It finally came. My dream trip to the Scottish Highlands. When we moved to Europe I had a top 5 MUST DO list and this was on it. The only thing that could make it better? My sister and my niece Emily joining. We have visited and lived in a lot of cool places and it’s always nice when people make the effort to come see you and experience what your life is like. They flew into London and hit the ground running, leaving straight away for Scotland. There was a lot to get done in 5 days.
*Before I dive into the gloriousness of Scotland- I want to give a shout out to American Airlines for being the worst airline and customer service ever. They will never get my business again after what they put my family through with their luggage. To put it as plainly as possible- it was lost, separated and not returned to them until they were leaving England.*
I digress. Day 1 we spent driving to Glasgow. We arrived at midnight due to the delay with the luggage situation so our plans to see the city were put off -which I was okay with. The star of this trip was the Highlands anyway. Warning- there will be talk of Outlander ahead. And yes, I did download all the Outlander soundtracks and make my family listen to it on repeat for a week as we drove. I can’t help it.
People said Isle of Skye would be the highlight of my trip but Glencoe gave it a run for its money. Maybe it was because it was the first thing we did so it produced that initial wow moment for me. Maybe it’s because some Outlander scenes were filmed there so it made it more special. Either way this place is a must see when visiting Scotland. I wish I had known to devote more time there. We basically drove through and stopped in at the Three Sisters. They are three stunning mountain ridges overlooking a valley. The car park is right at the viewing point so you can choose to get out and enjoy the view or you can hike. We brought a kite and hoped to do some hiking but that didn’t last long because it started to rain heavily. Being that my sister and niece did not have their luggage they had almost no rain gear with them and no extra clothes for if they got muddy. They ended up buying all new gear the next day because we didn’t want to miss out on any more hiking while waiting for the luggage.
We were running short on time in order to catch the Jacobite train so we had to settle for driving around Fort William and not stopping as we had planned. It was a very picturesque small city and I would love to return.
At Glenfinnan station there is a small dining car that serves cafe food such as soup and toasties. The kids really liked eating here and the food was good. There are not a lot of dining options in the area so this is a good place to grab a bite before exploring.
You can actually ride the Jacobite steam train between Mallaig and Fort William but we settled for watching it pass on the viaduct. It is about a 10 minute walk from the highlander memorial car park and passes at 11 and 3. This train is famous. Not only because it is a steam locomotive traveling through some of Scotland’s most beautiful scenery, but it was used as the Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter movies.
Glenfinnan is where the Jacobite rising began in 1945, led by Prince Charles Stuart. The history of the highlands, the rising and fall of the clan system is simply fascinating. I find it actually quite similar to how the English viewed Native Americans tribes in the new world. Both were viewed as tribal societies or savages.
There is now a memorial here overlooking Loch Shiel in tribute to the Jacobites. The view is amazing. The kids really enjoyed throwing pebbles into the water. It’s the little things that keep them happy.
Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle
On our way to Inverness we got to drive the length of Loch Ness. There are a few little villages along the water that are worth a stop if time permits, all selling cute Loch Ness monster souvenirs, of course. We arrived at Urquhart castle right as it was closing so we only got to take pictures from afar. Something else to put on the list for next time!
This is the capitol of the highlands and such a cute little city. We did not spend much daytime here but walked around a couple evenings along the river Ness, did some window shopping and eating dinner. Our favorite place to eat with the kids was Zizzi; a rare gem that is super kid friendly but also had amazing food.
Not far outside Inverness is the battlefield and museum of Culloden- not to be missed if you love history. This is where the Jacobite rising came to a violent end in 1975. The museum has a gift shop (complete with Outlander souvenirs, yes I shamelessly bought a Jamie Christmas ornament), a cafe, and interactive displays for the kids to enjoy. There are costumes for the kids to dress up in, weapons and artifacts they can touch and a movie depicting the battle, which I realized very quickly was too violent for my oldest son. Oops.
Outside the museum you can walk along the battlefield, visit clan markers, and the memorial Cairn. There are blue flags indicating where the Jacobites were positioned and red flags for the government army. There weren’t many people there the day we visited but we did meet a sweet elderly couple with a three legged dog. They walk the battlefield yearly and pays respect to their heritage, clan Mackintosh.
Carter napped the whole walk. Kellan is my curious child and probably did not stop talking the entire time. He wanted to know every detail of the battle, who lost and won, where they are today and what happened to their families. I thankfully had a good base knowledge of the history but even that was not enough for him since he is still not fully understanding what it means to me killed. I do love that he has such inquisition for old things, history and battles.
Eilean Donan Castle
We have been to many castles since we moved to Europe. I mean, a lot. Eilean Donan absolutely gets to be in my top 5 faves. This place is stunning. A 13th century castle, it was built as a protective measure against the Vikings and aided in the Jacobite rising. What I learned is that it housed Spanish soldiers that were supporting the Jacobites, so the government bombarded the castle and it sat destroyed for 200 years before being rebuilt.
You can spend a good bit of time here just walking around, touring the castle ( a lot to see inside), eating lunch at the cafe, and shopping at the gift shop. The kids had a great time simply walking around the waters edge, under the bridge, and throwing pebbles. Give my kids water, rocks and rain boots and they are happy.
I was really excited to show Emily and Jess their first castle. Emily has a really great imagination but also old enough to understand more things than my boys do. Something I like to tell my boys when we visit castles is that we have to find the dragon and slay him. It’s just a way to make it fun for them being that they usually have to walk slowly, be quiet and not touch anything. For whatever reason, Kellan took this occasion very seriously and was on a mission to find a dragon. This poor Scottish woman sat and listened to him forever as he went on and on with questions on where the dragon may be hiding. So patient! Scottish people are so friendly.
Unfortunately, pictures were not allowed inside the castle. I was trying to keep mental notes of all the great displays they had. Many weapons and maps marking the timeline of the Jacobites. The decor was very detailed with extravagant furnishings. You will even see a lock of hair from Bonnie Prince Charles. Kinda weird but…wow!
This is a lake near Tay Forest Park and my journey here served one purpose: it is the filming site for Craigh Na Dun in Outlander. It is a trek to get here, very small and winding roads within the mountains. The people that scout for filming locations on the series did a great job finding this gem. It is a pivotal location for the show as it is where Claire journeys through time via the standing stones. The stones were placed here by production but as soon as we pulled up there was no mistaking this was Craigh Na Dun!
When we arrived we found the area to the hill is gated. My sister was a little uneasy about opening the gate but my love for Outlander is too strong to travel all that way and not see it. I had Ben stay behind with the kids so we could quickly and quietly walk up, take pictures and leave. **Whispers to self** Outlander is not real, Outlander is not real.
While taking pictures Kellan decided to have his first encounter with stinging nettle and you would have thought he broke an arm as loudly as he was screaming. He was in a lot of pain. So much for being inconspicuous.
We only stayed one night in Mallaig while waiting for a ferry to the Isle of Skye, but I have to give the name of the B&B we stayed at. Seaview guest house was such a pleasure. Great communication, friendly and very comfortable/stylish rooms. Wish we could have stayed longer.
**Stay tuned for my write up on the beautiful Isle of Skye!**