Aaaand we're BACK! I hope none of you are tired of me talking about our trip already. If you are, then I'm not sure why you are looking at my blog right now. Get outa here!... JK I love you, please be my friend. You guys, the mom-brain and travel-haze is so real, because I've been home for about a week and am already forgetting details about things that happened. God help meh! I'm so glad I'm writing this down! If you missed part one about our Oxford visit + how we packed, then check that out first.
So on the 5th day of our trip... "my true love gave to meeee... FIVE GOLDEN--"
Sorry. Staying on track...
DAY 5: When we were planning this section of the trip, we definitely made a calendar error. We wanted to just take a train to Glasgow and stay there for a day, but then we realized we were one day short and would have to stay on the railway alllll the way to Fort William with only a short stop-off in Glasgow.
We mentally prepared for this full-day of trains to be draining and boring, but it actually wasn't so bad! Rowan loved the trains, had fun playing with his travel toys + iPad puzzles, ate snacks, and napped a good bit. I haven't been on UK trains since 2002, and they did seem to have more problems compared to what we experienced more recently in France and Ireland. On our last train from Glasgow to Fort William, we definitely thought the train engine was going to die. Anyone else experience this in the UK? But more on train-drama later...
Our stop-off in Glasgow was good, but we did have to carry our backpacks around -- which LET'S BE HONEST does make you feel a bit like vagabond status. We had tea and scones in a cafe inside a church, and when we left a guy chased us out and asked if we had paid (we had already paid a different server obviously).. so that was a bit awkward. ha! We are just cheap travelers not scone thieves!!!
We still had an hour to kill, so we saw a sign for pints + pizza at Shilling Brewing Co. and had some more chill time there. I was really into all of the art deco designs and Rowan was really into Peppa Pig.
So somehow our rickety train made it all the way to Fort William. The views before it got dark were incredible as we climbed up the mountain and looked down on a number of giant lochs -- and I was just REALLY sad it was getting too dark to keep enjoying that!
When we got to Fort William, we stepped out of the train station a little confused as there were no street signs in sight with the road we were trying to find. Then a lady who we later affectionately named "the demon" popped up behind us and said "to get into town, just go through the walking tunnel!" We studied our directions carefully, and although this didn't add up, someone who appears to be a real human confidently giving you directions will always override and make you second guess. So -- sparing you the annoying details of this detour -- We followed her prompting until we realized we had walked far beyond the distance our directions said, turned the complete OPPOSITE direction that we would've gone initially, and found our hotel.
DAY 6: Our plan all along was to get to the Isle of Skye via the Jacobite steam engine, so today was the day! Our hotel was a short walking distance from the train station (if you don't have "the demon" to lead you astray), but it was nothing special beyond a comfy bed to sleep. We picked up to-go breakfast from a market on the way to the train station and could already see the smokestack in the distance.
It was another misty day with off-and-on drizzly rain, but this didn't kill anyone's excitement. We found our compartment where we made new Scottish and Colombian friends and enjoyed tea together during the trip. We were glad we brought our breakfast though, since there was only tea/coffee and shortbread provided (even in first class). Read my 5 Tips for Riding the Jacobite "Hogwarts Express" HERE... because I know some people have asked for FULL, nitty-gritty details on that!
DAY 6 (cont.): After our train arrived in Mallaig, we bought our foot-passenger ferry tickets to cross over to the Isle of Skye and ordered some seafood. There were a good many seafood restaurants and cafes clustered together in this tiny port town, but with all of the train passengers there at once it definitely took a few minutes to find somewhere not too crowded. Also, some of the takeaway places only took cash -- which we realized we were not carrying enough of this trip.
On the "Lord of the Isles" ferry, we had a great time enjoying our first Skye brew and eating our lunch. We also didn't realize that 1. the ferry had it's own cafe (if we hadn't been able to find takeaway seafood) and 2. the trip across was 30 minutes or less. So by the time we were all settled in and eating, it was basically time to clean up and grab our bags again! We were almost disappointed it was so short! ha!
We arrived on Skye and found our rental car + toddler car seat waiting for us in the car park. So easy! Woohoo! So we opened our map in the glove compartment and were on our way!
Our first stop was Dunscaith Castle (ruins) -- and if I had to redo our short itinerary again, I'd probably leave this off. It was pretty, but once you've seen 47 castle ruins, this one isn't a top seller. I wished we had headed to the north of the island sooner... but alas!
Gorgeous landscapes, a roadside waterfall, a failed-attempt to get more cash, a surprisingly superior espresso poured by a high-schooler at Deli Gasta, dinner in Portree, and then to the Achtalean B&B!
DAY 7: First of all -- I would like to toot my own horn that I was not as freaked out about riding in the passenger (American driver) seat while on the other side of the road this time! I did however have anxiety one night when the roads were SO dark... like black hole, 5-billion-light-years-away-from-earth-and-mankind dark! But we will get to that later.
The full, Scottish breakfast at Achtalean B&B was perfect (also complete with vegetarian options for me), and Rowan ate cereal and eggs like the most civilized child... It was a surprising, dreamy moment for sure. Our views were amazing, the hosts were so kind about letting us pay with Paypal since some of our credit cards were on the struggle bus, and we had a belly full of breakfast. So we packed up the car and made our first stop at Kilt Rock -- where I've always wanted to see the beautiful waterfall + cliffs + dinosaur footprints!
DAY 7 (cont.): Then we drove just a few miles away to hike up The Old Man of Storr. This experience was 90% incredible and 10% treacherous. On the way up, we stopped to admire cows, take photos, Rowan hiked a little bit himself, and it was windy but exciting. On the way down, however... half of our descent included us being pelted by sharp, needle-like rain drops by the wind in our face. And the last few minutes, Rowan was weeping about having to leave the field of baby calves. Also in his distress he would ONLY let me hold him, and so I basically won a gold medal for mom-hiking... i.e. thought for a second I was gonna die or pass out or have my arm muscles lock up for all of eternity. This was the 10 minutes that I regretted not having my Ergo... but we didn't truly need it any other portion of the trip.
We also soon realized why all of these people were hiking in waterproof pants... because all of that mist followed by the windy rain resulted in us being SOAKED to the bone (not Rowan since he was bundled and carried in the rainy bit, but his pants were a little damp.) We stripped down in the car... "Oh hi, families passing by! Don't mind us.. carry on!"... and then warmed up with tea, lunch and pie at the adorable and cozy Skye Pie Cafe. I had the vegetarian pie, and then we shared a chocolate cardamom pie for dessert. PRAISE THE LORD... our hike earned us those calories!
DAY 7 (cont.): Our day continued with a scenic drive up over the top of the island and back down the west side. We accidentally missed two stops we were planning to make and realized we had driven too far west. So, although we hadn't planned to fit it in, we stopped at the MacLeod castle -- Dunvegan. My itinerary had all of our ideas + locations + hours of operation on hand, however with this unexpected stop we didn't know if we were too late in the day to go inside. It turns out that we were too late, but a kind lady at the information desk told us to go down the road a mile to see the castle from the other side and to look for seals.
So even though Zack had been irritated at my bad navigation moment, he was pretty much like, “Just when I think you couldn't possibly be any dumber, you go and do something like this… and TOTALLY REDEEM YOURSELF!!!”
The hilarious seals popping their heads out of the water to stare at us... the puddles for Rowan to jump in... castle and scenery views... It was definitely a redeeming afternoon.
Once it was starting to get dark, we continued on to the Edinbane Inn for dinner... which was my favorite salmon dish of the entire trip! SO GOOD. Rowan fell asleep on me during dinner, but that actually made for a very chilled out meal. haha!
DAY 7 (cont.): We left the Edinbane Inn to find our home for the night at Sligachan Lodge. This experience was anxiety turned into hilarity.
Okay remember me mentioning how DARK it was at night on the island? Well, these two city kids have had our fair share of camping, but we've never been DRIVING narrow, curvy roads in this level of darkness with no building lights, moon or stars in sight! We really couldn't see anything until our car lights were about 10 feet from it! Basically -- we missed our turn because we didn't see it in time, and then could NOT see a turn-around spot for ages! Everytime we would see one, we would be passing it! So we finally had to anger the cars behind us by slowing down to a snail-like speed and then swerved fiercely into the first turn-around shoulder we spotted. Our car ramped up on the bank, but no harm done! haha! So I did spot the sign for the Sligachan Hotel, and we pulled in to ask where the lodge was. Like we are the three wise men, the lady says, "See that light on the hillside?" I strain my eyes. "Um I think so?" "That's the lodge! Follow that light!" So we set off just following that beacon of light like a fictional adventure and arrived minutes later-- with no wrecks! HALLELUJAH!
DAY 8: This was the day the weather couldn't decide if it wanted to bring wrath upon all the inhabitants of the island or be a magical, sunny wonderland. The day started with some angry rain... slowed up to a light drizzle while we took photos by the river... turned to glorious, perfect sunlight with a light breeze... and then brought in wind tunnels and rain again like a hurricane. So wild.
I had found Rosie from Love Skye Photography before our trip on Instagram and had planned to get some family photos with her on this day. OF COURSE it was the craziest weather of our trip... and OF COURSE after Rowan's bath our water pressure gave out in the lodge. So yes, I got ready for these portraits with left-over tub suds. haha! Braids + pins + hairspray... go! Rosie did the best job capturing us even in the rain and even with Rowan's morning attitude. Here are some sneak peeks she sent me...
DAY 8 (cont.): So even though I would've really rather had the sun for our photos or for the Fairy Pools, we had an amazing outdoor lunch at The Oyster Shed. That place was so fresh and amazing! Definitely where you should eat if going to Talisker or the Fairy Pools.
After lunch, Zack headed over to his free tour of Talisker -- which he will be posting about very soon over on Whisky Geekdom -- while I stayed with Rowan who napped in the car.
The most disappointing moment of the day was that when we got to the Fairy Pools which was top on my list to see the weather knocked us straight over! You can see the puny shots I got while there as the flowers, grass and trees bent sideways. I almost wanted to brave the weather, but knew Rowan could not lest he be blown over the mountain. And we were running short on time anyway.
We decided to call it and headed towards Kyle of Localsh railway station. It was very, very good that we decided to go straight there (and not fit in Eilean Donan Castle either), because we might've missed our train! With not much time to spare, we unloaded our M2 Motors rental car -- which they prompty picked up right on cue -- and boarded our train to Inverness.
DAY 8 (cont.): The train station at Kyle was tiny and didn't even have someone working at the information desk, but they let us board with our confirmation number and no printed tickets. THEN about an hour out of Inverness our train came to a halt. Apparently something was wrong with the tracks up ahead, and they had to determine if it could be repaired or if we would have to return back to the previous station. LUCKILY it was fixed... but that did eat away at about 45 minutes of our journey.
Due to our train delay, we arrived in Inverness at nearly 9pm, and many restaurants were closed. We knew it would be a late dinner anyway though, so I checked my handy-dandy list of late-hour dinners on the itinerary. BUT it turned out that one of the "open-late" spots was actually closing their kitchen when we arrived.
Next door to Fig & Thistle (our original plan) was an Italian restaurant that was still open and kickin', Immediately, they rushed to our table and asked if they could put in a kid-sized pizza for Rowan -- and we were like, "Did we die and go to Italy?" The owner talked to us about his five children at our red gingham table with a drippy candle, and he told us there were no good places to eat in Inverness except Little Italy. haha! It was the best surprise.
DAY 9: Breakfast the next morning at our guest house (Ryeford) was nice and the location was close to everything. They allowed us to leave our bags in the dining room as we walked around Inverness before our midday train. We shopped for souvenirs, found a watercolor print of a fox by an artist named R. Lindsay, and bought Rowan a toddler-sized, Lindsey-tartan kilt!... oh and also a toy sheep, because he was hugging it so sweetly and saying "naaa" that HOW COULD YOU NOT?!
We walked around St. Andrew's Cathedral, had lunch and watched the football match at Castle Tavern, and Zack shopped and tasted some whisky at the Whisky Shop. Rowan fell asleep as we were walking to lunch, slept through the entire meal, and even slept through a loud bagpipe player in the town center! How is that possible?! ... I guess not so surprising for the son of a Highland piper.
DAY 9 (cont.): Before retrieving our backpacks, we stopped for one last treat and coffee at Velocity Cafe & Bicycle Workshop (a really cute place) then walked back to the train station.
Everything with our train ride went smoothly this time, and we arrived in Glasgow with no problems. When we arrived at the Z Hotel there was some confusion on which room would be best to fit our travel cot for Rowan (their rooms are pretty small), but they worked it out and were extremely nice! Then they had free wine & cheese hour in the lobby, so Zack let me go enjoy that after Rowan was asleep. Afterwards, he set off to look around Glasgow... which was MADNESS being a football Saturday (Celtics vs. the Rangers).
DAY 10: The next morning we called a cab for the airport, and Rowan thought he was a KING in his first-ever taxi ride. I was prepared with all of my taxi-ride knowledge from the Car Seat Lady, so this type-A mama was good to go. ha!
Our flight home was yet another success... except for the fact Ro slept a little too much and slightly threw off his nighttime sleep for that day. After a few days back home, his naps were back to their regular time and jet lag was but a memory!