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
Inverness & Fort Augustus, Scotland
A trip around Scotland couldn’t be complete without trying to hunt for Nessie. The drive from Dingwall wasn’t too bad and was on the way to our next Airbnb in Inverness. We didn’t do a lot of research, so we decided to head to the Loch Ness Center and Exhibition and start there. We are still surprised at how easy parking is around Scotland. We parked right in front of the Center and were allowed to stay there all day, totally free! Having lived in Los Angeles for the past 10 years, I’m shocked every time I find free parking with no limitations, especially at a popular tourist destination. We went into the Loch Ness Center, but really it is 100% an exhibition and we weren’t really interested in that. We figured anything worth knowing we could learn on a tour. We walked down the street to Celtic Crafts, an adorable little store with beautiful Scottish themed crafts and some highland cow paintings we wanted to buy (but our backpacks save us from spending money!) and bought tickets for our boat tour there. We were lucky that they had tickets for a boat that left in about an hour and a half, so we had some tea while we waited to board The Nessie Hunter. Our skipper was George Edwards, the longest serving passenger boat skipper on Loch Ness, who also recorded the greatest known depth of Loch Ness at 812 feet. He has been diving in the lake and on boats around the lake for longer than we have been alive, so he seemed like the perfect tour guide for today’s adventure. The boat was nice, there is an inside where you can look at the sonars, radar, and underwater camera. You can also sit outside on the lower deck or on the upper deck. The tour is roughly an hour taking you around the lake and towards the end you get a stunning view of Urquhart Castle from the water and I wouldn’t want to see it any other way! We looked long and hard, but unfortunately we weren’t lucky enough to see Nessie today. The tour was amazing anyway, George taught us so much about the Loch and the surrounding area and the facts about Nessie and all of the sightings. The tour was so nice we feel like it went by a little two quickly. The views are stunning as you can see from the images. If we had more time in the area, there is a path going around the Loch that is accessed from different points on the road circling it and it would have been beautiful to hike there. Instead, we decided to head down to Fort Augustus.
Fort Augustus is a cute little town on the Caledonian Canal with beautiful views of the water. We got some ice cream (we always want ice cream) and then walked down part of The Great Glen Way which was totally gorgeous. We were even lucky enough to watch some boats navigate the canal, which was something we’d never seen before. We wanted to stay longer and walk around, but it started raining and we had a dinner reservation at 7:30, so we had to get going. Seeing the town is pretty quick, but there are enough beautiful paths that you could spend a whole day walking around the area.
The drive to Inverness felt long with the windy windy roads around Loch Ness. It is starting to feel so repetitive, but the drive was beautiful. I wished that we had some more time so we could stop and take some time hiking along the paths that are all around the roads, but it was raining and we needed to check into our Airbnb in Inverness before we headed out to Hootananny where we had reservations. We found Colin’s house pretty easily, and he met us at the door and walked us around to the trailer we would be staying in. The trailer is in his backyard and I’ve got to say that it was definitely one of my favorite Airbnb experiences. It was small of course, but it felt so cozy. When we were kids, we had a pop-up camper that we would take around, so it felt nostalgic. It was secure as well, the camper locked, and it was in the backyard which was fenced in with a locked gate. Honestly the shower and toilet facilities were better than expected as well. I wished that we had booked another night here. Our host was really cool too, he is an avid traveler and cyclist and let us know that he had biked across the entire United States a year ago! One of the best parts of staying at an Airbnb is meeting other travel addicts like us! Hootananny was a pretty easy walk, just across the bridge into the center of town. We decided to have dinner there and dinner was good, pretty standard. I had a burger and Kim had fish and chips. They had a good selection of beer and whisky. We really were just waiting for the music to start though! The band consisted of 3 men who played multiple instruments. I love folk music whether it’s American or Irish or Scottish, and this band proved to be great. The bar was full with people sitting at tables all around and people standing. We expected to see some dancing but there wasn’t any (at least not this night.) I’m so glad we were able to make this happen! After that we turned in, we had a long walk back and a long drive the next day. ~Annette
After a fun day at the local Highland Game in Tomintoul, we drove north to our Airbnb in Burghhead. Burghhead is a small harbor town, and according to our wonderful Airbnb host, Tina, there is one restaurant and a couple of pubs when it comes food options. She was kind enough to make a reservation for us at the Bothy Bistro since the one place in town fills up fast! Shortly after arriving, we walked a couple blocks to eat at this local gem. We were very impressed by their food! We had seen “Cullen skink” on menus for a while and figured it was time to give it a try as our appetizer. It is a cream based soup with smoked haddock in it. We knew with our entrees and appetizers, it would be too much food, so the server was kind enough to split one appetizer size of the soup (large enough for a meal in a full-sized bowl with bread on the side) into two smaller cups for us. It was still very filling and neither of us finished our entrees. We both opted for a pasta dish with generous helpings of crayfish and smoked salmon. If you’re ever in Burghead, be sure to make a reservation at Bothy!
After dinner, at our host’s recommendation, we took a walk around the town and along the water. This was really surreal experience for me. As a fan of British crime dramas, I have seen a lot UK harbor towns through the television and I was nerdy amounts of thrilled to be in one in real life. Walking through Burghead, I was astonished at how few people were out, the quiet and peace of the town, and more than anything, the contrast of a very normal town situated in such stunning scenery.
We could easily see dolphins from the shore and watched them for quite a bit. The after-dinner walk was so serene and beautiful - quite a highlight. Our visit in Burghead was short, but impactful. - Kim
St Cyrus, Scotland
We weren’t really sure what we were going to do today. We knew we were driving from Anstruther to Aberdeen, but had left the day open so we could get suggestions from locals and we feel very blessed that we did. Shout out again to Jill for giving us the amazing suggestion of going to St. Cyrus on our way up the coast. It was about an hour long drive, but it took a little longer for us since we are slow on thes windy and tiny roads. Driving on the left side of the road didn’t take too much getting used to, but for us, the curvy roads and tiny lanes definitely did. We wanted to get food when we got closer to the destination but quickly realized that we might not get the chance. Lucky for us RIGHT before we reached the beach we passed The Old Bakery and Coffee Shop and stopped in for lunch. They had a great menu, we both ordered sandwiches which came with crisps and a really good side salad all for about $13 total which is super cheap. We were so happy with our stop here. It’s adorable, the food is really good, and the staff was so lovely. When we left, we headed up to what our GPS said was St. Cyrus beach but it was actually the cliffs above the beach. We are so glad we made this mistake because the views were amazing. There actually was a path down to the beach but it seemed a little treacherous and it had been raining so we decided to find a place to park down on the beach instead. We went back to the coffee shop and they gave us directions to the St. Cyrus National Nature Reserve which is where the path started! If you put St Cyrus National Nature Reserve in your GPS you should definitely be able to get to the beach. If you want to go above to the lookout point, just follow Beach Road from The Old Bakery and Coffee Shop, park at the church, and walk down the path. At the Nature Reserve, you can park in the lot and then follow the trail (pictures below) and you’ll quickly be on the beach. If you head to your left and walk a little ways, you’ll eventually come to a waterfall which is absolutely beautiful . Unfortunately because of the tide we couldn’t make it all the way up to the waterfall but we did make it far enough to be able to see it and the rocks on that part of the beach were stunning. If you do decide to take a trip here just make sure to pay attention to where the path joins the beach because we had a little bit of a hard time finding the entrance to the path from the beach and it isn’t well marked on our way back. I could go on and on but really the pictures say everything that needs to be said about this area, absolutely stunning.
Isle of May, Scotland
Today was the day that I (Annette) was most anticipating, PUFFIN DAY!!! We were lucky enough to walk on down to the harbor where the Anstruther Pleasure Cruises boat leaves in about 5 minutes since we were staying so close. The line forms pretty early so if you’re picky about where you sit then get there about 45 minutes early. We were so lucky that the weather was warm and beautiful, it was about 70°F out but still it got pretty chilly on the boat so you might want to bring a jacket even in nice weather. The ride to the island was about an hour. We were lucky that the tides were with us so we had 3 hours to explore the island. It’s reminiscent of Ahch-To from Star Wars: The Force Awakens which is of course an actual island off the coast of Ireland, so it makes sense that it would be similar. The island has so much scenery and we were VERY lucky that the puffins were there late this year. The island was full of puffins, guillemots, and so many other seabirds that we felt very lucky that we made it off the island without guano dropping out of the sky and onto our heads! The island itself is beautiful to explore, stunning views of the oceans from the cliffs. Three hours is the perfect amount of time to explore, we were just getting tired when it was time to head back to the boat. There isn’t any food on the island, but there is a snack bar aboard the ship where you can purchase drinks and snacks. I’d advise taking a lunch. We were lucky that Jill, our Airbnb host, suggested that we bring a lunch with us and she was nice enough to drive us to the local co-op the night before. We bought bread, cheese, and some salami and it was the perfect quick lunch! If you take the cruise, they will give you a great map of the island, our favorite part to see was the South Plateau. That side had (in our humble opinion) the best views and definitely had the most puffins. The North Plateau had a pretty walk as well leading down to a beautiful lighthouse. There are some staff on the island, they greet you with a speech at the beginning and then they are around the island to answer any questions you may have. They are so knowledgeable and friendly, and answered all the questions that we had like What sound do puffins make? The answer is that they sort of moo which is quite different than the other seabirds on the island. On the ride back, we had a special treat. Sometimes, when the pufflings don’t make it to the ocean after they come out of their burrows, the Isle of May staff ask the Cruise operators to take them and release them once they are farther from the island so they are less likely to be attacked by predators and that is jus what happened on our return journey. We got to see the little puffling up close and he was oh so cute (see the picture above.). Puffins are one of my favorite animals, so I felt very very lucky to be able to see them up close and personal. If you’re ever in the area during the time the puffins are supposed to be there which is late spring into early summer, I highly suggest taking the cruise. If you happen to be in Anstruther between September and I think they said November, apparently it’s a great time to see the grey seals! All in all, this day gets 5 out of 5 stars.
The second half of our first day in Scotland was spent in Anstruther, a beautiful seaside town on the east coast of Scotland. It was about an hour and a half from Falkirk. The drive was definitely a little challenging towards the end, there were a lot of sharp curves and very tiny streets. The GPS in our car got us to the town quite easily, but after that we had to follow instructions from our Airbnb host to find her home. Her home is LOVELY and we feel so lucky that we picked so well. She helped us find parking and had tea and cookies for us when we arrived. She is so friendly and we definitely suggest that anybody stay with her if you end up in Anstruther, the bed is so comfortable and her home is warm, she even served us breakfast in the morning. We got lucky she was up for dinner when we were and she walked us down to Anstruther’s famous fish house, Anstruther Fish Bar where we ordered fish and chips. If you’re like us, the child size was plenty and we got breaded instead of battered for the fish. The chips (french fries for the Americans) were perfectly seasoned with salt and vinegar. Our favorite thing about this restaurant is that they let you know not just where your fish came from, but WHICH BOAT caught your fish that day! For us, it was Boy John. The town is full of locals of course and Scottish “vacation makers” as our host calls them. The wait for Fish and Chips was long, but we ordered take out and took it back to our Airbnb. Our second night, we were very hungry after touring the Isle of May and we walked down to the Waterfront to eat at The Waterfront restaurant. We didn’t realize that it most places on the strip in front of the water would have a wait. We arrived at 7PM and they put us on the list for a table at 8:30. Word to the wise, if you want to eat during the summer in Anstruther, make a reservation for dinner! The wait wasn’t too bad as we walked down to The Boatyard and got a pint of beer while we were waiting. The Boatyard is cute, it has a sports bar feel and they were playing the golf tournament on every screen. When did get back to The Waterfront, we were served quite quickly and were very happy with the food. We’d definitely recommend the Steak and Ale Pie if you are ever in the area!