Just before Skye we stopped at Eilean Donan Castle, another scene straight out of a fairy tale, that I'd been looking forward to for a very long time. (If, like me, you're a fan of the 1986 film Highlander starring Christopher Lambert & Sean Connery, you'll recognize it.) You might also recognize it as the most photographed castle in Scotland…because it is THAT scenic (of course it has an Instagram account! - I follow their various social media pages just to look at the photos they post daily!) What's different about this castle is that it is still owned by a family, who lives onsite, and rooms are decorated with antiques and memorabilia. (It feels like someone's house - and they don't allow photos of the interior.) We had delicious pastries and coffee in the café (with an art gallery full of beautiful photos people have taken of the castle!) then crossed the bridge to Skye.
First stop was the Fairy Pools. I'll admit, finding them was a bit of a challenge (not really well-marked) until we actually got there, but I can think of far worse places to be a little bit lost! It was worth the effort, because we had a really memorable (and wet) hike (thank goodness for our rain gear!)
|Scottish Gaelic on all the signs out this way!|
We hiked about an hour out along the trail, which included a river crossing! Unlike the time we had to ford 2 rivers in Iceland (when I did chicken out at the 2nd river) I was able to cross this one with hubby's help. It involved leaping across slippery rocks and hoping he would catch me - the rocks were pretty far apart! I can't say I love doing that, but it felt like an accomplishment!
To give hubby a break from driving for a day, I had arranged to spend the day with Donald from Skye Scenic Tours. He's a local with a 9 seater van and a great sense of humor, and we had a super day with him. We spent the day with a really nice German couple and a retired British couple (the husband was a retired professor with the SMOOTHEST accent - my son at one point said it was the most amazing voice he'd ever heard!) So, we're not big tour bus kind of people, but to ride along with a local who showed us spots we might not have found on our own (like that dinosaur footprint out on a rocky beach) and who gave us history and personal commentary as we drove, was fun and worth it. My little one got to ride up front, and dazzled our driver and our new friends with the Scottish Gaelic she had learned from our library's online learning program. She absolutely beamed when he complimented her! (Proud mama in the back was smiling ear to ear too.) I didn't get a good photo of the Old Man of Storr, but here are some of the other favorite places he brought us:
|Waterfall & Kilt Rock|
The answer is sing, right? Olaf would break into song? I wouldn't blame him - it's so beautiful!
|Can you see the dinosaur footprint? (3 toes in the center of the pic.) At An Corran, Staffin Beach|
|The Quiraing. Absolutely outstanding! (Stardust was filmed here.)|
|Exploring the Fairy Glen|
|This path was down a tiny road and came out to a view of Dunvegan Castle, where we had lunch.|
|Over the course of the day, C picked up a sheep stuffed animal, and asked Donald for a good Scottish name for it. He chose Morag. Here she is showing the local sheep her new friend Morag. Clearly they are not impressed.|
|Hiking up to the Dun Beag - a prehistoric roundhouse.|
This was the path we walked back down to the ferry terminal.
|Beautiful Raasay House where we stayed and had a lovely dinner|
From Raasay, we had another scenic ferry ride on Caldonian MacBraye Ferries (CalMac) back to Skye, and from there we headed South. We drove through many villages and towns along coastal roads I wish we'd had more time to explore, like Oban, before finding down a winding single-lane country road, the tiny hidden ferry terminal we were convinced might not exist. The ferry ride was especially fun because the captain invited us up to show us how he piloted the ferry using a joystick. He was so kind and friendly, and gave us advice on what to see & do on Isle of Arran! The Scots are such lovely people.
Isle of Arran
This was quite possibly my absolute favorite place of the entire trip, and I could have spent another week exploring it! My "must-see" on the island was the Machrie Moor standing stones, while hubby wanted to tour the Arran Distillery, which makes outstanding whisky. I had booked a swanky resort/spa, the Auchrannie Resort, where we stayed for 3 nights. It was just perfect and I'd go back in a heartbeat. The staff was so helpful, the food was excellent (wish I'd gotten a pic of the breakfast buffet!) the pool was huge, and the activities were so great that we wished we had known about them ahead of time - they had gorge walking, climbing, segway tours, abseiling, mountain biking, archery, and sea kayaking, plus a children's play barn where my daughter played for a bit. We spent our one FULL day there exploring the island, and found an excellent lunch outside next to the Arran Brewery (I can't seem to find a name of the café, but it was very good!) The children did an island Scavenger Hunt, which we found in a small shop, and I helped them find the clues in Lochranza while hubby took his distillery tour & tasting just down the road! It was really quite fun - the clues took us to signs in the village, or the old castle ruins where we had to find letters engraved in stone. I also fell in love with Arran Aromatics while we were there (I brought some back as gifts as well as some fabulous lavender & tea tree lotion for myself!
These are pics from the Machrie Moor - it is accessed from a farmer's field, so to get to it, you walk through fields upon fields of sheep (and their droppings - wear boots because it's impossible not to step in it!)
The standing stones did not disappoint!
After the moor walk, we drove down to the southern edge of the island where we found a local butcher who has a brother in Connecticut. We had almost stayed in this town at a nearby hotel, but I was so very glad I had chosen Auchrannie Resort, because nothing came close to it!
Lunch in Brodick on a beautiful day!
Isle of Arran has a huge red deer population - they were everywhere! They also have red squirrels, but we didn't find any!
More views on my walk with the kids around Lochranza - such a charming village!
Finding scavenger hunt clues!
After our scavenger hunt at the castle ruins, we walked back to the café at the Arran Distillery for tea time and some shopping! Seriously, such a great day!
Coming back to Brodick at dinnertime, we watched the CalMac Ferry glide past GoatFell, the beautiful mountain overlooking Brodick Castle, and the children rode a few amusement rides at the shore. We also smiled as we watched a college-aged guy playing bagpipes which moved a mum nearby to start highland dancing!
We ended the day with a picnic dinner and frisbee on the lawn of the resort, followed by a good long swim in the spa pool before calling it a night! (Remember, the sun would rise around 4am, and didn't set there until 10pm, so we had some very long & memorable days!)
The island was just so enchanting. They call it Scotland in miniature, and I can see why. If you're ever considering a visit, it' s a quick & easy ferry ride (but do reserve in advance if you're bringing a car!) and not far from Glasgow. I wish we'd had time to climb GoatFell, wish we'd have done some of the adventure activities at Auchrannie, had more time to shop the darling little shops, visited Brodick Castle, the Heritage Museum, and the Mogabout Safari tour. There's so much to do it really deserves more of a week than just the 3 days I had planned. The ferry ride back was smooth and the ship sold the Cobb Mutiny Bars that we had fallen in love with back in the highlands (yes, I bought out the entire supply at the ship's café that morning to bring home with me!)
(For those of you who asked, yes, I did kind of look for Sam Heughan in Glasgow, but I didn't find him. Apparently he wasn't at the Glasgow Botanic Gardens where we had our picnic lunch. He was probably busy filming somewhere.)
So now we've finished the last of the tea we brought back, and the last Cobbs Bakery Mutiny Bar is ready to be shared at dessert this evening. The whisky, somehow, has managed to multiply into a 2nd bottle, which I take to be Scottish math, or a testament to how good it is! Scotland, like much of the UK, is very special to me. In many ways it reminds me of growing up in Canada. There's something more to it than that though, it still feels more untouched, more genuine, more steeped in tradition. There is inspiration everywhere; castles and hairy cows, mountains, lochs and fairies in the glen, sheep, rivers, delicious woolens, mist, hearty food and hearty drink, and time for tea.
I recognize that part of what made the trip so important to me was that it was a part of the grieving process after losing my dad the week before we left. I thought of him, talked to him, and I felt like he was there with me. Turns out it was exactly what I needed.