Highlights from the Highlands

If I were a sheep, I would live in Scotland. I say this because Sebastien and I have just spent five days exploring the Scottish Highlands and it was quite obvious that the sheep rule. They dominate the landscape. Happy (and oblivious) as can be, they spend the entire day grazing on the open fields. They’re surrounded by green grass and green grass… and green grass. The sheep are quite a site perched up on cliffs and, in some areas (like the Isle of Skye), the most defiant stand out in the middle of the road. They don’t even think about budging for we silly visitors. Power to the sheep. The Highlands are their land.

The landscape in the Highlands is impressive – more so than I ever would have thought. Lochs, mountains, ocean inlets, hills, cliffs, fields… the setting took us far away from our city life in Paris. I was in admiration about how untouched and well-preserved this part of Scotland was. Nearly every house is a bed and breakfast, so we could tell tourism is important, but of all the places we’ve been, this was the most remote. We stayed to the western side and when we were out hiking, it often felt like we were the only humans in all of Scotland!

We started our journey in the Cairngorms National Park and were based in Kingussie (which we’d recommend over Aviemore, the main town twenty-minutes to the north). Then we moved on through the Five Sisters and toward Kyle of Lochalsh. From our base near Dornie, we were easily able to explore this area and the Isle of Skye. On our way to Glasgow, we drove through Glen Coe – and wished we had more time to stay there!  In addition to the fabulous hiking (usually under raincoats) and the incredible scenery, some highlights of our trip were:

High tea on the Strathspey Steam Railway. This is a 19th century steam engine that takes you twenty miles over a part of the original Highland Railway (from Aviemore to Broomhill and back). We’d booked first-class tickets in advance for the 2:45 pm train. We sat in our own little cabin and enjoyed a copious “tea” as we watched the Cairngorms out the windows. Part of the fun was almost missing the train, as we’d decided we absolutely had to go see Loch Ness in the morning. We’re almost in Aviemore (where the tickets are waiting) when we see signs for the Strathspey Railway. Of course we follow them without thinking and end up in Boat of Garten (a stop on the train). It takes getting out of the car and looking around for me to say, “It’s not here. We’re in the wrong town!” Like two bank robbers, we hop back in the car and race toward Aviemore (getting stuck behind a tractor, of course) – we make it just in time. Really, just in time!

 

Breakfast at the Auld Alliance Guest House. The owner, Lydie Bocquillon, is a French chef trained in Burgundy – this shows through even at breakfast. I was glad to stay two nights so I could try both the scrambled eggs with smoked trout (reminiscent of the thick smoked salmon from the Pacific Northwest) and the egg and spinach cocotte with Isle of Mull cheese. The “cocotte” was full of flavor and the egg was perfectly cooked – amazing!

The four-poster bed and view of Eilean Donan Castle out our window at the Loch Duich Hotel near Dornie. Though the owners were a bit distant and the room/bathroom a bit shabby, the breakfast was decent. The majestic wooden bed and excellent view were worth it.

 

The local pubs. We especially liked The Silver Fjord in Kingussie and their house red, a California merlot called the Furious Boar – it’s the name I liked best. The Clachan in Dornie was also one of our favorites for the lively atmosphere and friendly people.

The villages Plockton and Killin. Plockton is a small village on Loch Carron, near Kyle of Lochalsh and the Isle of Skye. We found it by chance and enjoyed wandering through the main street one evening before dinner at the Plockton Hotel. Here, we watched the boats on the bay and found a random chess set out in the rain. In Killin, we stopped to pick up sandwiches and take photos of the Falls of Dochart.

 

I have lots more stories from Scotland, but I’ll leave you there for now. For the moment, it’s not raining here in Glasgow, so I better go take advantage!

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