“My home is my castle” had a much more literal meaning for ancient Scots than it does for the rest of us. Many of these imposing structures survive today, and sit among some of the most breathtaking natural surroundings in Scotland.
We begin with an adventure in the dramatic sprawl of DUMBARTON CASTLE, a beautiful fortification built on a volcanic basalt which positively towers over the surrounding river and city, at 70 meters high. If your fortitude holds through the nooks and crannies of its stairs, you’ll be rewarded with a spectacular panoramic view.
From there we head to LUSS, a sweet little village in the nature reserve of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs. From here are some of the best views of Scotland’s biggest loch, a serene expanse of quiet water and clear, fresh air, hugged by mountains.
And then it’s on to a cosy, charming hotel in INVERARAY, a preserved Highland township, on the banks of Loch Fyne, to wrap up with food and a relaxing evening. Here you might try a traditional Scottish dish like Cullen Skink (a hot, creamy seafood soup), oysters or mussels – and if you pick the right table, you might even see Loch Fyne itself through the window.
After a good night’s sleep, we begin our second day in INVERARAY CASTLE – a magnificent ancestral home set among immaculately tended gardens and rough paddocks of sheep and highland cows. Inhabited to this day by the Duke and Duchess of Argyll (the Duke is known to help out in the gift shop and even greet guests on occasion!), this castle is a real walk through history, where we can explore medieval arms and dining room relics.
Next we refuel at the LOCH FYNE OYSTER BAR, something of a local temple to shellfish! It has earned several awards for its signature seafood; smoked mussels, herring, lobster, grilled langoustine in garlic butter – the perfect thing to wash down with a great white wine.
On we go, then, to KILMARTIN GLEN. This valley formed by an ancient glacier is full of prehistoric sites to hunt and explore: from Neolithic and Copper age cairns to mystic standing stones and megalithic art, from the crowning of ancient kings to burial sites and chambered tombs. The wonderful maintenance and open-access nature of this site mean that, unlike Stonehenge, we can actually walk in the footsteps of those who created these monuments, and actually touch the past.
We end our day in the quaint fishing town of OBAN on the west coast, sometimes called the Gateway to the Western Isles, with a little surprising piece of Roman history in Scotland.
After a hearty breakfast, we begin the third day of our tour in FORT WILLIAM. Situated on Loch Linnhe, this city in the Western Scottish Highlands is a real hub for historical sightseeing, hillwalking, shopping and cycling.
Next, it’s on to the GLENFINNAN VIADUCT, one of the most famous railway bridges in the world. The marvellous Hogwarts Express steam train famously crossed this viaduct, taking Harry Potter to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, suspected to be hiding somewhere in the rough Scottish Highlands. But you don’t need to be a fan of the boy wizard to appreciate this grand and impressive place, set on the calm, lonely Scottish hillside, among running water and chirping birds, it really is steeped in history with a hint of magic!
Then we take a few deep breaths of the cold, crisp air, as we take to the water on the ferry from Mallaig to Armadale. We’ll check into our hotel on the ISLE OF SKYE, where our evening will peacefully unwind.
We start our morning with an invigorating walk through blooming heather and mountains often shrouded in mist and cloud, to the FAIRY POOLS OF SKYE. These enchanting white-water waterfalls and pools have often been the seed of whimsical stories and folklore – rumoured to be where fairies and fair folk dwell.
With a little glimmer of fairy dust still in our minds, we continue and make a photo stop at EILEAN DONAN CASTLE. At high tide, this castle is only reachable via an old stone footbridge, and sits on a small island surrounded by the picturesque scenery of the loch and hills, making it a perfect postcard moment.
We enjoy more quintessentially Scottish scenery on the route to GAIRLOCH, a small and charming village on the shore of Loch Gairloch. Here we can take a swim, wander around the shops or simply explore more of its captivating natural surroundings.
A visit to INVEREWE GARDENS is next. A treasure trove of botanical diversity, and riot of colour, this is one of the northernmost botanical gardens in the world. On the same latitude as Hudson’s Bay in Canada, it has it’s own unusual microclimate from the warm currents of the Gulf Stream.
Our last stop is the lovely seaside village of ULLAPOOL, located on Loch Broom, where we wrap up our day’s tour with a leisurely evening.
Our next adventure is CORRIESHALLOCH GORGE. A short walk through lush woodland alive with wild birds and insects, and the refreshing scent of wet vegetation, takes us to this awe-inspiring suspension bridge over the great Corrieshalloch chasm, where water crashes down a spectacular 200 feet.
Next, we head to the BLACK ISLE BREWERY, a small but creative brewery in pastoral, Highland surroundings, complete with their own flock of Hebridean sheep! Using only the finest and freshest organic ingredients, it’s clear that the brewers here care deeply about their craft, producing beers which unite past tradition and future innovation in every sip.
From there we zip up to Inverness, a small Northern city which straddles the River Ness, famed for its salmon fishing. In summer the city brims with adventurers seeking the mythical monster which is said to swim in the nearby Loch Ness. Here…
Our sixth day is all about Culloden and the Clava Cairns. In 1746 Culloden was the arena on which one of Scotland’s most famous battles took place – between British government troops and insurgent Scots and Jacobites. A place with a bloody past, but now boasts a tranquil beauty.
You can’t visit the Inverness area without experiencing the Clava Cairns – a system of stone circles, it’s impossible to see these monoliths without feeling the tug of an ancient and mysterious past.
With our historical curiosities piqued, what better time to visit another fantastic Scottish castle?
The Brodie Castle, ancestral home of the Brodie clan, is an imposing building embedded in a 70-hectare park, full of pondlife and green vegetation. Here, it’s easy to imagine the kinds of influential gentlemen who lived back then.
Enough history? Then let’s knock at the door of the Knockando Woollen Mill. A real historic woollen mill, where the craft of yarnmaking is still alive, and practised with love and tradition.
Now, together we move on the Nethy Bridge, a quaint and picturesque little corner of Scotland you’re sure to fall in love with. Then it’s goodnight, and see you tomorrow!
The charming and beloved town of Pitlochry, nestled alongside the River Tummel, is where we start our morning. Worth visiting whatever the season, the town is set among bright green woodlands in Summer, crisp gold and red leaves in Autumn, or illuminated by the bewitching lights in Winter.
And finally, the jewel of Scotland’s cities, and it’s capital, Edinburgh calls us. Draped over a jumble of rocky hills, this beautiful city’s medieval tenements compete with grand modernity and create a mosaic of dark wynds, cobbled nooks and higgledy-piggledy crannies just longing to be explored.
Edinburgh’s rich history of politics, art and literature is worn on its sleeve, and is the perfect place to round off our tour. Experience some of Scotland’s loveliest treasures here scientifically-brewed coffee, artisanal shortbread, quality whisky, craft beer, beautiful tartan, Stirling Silver trinkets, warming traditional pies and foods and of course, the colourful explosion that is the Fringe Arts Festival.
After a full week of adventuring, we pack our new, precious memories into our bags along with everything else, and say a bittersweet goodbye. Scotland can’t help but leave its mark on your heart.
So, what do you say? Are you ready for an adventure