After Oban and the Inner Hebrides and the Isle of Skye, my time exploring the Scottish Highlands was quickly coming to an end. And the weather was simply not improving. My final nights were to be spent in Aviemore, and since I was simply not equipped to do any hiking in the cold, rainy weather, I decided to drive up and around Loch Ness for the day. Along the way I managed to cobble together some sites from my guide book, and on the final day, I managed an early morning walk before setting off to Edinburgh for my conference.
My first stop was Urquhart Castle along the western edge of Loch Ness. One of the largest castles in Scotland, Urquhart was constructed between the 13th and 16th centuries and has since been a focal point of Scottish history. Today it is open to the public and receives the third-most number of visitors per year, only after Edinburgh Castle and Stirling Castle. I didn’t pay to enter, but walked along the main road for beautiful views overlooking the castle and Loch Ness.
After Urquhart I drove up and around Loch Ness, passing through Inverness (no signs of Nessie along the way). In hindsight, given the poor weather and suboptimal chance of hiking anywhere, it would have been a good idea to stop and explore Inverness. However, I was stubborn and wanted to see more nature, so I drove through without stopping. I also remember still being very overwhelmed with driving on the right and sitting on the left (I still have panicked flashbacks here in the states one year later), and I simply didn’t have the energy to attempt any parking or maneuvering at the time.
Instead, I continued onto the Falls of Foyers, a beautiful waterfall on the western edge of Loch Ness, in the small town of Foyers. Using my handy-dandy off-line navigation app, Sygic, gave me quite a bit of trouble. I drove somewhere relatively close by and wandered around for an hour or so without finding the falls. After I gave up and continued along the road for another mile or two, I came across prominent signs declaring parking for the Falls of Foyers. (Note this isn’t to discredit Sygic; the app was a godsend. Just be prepared for small drawbacks when using offline navigation apps.)
I parked across the street and headed along the short path to the trail. Note that although the trail is short, it has many stairs, is steep, and was slippery after all the rain. Easy enough, but definitely a place to take your time. After descending quite a bit, you get to the first lookout over the falls. It seems pretty great, until you descend to the second lookout and it gets even better. Were they beautiful? Sure, most waterfalls are. Would I ever have considered going here if my options weren’t otherwise weather-limited? Almost certainly not. I imagine there are much more incredible sights to be seen in Scotland; this was my attempt to see what I could. I didn’t do it, but apparently you can take the trail for a 2.75-mile loop down to the shores of Loch Ness and back.
By the time I pulled into Aviemore that evening it was already dark. I dragged my weary self into the The Boat Hotel (which was surprisingly busy), and headed to my nice and peaceful room after reserving a table for dinner. On a good note, the weather finally seemed to be taking a turn for the better. I supposedly had sunny skies the next day, just in time for me to sit in a car and drive back to Edinburgh. With that in mind, I quickly located a short hike around Loch An Eilein. The next morning I woke up earlier than I would have liked and drove over, hoping to still return the car by noon. The walk around Loch an Eilean goes through Rothiemurchus Forest for about 4.5 miles, ending with beautiful view of castle ruins. It was, once again, cloudy while I walked, but at least dry, and I saw less than five other people on the trail at such an early hour. As a bonus, when I returned to the car, I managed to get in on the correct side (just in time to return it)!
And that concludes my somewhat disastrous trip to the Scottish Highlands. Between the severe allergic reaction and hospital visit, driving on the lefthand side of the road, and nonstop rain, I will for sure need to return at some point. But probably not for awhile – there are lots of beautiful places to see on this planet!