The Scottish Highlands: Breathtaking Scenery Blended with World-Class Scotch Whiskies

Scotland is a truly beautiful country. On my last visit, I took a group from North to South and the landscapes were spectacular. This time our group stuck to the West Coast and Highlands areas, and the scenery literally took our breath away!

Welcome to Glasgow

Our journey started in Glasgow, on the River Clyde. Scotland’s largest city, Glasgow has evolved into a vibrant cultural centre with a mix of striking architectural styles, a rich industrial heritage and unique Celtic charm. This city has something for everyone: great nightlife, an entertaining history, excellent shopping and superb cuisine from small basement pubs offering hearty meals to Michelin-starred fine dining establishments.

A must-do on any itinerary is the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, which houses one of Europe’s great art collections. Here you’ll find 22 themed galleries displaying an astonishing 8,000 objects ranging from the Dutch Masters and Scottish Art, to Natural History and ancient Egyptian artifacts.

The Bonnie Shores o’ Loch Lomond

After a whistle-stop visit to Glasgow we headed to Loch Lomond, the largest expanse of fresh water on mainland Britain. The Loch lies against a stunning mountainous backdrop amidst one of Scotland’s most idyllic and unspoilt areas, the Trossachs National Park. The surrounding mountains are also home to a variety of wildlife including red deer.

Luss on the short of Loch Lomond

Our hotel, The Lodge on Loch Lomond, stands on a quiet sandy cove with panoramic views of the loch and mountains. Two former US presidents have stayed at this loch-side retreat, and it is an excellent base for exploring the Highlands. Each room even has its own sauna; a somewhat over-the-top feature but the perfect place to warm up after exploring the nearby attractions – clutching your umbrella and rain soaked clothes!

How do the locals predict the weather in the Highlands? “If you can see the top of any hill, it’s going to rain. If you can’t see the top of any hill, it’s raining!” This means definitely no water restrictions, so the Capetonians in our group were beside themselves with excitement at the prospect of being able to have a bath every morning and evening without guilt!

To shake off the long-haul flight blues, our group went on a sunset kayak tour in and around Loch Lomond. Squeezing into wetsuits before climbing aboard their kayaks resulted in roars of laughter. And then we were off, exploring the picturesque coves and islands. A real adventure!

Sunset kayak tour of Loch Lomond

Afterwards we strolled through the postcard-pretty town on Luss, on the shore of Loch Lomond. A popular tourist-stop, this conservation village has quaint cottages dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries. Of course, a stop for a pint at the Loch Lomond Arms pub was required, before strolling back past moss-covered stone walls, pastures of grazing Highland cattle and beautifully manicured cottage gardens.

I kept thinking Postman Pat and his black and white cat was going to pull out from one of the driveways!

Fly Fishing, Fresh Salmon & Single Malt Whisky

The following day, we set off towards Inveraray crossing the spectacular Argyll Forest Park Pass. The route took as through countless pretty villages such as Arrochar and Cairndow, alongside picturesque lochs, over mountain passes and past magnificent castles.

At Inverawe Scottish Smokehouse we were introduced to the fine art of fly fishing. The owners of Inverawe hosted our group at one of the estate’s many beautiful lakes and rivers, all teeming with healthy salmon and trout. Of course, rivalry between the men and ladies was fierce. Who would catch the most? Naturally the ladies won, much to the annoyance of the men!

Afterwards, we enjoyed a hearty lunch in the grand Manor House. Imagine platters overflowing with salmon in all forms: pâté, gravadlax, caviar timbales, potted smoked trout, salmon rolls, salmon steaks; and an array of fresh, organic salads paired with locally brewed craft beer. This stop was a major highlight, and should definitely be included in any visit to the area!

With full stomachs, we set off for the pretty west coast town Oban, the gateway to the Hebridean islands. Here, nestled at the foot of a steep cliff, is the historic Oban Distillery. Established in 1794, this distillery is one of Scotland’s oldest sources of single malt whisky. Our knowledgeable guide led us through the age-old whisky making process. We sampled Oban malt straight from the cask, then paired malt whisky with crystallized ginger and salted chocolate – a true taste sensation!

Needless to say, the coach trip back to the hotel was a quiet one as most people dozed off after a day filled with adventure, feasting on fresh salmon and trout, followed by multiple whisky tastings!

Retail Therapy & a Unique Pub Crawl

The following day got off to a mellow start, with everyone enjoying the hotel’s peaceful setting or relaxing in their private saunas. Afterwards, a bit of retail therapy worked up our appetites for an excellent, hearty lunch at The Boat House at Cameron House, overlooking the Marina.

To shake off any yearnings for an afternoon nap, our group was whisked off on a speedboat pub crawl stopping at four different pubs. Needless to say, speed boating in the rain is not for the faint-hearted! But there was much laughter and banter between boats. And each time we felt we might freeze to death, we fell into another pub with a roaring fire, great wines, fine ales, welcoming bar staff, and generous platters of delicious local snacks. A fabulous way to spend a rainy afternoon …

Spectacular Scenery & a Wee Dram (or six!)

Another spectacular day of road tripping through the Highlands passing lochs, roaring rivers, quaint villages and even more castles. Our first stop was the Blair Athol Distillery, in the picturesque town of Pitlochry. Established in 1798, Blair Athol is one of the oldest working distilleries in Scotland.  Back in the 1850’s Arthur Bell discovered that blending together several fine whiskies pleases more palates than one whisky unmixed. The malt at the heart of the Bell’s blend has a rich, spiced and nutty (a bit like ginger cake) flavour, and comes from this distillery.

We were hosted on a private tour which included tasting 6 drams from the Blair Athol Distillery’s highly exclusive range of 12-Year-Old Single Malt Whiskies. A hearty Scottish lunch followed at Mackays Pub in the pretty town of Pitlochry, before setting off for Dalwhinnie Distillery the third and final stop on our Whisky educational.

The Victorians described Dalwhinnie as being “madly located”. Even through modern eyes, it’s possible to see where they were coming from. Dalwhinnie is the third highest located distillery in Scotland, and the meteorological station has the distinction of observing the lowest recorded temperature in Britain.

The distillery does a range of official bottlings, with its signature being the 15-year-old single malt. Although they also produce a 20-year-old and a 36-year-old, among other Distillers Editions. The water used in Dalwhinnie’s production comes from a spring which is wonderfully clear and fresh, thanks in part to the fact that a large proportion of it is melted snow!

Highland Safari in our 4x4s

Our final day in the Highlands was spent doing what locals do; traversing the Scottish countryside in a 4×4. Armed with cameras and binoculars, we climbed aboard our Land Rovers and journeyed to the high tops through a land sculptured by the elements. There was no shortage of photo opportunities with the beautiful scenery and breathtaking views.

Climbing slippery hills, crossing through chilly rivers, trudging through scratchy hills of heather moorlands whilst our kilt-cladded Safari Rangers taught us about deer stalking, and searching for the elusive red grouse.

Having found neither, we drowned our sorrows in Scottish shortbread and a dram (or two, or three!) of whisky in one of the mountain bothies – a remote wooden shack where deer hunters, grouse beaters and nature lovers congregate to rest and relax on their adventures. Surrounded on all sides by inspiring forest and mountain views, the bothies was a fitting final chapter in this most memorable Highland adventure!

Our official final farewell to this special place can be summed up in one Gaelic word. Throughout our Scottish travels which, each time we raised another wee dram of Whisky, we’d say … SLANGEVAR!

(Google it to find out what it means 😊)

Written by: Angela Field