A river and castles separate the Scottish lowlands from the highlands. Back in the day, the country was in a seemingly constant state of war — the English battling for control of the Highlands. Stirling Castle changed hands eight times in fifty years, and the battles were every bit as gory as that Mel Gibson movie would have you believe – proof in a man’s skull that had dozens of fractures on it.
I mention Stirling Castle because much like the travelers of ancient times, the fortress on the hill was our gateway to the Highlands.
We took our rented Mercedes C Class and headed North for the first time. We visited the Trossachs where Konnor got to test out his hiking legs and move uphill. Everyone we passed praised us or at least gawked at us for carrying our young toddler several miles up, along a muddy and sometimes steep trail to a beautiful lookout spot.
I was surprised to see National Parks in the U.K. are not like National Parks in the U.S. Our National Parks are basically uninhabited aside from a handful of park workers and campgrounds. The Trossachs have towns and houses and restaurants throughout.
We also visited Loch Lomond in the Trossachs. April is a shoulder season and it was rainy, but we enjoyed the small town where we stopped for a meal and to walk along the water’s edge.
Once we bid farewell to the lowlands for good, we headed north through the Cairngorms (not super lush and beautiful in April. Spring hadn’t arrived yet). We sampled chocolates and whiskey at the Dahlwinnie distillery (couldn’t tour because we had a toddler with us) and stopped in Aviemore for lunch where I savored one of the best hot chocolates I’ve ever tasted.
That evening we arrived in Nairn, exhausted but excited to start our the next leg of our adventure. We booked our hotel through Hotwire, which is always a tad bit risky, but we knew the choices in Nairn were limited and Hotwire has never disappointed us.
We stayed at a place called the Newton Hotel – a beautiful building on beautiful grounds. There is a nice hiking trail that goes all the way to the sea on premise and a delicious restaurant, though a bit fancy for a 1-year-old.
Of course, I had to Google our accommodations before arrival and saw that the hotel is allegedly haunted. Somehow, I was disappointed to see no ghost. However, Konnor did randomly say “hi” to nobody in the woods several times.
While in Nairn we sampled Scottish gins and walked along the beach next to the Moray Firth which is an inlet of the North Sea. Needless to say, the Moray Firth is nothing like the coast of Florida. The water is cold and the wind is whipping, but it shares an equal beauty to my nearly Caribbean home.
We kept Nairn as home base for a few days while we explored the area. We drove along gorgeous single track roads in the countryside where we saw sheep graze in the foreground of the mountains, stopped and ate lunch at a roadside restaurant that turned out to be a culinary favorite of the Highlands (we had no idea when we stopped in), and of course, we visited the famous Loch Ness.
To our disappointment, we did not see Nessie!
We did, however, see the locks that let the boats go in and out of the Loch in Fort Augustus and we did a super touristy walking tour of the super touristy town and even bought a stuffed Nessie toy as a souvenir.
After wandering around Fort Augustus all day, we took a different route back to our hotel and stopped in Inverness to walk a bit more. We found a lovely walking trail right in the middle of town. Inverness seems like a terrific city that I could see myself actually living in. It isn’t big, but it isn’t tiny and the scenery is perfect!
Alas, back to our haunted hotel. The Newton Hotel turned out to be my favorite accommodation of our trip. It isn’t fancy and Nairn certainly isn’t exciting in the off-season, but the hotel was clean, comfy and relaxing. Plus, those lovely views!