Below are the highlights of my 2018 trip to the Scottish Highlands with my travel soulmate and good friend, Lené.
Plans: We fly from London to Inverness, where we’re renting a car. We’ll stay there for two nights to explore the surrounding area, and then drive to Edinburgh for three more nights.
When: June 2018.
Day 1, London – Inverness. 98% Sure we’re Youtube famous somewhere
We’ve just finished up a couple of insanely busy days in London (you can read about that trip here if you like to do things in sequence, or even if you just like sequins), and we head to the airport via taxi. We’re tired from being on the go for three days straight, and I’m vibrating from being in a busy city. The natural thing to do is to have really strong coffee in excess, right?
Inbetween buying Kiehl’s facial oils and YSL Touche Eclat on a less 50% mid-air sale and going cross-eyed from a monstrous migraine, I let Lené know that I need some time out when we get to Inverness. She gets it (let’s take a moment for travel soulmates if nobody minds) and agrees to explore solo for a couple of hours so I can selfishly recharge in peace.
But something happens as we land in a very windy Inverness. As we drive away from the airport, I turn down the first little road and we end up in the most gorgeous little town. We get out, walk in the middle of the road, sit by the rocks. We drive some more and the beautiful towns just keep coming. Everything was glorious, beautiful and exceptionally tranquil – turns out that was all the recharging I needed.
That was until we drove up to our hotel and the biggest parallel parking malfunction in the history of parking malfunctions occurred. I pride myself in being able to parallel park due to my dad’s math lessons/instructions back in the day, but things went very, very wrong that day.
I don’t even have an excuse. Things escalated after I failed the first attempts and I started listening to the directions of my very enthusiastic and helpful BUT ALSO DELUSIONAL co-driver. Very soon everything went to absolute shit. There was a couple fighting in and out of their car in the spot behind us, and I’d never wished so badly for people to either break up or make up so they could just LEAVE and I could use the space for a minute to get the bloody car in there.
I eventually abandoned ship and left Lené to park the uncooperative car as I sat on the sidewalk – more chaos, as she didn’t get along with our rental for the first couple of days. We eventually ended up next to the parked car a good 25 minutes later.
I apologise for bringing shame upon the family, dad.
As I dry my eyes, I look up only to find approximately 40 pub patrons FROM OUR HOTEL watching us with great interest and amusement. It may have been 140, embarrassment is clouding my memory.
I curtseyed and we got our suitcases from the back.
This, along with an emotional bonding session and the endless, ENDLESS daylight hours all added to the perfect storm that resulted in a bender that made the Scots around us proud. And that’s no small feat – at The King’s Highway, the pretty decent hotel we stayed, they serve shots in plastic glasses ‘because people throw them at each other’, the barman apologetically mumbled.
We move on to our second location for the evening to experience Ceilidh – a bunch of people gathered around tables in a pub, all playing violins and flutes and ukelele-like guitars (ahem – if memory serves those are the correct instruments) while everyone else cheers, claps, bangs on tables, sings and drinks some more.
The pub is called Hootananny and we mostly shout the name at each other in our newfound Scottish accents. It’s fantastic for about half an hour. We feel very warm and fuzzy towards the Scots.
We then make our way to Johnny Foxes, a massive party pub, along with vast numbers of 18 year-olds. There was also a very nice Scottish fireman, but we really shouldn’t get distracted by him again. We eventually learnt that it was graduation night, and we continued to celebrate with the kids way into the early hours of the morning.
While I was learning about the intricate details of firefighting in Scotland and where exactly the Shetland Islands are, I lost track of Lené numerous times in the large circular bar. But every now and then I would hear her approaching from afar with a new herd of men, women or freshly graduated children.
We gracefully strolled to our hotel just before sunrise, with a suspected Russian gangster (who was in fact an exceptionally well mannered Scotsman – long story, wine makes me gullible) following a few steps behind to ensure we safely reach our place. Back in our room Lené definitely gave herself brain damage by hitting her head against the same slanted piece of ceiling three times within the space of five minutes.
We rested for a large part of the next day.
Day 2, Inverness. The world’s worst hangover traps us in a boat
Our hotel room is on the third floor of an ancient building, and I swear it sways in the wind. Like a boat on a stormy ocean. There’s a weird partition wall in the middle of the room, and we communicate around it in grunts from our respective beds. Neither of us could move until about 3pm. There may have been crawling. You can order food and drinks from the downstairs pub via an app, but unfortunately neither of us were able to work a phone. We settle on tap water.
Thank the travel gods for daylight until 10pm, because we only got to the car at 5. Loch Ness is much, much larger than I could ever fathom. It’s majestic, serene, and overwhelmingly beautiful. We drive along it for what feels like endless kilometres, and the sights and views really are breathtaking.
Fort Augustus is a picturesque little town, and has more great views of Loch Ness. It’s one of the most beautiful areas I’ve ever seen, and we’re both a little overwhelmed with emotion (and post-intoxication, I’m sure) so there are a couple of teary moments as we take in the sights. It was very windy, which in combination with our slightly fragile states made exploring on foot ever so slightly challenging.
Since we made friends with 83 locals the previous night (the Scots are friendly and funny and lovely people, even before I had all the wine) we hide in a corner of the family friendly side of the hotel pub so we can have mozzarella sticks and pies. A few people still greet us. Not all of them look equally familiar.
Massive public embarrassment and borderline alcohol poisoning aside, I would go back to Inverness in a heartbeat if it wasn’t for the painful UK visa process.
Next stop –> Edinburgh