Bringing a bag just for our shoes -- hiking boots, golf shoes, dress shoes, walking shoes and flip flops for two.
After a rough red-eye flight to Edinburgh and a small snafu at Europcar, we headed to a nearby mall to get a SIM card and grab a bite to eat.
Then we drove for two hours to Argyll. We passed by Glasgow, lush green mountains, and a few yaks (?) on our way.
We checked into our quaint, lake-front hotel, then took a much needed nap. We woke up feeling refreshed enough to explore the area. Even though it was lightly drizzling, we had a pleasant walk.
After a light breakfast, we continued our walk around the other side of the lake.
Before the hike, we grabbed a quick bite at this cute pub. It’s a nice place to grab a drink, especially on the patio on a sunny day. Would not recommend the burger.
We met up with Ming, Stewart, some of their family and other guests from the wedding for a hike up Conic Hill. After we reached the first hill, we enjoyed tastings of Balvenie and Talisker whisky while taking in the views of the lakes. Jon and I preferred the smoky, peaty flavor of the Talisker.
Then we continued up to a second hill for another lovely vantage point.
After the hike, Jon and I grabbed a quick beer outside on the patio.
On our drive back to the hotel, we stopped by some fish and chips place for dinner. The food was very salty -- probably not the best place for us to try haggis for the first time.
Along Loch Lomond, there was a small area that looked like a nice campsite. We stopped to snap a few shots of the reflective waters.
Stewart’s dad kindly treated us to a golf outing, along with Stewart’s brother Simon, and Eric. Fortunately the weather held out -- the course was a lot of fun, with a bunch of bunkers. After the round, we grabbed a drink at the clubhouse, then Stewart’s dad shared some funny family stories on the drive back.
After their rehearsal, Ming and Stewart hosted a welcome hog roast. Nothing makes Jon happier than a whole pig or lamb cooked on a spit. After the feast, Stewart’s friend’s band performed as we learned a festive Scottish dance that ended up more like bumper cars for us newbies.
The Lodge at Loch Goil is super charming. The outside grounds include an adorable tree house, a large willowy tree with a rubber tire swing, and a gazebo-like lookout -- all along a beautifully serene lake. The house is decorated in traditional Scottish style, with a greenhouse in the back for the reception. We explored the venue and chatted with guests before the ceremony began.
With only a slight drizzle, the ceremony took place along the lake, down by the large, willowy tree. Chung, Ming’s brother, led a sweet ceremony that included a few childhood stories. Stewart’s friend Marion sang a traditional Scottish song for the occasion. Congrats Mr. and Mrs. Bond!
Confusingly, in Scotland, a wedding breakfast is actually dinner served after the ceremony. We dined on lamb chops and sticky toffee pudding in the rear greenhouse, which had amazing light. Mel’s speech was entertaining and touching at the same time, while Simon gave us all a good laugh at Stewart’s expense.
Ming and Stewart kicked off the dancing portion of the night with the best first dance ever. They made their complicated swing routine look easy -- these two clearly make a great team. The quality of dancing quickly dropped off once everyone joined in for some traditional Gaelic dancing. We might not have looked good, but we all had a great time!
On our way to Oban, we passed by this oyster place that Stewart’s uncle spoke highly of. The space is lovely -- bright and open, with a charming private room and patio seating in the back. We ordered a half dozen oysters at first (it was morning time after all), but they were so good we got another round. I had smoked kippers, which were very tasty as well. This place proves that it’s never too early to have oysters.
I enjoy drinking whisky from Oban, so it was a treat to visit the distillery. The tour guide showed us how they make their whisky, and at the end we got to try their special cask-strength whisky. I was surprised to see how small the distillery and its operation is -- they only produce one million bottles ever year in a space about the size of my childhood house.
In search of a better fish and chips experience than our first in Scotland. This one was definitely better -- I got the haddock, no chips.
After passing through the quaint town of Fort William, we headed towards the bridge entrance of Isle of Skye. We were enjoying our drive, stopping every so often to take photos, when we approached a police car blocking the highway. Due to an accident, we had to turn around and take an alternate route that added over an hour to our trip. Upon arriving at our hotel, we were told that road closings are fairly common. I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised, given the windy, single-lane roads and unpredictable weather.
Before we reached the bridge to Skye, we stopped by Eilean Donan Castle. We saw several photographers camping out with their tripods, waiting for the sun to set. We later found out that the site is Scotland’s most photographed castle, due to its picturesque setting on the water.
This is a beautiful place. I was simply in awe while driving towards the little town of Portree, where we were staying. We were fortunate enough to reach Skye in time to experience the sunset. We even drove past a cute waterfront golf course, that seems to be pretty close to our hotel.
The Cuillin Hills Hotel is situated on the bay, slightly detached from the main touristy drag. There is a cute sitting room (photo below), and large dining area. The nicest feature is the hotel’s front patio lawn, with views of the Black Cuillins. Our room was okay, despite it’s old-ish condition.
Since the hotel kitchen was closed, we went into the main part of town for a late dinner. Our options were few -- we ended up at a nondescript Indian restaurant because we thought it would be nice to eat something ethnic-y for a change. After dinner, we went back to the hotel for some last minute trip planning, which was challenging due to the painfully intermittent wifi.
We grabbed a quick breakfast at the hotel, then drove to Dunvegan Castle, located on the west coast of the island. We joined the tour, which informed us of the history of the MacLeod clan, and took us through all of the rooms that were not being currently lived in. After the tour, we walked around the gardens.
Well, kind of. This tiny beach was a short 15-minute drive north of the castle, and a 10-minute walk from the car park. The beach is comprised of tiny, eroded bits of coral and seashells, and contrasts rather oddly with the rest of the rocky shores of Skye.
Drove to Three Chimneys, a restaurant in Dunvegan that I really wanted to try. Unfortunately by the time we got there, they were no longer serving lunch. Fed my disappointment with a mediocre cheese and tomato toastie from Skye’s oldest bakery. We did have a nice chat with one of the waiters about golf, though.
Golf. Because that’s what you do when you’re in Scotland. I really enjoyed this no-frills course just 20 minutes from our hotel.
Building up an appetite for dinner by drinking scotch and working on the front lawn of the hotel.
Ordered a collection of appetizers from the hotel restaurant for dinner. The food was surprisingly decent here. Nice mussels.
We woke up fairly early, in hopes of catching some nice morning light on the eastern coast of Skye. Instead, we were greeted with cold and heavy fog as we hiked toward the Old Man of Storr. The fog was so thick that I could only see at most 50 yards in front of me -- just light gray everywhere, and the occasional sounds of sheep. After almost an hour of blindy hiking, I could see a faint, steeple-like structure in front of me as the fog momentarily cleared. It was an amazingly huge pinnacle. We were surrounded by them and had no idea! It was the most dramatic landscape reveal I have ever witnessed.
The fog cleared for a bit, just long enough for us to take in the magical landscapes, and snap a few shots. As we continued to hike up to a higher vantage point, the fog returned and hid any views to be seen of the nearby ocean.
Jon doing his best tree impression.
We continued our drive north to the next site, Kilt Rock -- sea cliffs with pleated ridges and a steep waterfall. The stop was simply a lookout point, and felt a bit underwhelming (maybe it was the fog). After taking a few obligatory snapshots, we went back to the car to wait for Ellishadder Cafe to open at 10:00am.
We drove down a small road across the highway from Kilt Rock to Ellishadder Art Cafe. This cute little cafe serves light fare made from fresh and local produce. Since they do not serve lunch until 11:00, we ordered a potato scone with rhubarb ginger jam and curd, and a slice of lemon cheesecake with some tea and coffee. The lunch menu looked pretty good, though. Everything was tasty here.
We decided to work at the cafe for a bit, to see if the fog would burn off. It didn’t -- but we headed out for Quiraing anyway.
From Staffin, we headed to the car park of the Quiraing, one of the most picturesque regions of Skye. To get there, we had to drive along a single-track road that runs between Staffin and Uig.
Once again, at the start of our hike, the landscapes that surrounded us were completely covered in fog.
Then, just as dramatically as before, the fog began to lift, revealing a spectacular landscape.
Seems like a perfectly good place for a nap.
We were fortunate to have fairly clear skies for the remainder of our hike. The total loop was over four miles, and not terribly strenuous since we stopped frequently to admire the views and take photos. The contrast of the steep rock ridges and grassy plateaued hills was truly breathtaking!
After our hike, we drove along the remainder of the peninsula’s coastline. We returned to the hotel for dinner, since last night’s meal was relatively decent. The sea bass was cooked well -- so far the seafood in Scotland has been good.
Checked out of the hotel, then headed straight to Talisker for a tour and tasting. This distillery is much larger than Oban’s, and is nicely located on an isolated lake. After trying a few of their whiskies, we settled on a tasty cask-strength single malt called 57 North to bring home.
Some final scenic views of Skye.
Paul and Suz stayed here for their honeymoon, and had good things to say about the lodge’s Michelin-starred restaurant, so we made sure to stop by. We had the entire dining room and staff to ourselves, as we were the only ones at lunch today.
We both ordered the set lunch menu -- every dish was nicely prepared and presented, with delicate sauces. Highlights included the sea bass and the panna cotta.
We ended our meal with tea in the drawing room. There, we spoke to the manager for a while, who told us that the house was formerly a hunting lodge over 400 years ago for the nearby castle of the Donald Clan.
We loaded our car onto the ferry, and kicked back during the 15-20 minute boat ride to the main island. Too bad it was raining.
It was a long day of driving back from Isle of Skye in the rain. We dropped off the rental car at Waverley train station, checked into our hotel, then wandered around the area to find something to eat.
Mums seemed like the most decent place that was still open. Our waitress was extremely friendly and picked out a selection of sausages, mash and gravy for us. The food was okay -- we were just happy to eat and have a drink after a long day.
It’s cold and damp out, so I’m glad to be cozied up in bed. Our hotel is very comfortable and centrally located. Did a bit of research for our day in Edinburgh tomorrow and it looks like everything is within walking distance of the hotel.
Took a short walk over to Broughton Street for breakfast at Urbanangel. Ever since visiting Melbourne, I always order avocado toast if it’s on the menu. This one came out on thick slices of bread, and topped with a light salsa. It was pretty good, though it was missing a little bit of acidity. Jon ordered a smokie topped with a poached egg. The pastries and post-noon menu looked yummy.
We headed down the street to Artisan Roast, known as one of the best cafés in Edinburgh. We enjoyed a cappuccino in the back room and got a brownie to go.
We walked along Broughton Street, and checked out some shops. Highlights along the street:
A well curated shop offering designy lifestyle goods.
Modern, Scandinavian-inspired furniture and lighting from several European brands.
Quality crafts handmade by Scottish artists and designers. We struck up conversation with the friendly owner, Michael, and found that he used to live in San Francisco. We had a nice, long chat with him about living in Scotland, SF and NY. He sweetly gave us each cute pins, as souvenirs for our trip. Thanks, Michael!
Per Michael’s recommendation, we quickly ducked into the Mansfield Traquair chapel to see its lovely, brilliantly colored murals.
We explored the shops and alleyways of Princes, George and Rose Streets, before heading over to Edinburgh Castle. Since we were castled and toured out, we went to a neighboring whisky bar and shop instead.
Although it’s a total tourist trap, the shop has a great collection of single malt scotches. After telling the salesman that we liked Talisker 57 North, he recommend a few others:
Then we proceeded downstairs to the bar, and tried the Abelour A’bunadh, another cask-strength whisky. It was strong and delicious.
Warmed up by our scotch, we ventured out to the drizzly cold and walked around Grassmarket and Victoria Streets. Once a site for medieval markets and public executions, the Grassmarket area is now lined with eateries, pubs and shops.
A tiny bookshop selling art and design books.
A crafty store offering handmade jewelry, accessories and stationery.
Red Door Gallery
A charming art space and boutique.
At the junction of Grassmarket and Victoria, Hula is a little juice bar that also serves light lunch and pastries. Our spinach smoothie and tomato soup with cheese toast were pretty good.
No vacation would be complete without finding the local coffice. We spent a brief hour catching up on emails/work at this cafe, which had decent wifi.
Dropped by the hotel to grab warmer jackets, then made our way to Calton Hill.
It’s a short walk up to Calton Hill, which has some of the best views of the city and Arthur’s Seat.
We ended our day tour of Edinburgh at The Dogs, a cute little gastropub on Hanover Street. The fish and chips dish was massive and really good -- the best of our trip so far. The liver appetizer was yummy too.
After dinner, we had a nice walk back to the hotel.
Our time in Scotland ended with a idyllic train ride to London.
Note: purchase train tickets in advance -- prices increase significantly as they approach the departure date.