Scottish Highlands | Corrupt Uncorrupted Lands of Scotland

RootlessRoutes 2018

Scotland is a beautiful country. The Scottish Highlands, magnificent to behold. To revel in the grandeur of its ethereal terrain is a privilege I hold dear.

Scotland draws thousands of visitors each year. Most are now drawn to the fetching scenery of Scotland’s northern wilds. The Scottish Highlands are now Scotland’s largest tourism draw after Edinburgh.

As we hike, bike, drive and enjoy the breathtaking landscape and exhilarating roads, the wonder of this place is undeniable.

Yet a dark narrative lurks behind its stark allure.

How did such a magical landscape become a domain for mostly sheep?

RootlessRoutes Scotland 2018
Sheep in a treeless vista. Bealach Na BA Scottish Highlands 2018

Although never highly populated, the uncultivated land we see today and subsequently the sparse population of the Scottish Highlands is not a completely natural occurrence.

Centuries of clear cutting helped to deforest an already receding woodland. Regrowth, suppressed to make room for sheep.

The populace, cleared by force… much like the trees. Ripped from their roots, to also make room for sheep.

By the 1850s the Highland culture, demonized and disregarded for centuries had been virtually eradicated.

The insidious nature of centuries of repression, maintains its steely grasp on much of Scotland’s countryside today.

RootlessRoutes Northwest Highlands 2017
Northwest Highlands. RootlessRoutes Scotland 2017

The caustic relationship between England and Scotland runs long and deep.

For centuries a Brit marrying a Scot, was a crime punishable by death. The borderland between England and Scotland, a bloody no man’s land.

In time, Britons melded a bit with the lowland Scots, albeit with a wary eye. But the rogue nature of clan culture made it hard to tame the Highlands.

The dividing line between the Highlands and Lowlands has never been distinctly clear. The negative view of the natives of these Highlands have remained crystal clear

The Stuarts / Stewarts 

The House of Stuart (Stewart), started with Robert II. The Stuarts bared Kings and Queens of Scotland from the late 14th Century. When Queen Elizabeth I died in 1603 the true reign of the Stuarts began with James I.

It was a Renaissancian time for Scotland.

Except for the brief time that England was a Commonwealth (1649  1660), the Stuarts remained monarchs until the death of Queen Anne in 1714.

In 1707 the independent Kingdom of Scotland merged with England. The Act of Union created the Kingdom of Great Britain. In many ways this benefitted both nations. Scotland needed money and Britain needed a way to control their feral neighbor to the North.

The Jacobites of the Scottish Highlands

Although flawed, James I of England VI of Scotland, was highly regarded by his people, having experienced long standing peace and fairly low taxation.

Upon his death his son Charles I ruled with a steady hand, yet at a turbulent time. His unyielding disagreements with Parliament and the rise of Cromwell as a Commonwealth leader, led to the loss his head.

Portrait of King James
James I of England & Ireland VI of Scotland.

Nine years later, with the monarchy restored, Charles II became another much beloved King who reigned true. He died young. 

His arrogant and disagreeable brother James II succeeded him. With the blessing of Parliament, James II was quickly deposed by William and Mary (James II son in law and daughter). The Convention of Estates in Scotland, recognized William and Mary as legitimate monarchs over James II.

Death & The Divine Right of Kings

But Jacobite leanings in the Highlands stemmed mostly from the supportive treatment of the Highland clans by James I, and their continued belief in the “Divine Right of Kings”. Because of this, numerous Jacobite attempts were made to restore James and his descendants to the throne.

On April 16, 1746, the Jacobites met their most devastating defeat at Culloden Moor. 

Culloden Battlefield Rootless Routes Inverness Scotland 2017 by Elizabeth Whitener
Culloden battlefield

Thousands of men died in the name of Charles Edward Stuart. (The Bonnie Prince).  An ominous sense of foreboding still permeates that boggy hill in Inverness.

Cause & Effect

In the hope of suppressing any possibility of future Jacobite uprisings. The Duke of Cumberland (King George II’s son), did everything he could to end the Highland way life.

Kilts and Tartans were banned. Clans forbidden. Anyone suspected of Jacobite connections were imprisoned, executed or forcibly transported to the Americas. Scottish Gaelic was discouraged and suppressed.

Sadly, this is not where this tragic decimation of the Highland culture ends.

The Clearances

Most Highlanders were monetarily poor and living off the land. At the time of the final Jacobite rebellion, they mostly lived as tenant farmers. This meant paying rent (aka tax) to clan chiefs and land owners for land that had been passed down through their families for centuries.

The process of clearing out people began prior to 1745, but sped up quickly after the final Jacobite rebellion.

The deconstruction of clan society created a detachment between clan chiefs and their kinsman. In a short time, many of the chiefs grew to closely resemble British aristocracy, and saw their kinsmen a disposable commodity.

Shocked Scottish sheep. Rootless Routes Scotland 2017 photo by Elizabeth Whitener
Sheep shocked by the dreadful driving skills of tourists driving on Skye. Scotland 2017 Arnisdale / Glenelg by Elizabeth Whitener Rootless routes

In the name of agricultural improvement, tenant farmers were forcibly relocated to make room for the more profitable sheep.

With no laws to protect these farmers, most moved to coastal areas to fish for kelp. Many Highland Scots had no choice but to emigrate. Entire ancient communities were completely wiped out.

In the 1820s the fishing and kelp industry died. To prohibit people from moving back inland, owners raised rents to unreasonable levels.

Then 1844 saw a devastating potato famine and more Scots were forced to emigrate or die.

Landowners continued to clear people from their lands until the 1850s.

Today there are more full blood Highlands descendents living in North Carolina than in Scotland.

Who the Hell owns Scotland?

Recent studies show that 432 people own half of all privately-owned land in Scotland, making this one of the highest concentrations of private land ownership in all of Europe. There is no way for the public to discover who owns what in Scotland. Nor how that land got into their hands.

The Scottish Land Commission (SLC) was formed to analyze the situation and make recommendations which could lead to significant changes in land law. It is their job to establish whether so few people holding so much land is detrimental to society.

Until something is decided, the vast open tracts of stunningly remarkable landscapes shall continue to draw visitors. As will the lochs and mountains dotted with rotting ancient brochs, farms, estates and castles on the horizon.

Winding single track roads will continue to curve through baaing sheep, and the tourists will keep coming.

Now What?

A sad irony in this grim history is the accidental but prudent result of this mass misappropriation of land. If more land goes into the hands of more Scots, what does that mean for the landscape?

The uncommercialized and undeveloped land of the Highlands, undoubtedly is one of the reasons why it remains so unique. The uncorrupted vistas are the crux of Scotland’s tourism boom. Subsequently supplying a new found wealth to Scotland. Albeit, who is most gaining from the monetary insurgence in Scotland remains to be clear.

With the indubitable right for more Scottish citizens to own land, build homes and live their lives, comes the need for more roads, more shops and more commercialization. In order to progress, the things that make this land so very remarkable may also be the most vulnerable.

How does a country offer fair opportunity to regain some of the losses of a people long repressed, without destroying the best parts of itself in the process? I simply do not know.

What I do know, is that when experiencing this awe inspiring environment, as it stands today or as it may be in the future, it is important to understand its history and contemplate the depths of the loss that got them here.

When you gaze upon the huge swaths of stunning vacant land, you should also appreciate the lives that once called this place home. The harsh realities of a culture so thoroughly washed away, that its remnants have become as natural a part of the environment, as the sheep.

Driving Scotland | On & Beyond the NC500 & Scottish Highlands

RootlessRoutes A838 Scottish Highlands 2018

Driving Scotland is a distinctive pleasure. Like a gift, you never knew you needed or even existed. A reward you cannot believe you ever lived without. The roads of Scotland wind through the most diverse and breathtaking bits of the United Kingdom.  Rustic, often single track, these roads allow for the thrill of maneuvering along formidable pavement through some of the most alluring scenery on the planet.

It was in the Scottish Highlands that I first fell in love with Scotland. But long before the NC500. Long before ever driving a single mile of Scotland, I was already smitten. Once I got behind the wheel and experienced actually driving through Scotland, Scotland then enmeshed itself in my heart, and embedded into my soul.

I’ve now driven over 5000 miles of Scotland. It was not enough. A month long, solo trip in Autumn. Almost a month with a friend in Spring. I cannot wait to return and do it all over yet again… and then some.

Driving Scotland in Aberdeenshire 2017 RootlessRoutes
Kildrummy / Alford Scotland Aberdeenshire. Unknown sheep road 2017 Driving Scotland RootlessRoutes

England is beautiful with rolling, winding country roads. Ireland lush and exquisite, with some quite notable roadways. But driving Scotland! Have you seen the Bealach Na Ba?

Driving Scotland is pure ecstasy! If you enjoy driving as much as you enjoy visiting castles, learning of history and taking in scenic views, you simply cannot miss out on the joys of driving Scotland.

Scotland is a Land of Remarkable Variety

Even if you know Scotland, live there or have visited it. You cannot appreciate the varied spectrum of characteristics it contains within its borders, until actually driving Scotland. The NC500 carries you along the outer roads of a magnificent coast, but to drive through the depths of the Scottish Highlands is an entirely different and equally spellbinding adventure.

Across the less lauded, yet beautiful Ayrshire. Up the West Coast or through the stirring forests of Argyle. Over the fantastic Churchill causeways to the divinely anomalous Orkneys. The castle strewn, unfairly disparaged Aberdeenshire with its wildly remote sheep filled roads. The ancient, historically rich roads of the quirky Scottish Borders. Through lovely Perth onto the Old Military roads. There are far too many varied places, roads and routes to mention here.

The melange of elements that make up Scotland, become as vivid as the landscape when driving through it. The spectrum of its variety becomes infinitely striking as you roll along the road. Within the 40 miles between Glasgow and Edinburgh, the glaring differences between the two ancient cities and everything in between is palpable. Inverness, only a two hour straight shot from Glencoe on A82. Yet the unique elements of one is nowhere to be seen in the other.

Sheep on A836 while driving Scotland 2018
Northbound sheep on a Southbound drive. Driving Scotland A836 near Tongue Scottish Highlands 2018

A land both abiding and tentative. The Scottish Highlands offer greatly varied and uniquely surreal vistas, megalithic mountains, rolling plains, beautiful beaches and some of the most exhilarating roads in all of Great Britain. The lush and isolated rural roads of Aberdeenshire and the Scottish Borders are equally unique, challenging and sublime. The diversity of the Scottish landscape can make you feel as if you’ve not only driven into another country, but onto another world. Yet the one absolute when driving Scotland today, are the sheep. They have become as enduring a part of the landscape as  the heather and sedges.

Limits, Expectations & Dangers of Driving Scotland

Driving Scotland is an unique experience. Undeniably beautiful to behold. Oddly barren yet lush. At times otherworldly. The roads are narrow, often one track. Largely barely wide enough for even one vehicle, yet considered for two.

The second you see that Welcome to Scotland sign, traffic seems to collectively accelerate.  The speed limit itself does not change, but if you are not driving 80 MPH in the fast lane on an M road (which is on the right BTW). Get the Hell out of the way. There are those speed cameras, but it doesn’t seem that they are much of a deterrent for Scots.

In most of Scotland, especially in the Scottish Highlands, the police are as few and far between as are the toilets, trash bins and AT&T phone signal. I saw a police car in front of the police station on the A838 at the Kinlochbervie turn off. It was after all a police station. There was also a toilet, a red telephone box, a trash bin and low and behold cell phone signal. I pinched myself. Yep, still alive.

With no police, few guardrails and limited places to pull over, maniacal white commercial vans speed your way undaunted. Daring you to make it to a ‘Passing Place’ quickly or lose  your side view wing mirror. Shit head tourists park in said ‘Passing Places’ to take pictures. Suicidal feral goats jump into the road from out of nowhere, at the crux of a blind turn. Right as you begin to contemplate the meaning of the “Feral Goats” sign.  Filicidal sheep graze their newest lambs at the edge of the narrowest, single track, again often right after a blind turn. And I fucking love it!

Don’t Freak Out While Driving Scotland

This may make some people totally freak out. But I don’t get nervous. Not even remotely anxious. I become exhilarated. My senses, innately focused. Honed in on my surroundings, distinctly alert to my driving and everything around me. I guess you could say, I become with one the road “Ohm” Yeah so… you get my point.

RootlessRoutes A836 Tongue Scotland 2018
A836 Kyle of Tongue. Scotland road trip 2018 Driving Scotland

The speed limit on A roads in Scotland is 60 MPH UOI (unless otherwise indicated). I’m talking about miles per hour, not those measly kilometers to which you Europeans are so accustomed. M class roads ( the major motorways) are 70 MPH  UOI. Most roads do NOT have speed limit signs, because you are meant to know this. B roads vary, but for the most part I found them to be 60 MPH.

Transport Scotland manages 95% of the trunk roads in Scotland. Scotland’s trunk road network is as diverse as is its scenery. The trunk road network is 3,507 km (2,179 miles) long, including slip roads and roundabouts. Ranging from the somewhat intimidating 10 lane M8 in Glasgow’s center, to the scrawniest of single track carriageways in the west Highlands. But there are far more roads there than this. God only knows who maintains them.

Police are few, because they are unneeded. Know the rules of the road and the speed limits. Drive courteously and with confidence and care. The lack of police does not mean it is an idiots free for all like in the US.

More to See & Do When Driving Scotland

To visit Scotland means an unfathomable variety of  places to see and things do. Castles, neolithic and historic ruins, the Scots themselves. A county full of rich history, ancient cities and equally ancient pubs. Vast open vistas, monolithic mountains, fairy pools, flags and glens. Azure water beaches, alien like landscapes, the list goes on and on. When driving Scotland you get to add the many grand roads and routes you can experience to this already jam packed list.

There are so many fantastic road trips and routes to take when driving Scotland. I will mention only a few here and as I post about them, I shall connect the information here as well. Let’s start with the mother of all Scottish roads, the Bealach Na Ba!

The Bealach Na Ba / Pass of the Cattle -Applecross Peninsula – Scottish Highlands

An extremely narrow, crazily winding, one track, mountainous road with near 20% gradients, deadly hairpin turns, blind spots and suicidal sheep. The Bealach Na Ba consists of a “High Road” and a “Low Road” to Applecross. Both are exciting, but obviously, the high road is a bit more fun. I had no choice but to take the low road up, due to the Bealach Beag cycling event. I took the High Road down and then headed over to Shieldaig.

Applecross itself is minute, but stunningly beautiful. As is Shieldaig. The drive was absolutely thrilling. Give yourself at least 2 hours and stop off for a bite in Applecross.

If you are not a confident left side of the road driver, do NOT do it. And if you are driving an RV up there, you are an asshole! The speed limit is 60 MPH and the passing places are NOT for stopping for a view or pictures.

“Narrow road – no more than three sheep abreast”

A836 Tongue – Tain  & Tongue – John O Groat – Highlands

Read about driving the A836 here

Considered the most remote category A road in Scotland. A836 narrows to nearly a bike path at some sections and opens up to a dual carriage roadway in others. It runs east west along the North Coast, as part of the NC500. The remotest part of the A836 runs north south. Straight through the middle of the Highlands, is this far less trafficked and wonderful driving route. You can do them both by taking the A9 to A836 all the way around to A9 again.

A838 Tongue – Durness –  Lairg – Tongue – Highlands

Connecting at A836 at Tongue, this wonderful drive that winds through some extremely challenging mountainous and wonderfully scenic road, then on to the gorgeous beach of Durness. Shortly from there it begins to head more south, through Laird and back to A836 where you can head North back to Tongue or South East to Tain on A836. You pass 5 amazing lochs on the A838. There is a rest stop,  at the turn off to Rhiconich.

A82 Inverness – Urquhart Castle – Loch Ness – Highlands

This 17 mile route runs along Loch Ness, giving you ample opportunity and well marked verges, at which you can stop and view the lovely loch. I believe it to be a dual carriageway the entire way and a fairly easy drive. A good test of your skills and confidence as huge tour buses speed by at what seems only inches to us more accustomed to wider roads.  The route blooms a bright yellow when the Gorse is in bloom and it has just enough winding and bending bits to offer a wee thrill. You drive right through the village of Loch Ness where you can stop for a bite and Urquhart Castle is well worth a visit for absolutely anyone.

A93 / A939 Perth – Ballater – Aberdeen or Grantown on Spey – Aberdeenshire (OLD MILITARY ROAD)

80 miles of sheer ecstacy to drive. I drove part of this route by accident and freaked out a little. Then went back to do the entire thing. My exaltations on the GoPro are hysterical. An easier, but thrilling ride on a well maintained road

Pick up A93 at Perth and head northeast for Braemer. At Bridge of Cally, your heart will start to race as the road rises. I believe this is where I exclaim to an empty car, “are you f***ing kidding me?” Once past Glenshee Ski Station, it is a jaw dropping ride towards Braemar. Check your fuel, use the toilet now, there isn’t a damned thing around until the next Ski Station at best.

You have a choice at Braemar to head to Aberdeen, which is a nice ride and driving through the rural sheep roads of Aberdeenshire is highly recommended.  Or turn north on A939 and head for Moray. If you follow the A939 and signs to Grantown-on-Spey, the drive becomes even more thrilling. The drop once past the ski station at Lecht is a thrill for cyclists, motorbikers and autos alike. (and for suicidal sheep as shown in the video). Once you think it is over as the scenery begins to dull, there is a short but spectacular drive onto Grantown-on-Spey.

A961 – St Margarets Hope – Churchill Causeways – Kirkwall – Orkney

I landed on Orkney in the wake of hurricane Maria, completely unprepared and ignorant of the Churchill Causeways. This series of four causeways link the mainland to the smaller islands. Built in the 1940s, primarily as naval defences, they now connect A961 to Kirkwall (where I stayed) and Burwick.

I braved the insanely rough seas with my trusty Mitsubishi Outlander Hybrid on the ferry from Scrabster to St Margarets Hope.  The causeway was insane. Huge waves slammed into the car so hard it pushed it from its lane. Through the rain, waves, mist and a wee bit of hysteria, I saw sunken ships within the wake. Of course my GoPro had just timed out.

RootlessRoutes 2017 photo courtesy of Ian Balcomb
How the barriers looked on my first  crossing it. BBC photo by Ian Balcomb

Going back to do it again once I had checked in I found that the weather had greatly calmed. Later I was told the waves often bring rocks with them that dent cars and break windows. Regardless, driving the mainland of Orkney is well worth the drive. I regret having only three days there. I drove every main road and road in between that I could find.

Aberdeenshire The Castle Circle

Rural unmapped farm roads with blind entrances, fearless sheep, gorse so high you cannot see around the bend and in the east, the unexpected view of a red ferrari in the rearview easily exceeding 100 MPH. Please check back for this thorough route. I will attach it here once complete.

A836 Tongue to Tain | Scotland Road Trip | Scottish Highlands

2018 RootlessRoutes A836 Scotland road trip Scottish Highlands

The A836 in the Scottish Highlands. Made up of steep gradients and sharp turns, that wind through a bleakly stunning and starkly remote landscape. One of Scotland’s most stunning drives, the A836 is a distinctly Highland route. An awe inspiring journey, this “must do” Scotland road trip culminates and ends within the farthest reaches of the Scottish Highlands. It is the northernmost A-class road on mainland Great Britain. Truly off the beaten path!

A formidable drive, the A836 consists of 122 miles of variable types of roadway. The mainly coastal route runs 58 East West miles along the North Coast from John O’Groats to Tongue, making up part of the NC500. The other 64 miles run North to South-ish from Tongue to Tain. You cannot get much further off the beaten path, than driving the Tongue to Tain section of the A836, unless going off road. This isolated length of stimulating road, cuts through some of the most secluded and foreboding bits of the Scottish Highlands, offering one Hell of a ride.

RootlessRoutes A836 Tongue Scotland 2018
A836 Kyle of Tongue. Scotland road trip 2018 The Scottish Highlands

If the A836 is so remote, why drive it?

If you read my blog or know anything about me, I am driven. Seriously driven by my passions. One of my favourite things to do (obviously) is to travel. Right close to travel is my love for driving (or riding, but that’s another post). If something is going on over a thousand miles away. I’m just as happy to hop into my car and drive to it than to fly (although I quite enjoy flying too).

A Scotland road trip, is a challenge for the driver. Regardless of which side of the road to which you are accustomed. The excitement of driving 60 MPH, on an unfamiliar (for me) side of the road, on a curvy, hilly, crazy narrow, one track sounds spectacular to me. Add up all of that wonder, put it in Scotland and I’m in. I am so very very in! Are you?

A836 Scotland road trip RootlessRoutes 2018
There are a few trees in the Scottish Highlands. Section of the A836 in Lairg. BTW that is a 2 way road.

Drive the Scottish Highlands

“Life is a journey”

What an utter load of crap. Why people find this saying so meaningful when on literal terms, it means nothing at all, is beyond me. Life is a journey! Duh! Thats a definition, not some deep and meaningful metaphor.

 “Life is a journey, not a destination.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson never said or wrote that. It was some preacher in the 1920s. Of course Emerson didn’t, it’s insipid. The only end destination we all share is death. If your journey is focused on getting to your destination, then… I don’t know. Maybe you’re reading this blog for a greater reason than you realized.  Perhaps it’s time to experience “the journey” with more intensity, so you can stop worrying so much about the destination. Why don’t you start by taking your first Scotland road trip?

“To finish the moment, to find the journey’s end in every step of the road, to live the greatest number of good hours, is wisdom.”

That’s what Emerson did write. It’s neither the journey nor the destination. It’s the drive… it’s reveling in the damned drive. Enjoying the shit around you, or if you are not, finding the things that bring you joy  and doing them.

How to get to the A836

From the NC500

If already driving the NC500, you can hit the A836 from various locations. A838 heads East at Durness and turns into A836 at Tongue, heading east to John O’ Groats. If on this route, once you cross that awesome bridge that takes you over the Kyle of Tongue, follow the signs to head South on A836 at Tongue.

The route in total on the A836 from tongue to Tain is about 1 hour 35 minutes, without stops. Follow the route all the way over the Bonar Bridge. A836 will end at just about Tain. From there you can either return on the A836 , or take A9 North to hit the East West part of A836. A9 turns a bit at Latheron and meets with the A836 road at Thurso. Here you can either head west back towards Tongue or East towards John O’Groats. You can also take the A9 to A99 which will land you at John O’Groats.

From Inverness

The drive along A9 from Inverness to A836 is also a commendable Scotland road trip. If you are tentative about driving in Scotland, it is a good route on which to get your ‘feet wet’. It isn’t as winding as some but it still can be fast and a busy route. The roadway itself is wider, well marked and I’m pretty sure none of it is single track. It even has dual carriageway sections. Take A82 to A9. Cross the Moray Firth, then the Cromarty Firth then follow the signs for for the A836 that appear just around Tain. This route, without stops takes about 2 and 1/2 hours.

From Ullapool or Skye

Follow the NC500 Instructions

From Edinburgh

Take the A9 to Inverness. It’s a Hell of a drive. Far more challenging than the A836. I shall write about it soon. See the Inverness route for further instructions

I will write about the NC500 portion of the A836 soon. It is also a lovely drive, remote but not as remote as the tongue to Tain portion. Challenging, yet again, not quite as challenging as the other. It is far my picturesque.

 

The Fairy Glen of Skye Scottish Highlands Scotland’s North Coast

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View from Castle Ewen of The Fairy Glen below

Deep in the farthest reaches of the Scottish Highlands. Tucked between the gold, amber and brown monolithic peaks of t-Eilean Sgitheanach. Across winding, single track, sheep filled roads. There is a land that the Fae call home.

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A fairy trail below Castle Ewen

The Fairy Glen

Where eerily ridged and ragged, irregularly shaped hills and dales are flocked by mossy green vegetation. An alien world, amongst an already seemingly alien background of monochromatic tones and craggy mountains.

There it is, blanketed in a lush and vivid velvet verdancy. Castle Ewen calls to you, so you begin to climb. You wander through the worn paths of those that graced this mystical expanse before you.

Castle Ewen and the highest peak in the Fairy Glen

Time stands still, sheep bah and graze. New lambs bleat, suckle and frolic in the sun. As you  climb you periodically gaze up at the flat topped peak, drawn.

At certain angles the tower above appears to be man made (Fae made?) as do the miniature rock fronted burrows below (Fae den?).  As a result of the scenery, atmosphere or perhaps something even less tangible, you get a sense of magic.

The hills are steep but not too daunting. You stop to catch your breath. A calm falls upon you. A cool wind kisses your cheek and there you are at the apogee of The Fairy Glen.

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The Ferry Glen from above

Gazing out across the greenery, to the brown and golden ranges that surround you. Waterfalls, pastures, bluffs, lochs and roadways are all in view. Yet none of what you see beyond the point at which you stand is in any way as green or as lush.

The Fairy Glen Skye
View of distant waterfalls from the Fairy Glen

 

 

The Fairies of the World

There are so many things one could say about the Fairy Glen. If only one could find the words. So easy tis it, imagine magical, delicately winged creatures living here. Like “The Glen” in Ireland, it is simply surreal.

As you stand there, communing with whatever it is that seemingly created this magical place, it is hard not to believe that if the Fae lived anywhere, this would be a place of choice.

Each little  mound, sculpted by their wee fairy hands and tamped down by their wee fairy feet. Every rock flown by iridescent wings and tapped into place with fairy spit and fairy dust.

It takes little imagination to know this place as The Fairy Glen.

Geological anomaly, The Fairy Glen
A Fairy Glen or a geological anomaly

Science? Magic? Or a Little Bit of Both

In the non magical world, The Fairy Glen is a geological anomaly. An ancient landslip, that landed in just the right location to create a semi micro climate, allowed simple mosses, grasses and lichen to flourish and grow on the rock. As the plants broke down and rock eroded, the rocky base became rich with fertile soil, encouraging a normally much more hostile environment. Years of sheep poop likely helped too.

Yet even though the rational mind knows the scientific rationale behind the flourishing surroundings on which you stand. It remains difficult not to feel a sense of the unreal and revel in the magic of such an pleasingly atmospheric quarter.

Directions to The Fairy Glen:

The Fairy Glen is located in the North West of the Isle of Skye. Sadly, it is not as obscure as it was once, so to get there you can simply enter it into your GPS as The Fairy Glen.

It will likely take less than an hour to get there from anywhere on the Island of Skye by automobile.

Take A87, which at one point turns into Dunvegan Rd (but also remains A87). Just follow it around until you see the sign for the Fairy Glen. You will see cars parked about 1/2 mile before the actual location, but I was able to park on a dirt patch directly in front of the sight.

Please PLEASE do NOT park in any passing places. It is illegal, dangerous and just plane rude. Do not park in a way that obstructs the road, obvious sheep crossings, or that in any way negatively impacts the locals or the environment.

To Know When Visiting The Fairy Glen:

There is no admission fee or attendants there. There are no toilets or parking specifically for The Fairy Glen. It still can get very crowded. Even tour buses show up there.

There is really no need for a walking map once there, but here is  a link nevertheless.  If you get turned around, just a small trek up one of the hills will allow you a view to anywhere you need to go. It is easy to traverse the area by meandering. Some may find it difficult to get to the top, but that is ok, there are plenty places to walk that are only mildly hilly. It is worth the viewing, even if you do not intend to, or cannot walk around.

I think kids would enjoy it there just as much as adults.

Although you could essentially walk for miles around The Fairy Glen, you likely could walk around, climb and photograph within an hours time. I personally spent 2 hours there and enjoyed it.

I suggest you wear hiking shoes if you have them, it can get pretty muddy.

A rain jacket is also suggested.

Photography Advice for The Fairy Glen:

When on the road facing the glen, there is a hill behind you. This hill is an excellent location for snapping shots, as is the top of the glen itself atop Castle Ewen.

Good to Note:

Be careful that your GPS does not confuse The Fairy Glen in Uig with the Fairy Pools in Glen Brittle (also on Skye), nor the Fairy Glen Park in Wigan, or The Fairy Glen Hotel in Penmaenmawr.

Other places to visit when in the area Dunvegan Castle and the Fairy Pools.

AirBnB Benefits All Especially The Solo Traveler

Gorgeous kitchen of my AirBnB in Glasgow

As is obvious, I am an avid solo traveler. Although my posts are currently focused on my most recent trip to the U.K., I have traveled much more than that, long before there was AirBnB or blogs for that matter.

Arnisdale House, Scotland AirBnB Scottish High;lands

Having traveled for most of my life, in looking back through my past adventures, perhaps I should have been much more cautious. But hey, I was young, fearless and determined. Often youth is a time less focused on concerns for welfare.

Now in my midlife, I have a greater realization of the potential hazards around me. I do not tend to allow such dangers to greatly sway or hinder my passions, either in life or travel. Yet today, I am much more cognizant of potential issues. AirBnB has become a bit of a safety net for me in that respect.

Solo Traveler Advantages of AirBnB

There are a lot of advantages to AirBnB and similar sites and apps, that help support ones desire to travel. I will share some of those advantages here, but one in particular stands out to me.

Gorgeous kitchen of my AirBnB in Glasgow
Gorgeous kitchen of my AirBnB in Glasgow

Retrospectively I realize, I’ve either been extremely lucky (since I certainly was far from cautious) or perhaps the world is just a safer place than many people think. I’ve gotten into strangers cars. Slept on their couches, floors and beds. I have walked through dangerous neighborhoods like Compton, where I clearly stood out. But in all of those years traveling alone, I never thought about who would have noticed if I’d gone missing?

CBGBs not an AirBnB
CBGBs not an AirBnB

Hell, at 13 I would walk from Grand Central Station to CBGBs and back, in the wee hours of the night / morning. That NYC was a far different place than it is today. I’d sneak out the window and take the train into NYC. Essentially, no one would know where I went or that I’d gone missing until morning.

Road to Arnisdale House AirBnB
Road to Arnisdale House AirBnB Arnisdale Scotland Scottish Highlands

So what’s this all about you ask? Well, it is about AirBnB and similar types of hotel disruptive apps. It is how AirBnB increased my sense of safety when traveling alone simply by knowing there was someone at the other end expecting me.

Utilizing AirBnB has saved me a shitload of money for more reasons than you may think. But it’s sheer existence has changed the way I travel. AirBnB quite literally opened up a new world to me, within the world, I thought I already knew so very well.

AirBnB cottage. Dublin
AirBnB Cottage, Dublin Ireland. Superb! But no coffee maker.

The Power of Alternatives

When AirBnB started, it was the idea of a place for guests to stay that was cheap and safe, yet also provided extra income for those willing to host with very little costs or middle men, so to speak.

Such a perfect AirBnB in Glasgow. I’m booking it again!
Gorgeous Glasgow AirBnB. The host, delightful

Like other disruptive services, AirBnB opened a up a window of opportunity for those looking for alternative ways to make some money. It also opened up a new world to both the guests and the hosts. Today, AirBnB can be a cash cow for many. Although the prices are at times like that of hotels, they still offer unique benefits that seem to help one save quite a few bucks.

View from AirBnB Miramare, Agerola Italy
View from Miramare AirBnB Agerola Italy

With me, traveling on my own often means driving. Driving for weeks and months at a time. Therefor having someone on the other end expecting me is a huge plus.

A hotel isn’t going to freak out if I don’t show (for the most part). If the host of the AirBnB I book does not intend to be there, I give them specific instructions to expect me to ping them upon arrival. If I don’t contact them in a reasonable amount of time, they are to contact me.

Arnisdale, Scotland AirBnB
AirBnB bedroom in Arnisdale. The wine was a nice touch too!

To think of me meandering through Bali, at 17… on my own. No one even knew I was there. I could have vanished into thin air and it would have taken months to track me down. So this is one really big perk of AirBnB. On top of this unintentional perk of AirBnB, there are so many other pluses in utilizing them and similar sights, over hotels, motels and hostels.

Wonderful kitchen. Arnisdale Scotland AirBnB
Fantastic kitchen Arnisdale House, AirBnB. Scotland

Home Cooked Meals & Traveling with Pets

Some of the more pragmatic perks involved in utilizing AirBnB, is the option of cooking for yourself or ‘self catering’ as it is more commonly referred to overseas. Sure you can still eat out, but you’re not forced to eat out at every meal.

Doo the cat. AirBnB Chapel hill North Carolina
Chapel Hill North Carolina, Doo the cat enjoys the AirBnB

This not only saves you money, but offers more healthy options and more control of your calorie intake. It also lets you eat when you want. Make snacks to take with you or sandwiches for picnics, you get the gist.

When traveling with babies or pets, I consider this an ideal situation. Yes many AirBnBs allow pets. Some are even ok with babies.

Full Scottish Breakfast AirBnB Inverness
Full Scottish breakfast. AirBnB Inverness

It’s good to keep in mind that although self catering is a huge AirBnB perk (when it is offered), that it does not always mean full use of the kitchen, especially outside of the US. I do not believe AirBnB has stringent criteria for what this means.

It also doesn’t always mean there is a stove. Some may not have an oven. It could mean access to a microwave or even only a fridge. I searched AirBnB for specific criteria and couldn’t find anything. Because of this, it is best to check and not to assume that you have access to an entire kitchen. Also check if you might be sharing said kitchen.

AirBnB Arnisdale Scotland. Real coffee!
Real coffee thank God at Arnisdale House AirBnB

What to Know When Booking an AirBnB

I suggest you ask if they have a can opener (especially if traveling with pets) or a coffee maker. If you’re like me and going to need them. Coffee often means that shit some people consider to be coffee called Nescafé, especially outside of the US.

Shockingly, in the U.K., Ireland, and similar places abroad… many people do not have coffee makers, or even French presses for that matter. The inhumanity! It is all about the tea.

Groceries. Dublin, Ireland AirBnB
Groceries. Dublin, Ireland AirBnB

Before you go, do make sure there is access to food either already there or at a place to which you can get. Some AirBnB locations can be pretty darned remote. Since I mostly drive, I can pick up groceries for remote areas. If you’re in a remote area with no transport and the kitchen is empty, it’s sort of redundant.

Scottish breakfast. AirBnB Kirkwall Scotland
True Scottish breaky Kirkwall AirBnB. Kept me going all day!

Complimentary breakfast is a great AirBnB perk, but not all comp breakfasts are created equal. In some places, like Scotland, a good Scottish breakfast can go a long long way. Seriously, a true Scottish breakfast will keep you going well to tea (dinner) time and the chance to interact with others is most often a plus.

But breakfast to some is tea and yogurt. Which is fine, but it will less likely tide you over to dinner. Also, a plus is when along with breakfast, comes conversation with other guests or your hosts. It’s an added bonus for a solo traveler like me.

Breakfast by AirBnB host day 2 Edinburgh. Delish!
Breakfast by AirBnB host day 2 Edinburgh. Delish! Scottish oatmeal

Do make sure if you’re expecting a comp breakfast, that they can meet your dietary needs. In Italy I was once offered only custard, donuts and tea for breakfast. I ate an apple and had an early lunch. When asked if they could provide alternatives like oatmeal, eggs and fruit… they happily obliged the next day.

Since I generally walk many miles in a day, covering most cities on foot, so a hearty meal makes it easy to keep going without being focused on my next meal.

A Place to Park & Advice From Locals

Free parking is a fantastic AirBnB bonus, if you’re a driver like me. When a staying in a major city, a promised parking spot can save you a ton of money and aggravation. Downtowns New York City, London, San Francisco, Boston, Paris etc… can be an outrageous expense for parking.

In Florence and Rome car break ins are rampant and finding any parking can be an absolute nightmare. Oh, and try parallel parking with 2 inches of space in front and back while newly driving on a different side.

London parking in front of AirBnB
Look at that parking job in front of London AirBnB

One of my favorite perks of AirBnB is the opportunity to get a true locals advice on where to go, what to do, where to eat and when.

Roseleaf in Edinburgh. Suggested by AirBnB host
Roseleaf in Edinburgh. Fantastic pub, suggested by my AirBnB host. Kedgeree, yum!

Without AirBnB I would have never found the Roseleaf in Edinburgh. I’d have never gone to Gellions in Inverness, I’d never have forgone driving into Dublin’s city center and taken LUAS instead. And I’d never have driven out to Brough Birsay on the Orkneys (one of the best parts of that fantastic journey)

Washing Machine AirBnB Durness Scotland
Durness Scotland AirBnB Washing machine! Yay!

There’s No PLace Like Home / But AirBnB Can Come Close

OMG! I almost forgot. A washing machine. After 3 weeks on the road, I was glad to see this washing machine in Durness. So glad, I almost kissed it. (I actually may have).

It’s crazy expensive to have your knickers washed at a hotel and time consuming in a laundromat. (although it’s a great way to meet the locals). Since I carry only a backpack, I often must rinse my clothes in the sink. To actually wash them? Joy of joys.

Not so important to me is the TV and cable access that many AirBnB provides, even in remote locations lacking much infrastructure. But for me the access to decent Wi-Fi, so I can post, or download pics or video is a huge bonus.

Bathroom Glasgow AirBnB
Glasgow AirBnB bath!

Lastly, being able to plunk down on a couch in your jammies with a glass of wine is a true pleasure. Doing so after a nice hot bath, with your clothes churning in the wash even better. Ultimately having all of that while nibbling on foods you enjoy in a place that feels like home, makes all of the difference in the world on a long excursion.

AirBnB & Extended Stays

Staying at an AirBnB for at least a week. Getting to know the neighbors or if in a remote area, the camels or sheep. Having time to yourself in your own space, is such a different experience than just “staying” somewhere, because you become part of the community instead of just observing it. For me it’s the best addition to my traveling life that has occurred beyond the advent of GPS.

Oh and I must admit, I too love a good stay in a nice hotel. Fine food, lots of catering to your needs. I am all up for that. But for me, that’s vacation, not travel. I can go anywhere and obtain fine service in a fine hotel. Travel to me is melding into your environment and becoming as much a part of it as you can. There certainly are benefits to all sort of travel and quite frankly, I’ll take any sort of travel, pretty much to anywhere over almost anything else.

Killdrummy Castle Hotel not an AirBnB but amazing
Kildrummy Castle Hotel aka Kildrummy Park Castle Hotel. Picture by Elizabeth Whitener, Aberdeenshire Scotland 2017

Unexpected Benefits of AirBnB

A really unexpected perk of AirBnB has been the locations. Although I have stayed in some amazing places such as Miramare (which is an actual BnB, in Agerola Italy). The neo gothic half ruin in which I stayed in Fiesole Italy (sadly no longer available) or in Arnisdale Scotland (I will return there) were just as magical as the journey itself.

These places took me to places to which I never would have been if not searching out places on AirBnB. My stays there were as wonderful as the journey that brought me to them.

Fiesole AirBnB
Gothic Revival half ruined estate Fiesole Italy AirBnB

Lastly, the enduring friendships, interesting people, the exceptional conversations I have had while staying in AirBnBs have added to my travels so significantly, it is hard for me to imagine traveling without it.