It was my birthday just a few weeks ago. A “big” one. One I called my thirty six plus four, not because I don’t want to say I’m forty but because I didn’t particularly want a fuss. It was just another year and I certainly don’t feel my age. However, the Dude had announced he had booked a secret birthday trip. Yes, I know, surely it’s not a secret if he had told me he was planning something but he knows me well and knew that if he didn’t at least tell me the dates he had booked I might have tried to plan something else.
Let me tell you something, I hate not knowing. I hate only knowing half a story and the suspense nearly killed me! So I tried NOT to think about it. The location was narrowed down by the fact I know the Dude currently has an expired passport and it was only for two nights. It was definitely Scotland but I didn’t want to ask anymore questions. Until it came time to pack.
“Will I need my walking boots?”
“Will I need my camera?” Stupid question!
“Will I need my swimming costume?”
With all eventualities (hopefully) catered for we set off on my little mystery tour. Heading west from Perth along the A85 I enjoyed the scenery. Turning right toward Crianlarich, carrying on through Tyndrum and bearing right up the hill onward to Rannoch Moor and Glen Coe.
I’ve said it before and I will say it again: I love Glen Coe. Obviously the Dude knows this and announced we were nearly at our destination and we had time to kill before booking in.
After admiring the mighty herdsman of Etive (Buachaille Etive Mor) we drove down toward Glen Etive. Nothing at all to do with a certain film, Daniel Craig and the stunning DB5, although it seems many people wanted to recreate the famous scene, even in February.
More interested in the mountains, river and wildlife we drove along the windy road and surprisingly there were less people around. Good job though really because the congestion on the roads was awful! I mean can you imagine anything worse than sitting looking at THIS for ten minutes?
It seemed around every corner there were deer on the side of the road, in the middle of the road and so close we could see every hair on their faces! After a while it became apparent that we were no longer enjoying this winter spectacle on our own. A family got out of their car (youngest child being about 5 years old) to take photos of the many does and young stags grazing on the side of the road. I was absolutely astounded by the father actively encouraging the daughter (aged about 13) to do handstands in the road with the deer as a back drop!
Seriously, I was lost for words. These people totally disrespecting these creatures are wild, unpredictable and potentially dangerous! At this point, sadly watching the deer had lost its charm.
Isles of Glen Coe Hotel
Just down the road, nestled between Glen Coe and Fort William is the Isles of Glen Coe hotel. A sister hotel to our more local Crieff Hydro, I was rather excited as I realised this would be our base for my secret birthday trip. On a much smaller scale than the Hydro, the Isles of Glen Coe is a perfect retreat for those who enjoy picturesque highland scenery, walking, canoeing and anything else you can do in the great Scottish countryside. It overlooks Loch Leven and has some cracking views of the Pap of Glen Coe.
Having checked in and dumped our bags in our room with a view, we immediately went back outside to have a quick explore.
The bar/restaurant area over looks the loch and although the light was gone shortly after 6pm I imagine in the summer months this is spectacular. For now though, a cosy wood burning stove was just perfect. With a nice relaxed atmosphere we toasted to my (extended) birthday celebrations and made plans for the following day over dinner.
Our meals, on both nights, were really tasty, beautifully presented and using local produce. Perfect. When you’re in a place like Scotland with such amazing food there is no reason for our meals to have traveled many miles.
The bed was one of the biggest I have slept in too.
There is a swimming pool with a sauna and jacuzzi, which was nice to come back to after a day walking, and although not very big it was practically empty at the time we went in. In the height of the school holidays I would guess this would be a different story.
Overall a lovely hotel and the staff were all helpful, our room had a great view and the food was fab. We would definitely book to stay again.
Glenfinnan & Loch Shiel
After a good nights sleep we were ready to go out walking but with a dump of snow over night (on higher ground) and not knowing if we would get a visit from Storm Doris we decided to drive up to Loch Shiel and Glenfinnan.
Once we had got passed Fort William the rain stopped and it had brightened up but unless it was completely howling there isn’t much that stops us from getting out and about.
When we arrived there was not a soul to be seen. So very quiet to the scenes of last summer when I visited for work. Another good reason to explore during the winter.
We had a wander to the 18 metre high monument that stands as a tribute the Jacobite clansmen who died for their cause. Erected in 1815 it certainly is impressive and stands at the head of the loch.
Since the last time we visited the site it seems The National Trust for Scotland has been doing quite a lot of work managing the pathways, viewpoints and boardwalks to enhance, protect and preserve the area.
It really is worth venturing further than the monument if you plan to visit.
Of course the other reason so many people want to visit is to see the Glenfinnan viaduct or the Harry Potter bridge as I’ve also heard it called. At this time of year you won’t get to see a steam engine going over the bridge as they only run for the summer season (normally starting around Easter). If you wanted to travel over the bridge you can catch the train from Fort William across to Mallaig.
Glen Nevis & Steall Falls
After checking out of the Isles of Glen Coe hotel following our two night stay we decided to walk another route familiar to us. This time in Glen Nevis – from lower falls car park, alongside the water of Nevis and to Steall Falls.
It is a well marked trail but certainly not one to be taken for granted. The windy path crosses small waterfalls, has a lot of uneven steps and long drops down to the river. We laughed about the sign in the car park warning of deaths along the route but it really should be taken seriously. It took us about two hours to do this walk but that includes stopping for photos too.
The walk through the gorge is quite magical and opens up into what I can only describe as something similar to an amphitheatre and the roar of the water falling 120 metres. I was all excited about doing one of my 360° videos but the damned thing wouldn’t connect to the app on my phone. Had it have worked I would have captured the golden eagle we saw soaring over us, instead you have only my word for it.
So, after all of that crammed in to a two night break why on earth would I have wanted a big party instead? I wouldn’t. It’s not me. I couldn’t have wished for a better start to my fortieth year and as for my secret birthday trip, the Dude did good! The celebrations and trips won’t be stopping here though, we plan to do 40 new things this year, so don’t be surprised when you see we are still doing birthday things in September!