Part 2/3: I lived in the tiny and picturesque town of Huntly for several months, and enjoyed every minute! This small town is concentrated awesomeness. You’ll love Huntly Castle (home of the Gordon Clan), another one of my favorite castles.
Of course, this is another ruined castle, with plenty of hidden rooms to run around and explore (my favorite kind). Kids will have a ton of fun in this castle! But tell them to behave, or they’ll have to be sent to the castle’s dungeons:
You can get to Huntly by driving northwest on motorway A96. Aberdeen, the “granite city”, is worth a stop on the way to Huntly, if you’ve got the time. If you’re not on a tight budget, then I’d recommend that you stay at the heavenly and historical Castle Hotel in Huntly.
Also be sure to stop by the Dean’s Shortbread factory in town. If you walk to the factory, you can literally smell the buttery shortbread from several blocks away. This is my favorite brand of shortbread! Be sure to buy the chocolate chip coconut shortbread cookies. Click this picture to buy Dean’s Shortbread in the U.S.:
7. Banff, MacDuff, Findlater Castle, & Bow Fiddle Arch
A 30 minute drive north from Huntly will bring you to the surreal coastal towns of Banff, MacDuff, Cullen, and Portnockie.
Start off by eating lunch at a small ocean-side cafe in MacDuff. Within a mile, the shoreline changes from white sandy beaches to classic rocky shores. MacDuff has a small aquarium, which I’ve heard is great.
On stormy days, the ocean waves can sweep across the streets in MacDuff and Banff, which looks pretty cool! Spend some time walking around these two hidden-of-a-treasure towns. Then drive west along the coastal road and pull off the road to see the local sea lions and to find creatures in the tidal pools. This is another perfect activity for children.
Over ten years ago, when I first came to this area, I saw an old wooden sign that pointed off the road to “Findlater Castle.” I parked at a farm, and proceeded to walk down the above pictured road. I kept walking, but didn’t see a castle. I began to wonder if the name “Find-Later” was a clever Scottish prank, to lure gullible Americans over the edge of a sea cliff. However, as I neared the edge of the sea cliff I saw a spectacular sight.
Indeed, Findlater Castle was not there…entirely. The foundations of the castle still sat over the edge of the beautiful Scottish water, but the upper levels of the castle had been destroyed.
I walked the sketchy trail down to the castle foundation, and discovered that there were still hidden castle rooms inside the rock! It was truly an amazing find, that not many people get to see.
If you decide to visit Findlater Castle, be certain that you only hike down to the ruins if you’re an experienced hiker. Otherwise, just enjoy the view from the top of the hill.
Now for the gem of hidden gems: Bow Fiddle Arch in Portknockie. Drive from Findlater Castle, through Portsoy and Cullen (both worth a stop) to Portknockie. Ask locals for directions to the sea arch. Sit quietly on a rock and enjoy the serenity that comes from being alone in such a beautiful place. I’ve visited this arch many times, and have never run into another human being. You can truly get some inspiration here. It’s my dream to rent a small cottage in Portknockie, and relax for a couple weeks.
Before you leave Portknockie, you must absolutely visit the local bakery to purchase some “Butteries.” They are similar to American scones, but I was told that they are unique to this area of Scotland. They will absolutely melt in your mouth!
8. Inverness, Loch Ness, & Urquhart Castle
After spending a peaceful night in the Banff/MacDuff/Portknockie area, drive west along the breathtaking north coast until you run into Inverness. Inverness is considered the capital of the highlands, and is probably the most beautiful (and fun) city in Scotland. You will probably be able to understand the accent here more than any other part of Scotland.
Walk around the downtown’s cobblestone pedestrian streets, and pop into one of the many kilt shops, outdoor gear shops, souvenir shops, and great restaurants.
Visit the Inverness Castle (now used by local government) and stroll along the walkways that run along the river. Small pedestrian bridges will carry you across the river so you can explore many of the side streets. This area is especially amazing during Christmas time.
Having lived in Inverness for 3 months, I made friends with the most well-known street performer/street merchant, named Kim. He is a wonderful musician, and a self-proclaimed, “Scottish-Jewish-Hippy.” He’s probably a one-of-a-kind, so don’t pass up the opportunity to get to know him.
Ask him about his annual swim in the frigid waters of Loch Ness, which he does for charity.
Now what you’ve all been waiting for, the most famous destination in Scotland, Loch Ness! I’ve often heard Scottish folk say, “if this loch wasn’t famous for the Loch Ness Monster, it would be famous for its beauty.”
Even if you’ve got a phobia of being around other tourists, have no fear, there is plenty of quiet shoreline along Loch Ness, the largest lake in Scotland (by volume of water). If you’re really quiet, you may even get a glimpse of “Nessie”.
Even if you don’t like souvenir shops, you’ve definitely got to stop into one of Loch Ness’ shops. Not only will you find quality Scottish woolens, but you’ll see the largest collections of “Nessie” stuffed animals in the world! It’s good for a laugh.
Urquhart Castle sits on the edge of Loch Ness, and is also a fun ruined castle to explore. You can take boat rides on the loch, and get some amazing photos of Urquhart Castle.
9.Eileen Donan Castle, Plockton, & the Isle of Skye
After visiting Urquhart Castle, drive down the length of Loch Ness, and turn onto highway A87 toward Plockton and Kyle of Lochalsh. This drive may just bring tears to your eyes. Sweeping open green vistas, snow-capped mountain tops, cascading waterfalls, roaming horses, and pristine mountain lochs await you on this drive.
Before arriving at the coast, turn off at the popular Eilean Donan Castle. Due to its picturesque position on a small island, this ancient castle has been featured in several famous movies, including Highlander and James Bond.
Kyle of Lochalsh and Plockton are unbelievably beautiful west coast seaside villages, and are strangely home to palm trees.
After spending a day in these lovely port towns, stay in one of the cozy Bed & Breakfast homes. Not only will you get to experience a Scottish home, but you’ll sample a traditional Scottish breadfast!
Drive across the Skye Bridge to the Isle of Skye, one of the most serene locations on earth. Cascading waterfalls will greet you on your way to Portree and Dunvegan Castle. Make sure you stay on the island overnight, as the drive to Dunvegan castle can take upwards of a couple hours (you’ll be stopping every few miles to take photos).
10. Glen Coe & Fort William
A drive down Glen Coe, to Fort William will make you feel like you stepped into the movie “Braveheart”. Take some time to walk around the fun town of Fort William. You’ll likely see a bagpipe band playing on the streets.
To be continued…check back in a few days for part 3!
Scotland Travel Tips:
First, click on these CD photos to find some amazing music I found in Scotland:
[amazon5] [amazon6] [amazon7]
Here are a few travel tips to help you more fully enjoy your trip to Scotland:
- Try to make friends with some local Scots…maybe they’ll invite you in for “Juice (soda) and Biscuits (cookies).” The Scottish people are the #1 attraction in Scotland, so make sure you spend time getting to know them.
- Definitely try Haggis, Neaps, & Tatties (meat, turnips, & potatoes)…but from a good pub in a small town. Forget any scary stories you’ve heard about Haggis; it really tastes amazing!
- Whenever possible, try to stay at a B&B (rather than a hotel) so you can experience the local hospitality
- Try to spend 2-4 weeks traveling around Scotland. Trust me, you’ll wish you budgeted more time in Scotland!
- Read some good travel guides to see other appealing Scottish destinations. Here are a few of my favorite:
[amazon1] [amazon2] [amazon3] [amazon4]
- Watch my favorite Scotland travel DVDs:
If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below!