Hikes and Hangovers: 10 Days in Scotland (Part 1)

Fields of Heather at the base of Buachaille Etive Mòr Mountain, Glencoe.

Fields of Heather at the base of Buachaille Etive Mòr Mountain, Glencoe.

Ah, bonnie Alba. Where do we even begin? As you may know (because we won't stop talking about it) we recently took a sister trip to Scotland. A true jump-in-the-rental-car-with-next-to-no-plans-and-go kind of trip that took us around the whole country in 10 days. Fact: we would both rather move there and explore for years instead of two weeks, but as it so happens, we lead wonderful lives in Canada so we had to make do with what little time we had.  From hikes in the Highlands, to distillery tours in the shires, to nights we don't remember in the cities, it was a trip for the books. So as not to bore you to sleep with a lengthy Scottish love letter (that's a blatant lie, it's incredibly long), we're splitting this post in two. We can all savour it much more this way, and you can take your time writing notes and planning your very own trip over, which we highly recommend! 

Our first leg of the journey was a lovely (long) flight from Vancouver to Glasgow with Air Transat. Despite the fact that there were no screens on the plane, quite possibly the saddest vegan food selection of all time and definitely the worst lighting for photos, we survived. 

Flying in style, as always. 

Flying in style, as always. 

We arrived in Glasgow mid-morning and headed straight to the car rental lobby. We're not sure if it was our rugged good looks (read: greasy hair and undereye bags to rival a sugar skull) or the fact that it was the Budget Rental employee's birthday, but we were upgraded to a luxury car. For all intents and purposes we vehemently refused this generous offer only to be told they simply didn't have any regular cars available at the time and this was our only option. For the rest of our God-given, livelong days, we will never know how we returned that car in one unblemished piece. 

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After driving around the parking lot three times Mr. Bean styles, the entire Budget team came outside & kindly/worriedly showed us the exit, and we set off to Fort William, our first stop on the west coast. Less than an hour in, we had to pull over and sleep. Because we're not 20. Luckily for us, we found a beautiful old church to settle in for some shuteye and a quick photo op. 

Refreshed and reinvigorated, we drove for another 2 hours in awe of the western Scottish Highlands until we reached Fort William. It is a beautiful and quaint town that is a popular tourist destination for its proximity to Ben Nevis to the north, Glencoe to the south, and Glenfinnan to the west. And because we wanted to hit all three of these stops on our 10 day trip, Fort William was just a sleepover this time. We will, however, remember it for the rest of our lives as the town in which we saw our very first (but sadly not last) reality show about penises. Yeah. You read that right. UK reality TV, as we learned, is a whole different ball game that cannot be unseen. 

Take our word and ditch reality television while in the UK.

Take our word and ditch reality television while in the UK.

Despite that somewhat traumatizing experience, we were up bright and early to tour the area and tackle our first hike. We drove out to the Highlands in search of the iconic Lagangarbh Mountaineering Hut in the Ballachulish region of Glencoe, and to say that our breath was taken away when we found it would be a gross understatement. We're just going to let the pictures do the talking because we truly cannot put into words the grandeur and forlorn beauty of the mountain that is Buachaille Etive Mòr. 

We barely talked on this entire hike, partly because we couldn't breathe but mostly because we wanted to absorb (on a cellular level, really) every bit of beauty that surrounded us. It was truly one of the highlights of our trip, and if you ever find yourself in Scotland, put this on your itinerary. Actually, just go ahead and add it to your bucket list. It's a must see in this lifetime. 

We eventually made our way back to the car on a complete high that would see us through the biggest mishap of our trip. The plan was to make it to Portree that evening, the main village on the magical Isle of Skye. As the Isle isn't attached to the mainland, there are only two ways of getting there: by ferry in one direction, and by bridge in the opposite direction. Luckily we had a trusty GPS that would definitely take us the best route, oui? Non. What should have been a 3 hour drive to the bridge took us nearly 7 hours as we ended up at the (closed) ferry terminal, only to have to doubleback the way we came and cross the damn bridge. 

Us crying. 

Us crying. 

But a road trip really wouldn't be complete without getting lost at least once, right? And there is a silver lining here, folks. Our little detour meant that we got to experience one of the best afternoons of our lives in a tiny town called Glenfinnan. Otherwise known as the place where they FILMED HARRY POTTER!!! Well, the train scenes at least. And much like the rest of the country, it was stunning and moody and perfect. 

The Jacobite Steam Train viaduct, aka Harry Potter train tracks, overlooking Glenfinnan & Loch Shiel.

The Jacobite Steam Train viaduct, aka Harry Potter train tracks, overlooking Glenfinnan & Loch Shiel.

Geeking out HP style. 

Geeking out HP style. 

Glenfinnan is divided by one winding road, with the train tracks to the east, and the scenic Loch Shiel to the west.

Jacobite Monument at Loch Shiel, Glenfinnan.

Jacobite Monument at Loch Shiel, Glenfinnan.

We have to say, standing on the shores of the lake had us feeling like we were back home in Vancouver! We didn't stay long, though, as we needed to get to Portree before 2019, so it was a short but sweet pit stop!

The remaining 5 hour, pitch-black drive back consisted of dodging deer and rabbit like our lives depended on it (they did) and listening to so many True Crime Garage podcasts (thanks for keeping us awake and therefore alive, Nic & Captain) that we 100% deserve honourary NASCAR licenses and detective badges. 

We didn't get to see the bridge as we crossed over in the wee hours of the morning but it made for a beautiful surprise when we awoke the next morning. 

Portree is one of the most charming fishing villages you could imagine, with it's vibrantly painted homes against the otherwise melancholy skies. We spent the first day walking around the village, driving around the better part of the Isle, hanging at the local pub and sleeping off the previous night's driving marathon at our sweet Airbnb (thanks Walter & Susan!). We needed to rest up because on Day 2 we were heading out to the one destination we couldn't miss on this trip: the infamous Old Man of Storr hill. We should point out that the word 'hill' is formidably misleading. As in, if you have knee problems or equate your physical fitness level to couch potato or don't want to die from gale winds, you might think twice about doing this hike. But let us tell you, these otherwordly rock formations are so colossal and extraordinary, they are worth starting a new workout regime just so you can do the climb. 

We're not quite sure how you sum up the unparalleled beauty we experienced at Old Man of Storr, but it comes as close to any version of heaven as we can imagine. 

After a chilly descent (being thrown off the top by the insane winds arguably would have been an easier way down) we wasted no time and jumped back in the car en route to our next destination: Inverness. The drive from Portree to Inverness was one of the most picturesque drives of our lives, and we live next to the Sea to Sky, so that is saying A LOT. 

We were even lucky enough to find some wild & free Highland 'Coos' along the way, and we can confirm they are in fact the cutest and sweetest animals on the planet. 

Once the coos tired of our outburst of love, we said our bittersweet goodbyes and ventured onwards to Eilean Donan castle, the last stop before Inverness. (We just heard everyone's collective 'FOR THE LOVE OF GOD THANK YOU LAST STOP')! We're getting tired of writing and know you're getting tired of reading. As a matter of fact, if you made it this far, you deserve a goddamn trophy. 

You earned it. 

You earned it. 

Eilean Donan is one of the most recognizable castles in all of Scotland and is found on a unique island in the Highlands where three different lakes join together. We toured the castle, but no cameras were allowed inside, so you'll have to enjoy these few snaps we got outside and in the lobby.

We'll take this opportunity to pause, save your vision and end Part 1 of the trip! In the next post you can look forward to much less hiking and a lot more drinking. In hindsight, we really not-planned planned that order quite well. Thank you SO much for reading, we really do appreciate your feedback! And we hope we've sparked a fire in you to visit this gorgeous country!

h&h x