Our journey from the Orkney Islands to Glencoe in the Scottish Highlands started well before sunrise and included a surprise visit to a rather odd museum before landing on the edge of Kinlochleven.
Our itinerary for our Scottish Highlands Adventure included:
- Dunrobin Castle
- Clava Cairns
- Kinlochleven Basecamp
- Hiking with Murray
- Steall Falls and Nevis Gorge Hike
- Steall Falls Wire Bridge
- Castle Stalker
- Kilchurn Castle
- Drover’s Inn
We’d zoomed past Dunrobin Castle on the way to catch the Northlink Ferry in Scrabster bound for the Orkney Islands. If you’ve not been to the Orkney Islands, add to your bucket list pronto. The Castle is set back off the road and screams, “Look at me!” As we zoomed by we all said, what is that? It was quickly added to things to do on our way to Glencoe.
A couple of things we learned about Dunrobin Castle, get there early as the tour buses queue up quick and it is privately owned. Which translates into, there is a fee and it is not included in the Scotland Explorer Pass. (Hint: Buy this pass if you are planning a trip to Scotland and want to check out historical sites.)
A tiny history lesson about the castle. It is the family seat of the Earl of Sutherland since the 13th Century. “Castle was used as a naval hospital during the First World War and as a boys’ boarding school from 1965 to 1972.” Now it is, you know, Lord Strathaver’s home.
While wandering around the castle’s gardens we found an odd museum full of the heads of the animals the family has killed over the years.
There were a few human heads on display too. The bones were found in cairns located on the estate.
Everyone has a Pictish Stone, right? They have several.
We finally got to see a Puffin. This one may be older than me and I’m older than dirt, according to my kids.
In 2012 we stumbled upon the Clava Cairns while searching for Cawdor Castle. IKR? They’re not even on the same road. Anyhoo, I couldn’t believe my good fortune. “This must be the stone circle Diana Gabaldon refers to as Craigh na Dun in her book, Outlander,” I said with barely contained glee. It’s about the right distance from Inverness but it’s not on a hill, which perplexed me just a little. After several minutes of searching the site for clues to support my hunch, a ghostly apparition crossed my path. Chuck caught it on film. (If you are not an Outlander fan, none of this will make any sense.) The black cat kind-of-weird-ed me out.
I was eager to return and show my friends, but I’m not sure they were as eager to navigate the narrow farm lane which is required to visit Clava Cairns. They were good sports and humored me. Not much has changed since 2012 and we didn’t see any black cats or ghosts this time around.
We fell in love with Kinlochleven during our 2012 visit and were excited to return in 2018. Our basecamp was once again the MacDonald Hotel.
Steall Falls and Nevis Gorge Hike
The hike looks easy based on its description on walkhighlands, grade factor of 2 which translates into slightly harder walks, paths are indistinct, navigation skills required. When you finally find the parking lot you are greeted with an ominous sign.
Several hikes leave from this trailhead, including the Ring of Steall which we attempted in 2012. After some serious concern about dying in 2012, we called it quits before even making it to the top of the first Munroe. For this reason, I insisted we hire a guide for any serious hiking which required technical skills. This prompted much research before booking hikes with Kingdom Guides in the Cairngorms and Glencoe. You are probably wondering, why didn’t you hire Murray for the Ring of Steall hike too. Well, that was our original plan but Murray kindly suggested we set our sites on something that wouldn’t kill us. (Thank you Murray!)
The hike to Steall Falls and Nevis Gorge is pretty tame, very beautiful, and a bit windy. The best quote from our Steall Falls hike, “I just love it when the wind sucks the snot out of my nose.”
Steall Falls Wire Bridge
An added perk for the Steall Falls and Nevis Gorge Hike is the wire bridge crossing. I had the pleasure of navigating the wire bridge in 2012 and opted out this year.
I found directions on the internet to Castle Stalker:
The Castle is situated in Appin on the A828 between Ballachulish and Connel just north of Oban. Using the Castle Stalker View Café as your starting point, travel southwards (right turn on leaving the café) down the steep hill. At the foot of the hill, turn right at the sharp lefthand bend just before The Old Inn (the two storey white building) and follow the lane round to the left to the Old Inn car park. Then walk down the path to the cycle track and turn right where you will find the Castle boathouse and jetty about 30 metres along on your left.
We could see the castle and we found the cafe, but we got mired in the brambles trying to navigate the steep hill. Chuck pulled the plug. “This is not right.” I had to agree. We never found the boathouse. (Tip: You need to prebook your tour. I’m pretty sure they give you better directions after you’ve paid your $20 pounds per person to visit.)
With confidence bursting from my brain I announced on our drive to Kilchurn Castle “It is the most photographed castle in Scotland.” After eyeballing the castle for a bit Chuck asked, “Are you sure.”
I was pondering the same thing and feeling a bit silly as I insisted on making the trek to see Kilchurn Castle. Eilean Donan Castle claims the title as most photographed. Yet, it was nowhere near us at the moment. Eilean Doan is near the town of Dornie in the West Highlands on the way to the Isle of Skye. We toured it in 2012 and snapped a picture. Which castle makes a better picture?
A) Eilean Donan Castle
B) Kilchurn Castle
With the right lighting, it could be an amazing picture. Today was not that day but we did make the hike to the castle and got some cool pictures.
Finding unique places to eat while traveling is always a goal. I think we outdid ourselves with Drover’s Inn. I found it on a website dedicated to curating stories about pubs and bars of Scoltand, A Story to Tell Scotland’s Pubs and Bars.
Opened in 1705, The Drovers Inn is one of the oldest licensed premises in Scotland and located at the northern tip of Loch Lomond.
It takes its name from the Highland drovers who used to drive their cattle down the side of Loch Lomond to the markets. One of the most famous drovers was Rob Roy MacGregor (1671-1734), the famous Scottish folk hero and outlaw who is often referred to as the Scottish Robin Hood
It is believed that he was a young drover who was murdered at the Inn after returning to seek revenge for the theft of his cattle by a rival clan. Today the Inn offers its visitors a very different experience with live music every weekend, and a wide range of Scottish cuisine. It’s the perfect stop for any walkers passing by for lunch or dinner.
What happens when you try to take a selfie and almost catch your phone on fire in the candle flame.
Before leaving Glencoe and heading to our next adventure in Stirling, we snapped a few pictures.
Rannoch Moor was bathed in sunshine. Kinloch Rannoch was a film location for Craigh na Dun in Outlander.
We’ve got a few more pictures in our gallery.
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