My family are from Glasgow and despite many visits to Scotland over the years, anything north of Loch Lomond remained a bit of a mystery. Exploring the highlands and islands had always been high on my list and when my friends and I finally went this summer, it completely blew me away.
Our journey started in Inverness, a pretty city on the banks of the River Ness. The first evening was spent watching the sun set over the river and marvelling at the fact it still wasn’t properly dark, despite being 11pm. The following day we woke to the sound of bagpipes – something that always makes me smile – and after a morning exploring the castle and cathedral, it was time to head out into the highlands.
Once we’d crossed the Beauly Forth, it felt like we’d left everybody behind. Winding our way north through Lairg, we passed just a handful of other cars and the closer we got to the west coast, the more dramatic the scenery became. By the time we neared Achiltibuie we were surrounded by sparkling lochs and craggy peaks cloaked in mist as the evening rolled in. The next few days were spent hiking up mountains and exploring the beaches – one of my favourite moments from the trip was reaching the top of The Fiddler. We’d enjoyed beautiful views out over the Summer Isles as we walked, but on reaching the summit the ground suddenly dropped and we could see for miles out over the lochs down below and the surrounding Assynt peaks.
We also ventured along to Achnahaird beach where thousands of campion flowers had blossomed, creating a carpet of pale pink that led down to the white sand. As we headed back, dozens of bunny rabbits darted through the sand dunes and down into their warrens on hearing our footsteps.
Our next night was spent on the magical island of Skye. As one of Scotland’s more popular destinations, it was noticeably busier as we crossed over from the mainland, but we drove the length of the island right to the northern tip and once again found ourselves well and truly away from the crowds. An evening run took me along the coast where I shared the path with cows and sheep rather than the usual contingent of joggers who pound the pavement back in London.
The next morning we boarded the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry at Uig and after a smooth 90-minute crossing, we pulled into Tarbert Harbour on the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides. Even the name suggests somewhere wild and untamed and it really was one of the most spectacular places I have ever been. The rocky north looks like something from outer space – Stanley Kubrick used parts of Harris to represent the planet Jupiter in the film Space Odyssey, and the anorthosite rock that forms part of the island is also found on the moon – while the south is home to beautiful white sandy beaches that wouldn’t look out of place in the Caribbean.
We spent our days hiking, swimming in the sea (we lasted approximately five minutes each time), visiting the Isle of Harris gin distillery and stocking up on Harris tweed.
Early one evening we drove along to Finsbay, home to a colony of seals. It was so quiet, the only sound came from the seals splashing in the brilliant blue water that sparkled in the sun.
We took the ferry to Uig and drove back down the length of Skye, stopping to walk around the impressive Quiraing. Our final two nights were spent on the Isle of Lismore, a pretty island reached by foot ferry from Port Appin. As had become custom during our trip, we would spend the day hiking and then reward ourselves with coffee and homemade cake – everyone in Scotland it seems is a master baker.
En route back to Inverness airport we stopped off at the Glenfinnan Viaduct. A keen Harry Potter fan, I was excited to see the railway line along which the Hogwarts Express chugs. Unfortunately this was the one day when the weather really didn’t play ball but this is Scotland after all, and it did nothing to take away from the magic of what was one of the best trips I’ve ever been on.