Scotland – A Very Stunning Sunny Surprise
I have to admit that I was somewhat reluctant to visit Scotland on holiday. I had visions of pouring rain and mists of midges. My husband, a keen walker who had been to the Highlands several times before, managed to twist my arm though and I am incredibly glad that he did. I don’t think I ever before enjoyed such a week of glorious sunshine and spectacular scenery, not even whilst visiting more exotic locations.
My in-laws (father, mother & sister) also came with us on this May trip and so it was decided that we would drive from Leicester (where we live) to a self-catering cottage we had hired for the week on the shore of Loch Leven. Loch Leven is a 30 minute drive from Fort William, a town that stands in the shadow of Ben Nevis; Britain’s highest mountain.
The drive was epic. We set out at 8.30am and did not arrive until after 5pm that evening. A combination of incredibly winding roads in the highlands and my father in laws aversion to over-taking really slowed us down. My advice; fly. The views along the way somewhat made up for the lengthy journey. The thing that most jumped out to me was how very blue the lochs were. Not Mediterranean turquoise blue but sapphire blue; dark, cool and majestic.
When we did arrive it took us a little bit of time to find our cottage as highland post codes and Sat-Navs don’t work that well together. Our cottage was right on the shore of the loch with the lounge area affording us the most beautiful view of the water and the surrounding mountains. We settled in quickly and were soon walking around the water’s banks and enjoying the tree swing adjacent to out cottage.
I wish that I could say I climbed Ben Nevis during our visit but the closest I came was a cable car to the half-way point and a cup of tea in the visitor centre. On the day we visited (the day after our arrival) there was a mountain biking competition taking place and from the cable car we could see helmet clad racers hurtling down the mountain beneath us. This was extremely entertaining to watch if not a little frightening. It wasn’t the best day weather wise and of course it got colder the higher we ascended. Fortunately the sunshine came back out when we came down the mountain and firmly kept his hat on for the rest of our trip.
The Jacobite Steam Train from Fort William to Mallaig
Whilst the men folk went off to climb a mountain, we ladies decided to take a trip on the The Jacobite steam railway. The route runs from Fort William North West to Mallaig. It is often cited as one of the most beautiful railway journeys in the world and I can honestly say that it did not disappoint. The route was first opened in 1901 to try and open up the rural western highlands. The seats on the train were very springy and not the most comfortable but added to the feeling of being transported back in time. The views did not stop from start to finish of the 84 mile round trip. The highlight for me was definitely the Glenfinnan Viaduct which is famous for its appearances in the Harry Potter series and other films. The viaduct has 21 arches and is incredibly impressive. People were hanging out of every possible window in order to photograph it, myself included. We stopped at the village of Glenfinnan, where the train was piped in by a bag-piper.
It was nice to be able to get out and stretch our legs at this point as we had been sitting for a fair while. It was quite a quick stop and we were soon approaching the fishing village of Mallaig. The key here is to get off the train as quickly as possible to try and find somewhere for lunch. We moseyed along and ended up having to try 3 different places before we could get a table. We finally found ourselves in a sea food restaurant eating yummy smoked salmon and prawns which we topped off with a walk along the sea front. By this time we had used most of our 1.5hour stop over and so headed back to the train for the return journey. Overall it was a fantastic way to spend the day and is a journey I will remember for many years to come.
The Oban Colosseum (or McCaig’s tower) is not one of the most talked about highland attractions but I found that it held a real charm and walking through it was definitely one of the highlights of our trip for me. The tower is 200 metres in circumference and sits astride Battery Hill overlooking Oban with views out to Mull, Lismore and Kerrera. There is a very pretty garden and lots of benches within the tower walls. I was quite mesmerised by the combination of light and shadow that fell over the garden thanks to the huge arches within the walls.
Eilean Donan Castle
Eilean Donan is a picture perfect castle that features on many Scottish postcards, shortbread tins, tea towels etc. It is one of the most visited attractions in the highlands and sits on a small island on Loch Duich. It is connected by a bridge to the mainland. When we visited I felt that it had a real eeriness about it, due I think to the low Loch water level which revealed a marshy bed around one side of the castle. There is a banqueting hall, kitchens, bedrooms and a courtyard to explore. It was not quite the sprawling grand castle that is normally visited. It was compact, dark and very much built for defensive purposes as opposed to grandeur. The surrounding scenery was beautiful and, as a bit of a history buff, I very much enjoyed learning about its part in the Jacobite Risings during the 17th & 18th Centuries.
Overall, the Highlands were a real surprise to me. There was so much to see and do and the weather was absolutely brilliant for the whole of our trip. We just about managed to escape the midges, who surfaced on the last day but by that point we were packing up and ready to head home.
Vicky is a keen travel enthusiast whose favourite destinations include Belgium, Greece, Madeira and, of course, now Scotland! This year she has plans to visit Italy. In her spare time she enjoys reading classic novels and watching Frasier.