Welcome to the Scottish Highlands… this was a hugely anticipated part of our trip and it certainly lived up to expectations! Almost 5 years ago, Megan and I spent two measly nights in the highlands and instantly fell in love with it. Now, after spending a few weeks here, we both agree that it is our favourite place of all. Apart from the cold (and the midges and come to speak of it, family and friends) we can totally picture ourselves living in the foothills of the mountains by a loch on a quiet property with a large backyard. Think of all the munros I could climb (more on that later). Anyway, back to reality.
Our first destination in the Highlands was in Ratagan, Glenshiel. Ratagan is a small hamlet sitting right on Loch Duich. We were fortunate enough to be able to stay with a friend of ours, Finlay, whom we met at Teen Ranch a few weeks earlier. Finlay and his lovely family were so accommodating to let us live with them in their house for 4 nights. Thanks so much for having us! Oh and Finlay is an incredible chocolatier… you should check out his amazing chocolates hand made in Glenshiel here.
We were very busy in the 4 days we spent with Finlay and here are some of the highlights:
On the way to Finlay’s place we took a short detour to visit Loch Carron. For those who know us well, Loch Carron is a little bit special to us and we couldn’t go by without finding it. Like most lochs in the Highlands, it was beautiful. Picture a large quiet, smooth lake surrounded by imposing mountains.
Eilean Donan is one of the most famous and picturesque castles in Scotland and it happened to be 10 minutes from Finlay’s place. Although we didn’t actually go inside, the castle is best viewed from across the water. The 13th century Mackenzie stronghold has appeared in numerous films and certainly lived up to expectatations.
Finlay took us on an adventure one day to Coral Beach near Plockton. As you could have guessed, the beach itself is made up of coral which was pretty cool. It was a very quiet and isolated little beach and we had fun playing playing with the coral and exploring the rocks.
Another great recommendation from tour guide Finlay was to take a seal cruise from Plockton. With the captain of the boat promising a free trip if we didn’t see any seals, we were very excited to see some. And, as expected, there were plenty lazing about on the rocky islands just off Plockton. We also had the opportunity to try some deep fried mars bar whilst in Plockton. Megan had been talking about having one for ages, but in the end, it was as expected… sweet, fatty and not overly exciting.
One of the things we love about travelling across U.K., has been soaking in the rich history of everywhere we go. The Glenelg Brochs is a perfect example of this. Brochs are tall stone towers which date back about 2000 years ago. There are many brochs still standing across Scotland and the two we saw were still reasonably well preserved. They were incredible to walk through and imagine what life would have been like 2000 years ago!
Something high on our bucket list in Skye was certainly the Fairy Pools and more specifically, swimming in them! Fairy Pools are a series of waterholes with crystal clear, blue water, set amongst the mountains. They are very popular, but certainly well worth the 20 minute walk from the carpark. We liked them so much we went twice and on our second visit, Elena and I went for a dip!
If you were to go to two places in all of Skye, I would recommend Fairy Pools and Fairy Glen. Fairy Glen was the most wonderful place. Fairy Glen is a miniature landscape of cone-shaped hills that is a little off the beaten track in the northern part of Skye. We loved climbing up the hills and Elena especially loved playing hide-and-seek with Megan. This really capped off such a wonderful time staying in this area. The whole area was so breathtakingly beautiful.
After Glenshiel, we made our way to Grantown-on-Spey. We chose this town as it was based in the Cairngorms National Park and we found quite an affordable Airbnb where we stayed in someone’s unit with them (thanks for having us Ellie). We typically try to get our own places in Airbnb, but when your budget is quite low, you take what you get…
After a busy few days, we treated these next five days as a chance to relax and unwind. While here we tasted our first experience of a ‘messy’ church service. A ‘messy’ service is one which is quite relaxed and targeted towards families with young children. Our one involved a variety of activities which linked back to a Bible story. Although fun for Elena and a good chance to meet some people, it was another reminder of how much we love our church back home!
One of the highlights of our time here was the sunny weather and the chance to get a taste of a sandy beach, albeit a man made one on the edge of Loch Morlich. We have constantly been waiting for summer to arrive in Scotland, and have been told by all to not hold our breath. The only people who were brave enough to swim, were those with full wetsuits on.
Whilst in this area we also explored Loch Garten. This loch was surrounded by woodland and made for a pleasant walk and picnic lunch. Note the winter jackets are back out again.
Highland Folk Museum
Our last activity for the Cairngorms was a visit to the Highland Folk Museum. This outdoor museum highlighted what highland life would have been like many years ago. Our favourite part of the museum was a section which had been set out just like a 17th century village would have been like. You could walk into the dark and smoke filled thatched huts and imagine yourself living there. Elena’s favourite part of the day was the playground… no surprises there.
Harry Potter Train
On the way to our next leg of the journey, I caught the Harry Potter Train (aka Jacobite Steam Train) from Fort William to Mallaig. We had originally hoped to all do it, but our lack of prior planning left us with only one ticket. It was a very picturesque journey and stunning scenary, but I didn’t particularly enjoy being cramped on a train and not being able to explore more. I think we have been a little spoilt with our experience of the highlands as well. Nonetheless, I would certainly recommend if you have limited time in the highlands.
Our final leg of this very busy couple of weeks took us to Kinloch Rannoch. We initially wanted to stay near Glencoe but left it too late to book so struggled to find accommodation anywhere. How happy we were to stumble across this gem of a place though. Our Airbnb was with a lovely couple who treated us like family in their spacious family home. When I said at the start that I could live in Scotland, I could certainly live here. Mountains, lochs, walking trails, quiet village life, veggie gardens…
It was also birthday season for the Richardson’s household with my birthday and Elena’s. On my birthday we went for a walk in the local woodland, relaxed on the beachside by the loch and grabbed a special dinner at the local pub.
When we asked Elena what she would like to do for her birthday she said she wanted to go to the playground and a cafe. So that’s exactly what we did… for the whole day! When we asked Elena what she wanted to eat on her birthday, she asked for lollies, chocolate and juice. And that’s exactly what the birthday girl got. Say goodbye to them until next year…
One of the things we love about travelling is exploring the outdoors by walking. One of the walks we did while in Kinloch Rannoch was to a place called Macgregor’s Cave. This was a beautiful walk through the forest to a secret cave hideaway in which troops from the Macgregor’s clan hid from the redcoats. We also came across this stunning picnic spot!
Munro Bagging – Schiehallion
For me, the standout highlight of our time here was my adventure up Schiehallion. One night I set off on a run with my eyes set on this mountain in the distance and returned a number of hours later with one munro ticked off the list. A munro is any of the 277 mountains in Scotland which are at least 3000 feet high (914m) and it is quite a thing here to bag as many as you can. Ian (the Airbnb host) had recently completed all of them and was excited to share in my adventure up the imposing mountain. Only 276 to go….
Until next time…