I am a strong believer in the power of words. There are, however, some places in this world that words can’t do justice to. Try as I might, and I do still believe in trying, I can’t describe the magnitude of the beauty of the Scottish Highlands with just words. I am grateful that my husband is more adept with the camera than I am, and captured some stunning pictures in case my words fall short.
The clouds hung heavy over the mountains bearded in gray and white snow – stoic, grave. I imagined glimmers of jade life beneath the gray and white; of seasons come and gone that nurtured that jade but finally gave way to the weight of the snowy blanket. As if to stay relevant, the sun fought through the leaden clouds painting wisps of translucent, pearly yellow onto the sky.
The inky asphalt roads dissected the mountains, majestic in their own way, in their symmetry, in their presence at all in this vast expanse of uninhabited nature. It is remarkable really; that man pierced through these mountains and valleys built over thousands of years, to pave his own way through it. That it could be effortless for me to be there in person to marvel at these landscapes, breathing in the crisp silence in the glacial air. We were in motion but the mountains were laying still under their snowy blanket. They were resting before life danced on their laps again in the spring. Until then, they were blank white canvases; we were in their presence but they didn’t register us. These mountains didn’t exist for us, they existed beyond us, uncaring of our eyes and judgment.
Visiting the Highlands in the winter is not for the faint-hearted and while they are sublime any time of the year, the winter renders them even more otherworldly. Or maybe I just had Harry Potter on my mind fresh out of swimming in J.K. Rowling’s world in Edinburgh. We made the Scottish Highlands part of our trip to the United Kingdom in Dec 2017, a perfect end to a year of captivating travel. We started off in Edinburgh where we enjoyed the festive Christmas markets, then headed up to the Highlands before making our way down to Glasgow for a night.
Come along as I take you through the Highlands resplendent in their wintery magic.
Take the train up to Inverness from Edinburgh
The capital city of the Highlands is a good place to situate yourself to get enough of a taste of it to leave you wanting more, and is easily accessible from both Edinburgh and Glasgow. We were undecided about whether it would be better to take the rail or drive, so we opted to do both, one for each leg. We took the train from Edinburgh’s Waverly station up to the Inverness train station, a pleasant, relaxing four-hour journey.
There is something about taking the train that is just so indulgent. All you have to do it look out of the window, sitting comfortably in your seat as the movie of the Highlands whizzes by you.
If you take one of the first trains out of Edinburgh in the morning, you will make it in time to spend a lovely afternoon in Inverness, and explore this graceful city.
Relax in Inverness
Ramble through the Highlands
Did you know? Loch is the Scottish Gaelic word for lake.
We didn’t make a whole lot of planned stops along the way so we could make the most of the few hours of daylight during our drive. But we ended up making a lot of unplanned stops because the panoramas were just too breathtaking not to. In fact, that’s the great part of driving; you can explore at your own leisure and stop and go as you please.
We passed vast lochs, monumental mountains, podgy sheep, and lofty trees dressed in their winter whites; each vista more stunning than the one before. At certain times during the drive, we were the only people as far as the eyes could see. It was quite euphoric to witness such natural majesty uninterrupted. I imagined the Highlands would be quite spectacular any other season, but here in the magic of winter, it was transcendent yet solemn in its beauty.
Of course, it was cold, very cold. The kind that took all about 5 seconds to seep into the inside of your bones. As we stopped by yet another bewitching view we knew we needed to capture on film to believe that we saw later, we would sidle the car up to the side of the road, run out to snap a frame and then rush back into the car and blast the heater. We had it down to a routine after the third stop!
Make a pit stop in Glenfinnan
Grab lunch in Fort William
Get to Glasgow right after sunset
Some more details to help you plan your own trip…
How to get around: You can rent a car for just £1 through Europcar UK. What’s the catch? Actually, nothing. The way it works is that car rental companies sometimes need people to drive a car down for its next rental and often times it’s most economical to have someone drive it who needs to go in that direction anyway. So yes, there really are no strings attached. We did opt for the additional car insurance which still brought up our grand total to £26. #worthit
Scott rail tickets were easy enough to book in person in Edinburgh. Just show up at the station the day before you want to leave and you will be just fine!
Where to stay: I booked The Heathmount Hotel through Booking.com and found a great deal. We found that a lot of the Airbnbs we were looking at in the area were more expensive than hotels.