The Great Scottish Roadtrip: Inverness to Edinburgh

Reindeer Cairngorms Scotland

Highlights of our Highlands Road Trip

Here are some of the most wonderful experiences in the area surrounding Inverness

  • Feeding reindeer in the Cairngorms
  • The Highland Games in Balleter  (so many bagpipers!)
  • Sweeping, take your breath away views at every turn

Day 8-9

For the next journey on our trip, we drove from Inverness to the Cairngorms, a gorgeous mountain range and national park in the Scottish Highlands for a reindeer feeding.

Feeding reindeer in the Cairngorms was one of the most magical experiences of my life.  We were brought to a vast meadow, and walked along a wooden path to reach the pasture. All of a sudden, we heard the clip clopping of hooves behind us and found that a herd of reindeer had joined our walk and were prancing directly behind us. As we fed them, they gently nudged us with their velvety, soft noses.

Reindeer Feeding in the Cairngorms Scotland

Brad Just One of the Reindeer Herd
Brad, Just One of the Reindeer Herd
Feeding Reindeer Scotland
This may be my new happy place

Feeding reindeer in the Cairngorms Scotland - Windswept but happy

Brie feeding Reindeer In The Cairngorms Scottish Highlands
Pure joy
Caringorms reindeer meadow
Windswept but so happy!

Reindeer Herd In the Cairngorms Scottish Highlands

Some background info about the herd: A Scandinavian adventurer fell in love with an American woman and moved to Scotland but missed the native animals from his own country. He imported the herd of reindeer from Sweden to the Cairngorms in 1952.  There are currently 150 free ranging members of this beautiful reindeer herd.

The Magical Highlands

On the drive from the Cairngorms to the highland Games in Balleter, we were rewarded by this spectacular view. We were so gobsmacked, we pulled over, leapt out of the car and just stood there eyes wide and sighing. This is the Scotland of your dreams.

Magical Scotland Cairngorms
Scotland – you show off!

Off to the Highland Games!

The HIghland Games in Balleter was everything I was hoping for and more. I was so thrilled we were able to see this. As luck would have it, there was one Highland games held in our area while we were visiting Scotland and it was on the last day of our trip. I wanted it to be a surprise for Brad, and I was literally bouncing around in my seat on the way to the games. Situated between two towering, pine covered mountains, the location could not be beat. These games featured highland dancers, log tosses (think giant highlanders wearing kilts and rock band t shirts), competitions for best clan costumes (and let me tell you they were decked out and magnificent), fresh donuts, and so many bagpipes. At one point, the bands entered the field and there were around 50 bagpipes marching in union, kilted up.

Highland Games Balleter!
Bag pipers and fresh donuts in the highlands – does it get any better?!

We ended our fabulous Scotland road trip in Edinburgh. We met friends for dinner at a Mediterranean place. At this point we had been travelling for five weeks and I don’t remember the name of the restaurant, but it was tasty, wonderful to catch up with old friends and a great cap to the most wonderful trip. We headed home for three days where we recouped  (and spent most of the time lounging on the couch watching Poldark yelling during every scene – “We’ve been there!”) Then we left for a week in gorgeous Rhodes.

Upcoming blog post – One week in Spain!

The Great Scottish Road Trip: Historic Inverness, Nightly Ceilidhs and All Things Outlander

The Battle of Culloden Clan Fraser

We chose Inverness as one of the stops on our Scotland road trip primarily for its proximity to historic sights, Loch Ness and surrounding natural beauty. I didn’t plan to spend much time in the city, but I was pleasantly surprised when I fell in love with this beautiful little medieval town. The Inverness Old Town is dominated by the Inverness Castle perched on a hill, cobble stoned streets, bright flowers blooming everywhere, and nightly Ceilidh’s – impromptu live Scottish music sessions! Very close to the historic sights of the Battle of Culloden, the Clava Cairns and Loch Ness, Inverness is lovely, transporting and great fun.

Highlights of our Inverness road trip

Here are some of the can’t miss experiences in and around Inverness:

  • The Battle of Culloden and the Clava Cairns
  • The medieval  Inverness Old Town and listening to a ceilidh
  • Fish & Chips at the pubs
  • Loch Ness and Urqhart Castle
  • Feeding reindeer in the Cairngorms
  • The Highland Games in Balleter  (so many bagpipers!)

Day 6-8

We headed for The Battlefield of Culloden Moor where the 1745 Jacobite Rising came to its final stand. This is a powerful and evocative place. A MUST for all Outlander or Scottish history fans.

Authentic Highlander Home Battle of Culloden
My Outlander loving soul was so thrilled by this. I have been trying to get Brad to call me Sassenach for years.

Jacobite supporters, seeking to restore the Stuart monarchy to the British thrones, gathered to fight the Duke of Cumberland’s government troops. It was the last battle on British soil and, in less than an hour, around 1,600 men were slain – 1,500 of them Jacobites. Stroll the grounds and imagine these highlanders standing tall, fighting for their people, their land, their very way of life.

Battle of Culloden Inverness.JPG
Old Leanach Cottage, traditional Highlander home believed to be the only remaining building from the battle

A few minutes away from the Battle of Culloden you will find the Clava Cairns, ancient  Bronze Age standing stones dating back about 4,000 years, and the inspiration for Diana Galbadon’s Craigh Na Dune, the stones that transport Claire to 17th century Scotland in Outlander.

Cava Cairns Inverness
Clava Cairns. My Outlander loving soul is in heaven! *I know, probs should have put my phone away for the photo. Faux pas!*
Inverness Castle
Inverness Old Town and Castle

A must see in the Inverness area is Loch Ness! We strolled the banks of the iconic Loch Ness, and explored Urquhart Castle. It is easy to see why this place has sparked the imagination of so many. Loch Ness is vast, and deep and seeped in mythology.  The Highlands themselves make you feel like magic must exist.

Urquhart Castle at Loch Ness
Just chilling at Urquhart Castle
Banks of Loch Ness
Hanging out on the banks of LOCH NESS
Inverness Old Town at Twilight
Beautiful Inverness Old Town

Where to stay:

I recommend staying at B&Bs while in Scotland. We stayed at a cute little B&B called the Silverstrand Guesthouse, very close to the Old Town. It was less then a 10 minute walk to the center. The friendly owner welcomed us in a kilt 🙂

Where to eat:

The Castle Tavern. This cozy pub built in the 1700s overlooks the river Ness and  has a gorgeous view of the Inverness castle.  I had great fish and chips (natch), and Brad had a pie. They also have a bunch of stellar ciders on tap, and super friendly staff.

Best places to hear bagpipes:

The Highland Games of course! The 50+ person band decked out in kilts was the piece de resistance of the games. Long live the bagpipes! Our favorite place in Inverness for a good old fashioned Ceilidh was Hootananny’s.  Live folk music Sunday to Wednesday night.

* I have realized that every time I hear the bagpipes, the teen in me desperately hopes they will break out in the steerage jig’ from Titanic. Hasn’t happened yet, but I live in hope! *

Brad Found Nessie Loch Ness Inverness
Brad found Nessie
We found Nessie Loch Ness
We found Nessie
Brad found Jamie Inverness Old Town
Brad found Jamie!

Next – The last part of our grand Scottish road trip – Feeding Reindeer in the Cairngorms and the Highland Games!

 

The Great Scottish Road Trip: 9 Days Through the Highlands

One Wonderful Week in Scotland

The Scottish Highlands have long been one of my most favorite places on earth. Filled with wild, rugged landscapes, rolling lush hills filled with deep purple heather, majestic mountains, cascading waterfalls and of course bag pipers, Scotland has a way of working itself into your dreams.

I first visited the Scottish highlands more than ten years ago during a semester studying abroad, and I have been dying to show it to Brad since. I was thrilled to include it in our  six week vacation last summer.

Highlights of our Scotland road trip

  • The gorgeous drive into Glencoe, and exploring Hagrid’s Hut
  • Highland hikes, particularly the Quiraing and the glorious sweeping views in the Isle of Skye
  • Eating fish & chips and listening to bagpipes at local pubs in Portree
  • Hairy Cows!
  • The Battle of Culloden and the Clava Cairns
  • Listening to a ceilidh and exploring the Inverness old town
  • Feeding reindeer in the Cairngorms
  • The Highland Games in Balleter  (so many bagpipers!)

The Essentials: We rented a car for our week in Scotland which I highly recommend, as there is so much you will want to see and public transport isn’t a practical option. With a car, you can drive at your own pace and hop out for photo ops and hikes, of which you will want to do constantly because Scotland is breathtaking. I used Sixt.

Day 1-2

We spent the first day in Glencoe, an incredible glen nestled between towering mountains. Glencoe is lush, verdant green, full of cascading waterfalls and yellow wildflowers. Shrouded in mist and surrounded by endless mountains, the drive into Glencoe is where the magic really begins on your road trip.

Glencoe Wildflowers and Waterfalls
Wildflowers and waterfalls in Glencoe

Prepare to pull over every two minutes for gasp-worthy photos. Scotland is a place that truly makes you feel like magic exists. Every corner turned, every hike, watching the mist pour through the lush valley and over hilltops, I was almost certain some mystical creature was  peeking around the corner at me. The day we arrived, a resort was hosting a Harry Potter movie night, as the third movie was shot in Glencoe and we arrived to this sign:

Glencoe Welcome Muggles!
Was this…did they..did they know I was arriving today?

Harry Potter 3, The Prisoner of Azkaban was filmed in Glencoe, so we immediately wentImage result for Buckbeak pumpkin patch off to hike the area where they  filmed Hagrid’s Hut! Located in the Clachaig Gully, the hillside is easily assessible. We parked and I ran right for it. Sadly, the hut (and Hagrid) aren’t there anymore, but the landscape is exactly how I remembered it from the movie, and I could one hundred percent picture the pumpkin patch, smoking chimney and Buckbeak raising his enormous head to gaze at me!

Exploring Hagrid's hut in Clachaig Gully!
Exploring Hagrid’s hut. Just picture Buckbeak tethered and giant pumpkins!
Black Rock Cottage Glencoe
Black Rock Cottage at the foot of Meall a’ Bhuird – yes please!

Where to eat:

The Claighann Inn.  There is one rollicking restaurant in this tiny village: conveniently located near Hagrid’s hut. I had a curry and sticky toffee pudding which is a spongy cake covered in caramel served with vanilla ice cream and I highly recommend.

Next Stop: Isle of Skye

Exploring the Isle of Skye is all about stunning hikes,  take your breath away views, rolling hills full of deep violet heather and gamboling sheep, tiny pubs serving crispy fish & chips and stirring nights filled with bagpipes and live Scottish music.

Day 2-5

The Quiraing is my absolute favorite hike in Scotland. We took the four hour route, and for parts of our trip, it felt like we were the only people in the world. Known for it’s gorgeous green unique topography, lochs and wild flowered covered mountains, walking the Quiraing felt like hiking in a fantasy land. Best time to visit is the early morning or the late afternoon, though sunsets will be very late in the high season (around 9ish to 10ish).

Hiking the Quiraing
That View – Hiking the Quiraing
Highland Wildlfowers in the Quiraing
Highland heather in the Quiraing

The first two hours of our hike were fantastic –  filtered sunshine bathing the pass and a light breeze. The last two hours however were…..not. The sun disappeared and the wind picked up, turning our path back into a frigid wind tunnel. We had to hurtle down the track through the buffeting wind and hide between rock formations for a breather. At one point, I almost gave up – Nope, NOPE! It was so, so cold. Worth it though, for the incredible views. Especially when we were nice and warm, sipping coffee and eating piping hot fish and chips afterwards 🙂

Weather change while Hiking the Quiraing
Brie concerned about the increasing wind and approaching clouds during the return trip

 

Brad Not At All Concerned Hiking The Quiraing
Brad not AT ALL concerned
Brie hiking the Quiraing
Scotland you stunner
Hiking the Quiriang in The Scottish Highland
Beginning of the hike – all smiles here!
Weather change in the Quiraing Isle of Skye
We have a bit of a weather change

The hairy coos of the Scottish Highlands are wonderful creatures, and a huge highlight of the trip was stopping to say hello to every single one we saw. I have named this gentleman Hamish. I love him. He was a very gentle soul and allowed us to nuzzle his ears, while gently nudging us with his noser.

Hairy Cows in the highlands
Hello Hamish!

We made a stop at Kilt Rock on the way to the Quiraing. This waterfall is a must see, but the shrieking wind was so intense, we parked, leapt out of the car, enjoyed the bagpipes playing nearby, breathed in the clear, salty air, snapped a photo and hopped back in the car.

Kilt Rock Scottish Highlands
Kilt Rock

The iconic Old Man of Storr is  an easy hike, less than an hour. The Storr walk uses the same path up and down, starting & returning at the same point (the carpark). A very well maintained path leads right to the base of the amazing rock formation – but get there early as by the time we finished  around 11am The Old Man was completely covered by fog. Haha- WE saw the Old Man of Storr! Insert me wiggling about taunting everyone feeling very smug. (Because usually I am the one who wakes up late and misses stuff).

Hiking Old Man of Storr Isle of Skye
Hiking Old Man of Storr
Sheep Isle of Skye
So many sheep! Isle of Skye
Highland Waterfalls
Time to break and gaze at Highland waterfalls

On the way from Glencoe to Portree, we made a stop at the 13th century Eileen Donan Castle.

Rugged Brad and Eileen Donan Castle
Rugged Brad and Eileen Donan Castle – He was made for the Highlands!

Where to stay:

I recommend basing yourself in Portree,  an adorable, rustic town on the sea, and the capital of  Skye. We stayed at Fisher’s Rock B&B.  I think B&Bs in Scotland and England are unbeatable. If at all possible, try to stay at one during your trip, to heighten the countryside experience. Lovely hosts, great views, delicious breakfasts and thoughtful touches.

Where to eat:

The Harbour Fish & Chip Shop. Across from the beautiful pink, yellow and blue homes of Portree on the promenade. Crispy, perfectly salted fish and chips served with gravy. We even heard the servers speaking Gaelic!

The Pier Hotel: Intimate, rustic Inn serving tasty Scottish fare. Fun pub filled with lots of locals.

Best place to hear bagpipes:

The Isles Inn. We came here to eat as well. We love Scottish music and wanted a place to listen to bagpipes. Our B&B owner mentioned this place. While grabbing a drink, Brad chatted with the bartender about places we could hear some good live music and she said, “well my brother’s band is playing here tonight, he’s great!” It was so much fun, we went  back twice. Great, rollicking atmosphere. Fantastic, live music. Full Scottish band. Highly recommend.

Note: Scotland can get very cold, even in August, when we visited. We were lucky to have some days of sunshine in the highlands, but we had carry on luggage for our entire 6 week trip, (not an easy pack) so had to buy a few items for hikes. Wellies and windbreakers were our main purchases. We picked them up at a local supply shop in Portree. I also picked up the above green wool hat at an adorable shop in St. Ives.

Next blog post: The road trip continues to breathtaking, stirring to your senses, Inverness!