No place has surprised me more than this country did.
It was not really on my list.
Ireland was, and of course you have to do London. So a few years ago I had a reason to go to London, and decided that was a good excuse to go to Ireland. Should I squeeze Scotland in?
The original plan was just to do a stop or two in Scotland between Ireland and England. I owe the whole itinerary to Rick Steves (and a little credit to the producers of Braveheart and the author of Outlander). More on that below.
I have seen many amazing places in this world, but none so far has compared to Scotland.
The rolling green hills, the winding roads, the mists, very few humans but salt-of-the-earth good humans, tons of sheep. I was spellbound from the moment my car tires left Edinburgh and headed west into the Highlands.
While many of my travel dreams still reside on palm tree lined beaches and turquoise waters, there is a part of me that needs to – and will – go back to misty, foggy, mysterious, magical Scotland.
For my trip to the Scottish Highlands, I flew into Edinburgh (pronounced Edinborough). This is the capital of Scotland and a great way to immediately dive into the essence. Alternatively, if you plan to stay only in the Highlands, you can fly into Inverness depending where you are coming from. Inverness is an easy connector from Ireland.
Edinburgh is an option for a home base that you can use as a jumping off point. I was planning to see more of the country, so I only spent a few hours exploring the Royal Mile then headed west.
Had a great lunch in Edinburgh. This is the meal where I discovered haggis. For my Louisiana friends, haggis is Scotland’s version of boudin. For everyone else, don’t ask, just try it.
Edinburgh’s Royal Mile
I spent just a few hours here upon arrival in Scotland. This is where I will refer you to Rick Steves Audio Europe. Why pay for guided tours when Rick can give you a tour for free? There were 3 of us in my group, so we all put on our headphones and toured the Royal Mile at our own pace. Together, but still able to digest what we wanted and skip what we didn’t. Click the link below to read more about Rick Steves Audio Europe. You can also click here to buy “Rick Steves Scotland” on Amazon. Great travel companion for this trip.
Oban via Loch Lomond
Stunning drive. Simply stunning. Driving through Loch Lomond was like a scene from Outlander – mists and fog, castles with moats, sheep. It was a long and winding road that took much longer than expected and was worth every minute. You’d turn your head, see a break in the forest, catch a glimpse of a ruined castle (or not ruined) and before you could even think of stopping for a photo you were around the next bend and another was upon you.
I stayed at the lovely Barriemore Bed & Breakfast. Oban is a small port town so no location is better than another. There is no hurry. Just settle in.
Things To Do Near Oban
Isle of Lunga – Puffin Therapy
A main attraction in Oban is the Scotch distillery. Very cool and worth a visit. Got an awesome souvenir glass at the end of the tour.
But the main reason I planned to visit Scotland was for Puffin Therapy.
Turus Mara is an exclusive family-owned tour operator for boating excursions in and around the Treshnish Isles of Scotland. My tour made two stops: The Isle of Lunga and Isle of Staffa.
I think I paid around $100 for this full day excursion. This goes down as a “Top 10” experience of a lifetime, so its actually priceless.
It is a full day commitment. First a ferry to Mull, then a short bus ride to the boat launch. Then a long boat ridge to Lunga. Somewhat small boat. Maybe a dozen people? Damp, drizzly, not much to see along the way. Get to know the other people on the boat because you’re about to share something really special.
The gallery below says what no words can ever say.
Assuming you’re sold on Lunga, the next stop is Staffa. This is the “other end” of the Giant’s Causeway on the Northern Coast of Ireland (see Ireland page).
You’ll get out and brave the slick rocks to peer inside this unique rock formation. Then you’ll sail to the other side and climb a steep staircase to a field of green where you can just take it all in and reflect on what you’ve just experienced.
The journey back is so much shorter than the journey out. Maybe it’s because you’re changed, as are those who have journeyed with you. Time for a hot and hearty Scottish meal and a glass of Oban to top off a perfect day.
Click the photo here to link to Turus Mara’s page so you can book Puffin Therapy and see their other tours.
Isle of Skye
Isle of Skye
Stop right now and pull out your iphone. Google “theme from Outlander”. It’s about 30 seconds long…”sing me a song of lass that is gone, say could that lass be I? Merry of soul she sailed on a day, over the sea to Skye.”
Their are options for the drive from Oban to Skye. I chose to chance going through Glenelg and taking the mom-n-pop ferry to save some driving time. Just when I was totally convinced I was totally lost, there it was. Make sure you have cash….I had to count out quarters to make the fare.
The main town on Isle of Skye is Portree. I stayed at the Portree Hotel which anchors a charming small town center.
Always researching the food scene in advance, I came across Three Chimneys. At that time it was the only Michelin-Starred restaurant in all of Europe. I reserved the Chef’s table and ate in the kitchen. Incredible experience.
The drive to and from the restaurant was an adventure. It was dark by the time we left, and I’m pretty sure I had to stop 10 times for cows and sheep sleeping in the road.
Things To Do – Isle of Skye
Trotternish Peninsula Drive
This was another gem suggestion by Rick Steves. He has a guided audio driving tour for this peninsula. Again, pictures say 1000 words.
The Fairy Pools
As if this trip isn’t magical enough already, Isle of Skye also has Fairy Pools. Crystal clear waterfalls interspersed in the landscape. A pleasant hike takes you to the pools where you can explore and even dip in if you dare.
I wandered off into a grassy meadow to follow a small bird…and I swear I saw a fairy and heard it whisper to me…..
Last Stop – Inverness
The drive from Skye to Inverness was another amazing journey and it skims right next to Loch Ness if you want to search for the monster.
Inverness is another medieval city, more modern than Edinburgh but cozy at the same time.
Once in Inverness you can make a short trip to Clava Cairns, a bronze-age burial site. Then take a spin around the grounds of the Culloden Battle field. Outlander fans, this is the pinnacle.
From Inverness you can fly to Ireland…to continue this tour, click the image below to visit my Ireland travel page.