For my last Birthday I visited Scotland (again). We rented the most glorious Air B&B in Ballintuim – the top floor of a Castle Bridge. And if you’re ever in the market for a unique and wonderful place to stay in Scotland I cannot recommend this Air B&B enough.Castle Bridge Air B&B
We had an absolutely magical experience in Mimi’s wonderful flat – it was like a dream come true to be able to stay in such a unique property. Photos simply cannot do this stunning building any justice, it has to be experienced. Mimi herself was extremely helpful and responsive to any question we had, and the instructions given for check-in were clear and easy to follow. The flat was very clean when we arrived and everything easy to find and use. We were shown around the flat and given instructions on how to use the Sauna and the Fireplace. There’s a spiral staircase upon entry, so be prepared to climb it a few times a day but it’s really solid and in perfect condition. Everything in this building is well maintained. The kitchen provided us a great space to cook and prepare meals in, with a comfortable sitting area, and a nice dining space as well. (A Nespresso coffee maker is included in the flat, so bring your pods! I did and it was a great addition.) Even though it was September we were able to use the seating on the ramparts to have morning coffee or evening drinks. The Sauna was a great addition as well and we really loved the opportunity to heat up each evening as the sun set and the evenings grew colder. We loved the time we could spend outside on the ramparts, this was particularly special. The bedrooms were very comfortable and clean and both beds comfy. It’s delightfully rural in the area but close enough to a smaller city with a Tesco that you can collect any key necessities during the stay. You’ll want a car there to get around, and we can highly recommend driving up to the Cairngorms or visiting the local Distilleries. I’ve already made recommendations to friends of mine to visit here and am currently making plans to come back. It is well worth the trip and Mimi is a gem.
The location seemed remote when I looked at it on a map; and it was to a degree. But after some research and a recommendation from a Scottish friend of mine I was able to piece together one heck of an itinerary for the area without breaking a sweat. We only had 4 days there and I barely scratched the surface of what I found to see in the area. If you want to delve deeper in everything I mapped out and plotted as potential places to visit, check out the Google Map I made:Birthday Map of Locations
Scotland is a large and beautiful country and I know it can seem overwhelming on where to focus a visit when you’re planning a trip. Every area and region has something stunning and beautiful to offer. I’ve always been a fan of the Cairngorms but I’ve never done much more than drive through them and stop for a quick visit here or there. It was a fantastic opportunity to spend more quality time with this part of Scotland that is often overlooked.
4 Days in Tayside & the Cairngorms
I crafted the itinerary of our trip around the unique location we had secured with our Air B&B in a Castle Bridge. I’d driven through this part of Scotland before but always on my way somewhere else. Most recently in 2016 I had driven through the Cairngorms and past this area to stop in Perth before heading onwards to Sterling.
In crafting the itinerary I consulted the usual sources – guide books and the internet. And I consulted the most useful of all sources – a local. I’d made a friend in my office who was Scottish and knew about the area. She gave me a lot of ideas and information that made its way into my brainstorming and eventually into the actual itinerary.
While there were other whisky drinkers with me on the trip I could not simply fill up the entire break with distilleries, even if it was my birthday. So I aimed to visit a variety of places to create a balance between distilleries, nature and castles.
If you choose to borrow any of the itinerary do take a look at the Map – it includes all the sites I brainstormed to visit in the area and you can create your own version of “balanced” itinerary. (I personally recommend adding more distilleries!)
Day 1 – Deanston and Ballintuim
We started the day by flying to Edinburgh where we met our friends who drove north from Yorkshire. And we might have indulged in a dram at the airport; BA’s lounge had Singleton and it was my Birthday, after all.
The schedule was quite tight for the day, so we could pack in both a distillery and castle visit. Therefore we purchased food at the airport, from an M&S located in arrivals, so that we could make a picnic when we visited the castle. It also saved us a bit of money from having to eat out for lunch, and knowing that we had a fancy birthday dinner booked for the trip we wanted to avoid anything too large.
The drive north, towards Deanston, had us directly pass the Kelpies. We stopped for a second to get a quick glimpse of the large structures, but unfortunately did not have enough time to carry on to see the Falkirk Wheel during the same break.
We needed to head north in order to get to the Air B&B so I had mapped out a route that took us past the Deanston Distillery, and this was our first real stop on the trip. I had arranged for a tour complete with whisky tasting and chocolate pairing at the end. Deanston was a relatively newer distillery compared to others that I have visited over the years, as it was converted in the 1960s from a cotton mill as a way of keeping industry in the town of Deanston. Though the building was old the distillery had certain unique qualities that I had not seen before due to the conversion and the recent (relatively) opening.
From there we traveled some back roads to reach Elcho Castle, which was a beautiful Historic Environment Scotland property. We were able to have a lovely picnic at benches there, and climb to the top of the castle for some lovely views.
Last stop for the afternoon, before carrying on to find our Air B&B, was at a grocery store. Since the Air B&B came with a kitchen we had planned to have some breakfasts and dinners there, plus picnic lunches for our outings. What we had not prepared for was the amount of space that would be needed in the car to hold all the groceries, so all but the driver ended up with bags on their laps.
We managed to input the wrong post code for the Air B&B and ended up driving down dusty country lanes before being forced to turn around and re-evaluate our route. Eventually we found the small turn on road for the Air B&B and ended as we approached the bridge, which was our Castle for the long weekend in Scotland.
After settling in and suitably exploring the Bridge Castle we eventually dressed up and headed to the local Dalmore Inn for a nice birthday dinner – we can highly recommend the scallops and any of their steaks.
Day 2 – East Cairngorms
- Scenic Drive in Cairngorms
- Burn O’ Vat, in Muir of Dinnet
- Royal Lochnagar Distillery
- Entrance to Balmoral
- Braemar Castle
- Scenic Drive
Having traveled through the Cairngorms previously I knew just how beautiful the National Park was, and therefore was eager to return. The scenic drives through the National Park are some of the most beautiful in Scotland. And within the eastern Cairngorms I knew that was Royal Lochnagar distillery to visit, and Balmoral (which was closed due to the season). When I went searching for what else we could see on the route into the Cairngorms I came across the leaflet for the scenic drives of the “Snow Roads”. This heavily influenced the route I chose for us to traverse in the Cairngorms.
We started the morning by traveling to Muir of Dinnet, a Scottish Natural Heritage location. With the idea of taking a short hike we opted to visit Burn O’Vat; it was an unusual “pothole”, an area carved out by water, with a lovely trail walk in and out of the location. In order to see the actual Burn O’Vat we had to traverse slippery rocks and pass through a hallway sized fissure to access the vat. It was a really lovely walk and we had gotten extremely lucky with the weather – sunny and cool.
After the walk we opted to head towards the whisky distillery, even though we would arrive ahead of schedule. We had packed a lunch to have beforehand (having learned the lesson from the previous day about drinking on an empty stomach). On route we took a short break to source some ice cream before carrying on past Balmoral (which was closed due to the Queen being in residence) and on to Royal Lochnagar Distillery.
We arrived early at the distillery and were able to have our picnic lunch on tables they had in the front of the distillery. Given it was a perfectly glorious and sunny day in Scotland this was a great opportunity to sit and enjoy the weather.
The tour itself was a really lovely introduction to the distillery. It was one of the smaller ones I had been to but had a really unique charm all of its own. It’s one of two distilleries to earn the title “Royal” for providing whisky to the royal family; fitting since it abutted the edge of Balmoral Estate. The standard tasting only had one dram, but I had opted for the “upgraded” tasting for trying two drams. It was a private room with standing space at a bar top only, which I’ve come to note is the approach for all the distilleries owned by Diageo. The guide was very knowledgeable and gave a great tour; one of the men had been on the precise tour 17 times (so it had to be good).
The next stop for the afternoon was at Braemar Castle, an unusual structure with several turrets and walls. The castle had been built in the 1600s as a hunting lodge and later served as a garrison during the Jacobite uprising. Today it’s owned by Clan Farquharsons and leased to a local charity who run the museum there featuring several well furnished rooms and some historical anecdotes.
From Braemar we stopped in the nearby village for an ice cream and a sit in the sun before driving the same route back to our Air B&B, enjoying its scenic beauty and unique landscape along the way. That night we cooked in the Air B&B, enjoyed the sauna and played board games – the perfect end to a lovely day in Scotland.
Day 3 – Tayside & Dalwhinnie
We had a later start on our third day and chose instead to skip a few things we had lined up for a bit of leisure and relaxation at the Air B&B. It also included a fry up and some delicious coffee on the ramparts of our castle bridge while we watched the mist dissipate from the neighboring fields.
The morning had originally been planned to visit Blair Athol Distillery and Killiecrankie, a nearby village, but we opted instead to spend a longer period of time in the village of Pitlochry. This involved walking and shopping on the main high street (and finding ice cream, naturally) before stumbling upon a farmer’s market. We visited the local dam, which was an impressive structure that entertained the civil engineer in our group.
Afterwards we continued heading north, once again entering the Cairngorms. This time we were heading to the western part of the national park so we could visit Dalwhinnie Distillery and the neighbouring area. I had stumbled upon some leaflets online that detailed various hikes in the Dalwhinnie area and had selected one of the shorter routes so that we could get out and experience the countryside.
Parking was noted on the map to be at a local town hall. We pulled in to see that they were hosting a bake sale, parked up the car, and sat down for our picnic lunch (which we topped up with baked goods from the sale inside). Once we had eaten our fill we headed off to find the path denoted on the map I had found online – and it was a unique path and a unique experience.
I had chosen the path that led to the nearby loch, thinking it would be full of natural beauty and charm. We walked down a back street in the village, and caught a glimpse of Dalwhinnie Distillery in the distance. We passed a train station and eventually had to cross the tracks before heading down an access road. Eventually we found a concrete dam that we were able to walk on briefly. The lake in front of us was rather beautiful, but nothing about the path to get there made the walk feel at all special. We cut through an industrial yard and then onto the main road where we walked on the pavement until we returned to the city hall. I would hope that some of the walks on that map were worth the effort, but we were all in agreement that this one was not. It did help us kill some time before heading to the distillery, and still we were early.
On my birthday five years prior to this trip I had also included a visit to Dalwhinnie Distillery. Except on that trip we had arrived late, thanks to the challenging back roads it took us to get there, and we missed out on joining the tour.
Therefore I had made every effort on this trip to ensure that we did not even come close to missing the tour time. So much so that we ended up arriving almost an hour and a half early. There was an earlier tour on the day so I opted to ask the gentlemen at Dalwhinnie if we could shift forward. Given that a tour bus they were expecting was running late they were happy to accommodate. We spent 30 minutes milling around the ship at Dalwhinnie and chatting with the staff there. They were super warm, engaging and very helpful to our group. In the end two of us did the upgraded tasting – pairing whisky with chocolate – at the end of the tour, and it was a delight. The tour and experience at Dalwhinnie is one of the best I’ve been on and I definitely would highly recommend it, even if you’re not a whisky fan.
After Dalwhinnie we returned back to our Air B&B for another quiet evening with time spent in the sauna, making dinner, and enjoying a few more drams of whisky from the comfort of our castle bridge.
Day 4 – Tayside & Dewars
Our last day followed the pattern we’d seen before – a nature walk and a whisky tour. We started the morning by visiting the Hermitage, a Scotland National Trust site with beautiful woodland walks along a river with several beautiful waterfalls. I’ve done this hike a few times previously and really enjoyed it, thus why we included it again. There’s a beautiful structure from the 1800s that overlooks the waterfalls and has truly gorgeous views.
As we were running ahead of time, again, we opted to take a brief stop at the Highland Chocolatier’s shop location; we had tasted the chocolates twice during the weekend when paired with whisky at Deanston Distillery and Dalwhinnie Distillery. Though the chocolates are exceedingly overpriced, in my opinion, they’re absolutely delicious. I bought a few samplers, which I could justify the cost of, and we also got some as gifts. The shop also serves food, which we didn’t have time to stop for, but it looked incredible. From there we carried on for our whisky tasting of the day.
Dewar’s Aberfeldy Distillery has one of the very best museums and tours of all the whisky distilleries I’ve visited over the years; and this was my second visit. As one of the larger distilleries, and the biggest exporter to the US market, I expected it to be sanitized by the corporate culture. However, it genuinely had a warm and personal atmosphere. The staff are always super passionate, the museum informative, and the tour thorough. I always add on the cask tasting at the end where the staff pour a glass of whisky direct from a barrel; I’ve never been disappointed by splurging for this feature. All guests get a whisky tasting from the bar included as well, and because my father was a Dewar’s drinker I always order his drink of choice there (even though the Aberfeldy single malts are incredible).
We were in a slight rush at the end of the visit since we had to head back to Edinburgh to catch our flight home to London, but we made it in time without having to break any speed limits.
The long weekend was a fantastic way to celebrate my birthday and I’m grateful for my friends joining me; only 1 other was a big whisky fan but we all found ways to enjoy the trip. I would recommend the Air B&B to anyone wanting to stay in Scotland and check out some of the awesome hikes while you’re there too!
What else was there?
Four days would never have been enough time to see everything I had on the original list, so as usual I had to cut down. However, there were dozens of other sites that are definitely worthy of a visit – so if you weren’t inspired by my whisky drenched itinerary you could swap a lot of the distillery visits out for more hikes or quaint villages. Or, if you want more whisky there are options for that as well!
Other points were included on the Map we made for the area, and the different sites to see. There were more Distilleries, hikes, villages and other sites to see and visit.
- Blair Athol Distillery / Whisky Distillery
- Edradour Distillery / Whisky Distillery
- Dunkeld / Quaint Village
- Lindores Abbey Distillery / Whisky Distillery
- Huntingtower Castle / Castle
- Killiecrankie / Quaint Village
- Falls of Bruar / Nature Hike
- Glenshee Ski Centre / Sky Lift & Nature Hike