With our time at the festival complete we raced out of the city and away from the tens of thousands of people cramming Edinburgh and got up into the Highlands. Our first stop was at Loch Leven, we had no National Trust ladies here to feed us delicious scones, fortunately we found our replacements in RSPB (The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds), who are like the CWA with ducks. The RSPB run a great centre at Loch Leven, after a scones feast in the cafe we hiked up a mountain that overlooked the wetlands and the nearby glider school, we then went for a stroll through the bumblebee meadow and checked out some birds in the wetlands.
All of that morning scone devouring and walking left us with a hunger so we decided to stop in at Stewart Tower Dairy for lunch. As well as being a fully functioning dairy and a restaurant this place had a petting zoo type thing going on out the front which was full of miniature goats, the result of which was Jess spending five minutes talking about ceasing a farm full of only miniature animals… I ate a delicious Ploughman’s Lunch, which seemed fitting as I plow a mean field (Agricola joke) and followed it up with some of their amazing ice cream which is made on site and then we jumped back in the car and headed for Newtonmore in the heart of the highlands.
Newtonmore was a great spot for us, exactly what we needed after Edinburgh, we were made super welcome by our AirBnB hosts David and Katie, could cook for ourselves in our kitchen and had enough space to actually unpack our bags. Plus a mattress we could actually sleep on!
After whipping myself up a nice Scottish breakfast we headed to the village of Arbelour, home of my beloved A’bunagh whiskey. For those not familiar with this whiskey it is amazing, I try to pick up a bottle on all of our trips and always have one on standby in Tassie for when I return, there will likely be one sitting in my office once Chris & Alastair build it for me. Anyway… I really like the whiskey and was excited to visit the distillery where it comes from, to mark the occasion Jess and I embarked on a tour of this hallowed ground and partook in a tasting. We got to check out the spring water they use for their whiskey production, the way they divert some of the local river into their cooling system, their giant copper stills and their warehouses. The tasting was brilliant, we got to try some new spirit (whiskey before it has been barrelled and aged), limited edition sherry & bourbon matured offerings, the 10yo, 16yo and finished with the A’bunagh. Jess sampled a couple of the whiskeys and came through unscathed, however when pressed said that none of them were here favourite… maybe she loved them all equally? The A’bunagh was still my number one, closely followed by the 10yo. Everyone who was either driving or only wanted small samples ended up giving all of their excess whiskey to one guy who was across the table from us, he probably ended up drinking the equivalent of half a bottle. I hope his mates looked after him on their mountain climb that afternoon… We didn’t hear about him on the news so thats something.
After whiskey time we headed back to see our RSPB friends at the Osprey centre, this didn’t start well as this site didn’t have a cafe which meant no scones. We did see the osprey, on a monitor, as well as all manner of other birds. We also got chatting to one of the centre’s volunteers who loaded Jess up with otter tips for the upcoming Isle of Skye trip, Thusfar we were still yet to see an otter in the wild which was one of Jess’s major goals for her time in the UK.
Next stop Dalwhinnie Distillery, home of the famous whiskey tasting paired with hand made chocolates. We didn’t do the tour here having done one earlier in the day and being short on time did the self paced tasting. With this option they give you a board with the tasting notes, your tasting glass which you get to keep and your three accompanying chocolate truffles. In this tasting I tried their new spirit, 10yo and 16yo with the sixteen year old my favourite. On the way out I was going to buy a bottle when I stumbled across a triple matured limited addition which was only available to members of “The friends of the classic malts society”, fortune smiled on me twice as the lady let me have a taste for free and all that membership required was a valid e-mail address. I left Dalwhinnie as the proud owned of one of only six thousand bottles of what has become my all time favourite single malt over the following days.
On the way home we stopped in for a late lunch of some greasy fish and chips, having not eaten all day and sone a couple of whiskey tastings this was very welcome!
The next morning we were very sad to leave behind our little apartment in Newtonmore, I’ll struggle to explain how exciting it was to have a full kitchen and access to a supermarket 200m down the road, we didn’t even have that living in Ramingining the past four years, let alone whilst living out of bags for two months.
Our lovely host Katie left us with one final tip which was to visit the Highland Museum in Newtonmore before heading over to Skye, I’m glad we listened as it was well with a look and in the end we were disappointed we didn’t have time to explore the whole site. As we were in a rush we raced down to the recreated highland village which had been rebuilt in accordance with a nearby archaeological discovery. It was a great experience and walking around you honestly could be mistaken for thinking you had been transported back in time, much like in Outlander the TV series which has been filmed at the site. We also spotted another red squirrel on our way through the site up to the village which was a bonus, in Scotland they aren’t being wiped out by the grey’s yet so there are a few more of them around.
On our way to Skye we drove down past Loch Ness, we didn’t stop at any of the initial visitor centres of viewing platforms because I had done my research and knew that the best views could be found at Urquhart Castle. Unfortunately the castle was crazy busy, cars were lined up to the highway and they wouldn’t even let people join the line, fortunately I pulled over on the side of the road at an amazing spot at the tail end of the Loch, we didn’t see the monster… or the Loch really, but Jess was super impressed as you can see below,
Our last stop en route to Skye was Eilean Donan, traditional home of the Mackenzie clan and their allies the Macreas and a key set in the classic movie Highlander. It was also a great place to steal wifi to get in touch with some people at home, castles are very secure structurally but so far we are yet to find one with a secure wifi network… by standing one floor above the admin area and loitering i have successfully been able to contact home and make bookings in 3/3 Scottish castles.
After a couple of hours we made it to Skyewalker resort, our home for the next three nights. Brian is one of the owners and was an awesome host, he made us feel very welcome and went beyond giving us local tips, he gave us a complete itinerary for our couple of days on Skye. The lodge itself is a great experience and I recommend it to anyone travelling to Isle of Skye, throw into the equation how well you are looked after and all of the info they equip you with and you honestly can’t go wrong! They also don’t mind if you knock back a few cans of Scrumpy Jack (4 for 4 pound) and have been known to serve up free shots of scotch at breakfast to kick start a rainy day. Top class.
The hardest thing to explain about the Isle of Skye is how amazing the scenery and landscape is everywhere you go, below are three shots taken out of the car in our first half an hour of driving on the morning of day 1. Speaking of driving, the roads do get a little bit intense from time to time, there are a lot of single track roads with designated passing places. It can be a bit intense when you come head to head with an oncoming car and have to reverse back down the road but you quickly get used to it. Without question Isle of Skye has been our favourite destination of the holiday so far, if you travel to the UK you should make the effort to get up there, I guarantee you won’t regret it.
Our first stop of the day was the Fairy Glen, we got here early and were the only people on the site. It is a beautiful and eerie place to wander around with it’s calm pools, rugged rock formations, standing stones and concentric circles. The main feature of the area are all of the mounds which rise and fall throughout the glen creating a surreal landscape, it is a bit hard to find and not on most of the maps but we were really glad we got the tip to come and check it out.
Our next stop was The Quirang, one of the most rugged climbs on Skye which perfectly showcases the amazing landscapes for which the region is known. It was an amazing climb across the rock face and we got some amazing pictures, too many to blog! We split up so I could tackle a higher section and Jess could climb up onto one of the stone tabletops, unfortunately Jess got stuck at one point and had to wait for me to come and find her. Me being the hero that I am decided that I would push on through the section Jess was stuck on and come back for her. I wish I got stuck too. I ended up climbing up and down a sheer rock wall before scrambling up a steep field of scree to get to the summit. On arrival I discovered the ridiculous “path” I had followed was not actually a path at all, it was a goat trail. We had taken a wrong turn earlier, unfortunately I couldn’t take the easy path I had to save Jess. I don’t like to ruin the heroic portrayal of myself throughout the blog so I won’t say that I slid/fell down most of the way on my bum. I’ll just say we got down. That small departure aside this was one of the most enjoyable walks we have ever done and the scenery more amazing that could be captured by the camera, it has to be seen to be believed.
After a twisting descent from the mountains we hit the coast and headed for Kilt Rock – A massive 200ft waterfall carved by volcanic magma thousands of years ago. From the viewing platform it was hard to get an angle on it to see the waterfall in it’s entirety but it was very loud and very impressive, as were the sheer cliffs on either side of it. Most of the places we explored on Skye were an adventure to get to with a combination of country lane ways and hiking, this one is 30m off the main road and you could almost see it from the car park which actually detracted from it significantly, we found much less tourists at natural wonders you need to climb mountains to see.
We continued our walking/climbing day at the Old Man of Storr rock formation, you may have seen a Youtube video of a guy mountain biking around Skye’s crazy rocks capes, this was very similar. You will notice that the weather looks pretty amazing for this part of the world in the photos below, unfortunately what you can’t see is a formidable wall of rain powering towards us. We wrapped up here early and headed back to the car in a vain attempt to complete our itinerary for the day without getting soaked.
We headed west to Dunvegan Castle, the seat of the MacLeod clan and the oldest inhabited castle in Scotland, the chiefs of the clan have been in residence here for over 800 years and still live in a wing of the castle that is closed to the public. It is a massive castle and you can tell that it is still lived in, whilst a lot of it has been turned over to the museum it is immaculately maintained and very functional. The museum was incredible and held clan relics such as clan chief swords from throughout history and their most precious relic, the fairy flag. There are two stories regarding it’s origin, one is that was brought back from the crusades by a clan member and the other was that it was bequeathed to the clan by a fairy. What is undisputed is that is has been used by the clan as a battle talisman for over 1000 years and that there are numerous documented instances where battles were turned or impossible victories achieved when the flag was brought onto the field of battle. The castle also had amazing grounds and gardens, we did a quick run around to check them out but as you can see in the below pictures it was starting to get quite damp.
The final destination on our itinerary for the day was Neist Point Lighthouse, a remote lighthouse on a rugged peninsula on the west coast of Skye. It was a treacherous drive to get across to Neist Point as the storm began to bucket down and we lost a bit of visibility but thankfully everyone on the roads slowed down and took it easy to make sure we all got where we were going in one piece.
Being on a peninsula Neist Point is very very vulnerable to high winds, we decided to try and brave a run out to the lighthouse however after a few minutes Jess made the decision she would bail and head back to the car, this exact moment was captured in the first picture below. Jess left me with the words “we’ve come this far one of us should do it” before heading back to the warmth and shelter of the car and leaving me to embark on a twenty minute journey down 300m of steps and over a weird cliff mountain before braving the completely exposed last leg out to the lighthouse. Luckily it was all worth it and I have the selfie of me and the beautiful lighthouse to remember why all of the pain was worthwhile. After being at the bottom for all of ten seconds I decided it was time to return, I tried to run but the path was too slippery and the wind too severe and was running a legitimate risk of ending up in the ocean. This meant waking back slowly and safely in gael force wind and driving rain, by the time I got back in the car I was in shock, I couldn’t talk (Pretty big warning sign with me) and could barely move. After a few minutes in the car I got feeling back in all of my limbs but I wasn’t really warm again until I got back to Skyewalker and Brian was nice enough to share a shot of his new Banana Sambuca with me to close out day one on Skye.
We started our next day with a drive down to the south east coast and the otter hide at Kylehea,we whipped out the binoculars and trekked down to the wildlife hide, which was surprisingly unoccupied at 8am. It was an amazing spot, the hide overlooking the small channel that separates Skye and mainland Scotland has a perfect vantage point for all manner of animals. We were very fortunate and managed to spot a couple of otters hunting and swimming up to the freshwater streams for a drink, we also had a colony of seal playing around on the rocks and hunting which was good to watch.
After the otters we headed down to Armadale and checked out the museum for Clan Donald of Skye, home of the MacDonald clan. As well as finding out about a guy called Raynald MacDonald and admiring the ruins of a castle it was here that we stumbled across Armadale Activities and our axe throwing sensei Matt.
Matt offers a variety of activities such as archery, clay pigeon shooting and air rifles but we figured that being in Scotland we had better opt for axe throwing. Good decision. Our hour session ended up running for an hour and a half and was up there for best activity of the trip. Matt was a guru and helped us a lot with technique and advice, much aided by the fact that he has the exact same voice and accent as Bear Grylls. We started off relatively close and throwing our axes with one full rotation before doubling the distance and getting in two full rotations. By this stage we were both getting axes to stick and were aiming well enough that we could hit playing cards stuck on the targets, sometimes (twice only) even the card that we were aiming for. We also had a crack at ninja stars and some crazy club thing that Jess was an absolute fiend with before moving onto the competition/showdown to conclude the session. Jess won the toss and decided to go first posting a decent score with two solid stuck ninja stars. I came in next and after three throws was in trouble with nothing stuck despite 3/3 axes being on target and making good contact. At this stage I was starting to panic and could already feel the onset of a tantrum, I didn’t want to lose after being on target all session… I remembered Matt’s story about the 5 year old Dutch boy who had a tantrum so bad his parents left him with Matt and went to get ice cream in another village, don’t be that guy Liam. I focussed and managed to stick a ninja star and an axe to take out the title on the last throw, proudly claiming my trophy.
The axe throwing battle was so intense we needed to make a video to adequately capture it’s thrills and spills, I hope you enjoy. If watching Jess throw that club makes you scared don’t worry, everybody feels that way, it’s perfectly normal:
Our final location on the check list was The Fairy Pools, apparently jumping into these is on a lot of the 50things to do before you die type lists and this site was amazingly popular, we had never heard of it before we arrived… Jess definitely had no intention of jumping into the pools, they are fed directly from snowmelt that runs from an adjacent mountain and part of their fame is that the water feels so cold you go into shock. Not her thing she decided. I am much more likely to do something foolish and put myself at 50-50 to go through with it when we left that morning, the result of which was wearing speedos under my hiking gear just incase but not bothering to bring a towel or change of clothes because I probably wouldn’t do it.
To get up to the pools you had to traverse some stepping stones and cross a couple of fast running rivers… as regular crossers of the Blyth and Cadell this wasn’t as big a deal for us as it was for some of the other tourists. We hiked up to the pools past a series of waterfalls that ran into one another down through the valley from the mountain. You can see the mountain in the background of the photo at the bottom of the blog and some of the waterfalls too, it was a nice place to hang out and relax but upon finding the jumping rock I only had one thing on my mind.
After testing the water and making sure the landing zone was clear and I was ok for depth I stripped down to my speedos and climbed onto the jumping rock ready to take the plunge. After some banter with the quickly gathered crowd of onlookers I took the plunge. Rookie mistake. As soon as I hit the water I went into shock, it was so cold it felt like my heart had stopped and I could barely move my limbs, I thought I was underwater for ages, it was about two seconds. I got out of there as quickly as I could and dived back into my clothes. Check it out on the video below, I feel my facial expressions as I exit the water do a good job of demonstrating it wasn’t comfortable. Jess certainly laughed a lot. She still does when remembering.
One of the traditions at Skyewalker Lodge is that anyone who does the jump gets a free shot, Brian and Georgia were feeling generous and in light of how pathetic I looked in the aftermath gave me two shots to warm me up after day two. They also let us know that two of our fellow lodgers were having a bit of a meltdown as they couldn’t get off Skye as all of the busses were booked out and that they urgently needed a lift to make their connection to London, we quickly agreed to take them to Glasgow and just like that we had some hitchhikers for the first leg of what turned out to be an 11 hour drive to Manchester. Yay driving.
It was fairly brutal and we eventually made it to our accommodation in Manchester for the start of our Premier League adventures which will continue in the next edition. Congrats to anyone still reading, sorry for the massive update!! Needed a big one to catch up a bit, only a few days behind now so the blog is no longer lagging weeks behind reality : )
Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed it!!
LF & JT