The very next morning in Loch Shiel, after chatting and laughing the night away with the locals at the pub, there was nothing for it but a huge Scottish breakfast and a lazy slow and lazy morning exploring the area.
I did say, we would be going on “Slow Adventures”!
We got a few bikes, which we’d arranged to be delivered from Sunart Cycles and a picnic from the Ariundle Centre (they’re all part of Slow Adventures so arranging this was through one swift booking – along with our other Slow Adventure stuff in the area – it’s not nearly as tricky as it sounds).
Cycling around the area, we’d been told by the folks we spoke to the night before to head over to Castle Tioram but seeing as we saw it the night before, we skipped this and just generally cycle around the area with no plans in mind – it was brilliant!
I think the first time since we arrived in the Scottish Highlands where we just basically had no idea where we would be going to or even how to get there. I’m all about balance so I love having moments like this mixed in with the more organised parts of our trips.
Lunch was the picnic I mentioned before, on a bench we randomly found with a view of that ruggedly beautiful Scottish landscape.
Everything we got from the Ariundle centre was locally sourced produce – sausages from nearby farms, butter made in the area, bread and cakes all baked from locals around Sunart… everything! It just made lunch so much more special (and definitely beat ANY store-bought picnic).
After lunch, we decided to throw in one more recommendation made by the locals – a quick visit to the Ardnamurchan Distillery! I’ve never been much of a (neat) whisky drinker but I certainly can appreciate a dash of whisky thrown into quite a few cocktails!
We did a quick tour of the distillery where the most fascinating thing I found out was that it only takes a few days to make whisky (like 3 – 5 days I think), the rest of those 7, 12 or 15 years is just the time it spends ageing in barrels. This, of course, is why Scottish whisky comes at a premium and is one of the most sought-after tipples in the world.
We finished off with some whisky tasting – starting with the freshly made batch of whisky i.e. the 5-day old one and finish off with the aged whiskies (oh and by ‘we’, I mean ‘I’, Lloyd was driving so he could only drink water – more whisky for me).
Whisky’d out, we headed over to Strontian, where we would be spending the night, stopping off at the Resipole Studios to check out work by local artists; including the curator Andrew Sinclair…
…before arriving at Cedar Lodges in the Sunart Camping area.
Cedar Lodges, by the way, are some of the cutest little cabins and the owners are absolutely adorable! (Staying here actually started off as a plan to stay in some of the really old farmer’s huts you find in the middle of nowhere but the ones on our route were all booked so we decided to switch kitsch places and go with Cedar Lodges). They’re just such nice and down to earth people and make you feel at home straight away. Absolutely brilliant people! So much so that I hadn’t realised one little error we’d made.
Cedar Lodge is a camping area and so if you’re driving a mobile home on your trip across the Highlands (which is not a bad idea at all come to think of it), then you can park up here and pay to use the facilities. If you’re driving a car like we are, you can book lodges here.
Some of the lodges have toilets within them and some don’t. Ours didn’t. We’d booked so late in the day that it meant having to use a shared bathroom area.
Now I know most people would be okay with this but I’m just not used to it. 😀 Even back in Uni, I almost always had en-suite accommodation (or my own place) so I’ve never really felt comfortable with shared facilities. I’ve never camped, gone backpacking or done the full residential festival experience so again – I just have no experience in using shared bathrooms as one might get at these places so it was a slight bit of a struggle for me (especially when you wake up to pee in the middle of the night and the toilet is a 4 minute walk away – in the pouring rain).
The only reason I mention this is because I definitely think you should stay in Cedar Lodges when you visit (it’s a really different kind of experience here and absolutely worth doing), I just think perhaps you should take the time to make sure you have your own bathroom – unless, of course, if you’re comfortable with shared bathrooms in which case, just go ahead and book any of the lodges. 😀
Anyway, once we settled in, we headed over to Kilcamb Lodge for dinner and drinks before our evening spent canoeing through the Loch Sunart.
Kilcamb Lodge is absolutely fantastic, by the way. From the outside, it’s unassuming, sitting out there on the well-groomed patch of the Highlands, with amazing views of the Loch and once you step in, again you immediately feel right at home (is this a Sunart thing? The way everyone just makes you feel so comfortable straight away? 😀 ).
After a quick sneak peek through the lodge, we settled down for dinner.
To start, I went with the scallops (but not before getting a few starting treats, compliments of the chef), with beef and lamb for mains. I went with an apple tart for dessert while Lloyd went for the chocolate delight (not the official name 😀 can’t remember what it’s called now…).
If I wasn’t already smitten by Kilcamb Lodge, I certainly was by the time dinner was over. The food here was so good – I love it when every single course hits the mark. The beef was absolutely tender, scallops perfectly cooked and seasoned, even the wine was paired brilliantly with the meal. Absolutely one of my highlights of the day! *licks lips* Sooo very good! 😀
The next part of the evening, I have almost no photos for (It was dark and involved rowing so I had no plans to take my then-new camera/iPhone with me) but this was by far one of the most special experiences we had in the Highlands. The whole thing was meant to be rowing on the Loch to watch the sunset, then stopping off on a beach, lighting the fire and having some drinks and snacks before heading back.
The sunset didn’t bring its A-game that evening which was fine, the sheer experience of rowing on the glass-like Loch (with the occasional seal or porpoise) popping by was incredible but that wasn’t even the highlight!
The highlight was when we rowed back, it was pitch-black and I remember walking on the beach and seeing the beach light up with each step I took. Turns out, this part of Scotland gets those bioluminescent plankton (I’ll show you a picture below so you know what I mean). I thought you had to go to places like the Maldives to see this.
Oh, and it gets better too! Once you start to row in the Loch, the Loch lights up with each stroke of your paddle as the bioluminescent plankton come alive! I kid you not, it was like something out of a Disney movie. Every single stroke was like one magical moment after the other! It was so bright too.
Like thousands of fireflies in the water. Absolutely incredible!
If ever there was a secret part of the Highlands, this was it! It was so special and definitely not something I would ever have expected to find this close to home. Now, I’m not sure how often this happens but if you’re ever in the area, you definitely HAVE to try this!
We went to bed very content indeed, what a brilliant way to finish off our final night of our Highlands road trip!
The next morning started off in somewhat dramatic fashion. Lloyd had left me to set my alarm and for some reason, my phone didn’t charge. Cue me waking up at 10.30 am (I was meant to be up by 8), thinking it was far too early until I saw the time on my laptop (when I couldn’t get my phone on, I reached for my laptop).
What ensued was the fastest packing we’d ever done. Within minutes, we were packed and ready to go – the only downside was that we had to skip out on the breakfast we’d reserved at the Ariundle centre! Missing breakfast is hard enough but when you know it from places like the Ariundle centre (where we got our picnic the day before) with their local, fresh produce – which you know is going to be so delicious, it’s so much harder! Thing is though, we had a train to catch back to Inverness so had to hot-foot it to make up for lost time.
From Strontian (where we were), you drive over to Ardgour, which is where you catch the Corran Ferry over to Nether Lochaber (remember Lochaber?) From Lochaber, we then drove straight to Fort Augustus where we stopped for lunch (we were meant to stop along places like Fort Willian, Glen Nevis, Spean Bridge…etc on the way over but couldn’t really stop).
That drive is absolutely brilliant, by the way, especially in the fog!
Despite missing out on some of the locally recommended stops in our hurry to get to Inverness, we did have to pull over for a bit when we got to Loch Oich.
At Fort Augustus, we headed over to the Lock Inn (another local recommendation for lunch) where we had a delicious if somewhat rushed lunch (like I said, we had a train to catch 😀 ). Rushing through lunch, however, doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t make time for one of my favourite desserts – sticky toffee pudding! (Seriously, I’m obsessed and have been for quite some time). 😀
Leaving Fort Augustus, we whizzed past one place I’d wanted to see for the longest time – Loch Ness, albeit, in more of a tick-box fashion due to our hurry to get over to Inverness. On my next trip here, I definitely wanna do a proper tour of Loch Ness. I’ve been fascinated by the Loch and The Loch Ness monster for ages and ages! 😀
By the way, if you are doing this drive from Fort Augustus to South Loch Ness, some spots worth visiting here are Suidhe Point for the views, Falls of Foyers (it has a beautiful 140 ft drop into a gorge) and also Dores Beach (all recommended by the locals).
We got to Inverness with like 5 minutes to spare – enough time to head out the Dolphin Spirit to check out some of the dolphins in Moray Firth!
Alas, this was perhaps the only time we didn’t get to see any dolphins.
Still, though, we got to see the Moray Firth on a rib boat (which was actually quite fun in and of itself) and a fair few seals so it was all fun even without the dolphins. (You can’t control nature so my expectations are fairly realistic when it comes to seeing wild-life – “it could happen, but don’t count on it!“) 🙂
And just like that – our trips across the Scottish Highlands had come to an end! And what a trip it was! I loved absolutely every moment of it and got to see, not just some sights I’d wanted to see for the longest time but some amazing stuff I didn’t even expect to see.
By the time we hopped aboard the Caledonian Sleeper back to London (we went first class this time – which meant we both got our own cabin, connected through an adjoining door – and breakfast included), you would think this trip to the Highlands had sated my appetite for wanting to explore the Highlands but it only left me wanting to see even more places in the Highlands and across Scotland in general (The Shetlands and perhaps even further up the Hebrides next time?).