A month with Mum, Dad, and Marnie

My parents recently came to visit with my grandmother and messaged me a few days ago to say they were safely back in Australia. To say the last six weeks have been busy is an understatement, but they have also been some of the most joyous times of my life in Scotland – I was so pleased to show them the places I loved, and to discover new favourites with them that I hadn’t seen before. I am so lucky that they are adventurous and healthy enough to be able to come and see me – I know not all expats are as lucky as me. They arrived in Edinburgh on a Thursday, and the very next day we left, up through the Cairngorms on Friday night before breakfasting in Aviemore the next morning and heading to Culloden Battlefield. Then it was back in the car to drive north, stopping at the Coffee Bothy in Golspie for lunch before heading onto Thurso where we saw the Old St Peter’s Church. That night we took the ferry from Scrabster to Mainland Orkney, before driving to our (spacious, lovely) AirBnb in Twatt. The next morning, a Sunday, Marnie and I went to a church service in St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall. After lunch we dropped into the Sheila Fleet Kirk Gallery and then drove across the Churchill Barriers to the Italian Chapel, and onto St Margaret’s Hope. The next day was spent in Stromness, meeting an old friend of Marnie’s and poking around the shops (including the library and an amazing bookshop) and the following day we embarked into the heart of Neolithic Orkney – Skara Brae, Skaill House, Maeshowe, the Standing Stones of Stenness, the Barnhouse Settlement, and the Ring of Brodgar. We stayed overnight on the boat back to Mainland Scotland, and waved to the Old Man of Hoy the next morning on our way.

We drove back down south via Wick (to see the shortest street in the world) and stopped off at the Whaligoe Steps (with bonus cat). After lunch in Dingwall we continued driving through the tempestuous Storm Ali to our accommodation in Kyle of Lochalsh. The next day we continued onto Skye, to see Sligachan, Talisker, the Fairy Pools (just to look, not to walk), and then to Portree for lunch and a visit to the Post Office dog. The next day we drove to BEAUTIFUL Plockton via Duirinish (we even saw a wee hedgehog while having our coffee), then down to Eilean Donan for photos. On our last day in Kyle of Lochalsh, we took a walking tour of Eilean Ban, home of the Gavin Maxwell Museum. The island has accommodation, a lighthouse, a wildlife hide, and a lovely history – but sadly we didn’t see any otters!

Then it was home to lovely Edinburgh, with a day trip to the Borders to see Melrose, the Leaderfoot Viaduct, Scott’s View, and Dryburgh Abbey. We wandered the Water of Leith (from Stockbridge to Dean Village), had dinner at Teuchtar’s Landing, met friends of mine that I wanted to introduce to Mum and Dad, and had a jaunt to Cramond Village and beach. I also took a lovely day trip to Glasgow with Marnie to see the Kelvingrove Museum and the Charles Rennie Mackintosh rooms. In the mean time, my guests got up to plenty without me while I was at work or resting, including a visit to the Japanese garden at Lauriston Castle and a trip to North Berwick, as well as various shopping trips into the city!

Then it was back to the Highlands – Mum, Dad, Marnie and I were booked on a Great Rail Journeys trip that took us via Glasgow to Ballachulish, where we stayed for three nights. We journeyed up the West Highland Line, past Corrour, the most remote station in Britain, and found ourselves in a lovely hotel just up the road from Glencoe, with idyllic views of a loch beyond our window. The next morning took us to Oban (where I visited a lovely little museum), and then on the ferry to the Isle of Mull where we visited the beautiful Duart Castle. The next day was spent admiring Neptune’s Staircase before heading to Fort William for lunch and a very rainy cruise along Loch Linnhe! We even saw a couple of seals – it made the windy and wet conditions worth it. Afterwards we drove back past the hotel and into Glencoe for some photo stops and a history lesson – Glencoe is very atmospheric in the rain. The next day – HARRY POTTER TRAIN!! We took the Jacobite Express (first class!) to Mallaig, and even the weather couldn’t dampen our spirits. The route over the viaduct is truly gorgeous – and then we took the bus back and stopped at the viaduct to get photos of the train crossing back over!

That night we transferred to Inverness where we stayed for the next three nights, and headed off to Loch Ness first thing the next morning – another cruise, in beautiful sunshine this time, and a wee stomp around Urquhart Castle, before returning to Inverness for some free time (a rest for me!). The next day was the Kyle Line – I think even more scenic than the West Highland Line – all the way to Kyle of Lochalsh, and then onto Eilean Donan Castle. We actually got to go in this time, and it was wonderful – a really interesting history to explore and such good photo opportunities. The coach back took us via Glen Sheil and the grave of Roderick Mackenzie – a completely new area of Scotland for me, and one I am desperate to return to! The next day, alas, we were nearing the end of our trip, and headed back to Edinburgh. There was one final dinner to enjoy however, to top off a week of lovely food and accommodation. We had traditional Scottish food and a piper who told us some fantastic stories about Scottish history and culture. We even had a Highland dancer to entertain us! It was a very bizarre thing to stay in the luxury hotel and get up the next morning to walk to work!

Mum and Dad headed off for a few days in the Central Belt and Marnie stayed the night at our flat. The next morning I dropped her at the bus stop and she embarked on a journey to Lewis (yes, in the Outer Hebrides), where she had a fantastic few days in Stornaway. Sean and I had a relatively normal week before they all returned to us, and we spent a lovely Sunday at the Botanic Gardens before a teary goodbye that evening! They made their way down south and flew home from Heathrow. I spoke to Dad yesterday and their jet lag has worn off, thank goodness!

(Am I the luckiest woman in the world? I think I’m the luckiest woman in the world.)

 

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A Highland adventure

The Habitat Café and The Watermill are two of Scotland’s best treasures and they’re BOTH in Aberfeldy and we visited both on our trip away from Edinburgh! We then had a rainy drive up the A9 before arriving in gorgeous, sunny Inverness. I finally got to visit Leakey’s Bookshop, after years of being told to by many friends!

The guesthouse staff were lovely and friendly, and breakfast was delicious. We hopped in the car and nipped down to Drumnadrochit where we went on a one-hour cruise of Loch Ness with the brilliant George Edwards, who has been guiding these tours for 32 years. He also discovered the deepest point in Loch Ness while diving in 1989, and it is named after him – Edwards’ Deep.He has photographed mysterious creatures in the loch and knows more than anyone about this massive body of water. His tour was recommended to us by our Australian mates and I am so thankful – it was a true delight! We went to Urquhart Castle and wandered its ruins. The weather was perfect.

Afterward we drove to Applecross via Lochcarron and I nearly wet myself on the crazy winding road – Bealach na ba – over the mountains. But we eventually arrived and found our accommodation – a tiny cottage in a quiet bay down the road from Applecross in a place called Camusterrach. It is completely and utterly idyllic, surrounded by other wee cottages with chickens, goats, pigs, and Highland cows. We went to Applecross Inn for dinner. It was absolutely booming, the food was a delight, and I met Graeme Macrae Burnett’s parents which was an exciting diversion! After we came home, full of fish and chips and cranachan, Sean and I went for a quick walk in the sunset. Scotland is so peaceful. I love it.

The next morning we headed off for Skye, via the Wester Ross Coastal Trail, this time taking the long way round rather than the Bealach. More amazing views and spine-tingling roads! We stopped in Lochcarron for a cake and some tea at The Waterside Café, winner of the regional UK best café award, before continuing onto Skye and finally to Portree. The sun was blazing for most of the day. We had lunch and a stroll around Portree peeking at all the gift shops and collecting some bits and pieces for dinner back at our cottage. We were home by 6.30 – enough time for a walk, a shower, a load of washing, and a lovely dinner.

We took one last spin over the Bealach on the way to Fort William for lunch and a stroll. We arrived at our lovely wee B&B in the Trossachs, on the spit of land between Loch Lomond and Loch Long. Tea with our hosts, dinner at the pub, and an early night. What could be better?

Our final day was spent traversing the Central Lowlands from Tarbet to Balloch to Doune Castle, where we listened to the brilliant audio commentary from Terry Jones (Monty Python) and Sam Heughan (Outlander). We stopped for lunch in a Doune pub, a lovely place called the Woodside Hotel, and then drove back to Edinburgh!

It was a busy holiday, but an enjoyable one. Next time I need to spend more time in the isolated places. The Applecross Peninsula in particular was wonderful. Would be great to get away there for a week or more!

 

Isle of Skye

Today we travelled from Fort Augustus at Loch Ness to the Isle of Skye. We made a few wee stops along the way, firstly to take pictures of a loch in the shape of Scotland, the most photographed loch of all, apparently. (Also, I forgot to mention the scenery we drove through yesterday was where J.M Barrie grew up, and is speculated to have been inspiration for Never Land.) We then saw the Five Sisters of Kintail and have spent the day dodging storms. Some rather spectacular hail descended on us in Skye, bookended by brilliant sunshine. It reminded me fiercely of Melbourne. We did have some wonderful walks up the moors, despite nearly being blown over the cliffs several times. There were a few slips and a lot of mud. We saw two castles today Eilean Donan Castle and Castle Moil. We saw a lot of countryside where the movie ‘Stardust’ was shot and a few brave souls, including me, dipped our faces in a river (I will also have to look up the name) which keeps you beautiful. Sweet. This is close to a giant hill (it’s pretty much a small mountain) that hosts a competition every year to see who can run up the top of the mountain and back the fastest. The record is a mindblowing 42 minutes. We had lunch and a quick pint in Portree before heading back to our hostel for the night. We stopped at Kilt Rock on the way, which are beautiful cliffs that look like the pleats on a man’s kilt. A giant sat there to think, and the weight of him made the imprints in the cliff face. Our hostel is close to the mainland, a place called Saucy Mary’s and there will be more live music tonight, though I don’t know how long I will last!