In the centre of Edinburgh we stopped in this nice looking bar and had a lovely lunch. I remember I had a tower of Haggis with neeps and tatties, and a delicious cranachan. But most of all, we tried the Thistly Cross cider and it was one of the tastiest cider I tried in UK. The service was fast and friendly, I'll surely go back there if I pass through this city again.
After visiting the castle and before going to the Parliament, we climbed this hill up this small park, from which you can have a nice view over the whole city and its surroundings, as the Holyrood Palace. There are also a number of monuments to see on it: the National Monument of Scotland, a giant memorial for the fallen in the Napoleonic wars, is the biggest and most impressive one, but there are also an observatory and other nice buildings to complete the scenery.
We didn't have much time to visit Edinburgh. The few things we've seen made me think that a visit of more than a few hours wasn't enough to discover all the hidden trasures of this city.
We had time to visit the Castle, with the Honours of Scotland and the Stone of Destiny displayed: it was big and quite well preserved, on a nice panoramic point; we walked down the Royal Mile, passing by St. Giles cathedral - really nice - up to Scottish Parliament and the Holyrood Palace, where the Queen resides when visiting Edinburgh.
On our way, we saw also the impressive Scott Monument and visited shortly the Scottish National Gallery.
Beautiful chapel, built in the 14th century, that we visited on our way to Edinburgh.
Unfortunately we couldn't take pics, as you couldn't on the inside.
Pity because the chapel's interior is richly decorated: a lot of details (plants, green men, and many more) are carved in every column and on the ceiling.
Many legends arose around this place involving templars, masonry and included connections with the Solomon's temple and the Graal. What's sure is the undoubtful beauty of this splendid church.
29 September 2012
The lade inn
We stopped in this pub for dinner. The food was more than acceptable (as usual, but I can't remember what we got there exactly). The best we took was some artisanal ale brewed in local micro-breweries.
At the end of the dinner, the bartender offered us to try quite a few nice other beers and recommended us to try the Thistly Cross cider (typical from Scotland). We tried it later in Edinburgh and it was amazing.
Falls of Dochart
After having checked in at the hotel we left for a little drive around.
The owner of the hostel recommended to have a look at the Falls of Dochart not far away in the village of Killin. It was worth going there, the scenery was really beautiful from the stone bridge: you could admire the rapids, while there was some kind of celtic cemetery on one side while there was an old water mill nearby. I think to remember you could visit it but it was too late.
We stopped at this inn situated in the Loch Lomond National Park. The owner was very friendly and helpful, and the rooms were tidy and comfortable, although the place looks pretty old.
The inn had a restaurant inside, but since we didn't drive enough, we prefered to go around and look for something else :D
Be careful while driving around the park, especially at night: we almost hit a massive stag that jumped in front of our car, while following its family across the road. Scary!
We could just admire this castle from far away. It is visible from the A828 road, halfway between Oban and Glen Coe. We didn't try to reach it as the tide was high but it seems you can try to walk there at low tide.
We had something to eat and took some pics from the Castle Stalker View bar, a good spot overlooking the bay and the castle itself. The bar itself was nothing special, got some cake and went away.
We didn't stop anymore until we got to our destination in Loch Lomond National Park. For whisky lovers, the Oban distillery is another must-see on the way :)
While driving to Castle Stalker (next tip) we crossed the valley of Glen Coe that offered beautiful scenery along the way. We already drove a lot at that point, but the heath, the hills and the waterfalls we encountered made the road less boring, if not more pleasant :)
The weather was really unstable too: rain, clouds, wind and sun were interchanging often, when they were not present all at the same time!
We had a short stop in Glenfinnan to admire the famous viaduct where the Jacobite train (also seen in Harry potter) is passing.
The place is known also for the monument and the memorial of the Jacobite Rising in 18th century: we didn't visit it, but there's a visitor centre that can give all the info about.
Boat from Isle of Skye and Morar
We departed quite early for the most tiring day of the holidays: around 250 miles driven for more than 6 hours in the car. Pity because we couldn't stop in a lot of nice places on the way!
We took a ferry from Armadale and crossed the sea to Mallaig, from where we drove to the Silver Beach of Morar. The sand was really white and the place was desert and peaceful: the analogies with tropical beaches is ending here, as it was cold, cloudy and the water was freezing! :D
Nice place though :)
28 September 2012
Dinner in Portree
For dinner, we went to Portree, the biggest town of the Isle of Skye (still around 2.500 people :P ).
We walked into a random pub on the main square, the Isles Inn. I took venison steak, while my boyfriend took fish (don't remember what, probably salmon): in this case, food wasn't as good as in other places (Inverness or Gairloch), but still more than ok.
We ended with Cranachan in the nearby restaurant, the Granary, but was quite expensive and not that tasty: maybe the main courses are ok, but our experience here is not positive.
This lovely hostel wasn't easy to find (also because we arrived at night) but it was worth it. The guy at the reception was really nice and gave us a few tips on where to go on the isle.
The hostel is well-decorated, but the nicest part is the big back garden with a massive chess board and a sort of green house, where you can relax. I was amazed that I could pay by card here in the middle of nowhere.
Traveling as a couple, the only disappointment was the double bedroom, where only bunk beds were available.
Isle of skye
We only stayed a day on the Isle of Skye and we realised after it would have been nice to stay more. There are plenty of things to see in this part of the Highlands: driving on the A87, we passed by some nice landmarks as Kilt Rock, Old Man o' Store, Trotternish, Neist Point lighthouse, and The Quiraing, but you could easily spend more than 3 or 4 days hiking and visiting more beautiful places, as Talisker bay.
We're definitely looking forward to come back and enjoy more of this fantastic place.
If you interested in whisky, you can also visit the Talisker distillery :)
Eilean Donan castle
Unfortunately this iconic castle, built on a small island on the loch Duich and where a number of movies were shot, was closed when we got there.
We could just admire the scenery from outside. There was a group of people, dressed with traditional costume playing bagpipes outside the castle: it was nice, but not quite what we drove there for.
We had lunch somewhere in Kyle of Lochalsh, but definitely better not mentioning it: worst meal (and the only bad one) we had in Scotland.
27 September 2012
Na Mara Restaurant
One of the rare restaurant of Gairloch, but a really good one!
We had to get used to local times and went to eat early (before 7pm) to avoid to have dinner again in the chinese take-away.
The interior was ok, and the food was delicious: I had venison steak topped with a whisky sauce, while my boyfriend had some seafood spaghetti.
Good value for money.
Loch Assynt and Ardvreck castle
Loch Assynt represent the most nothern point we got in the Highlands. It's been a long way, but the view is definitely worth the effort. The lake is big, much more than the ones we crossed on our way there, and of an incredibly intense blue.
Walking around, we spotted the ruins of Ardvreck castle, what remains of an ancient manor of the 16th century once belong to the Clan MacLeod. It's situated on a small peninsula that can be cut off from the mainland when the loch's water are rising high.
As Scottish custom, many stories are told about ghosts haunting the ruins and mermaids living in the lake: we didn't see any, but you never know :)
Describing the Highlands is quite hard: it's totally another place from anywhere we've been up to now. Driving across them means being practically alone on this narrow road for hours, heath on the right and heath on the left, with some abandoned buildings here and there, a few houses on the way, sometimes running along peaceful and isolated lochs.
If only we had enough time to do so, we would have stopped every km, just walking in these lonely lands, enjoying the silence and trying to spot the various birds and other animals that are populating this region.
After an hour or so driving, we finally arrived to Loch Assynt (see next tip).
Nice pub in Ullapool
Before going to and after coming back from Loch Assynt, we stopped in Ullapool, last town before the Highlands, for some food.
The Seaforth Inn had in fact quite a long list of courses and on Internet you can find good reviews about their fish, but unfortunately we didn't know at the time: we went it by chance and ordered normal pub food (fish and chips, pretty good compared to many other places, and burger). We've been anyway satisfied with the quality of our meal, for a more than reasonable price. Recommended!
Impressive gorge on the side of the street. You have to walk down a path for 5 mins and you'll arrive to a platform where you'll have a breath-taking view of the valley and the falls. Also, when we got there, there was a van where a guy was selling venison burger: if you find it, go for it, it's not bad at all!
I had never tried this type of accommodation before. A wigwam is a little wooden house with mattresses on the floor. It was well warmed but I think next time I'll probably try to find a hostel around because the place was really windy and we could hear the wind a lot from inside. It is nice anyway if you want to camp without bringing your tent.
Note that the toilets are situated outside, more or less 20meters from the accommodations. (Think that you'll have to wander around in the dark to reach them in the middle of the night)
There are several wigwams in the UK if you are interested. http://www.wigwamholidays.com
Gairloch was in the middle of absolutely nowhere, but it was convenient for us as a base for a few point of interests we visited the next days.
If you choose to go there, remember that 7pm is already pretty late for checking in and, from 8pm onwards you won't find places with the kitchen still open.
The first night when we arrived from Inverness we tried to get food in the local pubs at 8:30pm and the kitchens were all closed. If you find yourself in this situation, there is a chinese take away closing around 10pm up the road, near the supermarket :)
Falls of Foyer
Apart from the lake itself, the main attraction of the surroundings are these impressive waterfalls and the related gorge: the place has inspired one of the best Scottish author, Robert Burns, to write a poem about it.
We stopped at the panoramic point, but there should be anyway the possibility to continue the hike closer to the shores of the loch.
The panoramic point is in the woods and it's easily reachable walking a clean path, leaving directly from the B852 that's running along the Loch Ness.
This loch, the second bigger in Scotland, has nothing special compared to other lochs that we found later, but driving along his shores with the clouds all around you is somewhat suggestive and, in a way, what you expect from Scottish highlands :)
If you're in the area, it may be worth a visit, otherwise you can think of going to more interesting places... unless you feel lucky and want to take your chance of meeting Nessie :)
Super good restaurant on the side of the road just outside Inverness, specialized in typical food from the territory.
The food was delicious: I had a really good haggis, neeps and tatties, while my boyfriend took a salmon with vegs. At the end, we tried (and fell in love with) Cranachan, a typical Scottish dessert: the ingredients are in the pic below :)
The owners are really nice and the mugs covering the ceiling are the only decoration of this simple restaurant :D
Lovely little castle from the 14th century. The interior was perfectly preserved and we could visit the very nice gardens surrounding the manor.
"Cawdor Castle is not another cold monument, but a splendid house and the home of the Cawdor family to this day."
We started our trip from Inverness, we didn't stay too much around, we just had a nice walk around the river, from which you can have a nice view over the castle and you can easily reach a big church nearby.
Driving in the Highlands
4) Roads can be a pain: going anywhere is taking forever and it's getting worse and worse the more you are far away from the main cities. As many roads are as wide as one single car, most of the time you'll find 'passing places', where you'll have to stop to make other cars going in the opposite direction pass by. As we had a limited time for this trip, we drove a lot, also at nightfall: if you can, don't do it!
Be also careful with animals. There are thousands of sheeps everywhere on the side of the roads and often they are walking really close or crossing in front of you. We had some adventures with deers and stags as well :)
Some general tip for traveling in Scotland
Before starting to describe our trip, there are a couple of things I'd like to point out to help whoever wants to drive around the north of Scotland:
1) apart if you drive in the big cities, fuel stations are not to be found everywhere. It can happen that you drive for hundreds of miles without spotting any: my advice is, when you find one and your tank is towards the E, take profit and don't wait for cheaper places - there may not be such a place soon.
2) It didn't happen to us, but it may be that some places are not accepting cards and cash machines can be hard to find: always have some cash with you!
3) Phone is not working everywhere!