July was a busy month after being in lockdown for so long – but I think August may just have been even busier!
As we try to welcome the “new normal” (which mostly consists of reasonable social distancing and that hugely controversial measure of wearing a piece of cloth over your face, in what is apparently, and bizarrely, a huge effort for some people to protect each other), it’s also been nice to feel relatively normal again, because taking those basic steps means that we are closer to normal than we’ve been since this all started.
We’ve had friends to visit, we’ve taken trips to other cities, we’ve been on a train for the first time since January, and we’ve even been on a tour (a boat tour, where we were sat outside the whole time and I managed to get very sunburned. In Scotland!).
All in all, it’s been, dare I say it, a brilliant month – right up until yesterday’s devastating news about Chadwick Boseman, that is. We watched Black Panther last night in tribute, and I’ve been enjoying reading stories about what a wonderful, resilient man he really was.
We took a total of one day off work in August, which means most of our adventuring was at the weekends, so I’ll do a similar format to my last post about July’s adventures! I’m still planning a whole bunch of posts about some of these trips individually, but August really has just been so busy that I haven’t had time to work on any of the posts in my drafts (current count: 25).
Here’s what we’ve been up to.
Weekend #1 – Isle Of Mull
Now technically this wasn’t the first weekend of August, because if you remember from my last post, that was the first weekend of downtime we had since lockdown restrictions were lifted. Which meant I was busy planning what we should do the following weekend.
Should we go to Glencoe? Maybe Oban? How about if we go to Oban, we also go to Mull for the day?! In fact, why not just go to Mull for the entire weekend? Actually, *furrows brow*… there’s an awful lot to do on Mull. Is a weekend going to be enough?
And so I ended up with a pretty tight but spot on itinerary, whereby we left Edinburgh straight after work on the Friday, passed by the awe-some scenery of Loch Awe (see what I did there?) but sadly didn’t get that postcard reflection shot of Kilchurn Castle that I’ve been yearning for, and headed for the coastal town of Oban.
We’d only ever visited Oban once before, so this was a great opportunity to give the town a second chance, as visiting in January really didn’t give it the justice it deserves. We stayed in a guest house which was completely non-contact; our key was left in an envelope in the hallway for us to pick up, and we dropped it into a box the following morning. It was a shame in a way to lose the human touch of staying somewhere like that, but if it means we can travel safely then I am all for it.
I really enjoyed the summer town vibe this time around, and we wound up the day sitting along from the harbour front with a rather nice view in front of us.
It had been a while since we had seen a good Scottish sunset!
On the Saturday, we were up bright and early for the first ferry over to Mull, where we’d have half an hour or so to potter around Tobermory before getting straight on another boat. I didn’t plan this deliberately, but we were on the very last boat tour of the season that stops at the Treshnish Isles. People go here for pretty much exclusively one reason:
During the week coming up to our trip, I was taking bets on whether we’d see the puffins on Lunga. Puffins only come into land to nest, and they are typically around from April/May until August before going back to spend the rest of the year out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. This video is from earlier on in the week, and when we boarded the boat, the crew were saying they’d had a great day with the puffins yesterday.
Of course, they had left that day. Literally all several thousand of them. Gone.
Not going to lie – I was very disappointed!! But that’s nature for you, and I’ve seen puffins several times before. Just not thousands of them, and none that close up. (A fun fact: apparently they enjoy the people visiting because we scare off the larger predatory birds that threaten them and their young! Second fun fact: The babies are called pufflings!!)
Anyway, disappointment in the lack of puffins aside, the boat trip was BRILLIANT. One of our favourite days ever, and I am not even exaggerating. I’ll be writing about it all soon – but we visited Staffa and the famed Fingal’s Cave, sunbathed on the puffin-less Lunga, unknowingly saw Princess Anne on a dinghy, and then, the piece de resistance:
Honestly… one of our biggest travel highlights, no kidding. (Keep watching the video because it gets better & better! Unreal!)
We stayed overnight in Tobermory, went to a pub for the first time since March, and spent the evening wandering the shorefront gawping at all the huge shoals of fish, crabs fighting each other, fish hunting other fish, and we thought we saw an otter until we realised it was a bit of driftwood (lol).
Never mind the rest of Mull – we LOVED Tobermory. It lives up to every positive hype.
The following day, we got in the car and took the coastal route all the way down the west coast of the island, which took far longer than we expected (about two and a half hours) and we almost missed the ferry to Iona. Iona is an incredibly interesting and beautiful island just off the coast of Mull, and I can’t wait to write more about it! It’s bursting at the seams with history – this is where Christianity was reportedly introduced in Scotland, and the original abbey dates from 563AD.
I loved everything about the second day as much as the first, from the winding clifftop roads to the unspoiled beaches and all the mountains in the south. LOVED it. Mull has catapulted itself into one of my top spots in Scotland.
This was genuinely (and very surprisingly) one of the best weekend trips we have ever had, and I’ll be sharing a full post about it soon!
Just got to narrow down the photos a bit more, because at the moment I’ve shortlisted about 60…
Weekend #2 – Edinburgh & a day out to Linlithgow, the Kelpies & Stirling
We had a couple of friends visiting Edinburgh over the weekend, so we did some light touristing around Edinburgh (mostly Harry Potter related – Victoria Street, hot chocolate in the Elephant Cafe, and a walk around Greyfriars Kirkyard) and planned to have a few drinks. This was definitely a case of learning about the “new normal”, because a lot of places had very limited space and required you to book in advance. We were then devastated to see that our favourite pub in Edinburgh hasn’t opened yet.
On the Sunday, I had planned a day out for us, starting with gorgeous Linlithgow a few miles outside of Edinburgh. Linlithgow is where we ended up spending our “wedding day”, and although the weather wasn’t quite as nice as it had been that day, it’s always a beautiful spot to visit.
From there, we headed to the Kelpies, which was our main site of the day. It was about the busiest I’d seen it, which surprised me, but being that it’s all outdoors, it didn’t really matter.
Our final stop was Stirling, one of my favourite cities in Scotland (it’s also tiny so it doesn’t really feel like a city). In light of what had happened in Edinburgh, we booked ahead for a restaurant, and ended up with plenty of time to walk up the hill to the castle, spend some time wandering a graveyard (this became a bit of a theme over the weekend!!) and grab a drink in a hotel that Robert Burns stayed in.
It was a really good day, and this is one of my favourite day trips from Edinburgh, so I may just to a full post on how to make the most of it!
Week #3 – Edinburgh, Glasgow & a camping disaster
One of our friends was staying for the whole week, but it was a last minute trip and we weren’t able to get any time off while she was here. It meant we spent our evenings exploring parts of Edinburgh she hadn’t been to, although the weather wasn’t great so we didn’t do as much as we’d planned. A highlight was probably going up Calton Hill on the nicest night and putting the world to rights as we took in all the views around us.
We also took a trip over to Glasgow one evening and met a couple of friends we hadn’t seen since the beginning of the year. Our friend visiting is incredibly artsy, so I was keen to re-visit all the street art Glasgow has to offer, and of course we managed to fit in another graveyard – the amazing Necropolis above Glasgow Cathedral! It was the first time I’d taken a proper walk around it and the views are great up there, so it was enjoyable all around. There were also lots of teenage goths hanging around and it took us all back to our youths!
Finally, we’d been planning a camping trip for ages, and where we would camp depended entirely on the weather. Which, typically, ruled out most of Scotland that weekend.
Now I know you have to come to expect rain in Scotland. But our first choice, Glenfinnan, would be heavy rain and thunderstorms overnight. Our second choice, Glencoe, was slightly nicer with only 8 hours of rain and 4 hours of that being torrential. Basically: the west coast was out. A bit of rain is one thing, but that sort of weather is just completely unenjoyable.
We had decided to drive up through the Cairngorms first, as our friend had never been that way before. We made a pit stop in Pitlochry for lunch, where it was raining, and I looked up the weather for Aviemore, where it would also be raining.
I was in a foul mood, so Ash made a decision. We didn’t know if we would be able to camp near Aviemore anyway, and around Inverness wasn’t looking too bad, so we could go to my parents’ holiday home – but instead of using the cottage to sleep, we could set up our tents in the garden!
It was so ridiculous but it was a story that was very us!
So instead of cutting across at Kingussie to Fort William (a road we had never taken before so I was keen to do it), we spent the afternoon in the Cairngorms with a trip to our new favourite loch – Loch Morlich!
It turned out that the weather there was actually okay, and had we not decided to go further north, I would have been quite happy camping here even with the forecasted showers, as it turned out you’re allowed to camp there for one night. I’ve missed out the fact we also couldn’t find any camping gas for our stove anywhere, so had we camped, we may have just starved anyway. Altogether, a complete disaster, to be honest!
At least with the cottage, we had access to cooking equipment and even a toilet – like camping in luxury! In fact, we didn’t even have the midges, which were quite prevalent around Loch Morlich and would be far, far worse in Glencoe.
It also meant we could show Bobbie around another area of Scotland instead – we made a quick stop in Carrbridge for the famous packhorse bridge, before heading up to Clava Cairns where I unashamedly pretended I was in Outlander despite not even finishing the first season yet, and finished off our day with a walk around Culloden Battlefield.
The following day, we stuck to our plan anyway but left far earlier. We cut across at Kingussie, making our way across the unassumingly beautiful valley (or plateau? I’m not really sure) to Fort William. Where it was raining, of course. We DID catch a glimpse of Ben Nevis before the skies really opened though!
This was the first time I’d actually stopped in Fort William and taken a walk down the high street. To be honest with you, I won’t be quick to recommend Fort William to anyone. Obviously the area is stunning, but the town itself really is an average town, and Bobbie declared it the worst place she’s ever had a cup of coffee.
By the time we got to Glenfinnan, it was completely shrouded in fog, encased in rain and anyway, the car park was totally full so we couldn’t stop. I was starting to be in a bad mood again – but we had another place further along on our agenda.
Potterheads, you may recognise this – it’s the island that Dumbledore was buried on!
The rain was really coming down now, but on the upside, we managed to get parked straight away at Glenfinnan on the way back. But even in the rain, there’s still an air of magic about this place. We even saw a bagpiper at the top of the monument, and loads of people were dressed up, though I don’t know what the occasion was.
And thankfully, the rain stopped just in time for us to head up to the viewpoint, and as we stood at the top taking in one of my favourite views in Scotland, the clouds even started to clear! (Sort of.)
We were planning to head south to Glencoe, but first I had one more stop off I wanted to make, and luckily it’s really easy to find (I wasn’t sure if it would be or not) – the Corpach shipwreck! I even managed to get photos with most of Ben Nevis in the background.
When we finally made it to Glencoe, we immediately made a rookie mistake by getting out of the car in the bottom of the glen. To be fair, I have been to Glencoe in August once, and I do not remember the midges being this bad. In fact, this is the worst (the *WORST*) that I have ever experienced them in my life.
If you’re not sure what midges are; think sandflies but approx. 108 times worse. Throughout a ten second video I took, my eyeballs were covered, I physically couldn’t blink and they felt horrible for an hour afterwards – and this was from being out of the car for a total of about two minutes. We accidentally brought about 5,670,439 of the horrors back into the car with us.
Further up the road, we did risk getting out of the car again on account of the fact nobody was flailing their arms or running to their cars in despair. Thankfully the midges had all seemed to congregate lower down in the valley, and we managed to spend a few joyful moments taking in the incredible view. It might be a popular spot, but I maintain that this part of the A82 is the best stretch of road in the UK.
We also stopped at our beloved Kingshouse – but of course – and to our delight all the deer were out in force, more than we’d ever seen there before. Including a gorgeous stag!
I got my ultimate Scotland postcard photo (I genuinely think this is one of the best photos I’ve ever taken!), and after a quick drink in the refurbished Kingshouse Hotel, reminiscing about our camping trip there a few years ago when it was derelict, we set off for a jaunt around nearby Glen Etive.
Where, although the weather was deteriorating again, I got another of my favourite photos of all time.
Finally, we hit up another favourite stop just before Loch Lomond – the Drover’s Inn! I got a photo with their resident bear last time, but to be honest I couldn’t resist getting another one.
To be honest, after all my reservations about the weather, we had an absolutely brilliant weekend, and I only wish we’d had more time before having to go back to work.
Coming up in September…
The adventures do not stop here. We’re keeping busy busy busy! We’ve taken this weekend off to recuperate (plus, being a bank holiday weekend, everywhere is probably going to be a nightmare), but next weekend we are seeing my parents for the first time this year by meeting them half way at the cottage – we’ll sleep in a bed this time, rather than the tent! I’m planning a few things around the Moray Coast, but we’ll see what we have time for!
Then the week after, we’ll be spending a weekend in Perthshire, in a lovely hotel. I booked this pretty soon after lockdown lifted as a special treat and what I expected to be our only hotel stay for the foreseeable future (before then booking Mull!). I’ll be interested to see how it plays out, as it’s a spa hotel and swimming pools are only opening in Scotland tomorrow. However as much as I’m looking forward to the hotel, I’m also excited to explore more of Perthshire’s scenic lochs and even venture into the Trossachs a bit more.
After that, we have nothing booked, but there is plenty that I’d love to do – we’d really like to get up to Assynt (one of my favourite stops on the NC500), maybe finally make it over to Ayrshire, take some walks in the Borders, visit another island, and I’m even considering a castle-themed trip over the border in Northumberland. At some point, I’m planning to make it to Wales, and I have a voucher to do the fastest zipline in the world there. Too many places, such little time! If this year has taught me anything (or at least re-affirmed), it’s that there really is a lot to explore in our own country.
And the best thing about Scotland is it’s easy to do this without being in constant contact with other people. While we are enjoying being able to support local businesses wherever we go (including in Edinburgh!), it’s really important not to let our guard down. Aberdeen going back into lockdown earlier this month is testament to that.
And if wearing a mask and giving our phone number to restaurants makes the country safer and gives us that much more freedom as a result? I’m all for it.