More Scotland


Wester Ross, Scotland

The drive from Skye has everything that is the essence of Scotland: Christmas trees, heather, bracken, lochs and sea and streams, rowan trees, grassy bogs, craggy rocks—all framed by mountains. This is the edge of the Highlands, where long-horned cattle wander across beaches and sheep climb hillocks, and midges swarm round tourists. This is Scotland, and I love it. 

We had rented a studio flat with breakfast near Applecross, and we drove there from Portree on Skye. The road (there seems to be only one) was sometimes single-carriage, sharing space with a railway track that ran between us and a loch (or it might have been the sea—my most-asked question was is this the sea or a lake? and sometimes it was only possible to know if we looked at a map).

The mountains were crossed by the same road, twisting round hair-pin bends, rising above the valley, the occasional (too occasional in my view) barrier to stop cars plummeting down the mountain. Then down the other side, the sheer sides of rock blasted by dynamite long ago on one side, slopes of pink heather blowing in the breeze on the other.

Applecross was little more than a road junction, with a few buildings. We followed the road along the coast, past houses that seemed to have been randomly splattered along the cliff edge, until we reached Spindrift, the flat attached to the owner’s house.

Inside, I walked to the window and stopped. We faced the sea, the sun was shining, and across the water was the island of Rona, with the blue shadows of mountains looming beyond. While I looked, a sheep wandered past the window.

We scrambled down a path (made by sheep I’m guessing) to the beach. There was the tumbled remains of an ancient stone house, and pebbles down to the sea. We walked along, jumping from giant pebble to giant pebble, sometimes detouring to keep our balance when a stone wobbled. After about 200 metres, we arrived at the stone archway, carved by the sea, reaching over a pathway of rocks. We walked into the cold shadow beneath the arch, then out into the sunshine next to the waves. A solitary space.

When we returned to the house, I found my binoculars and scanned the water for whales or dolphins or seals. The waves part and black skin flashes in the sun before gliding back out of sight. I have no idea of perspective, no idea if I am seeing otters or whales, but I am certainly seeing something and that’s exciting enough.

Searching the sea for signs of life. The occasional sheep would wander past the window and stare in at me.

Later, we strolled along the cliff top. Something big and black was in the water—a submarine! We watched it drift away. There were Highland cattle wandering the cliffs, their sharp horns curled like Viking hats. One had a calf, creamy and shaggy and unbelievably cute. Some sheep had settled next to one of the many passing place signs, looking for all the world like they were waiting for a bus. Midges floated around us, but there was a breeze, so we only saw a few and they were only a bother when we stopped walking to look at the view.

This place is perfect, the most beautiful place I have ever visited. The peace is a tangible thing, there are miles in every direction of unspoilt countryside.

When we drove to Applecross for dinner, we could see the jagged mountains of Skye across the water. It is almost more beautiful from here than it was when we stayed there. We ate in The Walled Garden restaurant, where the food wasn’t as nice as the menu, but it was clean and friendly and set in the walled garden of a big house, so the outlook was pretty. I chatted to a couple on the next table, we discussed the beauty of Scotland and the annoyance of midges, and the woman gave me her midge repellent (Smidge) because it was nearly empty and she had plenty more, and because she was very kind.

On the way back to the flat we saw a herd of deer on the hillside, they raised their antlers as we passed and stared back at us, deciding whether to run. Beautiful.

The owner of the property was waiting when we returned, and she gave us warm bread for breakfast tomorrow. She had filled the fridge with salmon and ham and cheese, pots of yogurt and fresh milk. On the shelf was butter and marmalade, sachets of porridge and a bowl of eggs. Tomorrow we will eat salmon and scrambled eggs, with a pot of coffee. The perfection will continue.

Thanks for reading. More of my travels through Scotland in future blogs. If you want to stay at Spindrift, it’s a studio-flat, with a tiny kitchen area (sink, fridge, microwave) a modern bathroom, and a view to die for. Breakfast is provided. (spindrift-applecross.co.uk) We booked it through Airbnb.

Take care. Love, Anne x

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Onich


More stories from our Scottish road trip.

Lodge on the Loch

After staying in Crinan, we drove to an hotel in Onich, which overlooks Loch Linnhe. This was the first time (of many) that I asked: “Is this the sea?” because it was hard to know. It joins the sea, but is a lake (or loch, as it’s in Scotland).

We stayed at Lodge on the Loch. This is a hotel that has seen better days, but the rooms were large and clean, and the staff were friendly (there just weren’t enough of them). If they buy some beds that don’t sag in the middle, and employ a few more people, then it could be lovely again because the position is wonderful. Our room overlooked the loch, and we were a short drive from Glencoe (possibly the most beautiful place in the world) and Glen Etive (also beautiful and with fewer people).

In August, as well as beauty, Scotland has midges. Our first walk in Glencoe, once we had managed to find a parking place, we were beset with midges whenever we stopped walking. Tiny insects that float around—later in our travels we had one day when the air was thick with them. I had bought some ‘Skin-so-Soft’ from Avon, which was rumoured to protect against midges. In my experience, it didn’t keep them away, they simply died in the oil, so my skin was covered in oil and drowned midges. Not a highlight.

Not much could detract from the beauty of Glencoe though—not midges, nor the swarms of other tourists who were there. Mountains reaching the clouds, green valleys, waterfalls and rivers. Hard to think of a more beautiful place.

The following day we drove to Glen Etive. More beauty, with mountains, forests, waterfalls. We watched some canoes swooshing down the bubbling river, walked to a waterfall, enjoyed the peace.

Lodge on the Loch is near Ben Nevis, so I persuaded Husband (who had a headache) that we should stroll up the mountain for a short while. The day was sunny and hot, and we arrived as most people were leaving. The mountain is well-signed, with a clear path (if you choose the easy route) and a cafe at the base. We chatted to a man who had started the climb that morning, and it had taken about 8 hours to the peak and back. He was drinking his fifth can of lemonade.

We joined the flow of people on the path, and walked up for about an hour. It was easy walking, with no scary edges. But in the sunshine, it was very hot. I was wearing a thick dress, and switched it for Husband’s cotton shirt because it was simply too hot to walk. After an hour, we came to a point where the path grew steeper, and although going up would be fine, I knew it would terrify me coming down (plus it was only meant to be a stroll) so we turned back. Probably I cannot claim to have climbed Ben Nevis (not sure a quarter of it counts) but nice to have done it.

We ate in a lovely pub called Laroch in Ballachulish. Ballachulish was a tiny community that grew up around a slate mine. There were information signs, and we saw the flooded mines, and white worker-houses and imagined a time when their hobnailed boots would have rattled through the village on their way to the mine. The food in Laroch was brilliant—worth a visit if you’re in the area.

We left the hotel at 7 the next morning. My back was painful due to saggy bed, so I wasn’t sure the day would go well. We were due to catch a ferry from Oban to the Isle of Mull. I had thought Glencoe was the most beautiful place on earth, and that I had seen the best of Scotland. I was wrong, so very very wrong…

Thanks for reading. I will post more blogs of our travels through Scotland in the next few weeks. It was all planned as a surprise, and we stayed in some amazing places (including castles) so I hope you enjoy sharing the adventure with me.

Take care.
Love, Anne x

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Crinan


The Crinan Hotel

The Crinan Hotel is two hours north of Glasgow. There’s not much phone signal, so Google maps gets confused and places the hotel round the corner, whist it actually has prime position overlooking Loch Crinan off the sound of Jura (look at a map of Scotland, and it’s on the left, about half-way up).

We arrived early afternoon, and followed the winding lane past whitewashed cottages down to the canal, then up to the bend in the road—which is basically the whole of Crinan in a single sentence. There were signs on the hotel door requesting that guests wore facemasks in the hotel, and lots of other signs and photographs and paintings, all muddled together in a visual feast of nostalgia. You knew instantly that this hotel was personal to someone, and they loved it.

We checked in, and dragged our cases into the tiny lift (which closely resembled an upturned freezer). Our room was on the second floor, and the metal key was attached to a large, too-big-for-a-handbag wooden fish. The room was lovely, with a large window overlooking the loch. There was wooden furniture, and uneven floors, and a single vase with fresh flowers. In the wardrobe was a tray set with tea things and a tiny kettle, with a note telling us to ask reception for fresh milk. Everything looked clean, cosy, and slightly dated. I loved it. Very Miss Marple. All we needed was a body in the lobby and we would be in the quintessential English novel.

There was no safe in the room, but it all felt very secure so we left our stuff and wandered along the tow path. Husband loves canals, and enthused happily about how many locks would be needed for the boats to climb the hill behind the hotel, and why they had built the entrance to the 9-mile canal in Crinan, and not further round the coast (later investigations showed the water was a giant sandbank, so the canal needed to provide deep water from Crinan onwards). It was easily ignored as cheery background noise while I absorbed the water birds, and reflections on the loch, and the absolute peace of the area.

We ate dinner in Tayvallich (quite an adventure, but for another blog). Spent the evening trying to find Duntrune Castle, which the room information said was opposite the hotel, but all I could see through the binoculars was a big house. Went to bed. Slept well.

The following morning started at 6.30 when the people in the next room began to stomp across the creaky floorboards and turned on the noisy fan in their bathroom. The night had been silent though, so no complaints. We got up and ran along the towpath. Good shower (always excellent when an older hotel installs a decent bathroom) and then we went down for breakfast.

The dining room has bay windows overlooking the loch, and it was simply beautiful. Everything was very hushed, with thick carpets and heavy curtains, damask napkins and silver coffee pots. The waitress brought us juice and good strong coffee and took our order. I opted for porridge and fruit, Husband went the less healthy route—though neither of us were tempted by the kippers. There were a few other guests, but it all felt very proper, with tiny china bowls of butter and marmalade. It wasn’t a room for loud noises.

The hotel room had details of Duntrune Castle, which was fought over by various clans in the past. At one point, a piper from clan A remained after clan B had taken over, and when the way was clear, he played his pipes to alert clan A that they should attack. Clan B were somewhat miffed, so cut off his hands. He died (not unexpected). The ghost of the handless piper is said to haunt the grounds, or so the legend goes. Potentially not true. However, when recent owners were renovating the castle, the builders dug up a skeleton which had both hands cut off.

Now, I love a good story, so we had to visit. It’s privately owned, so we weren’t sure how near we could get, but we set off anyway. It was an adventure. Drove across moors, the only car on narrow roads. Wound our way to the castle, and the end of a private road. There are no footpaths in Scotland—instead they have a ‘right to roam’ law which we interpreted as anyone can walk wherever they want to. We parked on a verge, and walked down the road. No one stopped us. We walked right up to the gates of the castle. These gates were the inspiration for the Skyfall house in the James Bond film. The castle is still occupied, and we decided the ‘right to roam’ probably didn’t include walking actually into someone’s house. Was pretty cool though.

Beyond the castle is a garden, with an honesty box for donations to ActionAid and RNLI. We went inside, and they are very beautiful, a mix of wild and clever planting and pretty statues. Worth a visit (good Instagram-photo ops if you like that sort of thing!)

The hotel doesn’t have sandwiches, and even Hungry Husband felt that three cooked meals a day might be pushing it. There’s a little coffee shop (possibly linked to the hotel but in its own whitewashed old building). We wandered down and ordered filled rolls. My BLT was freshly cooked, with good fresh lettuce and tomato—but no mayo or butter. Perhaps you have to specify separately that you want those in Scotland. Or perhaps the coffee shop is linked to the hotel and they saw how much we ate for breakfast!

Thanks for reading. I will post further blogs (in a random order, because that is how I wrote them) so you can share our road trip through Scotland. Hope you enjoy them.

Take care, Love, Anne x

Scotland


Planning a Trip to Scotland

We went to Scotland. We had wanted to go back to the US, to hire a car and travel around for a month, the same as in 2019. But as we watched the governments changing their minds and making (illogical) decisions, we cancelled our flights while we could still get a refund, and changed our destination to Scotland. Husband planned it all, because it was his ‘thing’ and so when we set off, I had only the vaguest idea of where we were going and what we would see. It was quite an adventure!

First stop was Durham. Not a city that I know well, but we arrived in time for a wander around and I can tell you that it’s a lovely old city, surprisingly small, with a prison and a university (don’t get those in a muddle) and a very old cathedral. The cathedral is notable for its big knocker, which if criminals managed to touch in the Middle Ages, they could be granted sanctuary for 37 days. I’m guessing it didn’t work very well, as the modern prison is fairly large.

The other thing I should mention before we drive to Scotland, is the river. Durham has a lovely wide river, great for running next to in the morning.

We made it to Scotland the following day and drove to Seamill, which is fairly near Glasgow but on the coast. The scenery was pretty, Scotland has lots of bumpy land (not really hills, just bumps) and mountains and water.

We stayed at The Seamill Hydro Hotel, and they were hosting a wedding. We tried very hard to not be in all their photographs, but wherever we went there seemed to be a man with a video camera. The married couple will wonder forever who the strange couple were, looming in the background of every shot!

The Seamill Hydro Hotel and a slightly windswept Anne!

The hotel was on the coast, and we walked along the beach. Later, as we travelled through Scotland, my most asked question was: “Is this the sea?” because mostly it was impossible to know. There are so many interconnected lochs, and such rugged coastline, that you could never be sure if you could see the other side of a bay or an island. At Seamill we could see islands. We had booked to visit Arran (which I had thought was the home of the Aran jumper—because I cannot spell!) but our ferry was cancelled due to Covid. Instead we went to Cumbrae. Cumbrae is a small island, and ferries run regularly, like a bus, no need to book, just turn up and go.

We hired bikes and whizzed round the coast, then caught the ferry home. Pretty place, with boats bobbing in the harbour, a few shops, pretty hills.

We left Seamill, and drove north. Our first journey took us past a castle. I love castles, and Scotland has loads. Some are derelict, often the setting for battles between the clans or fights with the English in days gone by. Some are ‘modern,’ built in baronial style (like Balmoral where the royal family holiday) with pretty fairytale turrets.

Scotland also has lots of islands, and most of them have regular ferries pootling between them. Sometimes the distances are vast though, so we only ventured to a few islands off the West coast. Some were amazingly beautiful.

We spent some time driving North, up the Western side of Scotland, sometimes staying on islands, sometimes in glens nestling between mountains. Then we drove across country, through pine forests and over mountains to flatter, empty land. We stayed in posh hotels, and cheap Airbnbs, and hotels that had seen better days. And then, to my surprise, we stayed in an actual derelict/partly renovated castle full of stuffed animals and mice (and probably ghosts) and then a castle which was like a stately home, where I felt as if I was living in Downton Abbey. I will tell you all about it in my later blogs. It was such an adventure, and really fun for me to never know where we were going next.

Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoy travelling through Scotland with me (there are less midges this way!)

Take care.
Love, Anne x

Thanks for reading.

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anneethompson.com