Scotland: A country full of history, enchanted forests, beautiful landscapes and many lochs.
Honestly, until last year, we never thought about visiting Scotland. It never made it onto our bucket list. I think with Scotland being so close to home we overlooked it and never truly encapsulated it’s beauty. For the typical UK resident, travelling overseas to a warmer climate to get away from the seasonal depression of the not so warm ‘British Summer‘ was the norm. When asking family and friends Scotland was never on their to do list or vacations they recommend. Planning our trip for the end of January, we had a choice of either close to home or a city break. Due to our upcoming trip in April, we thought it was best to stick closer to home to avoid the hidden costs of vacating abroad (insurance, transport, currency change). Another decision we had to make was where to go in winter, your guaranteed wet and rainy days wherever you go in the UK! Upon researching on a travel Facebook group, numerous photos were cropping up of scenic Scottish landscapes, why not Scotland? We were prepared for the snowy forecast that would unveil but that didn’t deter us! Just under a seven hour drive, we would be finding ourselves in Edinburgh, a historic city with many of tales.
Things to do in Edinburgh:
- Visit Edinburgh Castle – It is the recognisable symbol of Edinburgh, it contains in depth history about the many conflicts it was involved in (26 sieges). It contains lots of war memorabilia and depicts how lives were lived in the castle. It also pays recognition to all the Scottish soldiers who lost their lives in World War I, II and more recent conflicts. We paid £17 each for all day admission to the castle. I’d recommend taking a packed lunch as the prices inside are steep. If on a budget, the castle has many great views outside that you have access too.
- Climb Arthur’s Seat – A free activity! It is a main peak among a collection of hills that gives a panoramic view over Edinburgh city and it’s surroundings. It can be accessed by a short walk from the town centre and is a mere 251m hill climb.
- Ghost Walk – A mixture of history and storytelling entertainment that delves into the lives of those living in the Underground City. We did this tour at night to give it a ghostly atmosphere and it didn’t disappoint! Ticket price was £11 each, we booked online however you can just turn up on the day as there are many companies selling their tours along the streets of Edinburgh.
If we could visit again:
- The Royal Botanical Gardens – Unfortunately due to a short amount of time we were unable to visit here. It houses one of the world’s largest collection of living plants. It provides scientific information about the plants evolution, biology, conservation and relationships. It is located a short walk from the heart of the city centre and costs £6.50 to view its entirety (included is a donation to the preservation of the gardens).
- Mary King’s Close Underground Tour – A different type of tour that showcases the underground city in more of a historical nature. It describes how different classes of people lived and relives the stories of different characters. Admission is £15.50 and the tour lasts 1 hour.
After the two nights spent in Edinburgh (we could have stayed another night) we commenced the 2hr45min drive to Fort William, the west highlands of Scotland. During the journey it began to snow, it was so beautiful! We stopped many times along the way, taking in all the views around us. The landscapes were unreal! Mountains engulfed the small road we were driving on to pass through. The roads were covered in snow and the trees now scattered with white flakes. There are many parking stop points along the way to get out the car and enjoy the view. Many coaches we passed were also stopping at the view points. We drove through the iconic location of Glencoe, known for it’s scenic route. It is the remains of a super volcano that erupted and has since been shaped by glaciation in the last Ice Age. There are many documented walks through the Highlands that can be found online or at the visitor centre in Glencoe.
Glencoe – glen of volcanic origins in the highlands of Scotland
We visited the Ben Nevis Visitor Centre to gain some insight about the local area and trails. We were given a map of local trails, a short description of each walk and the level activity that was required. On our first day we decided to trek up to Dun Deardail Fort, which was the remains of an old iron-age fort. It is thought that many different occupants rebuilt the fort throughout time, its colourful flags and banners would have been visible from all around demonstrating the communities power of the land. It is approximately a 6 mile walk up to the hill tops, the + 300m ascent rewarding us with incredible views! Due to the winter season we were unable to see any of the ruins because of the snow covering the hill top, however we believe we saw the outline of what once was a fortress.
What to pack when going on a trek:
- Hiking shoes and socks – A good sturdy shoe that can cover many terrains and thicker socks to keep your toes warm
- Winter gloves – The higher you climb on treks, the colder it gets and don’t forget the snowball throwing and snowman building
- Layers – The amount of times that I removed my scarf, took my coat off, put my coat back on, removed my jumper, the list is endless. You see my point. Whilst walking you can get warm, rather than having one big coat and an under layer i.e being hot or cold, it is recommended to build in layers so you can reach that ideal temperature to be comfortable on your treks.
- Photography equipment – A good camera whether that be to video your adventure or take photos of your surroundings.
On our second day, we decided to trek the Cowhill Circuit in hope of finding Highland cattle, or as I like to call them Hairy Cows. This circuit took us in a loop round the hill with an adjacent path leading to the summit of Cowhill. A short walk to the top led us to find four hairy cows! Definitely worth the extra effort to get to the top! The cows were very placid and not afraid of posing for a photograph (obviously use to the many tourists that stumble into their home).
Ben Nevis – the highest mountain in the British Isles
Things to do in Fort William:
- Mountain Gondola – For those that don’t ski/snowboard, taking a ride up the side of the mountain on a gondola was an experience. It takes you up to approximately 650m with the journey taking 12-15 minutes allowing you to view the surroundings of Fort William on route. At the top was a nice café called the Snowgoose where you can purchase lunch/beverages. There are two viewing points outside of the café where you can watch people skiing/snowboarding down the side of the mountain. We paid £16 each during the off- peak season (Oct-Apr).
- Ski/Snowboard or learn! – Although we didn’t take advantage of learning to ski, the offer really great prices to get you off to a good start! They have equipment ready to hire and ski instructors offering different hours/days of lessons. There are numerous different routes down the side of the mountain which are dependent on conditions.
- Mountain biking – You can access the top of the track by taking the Gondola to the top and making your way down the mountain side. Alternatively there are many routes that will take you to and from Fort William to the Nevis Range without having to use a single road.
In a nutshell Scotland over exceeded itself with its beautiful mountain landscapes and stunning views over the many lochs. We’d definitely recommend going! We will be going back again in the future to take the “Harry Potter” train through the Highlands and experience what the north of Scotland has to offer.