Do you remember what you did 17 years ago? I can tell you what I did.
I was 20 and went to work as an assistant teacher in a school in northern England. What was supposed to be the best time of my life slowly but surely developed into a nightmare stay. I just couldn’t settle in, didn’t feel comfortable, and was pretty lonely. Lucky for me, I met a girl in the house that I shared. A crazy French girl my age who made my stay much more bearable and enjoyable. Together we were able to support each other through what felt like an endless English winter.
When she crashed her car I comforted her with home-cooked lasagna, when I felt depressed she was there to listen. Together we lived in the house of an older gentleman, and while we both endured a wet and cold British winter on the under-heated upper floor of the house, watching breath clouds rising from our mouths in our tiny kitchen, we shared a laugh or two about the silliness of our mutual situation.
What I learnt that year was that the best friendships stem from hard times. If you manage to form a strong bond at a time when you are dreadfully down chances are that the relationship will endure even through the good times.
17 years on and we are still in touch. The French girl ended up living in Hampshire, while I moved to Australia. She got married, has two adorable kids. Same here. Her travel blog is my main source for inspiration. We live parallel lives at the ends of the world. Yet, we still manage to catch up from time to time, and when it happens it’s the sweetest thing you can imagine.
This July, I flew to London to visit my wonderful Coralie. Together we embarked on a 6 day road trip from England to Scotland. Though our time was limited we managed to squeeze in all the quintessential Scottish wonders: castles, distilleries, mansions, natural wonders, art work, gardens, and good food.
We even managed to return to the place where it all began – two middle-aged women standing in front of a suburban home in a provincial North England town, wondering where all these years have gone and what might have happened to their quirky English landlord who clearly was not living there anymore.
Over the next couple of days I will share with you on the blog some in-depth stories about our Scottish journey, peppered with hundreds of stunning photos of the Scottish Highlands. But for now, just the itinerary. Because maybe you are toying with the idea of going to Scotland yourself. And maybe you have a good friend too that you would like to tag along for a road trip of a lifetime.
Because friendship is one of the most important things in life even if you live on the other side of the world.
We left England in the morning to finish the day with an overnight stop in Bowness-on-Windermere in the Lake District. We stayed at the nostalgic Linthwaite House Hotel just out of town, a beautiful country retreat with cosy lounge rooms, stunning views and a garden with a swimming tarn, a mountain lake which was formed in a cirque excavated by a glacier. We also enjoyed the top-notch dinner there, all of it is featured on the blog!
Bowness turned out to be a perfect starting point for our Scotland trip, allowing us to enter the country refreshed the next morning. A quaint fishing village built in the local dark stone, dotted with inviting pubs and cafés, and nestled on the shores of stunning Lake Windermere – a perfect couple’s retreat, but also popular with families.
From Bowness we travelled to the village of Ambleside to see the Bridge House, a tiny dwelling on top of an single arched stone bridge, really just two rooms on top of each other that are connected by outdoor stairs. Ambleside is yet another pretty Cumbrian village which begged to be explored further.
From here we took the road to Crawick where a large landscape art project was opened not so long ago. At Crawick Multiverse, Celtic influences are married with cosmological myths – think druids meeting Major Tom. A perfect stop for families as the landscape is vast and open, making it easy for parents to keep track of their children while exploring the stone circles, artificial hills and strange landscape oddities.
While Loch Lomond did little to win us over (the rain certainly didn’t help), the road through Glencoe did warm our hearts. This is the Scottish Highlands at its finest. Winding country roads, enclosed by towering mountains that were caressed by rainy clouds, with water running down the mountainsides. I spent endless hours just watching the streams that formed into spectacular waterfalls on the side of the mountains.
Before heading further north we visited the site of Castle Stalker, which is best known as a setting for the Monty Python movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Set on its very own island it is a view to behold – unless you are visiting on a rainy day like us, that is. But you can have a wonderful lunch at the nearby Castle Stalker View Cafe, which is a convenient way of filling up your tummy while enjoying the scenery.
From here it’s another two-hour drive to one of the most famous castles in Scotland, Eilean Donan. Picture-perfectly positioned on an island in the place where Loch Long connects to Loch Duich, this beautifully restored castle can be reached by a stone arched bridge which famously featured in the Hollywood movie Highlander many years ago. We made it just before closing time, allowing us to explore Eileen Donan which is still tightly held in the hands of the family.
Since the Isle of Skye is just stunning and spectacular in its own right we decided to spend two nights here. We stayed at a wonderful B&B in Drumfearn, just a couple of kilometres outside of Broadford.
We couldn’t have chosen a better accommodation: apart from the best breakfast with wonderful local black and white puddings, we were also given a free whiskey nightcap when the hosts heard that we couldn’t quite make it to Talisker Distillery before closing time.
On the Isle of Skye we explored the gorgeous Fairy Pools (and got lost along the way, but that’s a different story!), lunched at the beautiful Kinloch Lodge which houses a first-class Michelin starred restaurant, and visited the little town of Portree which is famous for its colourful houses around the small port.
On our last real Scottish day we left the Isle of Skye to travel to Edinburgh. Leaving the city centre aside this time (although first-time visitors will love the city for sure!) we were heading for the famous Rosslyn Chapel in the town of Roslin. Made famous by Dan Brown’s mystery novel The Da Vinci Code, this chapel is packed with secrets and symbolism that will send shivers down your spine.
But before we got there we decided on a spontaneous stop in Perth, home to the coronation place of the Scottish kings and queens, Scone Palace. A worthwhile stop, as the palace is still home to the Sinclair family who have opened part of the house to the public. The gardens are equally enchanting and great for kids.
Right outside Edinburgh we also visited The Helix, a rather new gigantic art work depicting the heads of two Kelpies, the traditional horses that were used to pull the barges and coalships up the Forth and Clyde Canal. While I was wishing for blue skies on every other occasion of the trip, in this case the dramatic background set off these 30-metre horse heads perfectly.
As it turned out, we couldn’t reach Rosslyn Chapel in time, so we postponed the visit until our last day in Scotland, after a good night’s rest at the Aron Glen, just 2 miles from the chapel.
Aron Glen won us over in no time thanks to the well-stocked honesty bar which has had prices unchanged for the last 19 years. The perfect way to make guests feel comfortable in the small lounge room that also doubles as a breakfast room in the morning. A more thorough review will follow soon!
All of this and more will be shared over the next couple of weeks in more detail on the blog, so make sure you check back in soon. In parallel, my friend Coralie will share her own views on her travel blog Teatime in Wonderland.