A Travellerspoint blog

Unlucky by the Lochs

Lochaber, Cairngorms & Inverness - Highlands

semi-overcast 16 °C
View Highlands & Islands on kmmk17's travel map.


As we continued towards Fort William, our next base, we kept a keen eye on the developing crack. After stopping just outside Spean Bridge we realised the crack was worsening, and with another 3 days and 200 miles still to drive, this problem needed fixing. But with no Internet we had little choice but to continue on our 3 hour journey to Fort William.

Once we arrived we discussed our options, and realised our only option was to swap the car, but with no Avis base in Fort William, all we could do was drive back to Inverness Airport which was 2 hours away. En route we tried to call them to check this was possible, but being on hold with a dodgy signal meant this was not very successful.

Eventually, at around 4pm we arrived back at the airport, where we would be in just a few days time. Thankfully we were able to swap the car but it was now another two hours back to Fort William. Trying to create some sort of silver lining we decided that we would shuffle around our schedule and today would be the Loch Ness day.

Loch Ness

Loch Ness

We stopped en route a few times for views of Loch Ness, as well as grabbing some souvenirs. Loch Ness really is huge, and most of the detour to Inverness had meant driving along side it. So much so, that by the end we weren't even interested in it anymore!

As it was a very long day, after eventually getting some dinner we decided tomorrow needed to be much more restful, and so we scrapped our planned visit to Tobermory.

No longer needing to make a ferry, we had a lay in and leisurely made our way over to the Glenfinnan Viaduct. This viaduct was made famous in the Harry Potter films and has great vantage points from the nearby hills.

Glenfinnan Viaduct

Glenfinnan Viaduct

As we were walking towards the viaduct itself, we were treated to the sight of a local train crossing it. Although sadly we were a few minutes too late to see it from the better vantage point.

Walking underneath, and then climbing up the hill beside the viaduct, we got a beautiful vantage point of the embankment and the adjacent valley whilst getting attacked by midges. I walked a little bit further along for a view of the nearby loch, before we turned back and walked down to the loch itself.

Loch Shiel

Loch Shiel

Beside Loch Shiel is a monument commemorating the location of the beginning of the Jacobite rising, from where Bonnie Prince Charlie attempted to regain the British crown.

We then popped into the giftshop to get a few souvenirs when we heard a sound... I ran outside and saw a steam rain making its way around the hill side. Sadly we had missed seeing it in all it's glory crossing the viaduct, but at least we had seen this.

A few minutes up the road from here was the station itself, where there is a small museum detailing the extension of the railway line to the coast. We took a look inside before continuing further west to Loch Eilt, which is the setting for the island of Dumbledore's Grave in the Harry Potter Films.

Loch Eilt

Loch Eilt

From here, we would have continued on a long winding road down to Kilochan Port, but after yesterday's drama this was the furthest we were now going. So instead, we turned back and headed to the Neptune's Staircase, made up of eight adjacent lochs - the longest staircase loch in Britain.

Neptune's Staircase

Neptune's Staircase

From here it was only a 5 minute drive to the hotel and being almost check in time we decided to head straight there. This was the nicest room we had had so far, and we had a view overlooking The Parade - a lovely garden in the centre of town.

As it was still only mid afternoon, we then headed out towards Glen Coe, where we had initially planned to visit the previous afternoon. Although we had seen hundreds of valleys by now, this did live up the hype and was certainly one of the most beautiful. Even despite the miserable weather.

Glen Coe

Glen Coe

It had been a long day by now and so we wouldn't venture too far for the rest of today. We went back to the hotel, dropped our stuff and then went for a quick wander around the town.

There wasn't much to see, but we did stop at the site of old Fort that gave the town it's name, which sits imposingly beside Loch Linnhe.

Fort William Old Fort

Fort William Old Fort

After grabbing dinner at McDonalds, where I went full Scot by ordering an Irn Bru, we settled in for the night. The following morning we had a Full Scottish breakfast (the same thing, just with Haggis and a tattie scone) before checking out and visiting the final sight in this area - Ben Nevis.

We weren't climbing it, but we did get a decent viewpoint at it's base in Glen Nevis, where we managed to upset the local sheep who quickly scarpered as soon as we got out the car.

Ben Nevis

Ben Nevis

Having already seen Loch Ness on our unintended diversion back via Inverness, a few days ago we decided to head north on a different route, cutting across the country and stopping in the Cairngorms.

The Cairngorms weren't vastly different from the Highlands, just perhaps with more trees. We drove to Aviemore, and had a wander around the woods outside the town, before driving through it. It really felt like nowhere else in the UK - the town is haven for Winter sports, and felt an alpine village in that aspect, despite being in northern Scotland.

Snow in June

Snow in June

From here it wasn't far to Inverness, where we checked into our final hotel of the trip before driving into the city centre for a quick look around.
After missing the entrance to the car park the first time, we eventually parked and ended up in the middle of the shopping centre.

Inverness wasn't particularly big, and after we walked down the high street for five minutes we arrived at the castle, where there were impressive views from the hill over the river.

Inverness Castle

Inverness Castle

After seeing what the town had to offer, we headed for dinner before chilling for the rest of the evening.

The following morning we checked out of the hotel and headed back to Inverness Airport. Parking up after driving exactly 1000 miles, we saw that our previous hire car hadn't moved from where we'd left it, but the crack had grown even further - a good job we had dropped it back off when we did!

The Crack!

The Crack!

As there was a BA flight back to London around half an hour before ours, the tiny airport was overwhelmed and it took ages to get through security. But there was no real rush, there was little to do in the departure lounge and we had plenty of time.

The flight back home was less comfortable than our outgoing flight, as there were a lot more people on it. We were surrounded by others, and despite wearing face masks we didn't feel overly safe knowing that no one here needed to take any kind of tests to spend over an hour non-socially distanced.

When we landed back in Luton it was like arriving in the Med in summer. Although it hadn't been cold in Inverness, it was around 8C warmer down south and came as a shock to the system after a week in Scotland!

Despite the car drama and the less-than-great weather, it had been a enjoyable trip. Not only as an excuse to get out the house after 15 months of Covid, but also as the scenery was incredible. A hire car is definitely the way to go on a Highland trip!

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 14:12 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged lakes snow fort airport island valley castle Comments (0)

Grey Skye's Ahead

Isle of Skye - Highlands

rain 16 °C
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After a brief stop of the Eilean Donan Castle, we made our way further west, crossing the bridge over to the Isle of Skye where we were instantly struck by beautiful mountain views.

This afternoon was the only time it was going to be dry during our stay on the island, and so with plenty of time, we made our way up to The Storr. This is the iconic view of Skye and one of the best of Scotland, but it was not without a struggle. Barely leaving the house these days, the strenuous 45 minute climb was hard going. It was very steep and only I made it to the top.

The Storr

The Storr

However it was definitely worth it. The views were incredible and lived up to their hype, despite the biting wind at the top.

After strolling back down the hillside it was now almost time to check into our hotel. Having driven across much of Skye to get to the Storr, it was only a short drive south back to Portree where we would stay for the next two nights.

Like Ullapool, this was the most important town for miles, and still had a population below 2,500. Therefore there were limited options for accommodation and food. We stayed in a hotel on the central square and parked around the corner, whilst after gong for a little wander over towards the port we grabbed dinner at an Indian restaurant. It seems every British town - even in the middle of nowhere - will have a Chippie and an Indian.

Portree Port

Portree Port

The following morning, as expected, it was wet and miserable. We drove north, past The Storr and on to Kilt Rock. Here, Loch Mealt drains into the sea over beautiful cliffs. However despite the rain, the dry weather until now meant ironically, that there wasn't a huge amount of water actually falling.

Kilt Rock

Kilt Rock

Getting soaked, we didn't hang about long, and continued our way north to the Quiraing, a landslip in the middle of the Trotternish peninsula. To get here was a steep windy drive. After driving through what felt like an amphitheatre, before a steep hairpin bend, we made it to the top.

From here there are supposed to be amazing views of spectacular scenery and on to the sea. But as we were in the clouds, sadly we'd have to imagine it.

Quiraing

Quiraing

We continued crossing the peninsula, and arrived on the other side above the town of Uig, which even in miserable weather looked beautiful.

Uig Bay

Uig Bay

Just around the corner from here is The Fairy Glen, an unusual landscape created by a landslip, that could easily have been home to the Teletubbies. Home to ponds and small mounds it was a very strange place, but due to the weather we didn't fancy walking around it and so after driving through it we turned around and returned back towards Uig.

Fairy Glen

Fairy Glen

We had originally also included visits to Neist Point and the Fairy Pools on the west and south sides of the island. However with terrible weather and both being over an hour away on low quality roads in opposite directions, we decided to give them both a miss and instead enjoy a relaxed afternoon.

After arriving back to the hotel, we chilled for a few hours before having dinner in the restaurant downstairs after a quick stroll to the watchtower that overlooks Loch Portree.

Watchtower

Watchtower

After two nights on Skye, the next morning we checked out of the hotel and headed back towards the mainland. The weather was abysmal - it was hammering down and the wind had really picked up. Then, as a lorry drove past - Smash! - a stone had smashed into the windscreen and caused a massive dent in the windscreen.

How annoying. In all the driving I'd done over the years this had never happened until now when I was in a hire car. But worse things were to come. As we crossed back across the Skye Bridge, and for no apparent reason, a massive crack started to form across the windscreen right in front of my face....

Posted by kmmk17 13:34 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged scenery bridge hill waterfall highlands&islands Comments (0)

The North West Coast

Caithness, Sutherland & Wester Ross - Highlands

semi-overcast 18 °C
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Although it was now our third day up in Caithness, we had yet to really explore the area. And so after checking out of our hotel in Wick, we drove back up to John O'Groats to start exploring the nearby area.

We began by heading east to Duncansby Head, the most north-easterly point of Great Britain, and from where there were beautiful views of the Duncansby Stacks. The short walk between the two, through the field of sheep, took us past beautiful coves, and cliffs full of birds including puffins.

Duncansby Stacks

Duncansby Stacks

Having already seen John O'Groats the previous day, we drove through the small settlement and made our way to the Castle of Mey, which was bought and restored by the Queen Mother.

Castle of Mey

Castle of Mey

Sadly, the Castle was closed, but we gained a vantage point of it from a nearby road before we continued our drive further west towards Dunnet Head - the northernmost point of Great Britain.

The top and bottom ends of the country are uniquely similar despite having no reason to be so alike.
Land's End is neither the most southern or western point of Great Britain, the former being Lizard Point not far away, whilst the eastern point is actually on the west coast of Scotland. And to top it off, there are parts of England further beyond (the Isles of Scilly).
Meanwhile John O'Groats also has islands further off the coast (Orkney, and Shetland), and it's also neither the most northern or eastern point of Great Britain, the latter being in Norfolk, England, and the former being Dunnet Head, again not a far distance away, where we were driving to.

Dunnet Head is a clifftop peninsular jutting into the North Sea and marking the western end of the Pentland Firth, where it's cliffs are, like Duncansby Head, home to many different species of bird.

Dunnet Head

Dunnet Head

Having now seen all the sights in Caithness we began our two hour drive along the northern coast. Passing the beautiful Dunnet Beach that could easily have been Cornwall in this sunshine, we drove through the only significant town on this coast Thurso.

Being home to just 7,500 people it wasn't long before we were again on the rural coastal road, entering Sutherland and passing by more beautiful beaches before the hills arrived. It was also not long before we reached the first stretch of single track road that would be a regular staple of the next few day's driving.

Some of the beaches en route

Some of the beaches en route

After a quick comfort break, we continued our drive past miles of Gorse before making it to the beautiful, but inconvenient Loch Eriboll. After a half hour detour around this beautiful loch, we were soon at the Smoo Cave.

Smoo Cave

Smoo Cave

The cave was formed both by the tidal gorge just north of the cave, as well as the stream that feeds the internal waterfall. Sadly the stream was pretty dry due to the lovely weather that the area had recently had, and so the waterfall was not flowing. However it still looked pretty inside.

After a strenuous (or was it just post-Covid laziness?) walk back up to the road, we continued our drive along the coast heading south.

Once again, the landscape was beautiful, but pretty barren with just a few scattered small settlements, including the beautiful Scourie, where we (and everyone else taking this beautiful coastal drive) was alerted to the fact it was Donna's 50th birthday. Hope she had a nice day 🙃

Wildlife en route

Wildlife en route

We were blessed with great weather, which enhanced the beautiful scenery. We stopped at a viewpoint at the top of the hills looking over the lakes of lochs of Assynt, before crossing over the Kylesku Bridge en route to our final pit stop of the day, Ardvreck Castle on the edges of Loch Assynt.

Scenery overlooking Assynt

Scenery overlooking Assynt

From here it was just half an hour to our stop for tonight, in the largest town for miles around - Ullapool, which has a population of just 1,500!

Even in June the town gets a rain day half the time, and so we were blessed with beautiful sunshine that made the views down Loch Broom some of the most beautiful we'd seen in a long time.

Ullapool

Ullapool

Being such a small town there weren't a lot of choices for accommodation or food - we grabbed a fish and chips by the harbour before settling in to our room for the night.

The following morning after trying some haggis for breakfast, we set off on our journey further south. After around 20 minutes we arrived at our first sight for the day - the Corrieshalloch Gorge.

Corrieshalloch Gorge

Corrieshalloch Gorge

This already deep gorge contains the Falls of Measach, a 46m waterfall, which can be seen from the slightly wobbly bridge that crosses to the other side. From here a small footpath leads down to a viewing platform, where the real scale of the waterfall and gorge can be seen.

Our next destination was a 90 minute drive further south to the Eilean Donan Castle, which sits at an imposing postion on a tidal island at the junction of three lochs. Sadly due to Covid, entry was only permitted by prebooking in advance, which we hadn't done as we didn't know when we would actually get here.

Eilean Donan Castle

Eilean Donan Castle

Nevertheless the views we got on this comfort break were still impressive, and after buying some souvenirs we continued our journey on to our next destination of the trip - The Isle of Skye, which will be covered in the next blog post.

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 18:06 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged waterfalls castles cliffs wildlife cave port highlands&islands Comments (0)

Up to Orkney

Caithness & Orkney - Highlands

semi-overcast 17 °C
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After returning from Northumberland, things did not exactly improve. Over the winter we spent another 4 months in solid lockdown, and from which we are still emerging. Both Christmas and my 30th birthday were during this period, with us not being able to leave the house and spend it with anyone else.

Now, with things slowly improving, and the possibilities for holidays returning, we decided that a break would do us good. Travelling abroad is still almost impossible, and so our attention tuned to where domestically we would like to go, and one of those options was the Highlands of Scotland.

As it would take almost 10 hours to drive to the Highlands, we decided to fly this distance instead and hire a car from Inverness Airport.

At the Airport

At the Airport

It was the first time we had been to the airport this decade, and the effects of Covid were immediately clear, it was pretty empty and face masks were everywhere. As we were on a domestic flight we did not need to take any tests prior to boarding the plane - whereas anyone going abroad was required to do so. Which all seemed pretty stupid as there is no separation between Domestic and International travellers in the airport. Someone with Covid could easily have turned up and spread it to those who were going abroad and there was nothing to stop that happening...

Luckily our outgoing flight was half empty, and so we had plenty of space to sit comfortably on the plane, even if face masks were still required for the entirety of the flight. Just over an hour later we landed in Scotland and after collecting our suitcase we joined the slow moving hire car queue to collect our vehicle for the next week.

Over an hour later we finally had the keys, and were able to make our way up the Caithness - the most northern part of Great Britain. It was still a two hour drive up to Wick, which after today's travel and waiting meant by the time we arrived it was already mid-afternoon. Therefore the only thing we managed to see today was Castle Sinclair Girnigoe, a ruined castle on the cliffs just north of Wick. It was a beautiful sunny day, which we did not expect at all. After grabbing dinner we settled in for the night as we had an early start the following day.

Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

The next morning wasn't as nice as the previous day - quite overcast and a bit cooler - but still not terrible. We got up early and made our way up to John O'Groats, took a brief look at the famous Signpost, before boarding he ferry over to Orkney for our daytrip of the islands. Like at Land's End, although this is the furthest part of Great Britain, just beyond the coast there is even more to see!

John O'Groats

John O'Groats

It took around 45 minutes to cross the Firth, and en route we were treated to sights of a Minke Whale. We then arrived on South Ronaldsay where we boarded a coach for our day tour of the islands.

The Shipwrecks from the Churchill Barriers

The Shipwrecks from the Churchill Barriers

After crossing the Churchill Barriers, and passing multiple shipwrecks we arrived in Kirkwall, the capital of Orkney, where we went for a wander around the town, past the St. Magnus Cathedral, which was sadly closed due to redevelopment.

St. Magnus Cathedral

St. Magnus Cathedral

After taking a look at the Earl's Palace and Harbour we then boarded the coach an made our way over to Stromness, the second largest town and main ferry port from mainland Great Britain. Here we had lunch before we moved on to our first proper attraction - Skara Brae.

Skara Brae

Skara Brae

Skara Brae was a Neolithic settlement that was buried until a storm re-exposed it in 1850. Preserved like Pompeii in great condition, it is older than Stonehenge and the Pyramids, and has become the top tourist site in Orkney. Unsurprisingly it was relatively busy, by Covid standards.

We then walked around the corner to Skaill House on old preserved manor house, which overlooks Skara Brae, and contains amongst other possessions Captain Cook's crockery.

Captain Cook's Crockery

Captain Cook's Crockery

After this, we stopped at the Ring of Brodgar, a large stone circle on an isthmus between two lochs, and it's similar counterpart, the Stones of Stenness. Both of which are part of the UNESCO World Heritage site - the Heart of Neolithic Orkney, together with Skara Brae

Ring of Brodgar

Ring of Brodgar

After a comfort break in Kirkwall we then headed back towards the ferry port, via the Italian Chapel, built by Italian Prisoners of War at the end of World War II.

Italian Chapel

Italian Chapel

From here there were also views of Scapa Flow, a large body of water enclosed by the islands of Southern Orkney, in which the German WWI naval fleet was scuttled in 1919, and which currently serves as an ideal location of Oil Rig repairs.

Oil Rig in Scapa Flow

Oil Rig in Scapa Flow

After a return ferry trip back to John O'Groats, we headed back to Wick and grabbed dinner before visiting the Shortest Street in the world - Ebenezer Place, just over 2m long.

Ebenezer Place

Ebenezer Place

This was our last night in Wick, and tomorrow we would be setting off on a long coastal drive to Ullapool.

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 12:06 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged scotland history island castle highlands&islands Comments (0)

The Far North

Northumbria - Northumberland Coast

overcast 17 °C
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After a quieter day yesterday, our last full day was busier, as we were headed up the Northumberland Coast as far as the Scottish Border.

We began by heading to Bamburgh Castle, viewing from both the beautiful sandy beach, as well as from the village, where the castle (which sits on a hill between there and sea) creates a beautiful imposing backdrop.

Bamburgh Castle

Bamburgh Castle

After a brief stop we headed north to Berwick-upon-Tweed, the last town before the Scottish Border. The town had historically been Scottish, and still gives it's name to the area north of the border.

Berwick-upon-Tweed

Berwick-upon-Tweed

The town still has intact city walls by the estuary of the River Tweed, which we walked along around half of.

Berwick was surprisingly pretty, despite not really knowing much about what it had to offer before we visited.

Our next stop was just around the corner, at the border - the second one we were visiting this weekend. This time however we would stop, and the laybys were signed as tourist spots. This was (almost) the northernmost point in England, in the far north - Newcastle is 1h20mins south, and London is over 6 hours away. Whilst Edinburgh, capital of Scotland is a little over an hour north.

Scottish Border

Scottish Border

After stopping at the entrance to Scotland, we did a U-turn at the next junction, and stopped at the layby on the other side, welcoming us (back) into England.

We were now heading south again and towards one of the top places on my list for this weekend - Lindisfarne/Holy Island. To get to the island we had to drive along a causeway, which was now accessible due to low tide.

The Causeway

The Causeway

Driving along the causeway was a strange experience, and on the north side of Holy Island it was still very tidal. Eventually after around 5 minutes we arrived at the car park to the village, which felt like the entrance to a tourist attraction, rather than to a place people actually live! Although with the majority of people being tourists, it didn't exactly feel like a village.

We started with a visit to the war memorial, with views over the bay and the Priory, which was temporarily closed due to Covid, before we walked along the coast to the Castle, which like many in this area had imposing views.

Lindisfarne Castle

Lindisfarne Castle

It had been a long day so far with lots of castles and scenery, and we had one last one to visit on the way back - Alnwick Castle.

Alnwick is another pretty small town with an imposing castle, and even though by now we had seen many similar, this was still worth stopping by.

Alnwick Castle

Alnwick Castle

After a long day of exploring, we headed back to the hotel for our final evening.

The following day we checked out of the hotel and headed home, stopping by Newton Aycliffe to visit some friends before heading back home.

Northumbria had been very pretty, and compared to Cornwall, which is actually nearer from here, it was much easier to get to, as it was nearly Motorway from start to finish, and even when not, it had pretty good roads. Although obviously colder as it was further north it was still a nice getaway.

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 02:58 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged scotland coast island castle border causeway northumbria Comments (0)

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