We’d been to Edinburgh once for a long weekend of exploring, but were itching for a change of scenery. (Turns out the itching would be literal at times.) When my parents came to visit from Michigan, they told us to pick a place we’d like to explore together. We chose a bed-and-breakfast in Scotland’s West Highlands to use as a daily jumping-off point, and we sure don’t regret any of it.
ArrivalIt was a groggy 3:30 a.m. departure from Regensburg with our little car laden with more people and stuff than ever before (in its tenure as our car). We got to a new (to us) airport parking service — parking-muc.de — which is quickly becoming our favorite place to stash our car when we fly out of Munich.1 We caught a flight to Düsseldorf, cooled our heels there for a couple hours, and then landed in Glasgow. Scooping up the rental car was pretty easy. It was a tight fit in that A4 sedan for four adults and four backpacks and three big suitcases. From there it was a three-hour drive up along Loch Lomond through a national park, (tea break in Crianlarich) on to Fort William and then finally arriving at Distant Hills in Spean Bridge.
We had two rooms (out of 7 total) for a week. Every morning we had a great big breakfast waiting for us: Scottish traditional stuff, modern healthy stuff, and enough variety to keep it interesting. We found our hosts, Leslie and Peter, extremely helplful and friendly with suggestions for activities, both local and somewhat more remote. Can’t recommend them highly enough.
Spean Bridge and Inverlochy Castle
Spean Bridge is a tiny little town, but big enough to have a few classy restaurants and a little shopping area. We learned about traditional wool weaving from Mary-Carol at the Spean Bridge Mill.
We took a walk through some woods up to the Commando Memorial, observed some bridge ruins, greeted some sheep, and took the much-shorter path along the road back to Distant Hills before the rain arrived.
The ruins of Inverlochy Castle were an easy drive away from Spean Bridge, towards Fort William, and thus a good stop on your way into “town.”
Cairngorms National Park, and a bit of the old Scottish refreshment
At special request of a friend of my parents’, we stopped off one morning at the Dalwhinnie distillery for a tour and a taste. I liked that there was plenty of opportunity to touch, smell and taste ingredients and equipment along the tour. I’m still not a whisky person, but I came around to red wine pretty late in life, so maybe there’s still time for me to learn to appreciate it. Our buds at This International Life also did the tour and wrote about it…go read their write-up of it for more details.
The real destination, however, were the paths through the hills in the Cairngorms National Park. We chose some routes based on the surprisingly detailed and well-organized Walk Highlands website. We started off at the niftily-named Rothiemurchus Center and spent more time hiking around there than we thought, narrowly returning to our car before the parking lot closure deadline of 5 p.m.
Isle of Skye
While planning our trip, we got plenty of recommendations to try to visit the Isle of Skye. We drove along miles and miles of tiny roads to take a tiny ferry at Glenelg across the Kyle Rhea.
We did a chippy lunch in Broadford along our drive around the island. The Old Man of Storr beckoned to us, but in the end the midges won out.2Plus, the severe logging happening there reminded us of the Tunguska Event. We drove on to Duntulm Castle. We came back onto the mainland via the bridge at Kyle Akin and just missed the last tour of the Eilean Donan Castle. But it was still free to take in the sights from the outside.
Oban, Inverness and two kinds of Falls between them
We drove down to Oban to check out McCaig’s Tower and see the town from above. On the way back, we drove back over the bridge above the Falls of Lora, an intriguing feature of the coastline shape and tidal patterns.
Another day we drove North along the East side of Loch Ness and hiked around in the Falls of Foyers region.
We continued that day all the way up to Inverness to have a look around the city, but by the time we arrived, it was absolutely pouring. So we set upon a Marks & Spencer for an impromptu picnic at the mall. We drove back along the opposite side of Loch Ness. Views would have been great on that day, but for the rain. At least we got to visit the Loo of the Year.
Glasgow and Departure
In order to save ourselves another middle-of-the-night departure and car ride to the airport, we snagged a couple of hotel rooms in Downtown Glasgow for the night before. Pickings were slim, since this was the weekend the Commonwealth Games were starting up in Glasgow (oops…should have noticed that when planning our trip). We overnighted in a few generously-sized rooms above a bar. It was hard to imagine a more centrally-located place to stay in Glasgow, but that came at a price of activity outside all night. Still it made it easy to check in and immediately set out on foot exploring. We stumbled upon The Chippy Doon the Lane for a great final meal before flying out the next morning.