Into the Wild
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
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
Isle of Puffins
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.