My latest #SYHAdventure may only have involved a journey of less than 55 miles but I assure you that it is a road-trip that should be on every Scotland travel bucket list and is up there with any adventure!
The SYHA in Torridon stands nestled between the water of Upper Loch Torridon and the foot of the mighty Liathach, rated by many climbers and hill-walkers as Scotland's finest mountain. As this was my third #SYHAdventure I was getting used to the fact that Scottish Youth Hostels are inevitably situated in some of the most dramatic and awe-inspiring locations in Scotland and Torridon didn't fail to live up to my new high expectations.
With an outdoor paradise on the doorstep it was tempting to lace up my boots and venture off on my usual walking expeditions but I had an even bigger temptation on this excursion and it involved jumping behind the wheel and heading off on a road-trip.
Despite only being officially launched 2 months ago, the North Coast 500 has been creating a huge buzz in the global travelsphere and has already been listed as one of the top coastal road-trips in the world by Travel Now magazine and has been dubbed Scotland's own Route 66.
Split into 6 route sections, Torridon SYHA very handily sits midway along the Wester Ross segment and makes an ideal base for those undertaking this breathtaking and adrenaline pumping section, as this part of the route encompasses the notorious Bealach Na Ba (pronounced Bay-Lach-Na-Ba and means Pass of the Cattle).
WHAT TO DO IN TORRIDON
I started my adventure in the pretty little village of Torridon which is dwarfed by some spectacularly huge mountains and sits on the edge of Loch Torridon. It would be easy to drive through thinking that such a small place might not have much to offer but looks can be deceiving and delve a little deeper and you will find plenty to keep you occupied.
The modern community centre has a surprisingly large display of local arts and crafts for sale, in fact it is one of the best ranges of handmade Scottish products that I have found anywhere outside of a craft market and an ideal place to pick up an authentic souvenir of your trip while supporting the local economy.
Torridon sea tours offer a range of excursions from the nearby village of Sheildaig which take you wildlife spotting on half-day trips around the loch or full-day adventures to some of the remote isles.
The nearby Torridon Inn not only serves delicious local produce but offers bike hire and an assortment of outdoor activities including canoeing, archery, rock climbing and gorge scrambling. If that's not enough to keep you busy then the walking options, wildlife watching and dramatic scenery will!
I stayed in one of the dog friendly private rooms at the Youth Hostel and although not en-suite it did have it's own sink and was clean and comfortable. After travelling for more than a week it was great to make use of the washing and drying facilities and to finally have a choice of fresh, clean clothes.
A large well equipped self catering kitchen allows easy cooking and a choice of heat your own meals are available to purchase in case you didn't realise that rather surprisingly there are no supermarkets in the remote Highlands!
The social interaction is one thing I have really enjoyed on my SYHA trips and finding out what has brought my fellow hostelers to the area. In Torridon I was surprised at the mix of nationalities and found out most of them were also there on a scenic Highland road-trip or cycling adventure.
As Torridon SYHA has an alcohol licence and two panoramic lounges where you can relax and watch the wildlife and landscape, there is every reason to spend your evening chilling out there. However, for those wanting to eat out or venture to the pub, I highly recommend the nearby Torridon Inn which is also dog friendly.
I drove anti-clockwise along the coastal road from Torridon following the breathtaking route to Applecross before negotiating the steep and sharp narrow curves of Bealach Na Ba, an unmissable driving experience although not for the faint-hearted!
My first stop was at the village of Shieldaig which dates back to 1800 and and is mainly comprised of a row of pretty whitewashed cottages sitting on the shore of Loch Shieldaig. A short distance out in the loch rises the distinctive Sheildaig Island, clad in Scots pine trees and home to a pair of nesting sea eagles. A birders paradise, look out for a thoughtful set of binoculars fixed on the shore allowing you to zoom in for a close up.
The best views of the village, island and loch are definitely from further along the road as it rises up the hillside and the little cottages shrink to toy size!
As you travel further along the route look out for the well photographed cottage with the red roof and try not to be too envious of their view!
A couple of weeks ago I found myself exploring an enchanting Kingdom where a Prince met his now Princess before they married and went off to live happily ever after. It may sound like I had entered the pages of a fairy-tale but such a place actually exists and you too can live the Royal romantic dream on the idyllic east coast of Scotland. The Kingdom of Fife is where Prince Wills wooed the now Princess Kate while they attended university in St Andrews and the rest is of course history...
Along with my own Prince Charming I spent the weekend testing the region's romantic credentials on the latest Scotlanders campaign and found that reality is even better than fairy-tale fantasy. Being accompanied by your own Prince or Princess is optional, after all it is also the place that you could meet that special someone as Kate and Wills can testify! Whether you are a coupledom or still waiting to be swept off your feet, here are my 10 romantic reasons why you too should visit Scotland's own fairy-tale Kingdom...
1. The secluded hideaway in the woods
Our fairy-tale weekend began as all good fairy-tales do in a secluded hideaway in the woods. However, this was no ordinary woodland retreat but a rather pretty snowdrop tent on Cambo Estate near St Andrews with it’s own double bed and just the right dose of rustic charm.
This is true glamorous camping with cosy furnishings, cooking facilities and access to a modern toilet block with your own private shower, luxury indeed! In the evening the leafy pathways glow with fairy-lights and your own fire pit provides enough heat to keep warm while you sit and savor an evening under the stars.
Cambo Estate is perfect for a romantic stroll with it's walled gardens, nature trails and pathway to the beach, all on your little canvas doorstep.
2. The surprise supplies
A surprise box of welcome goodies and local produce from the lovely folk at Holiday Essentials ensured that we wouldn't go hungry during our stay; the handmade ceramic heart and love themed candle were thoughtful little romantic inclusions. They must be mind readers as our generous bounty included a bottle of one of my favourite Cairn o’Mohr wines and the yummy selection of sweet treats and savoury staples were ideal choices to keep our hunger pangs at bay.
3. The theatre culture
I don't know about you but I do love a night at the theatre and The Byre Theatre in St Andrews is one of my favourites in Scotland, it has such a nice ambiance and it became my second home when I was blogging for StAnza earlier this year. On this occasion we enjoyed a pre-theatre buffet dinner and a performance of Shirley Valentine in the perfectly proportioned auditorium. If you are ever visiting the town I highly recommend checking out their events list as the shows are great value and the atmosphere is intimate and relaxed.
4. The local whisky
The following morning I met up with my fellow Scotlanders for an early start at the recently opened Kingsbarns Distillery which is handily placed next door to Cambo Estate. After a quick catch up over some delicious fresh scones and coffee we were treated to a tour by Douglas Clement, the visionary behind this Fife ‘Dream to Dram’ project.
Whisky is definitely an ingredient I would normally include in any romantic celebration, however my driving duties for the day meant that I sadly couldn't indulge on this occasion. Although I reluctantly had to turn down the offer of some free drams, the passionate tour provided by Douglas and the picture postcard setting were still great tasters which have left me with several reasons to return.
5. The stunning scenery
Picture postcard is an overused term that I try to avoid but look it up in the dictionary and don't be surprised if an image of the Fife coast pops up! It really is the definition of scenic with colourful, quaint fishing villages, sparkling blue water, patchwork golden fields, magnificent sandy stretches and dramatic historic architecture. Undertake a coastal road-trip and you should expect it to take at least twice as long as planned with every twist and turn bringing new photogenic opportunities and the fresh salty tang in the breeze drawing you into the seaside communities in search of the catch of the day.
Can it really be 20 years since the cry of 'Freedom' echoed in cinemas across the globe? Apparently so (which makes me feel quite old!) and two decades later Braveheart continues to inspire people to uncover the facts from the fiction of the legendary William Wallace and how he rose to become Scotland's National Hero.
Most people interested in this era of Scottish history make their way to Stirling and the area of his most famous victory at the Battle of Stirling Bridge.
Shadowing over the battlefield is the volcanic outcrop of Abbey Craig with the National Wallace Monument pointedly rising a further 220ft skywards. Erected in the 1860s to commemorate one of the most recognised figures from Scotland's past, it is currently also commemorating the film that helped create international awareness of his story.
I went along to one of their special free events that are running throughout 2015 with costumed actors and historians taking you back to one of the most dramatic periods in Scottish history as they tell tales from the battlefield and stories about the man himself.
I really enjoyed the 'Scotland's National Hero' talk and it provided an entertaining insight into the life of William Wallace before I embarked on the 246 monument steps to observe the landscape that was so significant not just during the time of Wallace but also for hundreds of years previous.
Constructed with money from a fundraising campaign and designed by the Scottish architect John Thomas Rochead, the monument is based on a combination of a traditional Scottish tower house castle with a stone crown spire on the top.
Today you can follow the spiral stone staircase and the story of the famous Scottish warrior at the various floors with exhibitions as you climb upwards, be sure to stop at the Hall of Heroes where you will see the famous Wallace sword on display, said to have been used by him during battle! It also includes busts of some of Scotland's other notable figures including Sir Walter Scott and King Robert the Bruce.
Just when you think that your staircase workout is never going to end, you step out into the crown and are rewarded with impressive 360 degree sweeping views spreading into the distance. Look out for Stirling Castle, perched on another volcanic outcrop before you, the Ochil hills stretching in the other direction and of course the looping river that played a vital role in the victory for the Scots at the Battle of Stirling Bridge.
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