‘You need to visit the Highlands’.. ‘the Scottish Highlands are absolutely beautiful’.. that’s what I’ve been hearing for the last few years..over and over again.. so figured it was about time to see what the whole fuss is about. Isle of Skye, here we come!
Note to future self - plan your trip wisely.
I must say I was a bit over optimistic in planning the whole expedition. For a 4-day holiday visiting the Isle of Skye would not be too bad if a) we wouldn’t start the trip from the Midlands b) The road would not lead through the Lake District, Loch Lomond National Park, Fort William, 101 little lakes and the most lovely mountain passes I have seen in my life. I won’t even mention the wildlife, waterfalls and the picturesque stone bridges.. seriously it was unreal.
When I first looked at the estimated time of the drive, which came up to 9 hours, I though this is going to be tough. Then I have selected some most popular viewpoints, which were scattered alongside the road we were travelling on. The initial count was then halved (otherwise we would need 24 hours to get there) which gave us 14 viewpoints. Do I even need to mention that we arrived at our destination way after dark?
Anyway, let’s start from the beginning. When going to Scotland you need to be ready to experience all four seasons in one day. Pack a whole variety of clothes that are light, waterproof and protect you against wind, which you can quickly put on and take off at any time. If possible, travel by car. In this way you will be able to chose what and when you want to see on the way and it will allow you to take some essentials which might prove useful in the hours to come (like a large flask with tea, additional clothes, camera equipment or a trunk full of food).
There are two ways of getting on the island. One leads through a fairly new, build in 1997 bridge and the other does involve a ferry. The way through the bridge does take a bit longer however lets you see the site of the famous Battle of Glen Shieil, the lovely Eas Nan Arm Bridge, The Skye Bridge and most importantly the beautiful Eilean Donan Castle. In the end, we decided to take the bridge one way and return via ferry. In that way we would cover the most ground and squeeze the most out of the whole experience. Book the ferry directly through the Caledonian MacBrayne website. This will save you few pounds as all other ferry search websites charge extra money for the service.
To manage to see the Eilean Donan Castle while the sun was still up we decided to stop only on some of the planned viewpoints and leave the rest for our way back. As we have already seen a little bit of the Lake District on our previous travels we decided not to make any stops there. Our first sightseeing stop was Loch Lomond. The weather was clear most of the day, however, as soon as we crossed the border of the Loch Lomond Park is started to rain. The mountain got covered in fog, so we could not fully enjoy the beauty of it. On the positive note, there is a large car park next to it with a petrol station and a bar if you fancy something warm to eat. Just remember to bring some change with you as they even charge you 30p for the toilet there. The lake itself if impressive. It is over 22 miles long and in some areas almost 5 miles wide, which secured it’s place in The Guinness Book of Records 1995 as the largest inland stretch of water in Great Britain by surface area. From it’s shores you can also admire the Ben Lomond and the Scottish Munro peaks.
After taking a few photos we got back in the car, whizzed past the Falls of Faloch, which we decided to visit on our way back, and entered the magical land of the highlands. What I really liked about the A82 was the fact that whenever there was a nice view or a larger loch you had the opportunity to stop the car in a safe place and take some photos. The signs and information boards made it even easier to find the places we were interested in. Fair enough, we were travelling there at the end of March, which is off season, so it might be that the car parks on certain locations might be full in the summer time and hence make it more difficult to see the locations you want. While admiring the views from the viewpoints we could usually see some hikers in the distance which would also mean that there are hiking trails nearby.
Our next stop was the Loch Tulla viewpoint (PA36 4AG). This spot looks especially beautiful when the snow is still covering the mountains. Beautiful open space which gives you a first taste of what is yet to come. The car park is located just behind a bent so make sure you don’t drive too fast. From here, if you have a little bit of time to spare, you can go for a walk to take a closer look at the lake and mountains. Unfortunately, we had to dash.
We went past the Loch Ba and The Meeting of Three Waters (added to the ‘must see on the way back’ list) and stopped again at the Three Sisters viewpoint car park (PH49 4HX). These beautiful mountains, which are of volcanic origin, began to form 470 million years ago and, according to the information board, used to be 4 times higher than today. With a visitor centre nearby this is a perfect area for all the hikers and mountaineers. The view is stunning so if you drive through this area make sure you take few minutes to enjoy it.
By now we already knew we are going to be very late. Loch Achtriochtan, slate mine of Ballachulish, Fort William are just few more destinations added to the already long list of stops during our return. Loch Lochy, Garry and Loyne and the Eas Nan Arm Bridge had to be crossed out as it was already getting dar and we still had a long way to go. We waved with sad faces to the stags strolling through the Glen Shiel battle ground and continued our race with the sun to the Eilean Donan Castle. 20 minutes before the sunset we made it. There it was, a lone castle connected with the main land only with a stone bridge.
Founded in the 13th century, the castle was built on a tidal island. It was destroyed during the Jacobite rebellion and reconstructed in the 20th century. The castle was featured in many movies such as the Highlander, James Bond: The World Is Not Enough, Elizabeth: The Golden Age and most recently in Made of Honor. Again, if you get the chance to spend some more time here it is definitely worth it. The Castle is open from 10am till 4pm (5pm between March and October) and the admission fee for an adult is £7.50.
Now, sitting on a bench with a sandwich and a cup of tea, admiring the sun setting on the castle, we could finally breath with ease. The race was over. Now all that was left was to cross the Skye Bridge and enter the magical land of Isle of Skye.