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Discovering the Beauty of Scotland's Highlands

I have been sharing about our journey to seek some family and personal history in the U.K., but took a bit of a break since my last post (hunting for the Loch Ness Monster).  Part of the reason for the break (in addition to the usual busy-ness of the holiday season) is because I wasn't quite ready to put into words this next chapter, which is on the Scottish Highlands.  When a place sticks with me, and is so unique and beautiful, I find that I need time to process it before I can write about it.  Today, I am finally ready to share more about our experience there, including recommendations.  In the coming weeks I will continue detailing recommendations from our U.K. road trip, which includes even more of Scotland and England, so continue to stay tuned!

So, the funny thing about this trip is that I have recently become OBSESSED with the book series and show Outlander.  Fortunately for my husband and kids, that obsession started after we got back from the trip, therefore I didn't drag them to all the filming locations, nor did I make the hubs call me "Sassenach" the whole time.  That being said, I think it's helped me appreciate Outlander in a different way, as I had sort of created my own relationship with, and memories of, Scotland beforehand. 

To start, the Highlands of Scotland will take your breath away.  As you can see in the image above (snapped on my iPhone from the car window as we drove), the mountains and hills, the mist, and the green of it all just feel magical. 


The Highlands are full of lochs, large and small, and rolling green hills.  The two pics above were also snapped from the passenger side of our Kia Optima Sportswagon, and are just a sampling of the scenery that surrounds you throughout the Highlands.  You'll see a lot more of the landscape throughout the rest of this post.

The first place we stayed was Mambeg Country Guest House, a fabulous B&B near Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park.  This area is essentially at the border of the Highlands and the Lowlands, as we drove up from Liverpool.  We chose the location since it wasn't far from Loch Fyne, where we went to see my husband's ancestral clan castle (you can read more about that in this post).  I'd highly recommend this B&B if you are in the area.  It is clean, with very comfortable beds, the owners are friendly and accommodating, and the grounds are lovely.  We had a nice two-room suite so the boys could have their own room. 

The Scottish breakfast at Mambeg Country Guest House was also superb, and you have the option to add black pudding and haggis (yum!).

On nearby Loch Fyne, we stopped to eat at Cairndow Stagecoach Inn, where we got to sample some local brew (Loch Fyne Ale) and dine with views of the loch where my husbands' Clan MacNaughton ancestors lived.  The meal was delicious, and several of the dishes contained fresh seafood with ingredients farmed from the loch. 

Cullen Skink Soup (a traditional creamy Scottish soup with smoked haddock)

Seafood Tagliatelle with locally harvested seafood

Pan Seared Scallops

On our way out of Loch Lomond and The Trossachs, we stopped for a bathroom and scone break in a town called Killin.  Here we were also treated to the lovely Falls of Dochart, which are visible just off the main road! 

The boys loved wearing their new Pokémon hoodies found at a Primark during our road trip

Our home for the rest of our time in the Highlands was the Hilton Coylumbrudge (in Aviemore).  Let me tell you - this is probably the most family-friendly hotel I have EVER stayed in.  It started before we even left the states: the hotel contacted me personally to ask the ages of my kids, and to send along a guide on their activities for children.  They have tons of activities for kids, from an indoor heated pool with a waterslide, to an outdoor play area, to an actual arcade and kid-zone on-site!  The restaurants are all kid-friendly, so you won't have to worry about dining with the littles.  But the best part (get this): they actually take your kids for two hours in the evening, and lock them into the arcade (with staff supervision) so that the adults can do adult activities (whisky tasting, the on-site bar, a romantic dinner, you name it!).  They bring the kids back to you in the lobby, and you can either go off to bed, or take them to the on-site night club, which is open to all ages as the DJ spins and the kids swarm the dancefloor.  The kids had so much fun, and so did the hubs and I!

You must go to Inverness if you are in this area.  And if you go to Inverness, you must visit Loch Ness!  Read about our adventures searching for the mythical Loch Ness Monster here

On our last day in this area, we had time to just explore, so we decided to do the scenic Old Military Road drive through Cairngorms National Park.  This is not the fastest way out of the Aviemore area and out of the Highlands, but if you want scenery, this is the way to go.  The road will take you through the National Park and by Balmoral Castle and Braemar Castle.

While I knew that Scotland would be beautiful and green, I was really surprised at how purple it was!  There are at least three different types of purple wildflowers that cover the hills and moors amidst the green trees and grass.  It made for a beautiful sight as we drove the Old Military Road. 

Lecht Mine well as seen from a vantage point just off Old Military Road

The whole drive is stunning, but in Strathdon near Corgarff Castle we found a scenic overlook with standing stones, sculptural seats called "The Watchers," and unbelievable panoramic views.

Take a moment to behold...

... as still skies or storms unfold

Scotch Thistle... the Braveheart flower!  Also, very spiky!

Corgarff Castle as seen from the viewpoint

This view, though

Old Military Road has some narrow stretches (it is an old road, after all), with some beautiful bridges (some only one-way, so drivers need to be careful). 

Gairnshiel Bridge

You will see a LOT of sheep in these parts of Scotland

As if things couldn't get any better, we saw the most perfect rainbow (which reminded me of the rainbow we saw at the Cliffs of Moher during our road trip through Ireland).  This may be the best rainbow I've ever seen, as we saw it end to end!  The boys wanted to check for a pot of gold at the end.  My husband managed to convince them that the pot of gold was only at the end of rainbows in Ireland, and in Scotland it is a barrel of Scotch whisky. 

Speaking of whisky, if you are a fan of scotch, the Highlands is a great area for tastings and distillery tours.  Since we were driving, we didn't partake in tastings, but did pick up some local bottles to enjoy at our hotel later.  On the route on Old Military Road, you go through the village of Tomintoul (not far from Glenlivet, if that gives you an idea of the quality of scotch in this area). There is an awesome shop there called The Whisky Castle, which offers over 600 malt whiskies!

This is definitely a place we'll return to.  Even months later, I still dream about it... it's one of those places that stick with you after you experience it.  Bonny, bonny Scotland!

Stay tuned next week for the next chapter of our UK road trip, a family-friendly guide to Edinburgh, Scotland!

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