It’s fair to say, I am desperate to plan a trip abroad.
Scrap that, I have a trip planned out, I’ve got the guidebook and map. I’ve checked out flights, researched national park permits, know what food I want to eat, have an itinerary and route plotted. I’ve saved for it; I just can’t go on it.
Earlier this year I was naively (or stupidly) optimistic that my American road trip from New York to New Orleans would be able to go ahead. It’s an odd stance for me to take, I’m a natural pessimist, that way I can never be disappointed, but for some reason on this I’d believed that by this point with vaccines, an adventure abroad would be possible.
As spring turned to summer that optimism well and truly disappeared…..and yes, I’m aware to some people holidays sound trivial but my god I miss travelling with every inch of my being. Heading off to the airport with my passport, trusty backpack, half an idea of where we’re going to sleep for the next few weeks and guidebook is a big part of my life and who I am and right now, I’m craving it.
So, that road trip is on hold for another year, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been on one….to Scotland and it was wonderful.
I have been to Scotland a few times before, but I’ve never spent more than a day or two there. So with us both having a week off for my birthday, the backpacks came out and off we went for the week.
Day 1 & 2 Fort William.
The whole idea for this trip came from a ridiculous question I asked Scott a few months ago….
ME: “What would you say if I said that I’d like to sunrise from the top of Ben Nevis on my birthday?”
SCOTT: “Can you walk up it at night?”
SCOTT: “Is that not dangerous?”.
I should point out that we walk a lot, most Sundays in fact. We aren’t novice idiots who’d clamber up a mountain in flip flops with no food, barely any water and inevitably need to call a mountain rescue team out. We have the equipment and know what we’re doing.
I’d walked up Ben Nevis before as part of the national three peaks a few years ago, I’ve wanted to do it again, I’ve actually wanted to walk up all three of them again albeit separately and without the need to sleep in a minibus overnight. You see, I don’t remember much about climbing them the first time around apart from the fact the UK was enjoying a sodding heatwave, it was 30-degree heat. The organisers INSISTED we carry waterproofs to the top of each bloody mountain in case it rained at that point in the summer, it hadn’t rained in about two months. Every time I saw an air ambulance, I prayed that it was coming to pick me up. I can’t describe how intense the heat was, it was bloody awful.
Slight digression there.
So, our plan was to set out from the hotel in the middle of night to make our way to the highest point of the UK for sunrise, arriving in Fort William, the weather had other ideas.
We had an agreement that should the weather look too ropey, we wouldn’t head out in the dark and instead wait until morning; ah the weather successfully foiling my plans since 1985.
That Monday evening as we sat in a pub, piss wet through having walked 15 minutes from the hotel to town for some food, looking at the grey, low cloud and relentless drizzle; we knew getting to the top for sunrise wasn’t going to happen, I don’t even think we’d have been able to see the sun.
The next morning however, the weather was predictably glorious, blue skies, sunshine, it was even a little warm, at some points too warm.
The walk was on!!!
Anyone who has researched walking Ben Nevis, will be aware that there appears to be two schools of thought. The first one being that it is doable if you’re relatively fit, prepared and kitted out properly. The other advice seems to scream “Do not do this, you will die”. I subscribe to the first, as long as you’re sensible, aware of the weather conditions (at the top), know the route (where the potentially dangerous parts are) and in general not a dick, you can get to the top of Ben Nevis and back down again unscathed….hell, I’ve managed it twice.
Up and down, it took us just over five hours. It isn’t easy, it’s not a gentle stroll,I always walking poles because my knees will thank me for it in a few years’ time and my walking shoes are properly worn in and comfortable.
Ben Nevis is a massive tease, I’d forgotten that. There are at least six points where you think the summit is looming only to soon realise that there’s still quite a bit further to go.
I promise every painful step is worth the effort.
Worth it to see the dude dressed in an inflatable T-Rex costume at the top. Worth it for the feeling of accomplishment. Worth it for the breath-taking scenery. Worth it to be reminded of just how beautiful the world is.
I can’t stress this enough, always climb the mountain; it is always worth it.
Day 3 – Loch Ness
Obviously, this trip had to be made.
I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, part of me kind thought the loch would be surrounded tourist traps on speed; all promising a sighting of Nessie the mythical creature lurking under the water.
Thankfully, it was much more sedate than that. Yes of course there’s plenty of boat trips on offer, some with added lure of sonar equipment for your chance to find the Loch Ness monster but the area we visited – because it is a big arse loch was chilled out.
We opted to opted to visit Urquhart Castle rather than a boat trip.
The castle is located halfway up the loch on the western coast, it sits on a piece of land jutting out into the loch, so as you can imagine it is very picturesque.
So, this castle has been the site of a thousand years’ worth of drama. It’s seen it all, invasions, wars, it’s changed hands, hosted huge banquets, the lot.
We visited while covid restrictions were in place so were able to download a guide for free, there are tour guides available also. I’d recommend having some way of knowing what the hell it you’re is actually looking at rather than relying on information boards that you’ll probably tire of reading. Plus a guide is always going to throw in some quirky interesting stories.
We opted to stay in a BnB for our night by Loch Ness. Airanloch Bed & Breakfast ran by Karl and Carla is one of the best places I’ve ever stayed, also, it’s adult only.
Our room had floor to ceiling windows with a fantastic view of the loch, the garden was beautiful, I could quite happily have sat in the sun taking in my surroundings for hours on end, it was so peaceful and there’s access down to the loch from the garden so you can take a walk along the beach.
The service was excellent, Karl and Carla can’t do enough for their guests, the food was delicious, they really go out of their way to make people feel special and ensure your stay is memorable. Scott had mentioned it was my birthday in passing and I ended up with chocolate, a flare candle, the works.
I can’t recommend this place enough; I will definitely be back.
Day 4 Aviemore
Before setting off on our trip, we had no idea where we’d be spending the Thursday night. To be honest, when we set off for Aviemore on the Thursday morning, we’d only just booked a hotel…..there’s nothing quite like flying by the seat of your pants.
Aviemore is ideal for families and great place to base yourself if you want to explore the Cairngorms.
There is plenty to do here, popular for skiing and hill walking, there’s also a whole range of activities and attractions to visit in the area during the summer too including the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre, Brewery, Landmark Forest Adventure Park, Craggan Outdoors and the Highland Folk Museum.
You could easily keep yourself entertained for a week.
We were there to drag our arses up Cairngorm. Now, I know I’ve already said always climb the mountain, but this wasn’t a prospect I was thrilled about having climbed a mountain days’ earlier and feeling very achey as result. I’ll admit I bitched and whinged all the way to the top but ultimately am glad I did it.
We spent the night at the Rowan Tree country house hotel, as is becoming a common theme in this post, the setting was stunning, it’s remote and out of the main town which suited me perfectly. It was a night for us to have a nice meal and share a bottle (multiple bottles) of wine without a care in the world and it was wonderful.
Day 5,6,7 Edinburgh
Our plan was always to go back to Edinburgh for the weekend, my best friend moved there at the end of April, and this has been the first chance we’d had to visit.
We went via Loch Leven nature reserve on our way back to Edinburgh – there’s a trail you can follow right the away around all 13 miles of it that is suitable for walkers of all abilities, cyclists and wheelchair users. Shorter routes are available too with interest points dotted out along the way.
A boat service runs out to Castle island runs during the summer too from Kinross harbour.
Loch Leven is one for nature lovers and bird spotters, even if you don’t know your Kingfisher from a Herron, there’s areas around the loch to sit and have a picnic, I found it peaceful and incredibly relaxing.
Then it was on to Edinburgh for a few Friday night drinks and of course some food.
I have visited Edinburgh before, once a hen do and once when a random drive saw us end up there. I love how easy it is to navigate the city, I like the fact I can walk everywhere and see everything without having to really think about how to get from A to B. I like all the little nooks and crannies there are.
We headed for Butta Burger on Rose Street, it launched during lockdown and quickly went viral, the aim behind it is to bring a bit of decadence to the classic burger, and it does just that, I’d highly recommend the chicken but be warned the portions are HUGE – I couldn’t finish mine.
We opted for a chilled Saturday in Edinburgh wandering around the city, heading up to the castle, a wander through the old town, grabbing a drink every now and again and generally taking in the sites. We did jump on an open top bus tour; they’re hop on hop off and leave every 20 minutes are so. I enjoy the little bits of personality and the personal stories a tour guide can add to sightseeing. Plus, there are those historical facts and legends that you may not necessarily find out about wandering aimlessly.
If you’re staying for longer in Edinburgh and now restrictions are further eased, the National Museum of Scotland is a good visit as is the People’s Story Museum and National Gallery. I’d also suggest walking down or getting a bus to Leith and having a look at the Royal Yacht Britannia.
On our final morning, I’d hoped to walk up Arthur’s seat – we’d don it the day our random road trip took us to Edinburgh – I’d wanted to head out early before it got too busy. Unfortunately, the chicken ramen I’d eaten the night before had other ideas so after I’d ordered Scott and Ruth out of the way, I spent the morning throwing up while they wandered around the market….maybe next time Arthur.
So, there we have it, that’s how we chose to spend a week in Scotland, is it something I’d have done pre-pandemic? Possibly not. Am I glad we visited? Absolutely, it is a stunning place, the views left me awe stuck and for those who enjoy walking there’s endless options and places to head too.
Had we more time, we’d have headed further North or perhaps to the Isle of Skye and maybe we will do that this year – after all I have fifteen days holiday left to take and not a clue where to go ha, ha, ha.
Hope you enjoyed this post, thanks for reading Sarah
Journalist, writer, traveller, music lover, collector of hats, news addict, bookworm