Scotland is one of my absolute favorite destinations in the world. When our honeymoon plans fell through due to the Omincron variant of Covid we opted to plan a road trip in Scotland instead, covering the islands and highlands. The quiet, rural and beautiful locations we chose seemed well suited to a honeymoon full of exploration, distilleries, and stunning landscapes as far as the eye could see.
I knew when I started planning the trip that I wanted to include my longtime favorite island, Skye. I had been following information about the Isle of Raasay Distillery, conveniently located near Skye, and it’s on-premise hotel so we quickly added that to the itinerary. And I had a bucket list item in Highland Park on Orkney that I wanted to include. We played around with the itinerary a few different ways, looking to include the likes of the Shetlands, or Lewis & Harris on the journey; but for the slower pace we were aiming for it was a bit too much for this trip. We’ve parked those islands for a future Scottish holiday, along with Islay, Jura and a few other islands that didn’t quite make the cut this trip.
Scotland really is a perfect destination for a honeymoon and I would advocate it appearing on more lists. My husband is not fond of heat or beaches so a lot of the common choices were swiftly struck off the list. We then focused on cooler destinations and time of year and after our first plans fell through Scotland rose quickly to the top of our list.
With Scotland’s incredible landscapes, rich history, top rate restaurants, and rural beauty it was the perfect destination for our honeymoon.
Day 1 – Inverness & NC500
The first day we knew would be one of travel; our goal was to get from our home near London Heathrow to the northern area of NC500, near Wick.
We flew from London Heathrow to Inverness, and aiming for the northern city saved us hours of travel on the overall itinerary. The other option we looked into was Glasgow, due to it’s proximity to Skye and availability of flights, but found that Inverness cut short the driving quite significantly.
After our previous trip working remotely in Germany I was concerned we might end up with cancellations or delays again. The news was only exasperating our concerns by reporting of significant cancellations around the Easter period, but we were lucky and had a very smooth and painless journey.
Inverness Airport was very small but efficient in de-planing and delivering baggage. Since it was an internal flight we didn’t need to deal with immigration either and it was an overall painless journey from take off to picking up our rental car. We hit the road with little delay and were heading north.
North Coast 500
The North Coast 500 is a fantastic route that loops around the most northern part of the Highlands, starting and ending in Inverness. Although we were not planning to do the majority of the route we did get to enjoy the length of the eastern loop, heading from Inverness to Caithness. The remainder of the route is definitely on my bucket list but we were eager to spend time on Orkney, and prioritized that for this trip.
The scenic drive from Inverness to Wick really was stunning. There were a few great opportunities to pull over and enjoy the view and landscape; as the driver I was appreciative to get a chance to stop for a moment and really take it all in. The majority of the road is single lane per direction with overtaking places on occasion, and covers a lot of winding roads. I’m a confident driver in the United Kingdom and at times I found this route a little tough, especially when I was stuck behind slower going cars.
For the evening we booked an Airbnb in Thrumster – conveniently located right on the NC500 and very closely to Wick.
Day 2 – NC500 to Orkney
Our ferry to Orkney was scheduled for just before mid-day, which left us the morning to continue exploring the region of the NC500.
The first distillery of our trip was Wolfburn Distillery, located in the northern town of Thurso. This modern distillery was built near the original farmstead of a historic distillery of the same name, and with access to the very same water source from the Wolf Burn. This is the first truly modern distillery I’ve visited and was initially surprised to find it located in the middle of an industrial park. The large warehouse buildings made perfect sense once we began the tour; the expansive warehouses, and the new ones they were building, were perhaps the most impressive. Our guide, Charlie, was highly knowledgeable and had a passion for whisky.
Since I was driving I got to take a small nip away but my husband was able to enjoy the tasting of 4 main expressions from this young distillery. Given it’s age I wasn’t expecting them to have produced so many unique expressions but they were all fantastic. The tasting consists of trying all four and learning about what makes the Wolfburn whisky special.
There was enough time between our time at the distillery and our ferry reservation that we carried on down the road a bit further and reached the hyper touristy spot of John O’Groats. Since we had visited Land’s End in 2020 during our road trip in Cornwall and Devon it seemed appropriate that we would now visit John O’Groats. The longest distance, in the United Kingdom, between two inhabited villages is Land’s End to John O’Groats.
Where Land’s End was oppressively touristy John O’Groats felt more comfortable and open. There was no queue to get an officially snapped photo with the distance marking sign, and the parking lot was small and unmanned. The village was also home to a brewery, aptly named John O’Groats Brewery, and we took a few beers with us to have later (and they were fantastic). We were surprised that we enjoyed the brief visit.
We had booked ourselves on the ferry crossing from Gill’s Bay to St. Margaret’s Hope on Orkney with Pentland Ferries. There were other options, including arriving in Stromness, but the times were favorable for our trip. It was an easy booking, an easy check-in process, and an all-around painless crossing between the Scottish mainland and Orkney. The sea itself was particularly rough, but that is apparently normal for that stretch of sea.
The views on approach to Orkney were gorgeous. We passed close to Balfour Battery, on Hoxa Head, a reminder of Orkney’s importance in the two World Wars. It set the scene perfectly for our first drive across Orkney to our Airbnb.
Driving on Orkney
Once we left the ferry we followed the small queue of cars north towards the mainland. St. Margaret’s Hope was actually located on a small island of it’s own. The islands were connected via the Churchill Barriers, established as part of the defense of the British Fleet in 1945. They were built to block U-boats during WWII and protect the fleet in Scapa Flow.
Another relic of that era that we visited was the Italian Chapel, created by prisoner’s of war during World War II. It’s been well maintained over the years and is a unique site to visit on Orkney that references a more modern history on the islands. The craftsmanship was truly beautiful and a site to be seen.
After crossing the two causeways, the Churchill Barriers, we stopped briefly to catch a glimpse of the First Nations and Orcadian Totem Pole, a unique site to see in Scotland.
Airbnb near Scapa
We drove through Kirkwall, the largest town on Orkney, and quickly picked up some groceries at the Tesco before heading on to our Airbnb in St. Ola. We loved each of our stays during this trip but agreed that this particular Airbnb was the favourite of all.
To get to the Airbnb we turned off down a small farmer’s road, following it to the end where we found our adorable cottage overlooking Scapa Flow. It was a magical cottage equipped with everything we could need as well as a hot tub. The interior space was warm and cozy with some incredible views. We loved the well equipped kitchen, with it’s own wood stove and views of the sea. The dining area was in a warm conservatory picture perfect views. And the living room had comfortable couches with it’s own fireplace.
Given the time of year we were excited for the many ways to stay warm and cozy in this cottage, as well as enjoy the rare sunny views we had of the sea. And in the distance we could even see the white buildings of Scapa Distillery.
Dinner in Kirkwall
One major challenge we had while visiting Scotland in early April is this still fell under “off season”. We discovered that the tourism season in Scotland starts after Easter and we were a week too early. This meant that many places I had researched and scoped out were not open or had very limited hours, on top of closures due to Covid.
The restaurant I had chosen for our first evening fell into the category of “off season”. We headed into Kirkwall for an early meal, having discovered this, and stumbled upon the amazing Helgi’s Restaurant, right in the harbor. We managed to secure a table for the early evening but watched in awe as many guests after us were turned away due to the number of bookings.
It was our first lesson that during “off season” bookings were a necessity, not a luxury.
We had a fantastic meal and loved the atmosphere of this gastro-pub. We had our first taste of local beers and my husband enjoyed having Haggis on his burger, along with a local smoked cheese.
Our first day on the island was a fantastic experience. We felt welcomed, loved all the incredible landscapes, and varied history.
Day 3 – Orkney
After all the travel of the previous day we aimed to have a quieter day. We needed to be a little flexible as we were also waiting to hear back from Scapa Distillery if they would be able to accommodate a tasting that afternoon, as they had been shut all week for training. The staff were incredible to even consider opening to host the tasting but we had our fingers crossed for the opportunity.
To start our slightly lazier day we cooked breakfast at the cottage and sat in the conservatory with an incredible view. Breakfast was easy for us to put together at the cottage and we couldn’t pay for a better view. It also meant that we could have a slower start to the day, and enable me to have enough coffee to become functional.
History Seminar at Maeshow Visitors Center
During this time of not-quite-post-Covid and “off season” in Scotland it was often difficult to find information on various site’s closures. I missed the fact that Maeshowe, a chambered cairn dating back 5,000 years, was not open to the public. We learned this after arriving at their nearby visitor center, but the team there were running a seminar on the history of Maeshowe and the Orkeny islands.
We stayed and thoroughly enjoyed learning about the varied ancient history of the islands. Our very knowledgeable guide talked through the known history around Maeshowe and neighboring sites, such as Skara Brae, Standing Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar. It was one of the best ways to learn of the importance of each site individually but also as a collective and what that meant for the historical significance of the island.
We learned about the prehistoric settlers, the influence of the Vikings, and the archeological importance of Orkney.
Standing Stones of Stenness
There are a few other ancient ruins near Maeshow – the Standing Stones of Stenness, Unstan Chambered Cairn and the Ring of Brodger. Our plan for the afternoon was to visit all of these at once, but we also were waiting on a call from Scapa Distillery for them to fit us into a tasting there (since they were under construction it was touch and go on the day).
The Standing Stones of Stenness are a prehistoric monument consisting of upright stones arranged in a rectangular shape. They are important to Orkney as they are one of the earliest stone circles in Britain, with a rich history and religious or ritual significance that provide insights into the lives and beliefs of prehistoric communities.
The field where the Standing Stones are located was also inhabited by 2 rams, which was a unique site for us to see. There was something charmingly casual about the site and the ease of entry – free for guests but with limited parking.
Before we could carry on to the very close Ring of Brodgar, we received a call from Scapa Distillery confirming that they could host us for a tour and tasting that day. We rearranged our plans for the following day and headed back towards our Airbnb and neighboring Scapa Distillery.
Scapa Distillery is a whisky distillery located on the island of Orkney in Scotland, known for producing a distinctive single malt whisky. The distillery was “mothballed” in 1994 due to a decline in demand for its whisky, but was reopened in 2004 after being purchased and refurbished by a new owner.
The history of Scapa Distillery was interesting to me as a whisky fan. During our tasting we were given a dram from a bottle that was created during the mothball period – essentially the distillers continued operating the distillery, despite it’s closure, to ensure that the equipment remained functional. We tasted a dram from one of those casks produced and eventually even bought a bottle of this unique historical point in the distillery’s history.
Fish & Chips Takeaway
As we were visiting Orkney off season we ran into multiple issues with restaurants being closed. And the restaurants who were actually open had no reservations available and long queues. This meant that on one of our evenings we were unable to find a restaurant to eat at and we opted for a takeaway instead.
After googling for the local options of fish and chips we found the perfect place with great reviews. We took our fish and chips back to the beautiful Airbnb with our stunning views, and enjoyed it from our conservatory overlooking the bay. No restaurant on the island could have competed with that stunning view.
Traveling off season on Orkney was delightful for the quiet peaceful atmosphere the island exuded, but it came with it’s own challenges in availability of restaurants and sites. Thankfully we didn’t run into any other major issues that I had not planned for, but it was a key takeaway from visiting Orkney in April.
Day 4 – Orkney
There was still much left to see on Orkney and it was our last full day on the island. I wasn’t sure what to expect when we had chosen this destination but it was such a delight – incredible landscapes, warm locals, easy to get around and a rich history.
With our final day on the island we started early in the morning to ensure we could fit in all the incredible sites. Thankfully many of the ancient ruins are not ticketed or gated so we could easily visit them early in the day and not wait for it to “open”.
Ring of Brodgar
We started where we had left off the previous day and drove back past the Standing Stones of Stenness and onward to the Ring of Brodgar.
The Ring of Brodgar is a Neolithic stone circle located on the island of Orkney in Scotland, believed to have been built around 2500 BC. It consists of 27 standing stones arranged in a circular pattern, and its purpose is thought to have been ritualistic or to act as a meeting ground for various tribes on the island.
It is an incredible site to visit and one that you need to walk among to truly appreciate the scale and design of the structure. I’ve visited Stonehenge several times and found that the Ring of Brodgar is more impressive for it’s scale and location.
Unstan Chambered Cairn
I had included this on our itinerary simply due to the proximity to Stenness and Brodgar, as it was less than 5 minutes up the road, but was really pleased I had.
The Unstan Chambered Cairn is a Neolithic tomb located on the island of Orkney in Scotland, dating back to around 3500 BC. It consists of a circular mound of stones, with a passage leading into a chamber where the remains of numerous individuals were found.
The cairn can be visited and entered, which was an unusual but cool experience. It’s not for the faint of heart or those who feel claustrophobic, but I crawled through the narrow and short passage to get into the cairn and see the details of the chambers and the interior.
Skara Brae is one of the most important archeological sites in Northern Europe and is a well preserved Neolithic settlement. It was one of the reasons I chose Orkney to visit, having had this on my bucket list for a long time, and was an incredibly unique site.
Skara Brae is thought to have been inhabited between around 3200 BC and 2200 BC, and consists of ten stone-built houses, connected by covered passageways. Skara Brae is considered a remarkable example of Neolithic architecture and engineering, and provides valuable insights into the daily lives and social structures of prehistoric communities.
The site is a short walk from the visitor’s center and along the walkway they’ve marked key historical events or the age of ancient buildings, setting amazing context for the actual age of Skara Brae as you approach it. It includes events like the moon landing, or the age of the Acropolis, and really puts everything into perspective once you reach Skara Brae.
If you’re looking for one amazing reason to go to Orkney – this is it.
Leigh’s Taste of Orkney
One of the best rated “restaurants” on Orkney is actually a food truck called Leigh’s Tate of Orkney – and as we headed back from Skara Brae to Kirkwall we stopped in to grab a quick lunch. The weather was unkind and started raining so we ate lunch in our hire car, but the site had picnic benches overlooking the ocean for a fantastic view. And it was obviously popular with the locals, who were queued up with us to get a bite of the fantastically made food.
Highland Park Distillery
Our desire to visit Highland Park Distillery was another key factor as to why we chose to go to Orkney on this trip. It is one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland, founded in 1798, and is well known for using mostly sherry-casks in their whisky production.
Highland Park Distillery offers a wide variety of tours, catered to different types of visitors – from the casual guest, to the whisky enthusiast and all the way to the tasting connoisseur. Since we were on our honeymoon we opted to splurge for one of their more expensive packages – the Viking Legend. This tasting included a private tour of the facility with one of their senior guides, a visit to their board room tasting space, and a dram of each of their expressions from their Viking range (Freya, Odin, Thor and Loki). I’ve toured over 12 Whisky Distilleries and by far this experience was unparalleled.
The tour included a visit to their malting floors, something I’d not experienced before, as well as in depth looks at their production floors. We visited their exceptional warehouse, one of at least a dozen at this site, and then were brought to the board room for our tasting. We enjoyed a lovely chat about Highland Park, their whisky, and Orkney with our guide while appreciating every drop of the drams of this exquisite range we were offered.
Highland Park, no matter which tour you take, is absolutely worth visiting on any trip to Orkney.
Thankfully we had the foresight to park our car in Kirkwall and take the bus to Highland Park, as we had a lovely tipple of whisky while we were there. We walked back into town, which was a nice downhill walk, and explored Kikrwall a little. It’s a vibrant and historic town on the north of the island and features ancient monuments, museums, charming shops and restaurants. Mostly we spent our time wandering the quaint streets and harbor.
Kirkwall has a fantastic selection of restaurants and we had a reservation that evening for The Storehouse. The Storehouse is a restaurant that showcases the best of the local produce and cuisine from Orkney, with a fantastic seafood menu. It was a fantastic meal, as were all the meals we had on Orkney.
Day 5 – Orkney to Lochness
We had spent our 3 nights in Orkney and were heading back to the mainland for a night, before carrying on towards Skye and Raasay. It was an incredible 3 days full of good food, stunning scenery and ancient treasures. We discussed that we would want to come back for a full week in Orkney, if not longer, and spend more time across the different neighboring islands as well, such as Hoy. While we managed to fit so much into the short visit we had there was a lot left unseen, and enough there to entice us back for a trip in the future.
Our Airbnb was set along the coast, with a small coastal path that led down to a beach. We decided for our last day on Orkney we would follow the path and scope out the beach a bit more closely.
I was grateful I brought my hiking boots, but even those were worse for wear after we trudged across a damp field. Scotland in spring is simply damp and
muddy, be prepared to be cleaning mud out of your hiking boots for months afterwards.
We caught a glimpse of Scapa Distillery from the beach, and tried to follow a coastal path back to the Airbnb, but it was unfortunately flooded out in a few places. It was a fan small adventure before we started the drive back to the ferry port to return (briefly) to the mainland.
Churchill Defenses, Scapa Flow
The drive back to the ferry in St. Margaret’s Hope passed over the two causeways created during World War II. It’s a gorgeous drive with much to see in the way of Orcadian history, such as sunken ships in the bay, and the unique structure of the causeway.
During World War II, Scapa Flow in Orkney was an important naval base for the British Royal Navy. To defend against potential German attacks, a series of defenses were built around the bay, including concrete barriers, mines, and sunken ships. These defenses became known as the Churchill Barriers, named after Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who ordered their construction. Today, the Churchill Barriers are still in use and are considered an important part of Orkney’s history and heritage, attracting visitors who are interested in military history and engineering.
Ferry to Mainland
We took the same ferry back from St. Margaret’s Hope to Gill Bay on the Mainland, but this crossing was rougher than the first and not nearly as sunny. We found that the Pentland Ferry was very easy to use and at this time of year there was plenty of capacity. Even so we had booked in advance and would recommend the same for anyone traveling to Orkney, especially during the summer months.
As we were on a time table to make it to Clynelish Distillery for a tasting we didn’t make any picturesque stops on the way back down the NC 500 towards Inverness.
The next distillery visit we had planned was for Clynelish, and would return the next day to visit neighboring Balblair and Glenmorangie distilleries.
Clynelish Distillery is a whisky distillery located in the village of Brora in the Highlands of Scotland. The distillery was originally founded in 1819, but was rebuilt in the 1960s to accommodate rising demand for its whisky. Today, Clynelish is known for producing a distinctive and flavorful single malt whisky that is highly sought after by whisky enthusiasts around the world. It is one of the 4 major distilleries who produce whisky for the Johnnie Walker blend.
As such Johnnie Walker has somewhat taken over the tasting and tour at Clynelish, setting up a modern and elegant tasting room and a unique “senses” experience called the Clynelish Flavor Journey. The tour given at Clynelish was unlike any I had experienced before – set aside in a dimly lit room, using the lighting to help tell the story of the history of Clynelish. There were a series of discoveries to be made in a small lock box that would open as we progressed on this journey, and it was highly interactive and creative.
Highland Bear Lodge
We had booked the Highland Bear Lodge via Airbnb for the evening, located in Inverness along Lochness. It was a perfect location for a stop over as we traveled between Orkney and Skye.
I had previously stayed near Drumnadrochit, a cute town on Loch Ness, and with easy access to Urqhart Castle. It was a good stopping point for the route we were taking and the Lodge was irresistable to book. It was a proper bed and breakfast furnished with beautiful antiques and every comfort imaginable. There was a great large sitting room with a fireplace, and our own bedroom came with one too. The included breakfast was generous and delicious.
For dinner we headed out to the nearby village of Drumnadrochit, which had plenty of dining options. We chose to visit the Lochness Inn – a well reviewed, charming pub with a great restaurant. We enjoyed a fantastic meal while getting advice from locals as to where we ought to go on Skye, our next destination.
Day 6 – Lochness to Skye
The focus of the day was to finish our travels crossing Scotland to reach the Isle of Skye by that evening. Along the way we had planned to stop at one distillery and carry on to Skye. But after realizing how close we were to two other distilleries on the route we had to make a few impromptu stops, managing to sneak a tour in with Glen Ord and a tasting at Glenmorangie.
The next morning we headed back towards Tain, so that we could visit Balblair Distillery. Due to the timing of their tours we had not been able to arrange one for the previous day of travel and therefore had visited Clynelish instead. It was worth the wait as we really enjoyed the tour and the distillery – the staff were extremely welcoming, accommodating and wonderful to speak with. I always enjoy visiting a Distillery where the staff are equally as passionate as myself about whisky.
Balblair Distillery is a whisky distillery located in the Highlands of Scotland, known for producing a range of single malt whiskies. The distillery was founded in 1790 and has a long and rich history, with many changes of ownership and periods of closure throughout the years. Today, Balblair is considered one of the finest whisky distilleries in Scotland, and its whiskies are highly prized by enthusiasts around the world.
With Glenmorangie being only a few minutes away from Balblair we made a brief visit there to get a glimpse of their “giraffe” still and have a tasting in their guest center. I had previously toured Glenmorangie during a previous Road Trip in the Highlands. While they have a fantastic story I had not been particularly impressed by the tour or fond of their whisky, and ended up ranking it near the bottom of my Whisky Distillery Visits & Tastings rankings list.
Glenmorangie Distillery is a whisky distillery located in the Northern Highlands of Scotland, known for producing a range of high-quality single malt whiskies. The distillery was founded in 1843 and has a long history of innovation, including the use of bespoke stills and a unique wood management program to create distinctive flavors in their whiskies. The height of their stills, which are the tallest in Scotland at 26 feet, allows for a smoother, more delicate flavor profile to develop in their whiskies.
We tested one of the whiskies on offer, and unfortunately could not match it to the tasting notes provided, finding it underwhelming.
Glen Ord Distillery
On a previous trip I had visited Glen Ord Distillery with friends and we had loved the tour and tasting they offered. On our way from our Lochness hotel to Balblair Distillery we realized that we were passing right by Glen Ord, and managed to add a short notice tour. The distillery’s visitor’s center was under construction but they managed to have a small shop and still facilitate a full tour despite that. We had a delightful tasting at their temporary visitor’s center as well as a thorough tour of their facilities.
Glen Ord Distillery is a whisky distillery located in the Scottish Highlands, which was founded in 1838 and has a long history of producing high-quality single malt whiskies. The distillery is known for its unique water source and traditional methods of production. Glen Ord Distillery is part of the Singleton range of whiskies.
The Singleton is a range of single malt whiskies produced by Diageo, which includes three distilleries: Glen Ord in the Highlands, Dufftown in Speyside, and Glendullan in Speyside, Scotland. Each distillery produces a unique style of whisky that is tailored to a specific market. Glen Ord produces whisky for the Asian market, while Dufftown produces whisky for the European market, and Glendullan produces whisky for the American market. This allows the Singleton range to appeal to a diverse range of consumers and showcase the distinct flavors and characteristics of each region’s whisky-making traditions.
We briefly stopped at Fort Augustus, located on the southern shores of Lochness, as we started heading out towards the Isle of Skye. I’d previously visited Fort Augustus during several previous Scotland trips and found that it makes for a great break point when traveling past Lochness.
Fort Augustus is a historic village located on the southern end of Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands, and was named after the fort that was built there in the 18th century. Today, it is a popular tourist destination, known for its natural beauty, outdoor activities, and historic landmarks, including the Caledonian Canal and the ruins of the fort.
Isle of Skye
The Isle of Skye became my favorite place to visit in Scotland back in 2007 when I happened to take a “Haggis Tour” to the island. It has an ethereal quality to the landscape, and a lot of stunning natural beauty to enjoy. It has, however, become one of the most popular destinations in Scotland since the Skye Bridge was built in 1992 – connecting the island to the mainland by bridge.
The Isle of Skye is a scenic island located off the west coast of Scotland, known for its rugged landscapes, picturesque villages, and rich cultural heritage. Visitors to the island can explore historic castles and ancient ruins, hike through spectacular mountain ranges, or simply relax and enjoy the stunning natural beauty of the island’s rugged coastline and pristine beaches.
During the high season of summer it can become overcrowded especially with campers and cars. The island is not well situated to handle a tremendous amount of traffic and it often leads to cars in ditches. Skye is full of single track roads, which I am thankfully familiar with, but for those who are not I highly recommend reading up on the etiquette of how to drive on those roads. Since we were off season we didn’t have to deal with the worst of what Skye has for traffic, but it was near Easter and the school holidays so there was more than I had expected.
We arrived in Portree, the largest town on the Isle of Skye, in time to check in to our hotel and try to find dinner. We ran into similar challenges here that we had experienced in Orkney – many restaurants weren’t yet open for the season and those that were required reservations. So we wandered around the town and settled for a slightly unorthodox option, a Japenese restaurant, which ended up being phenomenal to our shock and delight.
And to end the night we visited the Merchant Bar, inside our hotel, and started making our way through their extensive whisky list.
Day 7 – Isle of Skye
The Isle of Skye is a favorite destination of mine and I’ve covered it quite a few times in this blog – I’ve written an extensive guide to the Isle of Skye, wrote about my travels during a Highland road trip in 2017, a short visit to Skye in 2013, and a Haggis Tour to Isle of Skye in 2007.
Before visiting the Isle of Skye I knew a lot of the key stops I wanted to show to my husband – and a few extra that I wanted to explore with the time we had on the island. Including a new distillery that had been built on the south side of the island, and several outstanding restaurants. On this particular day of the trip we chose to explore the southern side of the island – with the intention of visiting Armandale Castle and Torabhaig Distillery.
Unfortunately since we were visiting off season we were a week too soon to see Armandale Castle, but did explore the ferry port a little for lunch.
We started out early to visit the Fairy Pools, which can get quite busy as the day goes on. Over the years they’ve made the Fairy Pools a lot easier to visit as a tourist by adding in a parking lot. The last time I visited it was all road side parking which was very challenging during busy times.
The Fairy Pools are a series of crystal-clear pools and waterfalls located on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. They are a popular destination for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts, who come to enjoy the breathtaking scenery and swim in the cool, refreshing waters of the pools. The Fairy Pools are also said to be enchanted by local folklore, adding to their appeal and mystique.
It is a fantastic hike with absolutely gorgeous views of Skye and the pools along the way, and one of the key destinations to visit on the island.
Be prepared to drive down single track roads to reach the Fairy Pools, and I’d recommend reading up on the etiquette of driving in those circumstances or you’ll be in for a huge headache.
Armandale Port & Castle Knock
With Armandale Castle being closed we turned our attention to spend a little bit of extra time at Armandale Port for lunch. It’s a small and cute ferry port that connects to the mainland, with small shops and a few options for food. We stopped briefly at the fish and chips shed and sat in the sun enjoying a fantastic meal.
We had a tour booked at Torabhaig Distillery and still had time to spend wandering in the area. We noticed a small ruins near the distillery and were given directions from the distillery to make the short hike out to the ruins and enjoy the warm and sunny day. The ruins were Castle Knock and provided a scenic view of the distillery, water and the grazing sheep.
One of the new places to visit on the Isle of Skye that made my list was Torabhaig Distillery, which was built during the last year I had visited the island in 2017.
Torabhaig Distillery is a whisky distillery located on the Isle of Skye in Scotland, known for producing a range of high-quality single malt whiskies. The distillery was founded in 2017 and began production in 2019, making it one of the newest whisky distilleries in Scotland. Despite its youth, Torabhaig has quickly gained a reputation for its innovative approach to whisky-making, using locally sourced barley and water to create unique and flavorful whiskies.
We enjoyed a tour of the facility – learning how they used the structure of the listed building to influence the shape and size of their stills. It was a unique experince as far as tours go and we enjoyed a tasting at the end of a truly promising whisky.
Portree – Dulse & Brose, and Merchant Bar
After a day of touring the southern part of the island we returned to Portree and our hotel to prepare for dinner at one of the local restaurants – Dulse & Brose.
Dulse & Brose is a popular restaurant located in Portree on the Isle of Skye in Scotland, known for its innovative take on traditional Scottish cuisine. The restaurant is particularly known for its seafood dishes, which feature locally caught fish and shellfish, as well as its use of foraged ingredients and traditional cooking techniques.
We had an absolutely fantastic meal at the restuarant, with the local sourced ingredients.
The reason we chose to stay a few nights in Portree was for the access to Merchant Bar – which I had previously visited on another trip. It’s a truly fantastic gar, with a great vibe, and an excellent whisky collection. Visitors will likely have to wait for a table, which was happening even off season, but it was well worth the wait.
Day 8 – Isle of Raasay
One of the new places I was keen to visit on this particular trip was the nearby Isle of Raasay, including the young distillery established on the island. For all my previous trips to Skye I had glimpsed the beauty of Raasay across the water and finally would be able to visit it.
The Isle of Raasay is a small island located off the west coast of Scotland, known for its rugged beauty and rich history. The island is home to a variety of wildlife, including red deer and sea eagles, and offers stunning views of the surrounding sea and mountains. Visitors to Raasay can explore the island’s historic ruins, hike through its rugged terrain, or simply relax and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere of this remote and beautiful destination. Additionally, the Raasay Distillery is a popular attraction, offering tours and tastings of its unique and flavorful whiskies.
Before heading over to the nearby Ferry port for Raasay we had breakfast at Cafe Arriba, somewhere I’d been a few times before and appreciate it for the views and good food.
Ferry to Isle of Raasay
There is a ferry that connects the Isle of Raasay to the Isle of Skye, departing from Sconser, a port just south of Portree.We chose to take our car over as we were keen to see the entire island, but there is the option to be a pedestrian passenger on the ferry.
This particular ferry, MV Hallaig, is a hydroelectric ferry and was the most silent boat I have ever been on. We were moving at sea, waiting to pay our fare, before we even noticed because of how smooth and silent it was. It was painless, reasonably priced, and can be taken for only a day trip or an overnight trip like we had arranged. There are no reservations required for the ferry but anyone intending to use it should arrive at least 10-15 minutes before departure to ensure they’ll get a space on board.
The morning and early afternoon were spent exploring Raasay. The island really only has the one main road, which is single track, and connects the port to the north and south.
Sheep roam freely across the island and we spotted hundreds on our journey north. There are plenty of pull over stops to take brief detours and lots of hiking opportunities. We drove north until we reached Brochel Castle.
Brochel Castle is located on Raasay Island, Scotland and was most likely built by Calum Garbh, Raasay’s first Macleod chief in the late 15th to early 16th century. The castle is an ingenious fusion of natural rock and masonry, intricate brickwork and lime-mortar, and was strategically located to guard valuable sea routes. The castle complex was comprised of four discrete ‘towers’ and a deep and well-guarded gatehouse. Today, the castle is in an advanced state of ruin and highly dangerous, making it unsafe to enter.
We then visited Calum’s Road, which is a 1.75 mile stretch of road on the north of Raasay. It was built by Calum Macleod in the 1960s for his family, to make it easier for them to traverse the area to his home, and is a significant piece of modern Raasay history and well respected by the locals. We drove the 1.75 mile length through the tough countryside to appreciate the engineering feat.
Isle of Raasay Distillery
One of the reasons we chose to visit Raasay was the we were keen to stay at the hotel at the Isle of Raasay Distillery.
The distillery was founded in 2014 and has a focus to produce young whiskies, between 4-5 years old. It was the first legal distillery setup on the island, though there is a history of illicit distilleries. The setup of the distillery and the unique cask selection for the whisky was setup specifically to support the young whisky. They supplement their whisky production with gin production as well, since there is no aging process needed before that can be sold.
The distillery also has a hotel attached to it – which is an old Victorian house that has been transformed into the hotel with six rooms. Included in the stay is a fantastically delicious Scottish breakfast, a free tour of the distillery and access to a whisky lounge. Also at the hotel is the Borodale Restaurant, which was temporarily closed during our visit.
The Distillery tour itself was absolutely fantastic – we learned about the unique shape of the stills and how that impacts the flavor they’ve designed for the whisky they’re producing. We also learned a lot about how their unique cask selection, including quarter virgin oak casks, play into the flavor profile they craft into their whisky.
The tasting at the Distillery was exquisite and really showcased all the nuances of their production process. They offered a chocolate pairing with bespoke chocolates made to complement their whisky from a Highland chocolatier, Chocolates of Glenshiel. We really enjoyed the view, the story the tasting told, and the pairings offered.
Given that Borodale Restuarant was temporarily closed during our visit we chose to eat at neighboring Raasay House, the only other restaurant and accommodation on the island.
There were several types of dining rooms at Raasay House and a fantastic menu to select from. It also had gorgeous views of the island, and a direct glimpse of the ferry port.
Day 9 – Isle of Skye
The Isle of Raasay, though small, was a favorite stop for us on the trip and we were loath to leave it for Skye. Given it was off season and Skye was already teaming with tourists we found the calmness of Raasay to be a delight. There were various hikes that we wished we had made time for on the slower paced island.
We enjoyed breakfast at the Isle of Raasay Distillery, included in our stay, and it was a gorgeous Scottish breakfast. And from the distillery we enjoyed the perfect view of Skye before we packed up our car and headed back to the ferry to return to the larger island. It was a rainy start to the day so we didn’t get to enjoy many views as we left Raasay behind us, and had to readjust some of our plans for the day given the sudden (but predictable) shift in the weather.
We briefly stopped at Sligachan Bridge, a place I had visited several times before. It presents a charming landscape that you can traverse and explore. And it’s a popular stop for local tour companies, like Haggis Tours, to talk about some of the local folklore.
The Sligachan Bridge is a stone bridge spanning the River Sligachan on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. According to local folklore, dipping your face in the river’s waters under the bridge is said to grant eternal beauty or youth, but only if you can withstand the frigid waters for at least seven seconds.
As with all of my previous visits I went through the seven second face dip into the frigid waters, likely snow melt from the nearby mountains, and enjoyed a few days of eternal beauty. Unfortunately the lasting effects of this treatment only work for as long as you remain on Skye.
Dunvegan Castle & Gardens
Given the consistent and steady rain throughout the morning we aimed to visit an indoor location on Skye, of which there are few. As our Airbnb for the next few nights was located on the north west part of the island we headed in that direction and stopped on the way to see Dunvegan Castle.
Dunvegan Castle, located on the west coast of the Isle of Skye, is the ancestral home of the Chiefs of Clan MacLeod. The castle has been inhabited by the clan for over 800 years, making it one of the oldest continuously inhabited castles in Scotland. In addition to its rich history, the castle is surrounded by stunning gardens, including the famous Fairy Flag Garden, and offers visitors the chance to explore its many rooms and learn about the castle’s fascinating past, making it a popular attraction on the Isle of Skye.
The Castle and Gardens were great fun to explore and had a lot of fantastic period pieces and history on display. The garden was starting to bloom so we were treated a drizzly walk through some stunning flowers before we headed briefly to their cafe for a quick lunch, and then heading north towards the Airbnb. We were still too early to check in but we opted to have a slightly more meandering drive and enable ourselves to stop at a few places along the way.
The Isle of Skye, much like Orkney earlier in the trip, is home to a lot of talented artisans. On the route north I spotted signs for a local weaver, whose wares we had seen at our Portree hotel earlier in the trip. We quickly adjusted the route to visit the Weaver and it was an incredible stop.
Skye Weavers are a small family own business who use a bicycle-pedal powered loom. The wool used to create their gorgeous wares is sourced locally and all completion work, such as sewing for specific garments, is done through their network of partners in the United Kingdom. There are lines of wares that they use only traditional methods of coloring for the wool as well.
When we visited the owner welcome us into the small shed where the bicycle-pedal loom is used. He explained the process and the power of the loom, and even invited us to try our hands at it. My husband gave it a go and found it to be far more challenging than expected, and a tremendous workout at the same time. The live demonstration and invitation to participate was a highlight of our day, and we left with a gorgeous blanket from our visit. I wish I had picked up a few additional items while I was there, but thankfully they offer shipping.
Meanish Community Pier
We were still ahead of schedule so we made one more brief stop, as the rain lightened up, at the Meanish Community Pier.
The Meanish Community Pier is a small harbor on the east coast of the Isle of Skye, Scotland. It is used mainly by local fishermen and provides a vital connection to the sea for the surrounding communities.
We used the opportunity to stretch our legs and appreciate the views from this small outcropping in the harbor. There were some beautiful local fishing boats on shore, and a collection of various lobster traps, as well as other working equipment for the fishermen trade.
We headed over to our Airbnb, a mere 5 minutes away, and were able to check in before heading back out for one more artisan shop visit and dinner at a well rated pub.
Edinbane Pottery & Edinbane Inn
The small village of Edinbane was a drive away but had a fantastic artisan shop for pottery and a great pub to grab dinner.
Edinbane Pottery is a family-owned and operated pottery studio located in the village of Edinbane on the Isle of Skye. Visitors can watch the potters at work and browse through a wide selection of unique, handmade pottery items, including mugs, bowls, plates, and teapots.
We enjoyed watching the potters at their wheel and picked up a few items for gifts and souvenirs for ourselves.
Finally, we carried on to the Edinbane Inn for dinner, and loved the warm welcome we received. But not nearly as much as we loved the food and local beer offerings.
Day 10 – Isle of Skye
Our last full day on Skye was always going to be a busy one – we had scheduled a tasting at Talisker and had reserved a table at an incredible restaurant for dinner. We hadn’t yet had a chance to visit some of the islands most beautiful scenery, the Quairang, but I was determined to visit that on our last full day.
We headed off with intentions to enjoy a few hikes, lots of good food, and the promise of a particularly special whisky tasting.
Neist Point Lighthouse
We set off in the morning to nearby Neist Point, which had a hike I was particularly interested in doing. By the time we reached the parking lot it was once again raining so we took a shorter route that gave us beautiful views of the point and lighthouse, without actually traversing the 1.5 mile hike.
Neist Point Lighthouse is situated on the westernmost tip of the Isle of Skye, Scotland. Built-in 1909, it stands on a rocky promontory, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, and provides spectacular views of the surrounding landscape. The lighthouse is a popular tourist attraction for its scenic beauty, birdwatching opportunities, and dramatic sunsets.
With the poor weather we had on this part of the trip we missed out on the sunsets but enjoyed the dramatic views from the muddy hillside overlooking the ocean.
I normally wouldn’t put an entire section in my article about a coffee house, but we enjoyed Cafe Cuil so much we stopped there twice on our way in and out from Carbost.
Earlier in the trip we had passed this red roofed coffee house on the way to the Fairy Pools but it had been closed at the time. During the last few days of our time on Skye many closed locations began to reopen ahead of a long bank holiday weekend and the upcoming school half term. This was to our benefit as it allowed us a brief stop at this adorable coffee house – with it’s fantastic baked goods, delicious coffee, and divine tea all served on custom made pottery by the very talented HRM Ceramics & Glass.
Scotland has beautifully fresh seafood from the local waters, and it’s on every menu. We had some fantastic dishes while we were traveling through the islands. But one of the places I was most looking forward to was located in Carbost, near the Talisker Distillery. It had been on my radar since my earlier trips to Skye, but couldn’t fit it into previous trips. I was keen to try the seafood in this very rustic converted barn.
The Oyster Shed offered more than just oysters, and a wide variety of fresh seafood from scallops, langoustines, to salmon sourced directly from Skye. It is just a converted barn featuring a fresh fish counter, a small shop, and a few outdoor whisky barrels to act as tables.
We both tried the oysters, which were delicious, and then we tried the seared scallops and smoked salmon, both of which were simply exquisite.
Talisker Distillery is the oldest working distillery on the Isle of Skye, located in the village of Carbost. It offers guided tours and tastings of its single malt Scotch whisky, providing visitors with an insight into the traditional production methods that have been used for over 180 years.
This was my second visit to Talisker Distillery, and on a previous trip I’d had a good tour with them. During this visit they were under construction so the tours were not running, but they had setup a temporary tasting area.
We first visited a nearby coffee shop and enjoyed the view of the bay while waiting for the tasting to commence.
We had signed up for the special “Rare and Exclusive” tasting, which enabled us to taste 6 unique drams from Talisker. I thoroughly enjoyed this since I have tasted all of their standard offerings.
One of my absolute favorite places on the Isle of Skye is the Quiraing.
The Quiraing is a stunning natural feature on the Isle of Skye that attracts many visitors each year. This unique landscape features towering rock formations, steep cliffs, and rolling hills, offering breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape. A popular hiking spot, the Quiraing offers various trails of different difficulty levels, making it accessible to hikers of all abilities.
For me a trip to Skye is incomplete without visiting the Quiraing. I always enjoy the approach from the western side of the island as the views become a huge surprise when you reach the parking lot, which has thankfully been hugely expanded upon in the last few years.
Since it was raining we only took a short height to see different angles of the stunning view before returning to the car.
For the evening meal we had booked a table at the prestigious and highly rated Three Chimneys Inn. This fantastic restaurant came highly rated and recommended as one of the key foodie destinations on the island.
We enjoyed a 4 course menu that showcased the locally sourced ingredients beautifully. They had wine pairings to go with the meal, which my husband enjoyed, but for the drivers visiting the establishment they offered me some fantastic home made artisan drinks. It was the most expensive meal of our trip but very much worth the extra cost.
Day 11 – Skye to Inverness
The last full day in Scotland would involve us driving from the north western side of Skye all the way back to Inverness. We had one or two small stops planned along the route and a distillery tour towards the end, but it was mostly a road trip day.
Eilean Donan Castle
The first brief stop we made was to appreciate the view of Eilean Donan Castle.
Eilean Donan Castle is a picturesque castle located on an islet in Loch Duich in the western Scottish Highlands. The castle dates back to the 13th century and was restored in the early 20th century, and is now a popular tourist attraction known for its stunning location and rich history.
Although we didn’t visit the inside of the castle on this trip, I have done so before and found it thoroughly charming.
Chocolates of Glenshiel
During our tasting at the Isle of Raasay Distillery we had a chocolate pairing along with the whisky and gin. We discovered that the chocolates were produced specifically for the Isle of Raasay distillery by a chocolatier called Chocolates of Glenshiel.
We also discovered that this was actually on our road trip route! Naturally we took the time to make a stop and stock up on their exquisite chocolates. It’s a charming shop and while we were visiting we learned about their expansion plans to create a cafe to go along side it.
We drove through the Highlands, an absolutely stunning route, and made it to Tomatin in time for our tour and tasting. Tomatin is located near Inverness and I have passed by the signs for this distillery many times in my travels, but never had a chance to visit on prior trips.
Tomatin Distillery is one of Scotland’s oldest whisky distilleries, founded in the 19th century. In the 1980s, the distillery was purchased by a Japanese company, Takara Shuzo, which allowed the distillery to expand production and export to new markets. However, in 2004, the distillery was downsized to focus on producing smaller batches of higher quality whisky. This change in strategy allowed the distillery to win awards and become a popular destination for whisky lovers.
The downsizing of the distillery cut the production by more than half. This left quite a bit of disused equipment around the large distillery. Tomatin have a unique tour due to their history of downsizing. They’ve been able to cut open and expose the inside of the Mashtun, and their next plans were to open a Washback as well. They offered a fantastic tour and we thoroughly enjoyed the tasting of both Tomatin and Cu Bocan brands that they create.
Muthu Newton Hotel Restaurant
Our final accommodation on the trip was at the Muthu Newton Hotel near Inverness, which made this an easy return to the Airport on the following day for our morning flight. It was a charming hotel in an old manor building with a few annex spaces and a large green space. They had a charming bar and a good restaurant. By the time we had reached there, after 10 days of travel, we were shattered and ready for a quiet evening and it was the perfect hotel for just that.
With a history dating back to the 17th century, the hotel offers traditional Scottish charm, modern amenities, and easy access to nearby attractions such as Cawdor Castle and the Moray Firth coastline.
Top 5 Highlights from our Road Trip in Scotland
We covered a lot of ground during our 11 days in Scotland and loved every minute of the trip. But there were a few special moments for us on the trip and I wanted to highlight those:
- Orkney: We loved everything about Orkney as a whole – it had stunning scenery, incredible history, a breadth of free sites to visit and explore, and spectacular food. Without a shadow of a doubt we’ll return to Orkney in the future to explore in greater detail. There were many hikes we didn’t get a chance to do and neighboring islands that would be fantastic to explore.
- Skara Brae: We explored a wide variety of ancient sites and landsacpes during this particular trip, especially across the island of Orkney. But the one that wast most impressive to us both was the remains of the settlement at Skara Brae. The context of it’s place in our history as you walked along the path marking the historical landmarks in time, such as the Parthenon, really breathed life into the value and importance of this site.
- Isle of Raasay: When we chose to visit Raasay I expected that I would mostly just appreciate the distillery there and not much else. But the small island really lodged itself into our hearts with it’s unique history, local tales, and stunning views.
- Highland Park Distillery: I’ve been to many distilleries but I found this one to be particularly worth the visit. Not only was the tour spectacular they offer a variety of tasting types, and have a fully functional distillery on site from malting to warehouses. The staff are passionate and knowledgeable and the whisky is pure delight.
- Oyster Shed: We both agreed that if we were ever back in Scotland we would detour back to Skye simply for the Oyster Shed, it was that good.