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Post Info TOPIC: Ireland and Scotland - October 2012 - Part 3 - The Highlands


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Ireland and Scotland - October 2012 - Part 3 - The Highlands


After 2 days in Edinburgh of fogging, drizzling, and generally dismal weather the sun decided to come out Wednesday to welcome us into the Scottish Highlands.  We rented a car from Europcar and picked it up at the Edinburgh West depot.  I figured it would be easier than going all the way to the airport to get the car and also it looked like the Edinburgh West depot was very close to the main road that we wanted to take north into the highlands.  It worked out as planned.  Service at Europcar was very good as usual and it was really simple to get from the rental depot to the M90 that heads over Firth of Forth and up into Perthshire.  The fair weather really put us into high spirits as we had spectacular views for the next 3 days.  So we drove up the M90 to the A9 to Inverness.  It's the first time I had driven up the eastern side of the Highlands and I found it a bit different than the Western Highlands as there really aren't any Loughs to speak of and overall the area seems drier with less dramatic views than the Western highlands.  Also the road north to Inverness seems very commercial and there are lots of slowdowns due to slow moving trucks ahead of you on a single lane.  Every so often they made the highway two lanes so the traffic jam can clear.  Still it was a pleasant ride and some nice views of the Cairngorm moutains along the way.  We were staying in the village of Drumnadrochit that night so we had to drive through Inverness which was uneventful except being stuck behind a hay truck for a couple of miles.  About 10-15 miles or so out of Inverness we came to Drumnadrochit and after stopping at Urquart Castle for the scenery we checked into the Benleva Hotel http://www.benleva.co.uk/.  

The number one reason we chose Benleva apart from the location is the beer.  They've got their own attached nano-brewery called the Loch Ness Brewery of course and are well know for having a nice pub with a great selection of "real ales" on tap at any given time.  They also host the annual Loch Ness Beer festival each September and, from what the locals told me about it, I have to admit I'm tempted to attend some year.  The hotel itself is a bit rough around the edges (what do you expect for only a 2 star) but the rooms were clean and comfortable, the food was good, the service very good, and (most importantly) the pub is excellent.  It is really a locals hangout too.  We were the only tourists in the place and I enjoyed talking with the locals (the lot of them have a great sense of humor) and also overhearing some very amusing conversations.  No surprise the best beers on tap where the ones brewed right there.  They wisely put the word "Ness" in all their beer names.  That night they had the "Red Ness" and "Hoppy Ness" beers on tap and both were excellent.  I also took note that it was a dog friendly pub as were all the pubs in the highlands we were to visit that week.  Our visit to Benleva was just one night.

The next stop was further up towards the Isle of Skye at a seaside village called Plockton.  But first we back tracked to Inverness to start the day so we could visit the famous battlefield and museum at Culloden where Bonnie Prince Charlie met his final defeat.  It was well worth.  In addition to being a beer connoisseur, I'm also a history buff so I really enjoyed the visit to Culloden.  Demonstrating how unpredictable Scottish weather can be the conditions at the battlefield were dismal whereas in the western highlands it was a glorious mostly sunny day.  We resumed our journed to the western highlands and stopped at Glenmoriston Arms Inn at Invermoriston for lunch on the way.  The food was good but unfortunately the ale on cask was vinegar indicating that the managers of the inn don't pay attention to it.  At any rate the ride up to Plockton (towards Isle of Skye) from Glenmoriston were brilliant.  Loughs and mountains and  mountain passes galore including the picture postcard view of Eilean Donan castle.  Just as you get about a mile or two from the larger town of Kyle of Locailsh there is a small single track road off to the right that leads to Plockton.  It's a very interesting 4-5 mile drive too where you seriously start to wonder if you're really heading towards any kind of civilization or not.  But then the pretty little village of Plockton appears before you and the stunningly beautiful Plockton bay with it's sorrounding mountains.  I was glad we chose two nights in Plockton as we needed the rest and it was the best part of the trip to Scotland.  We stayed at the Plockton Inn http://plocktoninn.co.uk/.  I had been to Plockton years ago and previously stayed at the Plockton Hotel and I found the quality similar but I prefer the Plockton Inn as it seems to be more of the locals hangout in the village.  First night we had dinner at the inn.  We had mostly seafood and it was excellent.  I especially enjoyed the fresh Langoustines and the smoked salmon from the Inn's own smokery out back.  That night they also had a wonderful session of traditional Scottish music with half a dozen local musicians.  We were travelling with two dear friends from Hamburg and one of them is quite the musician in his own right and plays guitar, banjo, and fiddle.  They allowed him to borrow a guitar at the end of the session and close it out with a song of his own which met a round of applause at the end.  It was great night.  If you visit Plockton be sure to try and do so on a Thursday night so you can attend this music session at the Plockton Inn.  Get your table early or better yet reserve in advance.  We really needed and appreciated the down time on the next day where we could just sleep late and not have to drive anywhere.  So we slep until noon, had a nice R&R wandering around Plockton including visiting the local nano brewery called the Plockton Brewery of course.  We met the brewer coming back from the store with flowers for his wife and he gave us a little tour of his garage brewery and also gave us a couple of bottles to take home aas souveniers.  It's one of the smallest commercial breweries I've ever visited but his beers are absolutely spot on and as good as any we had on the entire trip.  They always have one of his beers on cask at the Plockton Inn and we thoroughly enjoyed it.  The second night we ate at a very nice local restaurant called the Plockton shores.  Again seafood was the speciality but the steak was also very good.  We rounded out our visit to Plockton by attending quiz night at the Plockton Inn which was a hoot.  Tough to understand the questions though with the thick accent of lady reciting them. 

On Saturday we drove up into the Isle of Skye.  In the early morning the views were still spectacular but that would change as bad weather rolled over the Isle of Sky and blanketed the rest of the highlands for the next two days.  We did manage to get a hike in up to the Man of Storr monument just north of Portree.  It started to rain just as we were getting to the car back from the hike.  What timing!  We figured this would be a good day to visit a distillery so we visited the only one on the Isle of Skye that being Talisker of course.  It was the only distillery tour I've been on and I found it fairly interesting.  The process in the beginning was a lot like brewing beer and has a homebrewer I could relate to a lot of it.  Then there was the complimentary tasting at the end.  Just about across the street from the distillery is a nice inn called the Old Inn so we stopped in there for a "refreshment".  Two very good cask ales on tap in tip top condition.  I don't remember there names but I know one was from the local Isle of Skye brewery.  This Inn would be a nice place to stay on a future visit.  We stayed instead at the Eilean Iarmain hotel on the southern end of the island.  http://www.eileaniarmain.co.uk/.  It was the most posh inn we stayed at during our highlands tour.  We were a bit tired and worn out from the weather though and we just had a pub meal, played some cards, had a few ales and called it a night.  I could tell that the views around this hotel would be stunning the problem was I couldn't see them through the fog.

On Sunday we drove back south to Perthshire to a small town called Killin.  The weather was poor most of the day although improved quite a bit the further south we got.  The ride through Glencoe was breathtaking.  I can only imagine how beautiful it is on a sunny day.  We stopped in Ft. William for lunch at a nice pub called the Grog and Gruel.  Again a nice beer selection and good pub food.  Nothing else about Ft. William impressed me from what I could tell.  It appeared to be a very commercial town albeit in a very nice location.  Best part of the 4 hour drive south was the Rannoch Moor.  When we reached Killin we stayed at the Coach House Hotel.  It's very quite in Killin this time of year.  We were the only ones staying at the Coach House http://hotelkillin.co.uk/music/.  We walked down the the Falls of Dochart and and had a very nice meal and some ale then played some pool at the Coach House pub before turning in a bit early.  Killin turned out to be a easy ride to Edinburgh airport.  It took about 1.5 hours with no traffic on a Monday and we arrived in plenty of time for our flight.

Overall our trip to the Highlands was wonderful but I admit we got a bit tired towards the end.  The drives always seemed to take longer than guesstimated by a significant amount but my wife and I have been talking about a return trip to Scotland for years and we've done it.  I also think toward the end of the trip worrying about hurricane Sandy started to weigh a little bit on our minds.  Ireland on the last day would make us feel better.  It never fails.

Next up is Doolin.

 

 



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Enjoying your report, Markun! Sounds like we saw many of the same sights in Scotland.

Urquart castle was stunning, with its setting on the shores of Ness. Western Scotland was more brown, and we expected green. Guess they had a 50 plus days of dry spell.

We also ate and drank at Grog and Gruel 1 night, but liked the Ben Nevis Hotel Restaurant accross the street better, ate there 2 of the 4 nights in Fort Wm. I had 4 Scottish ales on my list to try: Arran Blonde, Dark Island, Duechars, and Red Cullin. Managed to try the Dark Island and Duechars...and....well, I am just a Guinness fan thru and thru....and the Guinness in Scotland didn't disappoint!

We also noticed that the drive times were more lengthly than anticipated.

Dan

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A Scottish mile is a few thousand yards further than the standard mile especially up the north. nice report.

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Did you visit the "loo" near the car ferry to the Isle of Skye? It was a hoot.

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No I didn't think to stop to visit the "loo" there. Now you have me wondering what I missed?

Mark


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In 2006, my boys and I stayed at a small self-catering...Killin was the nearest town of any size to it. We loved the Breadalbane Folklore Centre and the  people were all gems. A favourite, oft recalled memory, is the McNab pipers who were playing at the memorial and then marched through town just as we were coming in... One of my sons said "Momma, this is a welcome fit for Kings"...My other son said "Maybe...as long as they aren't British"... It was a "soft" day then too...all of our days in Scotland were wet and drizzly actually...



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Put the loo on your list for next time. biggrin



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Visit Michele's Irish Shop for unique Irish gifts and beautiful photos of Ireland.

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