Though we travel a heck of a lot, what has made our expat experience so wonderful and our transition to living in London so easy are the friendships that anchor us here. We are so incredibly lucky to have met many wonderful people in London, and our main crew are really such good ones. When our friends suggested we visit the Scottish Highlands for a weekend in February, our crew jumped at the chance, despite the potential for freezing weather.
We all had previously travelled to Mallorca together (which was awesome and you can read about that here or peep another one of our fun outings, GoBoating on Regents Canal, here), so we knew we traveled well together. Throw in some winter weather, a nine passenger van, a night spent sleeping on a train and our trusty mascot, Giggles the dog, and this was going to be a very different trip than our Mallorca holiday. A true adventure!
Exploring the Scottish Highlands
Getting There | Do | Stay | Eat & Drink
Getting To the Scottish Highlands on the Caledonian Sleeper
Our adventure started off, well, adventurous. Dressed in full Gatsby attire, our crew of eight humans and one sweet pup boarded the 9:00pm Caledonian Sleeper train to Inverness at Euston.
Andrew came through in the clutch and snagged us two couches in the dining car to start off our journey. We posted up there for some bubbles, Scotch and surprisingly good train food. We got some odd looks and comments from our fellow travelers, but, hey, we looked fabulous!
If you take the Caledonian Sleeper and want to eat on the train, get to the dining car early to ensure you get a seat and order food early so you can be sure to get what you want from the menu. I got the salmon curry which was delightful! The sleeper bunks are tiny, so if you want some space to lounge before going to sleep, the dining car is basically your only option.
A peek at what the rooms look like!
The name Caledonian Sleeper might be a little bit of a misnomer because you don’t get all that much sleep on a train. It is loud and it moves, the train makes stops through the night and even splits at one point. That said, I did sleep better than I thought I would. There was something nice about being rocked to sleep on the train, but we came prepared with eye masks, ear plugs and Bach Rescue Night. I would recommend all travelers do the same.
It was amazing to wake up the next morning and look out the window to see the landscape had dramatically changed. The Highlands are beautiful.
To get to Ullapool from Inverness, your best option is to rent a car. With a car, you can explore the beautiful Highlands!
On our way home, we flew from Inverness to Gatwick on EasyJet. Our Sunday evening flights were to the tune of £9 per person. Less exciting than our Caledonian Sleeper adventure, but it got us home much faster. The flight is about an hour and half.
We wasted no time setting off for adventure after getting off the train. After a quick stop in Inverness, we set out for Ullapool, with a couple of fun stops along the way.
Glen Ord Distillery Tour
On the way from Inverness to Ullapool is a whisky distillery. Though it was fairly early in the morning, we stopped off to tour Glen Ord Distillery and learn more about how Scottish whisky is made.
Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take photos on the tour. It was pretty neat! We learned about the distillation process and the ingredients used to produce their whisky. The distillery popped up on this spot because of the good conditions for growing barley and the access to fresh spring water.
At the end of the tour we got to try three whiskys, which were pretty good! I’m not much of a whisky fan, but I did enjoy getting to try some after learning about them. I was impressed with myself that I could taste the difference between the ones aged in bourbon vs. sherry barrels!
Climb Stac Pollaidh
At the recommendation of our B&B host, we ventured to Stac Pollaidh for a nice Saturday afternoon walk.
What we didn’t realize was that Stac Pollaidh is actually a bit of a mountain and there are paths that lead to the top. We somehow got on one of those and not the circular path around it.
I don’t think any of us were expecting to climb a mountain that weekend, but we were warriors and we made it to the top despite snowy patches, strong winds and being well underdressed for such a feat.
The circular is supposed to be way less intense and a lovely walk that our waitress that evening informed “even children do.”
It was amazing to take in the changing views as we climbed to the top. Definitely a memorable experience and despite all our hike training, I was sore the next day!
We thought the weather changed quickly in London. Now we know it is nothing compared to northern Scotland! We watched several rainstorms roll in over and around us during the hike. Apparently soon after we left Ullapool, there was a nasty hailstorm there. It is a trip!
Watch the Sunset Over Achmelvich Beach
Our trusty tour guide for the weekend took us to this stunning beach and, as planned, we made it just in time for sunset.
He was expecting that we could watch the sunset over Achmelvich Beach itself, as he had done this before, but in winter the sunset over nearby rocks. Nature is crazy!
It was a beautiful sunset and a fun memory shared with friends. Attempts to go for a swim in the ocean on this glorious evening were foiled by the incredibly cold water. Next time!
Walk the Jetty in Ullapool
It’s not a very long walk, but it is beautiful.
So nice, we walked it twice! Ullapool is an adorable little town.
Some of the best moments of our trip, surprisingly, were in our nine passenger van as we took to the winding roads of the Highlands to explore the natural beauty of this area. It is stunning
Our friends had stayed in Ullapool before at the lovely Westlea Guest House and knew it would be perfect for our group. It was wonderful. Plenty of room to hang out, gorgeous rooms to stay in, a record player, a fire – it was perfect for our little group. Our hosts, Terry and Shirley, were so welcoming and had many suggestions for how to make the most of our stay.
It would be remiss of me to not address the breakfast at a bed and breakfast! The full Scottish was a delicious delight
Where to Eat & Drink in the Scottish Highlands
Rendezvous Cafe, Inverness
Fresh from the overnight sleeper train, we had a fabulous breakfast at the Rendezvous Cafe.
This cute diner serves up yummy Scottish breakfasts, and even does gluten-free! The coffee there was fabulous and much needed after the sleeper train.
Fishy Friday at The Arch Inn, Ullapool
We had originally planned to go to The Arch Inn for dinner on Saturday night, but our B&B hosts told us about “Fishy Friday.” The Arch Inn offers fish and chips for £7.50 on Fridays. It sounded like the place to be on a Friday night in Ullapool, so we headed there for a nice dinner.
Ceilidh Place, Ullapool
The standout meal of the trip was our delicious dinner at Ceilidh Place. The ambiance was so cozy and the meal was very delicious. The haddock chowder is a must!
The Castle Tavern, Inverness
The final meal of the trip was at the adorable Castle Tavern in Inverness. Nothing like a Sunday pub dinner to close out a fabulous UK weekend.
Basic Tips for the Scottish Highlands, Caledonian Sleeper and Ullapool
- Bring ear plugs, an eye mask and some sort of sleep aid on the Caledonian Sleeper – you’ll need them!
- If you are traveling with another person or your partner, the Two Together Railcard will save you a bunch of money on the Calendonian Sleeper fare!
- If you don’t want to stay in your Caledonian Sleeper bunk the whole ride, get to the dining car early in the evening. It fills up.
- To really see the Highlands, you need to rent a car.
- Since Scotland is part of the UK, you don’t have to go through customs when arriving back in London via plane.
- If you’re in Ullapool on a Friday night, you’ve got to check out Fishy Friday at The Arch Inn!
- Glen Ord takes care of your designated driver after the tour – they give you a little pouch and pour your tastings into bottles to go.