Previously, we shared the beginning of our trekking experience across the Scottish Highlands. While we intended to walk the Great Glen Way in two weeks, unexpected COVID-19 restrictions made it difficult to stick to this plan. Nonetheless, we remained open-minded and re-designed our travel plans. In this post, we narrate our adventures staying in, perhaps, one of the best hidden gems on the shore of Loch Ness. Moreover, we tell you about visiting the mysterious ruins of an ancient fortress. Finally, look out for our reflections on staying in Inverness, a place where rich history and contemporary life blend together to give life to the largest city in the Highlands.
Our narration left off in a sudden change of plans that led us to shorten our trip. We got an incredibly cozy room in the town of Drumnadrochit. This town is best known for its long history of monster-hunters, who in the past have conducted serious investigations on the famous Loch Ness Monster. In fact, most of these investigations have been documented and curated as an immersive exhibition in the Nessieland museum, which keeps running with adequate public health measures. Indeed, the town has a mysterious yet striking vibe. Not only are local people incredibly welcoming, but also have a charming form of small talk. Thus, unsurprisingly, most of the best advice we got for places to visit, eat, and appreciate the culture came from locals.
Photo: Urquhart Castle, Scotland
One of the perks of taking a slower approach to our trip was taking the time to visit ancient sites, such as Urquhart Castle. These ruins on the shore of the lake give a true glimpse of the past. Visitors are allowed to walk around the beautifully restored ruins and read compelling narrations of how different sections of the castle, originally built in the early Middle Ages, changed through time. On this majestic fortress, the winds from the West and the calmness of the lake merge in an atmosphere that is hard to describe with words but easy to experience on the spot. The castle was the site of countless Highland festivals and clan battles. The walls themselves were taken down and rebuilt along with the tides of Scottish history. If you happen to be traveling around Scotland, this piece of Highland legend is totally worth visiting.
Sometimes moments of mindful solitude are those that make a long journey worth all the tapestries. We did several day hikes from the village, on the advice of our B&B host Juliet. We found this quiet peacefulness on one of the hills overlooking Loch Ness. Admiring the view, smelling the fresh air, and hiking through the rugged paths are those moments that remind us why we deeply love travelling. We love travelling for the journey and not necessarily because of the destination itself. Because we believe the journey sparks those moments of reflexivity that might not occur otherwise. Especially after months of being quarantined at home, having the opportunity to connect with our surroundings felt incredibly liberating. Wandering the hills around the village allowed us to explore spontaneously the surrounding areas that we probably wouldn’t have seen had we kept to the tourist trail.
Photo: Inverness, Scotland. #DronePhotography
Our adventure finished in the capital of the Highlands, Inverness. We stayed at an Airbnb with a skylight that viewed across the city and into the hills that delineate the valle. Our host, David, suggested incredible places to eat and have drinks that we would have probably overlooked ourselves. We rarely visit a restaurant twice when we travel. However The Black Isle Brewery deserves an honorary mention in this post. Both their pizzas and craft beers cater to connoisseurs and casual foodies alike. From crisp lagers through to rich milky stouts, this brewery left us craving more of their flavours, and it’s served complete with a magical ambiance in their rooftop secret garden. For those coffee lovers, make sure you check out this café, where locally roasted grains are the perfect beverage to start a day. We wished more of the city’s historic sites were open to visitors. Nevertheless, walking around the city and along the river from ocean to forest are quite an impressive tour on its own.
So what did we learn from this trip? First of all, nothing about travel is predictable, especially in the time of COVID. We were so sure that we were prepared for this trek. After all, we walked 100 kilometres of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela last year without any issues. In our minds, the Great Glen Way couldn’t have thrown us anything we wouldn’t be able to handle. But circumstances change, and even the most seasoned travelers can find themselves in situations that are out of their control. Second, taking those unexpected problems in stride and making the most out of them is what makes travel so rewarding. If we hadn’t encountered those difficulties, we wouldn’t have seen the wild forests behind Loch Ness, or eaten the best coleslaw salad that we’ve ever had. Adaptability is the most important lesson a traveler can learn, and we are never completely finished learning it. Times like these are an exercise in our ability to take what life throws at us and turn it into lemonade (or whisky!).