Moving is always stressful, but moving to another country is a whole other ballgame. Unless you're prepared to spend an outrageous amount of money, the first thing you have to do is Marie Kondo the hell out of all of your possessions. As someone who previously traveled for months out of a backpack, I thought it would be easy to pack a carry-on, backpack, and checked bag but oh my gosh, it is not. In my 36 years I've acquired a ridiculous amount of possessions and as a sentimental person every single one of them bring me joy. I won't bore you with the details, but with a lot of effort and some tears, I managed to whittle it all down to 2 checked bags weighing EXACTLY 50 pounds plus a carry on and a backpack that may have destroyed my shoulders a little.
A couple days after the packing extravaganza, I was off to the airport. Of course, Covid-19 made everything more complicated than it would normally be. I had to get a PCR test 72 hours before I arrived in the UK and I was praying for the 24 hours it took to get my results that I would test negative! I had to fill out a passenger locator form and bring my record of vaccination. Unvaccinated Americans can still come over, but they have to quarantine for ten days after arrival. Even with my vaccination, I had to take a $94 test (ouch) on my third day here. Other than that, my flight was great. I was upgraded to the fancy section of my delta flight by sheer luck which was really nice especially for a long-haul flight. When I got to Amsterdam, I had to wait in a really long line to have all of my documents checked again and almost missed my flight to Edinburgh! That was a bit stressful, but ultimately I just had to be pushy and ask them to send me to the front of the line since my flight was leaving in 20 minutes and I got on just in time :) I was so happy when I finally landed in Edinburgh and lucky for me the check-in process was super easy! I had my visa stamped in about 5 minutes and was on my way to the taxi. It was super easy to get a taxi, they are all lined up and you just walk up to the front of the line and jump in! Luckily they are big enough to fit all of your luggage.
The rough part is having to then carry these suitcases one-by-one up 4 flights of stairs. Note to future international movers, maybe, if you have three suitcases, and two weigh 50 pounds, find a place to stay that is on the ground floor unless it's your permanent residence! I'm dreading having to carry these babies back down in the next two days when I move into my new place.
How's It Going So Far?
I've been here a little less than 2 weeks (12 days) and I'm here to tell you that Atlanta to Edinburgh really isn't a scary move. They speak English (kind of) and it's one of the safest places in the UK! The scariest thing about moving here is the toll that it takes on your wallet. You lose roughly $30 for every $100, so $100 is roughly £70. Most things are priced relatively the same as they are in the United States, so coming over here, you just get less for your money. The up side is that groceries and beer are cheaper (woohoo). Being new in any city can make shopping a challenge, you have to find your local stores. Being here is a bit more challenging as there aren't many brands that carry over, so having to figure out what toothpaste and laundry detergent and such are going to be your favorite is a fun or frustrating if you're a really bad guesser. What brand of cereal do you like? No idea! It's all trial and error again which is mostly fun. I do love novelty, so it's nice to have a grocery store full of new foods that I can try out. I'm also loving that when you order something with berries at a restaurant sometimes those berries are currants which I never really saw in the states. Clothes shopping is the same, where do I go for a basic black sweater? Primark? TK Maxx (yes this is TJ Maxx)? Do my favorite stores ship to the UK? I enjoy figuring it all out, and the searching has helped me walk around A LOT. Last Saturday I hit 20,000 steps ya'll! Of course when you are tired and just want to quickly grab those hair and nail vitamin gummies (hey OLLY!) you love, it can sometimes be a little frustrating. Small price to pay for the adventure of living in a new city...country!
So What's The Verdict?
What I LOVE
We woke up early on our first morning in Glasgow so we could get down to the bus station to meet up with our group for Discover Scotland's Loch Lomond/Stirling Castle/Doune Castle tour. The one we took is here if you'd like to check it out. We boarded the bus in Glasgow and were brought first to an adorable little village on Loch Lomond called Luss. You have time to hike around, shop, or do both! We really enjoyed hiking and shopping and bought the cutest Christmas ornaments and a wallet at a little shop there. At another shop we purchased the cutest little Scotland tea towels. You're given a time to meet back at the bus and then you're taken up the Duke's Pass into the Trossachs. We stopped to take pictures at a beautiful viewpoint before heading to the cute little town of Callander for lunch.
In Callander be sure to pick your lunch place quickly, this stop is quite quick! We stopped at Mhor Bread and had some delicious sandwiches quickly which gave us the time to stop by a store nearby and buy some souvenir scarves! After that we had to hustle back to the bus for our trip to Doune Castle. Our bus tour guide stopped on our way to Doune at a little farm store where we could go inside and purchase sundries if we wanted, but instead we decided to stay outside and feed the Highland Cows on the lot!! They were the CUTEST things ever and our guide provided apples and carrots so we could feed them. I was one happy lady. After that quick stop we hopped back on the bus for a very quick drive to Doune Castle.
Doune was the inspiration for Winterfell in Game of Thrones so I was very excited to see this particular castle. It's a small castle and I really enjoyed walking around it. It's definitely worth getting the audio guide there, it's narrated by Terry Jones since the castle was also used as a location for Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The guide is very informative so while your're walking through the castle you really get a feel for what daily life was like for the people who lived there and you get a great history lesson as well. If you're a fan of Outlander this castle was used as Castle Leoch in the series. The tour spends about an hour at this castle, and it's the perfect amount of time. We had time to finish the tour and then also walk around the outside of the building and take some great photos at the entrance. If you don't want to tour Doune Castle, the driver will drop you off to spend your hour at Deanston Whisky Distillery instead. I'm not sure how that is, but every whisky distillery I visited in Scotland was really great! At the end of the hour we all piled back on the bus and we headed off to Stirling Castle.
The Stirling Castle stop is why I think this particular tour tries to fit too much into one day. We had about 1.5 hours at Stirling Castle and within that time you have to stand in line to buy a £15 ticket to this very popular castle and tour the humongous castle and grounds. If you just want a peek at the castle, great! If you'd like to see more of it and really learn the history then definitely see this castle some other way. I think, conservatively, it would take about 3 hours to really explore the castle and a full day to see all it has to offer. If you do decide to take this tour, Stirling Castle's website does have a suggested one hour itinerary that you can find here. Our top take aways from Stirling were the views from outside and the kitchens, so make sure you catch those! After Stirling we had a long drive back to Glasgow. We were supposed to arrive back around 5PM, but it was more like 6:30 because of traffic so make sure that you don't have anything lined up too early that night if you do decide to take this tour (or any tour) in case you do end up in traffic getting back into the city. The tour company was great, and our guide was charismatic and very knowledgeable about the Scottish countryside and Scottish history. We were lucky enough to get a great group of fellow tourists as well, so no complaints there. The bus is small (more like a van) and comfortable and I never felt unsafe. Honestly everything was great, the only downside is that we felt that they tried to squeeze too much into one day. If you don't mind getting an over-view of Stirling Castle though, this tour is a great option for you. Frankly, if you have the time, you could spend a whole week in a rental car exploring the area around Loch Lomond.
Our journey to Glasgow was long and slow. We woke up in Islay and took the early ferry back to Kennacraig. It's a nice ferry with a lovely enclosed viewing area up top which was filled with sleepy travelers. From Kennacraig it is about a three-hour drive down to Glasgow, but it took us a bit longer since we were stuck behind some slow-moving vehicles. Scotland is a great place to be stuck in traffic though because the country is so gorgeous. Even off the freeway, you have these beautiful views of the countryside and lochs. When we finally arrived in Glasgow, we went straight to Arnold Clark and said goodbye to our lovely rental car. The folks over there were so nice and were kind enough to suggest a bar for us to go go while we waited for our Airbnb check-in time and gave us a lift.
The bar they dropped us off at was called Granny Gibbs and we were in for a bit of a surprise. It was a Tuesday in the middle of the afternoon, so what did we expect to find there? We're not sure, but it wasn't what we found. We were welcomed with stares but we didn't think much about it since we were loaded up with giant backpacks. I held down the fort at a table while Kim went to grab us a couple of beers. While she was up I had a second to look around and realize we were the youngest people in the bar by a good twenty years and also the only women. As soon as Kim opened her mouth, the men at the bar had to ask her questions about where she was from and one man even proceeded to talk about the "War of Northern Aggression" which is a phrase we never expected to hear outside of the United States. Heck, I've never heard anybody say it inside of the United States and not be joking. It was so strange to stumble upon this kind of atmosphere in the middle of a Scottish city, but luckily we didn't have to stay too long. We sipped our beers until our hosts were ready to welcome us and then headed straight over.
Our Airbnb hosts were LOVELY and we totally recommend their place. It is a little bit outside of the main city of Glasgow and public transportation isn't the best, so if you do stay out of the way like we did just be aware that you'll have to take a couple of busses or get an uber or taxi in order to get into the city center. Unfortunately our check-in was late so we were only able to unpack and get dinner before we went to bed. We went to a Lebanese place down the street which was really great until I found a live worm in my food and then we both lost our appetites. Lucky for our stomachs we were at the end of our meal anyway and neither of us got sick so --- no harm no foul? They did comp my meal which was really nice.
Our first day in Glasgow was actually spent on a tour with Discover Scotland that you can read about in our "Just Oustide Glasgow" post. We didn't schedule that much time in Glasgow, and I'm hoping to go back and explore more of the city one day. We did get to do some VERY fun things in the short time we had. The night of our first day in Glasgow we headed out to Waxy O'Connors which was recommended to us by one of the men we met in Inverie. It's an adorable bar/restaurant with a cabin clubhouse type theme and many rooms and levels. I'm sure it's a bunch of fun at night but we only stayed long enough to have dinner - 10/10 for the atmosphere, 5/10 for the food. Note about food abroad - I keep forgetting that if you order a hamburger in Scotland they will automatically put ketchup on it for some strange reason so if you don't like it (like me) always remember to ask for no ketchup!
Our second (and final) day in Glasgow was an amazing day full of art and spa treatments! We checked out of our Airbnb early and headed out to Queen Street Station where we stashed our bags for the day. There is a little room with an attendant towards the back of the station where you can store your bags for a small fee. We were so happy to take advantage of this! After we stored our bags we headed out to The Gallery of Modern Art. The gallery is small, but it's FREE so we enjoyed it while we waited for it to be time for our spa treatments. The Gallery is about 4 small floors and we were able to see everything in the museum in about an hour and a half, so if you're in Merchant City, we suggest you check it out even if you only have a short amount of time. As it is with all modern art, some of it was lovely and some of it was. . . well. . . something. They had some Warhol works so that was very neat! Their book shop is super adorable and they have a lot of fun trinkets in there if you are looking for souvenirs or gifts to take home with you.
After the museum, it was time to check into The Gin Spa (also in Merchant City.) I read about the Gin Spa about a year ago and thought it sounded really cool. The entrance is in an adorable little alley-way turned communal patio on Virginia Court. The spa was much smaller than I expected it to be, but the treatments didn't suffer for it. We arrived just before our appointment time and we were seated, given slippers while our shoes were whisked away, and handed paperwork to fill out - the standard forms you'll get at any spa about medical history and preferences. We opted for the Botanical Bliss package so while we filled out paperwork we were given cups of hot herbal tea to sip and then asked to choose three face-down cards each from a deck. These cards were to be our intentions for the treatment. Mine were: "What are you waiting for?", "Give yourself a break", and "Don't be limited by where you are now." They didn't really seem to fit my current state - maybe my state of being BEFORE I quit my job and decided to go on this life-changing adventure! It was still a cute idea though - getting an odd fortune in a fortune cookie doesn't ruin the Chinese Food experience, does it? Kim’s were “Just be you”, “Detox your mind”, and “Knowing what you know now, what can you do differently?” Kim’s were similar in that they were some of the things on her mind prior to leaving for our trip.
It wasn't long after our cards were chosen that we were taken back for our treatments. We were given a moment to undress in our separate rooms. The rooms were quite small, just really enough room for the table and the therapist to walk around! The Botanical Bliss package offers an hour long treatment but you can choose from a few options or combine two thirty-minute treatments. I opted for a 30-minute massage and 30-minutes of reflexology. My feet and my back both needed a little love! I was glad I chose the way I did, the massage made me feel relaxed and loosened me up. After the treatments, they give you a card explaining the products they used and some products they think you may enjoy and put those products on a tray along with a bottle of water. The therapist also went over the sore points on my foot that she thought were connected to other issues in my body which I always enjoy! After the treatment, they take you to the back where there are some little cushions to sit on while they make you a gin & tonic. They have a whole cart full of gins for you to choose from, and about six different flavored tonic waters. The employees are very knowledgeable so they will help you choose a cocktail that you'll enjoy. The cocktails come in HUGE glasses so you have to either drink fast or have tea scheduled afterwards because it won't be long before you'll need to head out when it's time for them to bring another customer to the back. They do pedicures back there and it's a very small space so they only have room for three people to sit. Lucky for us, afternoon tea was part of our Botanical Bliss package, so we headed out to Cup of Tea (right next door) and were allowed to bring our gin drinks with us!
I'm sad to say that the afternoon tea at Cup of Tea was not my favorite. It's definitely not a tea-house atmosphere just a modern restaurant that serves tea, which is fine, but not my favorite way to enjoy tea! We didn't have many choices on the menu, you get the sandwiches and scones that are part of the tea - I prefer when there is some choice involved. I found the sandwiches to be dry, the desserts lacking flavor, and the clotted cream tasted a whole lot like butter. We even asked the waiter what it was and he said clotted cream, but we've both had it other places in the UK and we're pretty sure it wasn't anyone else's definition of clotted cream. The tea was really good and of course we enjoyed some snacks after being pampered. I will say this, you won't leave there hungry!
After tea, we had some time so we headed out to the Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre which was one of my favorite theater experiences ever! We were planning to go the night before, but since our tour group was stuck in traffic we weren't able to make the performance. We were very lucky that the performance this afternoon wasn't totally booked up! The space is a little hard to find, it's inside an office building without any signage out front (see picture below) so you have to know the address and then go inside and up the stairs to the theatre. Sharmanka (Russian for Barrel-Organ) was founded by Eduard Bersudsky who among other things created kinemats (kinetic sculptures driven by electrical motors and controlled by sophisticated electro mechanical devices.) Bersudsky along with Tatyana Jakovskaya founded the Sharmanka Kinetic Theater in St. Petersburg in 1990. The theater showcased a mechanical movement of kinemats supported with music, light, and shadow play. The show was driven out of Russia in 1993 due to economical depression and lack of funding for the arts at which time some of the exhibits made their way to Glasgow and in 1996 Sharmanka Kinetic Gallery/Workshop was opened in Glasgow Merchant City. The kinemats in the space are amazing and the show that they put together is pretty fun too. Unfortunately we only got to see the short version. If you can, see the long version because more of the kinemats are turned on. You can look at them all of course and I suggest that you arrive early so you can walk around and check out the artistry of each piece. You won't see them all move, but if you go to the longer performance you'll get to see more! They have some raised seats at the front, don't worry about where you are sitting when the show starts because you only stay there for a very short period of time. Most of the show, you're walking around from piece to piece directed by the lighting and music. They put out some chairs and sometimes people were shy about sitting in them, but if nobody sits in them then it's hard for everybody to see the artwork, so don't be shy about sitting in the chairs if they aren't being taken up by others who need to sit more than you do. The performance was lovely, and definitely had a darker vibe (hello it's Russian!) which I love so I thoroughly enjoyed myself. They change it up every once in a while so if I'm ever back in Glasgow I'll definitely check it out again so I can see new pieces come to life.
After the theater we headed to the train station to catch our train to Edinburgh. Glasgow was a fun city, but it's definitely industrial- it reminded me a lot more of cities in the North Eastern part of the United States than it did of European cities. Their slogan is "people make Glasgow" and now I know why. Glasgow can't compete with the charm of Edinburgh or Inverness and certainly doesn't compete with the beauty that abounds on the Scottish countryside. We didn't meet too many people, but we enjoyed most of the people we did meet. I hope in the future I have time to explore more of Glasgow, maybe something in that city would take my breath away. What are your experiences with Glasgow? Love it? Hate it? Hidden Gems that we totally missed? Let us know!
Isle of Islay, Scotland
Yesterday was a travel day. We had to leave Inverie (again, that 3/4 mile walk from the hostel to the dock is LONG with our backpacks.) Our ferry back to Mallaig was about 30 minutes late so we just waited around in the very strong wind watching the water and enjoying the view. The delay was fine for us since we are driving and we built in some extra time between the two ferries. But for some people, that 30 minute delay meant they missed their trains! We were actually driving past one of the major train stations, so we were able to drive one of the men we met last night and his amazing rescue dog, Wolf, to that point. It felt good to help out a fellow traveler. The drive from Mallaig to Kennacraig was about three hours, but felt very long since we got so little sleep the night before. We stopped for coffee at Costa but it just wasn’t enough! Lucky for us we got to the ferry early and were able to take naps in the car while we waited to drive onto the ferry. This ferry was even bigger than the one from Mallaig to Armandale. The ferry to Islay had different decks and even a cafeteria-style dining room. Our BNB host suggested that we get dinner on the boat, and so we did. It was fine, and about what would be expected from a kitchen on a ferry. It was definitely the most convenient and practical option for us.
(I had a hard time with the pronunciation of Islay, so I want to mention that you do not pronounce the “y,” and you pronounce it “eye-luh.”)
Our Bed and Breakfast was just a step away from the ferry terminal (but not noisy at all) so that was really nice! We can 100% recommend the Askernish BNB! Our host, aptly named Joy, was so lovely, warm, and welcoming, plus she made an amazing breakfast. With the exception of lox on a bagel, I would never think to have fish for breakfast, but I did here! Joy cooks it up in with cream and butter and it is so good! The beds were comfortable, the rooms were adorable, and everything was very clean. We loved everything about the Askernish BNB!
We got a great night’s sleep and woke up very excited to visit the distilleries. We booked the Warehouse Experience at Lagavulin for 10:30. Joy advised us to leave plenty of time, and we thought we had done that. But the combination of leaving a couple minutes late and the walk being further than we anticipated left us nervously doing some very intense speed-walking. Joy just happened to be driving down the road and she pulled over where we were. She let us know we were not going to make it in time and told us to get in the van! She was so kind to drop us off and Lagavulin, and we were so lucky that she happened to be passing by us! She saved our butts and I’m SO grateful she did because Lagavulin was on the top of my list of places I wanted to visit in Scotland. Annette planned this entire trip, and when she asked me what I felt strongly about seeing, my answer was short: Lagavulin. Islay is a bit out of the way, so I was so excited when she told me she had looked into it already and also really wanted to go! Though I’ve always been a fan of bourbon, there was a long time when I did not like any type of scotch whiskey. Years ago at The Brick Store Pub in Decatur, Georgia, someone insisted I taste the expensive glass of Lagavulin they had. It was the first scotch I ever enjoyed. Then when Parks and Recreation came out with the episode where Ron Swanson goes to Lagavulin, I was so excited, “that is the one scotch I like!” Though it took years after that to develop an appreciation for other scotch whiskeys, Lagavulin opened that door for for me. So you can imagine why the Lagavulin distillery was top of my list of places to go in Scotland!
The Warehouse Experience at Lagavulin was fantastic and I highly recommend it! You go into the whiskey warehouse which doubles as a tasting room. Everyone sits around the perimeter of the room as warehouseman and local celebrity, Iain McArthur, talks you through the basics, and conducts a tasting. Iain has been in the whiskey business since 1970 and is as interesting and animated as he is knowledgeable. We got to try 5 amazing whiskeys, all of which the group pulled out of the barrels. There is a giant metal straw that is used to suck the whiskey out.
Annette was selected to be one of the people to do this. Being the great big sister she is, she purposely didn’t pull enough out of the barrel so that someone else would get a chance to do it as well - me! Though Ian and his assistant were selecting each person, as you will see in the video below, Annette very naturally selected me herself.
After a wonderful time at Lagavulin, we headed over to Ardbeg for lunch. We both had an insanely delicious fish soup. To drink, Annette ordered a cappuccino and I ordered their most popular whiskey - a 10 year. We shared both drinks, and the 10 year was a bit strong for us! We can appreciate all of the love, work, and craft that went into it, but it was just stronger than what either of us liked. Regardless, Ardbeg was lovely for lunch and we were glad we were able to try their scotch whiskey.
Next we walked over to Laphroaig. It was an absolutely beautiful walk. We did a tour of their amazing facility. Laphroaig is one of the few distilleries that still uses a malting floor on site and roasts their own peat. Unfortunately we happened to be there during their three week long silent season, so we didn’t get to see the malting floor in use. Regardless, the tour was interesting and informative. At the end, each person gets three tickets towards tasking whiskeys. Each taste “costs” anywhere from 1 to 3 tickets. Between them two of us we shared a 3-ticket-taste, a 2-ticket-taste, and a 1-ticket-taste. It was really cool to be able to try each “level,” so if you’re touring with a buddy, we recommend this method. The favorite one for us was their Four Oak.
Our BNB host had also recommended trying the whiskey cocktails at Laphroaig - they are supposed to be delicious. But it did not occur to us that a bar would close early so we missed out on those. If you visit, try one, and let us know what you think! The “Penicillin” is supposed to be unique and very yummy.
After a long and lovely day of whiskey, we were hungry! I was beyond thrilled that we had a reservation at the Sea Salt Bistro. THEY SERVE PIZZA. This was the first time on this trip we had pizza. It is my favorite food, and it was a wonderful end to a wonderful day.
A couple of years ago I stumbled across an article about the Old Forge Pub being the most remote pub in Scotland and mainland Britain. Intrigued by the article, I read more and discovered all I could about the town the pub is in, Inverie. Inverie is the main village on the Peninusla of Knoydart which is in the Lochaber district on the West Coast of the Scottish Highlands. We learned before and after our travels to the peninsula that even a lot of Scottish citizens don’t know about this place. We’d tell them that we went to Inverie, and they wouldn’t know what we were talking about! The peninsula isn’t easy to get to, you can’t travel by car. There are two ways there, take a ferry from Mallaig or hike in. The hike takes roughly two days and most people start from Kinlochhourn, but there are a couple other routes that can be used, if you’re interested, you can find out more about that here. We opted for the ferry option!
We had to wake up early to drive an hour from Portree to the ferry terminal at Armandale and catch our 8:40AM ferry. We took that ferry (about an hour) to Mallaig and then had to find a place to park our car before heading over to catch the 10:30 ferry from Mallaig to Inverie. We were a little worried about finding somewhere to park, but it actually wasn’t an issue at all. There is a parking lot just west of the train station where you can leave your car for free, but it fills up and when we went to park, there were not any spots available. It wasn’t an issue though because if you follow the main road East, there are parking spots along the water and the closest ones have time limits but if you go a little further, there are spots where you can leave your car for up to 7 days, so it’s quite easy to drive to Mallaig and stay in Inverie for as long as a week if you’d like. We didn’t have any trouble finding one of these spots, but it was also pretty early in the day. Unlike the ferries we’ve taken before, the ferry to Inverie is a tiny one with a few benches outside and a little cabin on the inside. It’s a pretty comfortable boat and it’s a beautiful trip!
Upon arrival at Inverie, were were tired! We got off of the ferry and had about 3/4 of a mile to walk to the Knoydart Foundation Bunkhouse (a hostel). The walk was beautiful, a little long with our backpacks, but we made it. If you want to get a ride to your accommodations on the island, you need to plan that in advance, there are very few options, and not really any last minute options. On the way to the hostel, we were hungry so we stopped at Knoydart Pottery and Tea Room for a little breakfast. I had a scone and it was amazing, Kim had a breakfast sandwich which was also very good. The tea room was so cute but we were unfortunately too sleepy to remember to take pictures of the inside and outside of the cafe. But seriously - if you go - stop in and get their berry scone! After that, we were able to check into the hostel and then go for a little hike!
The hike was gorgeous, Inverie is so remote and it would be hard to find better views and a more peaceful atmosphere. We had a little trouble finding the exact route that the woman at the information desk suggested, but we got along just fine on the path we found. There are definitely hikes for very advanced hikers, but there are also easy paths as well. It started to rain a little bit, but we didn’t mind! Scotland is gorgeous in the rain and in the sunshine. As we were wondering if it was time to turn around or not we came across two highland cows! It was really exciting, but we weren’t sure how close we should get to them. Since they have horns and we were in a very remote location and hadn’t seen people in a VERY long time, we decided to turn back. In all though, we ended up walking about 7 miles but it definitely didn’t feel that long since the walk was so serene. After the walk, it was time to shower and get ready for dinner at The Old Forge.
Our dinner at Old Forge was good but what we really enjoyed was the company. There were a lot of other hikers there that night and we ended up drinking with a group of Scottish men that take this trip together every year. They were a lot of fun! They ended up taking a guitar off of the wall and playing some tunes, the owner of the pub was happy enough to turn the music off so we could enjoy a little sing-along.
Some Gossip: From what we hear, the locals aren’t very fond of the owner of The Old Forge. It used to be run by a local man, but a Belgian man bought the pub in 2012. He was a little rude to us, but it didn’t put a damper on our time here. What really made the night were the other tourists, so hopefully when you go to stay you’ll run into a group as fun as the ones we met. There is a little video of our time below, please excuse our singing!
We didn’t get much sleep in the bunkhouse but our new friends did make us some smashed banana on toast and ramen to soak up the whisky. Smashed banana on toast sounds weird, but it’s actually quite good. . .at least after a few beers and some whisky ! We had to get up early that morning to make our ferry back to the mainland but we were sad to leave! Hopefully we’ll have an opportunity to come back one day to this beautiful part of the world. ~Annette
Claigan Coral Beach, Dunvegan, Isle of Skye
After doing laundry in Portree, we still had a significant amount of time in the day. We heard the Coral Beach in Claigan (just north of Dunvegan) on the Isle of Skye was gorgeous, so we decided to check it out. As expected, we took narrow roads to get there. We spotted lots of very fluffy sheep while winding through the countryside. Once you get there, there is a gravel parking lot, and I think what time you are there determines how difficult it is to find a spot. It was super easy for us, but by the time we left, people were getting creative about where they could fit cars.
From the parking lot we walked down a path with a bunch of skittish sheep then through a gate that had a metal grate on the ground. It seemed to be there to keep grazing animals in certain areas. There was another small path to walk down and then - many cows! They were “normal” cows, not highland cows, and they were very cute and very close. The cows seemed to be used to humans being around. They were not skittish like the sheep and just went about their business as if we were not there.
Just a bit further down the path, we were able to see the beach, and it was stunning. The colors of the water, the grass, the sand, and the sky painted such a beautiful picture. It was so windy that we had to raise our voices to speak to each other. Though there were some storm clouds in the distance, the sky in the immediate area was so blue with an interesting pattern of white clouds. You’ll see all this in the photos below. The beauty of the beach and the great weather made me feel so happy. Claigan Coral Beach is one of my favorite places I have ever been. I think you’ll also see this (the happiness!) in the photos below.
An interesting thing about the Claigan Coral Beach is that the sand is not actually made of coral as the name suggests. The sand is actually fossilized and sun-bleached algae!
At the end of the somewhat small but perfect beach there is a lovely grassy area. We spent some time there spinning in circles and just staring at the beauty around us. There is a really large hill there as well with some kind of old structure at the top. The view from the top is spectacular. Like most places in Scotland, there is no safety fence. You get a better view without it! You just have to remember to use common sense and be careful. After a while, the storm clouds started to migrate towards us and we felt some stray rain drops. That was our cue to head back to the car. We had plenty of time to enjoy the walk back, and the rain started to pick up just as we reached the car.
Our Airbnb host had previously recommended a restaurant called Chuchullin in the square in Portree so we had dinner reservations. As Annette has mentioned, in very small towns, its even more important to make a reservation since there just isn’t a lot around. It was a small, nice restaurant. We both ordered mussels and the meal was delicious.
Isle of Skye, Scotland
I woke up really early this morning for some reason, and I was rested and ready to go. Our alarm wasn’t set to go off for another two hours so I sat in bed checking my phone while Kim slept. I saw a comment on my post about the Fairy Pools from my friend Jen who had just been to Isle of Skye a couple of weeks before. She said that we HAD to check out the Fairy Glen as it was the most magical place she had been during her trip. Today was our last day on the island, and we already had plans, so I decided to go ahead and get up and go. I woke up Kim, but she wanted to keep sleeping so I got dressed quickly and went off by myself. It was a 30 minute drive from Portree to Uig, and there wasn’t anybody on the roads so I didn’t have to pull over on the one-track roads very much. If I haven’t said so before, thank goodness for the car’s GPS which brought me directly to the Fairy Glens. There really aren’t any signs and since it was 7:00 in the morning, there weren’t really any other cars parked so I had to trust the GPS had taken me to the right place. I parked behind the one other car I saw and got out and just started walking. I walked along one side of the road and as I climbed up atop of a hill, I saw that on the other side of the road was a lake and more distinct trails. I decided to cross over there and I’m so glad that I did. Behind the lake is a beautiful path full of high hills. There were sheep grazing everywhere and only two other hikers (both women which made me feel safer) around. I HIGHLY recommend going here early to get the area almost to yourself. It’s so calming and grounding to do the hike this way. There are beautiful spirals where stones are laid out, and a pretty demanding little hike up to the top of a hill where you actually have to a) be pretty small to fit through the hole and b) kind of pull yourself up through a passage way to get to the top. It’s so worth it (and easier to get back down than you think!) Just be careful and make sure as always in Scotland that you are wearing good shoes. I’ll let the pictures do the rest of the talking for me, because they really say it all.
When I got back home, Kim and I got ready and headed into Portree for breakfast and laundry. The only launderette nearby is at the Portree Independent Hostel and yes, you can use their facilities (at the back of the building) if you are not staying there. We tried to go early at 9am, but the hostel uses the early hours to do their laundry, so the facility doesn’t open for guests until 11am. We recommend getting there as close to 11am as possible because from when we started until when we left, the facility was busy and machines were almost always in use. They close at 9pm, but the last load needs to be in at 8pm if you want to use the evening hours to do your laundry. There were 3 dryers and between 4 and 6 washing machines.
Note from Kim: We heard that one soft drink out-sells Coca-cola in Scotland, and that would be Iron Bru! We had heard about it from a few locals and were keeping an eye out for it. We weren’t sure what it looked like. At breakfast, we spotted it in a cooler and were talking about how we still needed to try it! But we don’t generally have soft drinks for breakfast so we did not order it. Our server overheard us talking about it and just brought us one on the house. He said Iron Bru is what makes Scottish men handsome and strong!
It is definitely worth a shot. To us, it kind of tastes like a sweeter orange soda with a cotton candy aftertaste. It’s always good to try new things!
Isle of Skye, Scotland
We had to wake up early this morning to catch the 9:20AM ferry from Mallaig to Armandale on Isle of Skye. It’s a quick ride, it took about 30 minutes and we were able to drive our car right on and off of the ferry. There is also a beautiful deck on top where you can sit during the ride. You can stay in your car if you want to, but I wouldn’t recommend it, there are beautiful views from above. Once we docked at Armandale, we had to get gas and found a gas station a little bit down the road. Pro tip: fill up your tank before you get on the Isle of Skye because gas is so expensive there! We couldn’t check into our Airbnb in Portree until 6:00PM so we decided to head over to the Fairy Pools in Glenbrittle first, the drive took a little over an hour. You will encounter sheep, and a lot of curvy and one-track roads on Isle of Skye so always leave yourself extra time to get where you want to go. There is a small parking lot for the Fairy Pools, but it fills up quickly, so prepare to park along the road to the entrance of the trail. We had to park pretty far down.
”Fill up your tank before you get on the Isle of Skye because gas is so expensive there!”
I’m not sure that magical or beautiful or stunning or any word really can do the Fairy Pools on the Isle of Skye justice. The hike to the fairy pools is pretty long, the trail is rocky, and it goes up-hill so be prepared with good walking shoes. You’ll also likely want to climb around the rocks which can be slippery so you’ll want a good grip there as well. We didn’t think to wear our swim suits, but the water was warm enough to swim (still pretty cold, but it was a hot day) so bring your swim suit and a towel to take full advantage of the experience. The hike is long, but don’t stop and turn around at the first pool you come to, there are so many beautiful ones and each looks different from the rest. There are rocks to jump off of and narrow pools to explore. The landscape itself is beautiful, and you’ll definitely want to be prepared to take pictures. If you’re going to swim, a go-pro would be an awesome accessory to have on hand. This is also a good place to bring a picnic, there are plenty of places to sit and eat, but you’ll definitely want it to be something easy. Don’t bring valuables if you want to swim as you’ll need to drop your things off a little bit away from where you are swimming and won’t really be able to watch them. Take note that there aren’t bathrooms or any food and drink shops around, so you’ll want to make sure you have any food or water you need and that you use the bathroom beforehand. A sign near the parking lot said they were working on building some bathrooms and a center, so in the future, there will likely be those facilities. Let us know if you go there and it’s finished! I’d set aside at least two hours to explore the fairy pools but honestly you could spend the whole day there, bring a book and sit around and read, you honestly can’t get a better view!
”...be prepared with good walking shoes...the rocks can be slippery so you’ll want a good grip there....bring your swim suit and a towel to take advantage of the full experience.”
The drive from the fairy pools to our Airbnb was about an hour as well. Isle of Skye is huge, and the roads are slow, so we definitely spent a lot of time driving around the island. Everywhere you look is another beautiful view, each one different from the last, and our car was blocked by curious sheep a couple of times. We also really learned how to correctly use the passing places for the one-track roads on the isle of Skye. A brochure we picked up at the gas station helped us with all of the rules, but if you don’t want to stop then pay attention to the rules found here. This simple knowledge will help you be a considerate driver and seriously increase your chances of avoiding a wreck on unfamiliar roads. We had some time to kill after we left the Fairy Pools before we could check into our Airbnb so we decided to go into Portree to get a beer. We found a little pub in the main square called The Isles Inn. We both had a very well earned beer! Luckily it wasn’t long before we were able to check into our place. Portree is a great place to stay, it’s the biggest “town” on the island and there are shops and restaurants around. I wish we had more time to explore the shops while we were there, but we don’t have room in our backpacks, so it’s probably best that we didn’t! As we have found in other small towns in Scotland, if you want to eat dinner make a reservation! We failed to do so beforehand, so we didn’t really have anywhere to eat this night. We did however make a reservation for tomorrow night at a restaurant that our host recommended, but we were lucky to get a 7pm slot. It was the only one left that wasn’t at 5:30 or 9:30! Since we didn’t have a proper restaurant to eat at, we walked into town and ordered Chinese food from Fat Panda in Portree. The food was very affordable and good. Our host requested that we didn’t eat food in the room, so we walked down to the waterfront and ate at a picnic table near the camping area which was frankly better than any view we could have had from a restaurant! All in all, we had a lovely first day at the Isle of Skye and are excited to get back out there tomorrow. ~Annette
Fort William, Scotland
We weren’t sure what we wanted to do today. We knew that we were waking up in Fort William and needed to end up in Morar ( a small town very close to Mallaig) but we had no specific plans. We stayed at Stronchreggan View Guest House, a bed and breakfast on Achintore Road (a road filled with B&Bs. The house was beautiful and the view of the lake from the front yard was beautiful. The host was a bit rude to us, rare so far in Scotland, but there is always someone! Of course if you’re looking for an affordable place to stay, it’s comfortable with good views and the breakfast was lovely. We looked through some brochures in the B&B and decided to hike Steall Falls. I was convinced the whole time that they were called Speal falls so you can watch me annoyingly correct Kim’s right pronunciation with my wrong one. . . Big sister fail! (Note from Kim: Annette is a very good big sister.) The hike was such a good decision. Luckily we got there early and were able to park very close to the beginning of the trail. When we came back down the parking lot was crazy. Somebody was waiting for my spot, and I had to do a 5 or 6 point turn to get out without hitting the cars that had parked behind me. I’m sure to locals there are rules, but one thing we can say about our time in the highlands is that we learned that there don’t really seem to be rules for parking, people just find a space and go for it, but so far we haven’t been blocked in, so it’s not a bad system! (Note from Kim: I saw other people blocked in occasionally, so I’m not a huge fan of this system.) Anyway I’ve gotten off topic! The falls!! The hiking path starts with a warning (pictures below.)
Ummmm Yikes! I think this started my anxiety going a little and a little bit after we started going, I was feeling dizzy and breathless so Kim and I sat down for a little while I gathered myself. I knew that if I gave into it and turned back, this feeling would over come me the next time I went on a hike and I am here to see the beauty of nature here in Scotland! I couldn’t let it overcome, so after a minute, we started walking again and I’m so glad that we did. After a moderate hike of about 45 minutes, we arrived at a beautiful waterfall. The hiking path is very clear, but at some point you come to a place where you can either go over a wire bridge or you can walk the other way and sort of forge your own path over the creek. We chose to forge our own path over the creek. This is another reason why earlier in the day is better than late. (Note from Kim: though I definitely thought it was better to cross making our own path across the river, I did fall on my way back. I didn’t really hurt myself, I just got a new bruise and got my clothes a bit wet. But river rocks are slippery! The water was shallow and luckily I just let myself splash into the water instead of staying dry and hurting myself by falling on rocks. So I’m totally fine, and I definitely scared Annette more than I hurt myself. But if you do this, be careful!). When we got to the wire bridge, there was nobody there and we were able to walk on part of it. When we left the waterfall to go back to the car, there were lots of people in line waiting to cross it and it’s not really a bridge I’d want to cross with other people on it as well! It’s hard enough to steady yourself on what is basically a tightrope. Where is Philippe Petit when you need him? (Note from Kim: I had to ask Annette, and this is the guy who walked across a tight rope from one World Trade Center Tower to he other.) We could have used his guidance to cross! The whole area is beautiful, and we found a nice rock to sit on near the base of the waterfall. We wished we had gone to the co-op beforehand and brought lunch with us, it was such a nice day for a picnic! It was so beautiful that we didn’t want to leave, but since we were determined to see the Glenfinnan Viaducts AND monument today, we had to eventually. Also, we were getting hungry! This blog post isn’t super long, but honestly the pictures speak for themselves! It’s a beautiful area from start to finish and I will never forget this hike! ~Annette
Slide Show of the Waterfall and Crossing the River
Slide Show of the Trail
Our Glenfinnan day was quite a busy day! We started the morning in Fort William (see our blog post on the Steal Waterfall hike) and when we finished that hike, we drove out to Glenfinnan. The drive took us about 45 minutes and was (surprise surprise) beautiful! We stopped at a grocery store on the way to get lunch food (our go-to out here is a baguette, cheese, and salami) and then headed up to where the Glenfinnan viaducts are in hopes of catching the steam train from below this time! You have to time it just right if you want to see the steam train go over the viaduct. Check the website for the times, The train leaves Fort William at 10:15am and 2:30pm each day and takes about 45 minutes to get to the viaducts. For us, it arrived at 3:15pm, but I would get there early jut in case it is faster that day. We were lucky to find a parking spot in a lot just up the road from the Glenfinnan Monument where the trail to the viaducts begins. Pictures of where we parked and where the trail starts below! We noticed that there aren’t spaces here, so you can just park anywhere you can find a spot as long as you aren’t blocking anybody in.
The path up to the viaducts is really beautiful. You can sit down in the fields and have a view of the viaducts, but we felt it was better to walk up a little bit more to the hills underneath the viaducts. It’s a great place to bring a blanket and sit down and have a picnic before or after the train arrives. If you wait around for about 7 minutes after the train coming from Fort William passes, you’ll see the train coming from Mallaig pass as well. It’s very cool to see the train go over the viaducts, but the viaducts themself are beautiful too! The whole area is pretty. On the way back down to the car, we stopped and had a picnic in front of a little stream which was so lovely. If you’re interested in seeing the steam train from the other side of the viaducts, I believe there is a trail that starts from somewhere around the Glenfinnan Momument, we saw people hiking up there. We didn’t spend too much time at the viaducts, so after we were finished, we decided to leave our car in the lot and walk down to the monument.
The monument was beautiful to see. If you want to go inside the fence and up to the top, you have to pay £3.50 each which isn’t bad, but we didn’t see the need to go to the top of the monument. We walked around it and read the inscription and then went down to the water where we saw the HAPPIEST dog playing in the water which was so adorable and added to this already great day (dog appearance not guaranteed.). You don’t really need to spend too much time in this area unless you want to. After we looked at the monument, we chose to go inside where they have a little museum set up with the story of The ‘45 and Bonnie Prince Charlie. I won’t tell you all of the details, because then what would you learn when you go? The very short version is that in the mid 1700s, Charles Edward Stuart, the son of the ousted King of England, tried to re-claim his father’s throne with support from the highland chieftains. It didn’t go well as I’m sure you know. There are so many interesting details though, so I definitely would advise you set aside about an hour to walk around the museum and read and listen to everything they have to offer. The monument museum also has a gift shop and a cafe if you get hungry. Extra tip: there is a bathroom in the museum but they ask for I think 30 pence to use it so make sure you have some change on you.
When we were finished at Glenfinnan, it was time to head to our Airbnb in Morar. Tomorrow is our day to head to Mallaig to take the ferry to the Isle of Skye so we wanted to be very close. Here is a tip for the Scottish Highlands in general: rent a car! It’s just very hard to get around and see everything that you want to see without one. The drive to Morar was stunning, but a lot of it was what we saw on the Jacobite Steam train, just from the road instead of the train tracks. If you give yourself some time, there are plenty of places along the way to pull over and take some pictures. Morar is really beautiful, it’s a very quiet little town. Our Airbnb was situated just outside of the tiny town, we were walking distance from the Morar Hotel which was really the only place around to get dinner. The dinner was ok, mostly bar food and some fancier dishes and the bar had a decent selection. The bar only has a couple of tables, but they do have a restaurant that has more seating. Overall it was an okay experience, but if you aren’t exhausted from doing two different hikes and driving a lot that day, then maybe opt to drive a little further out to find another restaurant. All-in-all it’s a good place to stay if you want a quick drive to catch the early ferry the next morning. ~Annette