenery, transformed into glass plaques and posters, calendars, big woolly scarves and beautiful wreaths. Not to mention lots of cheery residents up for a good chat. Lovely jubly.
The next section of Scotland’s North Coast 500 begins in Durness. After a full Scottish breakfast at the Smoo Cave Hotel we doubled back a bit and took a little road to the west of Durness which took us to Balnakeil Beach. Another absolutely gorgeous beach which looks over towards Cape Wrath. The bay feels abandoned, wild and remote, and the waves crashing onto the sands from the ferocious North Atlantic give it an eerie empty feeling.
The area, including Fariad Head and Gracie Island, is used by the ministry of defence to train fighter pilots and test weapons. It’s only used at certain times though and will be completely closed off while in use. There are notices up in Durness with dates on if you're in the area. Also beside the beach is the remains of Durness Old Church and graveyard where the Gaelic Poet Rob Dunn is buried, who was well known during the Jacobite years.
The next destination on my travels along Scotland’s North Coast 500 was Durness. This drive was the highlight of the trip for me, I saw some of the most dramatic and jaw-dropping scenery I’ve ever laid eyes on.
My next stop along Scotland’s North Coast 500 was Lochinver. After two relaxing nights in Gairloch it was time to pack up the wigwam and continue our journey. I was sad to leave. I wasn’t sure any of the other accommodations would be able to beat this location, luckily I was wrong! After carefully squeezing a weeks worth of stuff into my wee micra we checked out, bought some souveniers from the brilliant little gift shop and headed off. We actually done a little of this road the day before, to visit Inverewe Gardens and Mellon Udrigle Beach but if you are just spending the one night in Gairloch you can visit these on the route up to Lochinver.
Inverness is an historic city near Loch Ness and is the gateway to the North Highlands. It’s also the start of Scotland’s North Coast 500, our answer to America’s Route 66 and a route which is being added to every traveller’s bucket list, not to mention bikers, hikers and caravanners.
I finally got my chance to head off on this famous route at the beginning of July.
My last attempt of the North Coast 500 got rained off but not before spending two nights in Applecross, which you can read about here (Applecross), so this time we travelled from Inverness to Gairloch on the west coast. The route offically begins at Inverness Castle, a red sandstone castle build in 1836. There were a castle on the same spot previously however and it's here, after helping Mary Queen of Scots during the seige of Inverness in 1562 that Clan Fraser and Clan Munro took the castle for themselves. The city itself lies on the banks of the River Ness, which runs from Loch Ness to the Beauly Firth. If you believe in such things you could take a little detour here and see if you can find the Loch Ness Monster, I've searched and didn't find so I picked up my map and was ready for a road trip.
I knew before I set off that my journey would be a hell of a lot more than the 517 miles, by the time I took all the detours, to find the beautiful beaches, castles and villages. Not that I minded, I wanted to see everything I could, and couldn’t wait!
Rogie Falls was the first stop, 2 miles past Contin on the A835 to Ullapool. The beautiful set of waterfalls are just a short walk from the car park at the side of the road and you can get some cracking photos from the new suspension bridge. The water tumbles down from Ben Wyvis into the Black Water River and in the summer you might even spot the salmon leaping. I love the crashing, therapeutic sound of waterfalls, especially when it has been raining and there is a lot of water. That day it was raining…..a lot, and it was amazing.
A romantic break in Scotland is an ideal pressie for Valentines Day, Christmas or just to show your other half that you are still romantic after all...
Lie back, close your eyes, and imagine this...
Up in the Scottish Highlands, in the middle of nowhere, you are both surrounded by nothing but rugged mountains, gentle flowing rivers and breathtaking scenery. It's autumn and the weather is chilly and crisp. You walk, hand in hand, with the wind beating your faces, along a frost-covered path in the valley between towering snow topped mountains. You are both wrapped up with thick wool scarfs and cosy hats and there is nobody else as far as the eye can see, except perhaps a wild stag, peeking at you through the trees or a majestic Golden Eagle flying overhead.
After your exhilarating walk you both head back to your tiny white-washed cottage. The roaring log fire has kept the house snug and warm and you cosy up on the couch in front of the fire with a dram of whisky, wearing big fluffy slippers (sexy? No, romantic? Yes) and a huge soft blanket. There is nothing to distract you in this gorgeous cottage, just utter peace and quiet. The candles are lit and the music is playing.