So after Inverness, the next destination was the über-tourist mecca in Scotland, Loch Ness. We started the day at Urquhart Castle, which is about as picturesque as it gets. The entrance/visitors center is extremely well situated into the landscape; when you get to the castle, the buildings and the parking lot are completely camouflaged.
After Urquhart Castle, we drove counterclockwise around the loch – most people go the other way – until we ended up on the Isle of Skye for our Fairy Pools hike. This was another nail-biting drive on what amounted to a cart track going up the side of a mountain. And while the weather started out fine in Inverness and around Lock Ness, the moment we pulled into the Fairy Pools hike parking lot, the rain started. Coupled with the 30 mile-per-hour gale, it was like straight-line freezing rain right in your face. Most people were fleeing, but we were among the foolhardy (insane) souls that kept trudging on. (We passed a girl in a wedding dress and a couple who were skinny dipping; such is the apparent allure of the Fairy Pools…)
After the hike, we were completely soaked. There is absolutely nothing worse than cold, soaking wet jeans.
After the Fairy Pools, it was on to Dun Scaith Castle. Another nail-biter, this time on a sheep path. And once you got there, you were greeted by a pile of rocks.
After the drive through the pasture, we went to our hotel, Kinloch Lodge. Greeted with champagne by the fire in the drawing room, it was a nice way to end the afternoon. (I had a whiskey here – the very definition of ‘fire water.’ My throat’s still burning.) Dinner was fantastic; a Michelin-starred restaurant essentially in the middle of nowhere.
After leaving Kinloch, the next stop was Eilean Donan Castle. It’s supposed to be one of the finest castles of its type in Scotland, but quite honestly, it was way too touristy for my taste. We had to wait 3o minutes past opening time while a commercial was being filmed. By that time, the tourist hordes had descended. Too many people…
After the castle was one of the unexpected highlights of the trip – the Glenfinnan Railway Viaduct. It was a nice little hike to one of the quintessential scenes from the ‘Harry Potter’ films.
Next, it was on to hiking on Ben Nevis, the highest mountain on the British Isles, but there had been a landslide on the route we were taking, so that got scrapped. We regrouped and did some hiking in the Glencoe region, near our hotel for the evening.
And then we arrived at Glencoe House. This was a manor house built in the last quarter of the 19th century. In the 1930s, the house was given to the National Health Service and converted into a hospital. In the last few years, it was purchased and repurposed into an hotel. This was the best place we stayed – right out of ‘Downton Abbey.’ (I highly recommend Suite 1 – it has one of the few working fire places. Apparently, the when it was a hospital, they poured concrete down most of the chimneys. Criminal.) In total, the suite was three rooms – a huge dining room/drawing room; a very large bedroom; and a fantastic bath. Suite 1 also has a private terrace with a hot tub. There were even deer on the lawn!
There is no dining room at the hotel so all the meals are served in the suite’s private dining room. Probably one of the best meals we had – created by Brian and Fionna Gunn who run ‘Bayleaf Catering.’ Brian was clearly passionate about what he does and it really showed. A coursed meal – five or six, I think – in the dining room by a roaring fire. It was decadent off the charts.
We had to leave very early the next day – and I had to be practically dragged out of the place, but it was on to a boat ride, a potential resting place for the Holy Grail, and another ruined abbey.