The next leg of our Scottish journey felt like coming home. We make it a point to see new places and things each time we come to Scotland, but we also plan return visits to places we didn’t get enough of the first time around.
Coming back to the Isle of Skye on the ferry from Harris felt like meeting up with an old, familiar friend for a quick catch up. We saw a phenomenal sunset while we headed back to our B&B, a newly built addition with a comfortable bed, an amazing, spa-like bathroom and a beautiful view of Loch Dunvegan. Only two things marred our visit – more midges and a sad state of affairs at a much-renowned Stein pub where we’d had wonderful meals twice before. We were truly shocked when our waitress ignored us for over an hour before taking our order, not even bringing us water or a menu, while the Scots at the table next to ours ordered, ate, paid and went their merry ways. I won’t go into the details, but it was the first time we’d been treated rudely, probably because we were Americans, on any of our journeys. When our dinners finally arrived, my meat was tough and undercooked. I would have left without paying, but my nice husband took care of the bill and we departed completely mystified at the treatment we’d received.
The rest of our time on Skye was delightful. We enjoyed our room and the nice breakfast treats left in the refrigerator, and went to sleep dreaming of the opportunity to see some of our favorite spots from two years ago. After taking in the scenery on the loop from Dunvegan to Sligachan Valley, we followed the highway toward Armadale Castle and Gardens, on the east side of Skye, which we had not seen our first trip.
The gardens were lovely and the ruins of the castle were serene and full of interesting historical images. Our hike through the forest was as brief as we could manage as the dreaded midges were once again out in full force. Thankfully, after we left the castle, we found a locally manufactured concoction made with natural ingredients and essential oils that did seem to deter the little buggers, as well as soothing the bites I already had.
We stopped at Dorney and Eilean Donan Castle on our way to Loch Carron. Eilean Donan, the only place besides the Glasgow airport that we’ve seen on all three visits to Scotland, is the setting of Shy Violet, and plays a role in Sweet William. I truly do feel a connection to this castle. I took a copy of Sweet William along to give to one of the servers at the Castle café just like I did Shy Violet two years ago, and to my delight, they remembered me! The woman we gifted the book to even had a connection to the house on the front cover. Like so many aspects of our trip, the whole thing felt meant to be.
I had the same pleasant sense of déjà vu in Loch Carron. The idea for Golden Rod was born while I was there two years ago, and it was great fun to leave copies with the owner of the B&B where we stayed and the owner of the Waterside Café, which is mentioned in the book. We revisited Lochcarron Weavers (and left with more wool remnants), stopped at my favorite craft shop (which had almost burned down in a forest fire the week before).
I bought a wee Scottish fairy, and saw the incredibly scenic overlooks we discovered last time. But from there on, everything we saw and did was entirely new. We had two incredible meals, one at Lochcarron Bistro that included some of the best food I’ve ever eaten.
The next day, we set off for Applecross, a charming seaside village at the end of one of the steepest, scariest mountain roads I’ve ever been on. Mark navigated the narrow, winding road quite well, and our little Honda put forth a valiant effort while I tried to snap photos whenever I could. One didn’t dare stop to shoot a photo midway up the incline for fear you’d never get going again. It was that steep.
Once we rounded a series of extremely sharp hairpin curves, we walked around the summit and stretched our tense legs. From there, it was downhill to Applecross, a very secluded town on the water, where we discovered a delightful garden that was being restored to its former glory.
It was totally unanticipated, and one of my favorite stops of the entire trip.
Coming down the mountain via the coastal road was a different kind of adventure, with wandering, remote single track roads lined with wildflowers, boothies, sheep and hairy coo, punctuated by the occasional fishing village. The one thing we never saw was a gas station, and we breathed a sigh of relief when we glided into Lochcarron on petrol fumes and miraculously found a gas station that was still open.
The weather that day was warm and sunny, and perfect for exploring. We stopped frequently and stumbled upon a few gems on that trip over the mountain. I even discovered the work of a potter whose main shop was back in Strathcarron. I left with several little dishes and hearts made by Vicky Stonebridge at Balnacra Arts & Pottery, all in her signature pastel colors and whimsical designs. If ever I live in Lochcarron, I will visit her studio often.
The next morning, after another wonderful Scottish breakfast, we said goodbye and left for Fort William, a stopover on our way to Kilmartin Glen, our last major destination.
On the way, we finally found the spot where I took the photo that is on the front cover of Sweet William. I say finally because we’d looked and looked and never found it two years ago.
The trick was, you had to get out of the car and hike past an old church ruin to get to the spot where you could look down into the valley to see what I fondly call Rabbit Hill Lodge (in my imagination and the world of Lyndsie and Violet in Sweet William.)
From there, it was more mountains and a drive through the Spey River valley to Speybridge. We heard a bagpiper playing at the summit and watched a storm approaching from the west. The storm followed us all the way to Fort William and while it doused our sightseeing efforts, it didn’t deter us from poking around downtown and finding a restaurant that had room for two. I had haggis with neeps (mashed turnips) and tatties (mashed potatoes), served with a whiskey peppercorn gravy.
By this stage of the trip, we felt very aware of the fact that our vacation days were drawing to a close. I remember wondering if this would be the last time I got to enjoy haggis. I think it was – and a good note to end on, it was.
Sunday morning, we decided to try a Scottish church once more, and found a lively congregation much like what we’re used to at Zion, in Hudson, Iowa, where my husband is the pastor. They had guitars and sang songs we knew, and the pastor was easy to listen to and even witty at times. While the people were very friendly and welcoming at both churches we visited, this one was more relaxed and joyous and felt like home.
It was hard to imagine that we would see anything in our last few days in country that would rival the sights we’d already enjoyed, but Kilmartin Glen did just that. It’s called saving the best for last.
Until next time…
(Sherrie is the owner of the Blue Belle Inn B&B and Tea House in St. Ansgar, Iowa. She is a Wheaton College alumni, and attended University of Maryland, European Division, while living in Augsburg, Germany. Her husband is the pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, an LCMC Congregation in rural Hudson, Iowa. In Sherrie’s spare time (?) she likes to dabble in the creative arts, play piano, paint, decorate vintage homes, and travel.)