We drove to Portree in the Isle of Skye, where we loved our stay at Gleann an Ronariche B&B. Stuart was so accommodating, and quite a good cook. The breakfast was the most elaborate of any on our trip, and the rooms are delightful with his murals on the wall. We asked Stuart the best places to go in Skye, and he said, “Take your map and drop your finger at any place in Skye, and THAT is the most beautiful place to go!” And we found he was absolutely right!
We drove completely around the large Isle of Skye and the scenery is BEAUTIFUL, with huge mountains covered with soft green grass and shaggy Highland Cows and literally millions of sheep. In most places the mountains had no trees, but some forests were scattered here and there. There are wonderful hikes and biking all around Skye, and outfitters and tours are there for booking in advance. The tall stone cliffs near Staffin overlook the rocky shore on the Sea of Hebrides (North Atlantic) and are ruggedly enticing, picturesque, and extremely windy. This is a volcanic area from ages ago, and scientists have found huge three-toed Hadrosaur dinosaur tracks here. Near Staffin is a replica of an ancient Scottish village with interesting little stone houses and farming implement. It is worth stopping to appreciate how very hard life was in these highlands and still is. We stopped at the Port of Uig to see the ferries to the Hebrides Islands. Plan ahead because Ferry reservations are necessary.
A few miles below Portree we watched for the small sign pointing the way to the famous Fairy Pools. We had to drive up into the western highlands and through pastures on a one-track road to Glenbrittle, which cuts a belt across the The Cullins mountains, the source of the River Brittle. We finally found the place, barely marked. It is in an enormous valley. The nearest town to the Fairy Pools is Carbost. This glacial valley is covered with lush grasses and singing streams flowing down the mountains in many places to a larger river in the valley bottom. Waterfalls, large and small, are everywhere! The waters in Skye all run a bit red on waterfalls because of the iron ore in the ground. The Fairy Pools are wherever the waterfalls land. Many brave souls dare to swim in this very cold water! We hiked carefully down the little trail to see the first and largest waterfall, crossed the deep grass with soggy peat beneath it, and tiptoed through muddy bogs to the water’s edge, the first Fairy Pool. The hillside seemed so steep to us seventy year old flat-landers and there were many waters below us, but we chose to be satisfied with this beautiful spot. A small flock of sheep strolled to graze and drink nearby. Families and kids of all ages love spending a whole day on this mountainside!
After several hours of driving through beautiful scenery, descending in altitude, we arrived at the Bridge of Orchy Hotel, which is a center for great hiking tours through valley and steep mountains. We were not hiking, but the many back-packers reported that they loved it, even in rain. Everywhere the natural landscape is amazingly beautiful!
We drove through the beautiful Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park on the West side of the very long Loch Lomond, the largest water source in Great Britain. This narrow, winding road leads to the town of Gartocharn just outside Alexandria and Balloch. Our Ardoch Cottage B&B was charming, and our hosts are a pleasant couple who gave great advice about the best way to spend our two days there. We had a sunny day of delightful temperatures, so they advised we first climb The Dumpling for the best viewpoint of the area. We hurried to do so because the weather changes from sun to rain quite frequently. The short but steep hike through woods and pasture felt good after our long drive. Then we went to The House of Darrach nearby for the best meal of any we had in Scotland. This is a lovely Tea Room Restaurant in a wonderful shop containing an array of items from clothing to foods. Lunch was a carvery (today it was ham and turkey) and a nominally priced, delicious buffet of many hot vegetables: always potatoes (both mashed and boiled ”tatties”), mashed turnips (“neeps”), peas, cauliflower cheese casserole, carrots, bread and sauces for a nominal price. Every bite was delicious!
We spent two grand days of sightseeing in the area, which included much of Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park. About halfway, the beautiful hills of soft, light green grass became dark green forests of huge cedars, sequoias, pines, and deciduous trees. The understory is literally a dense forest of ferns about six feet high. This is gorgeous countryside.
We stopped in Aberfoyle for coffee and pastry, but we were fortunate to find The Scottish Wool Centre just in time for the last demonstration of how border collie dogs are trained to herd the sheep. We watched fascinated as the young dog herded the sheep into pens, making each one go into the correct stall. The shepherdess showed how he is trained by herding ducks that run, not just waddle. He herded them into a series of inclined platforms, pools, and “bridges” and back into their pen. She explained each of six kinds of sheep to us and showed us how their wool and its uses differ according to the texture and softness. Everyone was enthralled with this live demonstration, which is repeated several times each day!
We continued up to see the 1882 Sir Walter Scott steamship on Loch Katrine. It is over 100 feet long and was brought up here in the 1960’s in pieces by teams of Clydesdale horses and reassembled here. You can take one or two hour rides on this smaller lake, but we arrived too late to cruise. The scenic drive and/or hikes along the way are well worth it. On our return drive we stopped at the little village of Dryden, which has a lot of nightlife in the popular pubs, so we chose The Ptarmigan for some really good pun food.
On our last day we had a few hours in Edinburgh before our flight, so we left our car and took the comfortable, clean commuter train to avoid traffic and parking problems. We walked the fascinating lower level of the city, taking many pictures and enjoying a wonderful meal at one of the many pubs on Rose Street. We climbed up the very steep hill to Edinburgh Castle, but we just missed the last tour at 4:30 p.m. We perused the Tartan Weaving Mill Shop nearby, which during the day has demonstrations of weaving and production of many of the products for which Scotland is famous, from bagpipes to whiskey. We so wished we had arrived earlier with more time… Hopefully, that will be on our itinerary next time. We found Scotland to be a very special place, truly like traveling through a wonderful Fairy Tale!