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.
kaitlin k walsh
Adventurer armed with a camera.