3 Villages Worth Seeing in the Scottish Highlands: Plus We Found The Elusive Red Squirrel!
Our recent trip to Scotland was a lot of things, but to say we saw most of what Scotland has to offer would be a big, fat lie. We came back feeling like we barely even scratched the surface of Scotland, so of course, we need to go back soon, possibly in a different season to see some more of this beautiful country.
This trip reinforced our dislike of large cities and our need to explore more rural areas and small towns. Yes, we did visit Edinburgh, but more on that in another post.
In this post, we spotlight three villages in the Scottish Highlands that we feel are worth visiting that rarely make it into guidebooks and other “best of” blog posts.
Located along River Tay in Perthshire, this village is home to several interesting sights. First made famous by Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns, Aberfeldy is Scotland’s first Fairtrade town. This is evident in the shops and restaurants in the area all doing their best to serve organic, environmentally friendly and local products. Just a few miles east of Loch Tay (the largest Loch in Perthshire), and just south of Glen Lyon, this town is the perfect spot for exploring the area.
Fancy a scenic walk? The Birks of Aberfeldy is where Robert Burns got a lot of his inspiration, and it is easy to see why. Easily accessible from the centre of town, this trail hugs the Moness Gorge, where you can visit the famous Falls of Moness. Birks is Scots for birch trees, so you will see a lot of those, as well as oak, ash, elm and willow.
For both the serious Scotch lovers and those just curious, you can walk to Dewar’s Aberfeldy Distillery, where you can take a tour and have a tasting.
There are two impressive manors on either side of town, Castle Menzies on the opposite side of the river, and Bolfrack’s Estate, a little west of town. You can explore the gardens of either during the warmer months.
Our favourite part of our stay here was the Cluny House Gardens, which is open year round. These gardens are home to a couple of giant Sequoias, a rare sight in the UK, as well as many red squirrels, which we had been hunting for our entire trip.
If you were unaware, red squirrels are on the decline due to an influx of North American grey squirrels on the island which carry a disease that has been killing off the red squirrels. Due to this, the red squirrel is a protected species in the UK and Ireland, as well as in Italy where they are having a similar issue.
Where to Eat in Aberfeldy:
Three Lemons - We actually ate lunch here twice during our stay. They have a variety of sandwiches, burgers, delicious fish and chips, and pizza. We highly recommend their vegetarian panini and you will be pleasantly surprised by the Romeo and Giulietta pizza, which has goat cheese, pears, and walnuts.
Located on Loch Ness, this town may not be the least well-known town in the highlands, but it is still a great place to visit and get away from the hustle and bustle of Inverness. Drumnadrochit (affectionately called Drum for short) is home to not one, but two Loch Ness Monster exhibitions, so it is the perfect spot for Nessie hunting.
We visited Drum over Christmas, so it was pretty dead quiet and everything was closed, but it was a beautiful place to spend a quiet weekend.
Right outside of the town is Urquhart Castle, famously known for its stunning views of Loch Ness. This 1000-year-old castle is mostly a ruin now but does make for some remarkable photographs. A little over £5 gets you inside the gate to explore the ruins, exhibition, and cafe.
This area is home to several glens and hills that are wonderful for hiking, and if you are up for climbing to the highest point, you can catch glimpses of Isle of Skye from the top.
Inverness is also a quick drive away if you are looking for something a little more lively or more dining options.
Where to Eat in Drumnadrochit:
Ness Deli - Soups, sandwiches, pastries, tea/coffee and for a heartier meal they also have traditional Scottish fare. Try the soup of the day and you won’t be disappointed. It was Red Lentil and Vegetable when we went and it was delicious.
Our favourite and probably the least known of the places we visited in the highlands was Kinloch Rannoch, situated right on Loch Rannoch, and to the north of Loch Tay. This tiny Victorian village only takes a couple minutes to walk through, but it is surrounded by natural beauty. With River Tummel to the south, Loch Rannoch to the west, a hill with a waterfall to the immediate north, and Dunalastair Reservoir to the east, it is difficult to walk in the wrong direction.
A 20-minute drive from Kinloch Rannoch will put you on the outskirts of The Black Wood of Rannoch, one of the few remains of the ancient Caledonian forests boasting some really old trees. According to legend, it was here where King Arthur’s famous twelve battles against the invading Anglo-Saxons took place, and where the wizard Merlin’s companions allegedly hid.
Also just minutes from town you will find filming locations for the TV show Outlander, as well as movies like Trainspotting, Rob Roy, and of course Harry Potter. The famous Cairngorms National Park is also a short drive away, so this is the perfect home base for exploring.
Where to Stay and Eat in Kinloch Rannoch:
Dunalastair Hotel Suites - Newly opened in May 2017, this charming Victorian building dominates the village square and has undergone a multimillion pound renovation keeping the Victorian stone features of the building while updating it with modern luxurious interiors. Most suites include a kitchenette, which is ideal for budget-conscious and weary travellers. We enjoyed our stay and hope to return again to thoroughly explore this area.
Edina’s Kitchen - Located inside Dunalastair Hotel Suites, Edina’s Kitchen is open for four meals a day (I’m including afternoon tea as a meal) and has a pleasant atmosphere, especially when dining in the adjacent lounge. They also offer room service and are able to pack you a lunch if you want to go out exploring or hiking.
A special mention should go to Crieff, also in Perthshire. My ancestors from one side of the family are from this town, and we did drive through it, but since it was during a snow storm and we were on our way back to the airport, we weren’t really able to stop. It did look like a nice town from what we saw, and we will definitely revisit next time.
Have you been to Scotland? What was your favourite town or village that you visited? Let us know in the comments!
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