Exploring the Island
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!
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
Living Like Queens
Dingwall and Beauly, Scotland
When we decided to go to Scotland, we knew that we wanted to stay at least one night in a castle. Scotland is full of castle hotels, but there was only one that was in our price range, available, and along our route, so we booked one night at The Tulloch Castle Hotel in Dingwall. This morning, we took our time getting ready in Burghead and then drove about two hours to Dingwall. It was, like all Scottish drives, stunning. We saw gorgeous scenery with sheep and cows and horses on the side of the road. We’re not sure that our GPS always takes us the most practical way (did we really need to take all of those one-track roads?) but it definitely always takes us a beautiful way. It is a little exhausting to be switching hotels every night (or every other night), so we decided to take it pretty easy today. We arrived early at Tulloch and we weren’t able to check in yet, so we asked the receptionist for suggestions of what to do in the area. We weren’t keen on any of them really, so we decided to find a park and have a little picnic. I pulled up what I thought was a park on my phone and decided to have google maps take us there. We’re still not sure if we got the wrong directions or if the “park” was just some woods behind somebody’s house, but we ended up on a very rocky one-track gravel road that is very likely only used by a tractor and well, we’re lucky that all our tires are still intact! Was google maps playing a trick on us? We know that the car’s GPS is much more accurate than Google Maps around here, but we couldn’t find the park in the GPS’s search engine (which should have been a sign.) Kim got a pretty interesting day of driving in while she tried to navigate these roads and not totally ruin the rental. Since that didn’t work out, when we finally got back to a normal road after stopping to look at some cute sheep, we followed the signs to Beauly and walked around.
In Beauly, we bought lunch food at a local co-op and waked down to a park and had a picnic. I have to say, brining a towel along was one of the best things I’ve done. I haven’t needed to use it as an actual towel, but my Turkish towel has been a great picnic blanket. We’ve already used it quite a few times. When we were finished with lunch we walked back into town and looked at a cute little shop which had gorgeous clothes and shoes and jewelry and home goods that we could not buy (backpacking dillema!) We also got to look at the Beauly Priory (or what’s left of it anyway) which was very cool and unexpected. This trip has been mostly about nature, so it was good to get a little history into it as well. After the priory, it was time to check in, so we checked into our castle room which was very cute and spent the next couple of hours working on the blog and getting things sorted out at The Green Lady Bar inside of the hotel. Before we knew it, it was time for dinner inside the hotel. Dinner at the hotel restaurant was good, it has a beautiful dining room which is decorated like a castle should be but with a modern flair. We tried haggis for the first time in the form of haggis bon-bons. Surprisingly enough Kim who is much pickier about meat liked it better than Annette did. Unfortunately we aren’t haggis or black pudding people, so it seems that our tastes are not Scottish at least where food is concerned, where nature is concerned, well that’s another story. The dinner was lovely, the dessert was AMAZING.
We gathered in the bar at 9:00 (or as we need to get used to, 21:00) for the Tulloch Castle ghost tour! The tour proved to be as much history as it was supernatural which added some learning to the fun. The castle was built as a fort in the 1400s by Vikings. We were shown to a room with original walls and ceilings that they affectionately named the dungeon. After playful comments about how naughty children get sent to this room, we found out a bit about that history. What is not original in that room is the floor. It turns out the building was once much larger than it currently appears as it was built far into the ground. The original floor would have been 50 feet down. There are networks of tunnels created by the Vikings that are unfortunately lost to time. Moving to the entry way, our guide pulled up a rug and pushed a piece of plywood out of the way to give us a peek at the remnants of what was. I don’t know how far that surviving tunnel reaches, but it was farther down and out than I could see.
As we moved from room to room, we learned more about hauntings and history. The fort was repurposed into a grand house and was owned by a couple different clans. It was used as a hospital in WWII and as boarding for a boarding school for about thirty years, ending in the 1980s.
There were various tales, but a favorite is the namesake for the bar in the castle, the Green Lady. Lore tells us that the patriarch of one of the clans who owned Tulloch Castle had quite the wandering eye. One day, a pre-teen daughter of the family went to look for her parents in their bed chamber and walked in on her father in a compromising position with a servant. She turned and ran down the stairs to alert her mother. One way or another, she didn’t make it to the bottom of the stairs alive and died of a broken neck. It is said that the “Green Lady,” still haunts Tulloch Castle.
After other antidotes, the guide went into detail about hauntings in specific rooms - many of which those attending the tour were staying in! He focused in on one couple staying in one of the most haunted rooms! It got pretty intense, and the couple was the focus of the rest of the stories. They were quite good sports, but when the tour ended, I did hear one of them say to the other, “let’s go to to car.” ~Annette & Kim
Quiet Harbor Town
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
A Bit of Scottish Culture
Tomintoul and Glenlivet, Scotland
Today felt like an introduction to Scottish culture. We started the morning by having a “Full Scottish Breakfast” in our hotel in Aberdeen. It’s definitely different than what we’re used to for breakfast. The bacon is really more what we would call ham, and I’ve never had mushrooms or tomatoes outside of an omelette during the morning hours, so it was mostly new foods, especially the black pudding. I wouldn’t call either of us super adventurous eaters, so this one was a little tough for us to try especially because we already knew what it is made out of. We both tried it and it honestly tasted better than either of us thought it would. I actually think we would have liked it if we didn’t know what it was made out of. If anybody is curious what a Full Scottish Breakfast is (at least at our hotel in Aberdeen) it was a poached egg, a hash brown, a sausage, a rasher of bacon, some baked beans, a slice of black pudding, 1/2 of a baked tomato, and some mushrooms served with toast. It’s definitely filling and very good if you’re not skittish about your food.
If you want to see our reactions to trying black pudding, take a look at these videos below:
After breakfast, we left Aberdeen and headed to Tomintoul to check out the Tomintoul Highland Games! It was definitely smaller than we expected, we were imagining sort of like a Renaissance Fair sized event, but everything fit on a field about the size of a high school football field. There was a fenced off field in the middle with sport, music, and dancing competitions and then a circle around the outside of the space with craft and food tents. There were some fun games for kids to enjoy and prize-winning games for both kids and adults. We even saw a bottle of whiskey which would go to whoever pulled the right key for a cabinet out of a bag! We enjoyed watching the junior bagpiping competition, the highland dancing, and the throwing the caber and throwing the hammer. It was really interesting (and sometimes scary since the judges would stand right in the line of fire) to see how far the competitors could throw. We really enjoyed each time the various bagpipe and drum bands would come onto the field to perform. It was a great experience and we were happy we got this little bit of Scottish culture on our trip. The festival lasts all day, but we spent about three hours there and that is enough time to get a really good idea of what the event is.
Here are some videos of some of the athletes completing:
~We had some time before our dinner reservation in Burghead, so after the Highland Games, we decided to stop by Glenlivet. Our car’s GPS brought us in the back way through what were some pretty tight little roads, a little scary, but definitely a beautiful drive! We were afraid for a while that we weren’t going the right way, but we did arrive at Glenlivet and were lucky to be there just in time for the 3:30PM tour and they had a couple of spots left! The tour was great, our tour guide, Chris, was very knowledgeable about the entire process and explained it all to us. We loved seeing the entire process from how the barley is mashed to where it’s put in barrels. We learned that the shape of the stills affects the flavor of the whiskey (we had no idea.) Unfortunately you aren’t allowed to take pictures during the tour, so we only have a few pictures from Glenlivet, but we did get to try three different whiskeys. The first we tried in one of the barrel rooms (straight from the cask), the second was the 15 year, and the third was the 18 year. If you’re the designated driver for 50 pence a piece, you can put your samples into little bottles to take home. If you’re not driving and interested in tasting more whiskeys afterwards, they can help you up at the bar. We didn’t do that, so we’re not sure what the price is for that one. There is of course a gift shop on your way out as well. I definitely recommend this distillery. Kim and I are mostly bourbon drinkers, and we both thought the 15 year old was the best one. The tour was only £10 each which isn’t bad even if you factor in the exchange rate! It’s our first whiskey distillery tour, so we can’t rate it against the others, but it’s in a beautiful area of Scotland (are there any areas that aren’t beautiful?) and we really enjoyed ourselves (even the sober one!) ~ Annette