What moves you? What moments have changed the course of your life, for better or unexpected? Is there a recognizable instance – a flash bang or a slow simmer that lit a raging fire – in your life when you can look back and say this – THIS – was the time and the place when I looked around and within me and said there’s nowhere I’d rather be in this very moment and no one I’d rather be with?
Belief in something greater, a guiding hand or a gentle nudge, a choice that takes you on a path less traveled that is fate, or higher power, God, or man-inspired, you know what you believe. I know what I believe. I wasn’t raised on reincarnation, I don’t really believe in past lives, and yet. Yet. What do you call it when somewhere that is a place I’ve never been called to me and, immediately, felt like coming home? I call it Scotland.
I have no Scottish roots. Ancestry.com tells me I am mostly Eastern European, with a dash of Western Europe thrown in for good measure. And somehow, against even the data, I feel like there’s a part of me that rides the wave of plaid and sleeps among the heather in the wilds of the Scottish moors.
The first time I traveled to Scotland, I was fresh from finishing the historical novel series “Outlander” by Diana Gabaldon. High on Jamie Fraser and his deep rooted love and life affair with Claire Beauchamp Randall, I traveled from England into Edinburgh and onto the Highland town of Inverness. I walked the lonely fields of Culloden, keeping time with tall waving grasses and weathered stone grave markers. It was a somber site. I churched in town and trod the path, as best I was able given the company I was in, of the novels. And all that time, I was in awe. In awe of a rugged land SO immense and desolate, green and vast, sparsely populated in some places, teeming with Scottish brogues and bagpipes in others. It felt…right. And I knew I’d go back.
And so I did.
One fine May, with a different companion, I journeyed anew, deeper into the fairy glens and waterfalls of the Isle of Skye. If you’ve never been, all I can say is what are you waiting for?
The Isle of Skye in spring is a site to behold. Expect weather to be potentially rainy (really, that’s Scotland full stop most any time of the year) so pack accordingly. And by pack accordingly I mean actually pack waterproof, not water resistant, clothes, shoes and socks. Because water resistant means you eventually become a sponge, soaked through and squelching from point to point, removing clothing in bits and turning the car heater on high to dry your socks and everything as fast as possible. Waterproof means you are a duck and the world is your water. Guess which path I walked? Life lesson learned. At least the camera stayed dry. Mostly.
Go there and back again: Fly into Inverness and rent a car. The airport is small and very easy to get in and out of, and the rental car experience (I went with Hertz) was fantastic. I rented a diesel Kia, manual, and mostly acclimated to left handed stick shift. But it does take some practice! If you’re not up to the challenge, ask for an automatic. But diesel is the way to go – so much savings on gas!
You can drive from Inverness to Isle of Skye two ways, and I did both. And both were absolutely incredible. The way in took me along Loch Ness (no monster sightings, unfortunately) and past highlights like Eilean Donan Castle. I arrived too late to tour the castle but the grounds were still open and so very magical in the rainy afternoon with the sky so dark and moody. Plan for extra time for scenic stops and maybe even a few tastings at local Whisky Distilleries that dot the Highlands (like Glen Ord Distillery!).
On the way out I was headed to Glasgow instead of Inverness, which took me by way of Fort William, a delightful Scottish town in its own right. But the most breathtaking, memorable part of this leg was the drive from there through the Valley of Glen Coe. I cannot say enough that this drive is worth the extra time, even if Inverness is your final destination instead of Glasgow. Go that way anyway then double back. You will not regret it.
If Glasgow is your final destination (as it was for me) this link gives you the best points of interest. https://www.watchmesee.com/blog/scenic-road-tripsfrom-glasgow-to-fort-william/
Book in advance: I highly recommend Canowindra http://www.canowindraskye.co.uk/ a luxury B and B near Portree on the Isle of Skye. A+ for everything – from homemade cookies to fresh ground coffee and a French press in the room, locally made lemongrass soap that was so fragrant I had to buy some to take home with me, heated floor tiles in the bathroom and heated drying racks for those wet clothes you’re sure to have. It was truly a first class accommodation and the daily breakfast left nothing to be desired.
Go all day, and all night: Bring hiking shoes you’ve previously broken in, extra socks, and be prepared for rugged hiking and sooooo many waterfalls and ocean views. Pack a picnic lunch. In the summer, the sun sets quite late (around 10PM) which provides ample time to explore all the trails and enchanted corners of this magical place. The popular Trotternish Loop is the drive to take, but allow for LOTS of time to pull over, hike and for weather delays. Some of my absolute favorite spots along this loop (which I did twice) were Old Man of Storr (though sadly it was downpouring during this vertical climb and so much of the mountain was obscured in the mist and I was the sponge (as aforementioned) and not a happy camper), The Fairy Pools (go extra early before the crowds and bring cash for the parking lot), The Fairy Glen (maybe my very favorite spot – something from an enchanted tale, with its green glades and towering rock faces, cragged, twisted trees and aimlessly wandering sheep) and the Sligachan Old Bridge with some great reflections of the surrounding countryside, small waterfalls and a creek bed (however it is adjacent to a car parking lot so expect lots of tourists).
Take the Tour: Dunvegan Castle was pretty cool, but especially make time for the gardens! They were lush and gorgeous and dotted with hidden glades and waterfalls. Buy tickets ahead directly from their website for timed entry. Also, if you are a Whisky fan, the Tallisker Distillery is actually worth the price of admission. Take some time to explore Loch Harport adjacent to the distillery and have lunch in the Old Inn just down the way. For more in depth info on Isle of Skye, I referenced this article a LOT https://www.earthtrekkers.com/isle-of-skye-best-things-to-do/
Taste and see: The traditional food is where it’s at – a full Scottish Breakfast, porridge, Haggis, Sticky Toffee Pudding, locally raised Venison, Beef or Lamb and whatever the fish of the day is (I was obsessed with Hake) or the old standby Fish and Chips (never better). But again, book ahead. Many of the top notch restaurants were not available for day-of dining.
And last, but not least, set your phone map to “avoid tolls and ferries” so you don’t end up unexpectedly driving to a ferry landing where the last boat just left and you have to drive an hour back in the direction from which you just came to take the Skye Bridge back to the mainland. Or do whatever. It’s an adventure, after all.