Lend us your imagination for a few minutes. Join us around our campfire and let us share our love letter to a land far away whose majestic mountains were shaped by time and in whose misty glens warriors and kings fought and died. Follow us as we traverse silver lochs and sing you folk songs of sadness and hope led by a chorus of voices which their vanquishers could never still. Let us take you into the Scottish Highlands and the Isle of Skye.

 

Edinburgh, Scotland’s Multi Dimensional City

Our journey to the Scottish Highlands began in the culturally acclaimed city of Edinburgh. Long summer days, warm temperatures and clear skies gifted us a chance to explore its Old Town for a few hours upon arrival from London.

Edinburgh | Scotland

The city’s terrain, culture and history give multiple dimensions to Edinburgh. A circular route around the historic Edinburgh Castle took us along Princes Street, towards Grassmarket and past historic buildings bathed in a soft pinkish-orange glow from the setting sun. Thanks to Twitter, we found a quirky restaurant serving gluten free pizza where we soaked in Edinburgh’s night vibe before retiring to the perfectly located Royal British Hotel for the night.

[Check for Royal British Hotel Rates here]

The next morning, a slight breeze teased into life the blue and white Scottish Saltire outside our hotel as we set off to join Highland Explorer Tours, our hosts for the next three days.

 

Into the Highlands

Although favouring a more instinctive approach to travel where we plan and manage our own itinerary, we were pleased to set aside our independence for a truly immersive experience with Highland Explorer Tours.

Our driver and guide was an animated, ginger-bearded Scotsman who introduced himself as ‘Big Dave’. He was a gregarious academic and graduate of history whose thesis focused on the tumultuous Jacobite Risings. In our mind’s eye, three hundred years earlier, he would most likely have been a flag waving Jacobite himself! Our vehicle became a time-capsule as he quickly captured our imagination with his mastery of Scottish history and culture.

Skye | Scotland | Highlands

We had a long drive ahead and soon crossed the impressive Forth Road Bridge spanning the river estuary separating Edinburgh from the Kingdom of Fife. By this time, Big Dave had launched into a tragic narrative about Mary, Queen of Scots, pointing out the ruins of Loch Leven Castle where she had been imprisoned as we drove past.

An hour later, we got a chance to stretch our legs in Dunkeld, a quaint 18th century village and scene of the Battle of Dunkeld in 1689. The town was a piece of thread in the Jacobite story which Big Dave had begun to weave. Its sleepy demeanour seemed the perfect backdrop for lazy days salmon fishing in the nearby River Tay.

Skye | Scotland | Highlands

Leaving Dunkeld behind, as we drove North West past Killiecrankie and into Dalwhinnie, the landscape began to change significantly. Flatlands covered in heather and bluebells morphed into Munros (mountains in Scotland over 3,000 feet) covered in broom and gross, with the last snow caps melting into gleaming lochs. Past Loch Laggan, we caught the first hints of the local flora beginning to turn from winter-brown to summer-purple in nature’s eternal cycle of rebirth.

Skye | Scotland | Highlands

In the distance, with good weather continuing to prevail, the clouds parted to reveal Ben Nevis, the tallest peak in the British Isles. Matching the dramatic terrain, the clash of drums and fiery Highland bagpipes played by Clann An Drumma, a tribal Scottish band, wafted through our vehicle’s speakers. Sensing our awe, Big Dave whispered, “Welcome to the Highlands guys!

 

Of Clans, Castles and Lochs

Scotland is famous for its castles, with over 3,000 of them spread across the country. We encountered a number of them during our trek across the Highlands. The high number of castles provides some insight into Scotland’s feudal and battle-strewn past. Scottish kings built them as tactical military defences and as a public show of their authority. The ‘castle-building’ principle continued down the power structure which included lords and clan chiefs. Rivalry between clans was common and smaller clans generally looked to the larger clans for safety.

Eilean Donan Castle | Highlands | Scotland

Following a quick lunch detour at Loch Ness, we went to explore Eilean Donan castle, an ancient stronghold of Clan Mackenzie, built strategically at the point where Lochs Duich, Long and Alsh meet. Destroyed in the early 18th century as a result of its Jacobite leanings, the restored castle now serves as a welcome pit stop and arguably one of the most photographed castles in Scotland. Outside the castle, lonely notes from a young busker’s accordion disappeared into the wind as we drove off.

Eilean Donan Castle | Highlands | Scotland

Just before sunset, we crossed the Skye Bridge into the Isle of Skye and wound our way towards Portree, the largest town in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland.

Once settled into our accommodation, we caught the sunset by the picturesque harbour before heading to the town centre for dinner. For a town so small and remote, Portree has some decent restaurants like the Cuchullin that serve adventurous seafood and great local whisky. With a wee dram of smoky/peppery 10 year old Talisker in hand, we let our bodies begin to unwind from the day’s excitement.

Portree | Skye | Cuchullin | Scotland | Highlands

HDYTI Tip: Although a world-famous Scottish icon, we were glad to move on from Loch Ness as the place was packed with eager tourists in search of their ‘Nessie’ moment.

 

Dreaming on the Isle of Skye

With the sound of bagpipes still ringing in our ears from the previous day, we greeted the sunshine the next morning. Initially a challenge, the lack of decent mobile phone coverage across Skye presented a welcome opportunity to replace the constant stimulation of technology with a calmness that helped us engage more intimately with its beauty. Skye is the perfect digital detox recipe where time ceases to matter.

A continued spell of decent weather allowed us to spend the entire day outdoors roaming around Skye, beginning with a visit to Lealt Falls, experiencing the wilderness and ending at the wild and beautiful Dunvegan Castle, home of the chiefs of Clan McLeod for 800 years. The incredible scenery and landscaped gardens complimented the castle’s layered history.

Dunvegan Castle | Skye | Scotland | Highlands

The primitive landscape of Skye helped us appreciate the underlying emotions behind the many songs and poems about the Highlands and why it has provided backdrops for film and TV. From the Red and Black Cuillin to Quiraing and from Dunvegan to Portree, Skye leaves even repeat visitors in awe. Its diversity presents a kaleidoscope of images that transport the viewer from the waterfalls of Sri Lanka to the volcanic terrain of Iceland.

Skye | Scotland | Highlands

One of our favourite places on the trip was Sligachan, the scene of a bloody battle between Clans MacLeod and MacDonald, the two dominant clans on Skye. Sligachan is also a popular starting point for those seeking to ascend the Cuillin.

We had no mountain-climbing plans on this trip and so we contented ourselves with dipping our toes into the river’s cool, clear waters while watching the mist dance around the Cuillin. In that moment, we summoned the bagpipes once more and allowed the gentle sound of the river to turn our thoughts into dreams.

River Sligachan | Skye | Highlands | Scotland

 

Chasing the Jacobite Steam Train

The following morning, we reluctantly said goodbye to Portree and began the return road trip through South Skye towards Edinburgh. Perhaps to appease the rival clans of Skye, we paid a quick visit to the homestead of Clan MacDonald before planning to travel by ferry from Armadale to Mallaig.

Armadale to Mallaig | Skye | Scotland | Highlands

The highlight for the day was a planned trip from Mallaig to Fort William on The Jacobite, a steam locomotive tourist train, better known by Harry Potter fans as the ‘Hogwarts Express’.

A great way to take in the outstanding scenery of the region, for many visitors, a ride on The Jacobite Steam Train is perhaps the highlight of a trip to the Highlands. First hugging the coast, the train traverses the impressive Glenfinnan Viaduct before ending up at Fort William, in the shadow of Ben Nevis.

Loch Shiel | Glenfinnan Monument | Skye | Scotland | Highlands

Unfortunately, intense fog caused major disruptions to the ferry schedule. By the time we made the crossing to Mallaig, The Jacobite had just pulled away from the station. Not to be outdone, Big Dave switched to ‘Mission Impossible’ mode and chased after The Jacobite by road, following its route as much as possible.

With minutes to spare, he landed us at a viewing spot overlooking Loch Shiel and the Glenfinnan Monument. We raced uphill to watch The Jacobite cross the valley, leaving a plume of smoke in its trail. Bonnie Prince Charlie and William Wallace would have been proud of Big Dave’s never-say-never spirit.

Glenfinnan Viaduct | Skye | Scotland | Highlands

Time may have forgotten the Isle of Skye but love and history remember her. The songs of the Highlanders celebrate her and the spirit of her warriors lives on. Back in Edinburgh, any feelings of indifference we may have had towards Scotland disappeared forever.

Skye | Scotland | Highlands

 

Summary of booking details

Highland Explorer Tours offers tours to the Isle of Skye & The Highlands for most of the year. Adult rates, including 3-star bed and breakfast accommodation (twin share), start from £279 per person for three days. Hotel upgrade options are also available. Highland Explorer Tours also run tours to Loch Ness, St. Andrews and Scottish whisky distilleries.

Skye | Scotland | Highlands

Disclaimer: Our media trip was arranged by Highland Explorer Tours with transfers, accommodation and excursions included. However, all views and opinions remain ours and we were not paid to publish this article. Our sincere thanks go to the representatives of Highland Explorer Tours and ‘Big Dave’ who helped us discover the gem that is Scotland.

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Co-Founders & Curators at HDYTI

Eulanda & Omo Osagiede are London-based freelance writers and award-winning social influencers who run the popular travel, food, and lifestyle blog HDYTI (Hey! Dip your toes in).