Bank holidays were made for adventuring. I always feel like it’s a wasted day if I don’t do/see something new on a bank holiday.
Last year we were lucky enough to take 2 trips up to Scotland, both with the besties. (Check out their blog here…It’s all about their boatlife.)
The main aim of this trip was to see a few Lochs, drink some whiskey and take a trip on the famous Jacobite steam train.
Before we get into it I think you might want to grab a cup of tea/coffee/a glass of wine and settle in coz this is a *bit* of a long one.
We flew into Glasgow on Saturday morning, where we picked up a hire car and headed straight out of the city towards Glencoe where we had rented a static caravan tucked away in the mountains for the weekend.
The drive out to Glencoe took us through breathtaking scenery, narrow roads snaking through mountains and alongside lochs. We couldn’t help stopping along the way for a few snaps.
The campsite we were staying at was surrounded by mountains and overlooked Loch Leven. It was nature at its absolute best. Beautiful, breathtaking scenery, fresh air…and all the midges (not a good thing!).
Midges are like the British version of miggies, only worse. They bite…or sting, I’m not really sure TBH, but once they are done with you, you are covered in itchy little red bumps.
It didn’t take us very long to get gatvol of the biting. We bought midge spray at the first place we found it (before we even got to the campsite) and made sure every cm of skin had been sprayed. No more midge bites for us thanks.
Sunday morning was a bit of a slow start thanks to a night of board games and a few too many drinks, this always happens when we don’t see the besties for a few months!!! We set off for Loch Ness, making an emergency stop for a nice greasy breakfast along the way, driving on a hungover stomach apparently makes me horribly car sick. LOL.
En-route to Loch Ness we passed through the beautiful little town of Fort Augustus where we stopped off for a bit of an explore. It was so picturesque, a lock lined with quaint little houses, the water like a mirror reflecting the clouds and a cute little shrine to Nessie.
Once we were done exploring Fort Augustus we drove along Loch Ness with eyes peeled, but not a Nessie in sight, to Urquhart Castle where we stopped to stretch our legs and admire the castle from afar.
We had to head back to Fort William because we had a very important train to catch. On the way back we stopped in Fort Augustus (again) to buy some wine and snacks for our train ride, I have to admit that we got a bit side tracked by the view of the loch and when we got back into the car we realised that we were going to have to drive like a bat outta hell to get to the station on time.
The traffic had very different plans for us though. Let’s just say that this was the tensest (probs a made up word, who knows) car ride ever!! No one said anything, the atmosphere in the car had died a thousand deaths. If only we had a blue Ford Anglia.
As we approached Fort William we all started livening up a little, discussing a plan of action for when we got to the station (I had to have the tickets ready, Cin and Marcelle had to take the snacks and Riaan had to make sure the camera was with us and the car was locked), it was 14:25, the Jacobite was leaving at 14:30…we literally had minutes to get to the station and board the train.
We flew into the parking, all yelling and pointing at the closest open spot. As the car stopped we jumped out and started running toward the station. Me delaying us a little with my clumsiness as usual. There was no need to run through walls (sadly), we ran through the doors on to the platform and there stood the train, in all its glory. We had made it with less than two minutes to spare. We found our carriage and took our seats, breathing the biggest sigh of relief.
The whistle blew and as the train slowly chugged to life it was suddenly amusing that we had almost missed it. Sjoe, that was close guys!!
We settled in for the ride, with good drinks, good company, and the most beautiful scenery.
Sadly there wasn’t an old witch walking through the carriages with a treats trolley, but the souvenir shop on board satisfied the need for something a little wizardly on board the train.
After a brief stop at Glenfinnan station we got back on the train, I grabbed a spot at one of the doors so I could stick my head out the window. The conductor announced we would soon be crossing over the viaduct and in proper tourist fashion all the camera’s came out and the selfies commenced. We didn’t actually get a single photo of it.
TBH I spent most of the train ride with my head out the window, wind in my hair, soot on my face and a smile stretching from ear to ear as I took in the scenery. It was like nothing I had ever seen before.
We arrived in a quiet, windy Mallaig. There wasn’t much to do, with most things closed due to it being Sunday, and we didn’t have all the time in the world to take a boat trip out to the nearby islands, so instead we took a stroll around the harbour, checked out the tourist shop and then we headed for the pub.
This time we made sure we got to the train with lots of time to spare, we ogled at the engines and the carriages and took a few snaps before climbing back onboard for the journey back to Fort William.
I spent more of this leg of the trip in my seat being a sociable person than I had on the way to Mallaig, but every now and again I jumped out of my seat and went to the door and stick my head out the window. (You are advised not to do this, but I generally don’t do what signs tell me to).
Back in Fort William we stocked up on pizzas and some Scottish snacks, ready for a night of board games back at our campsite. Pretty much the perfect Sunday night.
Monday felt SO Scottish for me!!! We woke up nice and early, packed up our things and took one last walk around the park, taking in the views and enjoying the fresh air.
We had planned a morning whiskey tour and tasting at the Ben Nevin distillery, stopping en route for some breakfast in Fort William. Now, whiskey is not my drink of choice, I really do think it is an acquired taste, but when in Scotland and all that jazz…
Originally we had wanted to do the whiskey experience on Sunday morning and do the lochs on Monday but the distilleries were all closed on Sunday.
We were taken through the distillery, given a brief description of how everything is done, from selecting and receiving the ingredients right up to the barrelling of the whiskey and the effects different types of barrels have on the flavours of the whiskey.
Once the tour was over we went into a bar area/tasting room where we were given 4 different whiskeys from the distillery to try. The whiskeys ranged in age and smokiness, from lower aged (I’m just gonna call them young) to older whiskey – or for non-whiskey drinkers like me, from drinkable to OH-MY-GOD-WHAT-IS-THAT-STUFF-IT-AND-WHY-WOULD-ANYONE-PAY-THAT-KIND-OF-MONEY-FOR-IT. The small glasses of water we were given to rinse our mouths between tastings to get the difference in the flavours didn’t last very long because I was down in them to get the whiskey taste out of my mouth.
We did learn something very interesting though, the age of the whisky determines where on your tongue you will taste it (something like that, I was too busy trying to get over the taste to listen properly).
After our tour was over, we took a slow drive to Glasgow, where we’d be spending the night
Cindy and Marcelle left early on Tuesday morning to go back to Jersey, Riaan and I had a late afternoon flight so we set out to explore the city.
First stop of the day was at a little place called Cafe Zique for breakfast. The food was so GOOD! They baked their bread on the premises and it was flippin’ delicious, so much so that we ended up ordering an extra basket of toast to have with butter and jam and another cappuccino.
After breakfast we did a little bit of a snoop around Glasgow University, because the cloisters are amazing and look like something of a scene from Hogwarts. The building itself is quite gorgeous too TBF.
Our next and last stop for the day was the botanical gardens. We wandered through greenhouses and along winding paths, inspecting all the fascinating beautiful plants. I was in my element, I’m really loving all the plants lately.
We stopped for a break in the garden to watch the squirrels play as we lounged on the lush lawn, squeezing in a last bit of relaxation before rushing off to the airport.
We are getting quite good at cutting it fine at the airport…I still can’t decide if that’s a good thing though.
A few tips if you want to catch the Hogwarts Express
– The real name of the train is The Jacobite Steam Train. Tickets are bookable online.
– The train does not operate all year, only over specific periods. Plan ahead. They only started doing a winter service last year.
– There is a pretty limited choice for snacks and drinks on board the train but you are allowed to BYO.
– Keep your drinks covered, the soot gets in everywhere (absolutely everywhere – I’m not kidding!)
– Try not to let the beautiful Scottish countryside sidetrack you, give yourself enough time to get to the station. This is one ride you don’t want to miss.
– Be ready with your camera to snap that iconic shot going over the viaduct, it’ll be gone in the blink of an eye. Don’t worry, the conductor will give you a heads up as you approach it.
– If you can, try book the early morning departure from Fort William and the late afternoon return from Mallaig, that way you’ll have plenty of time to take a boat trip out to one of the nearby islands.
– Since we’re talking about bookings, try book as far in advance as possible to give yourself options, the morning service fills up quite quickly.
– Sit back and relax, take in the scenery, it really is a beautiful ride.
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