Cairngorms to the Outer Hebrides

On my list of places to see during my life was the Outer Hebrides.  This has now been done during a 10 day road trip along with a stop at the Cairngorms.   The purpose was to see the natural beauty and to identify some birds that are special to these areas.  The reason for the timing is before the vote for Scotland to separate from the rest of the United Kingdom.

The road trip began with a 367 mile journey to Nethy Bridge just next to Loch Garten.  I have always proclaimed that when the weather is nice in Scotland there is no place like it.  Our experience on this stop definitely confirms that saying.  The RSPB reserve at Loch Garten is home Ospreys which were easily sited.  2 Ospreys plus their chicks could be viewed through our binoculars and the camera that was available at the RSPB centre.  Opposite the reserve is Loch Garten and on this beautiful day the Cairngorm mountains reflected majestically in the water.   We also managed to squeeze in a visit to  Insh Marsh.

As always, a trip is defined by the experiences.  In this case we had a very nice experience at Kimberley B&B in Nethy Bridge.  Our version of a road trip is you just drive and stop when you want.  So, we arrived in Nethy Bridge with no accommodation booked.  As we approached the village we stopped at the first B&B we saw.  It was run by a very nice couple who had moved to Scotland from London over 17 years ago.  We were fortunate in that they had no other guests.  So, for £25 per person we had a whole house to ourselves and each morning we were greeted with a very large breakfast (bacon, sausages, eggs, haggis, black pudding, flat sausage slice, fried potatoe, fried potatoe scones, fried sweet pudding, beans, mushrooms, tomatoes, toast, cereals, fruit, and juice!)

After 2 eveningsScotland 1 in Nethy Bridge, we went to the top of the Cairngorm Mountain via the funicular.  Saw 2 unusual birds, ptarmigan and dotterel.  If I had to do it again, I would walked up the mountain. Also, if you take the funicular you
can only walk around the top by paying for a guide.  If you walk up, you can go wherever you like!  Apparently this was negotiated to keep the number down of people who walk on the top.  I suspect it helps with revenue as well.

It was a beautiful day as we proceeded on our journey towards Skye.  We stopped at an RSPB reserve at Loch Ruthven.  The journey to this remote reserve was beautiful.  It was a short stop and then we proceeded.

It was time to start looking for another evening’s accommodation.  We decided we would stop close to the RSPB reserve of Corrimony; this turned out not to be a good idea.  The distance was greater than expected.  We found the Tomich Hotel.  The cost was £110 a night for B&B.  The room was small and the en-suite was an uncomfortable squeeze. Wifi was unreliable.  The food at dinner, ranged from salty to ok.  On a good note, the breakfast was good.  Overall, it is not recommended.

The next morning was overcast and probably not the best time to stop at the Corrimony RSPB reserve.  However, we had driven miles to get to this area so we stopped.  It was again a very remote excursion.  We had to walk about 20 minutes just to get to the reserve entrance from the parking and by that time it started to rain.  So a retreat was in order and our journey continued to Skye.  The scenery was again breath taking.  We decided to stop in the town of Portree on Skye.  It is a lovely small port town.  We approached the Royal Hotel from the harbour side and I noticed a B&B right next door with vacancies.  We decided to stop and inquire.  What a find!  A lovely old woman answered the door and the proprietor had the same voice and mannerism as Mrs. Doubtfire!!  Luckily she had one of her 3 rooms available.  The room had a large window with the most beautiful view of the port.  At £35 per person for B&B (Mariner House B&B) it was a no brainer.

The evening concluded with a lovely seafood meal and a beautiful walk around the headland.  Despite the rain, it was one of our best evenings.

The next day we proceeded to explore Skye, but the weather was not on our side.   We proceeded to explore by car until the afternoon ferry to Tarbert on the Isle of Harris.  We made the ferry crossing which went smoothly despite a 40 minute delay.  Arriving at Harris we proceeded to Stornoway, the largest town on the Islands.  During our journey we saw a magnificent white tailed eagle.

Stornoway is not magnificent; in fact it was pretty unappealing.  We were tired and just wanted to find somewhere for the evening. We tried the first guest house we saw, but unfortunately they were fully booked.  However, the lady who answered the door indicated that they also owned another guest house (Park Guest House).  She contacted her husband who showed us the supposedly last available room.  It was in fact a suite with a small kitchen/lounge, bathroom and bedroom.  It was far more then we needed.  After not much negotiation we agreed to £98.  As we were walking back to our car about 10 minutes later, he happened to mention that was a “cash” agreement.  We were not impressed.

This leads me to note a particular observation about most of the places we stayed on this journey, cash was required.  Other than the 2 hotels where we stayed, only cash was accepted; no names were requested; there was no registration, and no receipts were provided.

To no avail we searched the town for a restaurant that was open and inviting. We ended up in a very bad Chinese restaurant.  However, the evening was rescued by a drive to a small beach cliff area just north of Stornoway.   Full of nesting birds in the cliff we had a walk along a quiet beach.

The next day started with our RSPB visit to Loch na Muiline.  We achieved our objectives of a great walk, great view of the sea, and great view of the rare Red-necked Phalarope.  We also took in the Arnol Blackhouse which was not really worth the £9.00 entry fee for 2.

On are journey back to Tarbert for the ferry to North Uist,  we stopped in Usula at a road side deli call 40 North.  Here the owner did all her own cooking and it wasn’t just cakes.  There was homemade bread, stuffed peppers, savoury tarts, etc.  We bought a few items for a lovely picnic that we had along this scenic route.

Scotland 2After stopping at the Callanish Stones, we arrived in Tarbert late afternoon.  It was busy and accommodation was not easy.  A nice young man at one of the fully booked hotels provided me with a list of accommodation close to the area.  After about 3 calls we found a room in Scalpay.  We took yet another scenic journey.  Scalpay is a little island connected to the Isle of Harris by a bridge.   A midwife for the NHS and her fisherman husband made us very welcome in this B&B (http://www.hirtahouse.co.uk/).  We had a large window overlooking some fantastic scenery.  Our day ended with another picnic and a bike ride.

Breakfast the next day was very good and we proceeded on our journey to North Uist.  The weather could not have been better.  It was great scenery.  We had time for a bike ride while waiting for the ferry.  We also had time for a walk along a beautiful beach where the sand was very white and the water a mystical blue.

Scotland 3The journey on the ferry to North Uist was like a sea journey in the Tropics except for the cool breeze.  North Uist is pretty unpopulated except for the tourist.  Noticing only a few signs for B&B’s and all those with “no vacancy” underneath, we stopped at Tourist Information.  The first response to our enquiry regarding a room for the evening was that North Uist was fully booked.  After a few calls a room was found in South Uist just over an hour away.

Before heading towards our accommodation we went to the RSPB reserve in North Uist which was our main purpose for coming to this island.  Balranald is one of the best RSPB reserves that we have visited.  It delivered a Corncrake and Corn Bunting within a few minutes of arrival.

The journey to South Uist over causeways was uneventful. The B&B (Brae Lea House)  was even more uneventful at £80 for the evening.  So we rested and prepared for our journey back to Skye the next day.

By this time we were approaching the end of our trip.  We had seen and done enough for this adventure and it was time to go to Aberdeen for a business meeting at the end of the week.  The ferry back to Skye was about 2pm so we filled the morning with a walk under cloud and some light rain.  After arriving on Skye we drove until it was time to stop. We found a B&B for £32 per person.  It was adequate.

We arrived in Aberdeen and it was recommended that we stayed at thScotland 5e Mariner Hotel.  It was £85 per night for bed and breakfast.  It is a nice a hotel and very good value.  It helped that it was a sunny Aberdeen.  It is noticeable that Aberdeen is a city with a new found
wealth.  It has been cleaned up and there is a lot of development going on as a result of oil revenues. It is an interesting city and a good last stop on our 1700 mile journey.

Scotland is a wonderful part of the United Kingdom.  It is not right that politicians are allowing only the 7 million people in Scotland to decide on the borders of the United Kingdom which includes more than 60 million people.  For 300 years the people of this land have all lived together without a major war or battle.  I am a naturalised citizen of the United Kingdom and if Scotland goes independent, I like millions of others will have been robbed of our UK citizenship.  In many parts of the world, nationalism is starting to divide and cause chaos. Proposing this vote of division only fuels the unrest.  There were parts of this journey where the “yes” vote was being aggressive and intimidating.  You could feel it!  I hope in the future we can return to Scotland.  Whether we want to or not depends on the outcome of the vote for Scotland to remain as part of the UK in September.

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