To kick off the new year, I made a short winter road trip with a fellow traveler around Scotland to see the country covered in snow, and also to pick up some bags I had left at my dad’s house while I traveled the world. I’ve recently moved into my own flat in Edinburgh, and for the first time in two years I’ll have all my stuff together in one place. Having a home base certainly is enjoyable! But back to the road trip…
Renting a car, I first took my travel partner to Falkirk and Stirling to show her my favorite attractions – The Kelpies and Wallace Monument, only to discover that she had already seen them on her tour with Haggis Adventures. So we continued on to Doune, where we visited the famous castle from Monty Python. The castle was closed that day, but we still got to explore the outside. Her only regret was not having any coconuts to clap together as we approached the gate.
Did you know: Doune Castle was originally built in the early 1400’s but the construction was never completed and it’s now a ruined shell. Mary Queen of Scots stayed there more than once and It was last occupied in the 1700’s. It is now used as a tourist attraction and filming location, best known for Monty Python’s Quest for the Holy Grail, and more recently featured in Outlander. It was even used in the pilot of Game of Thrones, although that pilot was never aired. It’s open [most days] to the public, and the audio guide provided is narrated by none other than Terry Jones of Monty Python.
From there, we made a beeline up to MacDuff, the small village on the coast of Scotland where my dad has found a home. I had dropped off a few items there last year when I came back from Thailand, including my Thai massage mat, cooking equipment and extra clothing. All of that went into the car, including my sleeping bags which we used for the rest of the trip. Sleeping in the car might not be the most comfortable arrangement, but it’s a great way to see the country. Unlike the US, police in Scotland won’t tell you to move on if you park in an empty lot overnight…unless there are signs posted.
For day two, we got out of the house a little later than we had hoped but still got a relatively early start to head down to Glen Nevis just north of Fort William. We drove via Inverness and along the western shore of Loch Ness, passing the famous Urquhart Castle (pronounced ur-cut) and making a stop in Invermoriston where there is a river with cascading waterfalls flowing over an old bridge, and a little summer cottage overlooking the ravine. The top of the old bridge was a solid mass of ice, and almost impossible to get traction on its curved surface. With snow in the hills and trees, and a high water level raging down the river, it was a beautiful spot. Unfortunately my had already visited earlier with her Haggis tour, so we shortly moved on.
By 2:30 p.m. we were in Glen Nevis. Glen is the Gaelic word for valley, so it’s the valley of the River Nevis. Also, Inver and Aber both mean the mouth of a river, and loch is a lake. Inverness is the mouth of the river Ness, running from the Loch Ness, although the canyon the lake is in is called the Great Glen, as it’s a continuous canyon running the length of Scotland. But I digress.
We drove down the narrow one-lane road past the visitor center to the last parking lot. The trail there is actually the final part of the West Highland Way – the 96-mile trail from Milngavie (just north of Glasgow) to Fort William across the lowlands and highlands of Scotland. In fact, as we arrived, we saw two elderly hikers who had just completed the trail! They reported having to wade through freezing streams up to their waist from the snow run-off. Now that’s determination.
I’d tried to take another friend on the trail last year, but it was closed due to a landslide. This time the trail was open, despite several streams crossing the path. It’s less than a mile to Steall Falls, which was our destination. Hiking in January also had the great benefit of lacking midges, which were horrible the last time I hiked to Steall Falls. I absolutely love the scenery in the canyon, which was intensified with the snow on the higher slopes of the hills around us.
Before reaching the waterfall, we emerged from the forest with a great view of the falls in the distance. Closer to the falls, you have to cross the river and the only way to do that is by the rope bridge. Well, it’s not exactly a bridge. there are three cables spanning the river, one for walking on and two for your hands. It’s not a hard crossing, but it still changes some people who are less adventurous. My travel partner wasn’t one of those people.
Steall Falls doesn’t really “fall” so much as slide down the side of the mountain. The location was made relatively famous as a filming location in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire where he battles the dragon. The arena on one of the hilltops was added with CG. The valley is not really seen with most of the attention on Harry or the dragon, but there are still some really nice scenery shots of the area before the tournament begins. I actually watched the movie after getting back to Edinburgh, just to see how it portrayed the falls.
I just can’t get over how beautiful #Scotland is during the winter. Started off 2018 right with a short road trip. These are the waterfalls from the dragon scene in Harry Potter #4. #visitscotland #steallfalls #harrypotterfan Tag someone you want to take to Scotland with you. Where are you in the world now?
After that, we walked around Fort Williams, had a meal in a pub, and found an empty lot by the leisure center to park in for the night. The police passed by shortly after we got there, and waved at us before they moved on. Scotland isn’t always the safest country in the world, but it’s definitely one of the friendliest.
My travel partner was feeling a bit under the weather, and it was worse by the third morning. I had planned to take her on a hike up Conic Hill by Loch Lomond, but she wasn’t up for that. Instead we made our way back to Edinburgh, with a few short stops along the way. The first was at the filming location of Hagrid’s Hut from Harry Potter. The hut was taken down soon after filming, but the flat ground where it was built is still there, and the bartender at the pub across the street was happy to give me a bit of the filming trivia.
The Haggis tour also took her to Glencoe so we skipped that stop as well, except for a very quick stop for a photo and getting the trunk fully closed, plus another quick stop at The Meeting of the Three Waters, just up the road from Glencoe.
Lastly, we made a couple stops around Aberfoyle, visiting Loch Katrine (she wasn’t up for a walk around that either), a farm where a couple of Harry Coos (Scottish cows) were available to feed bread, a fish and chips lunch in town and finally a brief stop at the Lake of Menteith for some photos. Yes, it’s a lake and not a loch, since the Duke of Menteith once betrayed the Scottish to the English, and thus they gave his lake an English designation.
It wasn’t the longest winter road trip, and I did have a little trouble finding places that she hadn’t seen on her Haggis tour, as she didn’t remember the names of the places they went, but recognized them once we arrived. I’m now planning more road trips around Scotland, including one around the 500-mile road along the northern coast. Scotland is my favorite country, and I’m always finding more beautiful hidden gems. Otherwise, my 2018 itinerary primarily includes getting to the remaining countries in Europe I have yet to visit.
Overall, it was really nice to see the country in the winter. I still wouldn’t mind seeing what the Isle of Skye looks like covered in snow, and I’ve been enjoying the short snow storms that Edinburgh has received in the past few days. Can you tell I love snow?
What about you? Do you like snow? Would you prefer to see Scotland in the winter or summer? Would you like me to take you on a road trip around the country sometime? Just let me know on my social media channels or leave your comment below.
Planning to Visit Scotland?
Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.
- 5 Steps to Book Cheap Flights
- Hostels: To Book or Not to Book
- Is Workaway Worth it for the Traveler?
Ps. Unfortunately my travel partner (who shall remain unnamed) never paid for her share of the trip. She’s the third traveler I’ve taken around Scotland with the agreement that they would share in the expenses and they failed to do so. I have a general rule that I inherently trust everyone, but I wonder how many times I’m willing to be burned before I change that. At least I can learn my lesson and demand payment for road trips at the outset.