Disclaimer: Thank you to HAGGiS Adventures for hosting us as your guests. The thoughts and opinions expressed here are entirely our own.
First Off, Why Should You Visit Scotland?
Scotland is a country whose culture and scenery will speak to your soul. Its beauty will almost overwhelm you. From the legendary lowlands to the historical highlands - Scotland is a land scattered with secret treasures. Beauty here has no bounds - each location superseding the next, taking your eyes on an all-encompassing, ever enchanting ride of raw, rugged, and intoxicating charm.
For many of you, your first pit stop will be in Edinburgh. Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland and offers its visitors an enticing array of options. Walk the Royal Mile for an all inclusive view of downtown and its ever evolving history. Explore the winding cobblestone streets of the medieval Old Town, wander the halls of Edinburgh Castle, and climb Arthur’s Seat in Holyrood Park to get stunning views of the city below. With more listed historical buildings than any other city in the world, and a bustling whisky and gin scene, Edinburgh can keep any traveler busy for weeks on end.
What Should You Do While There?
For some (like ourselves) - the real magic is found outside the bustling city. We are naturally drawn to the outdoors - we feel most at home wandering the wilderness; With that being said - we sought an authentic Scottish experience, where we could dive head first into the deep-rooted folklore of the Highland Gaelic Culture while also getting to explore the dramatic landscapes this country has become so incredibly famous for and we found just that with HAGGiS Adventures.
HAGGiS Adventures by far offers the best highland tours from Edinburgh with the perfect combination between freedom and flexibility, using guides who are local legends and know Scotland like the back of their hand, they keep you safe, entertained and enthralled at every turn. We opted for the 5 Day Highland Fling Tour, showcasing the absolute best of what Scotland’s wild side has to offer.
What does each day look like on the Highland Fling Tour?
We met our ever enthusiastic driver Charlie - who in our opinion, was the star of the show. This guy should win an Oscar nomination for story telling and witty banter. He had us in stitches from the moment we arrived to the moment our tour came to an end. One word: LEGEND!
As for our vessel - nothings screams Scottish spirit more than a giant “Wild & Sexy” yellow bus. Talk about a statement piece. As we claimed our seats near the front, we knew right away this was going to be a tour to remember.
So for Day 1 you may be wondering what can you expect? Every day is slightly different, and every tour more unique than the next, but we can speak to our personal experience to illustrate a typical tour agenda. From Edinburgh you’ll make your first pit stop at The Kelpies. Standing a whopping 30 meters (100 feet) tall, this is the largest pair of equine sculptures in the entire world; built to pay homage to the Scottish working horses that used to pull barges along Scotland’s various canals and nearby fields, in the same area where they now majestically stand.
From there take in the tantalizing sights of Wallace Monument, the architectural splendor of Stirling Castle and the medieval stronghold of Doune Castle (famously known for its roles in Outlander and Game of Thrones) before hydrating yourself at the Deanston Distillery. Formerly an old cotton mill, Deanston reopened its doors as a distillery, producing the very first bottle of Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky. Even more impressive than their world class whisky was their undying commitment to sustainable energy - using electrical turbines to power their entire plant for an energy-neutral whisky. Deanston's mission complements HAGGiS Adventures' strong commitment to sustainability and environmentally friendly tourism.
After savoring your last and final drop - head off to feed some Highland cows. These adorable fluffy creatures are the oldest breed of cattle in the entire world and an intrinsic part of Scotland’s highland culture. They also happen to be quite photogenic!
With another brief pit stop at the Falls of Dochart, you’ll then make your way towards Glencoe for a short hike. Glencoe is a natural wonder whose deep valley and mountainous landscapes were once shaped by massive glaciers and volcanic explosions that occurred over many millennia. The site is surreal - a postcard captured in time - leaving you utterly speechless.
From there you’ll make your way towards Oban for your first night’s stay. Derived from the Gaelic language, it’s name means “Little Bay” and you’ll immediately see why upon arrival. This quaint sea-side fishing town boasts a variety of cute hotels, restaurants, and bars. We opted for some group bonding, eating fish and chips beachside as we took in the view.
As the sun makes it way towards the horizon, follow the sweet sounds of bagpipes through the quiet streets towards ‘The View’ for some traditional Ceilidh - a Scottish gathering that involves dancing to Gaelic folk music. Here you can dance the night away and enjoy the local Scotch whiskeys to your heart (or liver)’s content.
Day two is equally unbelievable. Passing under the shadow of Ben Nevis, take in the stunning views over Loch Shiel before embarking on the greatest railway experience in the entire world: the Jacobite Steam Train, also known as the ‘Hogwarts Express’.
This fully functioning steam locomotive is one of a kind. The 40 mile ride will take you past rivers, isles, and mountainous landscapes. You'll be in absolute awe with every turn. Crossing the 21 arched Glenfinnan Viaduct - a location that grew increasingly famous for its roles in the Harry Potter series - you’ll feel like you’ve traveled back in time, pioneering your way through the towering mountains, glittering lochs and dense woodlands of the Highland topography. The Jacobite Steam Train is seasonal however, so we suggest booking in the warmer summer months for an optimal experience.
From there, catch a ferry over to the Isle of Skye, the largest, northernmost island of the archipelago known as the Hebrides of Scotland. Stop at the Sligachan River to hear an old fable under the medieval stone bridge that promises those who dare to dip their heads into its frigid waters restored beauty against the thralls of time.
The bus will then snake its way through the winding roads to expose you to a world of vibrant wildlife and stunning scenery. The Isle of Skye is a world class destination for any traveler who appreciates true natural beauty. After arriving at your next hostel, enjoy fresh fish and chips at the local pub next door before hiking to Caisteal Maol - also known as ‘The Bare Castle’.
Caisteal Maol is a prominent ruin, perched high atop a hill facing out towards the Kyle of Lochalsh. Its commanding position adds a strong presence to the surrounding area - with steep high grasses, black stoned beaches, and a shipwreck at its base - this place is nothing short of picturesque - a true photographer’s haven.
Weather will determine the events of day three. Originally, we were set to explore the Old Man of Storr but heavy rains and incessant fog came in with a fury - boxing out our opening to see this prominent landmark. After our trip had concluded however, the hubby and I decided to rent a car and drive back to this iconic site to see it for ourselves, so if weather abides, HAGGiS Adventures will ensure that you get to see this monumental landscape.
For our particular tour however, the first stop was rerouted to Fairy Falls. This place carried a sense of magic, with its clear blue waters and green rolling hillside. Beauty here knows no bounds.
Succeeding Fairy Falls, were the majestic Lealt Falls. Following the Lealt gorge, you’ll trek your way towards the shore, to see dormant diatomite ruins with Lealt Falls as a backdrop. Diatomite mining used to aid production in numerous products like cosmetics, chemicals, industrial oils and paints, but has now become a lost industry left behind.
From there, gallivant your way through the Isle of Skye, a place famous for its ruined castles, unparalleled scenery and legendary clans. Stop for a brief visit to the 13th Century Eilean Donan Castle - one of the most iconic landmarks in all of Scotland that commands attention like no other.
From here, make your way to Morag’s Lodge Hostel for a two night stay. Kick off the first night with a Tartan Toga Party at the on-site bar. With local microbrews on tap - taste a Black Isle Organic Blonde Lager or traditional cider as you party the night away with new found friends and local guides.
Kickstart your day by helping to restore Scotland’s natural beauty. HAGGiS Adventures has given selected guests an opportunity to plant a tree in the HAGGiS Grove for the Trees for Life Charity. In 2011, HAGGiS teamed up with 'Trees for Life' - a Scottish non-profit organization that has dedicated their life's work to restoring over 1,000 square miles of self-sustaining, wild, Caledonian Forest.
The HAGGiS Grove is a dedicated forest forged by HAGGiS participants from pre-selected trips - who get to leave a tree contribution to further help the Highland landscape of Scotland ‘Stay Wild.’
HAGGiS Adventures is one of the first tour operators to achieve a National Green Tourism award, pioneering an Eco Scheme where guests can make an optional two pound donation when booking any tour that HAGGiS will match pound for pound - giving all proceeds to the Trees for Life Foundation to continue their good works restoring the Caledonian Forest.
After trees have been planted, visit the town of Inverness, the cultural capital of the Scottish Highlands. Walk the River Ness, or visit the 19th century Inverness Cathedral. There’s even an indoor Victorian Market you can peruse that sells various clothing, crafts, and traditional cuisine. We of course found our way to the local pub - popping our heads into the Black Isle Brewery for a pint of Nitro Black Isle Porter to satiate our unquenchable thirst. This town is full of quintessential Scottish charm and historic leisure.
Journey north to the lonely Culloden Battlefield - a sobering sight to see but an important piece of history to understand and acknowledge. The Battle of Culloden took place on the morning of April 16, 1746 and became a pivotal point in Scotland's past. Known as the Jacobite Rising - Jacobite supporters hoping to restore the Stuart monarchical line of the British empire, gathered and united to fight the British government troops. 7,000 Jacobites faced off against 8,000 British soldiers, to devastating results - 2,000 Jacobite supporters died in one hour while fewer than 300 were lost on the British side. As you walk the now desolate field, the historical significance of events past weighs upon you and manifests in a series of mass graves dotting the marshy landscapes. The Jacobites may have lost the battle, and their lives, but their memory and dedication to their cause shall live on forever.
From here you’ll make your way towards the ancient Clava Cairns. Built in the Bronze Age, these complex creations are an incredible example of the Scottish Highlands’ history dating back over 4,000 years. The layout of these well preserved, prehistoric burial sites suggests a link to the seasons and the heliocentric cycles of the Earth. Each edifice was built with leading stones aligned to the rising and setting sun on winter solstice and seemingly used for astronomical purposes. This practice can also be found with other monuments like the famous Stonehenge in England, and amazingly, the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt.
Day four will conclude with a cruise on the Loch Ness for a two hour sunset ride by boat. Departing from Fort Augustus you’ll navigate the murky waters searching for the mysterious Loch Ness Monster below. In Scottish folklore, ‘Nessie’ is claimed to be a mythical creature that resides in the deepest darkest depths of the Loch Ness. Using state of the art sonar equipment, your ship is able to identify warm blooded animals under the water’s surface based on heat emission and size.
Our particular cruise identified masses up to 7 feet in length (that apparently were large trout); but we were fortunate enough to meet the captain, who showed us a sonar image from 1987 where two large masses were seen around 40 feet in length and weighing over 9000 kilograms lurking several hundred meters below. If that doesn’t convince you that something big is down there, we don’t know what will!
For your last and final adventure - you’ll experience the Highland Folk Museum - Britain’s first open air museum. Here, visitors get a hands on interactive experience of how Highland people actually lived and worked - starting in the 1700’s all the way up to the 1950’s.
Set on an 80 acre plot of land - over 30 historical buildings have been restored - bringing Highland history back to life. You’ll feel as if you’ve traveled back in time. Sit in a 1930’s primary school classroom - where you can practice cursive script with an ink quill and blot cloth. Play traditional games in the school yard or take a leisurely stroll for a one of a kind, unique experience you’ll never forget.
Scotland, and specifically the Highlands, has a lot to offer. Between the countryside, the culture, and the local (and delicious!) cuisine, it takes a staggering amount of planning to see and experience it all. Enter HAGGiS Adventures who will not only plan the perfect trip for you, they'll pair you with accomplished, amiable guides to ensure you enjoy all the secret treasures Scotland can provide. Thanks to their hard work and consummate organization, we fell in love with Scotland's people, places, and can guarantee you will too!