Winter magic in the Scottish Highlands

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.

Scottish Highlands

Scottish Highlands

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

We stayed at the locally-owned Heathmount Hotel. With its modern, cozy rooms and a friendly downstairs bar that seemed to be a local favorite watering hole judging by the amount on people in there soon after 7pm, it was an enjoyable place to spend a night in Inverness.
Scottish Highlands
That you could have such a well-appointed and self-sufficient city amidst the wild landscapes of the Highlands is a bit mind-blowing to me. But there it was, on the banks of the River Ness with restaurants, bars and shopping, all within walking distance.
Scottish Highlands
We spent the afternoon walking around quaint Inverness city center, slowing down and enjoying the few glimpses of the sun we got during the day. Walk along the banks far enough, passing the Inverness Castle on your left, and you will reach the more secluded parts. Remnants of fall were still around us in the colors of the leaves – delicate oranges, mellow browns and wise yellows.
Scottish Highlands
Dinner and drinks were easy to find wandering about town. Hootananny is famous for live music but we stumbled upon a wee upstairs bar called Market Bar with an awesome band and fun-loving crowd.

Ramble through the Highlands

Scottish Highlands

The next morning, we rented a car to meander through the Highlands, all the way down to Glasgow. Hot tip on renting a car for just £1 below! The thing about exploring the Scottish Highlands in the winter is that it is just too bone-chilling cold to spend much time outside. And luckily the drive alone is stunning enough to keep you occupied. After grabbing a filling breakfast and a pot of coffee at Heathmount Hotel, we started just before daybreak so we could get a head start. Check out what time sunrise is so you can catch it right outside Inverness right by Loch Ness. We stopped by the famed water body,
home to mystical Nessie, as our first spot for some astounding views and photos.
Did you know? Loch is the Scottish Gaelic word for lake.

Scottish Highlands

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.

Scottish Highlands

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.

Scottish Highlands

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!

Scottish Highlands

Make a pit stop in Glenfinnan

Scottish Highlands
As a Harry Potter nerd, I was very keen to stop by the Glenfinnan Viaduct, the iconic tracks of the Hogwarts Express as seen in the movies. We missed the actual Jacobite steam train that gives the photo op because we were just too enamored by the drive along the way, but we decided to stop by Glenfinnan regardless. Even if you are not a Harry Potter fan, this hamlet on the shores of Loch Shiel is worth a visit for its beauty and a slice of history. The Glenfinnan monument looming high in front of the loch is a tribute to those who fought in Jacobite Risings.
Scottish Highlands

Grab lunch in Fort William

Scottish Highlands
We stopped by The Grog & Gruel in Fort Williams for a hearty lunch of burger and fries (they had a veggie burger!) and washed it down with a local ale. After lunch, we knew we only had a couple more hours of light so we hurried back on our way. Some of the most stunning scenes were seen in the glow of the setting sun. Streaks of yellows, oranges, pinks mingled with the gray of the clouds illuminating the landscapes one last time before the sun wrapped up its workday. Pretty soon after, the last remaining light left us and we were plunged into silent darkness, giddy from all the beauty we had borne witness to that day.
Scottish Highlands
Scottish Highlands

Get to Glasgow right after sunset

We reached Glasgow just after sunset and checked into the Grand Central Hotel, a historic hotel located inside the Glasgow train station. My favorite part of it was the Gatsby-esque Champagne bar where you could have cocktails with a view of the station below milling with people. Take your pick from the restaurants within walking distance of the hotel and end the night listening to live music at shabby-chic The Butterfly and the Pig.
And there it is, a perfect cap to our epic jaunt through the wintery magic of the Scottish Highlands. At the end of it the journey, I felt like I had just passed through a storybook that day, and that maybe the mountains weren’t as still as I had thought. Maybe they whispered stories, ones that weren’t fathomable by humans. Maybe everything around us had been in on the secret and we were just passing by clueless.

Scottish Highlands

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.

What to wear: I picked up a much-needed cozy winter coat you see pictured in most of my photos at a vintage shop in Edinburgh, W. Armstrong & Son, a must-visit in Edinburgh! Unlike my coat situation, I did plan ahead with my shoes. I knew I would need something warm and waterproof. Knowing that I wouldn’t use it too much after this trip, I didn’t want to shell out the big bucks. These super affordable boots from Amazon totally did the trick.As always, the key to dealing with the cold is to dress in lots of layers! A hat (or many hats) are also vital!
Blog Comments

Great post!! I love your writing style. You are so brave to do Scotland in winter!! Haha… but those white landscape pictures with the sunset was just gorgeous!! 🙂
J xx

Thanks for stopping up Janey! Haha it definitely was an adventure doing Scotland in the winter but as you said, the pictures were so worth it! Have you been to Scotland before?

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