For the longest time, I’d always wanted to fully explore the Highlands of Scotland!
Like not just a quick drive by or popping in for a few hours but actually taking time to explore it slowly, drive through it, stop off for tea and lunch in little villages, gorge on all the delicious seafood… I wanted a proper Highlands holidays!
Even when we used to live in Scotland, I’d had grand plans of road tripping through the Highlands which I never really saw through. Seeing as I lived in Edinburgh and St Andrews at the time, I ended up mostly exploring the East coast of Scotland with Highlands was only ever popped into from time to time (very briefly).
Well, we finally decided to convert all that ‘wishful thinking’ into a proper trip across the Highlands!
Leaving London, there was, of course, no better way to do this than on the Caledonian Sleeper (that drive from London to Inverness would have been crazy).
The Caledonian Sleeper was just far too convenient to consider any other option and kinda added a sense of magic to the whole thing (almost like we were off to Hogwarts).
We got sleeper carriages (which means you get your own bed), dined at the restaurant on board and grabbed a bottle of wine to catch up on TV with before falling deep into slumber and waking up in Inverness – the first stop on our journey across the Scottish Highlands! It was such a hassle-free way to travel up to Scotland… and you can get breakfast (and shower) on the train too, leaving you pretty ready to start your day as soon as you arrive.
This journey we had planned across the Highlands had something of a twist to it though! On our road trip, we would be looking at exploring the hidden gems of the Highlands.
Well… they’re not hidden per se. They’re out in plain sight but here’s the thing about the Scottish Highlands – most of the popular places to visit here are no more and no less beautiful than some of the less popular ones.
Indeed, what usually happens is that a sight or attraction up here gets features either in a film, a TV show or perhaps just in photography and it ends up getting a disproportionate amount of attention.
Take, for instance, Eilean Donan Castle… this castle rose in popularity after it was featured in movies (Highlander is one of particular note) and although it’s absolutely spectacular, there are many more beautiful castles like this dotted across the Highlands that don’t even get half as much attention!
Our plan was to head out to the Highlands and find all of these amazing gems (including some of the popular ones of course – there’s no way I wanted to miss out on driving the amazing NC500!)
Arriving in Inverness, we picked up our car and headed over to the Cairngorms; more specifically to Rothiemurchus. Our plans for the morning were to jump straight into the thick of things by rafting down the river. But not before tea of course – we’re not savages! 😀
We were originally meant to go tubing down the river but thanks to the recent rainfall, the river was pretty high so we switched that with quad biking around the Cairngorms.
Quad biking was such a brilliant way to indulge in my inner laziness while still getting to see as much of the countryside as possible. There’s just no way we could have covered as much ground as we did on foot – plus I kinda didn’t wanna hike that morning anyway and most importantly, IT WAS SO MUCH FUN! 🙂
We stopped off in farms to check out the muddy hairy coos (Highlands cattle), zipped through the forest and splashed through rivers! (Did I mention how it was so much fun? 😉 )
By the time the rain started, we’d made it back to The Druie Café for one amazing lunch… and, of course, a spot of tea to warm our cockles.
I’d been so obsessed with their cakes (the Druie is where we had tea earlier that morning) that the deliciousness of the beef stew we ordered for lunch totally took me by surprise (in a very positive way). When the cake arrived (along with some Ginger beer), well, this place very quickly became one of my favourite spots in the Cairngorms! 😀
After lunch, we headed over to Loch an Eilein to walk off the cake (and to check out the castle in the middle of the Loch)…
…before being picked up to go check out the deer on the estate. Scotland is home to lots of wild deer but the ones on the estate are tame and will come right up to at the mere of food!
The females were joined by some rather cute fawns and a wild stag (a young one though). These deer, by the way, are absolutely clumsy and have no problems in trampling on your feet just to get to the food so you need to be careful around the stags particularly.
Still eager to see even more of the Cairngorms, we ditched our car in exchange for bicycles (you can pick these up at In Your Element – near the visitor centre) and headed off in search of An Lochan Uaine, also known as the Green Loch (legend has it that the water of the loch is green because its where the faeries wash their clothes 😀 ).
By the time we arrived at the Loch, the rain has started coming in and with that, we decided to call it a day and head over to our first home on this road trip – Bydand Bed and Breakfast.
*Random – we saw a double rainbow on the drive to the BnB and I just had to show it to you!
So here’s the thing… I’ve never really been much of BnBs. I’d always found the idea of staying in a stranger’s home (at exactly the same time as when they’re there) kinda strange.
I had no idea how to act or what I could or couldn’t do and this was made even worse when I stayed in a B&B in Swindon once (a long while back when I was there for a job interview), where the whole experience was just strange (the décor was weird, I couldn’t use the living room so I had to stick to my room and there was nowhere to grab a bite to eat so for dinner, I had to walk 15 – 20 minutes to get a rather greasy kebab for dinner).
Bydand Bed and Breakfast totally converted me into a BnB fan!
For starters, we had the loveliest host who made you feel at home straight away! Then there was the beautiful place itself. It was lovely, cosy and filled with all the mod-cons – we’re talking under-floor heating, amazing espresso machines, that amazing bath, a crackling fire downstairs (which was lit shortly after we got in) and so much more!
There was even a drinks cabinet under the stairs for you to fix yourself a little nightcap.
I absolutely loved this place and can’t recommend it enough if you’re planning on visiting the Cairngorms!
For dinner, we headed over to The Old Bridge Inn where I proceeded to get a much welcome pre-dinner pint before tucking into a tasty Scottish salmon starter (for myself) and a leek and potato soup for Lloyd.
Mains came in the form of lamb (for me) and duck breast for Lloyd! Oh, and the food here is absolutely fantastic! The service here wasn’t the best though to be fair, it was really busy when we were there so it’s fairly easy to forgive!
This is also why I’d suggest making a reservation before you head here – it’s incredibly popular (rightly so) and you don’t wanna risk disappointment if you haven’t booked a table. Though then again, this could always be the perfect excuse you need to get yourself a pint or a cold, crisp glass of wine at the bar.
To finish off, Lloyd went for the Scottish cheese board and I went for the crème brulee! Long story short – the food at the The Old Bridge Inn was pretty fantastic and definitely comes very highly recommended.
With that, (after a brief intermission to watch the live music at the Inn), we decided to call it a night and head back to Bydand for a well-earned kip after a busy day in the Cairngorms!
Tomorrow would bring the delights of the beautiful North Coast 500 and I for one, just couldn’t wait. 🙂