North Coast 500, Scotland – Day Three: On the Road Again

Our decision to drive counter-clockwise around the North Coast 500 had no reasoning behind it, but in the end, I was extremely happy we did. In my opinion, we saved the best day for last, and with a little dip down to Eilean Donan, we even got to see a castle!

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Our day began slightly later than the previous day, though we didn’t feel rushed. We had a rough time estimate of when we wanted to arrive in Inverness for the night, and as long as we made that, we didn’t mind how our time was divided.

When I think of Scotland, I always picture rolling mountains, so our third day of driving did not disappoint!

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The road curved, climbed, and descended, and I loved every second of it. Being there gave me an overwhelming feeling of ease, something I was even more grateful for after arriving home and learning some truly terrible news. If you ever want to escape your day to day life, the Highlands is the place to do so.

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Our first stop of the day boasted a perfect picnic location across from Dundonnell Hotel.

Our second stop wasn’t much farther up, and was along the shores of Little Loch Broom – we just couldn’t get enough!

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We could not have asked for more perfect weather on our final day of driving, either. It was sunny, breezy, and not a drop of rain in sight!

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Eventually, we rounded a curve and came across what almost instantly became my favorite stop of the day. Frustratingly, I didn’t see a sign while at the stop, and I couldn’t find the name of it afterwards. If anyone knows, please leave me a comment!

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It seems as though every time I venture to a new location, my definition of beach is altered. Now, I can add mountains, rolling hills, and grassland to what comprises a beach. Not that I’m complaining!

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I absolutely loved the signage along our drive. Be it “watch out for red squirrels”, the overly buff construction worker signs, or names of approaching towns (complete with pronunciation!), they were great.

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Although most of our drive was along water, it was this day that truly seemed to showcase it best, whether by loch or mostly hidden stream. I never grew tired of snapping pictures!

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Not to be outdone, the mountains soon rose up around us in what was hands down my favorite stretch of the entire North Coast 500. I had a Polaroid Cube camera along with me to video footage from our drive, and a great portion of it came out of this stretch.

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And – of course – this area featured more sheep buddies!

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When I first began looking up the North Coast 500 map and plotting our course, I was surprised to find Eilean Donan wasn’t included as part of the route. It’s not that much farther south, and only added maybe an extra hour or so to our drive.

For me, my reasons for wanting to see it were two-fold: I love castles, and one of my co-workers is a MacRae, one of the two clans best associated with Eilean Donan Castle.

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Eilean Donan Castle dates back to the 13th century, though the land was originally claimed around 700. Arguably one of the most well-known castles in Scotland, this place is a tourist hot spot. Due to its smaller size, the crowds felt far more overwhelming than at any other castle we’d visited.

The original castle gracing the small island was much larger, and built by Alexander II. The ownership eventually passed to Clan Mackenzie. In 1719, while being overwhelmed under siege, the castle was blown to bits. It lay in ruin until John MacRae-Gilstrap rebuilt it as a family home in the 1920s, and it remains in possession of the MacRaes to this day.

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One of the biggest drawbacks about visiting Eilean Donan is that you can’t take pictures inside (though I was sure to snap a bunch anytime I exited the building onto an outdoor walkway). I was bummed about that rule at first, until I actually saw the interior.

I was hoping to be wowed by a 13th century castle, and I was – from the outside. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed by the inside of the castle. I knew a bit about its history, and I knew it had been almost completely rebuilt in the 1920s, but for some reason it never clicked in my brain that it had been updated to be “modern” for the time of its renovation.

I walked from chamber to chamber feeling largely disappointed with it, particularly when a staff member informed us that the current layout of the castle didn’t even match what it would have been in its prime. This is largely just a personal complaint, and I recognize it as such. I have never found recent history as compelling as ancient or medieval history, so I felt let down by the decorations within Eilean Donan’s walls.

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Still, the walls themselves were largely reconstructed from the previous ruins, and the view is unbeatable. Eilean Donan is found at the place where three lochs meet – Loch Duich, Loch Long and Loch Alsh – and boasts a wondeful first glimpse at the Isle of Skye.

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Despite being smaller in size, Eilean Donan still took us roughly 45 minutes to walk through. You are granted access to most of the rooms, and there are plenty of them to look through. A good chunk of our time was taken up speaking with an incredibly friendly but talkative staff member. They aren’t kidding when they say their staff are knowledgeable!

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Of all the things we saw in Scotland, Eilean Donan might just be my biggest disappointment. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it, but I do wish there had been more focus on the earlier history of the castle. The aspects devoted to the MacRae clan history and to the Jacobite artifacts recovered in the area are quite interesting, though.

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Seeing Loch Ness in person had been on my list prior to our arrival, and it didn’t disappoint. We arrived in the area after Urquhart Castle had closed, but we had plans to see it the next day. Still, we dutifully pulled over so I could hop out and snap some pictures. I’m extremely grateful I did, because unbeknownst to me, we wouldn’t be returning there the next day.

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Although we arrived in Inverness by the time we hoped to, our plans changed almost immediately. We originally planned to check into our Airbnb (which was an unrelated awful experience) and freshen up before heading out for dinner and exploration. Inverness is a city I’ve wanted to visit for a long time, and despite having now spent a night there, I’ve hardly seen any of it.

Lightning struck twice for me, and ten years after my round of awful food poisoning in Italy, I was once again in the throes of it. Only this time, it was far worse, to the point where my mom was briefly convinced I needed to go to the hospital.

That was by far the worst experience of my trip, and it affected me for nearly 48 hours. I won’t go into the gory details, but suffice it to say that I’m going to be extra cautious the next time I find myself in Europe. How lucky do I feel, right?

Stay tuned for a few more posts about my UK trip!

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