Scottish Highlands - A Winter Wonderland
A few weeks back, as we scrawled through our morning timeline, digesting our digital update, one piece of news jumped out a smacked us in the face. Scotland had been voted the most beautiful country in the world. Of all the exotic and beautiful places we have been lucky enough to travel through The Travel Project the most beautiful one was right here on our doorstep (kind of)! For years now we have been planning to make the trip up to the Scottish Highlands and this was the final straw, time to consult some Scottish Instagrammers and head north. What followed were four of the best days of The Travel Project to date. Below is a quick run down of our trip, its highlights and some of the tips that guided our adventure.
Getting There - The Caledonian Sleeper
Call me a geek but I like trains. There is something about the world whizzing by out the window that I find very relaxing, a sort of real world tv that i could spend hours watching. And seeing as we’re being geeky my favourite type of train is a sleeper train. It’s a mixture of the novelty and the efficiency as you combine transport with accommodation that appeals to me. That is why we were particularly excited to partner with Caledonian Sleeper as our transport to the Highlands. The train is one of only two sleeper trains in the UK and prides itself on being “Not just a train ride but an escape - an overnight teleport from the hubbub to the Highlands” and it is fair to say that this statement pretty much sums it up.
Our train left London Euston at 21:30 giving us enough time to have some dinner and a few glasses of wine before we left. As we boarded we were shown to our rooms which contained a single bed and sink each and were connected by a door. This was the first class option with second class being the same but with one room with bunk beds. Once settled the natural next step was to make our way to the bar carriage for a night cap. One drink turned to three as the extremely friendly barman took the time to educate us on the finer points of Scottish whisky. After some good sleep we were woken by the arrival of our breakfast and one of the most amazing scenes we have ever witness. Overnight it had snowed heavily resulting in a winter wonderland greeting us outside the window. The remainder of the journey was spent watching in amazement as mountains, stags, camouflaged sheep, frozen rivers and miles of snow coated landscape sped by. We pulled in to Fort William at 9:30 refreshed and extremely excited to explore. It really did feel like we had just teleported from London.
Where To Stay
When you arrive in Fort William you will quickly get impression that despite it’s stunning surroundings it is not the most picturesque town and therefore we would not recommend staying there. We found a small cabin on airbnb 10 minutes from the station and it was perfect for our needs; small, warm, affordable and in the mountains! We used this as a base to explore the highlands and would highly recommend it.
Our Top 5 Highland Experiences
Our original plan was to focus the trip around climbing Ben Nevis, which is the highest peak in the UK and therefore naturally provides some of the most stunning views of the Highlands. However, it being mid December and with the amount of snow that had fallen combined with temperatures as low as minus nine and a narrow window of light we were advised by several locals that climbing it was a bad idea. However this is did not mean we were short of things to do, in fact just the opposite, we were inundated with tips and using Fort William as a base we were able to see a lot in the 4 days we were there. In order to make the most of the stunning highlands we would suggest that, if you don’t already have one, to rent a car, that way you can drive where you want when you want.
Eilean Donan Castle
First up was the famously picturesque and must see Eilean Donan castle. For years we have seen pictures and heard stories of this beautiful castle and now we know what all the fuss is about! The castle is built on a tiny tidal island located in between three sea Lochs giving a uniquely dramatic setting and fairytale feel.
How to get there:
The castle is an hour and a half’s drive from Fort William, but it is a stunning scenic drive that only adds to the overall Highlands experience and is worth every minute to see this iconic piece of 13th Century Scottish history. Due to its proximity to the Isle of Skye we were tipped to incorporate visiting the castle into visiting Skye’s famous Fairy Pools, which is exactly what we did...
The Fairy Pools - Isle Of Skye
An Hour and a half’s drive from Eilean Donan Castle are the Isle of Skye’s famous and intriguingly named, Fairy Pools. Sitting at the foot of Black Culin Mountain they are a network of crystal clear pools linked by a series of streams and stunning waterfalls. As we were there in the deepest depths of winter the pools were surrounded by snow, were half frozen over and we only encountered one other person during our entire visit. However in the summer it is a completely different story. As the colour of the landscape turns to greens and the water takes on a tropical look, people flock to this spot to bask in the sun and enjoy a refreshing dip. This really is a special place, one that is now on our natural swimming spots list for next summer!
How to get there:
Once you are on the Isle of Skye you drive for 30 minutes before turning off a small dirt road, keep driving along this for 15 minutes and don’t lose faith! Before too long you will arrive at a small, sign posted car park. From here the pools are a 20 minute walk through a beautiful glen. We would recommend some proper walking boots depending on the time of year as the ground gets pretty wet!
Glen Etive - Wildlife
We wanted to photograph some of the famous Highland Stags and were straight away pointed in the direction of Glen Etive by a local wildlife photographer who informed us that not only was this the best place to see these majestic animals but it was also a place of extraordinary beauty. Glen Etive has been ‘put on the map’ by the James Bond film, Skyfall and lives up to it’s new found cinematic fame with miles of untouched mountains, a stunning Loch and of course the beautiful deer.
How to get there:
The drive from fort William to the beginning of Glen Etive is about an hour and takes you via Glencoe another beautiful glen. The drive from Glencoe is one of the most dramatic we have done in the UK and it’s remote location meant that we did not see one other person the entire time we were there!
Steall waterfall is located near Fort William in Glen Nevis and is the second biggest waterfall in Scotland reaching 350 ft. The walk to the falls is around an hour and is known as one of the best short walks in Scotland. Once you reach the falls you will not be disappointed, surrounded by beautiful mountains and epic in scale, Steall Waterfall is absolutely stunning.
How to get there:
Take the road Glen Nevis road from Fort William all the way to the end, keep going until you see an obvious car park. From there it is an obviously sign posted walk for an hour through some pretty special scenery.
Perhaps the most famous landmark in the Highlands Glenfinnan is a railway viaduct of epic proportions that towers over the glen overlooking Loch Shiel. However the viaduct is probably most famous for its role in the the Harry Potter films….
In ‘real life’ the viaduct is used by the Jackobite steam train on its journey from Fort William to Mallaig. We didn’t have time to do the journey but it is meant to be incredible, for more detail check out the website.