While in Scotland, I went on a 3-day tour to the Scottish Highlands and the Isle of Skye.
I went with a company called, Heart of Scotland Tours, which is known as “The Wee Red Bus”, for their intimate guided tours with less than 15 passengers.
My tour group was an eclectic bunch from Scotland, Hong Kong, Costa Rica, India, and the USA. Two couples were even on their honeymoon! ❤Our guide Danny was a sarcastic Scotsman, who wore a kilt, smoked like a chimney, and whose greatest pastime includes talking a whole lot of shite. Hah! 😛
Anyway, on day one of the tour we departed Edinburgh for the Scottish Highlands, a region known for hilly terrain and dramatic landscapes. This region is home to the blue mountains, Cairngorms, which are actually not blue, but green. I learned that in the Scots Gaelic language, they use the same word, gorm, for both blue and green, especially when talking about vegetation. Grass, trees and mountains can all be called gorm, or blue, and you have to use your common sense to figure out the color based on context.
Anyway, our first stop of the day was Dunkeld, a lovely 18th century village with quaint houses, a beautifully restored cathedral, and picturesque countryside views.
Although I chose to visit Scotland in November, during the winter months, I was rewarded with all the gorgeous colors of fall. 🍂
Our second stop of the day was to Dalwhinnie Distillery, where we could try a 15-year-old single malt Scotch, paired with either a chocolate ganache or handmade truffle.Whisky and hot chocolate will warm your belly and your soul. 😊 🍫
From there we made our way to Fort Augustus, along the shores of Loch Ness, home to the legendary man-eating monster, Nessie.
Sightings of Nessie date back as far as the 7th century, and even today, there are reported satellite images of Nessie swimming with what appears to be her baby. 🐉
Now, a loch, unlike a lake, is any body of water, and Loch Ness is the second largest freshwater lake in Scotland. The loch is also comprised of many peat particles, which makes visibility very obscure.
These factors make it plausible why Nessie has never been captured. Some believe the Loch Ness Monster is a Plesiosaur, a type of marine dinosaur which roamed the planet 205 million years ago! 😮🐉
Today visitors can take boat rides out on the lake to go spotting for this prehistoric creature, and even buy Nessie memorabilia in the many gift shops.
Afterwards we made a visit to Eilean Donan Castle, one of the most iconic castles in Scotland. It was the filming location for Highlander, two James Bond films, along with countless other Hollywood spotlights.
From there we made our way to the Isle of Skye, which is a scenic island connected to Scotland by the Skye bridge.
Fun fact: when the bridge was first built, locals were charged a toll when entering and exiting the island in order to pay for the construction costs. The only vehicles exempt from this rule were those transporting livestock. Now since these islanders were so savvy, in order to avoid the toll, they would wrangle one sheep in their car each time they crossed the bridge. Just imagine a man in his business suit, driving to work with a baa-ing sheep riding shot gun! Hah! 😜 🐑 There was actually a lovely commodore to it all, since once the locals would cross the bridge, they’d help another vehicle out by transferring the sheep into their car for the journey. Now-a-days there are no bridge tolls. 😛
At the end of the day we arrived in Portree, where we were to stay for the night.
By then it was 5 pm, but already pitch black. I ended up making dinner at my hostel, then crashing out by about 9:30 at night. On day 2 we drove around the Isle of Skye.
Temps were in the low 40s, but the sun was shining, which created an absolutely ethereal view across the island and beyond!Our first stop of the day was to the Fairy Pools.This magical series of waterfalls appears an almost unnatural shade of blue, leading to the fact that it may have been a gift from the fairies. 🧚
The area surrounding the pools is Glen Brittle, which has become so famous, it’s not only a top destination in Scotland, it’s one of the must-see places in the world! 😮
One of the reasons for its popularity can be attributed to famous BMX rider, Danny Macaskill, who rode his mountain bike along the treacherous Ridge in Skye. (fast forward to 3:00 for some quality footage of his ride) 🚴
Anyway, I wasn’t about to attempt such a stunt, but I did have equal enjoyment just driving around the gorgeous countryside.The landscape is so hilly and barren, but at the same time popping with beautiful lime greens and burnt oranges, it felt like I’d been literally transported to another world. ❤
For starters, on our scenic drive, we stopped at Kilt Rock, whose vertical basalt columns seemed to resemble a kilt.Then, there was Old Man of Storr, a large pinnacle of rock which is said to be carved by a local brunnie, a magical dwarf, similar to a leprechaun.
The pinnacle of this scenic drive though was undoubtedly our visit to Quaraing. With rolling hills, jagged rocks, and views that extended beyond the coast, all the way to mainland Scotland, it is surely one of my favorite viewpoints so far! Just stunning!
Now, you may have noticed that, in contrast to a geological explanation for these natural wonders, there are instead many supernatural legends behind how these uniquely carved rocks came to be. The best example of this supernatural spectacle is undoubtedly Fairy Glen. This whimsical area of grassy cone shaped hills is a hidden secret on Skye. One of the rocky basalt columns towering the hills is said to be a fairy castle. This legend is associated with a historical fairy flag, a relic found at the island’s Dunvegan Castle.This heirloom belonged to the MacLeod clan on this island, and it’s said to be a gift from the fairies, which has given the clan both military success and prosperity. In recent years there have been reports of rituals being performed here, which includes creating spirals of coins and stones, although these practices are highly discouraged.
His suggestion instead was for us to stop at a local brewery on the way, so we could pick up a bottle or two, and find a quiet spot at the Glen for us to enjoy.
Brews and good views! Who could ask for anything more? 🍺 😉
Anyway, after a long day of driving, we rocked back up to Portree at about 5 PM, where it was again properly dark and I was utterly exhausted. After chatting a bit with some French girls in my room, I royally conched out. 😴
On day 3 we journeyed back to Edinburgh, driving through Glencoe. This area has also been the site of many movies, including Braveheart, Highlander, and even the site where they built Hagred’s house in Harry Potter! 😮
We also made our last historic stop at Eilean Donan Castle. This castle was an important site during the Jacobite Rebellion, and was actually fully destroyed during the 17th century!
Luckily, the MacLeod Clan kept the blueprints, and were able to fully restore the castle in all its glory. The interior has a collection of many modern furnishings and homey touches, considering the MacLeod family still uses it as an occasional vacation home.
Well, that wraps up this fantastic journey through Scotland. During our tour, our guide played a famous Scottish band called the Peatbog Faeries, so I thought I’d end this blog with one their songs for you to enjoy. Take care and until next time! 🏴
Cost: The 3-day tour, with a student discount, was 109 pounds, which included guide and transportation. Food was not included, but there were many meal stops, where we could either dine at restaurants or purchase groceries to cook for ourselves. The grocery stores had pretty standard choices, but I did notice a few stand-out products, which seemed unique to Scotland.
They also offered plenty of potty breaks. 🚽 I’ve been to many bathrooms around the world, but this was a first for me! Hah! 😂😂The tour also offered a wide range of accommodation. I obviously chose the most budget-friendly option, which was the Portree Independent Hostel.The owner seems to be a bit OCD with rules and cleaning, but at least he kept the place spotless.
Nightly costs were 21 pounds, which included free linens, coffee, tea, and WiFi. They even had a selection of VHS tapes for entertainment. Talk about a throwback! 😮