A Circuit of Scotland – Part 2: Fort William, Skye, and Inverness

This is part two of our Scotland trip, covering stops in Fort William to hike Ben Nevis, a few days on Skye, and in Inverness. This part of the trip follows a few days in Edinburgh, on Loch Lomond, and in Oban. The overview covers some of the logistics and planning details. 

Days 6 & 7: Fort William and Ben Nevis

From Oban, we set out for Fort William, passing by Castle Stalker on our way to Glen Coe. We traveled down the long valley, making several stops for views. We had hoped to do a hike to one of the ridges, but facing another day of strong rain and wind, we instead decided to stay lower and make the shorter 2.5 mile hike to The Lost Valley.

Or so we thought. We found the wrong trailhead. Though we didn’t know it, we instead followed a stream side trail up a narrow valley to the clouds and Coire nan Lochan. We had lunch when we reached the cloud level and turned back to our car. It wasn’t the hike we planned, but still beautiful.

Back in the car and heading toward Fort William, the sun finally broke through the clouds. We stopped at Old Inverlochy Castle on the River Lochy to enjoy the sun.

From the castle, it was just a few minute drive to our bed and breakfast, Treetops. While checking in, the owners discovered we did not have dinner reservations and noted this could be a challenge. By the time we set our bags in our room, they had booked us a table at the Ben Nevis Inn. Dinner was okay. The setting in Glen Nevis was beautiful and the beer tasty, but the service was slower and the food a bit bland.

Ben Nevis from Treetops Bed & Breakfast

In the morning, we awoke to beautiful views of Ben Nevis — our destination for the day — across the valley. Discussing plans with the owners over breakfast (one of the freshest, most delicious breakfasts of the trip), they gave us trail advice and asked that we call them when we got safely down; it was nice to know that someone local would be looking after us.

We were excited to set out on a rare, clear morning, though unfortunately by the time we hit the trail clouds had started to build. We made quick work of the gentle and crowded ascent, but still arrived to find the summit shrouded in clouds. With thick snow remaining, it was a world of grey and white. We did not linger long at the summit before heading down.

After cleaning up, we drove to Letterfinlay Lodge, on Loch Lochy, for dinner. The views on the drive and at dinner were wonderful, but the food and service not so much. We’d recommend avoiding this meal or at least checking recent reviews.

Days 8-11: Skye

After another wonderful breakfast at Treetops, we set out for Skye. We expected this to be the highlight of our trip and so we were eager to get there, but the owners of the bed and breakfast recommended taking a meandering, coastal route (B8008, rather than the more direct A830) by white sand beaches. This detour was an unexpected delight. Along the way, we also passed by the Glenfinnan Viaduct, familiar to many from the Harry Potter movies.

In Mallaig, we boarded the ferry to Armadale. Several guides had recommended either arriving or departing from Skye by boat, and we decided that arriving was most appropriate. It was a beautiful, partly cloudy day for the trip.

Soon after arriving on Skye, we passed by the ruined Dunscaith Castle, where we pulled over and took the short — but immensely boggy — walk to the coast. This was the second hike, after Ptarmigan Ridge on Ben Lomond, that made us very glad we bought gaiters for this trip.

Dunscaith is a small ruin in remarkably beautiful setting on a small promontory above the sea, with the Black Cuillin mountains rising in the distance.

After taking in this scene, we headed toward Sligachan on the A87, where we turned onto the A863 toward the Fairy Pools. By this point, the weather had turned grayer and rainier, creating a moody scene as we explored the deep blue pools and series of small cascades.

I could have spent hours in this spot, but it was getting late and we were due to check in at our bed and breakfast, Woodlands B&B, a short walk from the center of Portree. We checked in and headed to town in search of dinner.

Here we learned an important lesson of Skye: you need dinner reservations. We struck out at several nicer restaurants, but did reserve the last table at a restaurant for the next night. Following the recommendation of the host at one restaurant, we then tried the Caledonian Cafe, where, despite a seemingly long line, we were seated within ten minutes and enjoying tasty, relatively inexpensive burgers not long after.

Northern Skye

The next day, we set out for a loop of the northern part of Skye. Our first stop was the Cave of Gold, a small cave in the coast among large columns of basalt. If you are familiar with Fingal’s Cave of the Giant’s Causeway, these are similar formations but without the expanse of paver-like surfaces. This was another hike that made us grateful for gaiters.

From the Cave of Gold, we continued along the coast, stopping at various views or ruins, until eventually arriving at the Quiraing. From the main parking area, we walked east through the other-worldly terraces of grass and stone. Eventually, after passing through a narrow valley of these formations, we climbed to the ridge. The ridge offered fine views of the entire Trotternish, including our route in and the village of Staffin below. After taking in the views, we descended back to the car.

From here, it was a short drive Kilt Rock falls, a waterfall that spills out over the cliff and into the sea.

While beautiful, we did not linger, as we hoped to visit the Old Man of Storr before sunset. The pinnacle, visible from the falls, loomed larger as we approached. From the parking area, it was a short but strange walk up to the rock formation. Scotland was in the process of removing invasive, non-native trees and restoring original timber in many areas, and the entire area between the car park and the rock formations was in upheaval.

Once amid the rocks, with few others around, it was easy to forget all of that, and marvel at the processes of nature that formed these. If we go back, I would love to take the time to walk the full length of the Trotternish landslip, which is home to both the Quiraing and Old Man of Storr.

From Storr, we returned to Woodlands, where we cleaned up and walked to town for dinner. At Sea Breezes restaurant, Skye’s food delighted us for the second night in a row. In the earlier parts of the trip, we had become accustomed to decent but somewhat under flavored food. Sea Breezes, though, surprised us with wonderful, flavorful meals, including excellent steak and piles of langoustines. We highly recommend a dinner Sea Breezes — and reserving in advance — if you are on Skye.

The Cuillin and a Meal

After our whirlwind tour of the north the previous day, we had less ambitious plans. After another solid breakfast, we drove back past the Fairy to the coast at Glenbrittle.

At Glenbrittle, we followed a trail from the south end the parking area toward the foreboding Black Cuillin. A gradual climb brought us to a rocky plain above the beach. We continued toward the mountains, eventually reaching large, black stone slabs and boulders. The trails picks its way through and over these rocks, eventually leading to Loch Coir Lagan, nestled a narrow, steep-walled valley.

By this point, light showers had built into a full-on squall. We huddled in a rock shelter with one other family, hoping for a break in the rain and clouds. Through the rain and wind, we could hear rockfall kicked loose by climbers descending the valley.

Eventually, the rain let up and the clouds let up enough that we could see a bit more of the area. The photos don’t quite capture the deep blue-black water, made even darker under the clouds.

Thoroughly soaked, we returned to the car where we changed. We drove to Dunvegan Castle, which was built in the 13th century but entirely remodeled in the 19th century in a faux-medieval style. While I enjoyed the castle tour, wandering the gardens was the a highlight.

From Dunvegan, we drove to Three Chimneys in Colbost. Skye has two Michelin starred restaurants. I’d somewhat apprehensively made reservations at one of these — Three Chimneys — months earlier. While I like good food, my experience has been that above a certain price, I am usually paying for more than I’m getting.

This was not the case at Three Chimneys, though. When we arrived, we were greeted and shown into their lounge. Here, we were asked our tastes and matched with recommended scotches. At dinner, each course impressed. The highlights were some of the best scallops and oysters I have ever had the joy of eating.

Talisker and leaving Skye

The next morning, we visited Talisker, our second distillery of the trip. Talisker is in a beautiful setting along Loch Harport. Our tour guide was enthusiastic but new, and got some information wrong. I prefer Oban over Talisker to drink, but the setting alone still made Talisker a worthwhile stop.

From Talisker, we went just a short way up the road to the Isle of Skye Oyster Company. Set in a warehouse with views over the bay, the Oyster Shed sells raw seafood and a limited range of prepared food. As we bought our food, another squall arrived. We snacked on our scallops, crabs, and fries in the car while rain beat down on the windshield.

Days 11-13: Eilean Donan, Glen Affric, and Inverness

After lunch, it was time to leave Skye and head for Inverness. Not far from the causeway off of Skye, though, is Eilean Donan Castle at Kyle of Lochaish. If you’ve seen pictures of a castle in Scotland, there’s a good chance it’s Eilean Donan. Set on a tidal island where Loch Duich, Loch Long and Loch Alsh meet, it looks like you expect a castle should.

A British fleet laid the original castle to ruin in 1719, bombarding it for more than two days for its part in the Jacobite cause and for supporting a Spanish force. The current castle is a restoration completed primarily between 1919 and 1932.

After a tour, we continued to Inverness, passing by Urquhart Castle on the shore of Loch Ness. In Inverness, we had booked Inverglen Guest House, a modest-size guest house set in a a residential neighborhood. We checked in and walked downhill a bit to a newer, small restaurant, Fig & Thistle, where we had a wonderful meal.

Inverglen is also excellently decorated with photographs by one of the owners. Over breakfast the next day, the photographs prompted conversations about what to do. These conversations convinced us to change our plans for the day. Following the owner’s recommendation — and one of the more beautiful photos — we decided to explore Glen Affric.

Our first stop was Loch Beinn a’ Mheadhoin. We ambled for a while on the north shore and the ridges above. After returning to the car, we made stops at two waterfalls, Dog Falls and Plodda Falls. The 1.5 mile walk to Plodda Falls was particularly excellent. After a short walk through the forest, viewing platforms offer great looks at the two-tiered falls from above and below.

Returning to Inverness, we made detours to also take the short walk to the beautiful Fairy Glen at Rosemarkie, featuring two small peaceful waterfalls in a forest glen. Back in the car a short drive brought us to Chanonry Point. From the beach below the light outs, we watched dolphins play in the early evening sun.

Back in Inverness, we returned to the same restaurant as the previous evening, Fig & Thistle. Having enjoyed our previous meal and tired after a day of exploring, it was an easy choice to return.

The next day was our last in Scotland. We chose a winding path to get us back to Edinburgh, first stopping at the Culloden Battlefield. I’d started the trip with a pretty limited knowledge of Scotland’s history. The museum’s thorough and engaging exhibits brought together many of the pieces I had picked up along the way.

From Culloden we made the short drive to Clava Cairns. These Bronz Age standing stones and passage graves let us stop and ponder history of a more distant era.

From the cairns, we drove through Cairngorms National Park. The route passed through mountains and by several castles, including Corgarff Castle, Braemar Castle, and Balmoral Castle.

We stopped at the hotel (Hilton, by the airport) to drop our bags. We continued to Edinburgh. After returning the car, we walked to the Doric, one of the city’s oldest pubs, where we enjoyed a filling, relaxing meal.

Bus 100 brought us back to the airport easily. We had a drink in the hotel bar and went to sleep for our early flight home.

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