Follow Finn Bruce around the Highlands, Edinburgh, Isle of Skye, Outer Hebrides, see the northern lgihts and more
Every week one of the APPollo team will give their run down on their favourite city, trip or area.
Today we have APPollo’s founder and CEO Finn Bruce taking us through the Highlands of Scotland. Finn grew up dreaming of travelling the world; having been tricked as a child into thinking their annual trip catching the ferry to the Isle of White was ‘going abroad’!! So when he was 18 he packed his bags and set off exploring, just him and his camera. He has never looked back, grabbing every opportunity and taking 6 weeks every year to embark on a road trip and explore a new journey and meet incredible and inspiring people. His main loves are travel, photography and filmmaking.
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ROAD TRIP THROUGH THE HIGHLANDS
In a post Corona world, a lot of people will initially look to 'stay local' until the dust has settled and we return to a more stable international travel landscape in 2021 with costs coming back down and confidence returning. So what better time to explore my favourite landscapes... Cue the north of Scotland and with it, it’s harsh realities of baron windswept landscapes, right here on our doorstep! With every twist and turn in the narrow roads bring breath-taking views and vast, expansive vistas you'll dream about for years.
So this is a road trip I would personally recommend doing over 5/6 nights. I would start the trip in Edinburgh, a city that justifies a whole trip in itself to drink in it’s culture, beauty and character. I have previously visited to coincide with their impressive Christmas Market and to celebrate Hogmanay (the Scots word for the last day of the year). I am longing to visit for the Edinburgh Fringe festival and also the Military Tattoo. We stayed in the traditional Balmoral Hotel which was Astorias be expected, but nothing overly special. I will next time be choosing instead to find one of many gems on Air BnB. Somewhere in the Old Town / Royal Mile area with the cobbled streets and colourful houses. In the shadows of the mighty Edinburgh Castle.
From here hire a car and embark on your spine tingling tour of some of the most spectacular landscapes you’ll experience. Most people I share pictures with and share my enthusiasm with find it hard to believe that these places are so close to home here in the UK. Prepare for some utterly fantastic fresh Seafood, fine wines and whisky and endless outdoor activities as well and catch a massage too…! The scenery is like nothing else I have ever seen, massive rolling hills, stunning Lochs and expanses of nothingness… It’s so gorgeous… Some of the places to stop, stay and enjoy I recommend are:
From Edinburgh as you head up towards the coast on the North West, you will come to the incredible Loch Lomond. A 22 mile long loch within its own national park; marking the entry point into the Scottish Highlands. The loch contains many islands, including Inchmurrin, the largest fresh-water island in the British Isles. The loch is surrounded by hills, including Ben Lomond on the eastern shore, which is 974 metres in height and the most southerly of the Scottish Munro peaks. I will talk more about the peaks at the bottom of this article for some tips on the best hikes and peaks. Loch Lomond is also best known from the song "The Bonnie Banks o' Loch Lomond" which is always fun to blare out and sing along as you drive towards it!!
House of Bruar
For those who prefer some retail therapy instead of experiencing the first of many loch’s you could head north from Edinburgh and go via the world famous House of Bruar! Stock up on some delicious cheeses and tweed for the rest of your trip and join the route back on at Glen Etive!
As you head on you will come through the tiny village of Crianlarich… There is a beautiful little walk to stretch your legs along the River Fillan (access opposite the Best Western). Shown here our dogs always love this spot for a quick dip and swim!
As you continue to put your foot to the floor (cause after all “What’s the fastest car?”… “A rental car!”) you can head up to Loch Etive following the glen leading you there. My dad grew up stalking here back when the only way to access was to get there by rowing boat. However now you can take the single track road to explore Loch Etive on foot at the end. However as you head there you will pass the place where the famous image from James Bond film ‘Skyfall’ was taken. Don't forget to grab your Daniel Craig / Judi Dench photo!!
Use this link to know the exact spot: https://w3w.co/derailed.materials.class
Glenfinnan Viaduct Train
On the topic of visiting locations from films… just continuing north you will come to the Viaduct many will recognise from the Harry Potter films. However as someone who has never seen the films and is not an HP fan, this in itself is a breathtaking spot to walk around and almost up underneath. Getting a sense for the sheer scale. Located at the top of Loch Shiel, the viaduct overlooks the Glenfinnan Monument and the waters of Loch Shiel.
Isle of Skye
So controversially Skye has now, along with a few other places on this list, become far too touristy for my liking. It is therefore now essential to plan your trip so as to visit when not overrun with motorhomes! I do these trips off season and manage to miss the bad experiences I have been told about. I strongly advise you to do the same and plan this whole trip outside the peak tourist months of July and August. This is going to mean that there are less people. In mid-summer the sun rises at 4.26am (it starts getting light about 3am!) and sets at 10.26pm (although doesn’t get properly dark until 11.30pm!). So I could not recommend more setting your alarm clock early and go to the Fairy Pools before breakfast. Allowing you to enjoy this as it should be, on your own!! Enjoy some of the lesser visited sites during the day, then take in a sunset at Elgol or Kilt Rock Waterfall late at night (that way the only traffic you will encounter at 11pm at night will be the usual sheep running havoc!)
A great guide on how to access the Fairy Pools:
So if you board the ferry at Mallaig, I recommend basing yourself at Kinloch Lodge. A wonderful and peaceful haven. A hotel that combines the relaxed comfort of highland hospitality with absolutely incredible world-class food from chef Marcello Tully, a Brazilian-Scottish Chef. He won and retained a Michelin star for seven consecutive years (2010-2017).
We recommend to focus on the Cuillin Mountains for your hiking while on Skye. These consist of the Black Cuillin and the Red Cuillin separated by Glen Sligachan. The iconic ridge of the Black Cuillin is the UK’s most challenging mountain range. Almost 7 miles long and above 3,000 feet in places, the ridge contains 11 Munros and 16 other summits. The highest point is Sgurr Alasdair at 3,254.59 feet. The gentler, rounded Red Cuillin are popular with hillwalkers, the highest point being Glamaig, a 2,543-foot Corbett.
Black Cuillin Ridge was formed 60,000,000 years ago(!!!!) and is all that remains of an eroded magma chamber of a huge volcano!! SO COOL!!!
This link has provided a fantastic and very clear guide for 10 of the best walks, from the easiest to the toughest challenge the mountains have to offer:
I have never seen them here but would so love to at some point. If you’re visiting its woth checking in on this resource to see if you can tick that off your bucket list! You may well find me there trying to do the same thing!
Eilean Donan Castle & Caisteal Maol
As you leave the Island at Kyle of Lochalsh make sure to go via Eilean Donan & Caisteal Maol. Both a joy to see and something so fantastical to see these and appreciate the history attached to all these places.
If you have the time you could head out onto the Outer Hebrides. This is again something I have never had time to do. But has certainly been on my list to do for ages. It looks stunning! There are some impressive looking biking trails if you are keen to add this to your itinerary.
As you head from Lochalsh up towards Gairloch on the A832 you will come through Glen Docherty getting closer to Loch Maree. When you see a sign for a parking and a viewpoint pull in to the right and enjoy one of my favourite views of Loch Maree.
Another fantastic place to spend a night on this road trip is at Shieldaig Lodge. My favourite of all Gairloch accommodation options. When me and my brother last stayed here, (out of season) we had the entire lodge to ourselves, with the incredible lodge staff hosting us to a hilarious and memorable stay! They have wonderful local walks for a pre dinner sunset activity. Also with a games room, stunning food, wonderful roaring fires and the best presentation of whisky from every distillery in Scotland! They have over 250 award winning whiskies. With at least one from every post World War Two distillery in Scotland. They also have the world’s oldest whisky which has been matured for 70 years in the cask!!
In the morning it is my favourite tradition to go for a very refreshing and exhilarating swim. I would strongly recommend traveling a few minutes round to the Gairloch Beach (Gaineamh Mhòr). I have done this in sun, rain, hail and even with a double rainbow. It’s incredibly special way to start this next day of the trip!
Achiltibuie and the Summer Isles
Some amazing air BNB’s around here allowing you to wake up overlooking the Summer Isles and travel across for some more breath-taking Monroe’s by day and back to Achiltibuie to eat dinner at Salt by evening.
Salt is an incredible experience. A BYOB seafood restaurant overlooking gorgeous views and offering the opportunity to experience and appreciate some of the finest seafood and shellfish caught in the scenic waters and isles you sit overlooking.
The following day head on up to the Kylesku Hotel for lunch. Another sensational experience. After enjoying any of the many wonderful hikes around this loch settle down overlooking the water, eating more exquisite food (try the langoustine on the sword) and a wonderful collection of wines. Hotel Kylesku is certainly not to be missed!
Achness Falls / Cassley Falls
These falls are and have been since I was a little kid my favourite place to come and sit, think, contemplate and photograph. There is a solitary tree that grows from a rock in the middle of the fast flowing falls. My dad has loved it too and used to point it out to me as a child and together have always been impressed by its ability to grow from a rock, it’s a freak of nature!! I like to think of it whenever I am struggling to achieve something. I think ‘if that tree can grow there, survive and grow for generations, I can and must continue and succeed!’ Also this is where my Granny wants to have her ashes scattered. So basically a very peaceful and special place. A far cry from the popular and touristy Skye, I have never seen another person here in all my visits!
A stone’s throw away is the Shin Falls. Mohamed Al Fayed used to own and operate the visitor shop here with a wax work of himself in the entrance!! However now just a little café sits there after a suspicious fire burnt the place down!! I smell something fishy, and no it's not the nearby Salmon! Anyway... I have spent many weeks fishing this gorgeous river, but there is no greater joy than watching the salmon jump out of the water and swim UP this water fall. You watch as they fail and fail again but then defy all odds and logic and eventually, tired and exhausted succeed!!!
Head on for your final night/s at the stunning Alladale. It is in fact Europe’s most eco friendly hotel and is a wilderness reserve. The hotel is within 23,000 acres of total utopia. Home to dramatic glens, colourful and rugged hills, glistening rivers, hill lochs and awesome native wildlife within 100 square kilometres. You can stay in their lodges or cottages which offer a variety of unparalleled experiences that allow you to unwind and relax in a space more akin to your own home than a hotel. One of their lodges, ‘Deanich’ is gorgeously rustic and probably one of the most remote buildings in Britain! Also I mentioned getting a massage, here's the place to do it!!! 😉
Paul Lister bought the estate to create a vast nature reserve that could become ecologically self-sufficient, and intends to restore indigenous Highland flora and fauna of 2,000 years ago. It is fascinating while there to learn about the amazing and extensive conservation work, sustainability and wildlife projects. Check out all the activities available on site for your last day or two of this road trip before heading to Inverness to return your car and head home:
This incredible place (outside of the above road trip) deserves a trip of its own! Although it is not in the Scottish Highlands it's close enough to include in this article..! It sits equidistant between Scotland, Iceland and Norway and was first shown to me by an American friend who dreams to live here. This collection of islands offer better and more uniquely stunning views and experiences than Skye, without the tourists! It is still very much a hidden gem and one I recommend you visit before it turns into another tourist spot! This article sums it up perfectly with the fact that the sheep outnumber the humans nearly 2:1!
Here is a wonderful guide to Saksun, the village all with grass roof houses:
Iona is a small island in the Inner Hebrides off the Ross of Mull. It is mainly known for Iona Abbey. Following the establishment of the Kingdom of Scotland in the later 9th century; the ruling dynasty of Scotland traced its origin to Iona, and the island became an important spiritual centre for the new kingdom, with many of its early kings buried there. Most notably Macbeth being buried in the Abbey graveyard. Macbeth being the King who Shakespeare based his play on.
I have mentioned a couple of Munro’s above. But Monro’s are the mountains in Scotland over 3000 feet high. There are 282 in Scotland and provide an amazing challenge to try and climb all of them!! However if youre not quite up to committing to that level of dedication and join the group of over 6,000 people, called 'compleatists' (or Munroists) who have climbed them all so far, I have a few of the best.
The Black Cuillin and the Red Cuillin
Ben More Assynt
If you’re to do any Monro, we recommend it be this one. The effort / reward ratio as it's effectively two monros in one (two peaks close together joined by a ridge). The climb is intense but doable without specialist equipment and the views amazing, and the sense of achievement huge.
Drink in Scotland’s Remotest Pub
With no roads in or out, it’s only accessible by foot and the shortest route there is an 18-mile hike over Munros. The tiny Old Forge pub in the village of Inverie on Scotland’s Knoydart Peninsula lies in such a secluded place it is already recognised as not only Scotland’s remotest pub but also in mainland Britain.
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