This summer I got the opportunity to do a road trip through The Highlands, in Scotland, and I am very excited to share my experience with you since I’ve been longing to visit Scotland for a few years now!
On the road.. !
Our trip began in Edinburgh. We took the M9 motorway, until Stirling. Then, we took the A84, a primary road, that goes all the way through Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park until Tyndrum. In the A84 you can already start to see some of the mythical Scottish landscape. From Tyndrum, we took the A82, a very famous road due to its notable landmarks in The Highlands; the specific section from Tyndrum to Glencoe has been praised as one of the most scenic routs in Scotland. We stopped by the Glencoe visitor center, which is a nice stop drink coffee and read some information about the location.
Glencoe is actually the main settlement of Glen Coe (yes, is confusing). A Glen is a deep valley, and is very typical to Scotland’s landscape. Glen Coe is the most scenic Glen in The Highlands and is named after the River Coe that goes through it. This valley is a popular destination for hikers… actually my original dream was to make a hike in this zone, but, sometimes you have to modify your dreams a bit 🙂 . I was so hipped to photograph this place! but once I was there, I realized I was so naive: the lens of my camera was all full of drops of water, my old sneakers were soaked, the wind was blowing so hard… in brief, I was definitely not prepared for the occasion (but was funny tho!)
After Glencoe, we continue to the A82 until Fort William, as small town in the Highlands. In Fort William we had dinner one of the few places in the town: The Crofter Bar, which was really nice indeed! Food was good quality and cheap, and the restaurant had this mythical Scottish-Irish small pub in town: old men drinking beer and whisky while watching rugby (can it me more Scottish?!).
In Fort William I also made one of my most precious purchases: and Scottish kilt ( ❤ ). I was so longing to find a good quality (and of course, not that expensive) girl kilt because of a very special reason: back in the days, around 40 years ago, my grandma traveled to Scotland and bought a kilt for each one of her daughters (my mom included). The kilt was precious to my mother, she used to wear it to see my dad when they were dating. When I was 12, my mom gave me her blue kilt, and I kept it as some kind of treasure and occasionally wear it on winter. So it just felt kind of a tradition to buy now a kilt myself. Luckily I found it and I am looking forward wearing it on winter!
After Fort William, we took a small detour to the A830, to see the Glenfinnan Viaduct. We parked at the Glenfinnan visitor center and the we made a small hike until a point in which you can have a very nice view of the viaduct, but also of the Glenfinnan monument, the lake and the mountains. The Glenfinnan Viaduct is a famous location specially because is the track of the Hogwarts Express in Harry Potter movies; this viaduct was constructed in 1897, and is still in use. The Glenfinnan monument, on the other side, was made to commemorate the Jacobite rising of 1745, an attempt by Charles Edward Stuart to regain the British throne. Our final destination for that day was Newtonmore, a small village in the Cairngorms Park.
Back in the road again, we took the A86 up north through the Cairngorms Park. Landscape through this park is breathtaking! The road tho, is a single track road which makes it a bit dangerous. Our first stop of the day was in Tomintoul, another small town in The Highlands but famous because it is on the Whisky Trail, actually pretty close to the famous distillery The Glenlivet. In this town, there is a well known whiskey shop, named The Whisky Castle. I made a stop here because I wanted to buy some whiskey (although I am more a beer and wine person). The Whisky Castle shocked me: they had over 600 different whiskys from the area… and the whisky expert, Samantha Ashforth, was extremely patient and helpful (and she was a woman! ❤ ). I bought two bottles of Single Malt Scotch Whisky: a Tomintoul 12 and a Old Ballantruan, “The Peated Malt”. The second one is a very special whisky because of its particular taste. Smokey whiskys are very characteristic from the Speyside region and they are easy to distinguish because they have a strong smoky taste, although not everyone really appreciate this. The smoky taste is due to the use of peat: the barley grain is exposed to the peat smoke during drying.
We continued through the A939, or “Old Military Road” until the Gairnshiel Bridge, a monumental (and very charming) bridge built in 1749. Is amazing how something that old can still be in use after all those years. From then, we took the A93 and then the A957 until Stonehaven. I believe this part of the road was the most narrow one (and dangerous). After a couple hours of driving struggle, we arrived to a dream landscape again: Dunnottar Castle.
Visiting the Dunnottar Castle is a dream. Is a very imposing medieval fortress, right there in a gigantic rock and surrounded by the North Sea cliffs. This site was fortified in the Early Middle Ages, but what we see now a days is mainly from the 15th and 16th century. It is a strategic place in Scotland because it gives a defensive advantage in case of invasions. This castle was visited several times by Mary Queen of Scots and her son, James VI King of Scotland. The whole place is magical, there is a beautiful view everywhere you look. The place is also very quite and it has some pedestrian paths to walk around the cliffs and the castle. This was definitely one of the most impressive things I saw during this road trip. After Dunnottar Castle we took the A90 and drove down till Meigle, a little villa in the country side, near Perth. Meigle itself has nothing very particular but its surroundings are really pretty: wheat fields, old stone bridges, hidden castles and villas.
As a last minute decision, we went to the Glemis Castle. This castle was the childhood home of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, mom of the Queen Elizabeth II, and wife of King George VI, or the ´Stammering King´ (remember the movie 🙂 ? ). The castle itself is really old (was home of the Lyon family from 14th century) but it looks like a french chateau due to its renovations in 17th and 18th century. Visiting this castle is a pretty nice experience, specially if you like royalty history, as I do. Is not really near to a big city, so you must arrive by car. Once you arrive, an old worker opens the big door of the property and handles you a map; then, you drive through the main entrance passing the gardens, as if you were just arriving to drink tea with Her Majesty the Queen. The tour is one of the most informative and well done tours I’ve had: my tour guide was a really old lady that seemed to know EVERYTHING about the royal family in the UK. The Glemis Castle still belongs to the family Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, and they still go and spend certain seasons there… which I think is pretty cool because we were literally, walking around their house! And finally, after this quick visit to see how the family of the Queen was doing, we sadly return the car to the car rental facilities in Edinburgh’s airport. Scotland is definitely a country that worth visiting, and more than just visiting the main cities like Edinburgh or Glasgow, drive through it! the scenery is simply delightful. I’m in love with this country ! ❤
And… I forgot to tell you somewhere in the history! Top: If you are in Scotland, try the shortbread, is the best cookie that you will eat in your life (well, maybe it out competes with Argentinian Alfajores). Shortbread is a typical Scottish biscuit, that consists of one part white sugar, two parts butter and three parts flour. I’m not very sure if they take them with their afternoon tea or something like that, but really… shortbread is everywhere in Scotland (and is delicious!).