Where: Scotland Road Trip – Part 1
When: October 2019
Hotel: Highland Hotel, Fort William / Breakish Bay Pods, Isle of Skye
Why Scotland: We were coming up on John’s 45th birthday, and when deciding where to go, the first option that popped into my mind was to go back to Scotland. We had spent his 40th birthday in Edinburgh (read Part 1 here and Part 2 here), and had wanted to go back to see more of the country. Even though Scotland doesn’t seem large, there is so much to do and see, it was hard to narrow down exactly where we should go. After reading through blogs, I built an itinerary where we flew into Edinburgh, and headed straight west towards Isle of Skye. We were going in mid-October, which meant the weather could be hit or miss…but I love traveling in the off-season, so we were at least sure to miss the crowds that flooded Scotland in June-August.
The Trip: It was as if everything that could go wrong, did go wrong at first. The plane was delayed, which meant that we would be getting into Scotland later than expected. Not a huge problem in the grand scheme of things…but we didn’t know what the “highways” looked like outside of city. (See the above photo for a proper description). On top of that, when we landed and went to the Hertz counter, our name was not on the Gold Member board, which was odd. Until it was our turn, and somehow, I had made the reservation for the wrong day, and there were no automatics left. Disappointing on two fronts, I had booked us a sports car as a treat for John’s birthday and it was an automatic so I could drive too. I’m comfortable driving on the other side of the road…but have yet to learn how to drive manuals. 😦 So, not only was John out his sports car but he’d have to drive the whole time.
THEN! We had a 2.5 hour drive ahead of us from Edinburgh to our first stop of the night, Fort William. It would have been fine before the delay – but now, we weren’t getting in until after 10 p.m. Not a big deal. John and I are road warriors, so this was okay. EXCEPT that Scottish Highland highways are not real highways and we were on what we though were backroads with zero lights to help guide the way. It was honestly so ridiculous that it’s funny now, but at the time we both were honestly sure that these roads were where horror films started. By the time we reached our hotel for the night, the Highland Hotel, we just wanted to fall into bed. EXCEPT that the first room they gave us was in an annex building that seemed to be the rejected rooms and smelled like mold. Thankfully, they were able to switch us and we went to sleep sure that the next day had to be better than the first. 🙂
Our plan for the next day was to stop at the Glennfinnan Viaduct, made famous in the Harry Potter films, before heading to the Isle of Skye. The Glennfinnan Viaduct is absolutely beautiful and not to be missed, even if you aren’t a Harry Potter fan! It’s actually much smaller in person than in the films, but a super pretty setting either way. We had gorgeous falls colors and a pretty sky, which made for some great pictures! There is parking and a small visitor’s center, and two places to view the viaduct. We opted to go the longer route rather than climb up for a higher view but is farther away from the viaduct. (This was recommended by the parking attendant). It seemed like it was the perfect choice.
Our next stop was the Isle of Skye, which we were going to reach by the ferry from Mallaig. Make sure to check the timetables so you know when the boats leave – we had spent more time than expected at Glenfinnan so we missed the ferry I originally planned on us taking. Not a huge deal – it only meant a little restructuring of the Skye itinerary. Another tip when planning for Scotland…don’t skimp on time scheduled at each stop or you’ll be rushed. Not to mention, the roads will also mean you need more time between locations.
The ferry to Skye is huge with lots of onboard decks to enjoy a snack or the scenery. After enjoying a cappuccino inside while redoing the itinerary, I stepped out for some photos. Definitely do this if the weather cooperates!
The ferry takes about 45 minutes, and then you are free to explore Skye! On the ship, I had taken out visiting the Fairy Pools, the Talisker distillery and the Dunvegan Castle. They all sit on the same side of the island so it was easy to pick those as ones to miss. The Fairy Pools are about a 40-minute roundtrip walk from the car port to the pools, and while they look super pretty, I wanted to see the Fairy Glens more. The Talisker distillery is a staple stop on Skye, but I don’t drink scotch whisky and John wouldn’t have because he was driving, so it was an easy one to cross off the list. And finally, the Dunvegan Castle. It is the oldest, continuously inhabited castle in Scotland, but was so far from everything I really wanted to see, I had no FOMO about not going there.
Instead, we headed to the Fairy Glens – about 90 minutes from where the ferry lets you off. It was a good choice. The Fairy Glens were one of my favorite areas of the island. The road into the glens is one lane, which would be harrowing in busier times, but thankfully, being the offseason, it wasn’t bad. And we were able to park literally at the start of the trail, rather than 30 minutes away, which is recommended in busier times. The surrounding area is already pretty and then you walk up this hill and you are in this beautiful landscape with bright greens and unusual landscapes, it’s really like nowhere I have seen before. (This is also where good boots come in! The hike is not hard or long, but super muddy and slippery!)
We were staying at the southern end of the island, close to the Skye bridge, but before we headed back that way, we drove the Quiraing Pass, with steep grades, one-lane roads, tight bends and SO MUCH SCENERY! There is a hike in the Quiraing that is quite popular, but it takes two hours (without stops) and ranks “hard” in difficulty…neither of what we were looking for, especially when we could drive it. 😉 We then found ourselves back on the coast, with picturesque views, including a great one of the Old Man of Storr. There aren’t a ton of options for food, so we safely picked to stop in Portree, a postcard town. I don’t know how we got so lucky, but we picked to eat at the Lower Deck restaurant, which wasn’t quite open when we got there. We opted to wait, and ended up being first in a very long line. The food was good, we had a window table, and it was the perfect ending to the day.
However, there of course had to be something that didn’t go quite as planned. I had booked something on my bucket list – a night in a glamping pod in Breakish. Still on the Isle of Skye, about 40 minutes south of Portree. We were trying to avoid a late night drive again, but being fall, it got dark early and the rain that had held off all day came in with a vengeance. We got super lost, but thankfully, the pod owner (booked on AirBnB) was AWESOME, and he came to find us in the rain and take us back to the pod. The good news was, the pod was super cute and lived up to my expectations. It was warm, and comfortable and when we woke up, we had amazing views of Loch Carron. (Side fact, in case you were wondering, there are over 31,000 lochs in Scotland). I HIGHLY suggest this unique experience if you find yourself on the Isle of Skye.
Final Impressions: The Highlands are as beautiful as described, and Isle of Skye has landscape that isn’t found elsewhere. I am so happy we made the trek – it was a wonderful day of exploring.