After a few days in Edinburgh, Lex, Andrea and I rented a car and headed north into the Highlands. We stopped in the village of Kirkcaldy where some of Andrea’s ancestors were born. It was fun getting to see another place tied to someone’s history. Being the bookworms that we are, we of course stopped in the only bookstore in town where Lex bought herself a book. The ride continued, as did the conversations. We passed an adorable little town and decided to stop. It ended up being Birnam, where Beatrix Potter used to spend summer holidays. There was a small museum dedicated to her and her books, which we enjoyed very much. Eventually we made it to Inverness where we would be staying for a few nights.
The next day was my birthday! We spent the day driving through the Highlands, playing a mix of the Harry Potter and Outlander soundtracks. First we made our way down the beautiful Loch Ness and on to Loch Claunie, stopping on occasion to take in the views. At one such stop on Loch Claunie we found an amazing collection of cairns, stacks of stones, left by other travelers. It was magical, and we decided to build our own to leave behind. Next was a stop at a castle! This lovely structure named Eilean Donan, was built in the 13th century on an island situated where three lochs meet, making it a strategic stronghold. We took a self guided tour. No photography is allowed inside the building, so I couldn’t capture the amazing dinning hall with it’s high stone walls, wood beam ceiling, imposing fire place and mounted deer heads. It was so cool, we all loved getting to walk through the beautiful castle rooms. After leaving the castle we continued on to the Isle of Skye, where the mountains got higher and more wild. We went as far as the Fairy Pools, where we got out and hiked for a bit. During that time a cloud front moved in swiftly, let loose a hail storm on us for about 5 minutes, and then cleared up. We laughed and continued on, talking non-stop as usual. Then it was time to head back to Inverness. We stopped at a little restaurant for a nice birthday dinner, where I also had the local whisky: smokey and delicious.
We stayed around Inverness the next day. First visiting the standing stone circles of Clava Cairn. There are three circular structures there dating from the Bronze Age. With our love of the Outlander series we were completely enthralled with the ancient stones. The wind was particularly eerie in the trees over the circles and created a mystical atmosphere. We couldn’t help ourselves, and we of course took Outlander-esque photos of each other. Sticking with the Outlander theme, we visited the Culloden Battlefield next. This is the location of the bloody final battle of the 1745 Jacobite Rising, which ended the rebellion and saw the English impose an end to the Highland clan structure. We spent the night eating incredibly good Indian food and then drinking some Scotch at a local pub.
Another day trip was up next. First we drove down Loch Ness again and continued all the way to Fort William. From there we went to see the Glenfinnan Viaduct, a beautiful railway viaduct that runs through the wild countryside, and also happens to be a filming location for the Hogwarts Express in Harry Potter. We were equally enchanted with the surrounding wilderness and hiked up the hills beside the viaduct. As we were coming back down we realized that there were a lot of people just standing looking out over the viaduct, as if they were waiting for something. We joined in and to our delight not too long after the Highland Express came by, complete with steam pouring out of the engine. Lex, Andrea and I hummed Hedwig’s theme the whole time, it was super geeky and wonderful. Moving on we drove through Glencoe, another wilderness area south of Fort William. The mountains were so high and the clouds were ever moving through their peaks. We kept pulling over to get out and take photos and soak in the stunning views. Dinner was in Fort William at a local pub where a group of elderly men befriended us.
The last day and a half was spent in the Cairngorms National Park. We did more hiking, and even more talking. Perhaps the two best meals were then as well. There was the dinner at an amazing savory pie place with wonderful Scotch whiskies. Then the last day we had breakfast at the amazing Mountain Cafe, with decadent scones, clotted cream, pancakes and fruit. After that the time came to part ways and say goodbye. Lex and Andrea headed back to Edinburgh to make their way back to the states, and I stayed behind in the Highlands. I’m so happy that they were able to visit, it was a magical vacation.
Finally I got to Scotland! Here I would be spending the next 2 months and, most importantly, celebrating my 30th birthday with two of my closest friends, Lex and Andrea.
I was the first to arrive in Edinburgh and got to settle into our beautiful Airbnb. Lex and Andrea arrived together in the evening on a train from London and it was just the best to see them. They are the kind of friends where it doesn’t matter how long it’s been, we pick up right where we left off. We went out for dinner at the pub across the street and to talk the night away. Until their jet lag kicked in a little and we headed to bed.
Both Lex and Andrea had been to Edinburgh before, but it was my first time. This city is just enchanting. I was completely in love with it from the time I stepped off the bus. The feel of the old climbing streets and the castle sitting on top of the hill. We took our time with the city. Enjoying it as much as each other’s company. Our meandering pace let us take everything in and share the experience even more. We relished our food and delighted in all the little details.
The first morning we started with scones and hot chocolate for me, coffee for the other two. We made our way toward the old town stopping at a craft and food market on the way. Lex went to the art museum while Andrea and I met up with my friend Dan. He was at the end of his trip, having visited London, Amsterdam, Berlin (again), Spain, and Scotland since we last saw each other in Norway. It was nice to get to catch up with him. We had some amazing cocktails at a speakeasy, who’s entrance was hidden behind a bookcase at the bottom of some stairs. My delicious whiskey cocktail arrived surrounded by wood smoke under a glass hood, which then had a very dramatic reveal by the waiter.
After saying goodbye to Dan Andrea and I met back up with Lex and wandered through old town, making our way down the street thought to have inspired Diagon Alley in Harry Potter. All three of us love Harry Potter and we really enjoyed geeking out, which we would continue to do the whole trip. That night I tried haggis, which I really enjoyed. I even got both Lex and Andrea to give it a try, and everyone agreed it was a nice surprise.
Our second full day we continued on our Harry Potter pilgrimage. First stop was Edinburgh Cathedral, most likely the inspiration for the Great Hall, which had a ceiling that was “bewitched to look like the night sky.” The cathedral’s ceiling is painted a beautiful bold blue, with stars in the corners. It was easy to imagine JK Rowling walking through the church and dropping a little bit of magic into her view of it. We spent time playing in the light falling through the stained glass windows. Around the corner from the cathedral we found our afternoon snack, at the Elephant House. It is none other than the cafe where JK Rowling finished writing the first Harry Potter book after moving to Edinburgh with the first three chapters. It was totally worth the wait. I had an amazing boozy milkshake and we shared some Scottish shortbread. Then I had to visit the bathroom, with my camera, of course. Because every inch of the bathroom walls in the Elephant House are covered with Harry Potter graffiti. Potterheads from all over the world have come to pay their respects to the birthplace of our beloved world. The last Potter stop was the cemetery where you can see the graves of a McGonagall, and Thomas Riddle. From there we spent the evening climbing to the top of King Arthur’s seat for a stunning view of the city before ending the night with fish and chips.
The next day we would continue our trip leaving Edinburgh and going into the Highlands.
kaitlin k walsh
Adventurer armed with a camera.