I’ve always wanted to visit the Scottish highlands. Seeing the Highland landscapes on tv or in movies makes me go “ah I want to go there someday”! Well now that I’m living so much closer I had to make sure I made it there. So when I had the opportunity to take a three day trip, I couldn’t say no. I was finished classes for the term so I decided it would be my break before getting into studying for my exams.
Our first stop after getting into the highlands was Loch Lomond. Loch Lomond is a beautiful loch (Scottish for lake) located within the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park. It is the largest lake in Great Britain by surface area and is surrounded by foot paths and hiking trails. You can walk a trail along the shore or hike up one of the surrounding hills. We hiked up Conic hill, a relatively easy climb, to get some stunning views of the Loch.
Loch Lomond is featured in the song ‘The Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond’. The song apparently comes from the story of two brothers that were soldiers during the Jacobite rebellion and who were captured by the English. They were told that one would be released but the other was to be executed. The brothers spent all night fighting over who would die, each willing to sacrifice themselves for the other. When the younger brother woke there was a note from his older brother. It is these words that supposedly form the chorus of the song “you take the high road, and I’ll take the low road – and I’ll be in Scotland afore ye”. The low road being death, as according to folklore a Scotsman’s spirit will return to Scotland when he dies.
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After our hike we headed to Inveraray. Inveraray is a small town in the Highlands that sits on the shore of Loch Fyne. Its white stucco buildings stand out in contrast against the rolling hills of the highlands that surround it. There are a couple of places to stop and eat on the High street as well as a restaurant in the Inn.
Near the town you’ll find Inveraray Castle, the ancestral seat of the Duke of Argyll. If you are a fan of Downton Abby you may also recognize the castle as Duneagle Castle, the home of Rose’s parents.
Considered the capital of the Highlands, there is lots to do in Inverness. We didn’t have a lot of time in Inverness so I mostly spent my time walking up the high street. You can also walk along the river down towards Loch Ness.
If you have more time to spend in Inverness you can go shopping along the high street, stop by Inverness Castle, visit the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery, and more!
If you are looking to spend your time in the outdoors Fort William would be a good spot to stay. It is located near Ben Nevis, the tallest Mountain in the UK and there is lots to do in the surrounding area. Although we didn’t have time, the Nevis Range Gondola will take you up Aonach Mor for stunning views and hiking trails.
In the town you’ll find restaurants, and local shops as well as the West Highland Museum where you can learn more about the local history.
We spent our time in the town itself, grabbing some lunch from a local cafe on the high street and then heading outside to enjoy the gorgeous weather we were having. We found a bench near Loch Linnhe to sit and enjoy the view while we ate.
Glen Nevis and Steall Falls
Not far from Fort William you will find Glen Nevis. The valley at the base of Ben Nevis. The area is a picturesque Highland landscape.
We walked through the Nevis Gorge to make our way to Steall Waterfall. The walk itself was beautiful, winding between the mountains with the river running below. It was a steady elevation but not too challenging (I am definitely not an experienced hiker). As we got closer to the waterfall the path began sloping down towards the river, where it levels out.
To get up close to the waterfall you have to cross the river. If it is shallow enough you can simply walk across in a few spots. However, there is a wire bridge that you can cross if you don’t want to get your feet wet. I was a little anxious about crossing on a wire and had visions of dropping right down into the cold water. But in the end it turned out to be way easier than I thought, and pretty fun!
Once we were on the other side of the river it was a pretty easy walk over to the waterfall. Although, the ground was a bit boggy in some spots. You can stop by the base of the waterfall or scramble over the rocks to get right up to the water (it was a little slippery in a few spots so I was glad for my hiking boots).
The walk took roughly 4 hours there and back, with time to stop and sit at the waterfall.
If you are planning a trip to the highlands you can actually stay right in Glen Nevis! They have multiple camping sites both for trailers and tents, as well as these really cute camping pods if you aren’t able to drag camping gear with you.
I knew Loch Ness was big, but I didn’t realize how big! It’s 37km long but at its widest it is only 2.7 km across.
For our trip we stayed in Fort Augustus, at the opposite end of the Loch from Inverness. The town was very cute, although we didn’t spend much time there during the day. On our second night I got some dinner from a chip shop and headed down to the loch to eat as the sun went down.
Loch Ness is probably most famous for the legends of the Loch Ness Monster. You may have heard the story of a picture of the Loch Ness monster being published in a newspaper in the 1930s, which turned out to be a hoax. But, did you know that the legend far predates then. The first mentions of a monster near Loch Ness are from around 500 AD.
The Loch Ness monster is now affectionately known as Nessie, and sightings are recorded every year. Apparently Nessie was spotted 13 times in 2020.
The Glenfinnan Viaduct is a concrete railway bridge. Spanning between the hills it allows trains to cross the glen, 100 feet above the ground.
The Viaduct is famously shown in the Harry Potter movies with the Hogwarts Express travelling along it. The Jacobite steam train which was used for filming is a real train, and in the summer months you can watch it cross the viaduct (or ride it across).
Unfortunately we were too early in the year to see the steam train, though we did get to watch a regular commuter train go by 😅.
Next to the Glenfinnan Viaduct you will find Loch Shiel. Another filming location for Harry Potter, Loch Shiel stood in for the black lake with Hogwarts on its shore.
We were able to climb a nearby hill to get an amazing view of the loch. If you are looking for a viewpoint of both the viaduct and Loch Shiel there is a pathway just behind the visitors centre. If you follow the path up the hill you will have a view of the Viaduct to the north and Loch Shiel to the South.
Like lots of places in the Highlands, the area is also of historical significance. The shores of Loch Shiel are where Bonnie Prince Charlie raised his standard and called the Highland Clans to him during the Jacobite Rising of 1745. The monument down by the loch is to commemorate the soldiers that fought in the rising.
While we were exploring the wind started to pick up and clouds starting rolling in. Just as we were getting ready to leave it started raining a bit. Altogether it made for some nice dramatic pictures of the Loch!
Glencoe is another stunning landscape. It has been used as the backdrop for many films and tv shows, including Skyfall and Outlander.
Our first stop in Glencoe was the Glencoe visitor centre where you can learn more about the area and it’s history. They’ve also recreated the houses that the highlanders in the area lived in 300 years ago. Inside the visitors centre there is a cafe, as well as picnic benches outside for you to sit and eat. We took a break for lunch and enjoyed the ‘gloomy’ weather among the hills.
The Three Sisters of Glencoe
There are actually mountains all over the world called the Three Sisters. All have their own stories behind their naming. The province I come from in Canada has its own set of the Three Sisters in the Rocky Mountains.
Hiking between the the Three Sisters will lead you to the Lost Valley. Between the weather, and time we had we didn’t make it all the way into the valley but the hike itself is beautiful. It made me think of stories of magic and faeries, with moss covered rocks and stone paths leading to lands unknown.
The hike was a little more treacherous than others we did, and definitely shouldn’t be done in poor conditions. The trail requires scrambling over rocks in some parts and for most part is an uneven path which drops off on one side down into the gorge.
After our hike we headed back to the coach and began making our way back to England.
We had some really sunny weather for almost our entire trip, which was amazing. Especially, considering that we were expecting it to be snowing 😬. As we drove out of the Highlands the clouds settled in and it started to rain, much more typical Scottish weather in my opinion, and I liked to think of it as the Highlands saying goodbye!