If you read my posts about Copenhagen, then you know that I was determined not to travel anywhere even remotely hot this summer. I would say we definitely succeeded in beating the heat this summer since the weather in Copenhagen was certainly pleasant and the weather during our 4 days in the Scottish Highlands was borderline chilly.
The scenery in the Highlands was truly some of the most dramatic and breathtaking landscapes I’ve ever seen. Part of the charm is how uninhabited the area is with the primary residents appearing to be sheep and cows. Our original plan was to stay somewhere different every night while driving the whole North Coast 500, a 500 mile route that goes in a circle along the coast of northern Scotland. We changed our mind and decided to stay put in one place about 15 minutes outside of Inverness and then jet off on day trips.
Day 1 – Whisky Tour
Since the husband’s birthday happened to be during this trip, I figured I better be a good wife and book a private whisky tour for him. The weather promised to be decent (albeit cool), and I decked myself out in 3 of my favorite LTS pieces, plus my BR skinnies.
Our guide picked us up near Inverness and off we went for a day of exploring the east coast of the Highlands. Since 9:30 is a bit early to start swigging whisky (at least in my book), we first stopped in Beauly to take a look at the priory ruins which date back to 1230.
Next, we meandered toward our first distillery all the while taking in some lovely scenery.
Overall, we visited 3 distilleries – Dalmore, Glenmorangie and Balblair. I don’t care much for whisky as it’s a bit too strong for my taste but all of these distilleries were in lovely locations and the scenery along the way was quite nice as well. While I was mostly just along for the ride, I did enjoy the guided tour of the Dalmore distillery and found it novel that I was able to try a Scotch at Balblair that was older than me. And I do have to admit that I finally found a whisky that I liked at Balblair.
Day 2 – Driving west on NC500 to Applecross and Torridon
After being driven around by a local the day before, we were eager to hit the road and test
our my husband’s luck at driving on the left side of the road. He did a very good job driving and if I ever felt like he needed it, I would exclaim “Left left left”!! I’m sure he really appreciated that. We set off on the NC500 route from Inverness with our sights set on Applecross. Population: a whopping 544! The scenery we’d seen the day before was pretty but was rather tame compared to what we were about to see.
The day started off with very promising bright blue skies and sunshine. We stopped for a quick photo op with the hay baley thingies that I always love seeing so much whenever I’m near farmland.
It’s about 80 miles from the Inverness area to Applecross but it takes 2.5 hours. Much of the reason for this is the stretch on the Bealach na Ba road (meaning Pass of the Cattle in Gaelic) – a famous, extremely narrow single track road that snakes its way up a mountain to 2,054 feet (626 meters) before descending down into Applecross. I had never heard of or been on a single track road before this trip. Turns out it means it’s (just barely) wide enough for one car. There are plenty of small “passing turnouts” that you can wedge your car into in order to allow an oncoming vehicle to squeak by. This is not the best quality picture since I’m obviously taking it from inside the car but it gives you an idea of the puny size of the road.
As you can see, our bright blue skies had vanished in favor of rain, fog and clouds. Undeterred, I threw on my scarf and jacket and hopped out the car to check out a pretty waterfall. Can you see the patches of heather behind me? It was just starting to bloom.
On a clear day, the views are supposed to be spectacular from the summit of the Bealach na Ba road. Alas, we were enveloped in clouds and rain by the time we made it to the top and couldn’t see a thing. Once we were safely down the mountain pass and had arrived at the water’s edge, we ducked into the Applecross Inn for a comforting and delicious lunch. The people watching proved to be superb as there were some men at the bar all decked out in their kilts (I’m guessing for a wedding).
While the people watching was great, we unfortunately weren’t able to see the Isle of Skye or other islands from Applecross thanks to the moody weather. Undeterred, we drove back down the pass and were greeted with some interesting views as the clouds were starting to lift.
Here’s another picture of the single track road. See that little car to the left inching its way up?
We thought about calling it a day but I suggested we drive toward Torridon. I had heard the Torridon Hotel did a nice afternoon tea and a hot beverage and some treats certainly sounded enticing on this gloomy day. This ended up being a fabulous plan! The hotel not only had a beautiful, comfortable interior but also had gorgeous surroundings and a very friendly staff. While we sipped our drinks and nibbled on our tea sandwiches, scones and other treats, we enjoyed the view of Loch Torridon and the local cows out the window. It was quite relaxing and I’d highly recommend popping in if you’re ever in the area.
Here’s a better look at the lovely view from where we were sitting in the hotel.
On our way back, I had to stop for a photo of the cute sheep grazing on the hillside.
And this was one of our last views of the day. Stunning, right?
Day 3 – Exploring Loch Ness
What I Wore: 38″ Inseam Grey Jeans from I Love Tall, Striped Tee from LTS, J.Crew Downtown Field Jacket, New Balance Shoes
This day, we awoke to 30 mph/50kmh winds and somewhat chilly temps. I was beginning to wonder – does Scotland even have a proper summer? We drove south to Loch Ness with high hopes of seeing the monster Nessie (kidding). We stopped to take a look at the Urquhart Castle ruins which are situated overlooking the loch. If you want to stop here, it’s a good idea to arrive right when it opens like we did. By the time we left, the parking lot was completely full and cars were backed up waiting for a parking spot.
Trying to tame my windblown hair to no avail.
We continued driving along Loch Ness and I would say this picture from Fort Augustus pretty much sums up the day – grey grey grey. And no – I did not put a black/white filter on this photo. It really was that grey!
Day 4 – Back to the west coast
So it turns out I didn’t take any outfit photos on the 4th day (except for one quick snapshot before dinner). Oops! I guess you’ll just have to settle for some nice pics of the west coast. Our first destination was Ullapool, a fishing village with a population of around 1500. Believe it or not, it is one of the biggest towns for miles around!
Actually, let me back up a bit. On our way to Ullapool we made a little pit stop and took a walk to the Corrieshalloch Gorge and Falls. It was SO windy and my silly husband hadn’t brought a jacket so the other people in their very sensible rain coasts, hoods, hats, boots, gloves etc. were looking at us like we were aliens. Oh well!
OK…back to Ullapool! This was our view while eating a lazy and lovely lunch at The Arch Inn. I loved watching the little boats sway to and fro with the tide and wind.
After this, I convinced the husband to drive a bit more of the NC500 toward Poolewe because the weather was much more clear than the day we had gone to Applecross and I was dying for some sea views. Thankfully, I was not disappointed! I was also quite happy to see more of the blooming heather!
These sheep sure have it good…sea breezes, yummy grass, pretty scenery!
Here are a few more scenes from our drive back.
That night for dinner in Inverness, I wore my BR trench coat to ward off the rain and cold.
After 4 days in the Scottish Highlands, my overall impressions are: fabulous seafood, friendly locals, stunning scenery, great whisky (if you’re into that) and wacky weather! It was certainly a special and memorable trip and we survived driving on the left side of the road! Phew!
Have you ever been to Scotland? Did you make it up to the Highlands? Do you like exploring uninhabited places or are you more into city stays?