The day after Christmas, Connor and I loaded up a rental car and took off for the mountains and lochs of the Scottish Highlands. After a full day driving, we arrived near Lochgoilhead and settled into one of the best Airbnbs of the last couple years. Our hosts converted an old stable into a gorgeous eco tiny home (she is an architect) and it’s now a Grade II listed building. Fresh baked sourdough, a fire in the stove, piles of wool blankets, and a puppy named Pixie greeted us. We immediately regretted not booking the place for more than two nights.
Anna and her husband gave us great recommendations for exploring their area and we packed the following day with hikes and scenic drives. We hiked the Cobbler, explored Puck’s Glen – as close to a rainforest as I’ll probably get – and checked out the tallest waterfall in Scotland (Falls of Falloch – it’s not that tall, but was still cool). We ended the day with a trip to Fyne Ales Brewery and brought a couple bottles back to the Airbnb to try.
TIP: if you plan to visit Scotland, they have a zero tolerance drinking and driving law. Fyne Ales would only serve Connor a half pint of a 3% ABV beer because he was driving. After experiencing the roads it makes sense. Compromising your reflexes even the slightest bit could mean the difference between life or death. Single track roads with blind turns and crazy fast locals are even more ominous in the pitch black night when you know there are rivers on both sides of the shoulderless road.
En route to the Isle of Skye a couple days later, we passed through Glen Coe. I’ve been stalking Scottish photographers on Instagram for long enough to know that this area would be stunning. It did not disappoint. Every new bend in the road had me yelling “WOW!” like a complete fool. I’m not often at a loss for words. I learned this morning that the area was frequently used for filming Harry Potter scenes so if you want a glimpse into the vast mountainous area, maybe it’s time for a movie marathon.
Just before the bridge to the Isle of Skye is Eileen Donan Castle, jutting out into the loch.
We spent two nights in Heast on the Isle of Skye in a shepherd’s hut (also Airbnb). This thing was decked out with space savers and thoughtful details, and we were impressed at how much could fit inside such a tiny space. There was even a mini kitchen!
Our hostess kindly and firmly requested that we not feed the donkeys, leaving us wondering why so many people would be so bold as to interfere with farm feeding routines. We quickly discovered that the donkeys were rather persistent. We would take Penny out for a “quick wee” (as they say) before bed and all of a sudden the donkeys were bearing down upon us. I snatched up the dog and raced up the steps of our hut, laughing and squealing, and the donkeys just followed me the whole way. I peeked out and gave them some friendly pats, and they were really very sweet, but I honestly think they would have climbed the stairs behind me had I allowed it. This continued for the duration of our stay.
Once, in the middle of the night, the whole hut started shaking violently. The donkeys were outside scratching themselves against the corners and the railing. That was rather alarming. Tipping over our hut didn’t seem that impossible, especially with the help of the insane wind gusts.
We had one full day to explore the island (not nearly enough time) so we started out early for the Old Man of Storr. A surprising number of people were already there hiking in the middle of a wicked wind storm. It rained on and off as clouds whipped around the basalt rock formations, and most of my photos from this adventure are blurry or streaked with raindrops. I couldn’t keep two feet planted firmly on the ground let alone steady a camera. Despite the trying conditions, it was definitely worth the hike and one I hope to do again someday. The views were stunning and the atmosphere eerie. Some call it Tolkeinesque.
From the Old Man, we drove to the Fairy Pools. I can see how this would be a magical place on a calm day and a great spot to stop and eat lunch or jump in the water. On this day, however, the Black Cuillin Mountain Range behind the pools loomed menacingly over the waterfalls and bright blue water, and with the wind gusts and the brilliantly bright setting sun, I felt like an intruder in a terrible heavenly battle. Wind vs. Mountains vs. Rain vs. River vs. Sun. We were worn out from battling the elements and had a nice evening play cards in our hut. Poor Penny spent all day in a backpack because she couldn’t handle the wind.
Few places compare to the beauty of this part of the world. We wished we had more time to drink it all in, and found that we spent much more time in the car than we anticipated. Roads are narrow, windy, and few and the going is slow. Especially when you wish you could stop around every bend for 30 minutes of mountain gazing.
We were surprised at the amount of water, too. Obviously we expected to see the lochs and we knew fishing to be more common than in England, but we weren’t expecting so many rivers and streams and waterfalls. The whole area seemed to be one giant boggy flatland sectioned off by mountain ranges. The mountains are completely unlike the Rockies; not nearly as large, but somehow more menacing. We noticed that all civilization is at sea level – roads, houses, towns – nothing is built on the mountains themselves. They are untouchable, or uninhabitable, somehow sacred and safe from human interference. We loved it.