A word you hear often not only over here in Scotland but all over the world. Made famous by movies like James Bond Skyfall and commonly mentioned as inspiration by authors like J.K. Rowling – it was definitely a place we needed to visit.
We had spent the last two nights in Oban, a completely charming fishing town on the West coast of Scotland. Hands down one of my favorite towns we have visited thus far in Scotland (maybe in part due to the phenomenal weather we had), but you can check out our wild camping, fish n’ chips and whisky Oban adventures here!
It was a beautiful, hot (yes, I said hot) morning and we were on our way, windows down and music blaring as we sped up the West coast. As always, I was religiously consulting my Scotland The Best guidebook for interesting places along the way and we were about to strike a gold mine.
Breakfast at Castle Stalker View Cafe
Needing some coffee we decided a pit stop at Castle Stalker View (insert one of many possible jokes here), which is a cafe with a view of Castle Stalker. If you have the opportunity – definitely make time for this cute little place. It’s a spacious café where every seat boasts amazing views of a castle on a small island in the middle of a loch. We grabbed a table with the best view, ordered the infamous Scottish bacon roll, coffee and had a truly splendid breakfast.
Our biggest destination of the day was the famous picturesque viaduct that the Hogwarts Express crosses in the Harry Potter movies.
Technically past Glencoe, but we figured it was worth the extra northwest jog over. We passed through Fort William on the way, a destination for many, and were really not impressed. To me it felt like a city that was quickly and cheaply built up to meet the demand for outdoorsy tourists looking to make their way into the hills. We didn’t spend any time in the heart of the city, but I don’t think it will ever be a priority to return there.
Glenfinnan Viaduct – the Harry Potter Bridge
Eventually we made it to the Glenfinnan Viaduct, which truly was stunning. Looking out in the opposite direction there is an impressive monument (unfortunately covered in scaffolding for restoration) with a truly stunning backdrop.
The valley has lots of deep rooted Scottish history in regards to the Jacobites (the Scottish rebellion) and Bonnie Prince Charlie, but 95% of the people there (including ourselves) are mostly just entranced at the chance of glimpsing the Hogwarts Express chugging by.
As we stood amongst our fellow tourists snapping photos, we couldn’t help but feel slightly amused. Although beautiful, the Glenfinnan Viaduct is really not as impressive as many of the other viaducts you continuously stumble on in Scotland. Even on the way home we spotted an absolutely incredible one and guess what – not one person was stopping to take photos of it!
Thanks to my handy dandy guide book, we discovered that the glen (valley) we were now about half way down is listed one of the most enchanting, so we decided to drive a bit further. It was quite spectacular scenery and to soak it in we stopped for a lovely picnic lunch on the sunny shore of a loch.
Finished with our picnic lunch we were now en route to Glencoe, retracing our steps to the turn off about 45 minutes back. We made a quick stop at Neptune’s Staircase a fairly neat little climbing loch channel (however the one we saw in England here was more impressive) before making it to the village of Glencoe.
This village oozed the quaint charm and outdoorsy nature that I felt was completely lacking when driving through Fort William. However being mid-afternoon we felt it was time to find a campsite. Fellow campers in Oban had recommended to us Red Squirrel Campsite, but after a quick look around it wasn’t quite our cup of tea. It was paid camping and there were a fair few campers all very close around. Being in Glencoe we thought it was definitely a must to do some remote wild camping.
We drove through the glen absolutely stunned by the bizarre Scottish scenery. Massive bright green rolling hills with rocky craigs jutting up here and there. You could close your eyes and the cars and road melted away, easily replaced with men on kilts racing on horseback through the valley.
There really wasn’t too many places to camp and the road was busy, so we took the first small turn off we found that led us up into Glen Etive. Luck was on our side again as we wound our way up the small road, deep into another valley following the path of a beautiful river below.
Glen Etive – Swimming & Camping in the background of James Bond Skyfall
This was a camper’s paradise.
The sun was still hot so we parked the car and climbed down to a swimming hole that could not have been more pristine and perfect. The water was cold, but refreshing and we joyfully spent a few hours swimming, bathing and laying out on the big slabs of hot rock. To this day, this is one of my favorite memories thus far in Scotland.
Clachaig Inn – Dinner + Beer
Getting a bit wary of our cracker and cheese dinners, we dried off and headed back toward the Glencoe Village to grab dinner and a pint at the Clachaig Inn. It was so nice to soak in the incredible views with some hot prepared food and tasty glass of cold beer. Clachaig Inn felt like the cute restaurants and pubs you find in the tiny ski towns in Colorado. Especially with the fellow hikers and bikers flooding in after a day of exertion in the beautiful hills.
We headed back to Glen Etive to set up camp for the night and found a beautiful spot down by the river. Although this spot was not quite the magical fairytale it seemed. As the dusk grew darker, little pesky bugs started to appear – it was the midges! We doused ourselves in repellent, but it wasn’t doing anything. Eventually we had to retreat into our tiny tent. Although a bit annoyed that we were playing cribbage inside our cramped quarters versus in the stunning valley we still enjoyed our evening and had a fairly early night.
We had kept the outer wall our tent unzipped to try to allow airflow through our tent… Big, huge, massive mistake. Poor Dalton was getting eaten alive by midges all night long – the tiny suckers could fit right through the mesh! All night he was battling them as they continued to surround our tent. In the late hours of the night it sounded as though it was raining, so he jumped out side to bring some stuff to the car. Nope, that noise was actually just the midges peppering our tent. He immediately got attacked and had large itchy red bumps all over his body for at least two weeks afterwards as proof! Needless to say by the morning, we weren’t too upset about the fact that we would be spending the following evening in our comfy, midge-free flat.
Roadtrip back East – Aberfeldy, Chocolate & Glen Lyon
We spent the entire next day slowly meandering our way towards Aberdeen. We made plenty of stops, my favorite being the Aberfeldy Watermill Bookshop. A café and bookshop tucked instead a restored watermill; I was quite content sipping my coffee on a comfy couch and looking out over the adorable garden shop below through the countless windows around.
Wondering how the moment could get any better, it then randomly started pouring rain. It was another one of those special moments.
We also thoroughly enjoyed our quick visit to The Highland Chocolatier, although it was quite soon after we had just finished our previous drinks! We did splurge on a hot chocolate and enjoyed it in the cute café in the back.
Taking the scenic route we cut across to drive through Glen Lyon, heading up the hills and finally experiencing the classic “Rush Hour in Scotland” postcard moment, being surrounded by sheep in the highlands. Glen Lyon was gorgeous, definitely worth the extra few hours of driving –I only wish we could have stopped at the converted Post Office Café for lunch. Next time!
Blair Athol Distillery Tour
The final stop for the day was a tour through Blair Athol Distillery. I was quite looking forward to see how they would spin the tour since Blair Athol is owned by Diageo (the largest spirits company in the world (think Smirnoff, Jonnie Walker, etc) and is mostly commonly known for being part of the blend for the cheap Bell’s Whisky. Most of the distilleries here emphasize on the romantic and quaint historic aspects of the whisky industry and Blair Athol really doesn’t fit that bill. Quite hilariously, my expectations were met and more – our guide was completely fed up (and somewhat disgusted) as to what Diageo has turned the whisky industry into and left no secrets out of the tour. From how caramel coloring is added to the fact that the casks we were looking at were actually just filled with water, he left nothing out. Dalton and I left the tour barely holding in our laughter; that had to be the most bizarre tour we’ve ever done.
Arriving back to Aberdeen we were smelly, exhausted and grateful to be home. However grateful to have had such an incredible weekend exploring a small part of the West coast of Scotland. From Oban to Glencoe there were so many incredible things to see and experience – I can’t wait to go back!