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
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
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
Fort William & Mallaig, Scotland
This morning started with quickly grabbing breakfast and then driving down to the Fort William Train Station. We were very excited to ride the Jacobite Steam Train (also known as the Harry Potter train) from Fort William to Mallaig and most notably over the Glenfinnan viaduct. We got to the station pretty early even though our GPS wanted to take us to the hospital across the street instead. This was the first train station we’ve visited in Scotland, and honestly it looked so unassuming that we missed it a couple of times. It was very surprising to see that behind this little building were tracks that big trains came and went from. The waiting room was quite small, so we decided to hang out in our car and put our makeup on. We hadn’t had the chance that morning and wanted to make sure we made it to Fort William in time. When you’re driving on unfamiliar roads that are small and windy, sometimes, if you’re a careful driver it takes you longer than what the estimate on the GPS is. We’ve been lucky not to encounter any traffic really, but we definitely can’t take some of those curves at the suggested 60 mph and we sometimes had to pull over for speedier drivers to pass. Still though, we arrived about 2 hours early so we had some time to kill. When we went back into the station about 30 minutes before boarding the station was packed with people! On the Jacobite Steam Train you’re assigned a seat, so I guess that people were hoping to be first to get a picture in front of the steam train! There are a couple of first class cars, and the rest are coach. I found the coach car to be very comfortable with really great head rests. Here is an insider tip- for the best views, if you’re going from Fort William to Mallaig you want to be on the left side of the coach. If you’re going from Mallaig to Fort William of course you want to be on the right. The further back you are (we were in the second to last car) the better your view of the viaducts will be when you pass over them (at least if you’re going from Fort William to Mallaig.) I’m not sure about the other way, because I was so tired that by the time we reached the viaducts I had actually fallen asleep.
”For the best views, if you’re going from Fort William to Mallaig, you want to be on the left side of the coach.”
The journey on the Jacobite Steam Train costs £30 pounds for a single (British for one-way) and £35 for a day return ticket ( British for both ways.) You can check out tickets here. When we bought our tickets, unfortunately they were not able to sit us together on the return trip from Mallaig to Fort William so we opted to take the regular Scots Rail train back instead, those tickets were £7.20 a piece so we ended up paying £2.20 more . Both trains have the same views, and they are gorgeous gorgeous views. If I were to do it again though, I wouldn’t take the steam train, I’d save money and take the Scots Rail train and here is why:
The ride took about 2.5 hours to get to Mallaig. When we got to Mallaig, we spent most of our time checking out the parking lots, we needed to find a place to park our car next Saturday! We know we’re going to the Isle of Skye and then directly to Knoyndart. Our car can’t come to Knoyndart with us, so we will have a short window to park our car and then get back to the ferry terminal so we can catch our boat to Knoyndart. Lucky for us, there are two separate places where you can leave your car for up to 7 days so we should be fine on the day of! The town is VERY small, so it’s a quick walk pretty much everywhere. We were able o get some snack food at the co-op and have little yogurt/carrot/hummus dinners on the Scots Rail train home. Word to the wise: If you plan on eating cheaply and getting a lot of grocery store lunches while you are traveling, try to bring a small cold pack. If you’re staying in Airbnb’s you shouldn’t have any trouble freezing it. We didn’t do that, but when we were sitting there with our melty cheese sticks, we wished we had. All in all it ended up being a pretty slow day. The journey was quite beautiful, but I’m not sure it was worth spending an entire day doing that route. We still had a car, so we could’ve use it as transportation, but if you don’t have a car and need to get from Fort William to Mallaig, the train ride is definitely one of the most beautiful in the world. ~Annette
(photos and captions by Kim)
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