The origin story.
I wanted to do a gastronomic tour of the UK and Scotland. We had been planning a holiday with my parents, forever, so finally the friendly neighborhood trip planner which is me, Sri, started off.
Initially, I was keen on visiting Edinburgh, then Speyside (the protected region in Scotland for whiskey distillation in the UK) and some isles as part of a whisky trail. DW let me dream on and then month before leaving she innocently enquired as to what else there would be to do in Craigallachie, Speyside. And I go..”we could play golf…maybe see some castles..”. She (not so gently) brought me back to earth making me realize that this whiskey trail dream, would remain just that, a dream. What with four of the five of us, not being whisky admirers, and if I was driving, then neither would I get to appreciate any!
Back to the drawing board. Along the way, we heard from friends about Arran Island and Arran Aromatics and shifted our trip northward. Then, some complaints later about not getting accommodation for five (odd number) people”, a few more grumbles, looking up ferry schedules, etc, we were set.
We eliminated Loch Ness (a big lake without any Nessie), Inverness (who wants to visit a war memorial), and sundry other tourist places.
After struggling with train schedules, and trying to get us on the Harry Potter train (we’d end up wasting a day going there, and promptly getting back), we decided to rent a car as the best possible solution for all issues. We read awful tales about the bad roads and questions about our foolish plans to cram so much into so little time, but after doing it all I can vouch that the roads were be-u-tiful, a pleasure to drive, without a single bump, even in the most remote villages.
I felt that driving at one’s own pace also gives one, the freedom to tweak one’s itinerary if something interesting comes by, and a lot more adventurous, like driving the car into a giant ferry to cross a bay, and the ability to explore the islands which can’t be done otherwise.
We wanted a mix of Highland and Island experience and started our Scotland trip from Stirling, reaching here, from the Lake District on Day 1. This is a beautiful small town with the William Wallace monument as a highlight.
We decided upon a night stay here as we wanted to catch the next morning ferry to the Isle of Arran from Ardrossan, which is a short distance from here.
Relying heavily on trip advisor recommendations, we booked 2 rooms at Argyll House B & B. A short distance from Stirling, we, as a routine, called up the B & B to announce our impending arrival. Our, to-be host, Joan seemed very surprised on the phone, as she didn’t have any such booking on her calendar. Why I am mentioning this at all, is to highlight that, despite making bookings way in advance, one can be in for a mighty surprise! Thankfully, Joan was an exceptionally friendly lady who despite the mix-up, went out of her way to arrange for rooms to host our family, in her friend’s B & B’s. Here, I may mention that the makeshift arrangement was in no way inferior to the standard we were expecting and we had a comfortable night’s stay!
On her recommendation, we had one of the most outstanding meals of the entire, month-long, England trip in this small town of Stirling, at a local gastro-pub called “Birds n Bees”.
The next morning, I was sweating bricks, because we had to reach the port of Ardrossan on time, en route to Arran and the family was least perturbed. Predictably, a wrong loop on the highway, and we were in the middle of a bustling jam in Glasgow, (which we had planned to bypass) at peak commute time! Somehow, extricated ourselves from the mess and reached the port on time.
At Ardrossan ferry terminal, we positioned our car such that someone else would be driving in before us (we had never done this before). The ferry itself was a humungous ship that offloaded 121 vehicles, including cars, trucks, and trailers. When the time for boarding came, as our luck would go, we were asked to lead the way, and it actually turned out to be a breeze. The entire operation is very well coordinated. By the time we had parked, put the hand brake down and informed the sailors that someone behind us hadn’t put on the hand brake. Everyone was loaded and set to go.
After landing we promptly put Arran aromatics in our GPS.. and toddled off.. Bought a load of toiletries, and tried about eight types of cheese at the creamery next door (including chili, pepper, garlic, burnt onion, grape!).
We then drove around the island (it’s a miniature island with a kind of ring road encircling it) and appreciated the change in micro-climate from point to point.
From Arran.. we crossed back to the mainland via another ferry (Claonaig- Lochranza) ..which was a mini-adventure on its own. We got so busy soaking in the beauty of Arran that we nearly missed our ferry from Claonaig!! When we reached the port, we saw the ferry already pulling out and our hearts nearly skipped a beat as we hadn’t booked a night stay on Arran, which is such a small place anyway. Luckily, we brought attention to ourselves with a couple of car honks and one wouldn’t believe.. they brought the ferry back for us!! Can anything be sweeter than that!! (BTW, I had read on a blog about this ferry being helpful enough to accommodate people !)
And thus, we arrived at Oban, one of the most spectacular drives of the trip, as well as a very beautiful quaint bay town. This was a pleasant surprise as our expectations were low, this being often described as a fishing town! We stayed here for two nights in a manor like B&B, called Argyll House.
Very scenic with awesome views of the bay! This is a large B&B, with permanent staff, and near hotel-like service. Dad and I appreciated the sherry and whisky after chilly walks. Breakfast was black porridge and haggis and oats with whisky and cream and more civilized offerings for the vegetarians. Btw, I had also made Atholl Brose, a concoction with oats, cream, honey, and whisky in India… Resembling Bailey’s Irish cream in taste…
There are multiple day trips from here to other islands like the Isle of Mull where u can do birding, Golfing, and stuff! Oban also has a famous distillery with some high-end single malt whisky by the same name. Me and dad went for a tour while the ladies shopped…Oban happened to be the first place in England, after London, where we found some shops open after 5 p.m!! Bought loads of Scotland trivia here, clan-patterned Tartans, golf balls, and such. Also, had a delectable blueberry pancake that could fill the tummies of 5, by itself!
I recall having a scrumptious dinner at a local restaurant we remember as “Kua Mua” actually called Cuan Mor.
From Oban, we started on day 4 and drove towards the Isle of Skye via Kyle of Lochalsh. Amongst one of the most scenic drives of Scotland! On the way, we saw the fairytale castle of Eileen Donan and passed some very picturesque Glens and Dales.
On the way, we happened to catch the Glengarry Highland games, which was a very authentic Scottish experience! Other than the Bagpipes, the games, and the races, also saw a Dog show, here! Fun-filled 3 hours!!
If you are a “Harry Potter” buff, you could alternatively take the famous train to Hogwarts. This train journey, I think begins and ends at Fort Mason and requires pre-booking as well as a day at your disposal. We couldn’t, unfortunately, fit this into our schedule but it’s again highly recommended!
Reached Skye by evening, after taking as many stops on the way, as possible, and spent two nights in Skye. Staying at Skye is way better, again to soak in the place and I would highly recommend the B & B called Carter’s Rest, one of the top-rated ones on TripAdvisor!
This is if you are a nature lover wanting only peace, serenity, and beauty to surround yourself. If you would rather see the main points and move on, you can see the city of Portree, the Talisker distillery, the Neist Point lighthouse, and some famous waterfalls there.
I dragged the family to the Talisker distillery and along the way sampled some brilliant “pub food”, a biryani look-alike called Nasi Goreng, at the “Old Inn” at Carbost, along with some awesome coffee.
At Skye, I and DW set out at 10:30 pm, in blinding daylight, with the last few dregs of petrol in the car tank to see the Neist Point lighthouse.
Other than the lighthouse, the crazy Scottish sheep and Highland Coos (long-haired) cows were the main attraction. Even after so many years of marriage, we drove down there like giggly adolescents, leaving Dad to teach Mom Snooker. I got to taste unchilled, filtered Skye whisky (Port Dubhe) thanks to our hosts. Our hosts were uber-sweet and shipped back a scarf to India which DW had accidentally left behind.
Another attraction at Skye included Skye Silver, where I got a Jacobite rose earring.
After spending two nights at the Isle of Skye and nicely exploring the island, we undertook, what we expected to be an arduous, long tiring journey to Edinburgh, via Pitlochry. But we were pleasantly surprised, as the journey took no time at all, what with all the beauty to behold, it became yet another trip to remember!
On the way, the over-enthusiastic moi with very supportive Parents and wifey chalked out a personalized whisky Trail (considering it to be a mandatory part of the Scottish experience) and visited small boutique distilleries like Dalwhinnie, adding to our collection of single malts.
Pitlochry is a small, picture-perfect, postcard town and also hosts the smallest Scottish distillery close to it, called Edradour.
We reached Edinburgh by evening. It’s a magnificent city with an old-world charm. By the end of the trip, we were so overwhelmed by castles that had no real interest in visiting Edinburgh Castle. Yet, we ended up doing the same, as it is one of the most famous ones!! Zillion things to do in Edinburgh with an evening spent strolling on the royal mile and those underground spooky trips!!
From Edinburgh, took a train to London (had booked this, way in advance and so got the tickets, dirt cheap for 5 people). On this picturesque train ride, we caught a glimpse of Alnwick Castle, more famous as the Hogwarts of “Harry Potter”.
Reached King’s Cross station in London, in the evening…did a photo-op at the station “9¾”… reached our hotel in a glum mood because another memorable trip was coming to a close. Spent a sleepless night, coz we had to catch the international flight the next morning…to Home!