Otherwise Known As: Attack of the Midges!
01.06.2012 - 11.06.2012
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Date of Travel: June 2012
Travel By: Road
Length of Trip: 11 Days (part 2)
Travellers: a Mom, a Dad, an OlderBoy (age 7-but-practically-8), a YoungerBoy (age 4)
Itinerary: Days 6 - 11: Eilean Donan Castle, Isle of Skye, Dunvegan, Old Man Stoor, Fairy Pools, Glenfinnan, Castle Stalker, Loch Lomond
Base Camp: Days 6 - 9: Skye. Days 10-11: Loch Lomond
Trip Report: We left Inverness and headed towards the Isle of Skye. Just before we reached the bridge that allows you to drive onto the island, we literally passed Eilean Donan Castle on the way. This castle is very picturesque when the tide is high and it is surrounded by water. When it's not surrounded by water, it's still pretty, but it's also covered in mossy, ugly rock. On our way to Skye, the water was low. On our way out of Skye, the water was high. We got the best of both views.
Eilean Donan at low tide.
Eilean Donan at high tide, now with water and bagpipes.
Our base camp in Skye was in a cottage in Dunvegan. I believe the entire town of Dunvegan is devoid of mobile and Internet connection. However, a small price to pay for the very comfortable lodgings of Painter's Cottage, which I would recommend without hesitation. The cottage was about 5 minutes away from Dunvegan Castle, which is worth touring, and a lovely restaurant, The Old School Restaurant, which is just across the street. Also within walking distance of the cottage were two bakeries that were never open while we were actually at the cottage, and a few small convenience stores.
Skye is just an incredible place of breath-taking scenery. We drove across most of it, and it was a pleasure to drive around, stop, drink it all in. The roads are narrow (so driving is slower) and many times you are sharing the road with animals, so just be cautious!
Highland Cow says, Share the road.
On our first full day, we took a hike up to Old Man Stoor, the name for one of the rock formations that just look like an old man. You park at a small and crowded lot and the base of a mountain, and start your journey up by going through a bit of forest. We were here in June, so the midges were out in full force at this time! Midges are like gnats - they swarm and bite and are just a plain nuisance! However, unlike mosquitoes, the bites don't itch - they just turn red. (The "bug spray" that everyone recommends using is Avon Skin So Soft, which is more of an oil than a spray. We used it and got swarmed - there is no avoiding that. But one day we didn't use it and we were covered in red marks - so it really does help.) After emerging from the forest, you continue the uphill trek through a rocky path up to the mountains. At the marking of the Old Man of Stoor rock, the kids and I took a rest while my husband actually climbed up some of the rocks to take pictures. Then we continued on a grassy trail to a lookout point, took in the gorgeous view, had a snack, and walked back. The weather was good and it was a lovely walk. Again, I should stress that the entire walk is UPHILL and some parts are steep, but my 8 year old did the entire walk himself with no problems. (The 4 year old did get some shoulder rides from Dad.) There were people of all ages making this hike as well.
The Old Man of Stoor. Perpetuating the stereotypes of grumpy old rock men everywhere.
Nearby Old Man of Stoor, we took a stop to see Kilt Rock, which is a beautiful formation of rock and waterfall. There is a lookout point clearly designated to see the waterfall, but it's hard to get a clear view. It doesn't look like you can actually get close to the waterfall either, unless you are taking some kind of boat out on the water.
Another day in Skye, we drove over to the Fairy Pools in Glen Brittle. This is an easy walk along multiple waterfalls that flow into each other and create pools of water. You can even wade around in the pools, but you need to be careful, since the pools just suddenly stop and drop off. We even saw some people diving into the pools, although it was a bit scary to watch - not for everyone! The water is a gorgeous blue and the backdrop of the green mountains really made it a majestic place. This was my favorite destination of our Skye trip!
Glenfinnan and Castle Stalker
Leaving Skye - and passing Eilean Donan once again - we headed towards Loch Lomond, with a few stops along the way. The first stop was Glenfinnan, which has a beautiful lookout to see the Glenfinnan Viaduct. A train passes by at certain times of the day - and not just any train, the very train they used to film the Harry Potter movies. That's right, if you are there at 3 pm, you will be able to see the Hogwarts Express pass by! (I believe there is also an 11:20 am train - check the times before you make your plans!) One note: once the train goes by, wait at least 20 minutes, because another one will cross in the other direction!
No wizards were aboard this train.
Continuing on, my husband took us a little out of the way to head towards Castle Stalker, which is the only other castle that was used in the Monty Python and the Holy Grail movie. The castle is private and there isn't a very clear way to get down to see it, but we did manage to park our car along a road and walk towards the beach that would give us a view of the castle. This is another castle that is completely surrounded when the tide is high.
There's no easy way to get to this castle. It might be because they don't want you to get to this castle.
Here's the part where we actually had planned to end our Scotland journey (read: I had planned out a very detailed itinerary and ended it here). But, at the last minute, we decided to add on an extra 2 nights in the Loch Lomond region (read: my husband added on 2 days without researching anything). The lodging we stayed in was in the heart of the Trossachs National Park. They have multiple lochs in the area and they are extremely beautiful - but this is not the place to stay as a base camp for exploring other regions. You stay here to actually stay in the park area and do outdoor activities, such as boating and biking and hiking. On Day 9 of our trip, however, this was not what we were looking to do. And of course, in June, the midges are just wretched, especially in a forested area. So, I can't say that we did much or even went out to eat much in this area, since it took at least 25 minutes to drive to the nearest food lodging and 45 minutes to get out of the park area because the roads are very narrow and winding around the lakes. That said ... we relaxed and were never in a hurry. We also did take a boat ride on Loch Katrine, but it was very slow and a bit uninspiring for the price you pay to take a boat ride. I would suggest, instead, to walk around Loch Katrine or to take a bike ride, because the area is very beautiful.
Loch Lomond. The midges are hiding.