Day 1: Edinburgh
After an overnight flight from Hartford, Connecticut where we unsuccessfully tried to snooze, but instead spent the middle portion of the trip gawking at the beauty of Greenland at sunrise, we were tired but excited to explore the city of Edinburgh. We took the tram to Princes Street in the city center and armed with a map, set off to find our accommodations for the night. We had made reservations at a dormitory which offered reasonably priced beds near the city center and were delighted to find that Brae House not only existed, but was just as nice as having a hotel room. We were happy to drop our backpacks and set out in search of lunch.
After recharging, we walked the Royal Mile to North Bridge and walked Princes Street for some great views of Edinburgh Castle on the hill. The steep cliffs lead right up to the castle walls. We eventually made our way to Sandy Bell's - a pub that is well known for having folk music and we spent an hour listening to a great fiddler and blues guitarist.
Getting hungry for dinner, we went around the corner to get some spicy chicken for dinner before returning to Sandy Bell's to while away the rest of the evening. Chris sat in on the bass and we made friends with some fun locals who offered to let us stay in their flat for the rest of the trip. With the lack of planning that we had put into the trip, it was tempting...
We returned to our dorm and slept quite soundly that night.
Day 2: Edinburgh
We felt MUCH better after getting a full night's sleep and ate Lisa's leftover sandwich and some clif bars for breakfast before embarking on a hike on Arthur's Seat. Located not far from the city center and offering unobstructed views of Edinburgh, it is a popular place to hike! With the lack of trees, we enjoyed views all the way up and down admiring the castle, the queen's palace and the Firth of Forth.
We stopped back in our dorm to change shoes for the afternoon and headed out on the Royal Mile to find some lunch. We went to the farmers market and got bread pastries and apples to tide us over until dinner while meandering uphill towards the castle.
The entrance line between the statues of Robert the Bruce and William Wallace was almost as impressive in scope as the castle itself. It moved quickly though and we were exploring the ramparts before we knew it. It was particularly impressive to see how the castle evolved over hundreds of years and how its function changed over time. We stood in one line for a few minutes before realizing that the line was to see the Crown Jewels of Scotland....we jumped out of line and explored the rest of the castle and the Scottish War Memorial and Museum instead.
We had reached our museum limit for the day so instead of attending other museums, we went to a French Patisserie for eclairs and gateau! Yum.
We hiked to Calton Hill, an easy incline from the Royal Mile and again admired the castle from yet another angle. We also enjoyed the view from the Scottish National Monument but we got drenched while walking back to our dorm where we changed into dry socks.
In the evening we found a pub on the Royal Mile that was serving chicken chorizo Scotch Pies for supper - we both partook. Holding our sides, we made our way back to Sandy Bell's for a second night at the folk-music pub. The same fiddler was there from the night before and Chris sat in on I Got Rhythm. We met a couple from Michigan and Lisa hopped in on the piano and jammed on Tennessee Waltz and some other songs. The fiddler was very trusting as he left his fiddle in Chris' worthy hands when he needed to run to the loo.
Still jet-lagged, we tried to sleep that night, but it was restless.
Day 3: Edinburgh to Oban
We awoke early since we had an appointment back at the airport to pick up our rental car. We were walking the Royal Mile before most of Edinburgh had woken up and it was a stark contrast to the busy streets that we had experienced in the previous two days. We rode the tram back to the airport and filled out all the paperwork before the gave us the key to a Ford Fiesta. We headed off with the steering wheel on the right side and the car safely in the left lane. The woman at the rental car company recommended Oban as a nice seaside destination so we went in that direction.
We managed to find a grocery store in Stirling to stock up on juice, water, breakfast food and other staples (including crumpets) before heading west (the proper romantic direction to go on a road trip). Our first stop was at Loch Lomond, one of two national parks in Scotland. Lisa did a great job navigating through all the "rindabites" so that we could have a picnic on the western shore of the lake. We had rain while we were there, but the loch struck us as being quite similar to Lake George with mountains rising steeply from the shore, but lacking the shoreline development. We walked some of the shoreline trail to stretch our legs and ate brie and turkey sandwiches before getting back in the car to head west again.
In the late afternoon, we arrived in Oban and we got information on camping from the tourist center. Lisa drove the single track road to our campground and we were amazed at the beautiful view of the water from our "pitch." We overlooked the isle of Kerrere.
After setting up the tent, we drove back to Oban for dinner at Cuan Mor (Gaelic for large bay...) and had amazingly delicious salmon. We walked up the hill to the colosseum monument knows as McCaig's tower and enjoyed the panoramic view of the village, the bay and the Isle of Mull in the distance. We also walked out of town to Dunollie's Castle along the shore trail. The views of the islands looked gorgeous from every possible vantage point!
We capped off the evening with ice cream at The Pokey Hat before losing our car for four minutes or so. Luckily, it was just parked two blocks from where we THOUGHT we left it.... Lisa is convinced it was stolen for four minutes and then returned to a different parking spot so WE weren't confused, the thief was just disoriented.
It rained ALL night but we stayed dry in the tent. We were on a bit of a slope so it wasn't the most restful night of sleep though. We took consolation in the fact that had there been no slope we would have been sleeping in a puddle which would have been worse.
Day 4: Oban to Glencoe
We packed up our wet tent and ate an early breakfast to make the ferry to Kerrere. We were the only takers for the early ferry and seemingly had the island to ourselves...well us and lots of sheep that is! We felt like we were trespassing on the island as were were walking through cow gates and following roads that seemed like driveways. We meandered through fields and enjoyed the coastline intending to find the monument on the northern side of the island. We were turned around by a highland cow in the middle of the trail since we were intimidated by its impressive horns. We weren't sure if they were as friendly as our Vermont cows...
We had a rainy ferry ride back to Oban and enjoyed some peanut butter sandwiches for lunch before heading north in the car.
We headed toward Glencoe with a stop at a nature preserve for a nap since we were tired. Refreshed when we arrived in Glencoe, we chose our "pitch" and walked around the town. There was beautiful highland scenery in panorama with the surrounding mountains and Loch Leven. We got a butterscotch brownie and some tea at the local cafe to warm up after the rain.
After some more walking, we got an early dinner at the Gathering Inn Restaurant for some delicious paninis. The jet-lag and long days were starting to catch up with us so we went to bed quite early with earplugs and eye pillows and slept for eleven glorious hours!
Day 5: Glencoe to Shiel Bridge
Finally well rested, we awoke and scarfed down some breakfast before getting on the road again. We figured that we would feel silly leaving Glencoe without exploring the glen that gives the village its name. We headed into the pass even though it was in the opposite direction that we were intending to travel that day but we were not disappointed. We found ourselves surrounded by mountains and waterfalls in every direction. It was one of the most beautiful places that I have ever brushed my teeth! We counted eleven waterfalls within one view.
We then drove to Fort William and out to Glen Nevis for some more stunning scenery. We explored the Lower Falls trail which followed a rambling river and then hiked the Steall Falls trail for jaw dropping scenery that reminded us of Yosemite. Even when it started raining as we admired the falls, it was stunning.
We again stocked up on grocery store staples before leaving Fort William and headed north to drive the beautiful highland road toward the Isle of Skye. We found lodging for the evening at Shiel Bridge in the "Wee Bunk House" of the Kintail Lodge where we snagged the last two bunks. We ate "game pie" at the lodge and enjoyed the view (and other lodgers conversations) from the sitting room until bedtime.
Our bunkmates for the night were three girls from Germany on holiday and one long distance hiker from France. With earplugs, we slept just fine!
Day 6: Isle of Skye
We finally made it to the Isle of Skye, a place that we had been told was one of the most beautiful areas of Scotland. The scenery did not disappoint and just the diversity of landscapes all within eyesight made for an interesting view in any direction. There were craggy mountains, beaches, rivers with waterfalls and rolling hills covered in sheep.
Not knowing exactly where to go first, but armed with Aunt Susie's book of country strolls around the Isle of Skye, we headed for the Fairy Pools, since we had heard of them as a nice hike. Unfortunately, everyone else had also heard of the Fairy Pools as well. After we found a parking spot, it didn't seem quite so crowded and we enjoyed the stair-stepping river and views of mountains. Many tourists were cooling off in the pools (is it ever REALLY necessary to cool off in Scotland?) but we elected to hike a few miles in past the hordes before following the same river out.
We drove to Carbost and got tea across the street from the Talisker Distillery - whisky drinkers on one side of the road and teetotalers on the other! We walked up the hill in search of lunch and found THE BEST smoked salmon from a small seafood shack. It was like having fish candy - we ate at the park overlooking the water.
Lisa skillfully navigated the single track roads to Dunvegan where we found a campsite at the caravan park and drove down the road to Dunvegan Castle and Gardens.* The castle was the McCleod clan's and was fully furnished with family relics and memorabilia. It was still used by the family for holidays and it was interesting to see how the castle had changed over the centuries! The gardens were extensive and well landscaped with many exotic plants and trees.
After touring the grounds, we drove to a walk on Claigan Beach which was made of broken seashells. We climbed the hill for an expansive view of the Outer Hebrides, inlets, coves, beach and mountains.
We walked and drove back to the Dunvegan Hotel for dinner in their restaurant overlooking the water. The food was delicious and we sat watching the water for quite a while after our supper. We eventually made it back to our pitch for bed.
* A note about the single track roads: We puzzled the entire trip over whether this was a ridiculous system or if it was actually safer and a genius road layout. On one hand it was difficult to anticipate oncoming cars on hills and around corners, particularly with bridges, stone walls and cliffs everywhere. The passing places every few hundred yards worked as long as there were only two or three cars in the area, but jams could come up quickly if too many cars were following too closely. On the other hand, having no shoulder and only one lane meant you were constantly attentive to the road. No room for distractions meant we did not see a single person on their cell phone while they were driving. It necessitated cooperation from all drivers and people came across as friendlier with their quick waves at each passing place. Only one person passed us impatiently as we were waiting at a passing place because there was a bus coming around the corner up a hill from a bridge. Her impatience forced the bus to back up over the bridge and up the hill on the other side and into a passing place. Other than a few tight squeezes, quick breaking, reversing and some white knuckle driving we were pretty pleased with how the single track system worked. It did seem that we were the only people who knew how to back up a car though - it was chaos watching other people try!
Day 7: Isle of Skye to Pitlochry
We started the day by heading to the trailhead for Hugh's Castle - a 17th century ruin that is supposedly the most haunted castle in Scotland. We followed the sheep roads to the castle, but were unable to spot any ghosts...we decided to make our own path back through the field which turned out to be quite wet. I think we should stick to the roads in the future. (Lisa claimed her mulligan for the day early on with this one!)
Before getting back to the car we decided to head up the hill for a view of the bay. Every time that we would crest a hill, there would be another hill to climb though. We eventually got the view that we were aiming for and snapped some pictures before making it back to the car for our longest driving day of the trip. It also rained on and off for the rest of the day, making it convenient that we had some distance to cover in the car on questionable weather.
We had a quick lunch at a restaurant near Eilean Donan Castle and backtracked along many of the roads that we had driven two days prior.
Taking a quick detour, we spiked north for a few miles to get a view of Loch Ness, we were unable to spot Nessie though...
The rest of the drive took us through the edge of Cairngorns National Park and we enjoyed the solitude and beautiful views of the craggy treeless mountains. By the time we arrived in Pitlochry we were quite ready to get out of the car. We got a campsite at a caravan park about three miles outside of town and elected to walk to get dinner in order to stretch our legs.
We found a pub in Pitlochry that had dinner and live music. Chris ordered the haggis and it was pretty good! Lisa bravely ate a few bites of the haggis but was pleased to have fish on her own plate. The music was a multi-instrumentalist creating loops with pedals and jamming with himself.
We got back to the campsite around sunset and snoozed.
Day 8: Pitlochry to Perth
On our last full day in Scotland, we started the day in Pitlochry where we walked around the downtown area before most of the stores were open and after getting some milk for breakfast we headed south to Dunkeld.
The village of Dunkeld was quite charming with its classic architecture and setting on the River Tay. We walked the fiddler's path and saw the Cathedral, the Mother Larch and some amazing groves of trees. We crossed the river on the A9 and followed the other shore where we found Niel Gow's oak. We hummed his famous lament while we ate peanut butter sandwiches, hoping to evoke his spirit.
When we arrived back in Dunkeld we had some afternoon tea in a small cafe before driving to Perth for the evening. We found a campsite near Scone Palace at the Racecourse Caravan Park. That campsite meant that we never had a struggle to find a tent site in Scotland... perhaps our road trip mentality would work in Europe as well!
We walked the three miles into town and explored the museum where we learned about Scotland's geologic and ecological history, saw Niel Gow's portrait and saw a huge 3,000 year old log boat. We admired St. Johns Cathedral and many other interesting buildings around the city of Perth.
We had dinner at "The Tavern." Comfort food again! Haddock with cream sauce for Chris and Steak Pie for Lisa. Yum yum!
We walked back to the campsite and packed our backpacks as well as we could for the flight and got to bed around nine.
Day 9: Perth to Edinburgh
We packed up the wet tent in the morning and had clear skies as we drove to Stirling early in the morning. Parking the car near the castle, we walked the town streets in search of the Full Scottish Breakfast. Despite the fact that most of the town was still asleep, we were able to get the immense breakfast at a pub. It is a gastronomic wonder of the world.
We walked off a tiny portion of the calories while walking beck up the hill towards Stirling Castle where we would spend the rest of the morning. We got a private tour of the Great Hall before joining a free group tour of the whole castle. Much like the other castles that we toured in Scotland, it was most interesting to see the evolution of the buildings over time.
We had a great view of the William Wallace monument from the ramparts and snapped quite a few pictures of the city from the commanding castle walls. It was obvious why Stirling castle was such an important strategic location throughout Scotland's history.
Before leaving town, we stopped at the Church of the Holy Rude to see the beautiful architecture and gigantic hand hewn logs of the roof.
We drove back to Edinburgh and tried to dry the tent as best we could before packing it away in the bag...it turned out that we would bring a little bit of the Scottish precipitation home in our backpack!
It seemed that our road trip worked! We got to see a beautiful and historic area and never had a problem finding a place to stay. Who knows where our road trip will bring us next?