Chris and Tracey Travel to Scotland

We’re waiting at the airport for our plane to begin boarding. Having a beer to pass the time

Finally on the plane but the runway is stacked up so we have to wait our turn.65473FD1-C0CB-4985-AB6F-726A0880B705
No big deal, we’re going to Scotland and I’m excited. My back went out about 2 weeks ago and we thought we might have to postpone our trip. I called my wonderful Physical Therapist Stella, she worked her magic and here we are.

After almost 10 hours in the air, London Heathrow is figuratively in sight, the pilot says the weather is a bit misty and we’ll be in a holding pattern for about 10 extra minutes.
The woman across the aisle is reading “A Dying Fall” by Elly Griffiths. I wonder if it’s good?
I’m so tired and we still have another plane to take. Probably should try to stay awake until the usual bedtime.
Just had chicken ramen in a noodle shop here in Heathrow, pretty good. Learned how to eat it using a bamboo ladle and chopsticks, “it’s the traditional way”.

The flight into Glasgow was relatively short and very pleasant. We went through security and were pulled aside for an extra check but before we knew it we were in a taxi headed for our hotel.

We’ll pick up our rental tomorrow after a good nights sleep then head to Oban for a single night.

We’re here at the Hotel du Vin and Bistro in Glasgow. Such a beautiful hotel and the service is almost royal!


Slept great until about 2:45 and then Chris and I were both wide awake and ready to start the day but of course we couldn’t as no one else was wide awake. We held off for about an hour then decided to read for awhile. Got tired of reading and used up a little more time getting showered and dressed. Good for us, it’s 6:18 and we only have to wait until 7:00 to eat breakfast. Ya gotta love jet lag.

Breakfast was worth the wait. My favorite, scrambled eggs with smoked salmon. Yum!

After breakfast we packed up and called a taxi to take us to Avis at the airport to pick up our car. That went pretty smoothly and they upgraded us to a Mercedes 200c. Not a bad car. After figuring out how to work everything, we got on the road toward Oban.

On our way to Oban we visited the Falls of Falloch a short walk just off the road on the way through Glencoe. Actually Glencoe isn’t on the way to Oban, it’s slightly out of the way but well worth it. What an unbelievably gorgeous area! There are no words that can adequately describe this area. You just have to visit. Even the best photos don’t give you the true perspective.


We had our dinner in Oban tonight at the same restaurant we ate at the last time we were here, The Fisherman. They have wonderful seafood and service.

I had the Hake with Thai Curry Sweet Potatoes and Squash with other vegetables, and roasted potatoes. Man it was good! Chris had the seared Scallops which were also amazing! When we were here last year I had the seared Scallops so I know how good they are.


While we were having dinner we struck up a conversation with a lovely couple from just outside of London.

We discussed lots of things, among them politics and the wonders of visiting Scotland. They were heading to the Isle of Mull on the ferry in the morning, barring weather complications their plan was to spend a few days.

After dinner we walked back to our B&B and went to bed. We were still a little tired from jet lag.

The following morning before heading off to Uig on the Isle of Skye we walked up to Pulpits View and boy, what a view!

Pulpits View of Oban.

View of Oban from Pulpits View.

Back on the road looking for a gas station. Our Mercedes C200 seems to have a thimble-sized gas tank. Finally found gas in Fort Williams.

Now we’re heading for the Uig Hotel.

The drive to Skye is incredibly beautiful and we stopped often to take pictures.

Skye bridge

That’s the Skye Bridge in the distance.

We drove up to Uig to spend 3 nights in the Uig Hotel. A wonderful old hotel and restaurant in the tiny village Uig.

While we were there we drove out to the Neist Lighthouse, a picturesque old lighthouse at the end of a one lane road where you park your car and then hike down a long winding trail.

Neist Lighthouse

Neist Lighthouse

On the way back we stopped at a tiny village called Lephine at Café Lephine. They had the hottest coffee I’ve ever experienced! They also made us a wonderful lunch.

Next we visited Dunvegan Castle not far from Neist Lighthouse on the west side of Skye. Dunvegan Castle was built in the 13th century by the MacLeod clan. It has a long and interesting history and if you would like to read about it here is the web site. You are not allowed to take photos inside the castle but the gardens are lovely and I took many pictures there.


We had quite a bit of weather while we were in Uig so a lot of the hiking we had planned wasn’t going to be practical.

One of the main reasons for staying in Uig was to visit the Fairy Glen. We had missed it last year when we came. We decided to hope for decent weather the morning of our last night on Skye so we could visit them. Our luck wasn’t good. We went out hoping to go there even though it was raining pretty hard but the trail was very boggy and the wind and rain were fierce.

(I have still been unable to find comfortable waterproof hiking/walking shoes so unless I wanted to have soaking wet feet I had to at least be able to find trail I didn’t sink into.)

We drove up to the trailhead and gave it a try. There were a couple of other cars up there but they weren’t exhibiting  much enthusiasm for walking up the trail either. We did see one couple go up. I guess we’ll just have to go back.


We took the CalMac car ferry from Uig on Skye to Tarbert on the Isle of Harris.  We spent quite a lot of time in the Harris Visitors Center speaking with a very helpful woman who worked there. We learned about various walks and places to visit both during the rain or if it was dry out. She even printed out maps for us.

Harris is famous for Harris Tweed so we went into a shop called “Harris Tweed – Isle of Harris Shop” to look around. They had bolts and bolts of multicolored Harris Tweed and Chris took this lovely photo.


Bolts of Harris Tweed. — Photo by Chris Neary

The Isles of Harris and Lewis are actually two ends of the same island. Little did we know that the weather was so bad between Ullapool and Stornoway, where we were headed, that they had cancelled all the ferries for that day. It worked out well for us as the town was pretty empty when we arrived.

If you are taking a trip to Scotland and plan to take a ferry at some point, go to the CalMac web site and book your travel well in advance. We booked about a month ahead. The ferries can be very busy and if you aren’t pre-booked you could be left on the dock. Also, be flexible, the weather can cancel your ferry at the last minute. We were lucky and had no problems.

Stornoway is a wonderful, picturesque village on the Isle of Lewis. It also happens to be a port for the CalMac Ferry. We spent 2 nights at the Crown Hotel there and would have enjoyed another night.

Our main reason for going to Stornoway was to visit the Callanish (or Calanais) Standing Stones on the Isle of Lewis. As you can see in the photos below, they were absolutely incredible. When we arrived it was raining and there were almost no visitors there. It was great having the place almost completely to ourselves and we were able to take as many people free photos as we wanted.


Next on the list was a visit to the Gearrannan Blackhouse Village just down the road from the Callanish Standing Stones. These are old traditional stone walled, thatch roofed croft houses. Now they are used as self-catering accommodations with a couple left as they were in the past. There is a fine gift shop/café set up in one of them. We had lovely bowls of soup with bread for lunch when we arrived, before visiting the houses. In one of the croft houses there was a man weaving Harris Tweed in the old way on a traditional loom.


After that we decided to see the windiest spot in Scotland, the Butt of Lewis and the lighthouse that’s there. There are also some Highland Cows along the road on the way. We enjoyed driving along the narrow, nearly empty road past farms, crofts and a few small villages.


It was getting late and we were getting hungry and a little tired so we headed back to our room to get cleaned  up, changed and go on the hunt for dinner. We didn’t really know where we wanted to eat except that we didn’t want to eat at the hotel again. The Crown has good food but we wanted to eat somewhere different.

About 2 blocks from our hotel we discovered The Lido. It was empty of customers and I know that’s usually a sign that the food isn’t very good but it looked like a great place so we went in anyway. We were so happy we did, they had wonderful service and amazing food.  Since they were empty we got to spend a lot of time chatting with our server Becky. She was very interesting, she’d moved to Stornoway from England and loved it here.

That night we both had the Smoked Salmon and Lemon Risotto. It was the best risotto either one of us had ever had. The rice was perfectly al dente and creamy, and the flavors were artfully combined not too much of any one flavor or ingredient. We ate every bite. We found out the name of our chef, it was Barnaby.

We liked them and the food so much that we had dinner there the next night too! I got the Smoked Salmon and Lemon Risotto again but Chris decided to try the Tomato Basil Risotto which was also quite good.

Photo of risottos

Our risottos.

We spent our last day in Stornoway wandering around town in the intermittent rain. We walked through the neighborhoods enjoying the quaint, quiet streets and little shops. We went into a knitwear shop and I bought a beautiful Scottish wool scarf that I fell in love with for about 25 pounds, which came in very handy during not only that day but the rest of our trip.


It began pouring as we got close to Lews Castle so we headed quickly up the path and inside for a visit as well as to stay dry. I discovered that the purse I thought was water resistant wasn’t at all so I had begun worrying about the things inside.

Lews Castle is interesting because from the outside it looks like an ancient castle but on the inside it is a museum with shops, a cafe and accommodations. We really enjoyed walking through the castle, and on the grounds even though it was raining.


Lews Castle

By now it was time to head back and get in line for the ferry to Ullapool, one of our very favorite villages in Scotland. Ullapool is a small fishing village on the western side of mainland Scotland in the Highlands. It’s quaint, friendly and very picturesque. We stayed here last year and loved it so much we just had to stay here on this trip. This time we chose to stay at the Waterside B&B right at the pier. If you ever come to Ullapool we can highly recommend staying here. Donnie and Fiona are wonderful people and the inn is fabulous. The only thing you need to be aware of is they don’t take credit cards so bring cash.


When we arrived in Ullapool we checked into our B&B. Once we were settled we decided to walk down to The Arch Inn, have a beer and maybe some dinner. We had been there several times last year when we visited and knew they had good food and beer.

We weren’t disappointed, dinner was wonderful.


After a good nights sleep we were disappointed to find it was raining outside. We had planned to hike to the Bone Caves. After breakfast the rain seemed to let up so we decided to give it a try. It rained off and on as we drove to the trailhead and started lightly raining after we got there.

We really wanted to do this hike so we decided to head out anyway. We thought if it got too stormy we could just turn around. Unfortunately that’s what happened and we had to turn around when we were almost there. The trail gets narrow, slippery and steep toward the top and we decided it would be in our best interests to go back once the storm started getting worse. It was still a beautiful hike and we got some pretty pictures.

On the way back we stopped at the Elphin Tearooms for lunch. A very nice woman from Australia runs it. She turned on the heat for me and even put a chair in front of it. I was pretty wet and cold after sticking my foot through a thatch covered hole into water that came up above my ankle, while trying to stay out of the boggy areas during the hike back down from the Bone Caves trail.


Next morning, after another great breakfast of smoked salmon and scrambled eggs we headed off toward Pitlochry, a wonderful little village further to the east. We drove through Pitlochry on our trip last year and decided we should spend a few days when we came back to Scotland.

On the way we stopped to do a walk out to Rogie Falls where salmon run during the late summer, early fall months. Unfortunately we were too late for any salmon but the trail and the falls were beautiful in spite of the bogginess from all the rain.


After this wonderful walk we continued on toward Pitlochry. Along the way we stopped in the small village of Aviemore for lunch at The Mountain Café. The Smoked Fish Chowder was so delicious, I actually bought their cookbook.

If you would like a copy yourself, you can order it from The Book Depository.

I have since made my own version of the Smoked Fish Chowder based on the recipe on page 65 of the cookbook and we thought it was delicious.

We also stopped at Dalwhinnie Distillery for a whisky tasting which was very fun. For about £6 you get 4 different whisky tastings paired with small chocolates, a complimentary glass and book of discount vouchers. A server/whisky expert tells you about each whisky.

We got to the Ellangowan in Pitlochry late in the day and were super surprised at the luxury of our room! I’ve added a photo below.


We stayed in Pitlochry for 2 nights and were very charmed by the scenery and the people. It’s very much a holiday village and we were there during the Enchanted Forest Festival, which is huge. They decorate the forest with lights and it’s almost like a fairyland.

From the Enchanted Forest Festival web site:

With dazzling visuals and innovative design set against an original music score explore the stunning autumn woodland setting of Faskally Wood near Pitlochry. Using the forest as a natural backdrop, you will experience a lighting show that is, quite simply, out of this world.

The Enchanted Forest is renowned to be Scotland’s premier sound and light experience.

We walked 6.5 miles through this beautiful area, marveling at all the work that went into the event. I wish I had know about it when I was booking our trip, I would have bought us tickets. The event for this year runs, Thursday 28th September – Sunday 29th October 2017 and they sold all 50,000 tickets. The entire village of Pitlochry has a population of 3000.


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Our first night we had dinner at a place called The Old Mill Inn. It was recommended to us by our Innkeeper at the EllanGowan. Our food was delicious and the service was remarkable! The place was packed every table was filled and people were milling about waiting for tables, yet the host didn’t need to write us down and came and found us in the bar area when a table opened up for us. We were amazed!


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Our last morning in Pitlochry we got up early, packed up and went downstairs to have breakfast. Once again we wished we had more time.

We decided to take the long way on the A9 to Ayr by way of Stirling Castle. We hadn’t been able to make time to visit Stirling Castle last year and we really wanted to see it.

Stirling Castle is one of the oldest and most important castles in Scotland. Driving up to the town of Stirling, you look across a field inhabited by Highland cattle to a steep cliff on top of which sits Stirling Castle. It’s quite a magnificent and imposing sight. You can imagine why the Jacobites gave up on trying to take it.


Visiting the castle is well worth the money for your tickets. They even have free guided tours, docents, and a café inside for when you get hungry.

You can take pictures of everything in the castle, they only ask that you share some of your photos on their Facebook page.


We stopped a couple more  times on the way to Ayr. There are many trails accessible from the road so we walked along some of them or just stopped along side the road to take pictures and enjoy the views.

Ayrshire is just west of the area called The Scottish Borders. We had wanted to visit Rosslyn Chapel and Kelburn Castle which are both in the Borders area. I had a bit of a time finding suitable lodging in the Borders so I took a look in Ayr and found a terrific and quite reasonable place for us to stay, right at the racetrack, called The Western House Hotel. Unfortunately there weren’t any races running during our stay as it was off-season, probably why we got such a great price per night.

Note: You may wonder what I mean by suitable lodging.
I look for a place that has a restaurant and bar either inside the establishment or within easy walking distance. Chris drives so much when we go on vacation that I want to be sure that in the evening he can relax, have a beer or a whisky (or both) and some food without worrying about driving anywhere. I also look for breakfast included, a comfortable bed and ensuite bathroom, free parking and WiFi.  All of this needs to come at a reasonable price.

Our first full day in Ayr we woke up to pouring rain and wind so we knew we wouldn’t be spending a lot of time out of doors.

I had found Kelburn Castle on the Internet while we were at home and we were both really anxious to visit we also asked at the desk if there was a castle they recommended we visit. They suggested Culzean (the z is silent) Castle which we hadn’t heard of. We were so happy we asked because Culzean Castle and grounds are incredible.

We headed out and went to Kelburn Castle first.

From the web site:

Based around a 13th Century castle that’s had an amazing makeover courtesy of a team of Brazilian artists, the estate near Largs, Ayrshire also features dramatic walks, breathtaking gardens and many features of historical interest.

We loved it, the gardens and grounds are amazing with paths going over and past rushing waterfalls, streams and even a few discarded old pianos.


You can’t enter the estate as it is being lived in but you can spend quite a lot of time wandering the grounds.

Our next castle was Culzean Castle and Country Park and it’s stunning.

The castle has been completely restored and the grounds are gorgeous. We walked for miles in the intermittent rain. We went through beautiful gardens, the Camellia House, the the Swan Pond, visited the Monkey House and walked along the beach.


With directions and suggestions from the woman in the gift shop, we set off on the pathways through the grounds and gardens of Culzean castle.


It was just getting dark by the time we finished seeing all of Culzean castle and the grounds so we found our way out and headed back toward our hotel in Ayr.

We had dinner at the hotel and sat in the lobby sipping a dram of whisky before going up to bed.

The next morning was pouring again but we had decided to make a day of it by driving to Rosslyn Chapel near the town of Roslin, Scotland, UK. It’s worth going to the web site and reading about it’s history. There are also a few photos of the interior on the web site. Visitors are not allowed to take photos inside the chapel.


Next morning was the beginning of our last day in Scotland and it was pouring again. The rain hadn’t really stopped us from doing any of the things we wanted to do. Being from California we were actually finding the rain pleasant.

When we left our hotel in Ayr we asked about any castles along the way to Glasgow. There are many pretty close to Glasgow but we decided to visit one called Drumlanrig. We had actually wanted to wander around Glasgow but since it was raining so hard we thought that would not be a good plan.

As we got nearer to Glasgow though the rain started to let up and we decided to take a chance. We drove into Glasgow and thought we’d try checking into our hotel early. Lo and behold we got a beautiful room upgrade because our room wasn’t ready, (it was very early for checkin). Our upgrade was one of the nicest rooms in the hotel with its own private entrance, a fireplace and a lot of space. It was the perfect way to spend our last night in Scotland.


We stayed here our first night in Glasgow and were very impressed with the service, staff, food and beauty of the hotel. If you want to spoil yourself royally stay at The Hotel du Vin and Bistro.

It was close to lunchtime so we headed out the door toward the Glasgow Botanical Gardens and a café for lunch.

We found a little book store and café downtown and got sandwiches and tea. Then on to the botanical gardens. They are stunning, I took a “million” pictures and it’s going to be hard to figure out which ones to post here.

There are several glass houses but the most amazing is the Kibble Palace.


We decided to take the river walk back to our hotel. On the way we were stopped by what seemed to be hundreds of teenaged boys and girls running the river trail. The ones toward the back were out of breath and walking or trying to continue running but all seemed to be having a great time and their coach gave all of them smiling words of  encouragement.

Chris caught a short video of them but since I can’t upload movies to the free WordPress account I’ve cropped out an image.

Glasgow Academy runners

Glasgow Academy students running along the River Trail. — Chris Neary

After they all passed we restarted our walk along the trail back to our hotel. It’s such a beautiful place to walk and run even though it was raining off and on.


On the way back to our hotel we decided to walk on to a pub Chris had heard about called 1051 GWR and have a beer. It turned out to be a great place with very friendly staff running it and good beer and wine so we decided to come back for dinner that night.


Back home after a long flight and long security lines at Heathrow plus an extra check for us. Things were very different when we got to SFO though. We had qualified for Global Entry so customs and security in the USA was a matter of swiping our passports, checking off a few boxes and collecting a printout. In and done! Nice!


The smoke from the fires made the sunset at SFO eery.