Hiking, castles, and sweeping scenery – here is how I spent a magical April week in the Scottish highlands.
isting Scotland was something I have always dreamed of doing. With several Scottish ancestors, I knew one day I would have to explore a place I imagined would be full of lush greenery, stoney castles, and the sound of bagpipes. So, with a week to spare in April, I decided to invite my Mum (a huge Outlander fan) along on an adventure to the highlands. We planned to stay in upscale B&Bs, hike, eat incredible food, and explore castles as we drove from Glasgow to Aberdeen, via Isle of Skye and the Highlands.
Day 1: Glasgow
City touring was not the goal of our short trip to the UK, so we only spent a single night in Glasgow. That said, we had the most lovely recovery from our long flight at Hotel du Vin Glasgow. The hotel consisted of several beautiful Victorian row houses. I had a glorious bath, followed by a lovely meal, and a coma-like sleep. The next morning we ate the best Scottish breakfast of the trip, complete with haggis and black pudding, before hitting the road.
Day 2: Drive to Fort William
The drive from Glasgow to Fort William took us north into the West Highlands via a terrifyingly narrow road. En route, we stopped first at Kilchurn castle. This ruined castle, once belonging to the Macdonald Clan, sits picturesquely on the edge of a Loch. We took a left just before the parking lot for the castle, to view the ruins from across the lake. Afterwards we walked around the ruined walls and towers of the castle.
Further on, we entering the Rannoch Moor (featured in James Bond: Skyfall). In April, the moor is very desolate, with brown grass, wind-torn valleys, and brown scrub. The drive then took us through the Glencoe Valley, where we stopped to hike the Devils Staircase. This short but challenging hike offers sweeping views of the steep valley and moor. The rest of the drive through Glencoe Valley was beautiful, with plenty of opportunities to pull out and take photos.
Day 3: Fort William – Hiking Ben Nevis
During our time in Fort William, we stayed at the Grange B&B. The house was gorgeously updated, with every comfort provided. Our lovely host, Joan, prepared us a delicious full Scottish breakfast with homemade bread and preserves. This would fuel our activity for the day: hiking Ben Nevis.
Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in the UK. Round trip, hiking it takes about 7 hours, travelling a total of 17km and 1300m elevation. Fort William was definitely the coldest stop on our trip, and I had to buy gloves and a hat before doing the hike! The hike was challenging but enjoyable, with lots of stairs. We were fortunate to have a clear day, with lovely views of the (inlet?). However, knockout winds and freezing temperatures prevented us from reaching the top! Even with crampons on our hikers, 1km from the top we got stuck. The wind kept blowing us down a little hill, and the sheer ice was too much for our travel ice cleats. If you are very serious about making it all the way, I would bring or rent an icepick! However, we were fine with not making it all the way.
We spent our evening thoroughly tuckered out in the Grog and Gruel Alehouse, drinking beer and eating steak and ale pies.
Day 4: Drive to Isle of Skye
Very sore from our Ben Nevis adventure, we set out early on Day 4 to drive to the Isle of Skye. Along the way, we planned to stop at Glenfinnan Viaduct to see the famed red and black Jacobite Train (aka the Hogwarts Express). We carefully planned train departure times, assessing when the train should be passing the viaduct, only to discover on arrival that the train wouldn’t start running for the season until the following weekend. In any case, the viaduct was very impressive, with a lovely walk from the parking lot, under the structure, and up the other side.
We hit the western coast and headed along to the town of Mallaig. Here, while we waited for our ferry crossing to Isle of Skye, we enjoyed a meal of fish and chips while watching a boy play the bagpipes.
Once on the Isle of Skye, we made the short drive to Portree, and our stunning stay at the the Viewfield House.
Day 5: Isle of Skye
The Isle of Skye was exactly what I was expecting from Scotland the Scottish Highlands. I loved the quaint towns, the rugged coastline, and little lambs playing in green fields. We spent a day driving the Trotternish Peninsula, stopping at Lealt Canyon, Mealt Falls, hiking Quiraing, and visiting the Fairy Glen. We also stopped at the Fairy Pools in the south of the island. However, being the dry season they were nearly empty and quite dissapointing.
We ate a gorgeous dinner in Portree at Dulse and Brose. I would highly recommend checking out this restaurant while in Skye!
Day 6: Drive to Inverness
This driving day turned out to be one of my favourite days in the Scottish highlands. This was helped by a lovely visit with certain sweet highland creatures, the “coos”! These stubby, fluffy little cows are the sweetest things, and mum and I spent a half hour roadside, feeding them baby carrots and petting their bangs. The field of them was just off the main road from Portree to Inverness (via the bridge).
Once over the Skye Bridge and back on the mainland, we arrived at Eileen Donan Castle. I thought this castle was breathtaking both inside and out. It is situated out on the rocks, separated from the land at high tide but for a stone bridge. The inside has been beautifully restored and maintained, it truly feels like a home.
Lastly, arriving on the shores of Loch Ness, we took a brief detour down to Fort Augustus. This little town is famous for its set of locks that is part of the Caledonian Canal connecting Fort William to the coast at Inverness. It was a cute little stop with a lovely restaurant in the visitor centre.
Day 7: Inverness
Inverness, which looked so quaint an adorable as portrayed in Outlander, is really quite a large city. One day here was enough to see the sites. Our stay was the incredible Colloden House Hotel, a huge mansion with incredible meals and a gorgeous walled garden. While the house was about 10 drive outside Inverness, we thoroughly enjoyed our stay here. Make sure when booking to request a room in the centre part of the house, rather than the side wings, as the rooms are much more grand (for the same price).
While in Inverness, we explored the old town, visited Culloden Moor, and the Clava Cairns. In the evening, we walked along the river before having dinner at The Mustardseed Restaurant, which is in an old converted church overlooking the river (make sure you make a reservation). We finished our night Gellions Bar, listening to live music and drinking G&Ts.
Day 8: Drive to Aberdeen
Our final day in Scotland was one of my favourite! We took the Whiskey Trail from Inverness on the way to Aberdeen. Trading rugged moors for lush green fields, we wound our way across Scotland. We stopped first at Cawdor Castle, just outride of Inverness, for my favourite castle of the trip! For lunch, we ate cullen skink, a Scottish fish chowder, at the gorgeous Glenfiddich Distillery. Not being the biggest whiskey drinkers, as well as needing to drive several more kilometres, we didn’t actually taste any whiskey! On another trip, I Ould spend a night somewhere along the beautiful whiskey trail. We finished our time in Scotland arriving a Dunnatar castle on the English Channel just before sunset. It was the beautiful end to an incredible trip.