If the first day in the Highlands in Scotland wasn’t packed with enough memories to create a Shutterfly photo book, the second day just turned that into a full-length motion picture.
We visited the most photographed castle in the British Isles, ate Scottish ice cream, gazed at a waterfall, and hung out at the most famous loch in the world.
And it started with breakfast.
The Berkeley House, where we had stayed the night, provided a great breakfast the next morning, complete with a nice selection of cereals and breads, and the option to order a full breakfast.
So in Scotland — as in Ireland and England — there’s something called a full breakfast. It comes with eggs, often scrambled, back bacon, link sausage, buttered toast, baked beans, maybe a grilled tomato or mushrooms, sometimes haggis, and on occasion you might get a slice of black pudding. I only ordered it once — back in Edinburgh — and it’s a lot to eat at once. Here, at the Berkeley House, I just opted for fruits and yogurt.
We met up with our tour bus from Timberbush Tours and headed out to explore another part of the Highlands — really, the highlight of the two-day adventure.
We were extremely fortunate with the weather. I was worried Scotland was going to be fiercely cold — and the Highlands even worse. It turned out that we had blue skies and sunshine, even in northern Scotland. Our tour guide, Marty, said it’s only this clear and sunny about 50 days out of the year — and we were lucky enough to catch it like this on our trip.
Our first stop was the famous Eilean Donan Castle (above, first) located on a small tidal island where three lochs — Loch Duich, Loch Long and Loch Alsh — meet in the western Highlands. The castle itself overlooks the Isle of Skye and is surrounded by the forested mountains of Kintail. It’s pretty spectacular.
This castle is one of the most photographed icons of Scotland — and one of the most photographed castles in all of the United Kingdom. It’s not unusual to see it on shortbread tins, postcards, calendars and whisky bottles.
This 13th-century stronghold of the Clan Mackenzie and its ally, Clan Macrae, was rebuilt between 1919 and 1932 and included the construction of an arched bridge to give easier access to the island. A visitor’s center opened in 1998 — and there’s even a live webcam there, too. (The castle was featured prominently in “Highlander.”)
We walked around the castle, much of it restored and rebuilt, and took a ton of photos and selfies (as you do), before heading to Loch Ness in search of the mysterious creature fabled to live there.
But first, we had to eat!
We stopped at Fort Augustus, a small village at the southwest end of Loch Ness with a population of roughly 650. As you could probably guess, this town relies heavily on the visitors to the loch, made famous for its cryptid resident.
We ate lunch at Scots Kitchen, ordering beef nachos (above, first) and roast beef with veggies and potatoes. I was surprised to see nachos on the menu at a Scottish restaurant. And even though it wasn’t your traditional American-style dish, it was completely addictive. The beef tasted a lot like taco meat, with the cheese and red onions a perfect complement. I thoroughly enjoy it.
Loch Ness (above, first) is the second largest loch in Scotland by surface area but, because of its insane depth (755 feet at its deepest point), it is the largest by volume. This one loch contains more fresh water than all of the lakes in England and Wales combined. It’s best known for the monster, affectionately known as “Nessie,” which allegedly lives here, along with European eels, northern pike, white sturgeon and a variety of trout and char.
Loch Ness also serves as the lower storage reservoir for the Foyers’ pumped-storage hydroelectric scheme, which is designed to “soak up” excess power generated by wind and wave farms, using it to pump water up to a reservoir. Turbines here were originally use to provide power for a nearby aluminum smelting plant. Now, the electricity generated supplies the National Grid.
The lochs have locks, too (above, second and third). Opened in 1822, the lock system is part of the 60-mile Caledonian Canal that links Inverness to Fort William. The canal was originally built to provide a shortcut for merchant skippers between the east and west coasts of Scotland.
Of course, visitors flock here for one purpose: to see if they can spot the infamous Loch Ness Monster.
This large, reptilian creature lurking in the loch has been urban legend since 1933. Evidence of its existence has been largely anecdotal, with the occasional photos and sonar readings suggesting that something big — really big — does live down there. We didn’t see it — but that doesn’t mean we don’t believe it’s down there!
After visiting Loch Ness, we headed to Pitlochery for a nice walk to the Falls of Bruar, a series of waterfalls on the Bruar Water (above, first three). While today this area is heavily wooded, it was once sparse and barren. This gorge is a living memorial to the poet Robert Burns, who came here in 1787 to admire these falls. He wrote, “The Humble Petition of Bruar Water,” in which he urged the 4th Duke of Atholl to plant its bleak banks with trees. Larch and Scottish pines were planted in the 18th century, only to be cut down during World War II. After the war ended, trees were replanted in the area. You can see Scots pine, hybrid larch, fir and spruce.
It’s a short but scenic walk to the waterfalls — maybe about 15 minutes — with a nice bridge to best view it. The natural waterfalls has been attracting visitors since the 1720s, and it continues to be a popular destination for travelers.
After the walk, we wandered around the nearby House of Bruar, a collection of retail departments including a 15,000-square-foot food hall that showcases the best of Scottish foods and drinks — including locally made ice cream.
If that’s not the best way to end a two-day tour to the Highlands, I don’t know what is.
Thank you to Timberbush Tours and our guide, Marty (above), for taking us on this magical two-day adventure into the Highlands. Definitely a highlight of our trip to Europe!