GUEST BLOG – SCOTLAND AND TICKING OFF THING NO. 64
Guest Blog – The very first guest blog for 101 and one I had the honour of being part of.
Gang, I give you the inspirational Vicki Connerty and our road trip through the awe inspiring Scottish Highlands. Definitely one for your lists! Enjoy! x
TICKING OFF THING NO. 64
So when Greig asked me to write about our recent trip to the Scottish Highlands, I was honoured. “Yes!” I said. “I will be your first guest blogger! I will probably be given the keys to Scotland! And maybe a castle! And my own Connerty tartan! And some bagpipes!”. Fingers crossed.
Greig has wanted to start introducing guest posts to 101 for a while now so his initiative can evolve from being just about him. As he’s said before, his vision for 101 in the future is that people will write their own 101 survival lists, get out there, tick ‘em off and importantly, share their dreams, lists and experiences with others.
So I guess this is the first and veritable guinea pig of these aforementioned guest blogs. Though if it gets zero likes and several emails to Trouty from Disappointed of Devon and Angry-Faced of Argentina, it may also be the last.
For those of you that are wondering who the devil I am, Greig and I first met a year or so ago when he hit Sydney as part of his 101 trip. I knew his big brother Barry and so offered the travelling Trout the run of my place while I was back in the UK for a couple of weeks. I returned to Oz, a couple of weeks turned into a couple of months and eventually, Trout the Younger left the comfort of my couch and pushed off to New Zealand to visit Middle Earth.
Four days before he left however, my GP found a suspicious lump during a random breast check and referred me for an ultrasound and subsequent biopsy. Greig was the first person I told when I got back to my apartment that day with a somewhat bemused expression on my face and three weeks later, he was as speechless as I to discover that I’d been diagnosed with Stage 3 invasive breast cancer. Yikes.
Fast-forward through eight months of cancer treatment madness to August this year and we’re on Skype discussing my plans to return home to the UK for 10 weeks. We wanted to take a trip to celebrate the end of my treatment and all we knew was that we wanted it to be a road trip in the UK somewhere. Both of us agreed that we’d neglected our own fair British Isle over the years in favour of foreign climes and now was the perfect time to right that wrong!
As loyal 101’ers, you will of course be familiar with Greig’s famous 101 list – thing no.64 is ‘Explore my home country of Scotland’. As soon as we chucked ‘Scotland & the Highlands’ into the road trippin’ mix, I think we both knew. Thing no. 64 was ours for the taking!
With the help of Mum and Dad Trout, (our in-house Scottish travel consultants) and a massive old-school road map of bonny Scotland, we plotted a 10-day route up north and around the Highlands that would have made dear old William Wallace and his blue and white painted face very proud indeed.
So, in the spirit of list-writing, I’m going to share our top 5 tips to making the most of the Scottish Highlands and hope that they inspire you to take a trip up North…
1. Dip your toes in Lakes and Lochs.
Not technically Scotland, I know but I insisted we stopped off at Lake Windermere on the drive up, a decision partly driven by childhood nostalgia and partly by the knowledge that being trapped in a car for over 8 hours with Trouty’s dubious musical taste might not be the ideal start to the trip.
Instead, we found an awesome place called Cragwood House right on the lake. We wandered around the grounds and lounged about for hours on their private jetty like 2 kids, mesmerised by the stunning views and peaceful water.
As lakes go, Cumbria’s Lake District sets the bar pretty high but the lochs of Scotland are something else. Loch Ness, the 2nd biggest after Loch Lomond and arguably the most famous of Scotland’s lochs, is a massive 23 (37km) miles long. We drove alongside a bit of it, eyes wide and mouths agape which was pretty much our go-to expression every time we drove past or around a Scottish loch.
Marvel at the lochs. Dip your toes in them. Close your mouths. Bow down to their watery brilliance.
2. Go for a walk. Pack Kendal Mint Cake.
I will concede that Greig is slightly more of a seasoned walker than me. He has walking boots that have definitely seen better days and a little geeky raincoat just for his rucksack. By contrast, it’s fair to say that ‘all the gear, no idea’ was a phrase invented just for me.
Inevitably, our invigorating walks were not without incident – a casual stroll around Lake Grasmere ended 4 thirsty hours later with us stumbling into Grasmere village like 2 wild-eyed Polar explorers, desperate for water and their world-famous ginger biscuits.
On Skye, we wandered around the beautiful Quiraing, took about 400 ‘look at us, we’re two cancer survivors climbing over a stile’ photos before I tested he waterproof qualities of my new boots and trousers by firstly plunging knee-deep into an unseen bog before skidding inelegantly down a hill on my Gore-tex’d backside. Sigh.
In Fort William, we walked about 200 miles (or thereabouts) to see Scotland’s 2nd highest waterfall, Steall Falls. Shamefully, we never actually made it as we realised that seeing it up-close would mean missing the start of Scotland’s Rugby World Cup match. We prioritised, took a waterfall selfie from a distance and ran all the way back to our B&B in time for kick-off.
Walking. Harder than it looks. Especially when you have no sense of direction. Or clue. Buy waterproofs. Take a map. You’ve been warned.
3. Catch a train, board a plane.
When in Fort William, it is practically Scottish law that all tourists must take the Jacobite Steam train over the Glenfinnan Viaduct to Mallaig. This is the scenic steam train trip made famous by Harry Potter and his wizarding chums. Greig and I were not immune to this touristy peer pressure but being the great forward-thinking planners that we are, we thought it would be fine to just book our tickets the night before. Hmm.
If, unlike us, you don’t want to go skidding down to the train station at 8am and elbow American pensioners out of the way so you can grab the last two available ‘on the day’ tickets, then it’s probably best to book more than 12 hours in advance. And we definitely recommend flinging cash at a first class cabin with afternoon tea. I’m not sure who was more excited – Greig, at the sight of a working steam train or me, at the sight of free scones.
Once we’d ticked the steam train box, it seemed only reasonable that we add a seaplane to our ‘Scottish modes of transport’ list. My lovely Scottish pal Zoe, who we’d caught up with in Edinburgh, generously surprised us by organising a seaplane ride over Loch Lomond on our last day.
Seeing the beautiful coast of Scotland from the air in a tiny seaplane is not for the faint-hearted but it’s a proper ‘put it on your list’ directive from both of us. We were lucky to have perfect conditions on the day, Loch Lomond was magnificent and I’m pretty sure we spent most of the flight with our faces pressed up to the window, grinning like loons. Big thanks to Zo for such a perfect gift!
4. Go roaming around castles. Pretend you can afford one.
Much like the Harry Potter train, it is considered extremely rude to go to Scotland and not visit their castles with fixed expressions of wonderment and awe. Everyone knows that the Scottish know how to make the best-looking castles in pretty much the whole world so we were keen to pop in on some of them. We ticked a fair few off but here’s our top 3:
Blair Castle, Pitlochry – it’s where Greig’s big brother Barry and his lovely wife Helene got married so there is some family bias here, but it’s a truly beautiful castle with spectacular grounds. Also had a Scotsman playing bagpipes wearing a kilt as we arrived. Tourist tick.
Eilean Donan Castle, Kyle of Lochalsh – apparently holds the title of the most beautiful castle in Scotland and it’s pretty special. Also does a very good bowl of soup though I’m not sure it’s won any awards for that so far…
Edinburgh Castle – we, through absolutely no planning whatsoever, managed to arrive just in time to see and hear the famous 1pm cannon being fired so our touristy faces were pretty smug. We even let the officer who fired it have his photo taken with us.
5. Do Skye & the coastal road to Ullapool. No Instagram filter needed.
On Skye, we found a great little place called Mint Croft, near Dunvegan in the north-west of the island owned by Ali and his wife Shaz. Ali is English, moved up from Manchester and has the look of man profoundly content with his lot in life. He and Shaz bought the old croft and they then spent two years transforming two dilapidated out-buildings into two gorgeous stone lodges.
The views are breathtaking and seeing the spectacular orange and pink sunrises over the water from our lodge turned us, albeit briefly, into the kind of people that willingly get up and go for a brisk stroll while everyone else is still asleep.
If tranquility, relaxation, long walks, limited mobile reception, awesome locals, the best smoked kippers in Britain and a breathtaking backdrop is what you seek, then look no further than the Isle of Skye. It’s just perfect.
Leaving Skye, we headed to Ullapool via the coastal road, taking in Applecross, Plockton and Torridan. We’d been warned this route would take us a bit longer but that it would be worth it. We weren’t disappointed – it’s right up there with New Zealand for awe-inspiring lake, mountain and sunset money shots.
So there it is – Thing.64. Two cancer survivors took a little 10 day trip around the Scottish Highlands and it was genuinely one of the most beautiful, peaceful, soul-soothing places we have ever experienced. A region also inhabited by some of the world’s loveliest people. The perfect tonic for anyone who’s ever been smashed about a bit by illness or indeed for anyone who just needs a well-applied brake to the speed at which we all seem to travel nowadays.
My apologies for the length of this – Trouty will be horrified at my inability to keep it short – but I wanted to try and do Scotland and the Highlands justice without writing an actual guidebook. I hope I succeeded. We know that there is so much that we didn’t get to see this time and so many places up in Scotland and the Highlands still left to explore so let us know what we missed and we’ll try and get there next time!
To see more posts from Vicki then please follow her inspirational and hilarious blog The Fellowship of the Ringlets – https://www.facebook.com/groups/fellowshipoftheringlets/ or at www.fellowshipoftheringlets.com
Our 10 Day Itinerary
Lake Windemere & Grasmere (1 night)
Edinburgh (1 night)
Fort William (3 nights)
Isle of Skye (2 nights)
Ullapool (1 night)
Pitlochry (1 night)
Grange-over-Sands (1 night)
Places we visited
The Lakes – Windermere, Grasmere and Rydal Water
Jacobite steam train over the Glenfinnan Viaduct to Mallaig
Walk to Steal Falls
Eilean Donan Castle
Isle of Skye
The Quiraing Walk & Old Man of Storr.
Blair Castle, Pitlochry
Seaplane over Loch Lomond
Where we stayed
Lake Windermere – Cragwood House
Edinburgh – 23 Mayfield
Fort William – Huntingtower Lodge
Isle of Skye – Mint Croft
Ullapool – The Ceilidh Place
Pitlochry – Dalshian House
Grange-over-Sands – Netherwood Grange