This post is part of a paid partnership with VisitScotland to inspire folks like you to safely explore and discover your own stamping-grounds cause there’s nae place like hame.
Growing up in the Highlands
I grew up in Inverness, the capital of the Highlands. It’s my granny’s fault that I’m so addicted to travelling around Scotland. Every Sunday, when me and my cousins were kids, granny used to pick us up and take us out on an adventure. We would have no idea where we were going. It would usually turn out to be a random castle, museum, safari park or the world-famous Loch Ness.I loved days out with granny and my cousins. She’d have the car window rolled down whilst she puffed on a cigarette (we would be freezing in the backseat but apparently it made us hardy). She would play the same old mixed tape that she’d had for 25 years. My auntie would sing every word to “The Devil went down to Georgia” and “Sugar Sugar” by The Archies. Perhaps I have her to thank for my music taste too. We would roll up to a new castle, and we would be encouraged to adventure.
I live in Aberdeenshire now. I moved to Aberdeen City around 7 years ago, to a fancy-shmancy job which I was never really going to do for the rest of my life now, was I? BORING! But the North East is where I met my hairy Aberdonian, Scott. He and I are a wee force. We have spent the last 4 years creating “The Aye Life” and “The Aye Agency.” Two inherently Scottish things that celebrate Scotland in different ways. And let me tell you, it is epic. We spend heaps of time travelling around Scotland, swimming in lochs, eating great food, working with awesome wee businesses and discovering what lights our Scottish flames.
The Hame Town Tourist
But now I’ve gone full circle. After moving away from Inverness, I now find myself itching to move back. Because I rediscovered Inverness and the Highlands through our travels. I fell back in love with somewhere I’d lived for 21 years but never really gotten to know during my life there.
We have big plans to move to the Highland hills but I know this won’t happen overnight. Not in the wild way we want to do it anyway… So in the meantime, I’m loving discovering new parts of both my old (and future) home. I was thrilled to be asked to take part in the Hame Town Tourist activity with VisitScotland. Not only were we headed North to discover some of the awesome things to do in the Winter Wonderland which is the Scottish Highlands, but our best pooch pal was coming too! Something told me that I was going home.
On the Road Again
We had a cracking drive up to Inverness too. The sun was shining when we left for the Highlands, which in December is not to be sniffed at. There was a wee touch of frost and everything just felt a wee bit sparkly and exciting. With the current restrictions in place throughout Scotland, we are allowed to travel up to my home in the Highlands. I am very grateful for this and take none of it for granted. We have worked from home for the best part of 4 years, and our time away prevents us from going stir crazy/kicking each other.
During the full lockdown earlier in the year, we stayed occupied by ripping our house to bits, camping in the garden, throwing garden parties for two and endlessly inspecting rock pools. All good fun, but nothing beats the inspiration found on the road.
Nairn: Scotland’s Highland Playground
I used to love visiting Nairn when I lived in Inverness. There is so much to do and it is such a lovely place to wander around the wee shops and stop for lunch. Our first destination on our Highland fling was Nairn Beach, and we got such a cracking day for it. There were folk out wild swimming in the sea in little more than a slither of Lycra. Those are my kinda people. If I’d had the time, I’d have been right in there with them. Canna beat a swim in the Scottish sea to awaken (and shock) the senses.We grabbed a wee coffee and went for a wee walk along Nairn Beach with Callie. The tide was rising (I’m addicted to tides, don’t ask, it’s sad, it’s my most searched google term) but previous tides had thrown up mad amounts of driftwood so we navigated it whilst I imagined the endless crafts I could do if I had the means of excavating said driftwood and, well, had time, to craft with said excavated driftwood. One day maybe. The Moray coast on the way up to Nairn is lovely too, lots of bonnie beachy views and lots of treasure (sea glass) to be found. There is so much to do in the Highlands in Winter, and the scenery is marvellous with that glittery frosty crisp you can only find at this time of year.
We had another wee stop before we headed to the PentaHotel. To one of my favourite spots in Inverness, the Ness Islands. When I was a kid, and even now, cause I’m from Inverness, I just call them the islands. It’s funny though, cause when I was a kid, I never really thought about them being actual islands. It wasn’t until I became a hame town tourist that I actually realised that the islands actually are islands. Sometimes the most obvious things miss me completely.If you’re staying in Inverness and you’re looking for a nice, easy walk with pretty views at any time of the year, you’re gonna want to check out the islands. They are surrounded by the River Ness and have lots of pretty spots to sit and relax or read a book as I often see folk do. No chance in us reading a book with big Snoop on the go. She gets in about everything, any book of mine would become a fairy canoe pronto.
If you start at Bught Park where the mini-golf centre is and walk over the bridge and through Ness Islands, you’ll eventually come out at Bellfield Park, which is a gorgeous little park with a bandstand. Bellfield is basically a 5-minute walk from Inverness Castle and the centre of Inverness.
I love a wander around the Ness Islands on a hot day, stopping for ice-cream at Bellfield Park and then nipping up to the Castle Tavern, a cracking wee pub across from the castle. Obviously, things are different just now due to the pandemic, but I have no doubt that things will get back to/or will go onto “normal” again. We just need to be patient, stay safe and look forward to better days.
When I get to take big Snoop (Callie) on trips with The Aye Life, I’m far more excited for her than I am for me. And I’m buzzin’. She’s just so excited to go into new buildings and meet new hoomans and eat all the sausages from my breakfast. After long days travelling from coast to peak, it’s lovely to come back to the hotel room with her and just give her huge cuddles. Taking a trip up to the Highlands doesn’t mean leaving your furry friends at home, there are plenty of dog-friendly options in the Highlands. In fact, Callie joins us on most of our Scottish adventures.
So, here are some places you should check out if you’re looking for dog-friendly pubs, restaurants and hotels in Inverness.
Scotch & Rye
You’re going to want to check out Scotch & Rye, the cosiest wee bar and restaurant in Inverness City Centre. I had a huge plate of “dirty macaroni” topped with crunchy bacon, and a Twisted Melon which is a proper naughty, super tasty and fruity cocktail. We are talking seriously comforting and downright cracking food and cocktails. The restaurant was very doggo-friendly with Snoop getting her drink before us (as it should be, dogs are better than humans :). Snoop was very well behaved too, I was a proud doggo-mum. Scotch & Aye.
Black Isle Bar
The Black Isle Bar is a cosy wee pub just around the corner from both Scotch & Rye, and the dog-friendly Pentahotel, where we were staying for the night. They had a huge range of beers and ales from their own brewery; the Black Isle Brewery. I’m nae a big ale or beer drinker, but Scott is, and if you’re into that kinda thing, this place is basically an adult playground for craft ale. I had a nice wee wine in what was a pretty good atmosphere (and Callie really liked the crisps).
The PentaHotel is a budget-friendly, dog-friendly, friendly-friendly hotel in the centre of Inverness. The downstairs is funky, modern, mostly dark and dimly lit with a bar/reception combo. There were loads of candles lit when we came back to the hotel after dinner at Scotch and Rye.
We had a cheeky wee glass of wine before going off to our bed for the night. The Aye Life is hip, fab and fancy-free but it’s also knackering, knackering lemon knackering! The PentaHotel in Inverness is a good budget hotel. There are no airs and graces but the bed was comfy, the room was spacious, the breakfast was generous and we could bring our number one hound in town.
We had breakfast delivered to our room in the morning; a wee continental and a Scottish fry-up to go. Good thing too as I flung myself out of bed at 6.30am – which is a ridiculously rare occurrence. Poor Scott didn’t know whether he was coming or going and the dog would quite easily have stayed in bed too. I had to beg her to get out of bed.
I was on a mission to make it to all of the adventure spots planned for the day before dark. Winter in the Highlands means clinging on to every second of daylight. Which is nae bother, providing you get up at a decent time. When Scott and Snoop did rear their bonnie heads, I was perched on the end of the bed, fully dressed, case packed, munching on a pain au chocolat muttering about snowy hills and Highland views.
Heart’s in the Highlands
When we left the Pentahotel, the weather was crisp, sunny, sparkly and frosty so you could see your breath. The first place we headed was to the Caledonian Canal at Dochgarroch. The Caledonian Canal is 60 miles long and cuts through the atmospheric and beautiful Great Glen. We have explored parts of the Great Glen Way but I would love to walk the full 79-mile stretch one day. You’ll find our little spot at Dochgarroch on the road out of Inverness on the way to Urquhart Castle and Fort Augustus.
Dochgarroch is one of our fave places to walk Snoop near Inverness. It’s usually pretty quiet, bonnie at basically any time of the year and home to one of our favourites; the Highland Lassie Floating Hotel. The beautiful Scottish boat is also home to the Oakwood Restaurant on their picturesque deck. Callie just loves to swim in the canal (Callie will swim anywhere, like her mum). The steam was rising up off the canal and the hills were ever so slightly sprinkled with light snowfall.
First of all, don’t make the mistake of calling this castle “Glen Urquhart Castle” like Scott’s mum did. She’s a funny wee critter. She calls PayPal “Pay Paul.” And secondly, don’t pronounce it “UCK-IRT Castle” like wee Aberdonian lad Scott does. It’s pronounced like “Urrr-kirt Castle” and it is absolutely loaded with Scottish castle history.
Urquhart Castle is also ridiculously picturesque and perched on the banks of Loch Ness like a proud heron with a large trout in his beak. I’ve seen the castle hundreds, if not thousands, of times and it still takes my breath away. Before you go, do read into the history a bit, it makes it all the more awesome when you do go.
Loch Ness offers so much more than the mystery monster though, with endless wild scenery, including the majestic Foyers Falls, not far from Foyers Lodge, one of our favourites. Or you could walk the Loch Ness 360, which is an 80-mile walking, cycling, running and outdoor trail around Loch Ness. The southern side of the Loch is usually quieter but is home to lots of lochs, if you are, like us, into wild swimming and chilly dooks.
Fort Augustus is a cracking wee hub in the Scottish Highlands. It lies on the most southern tip of Loch Ness on the Great Glen Way and offers stunning views over both Loch Ness and the Caledonian Canal. The Great Glen Way is one of Scotland’s great trails. It starts at the ruins of the old fort in Fort William and runs 125km through Scotland’s longest glen, following old drove roads and woodland tracks. Usually, Fort Augustus is a busy wee spot, but obviously, this last year has thrown many a works in the spanner. So just now, it’s pretty quiet. And I’m not going to lie, this is where my Winter Wonderland Scottish Princess/Queen of Uisge magical day began. (Uisge is Gaelic for whisky but wow, Uisge should be the name of a place and I should be the queen).
Fort Augustus is also home to Cruise Loch Ness, the Caledonian Canal Centre and The Clansman Centre, amongst some of the best scenery in Scotland. And I had Fort Augustus to myself. Well, Scott and Callie were there, but they were told to stay in the car so I could prance around with the ducks. I walked towards the mouth of Loch Ness, all on my own (if you’re from the Highlands, you’ll know that this just isn’t a thing). I had only ducks, frost and incredible mountain views for company. It was absolutely wonderful. That’s something I won’t forget in a hurry. But just you wait and see where these Wintery Aye-ventures ended up. I mean… you’ll see.
Winter is a fantastic time to visit the Highlands. Everything has a beautiful crisp feel to it, the Winter sunshine is gorgeous and many of the attractions are much quieter. If you are a keen photographer, there’s a high chance that you will have a lot of the beauty to yourself. This is the first time I have experienced the Highlands like this and it was truly memorable.
The magic really started to come alive for me when we arrived at the Commando Memorial, near Spean Bridge. The Commando Memorial is a monument in Lochaber, which is often described as the outdoor capital of the UK. The monument is dedicated to the British Commando Forces of World War II. It looks over the training area of the Commando Training Depot which was established in 1942.The landscape out there is a 25 out of 10. Spean Bridge itself is dead bonnie too. But the Commando Memorial is breathtaking. The memorial stands proudly looking over Ben Nevis and Aonach Mor. We have driven to and past the monument a number of times now but I have never seen it on a sunny, wintery morning. The steam was rising off the land and the hills were dusted with snow. Aye, it was bloomin’ cold, but it was absolutely magical. Callie kept herself amused by sniffing the trails of pheasants that were long gone. It was truly a gorgeous morning.
We swang by Fort William for a wee wander around Old Inverlochy Castle which Callie absolutely loved. Then we picked up some munchies (mostly cold sausage rolls and Percy Pigs) before heading out to Glen Coe, one of the cherries of our whole trip.
We haven’t spent much time in Fort William other than on random drives out West. But I remember Fort William from Highland Dancing competitions when I was a wee duck. There was this one time I kicked my swords between the legs of Joe Simpson, who was a really brutal but totally legendary judge who’d been on the go since before the Highland Fling existed. Maybe he invented it who knows.
Joe gave me 2nd place in a Sailors Hornpipe once against some pretty vicious competition so I’ve never really lost respect for him since. If anything, Joe the judge is a great example of let bygones be bygones. He never lost a leg with my haphazard sword kicking and he still respected my hornpipe. Thanks Joe. Speaking of which, anyone else totally missing Highland games?! There is literally nothing more fun than wandering around a Highland games ground in the sunshine with an ice-cream, looking round all the wee local crafting stalls. I can’t wait to hear live traditional music again!
Fort William is the home of Ben Nevis and a cracking spot for touring both the Highlands and the West Coast. Lochaber is a fantastic place to visit in the Winter. Not only is it a premier wintersports location, with the hills ideal for skiing and snowboarding, but it is just as beautiful for a winter walk, or for watching the sunset over the small isles. There is also a brand new Highland Soaps Shop if you’re looking for lovely local gifts, or for some lovely bubble bath for a long soak in the tub after a wintry wander. We were staying at The Moorings Hotel in Fort William, which is right beside the Neptunes Staircase. It had fantastic views over Ben Nevis and hearty, home-cooked food.
Glen Coe in the Snow
Onto the final stop in our Highlands trip; Glen Coe. I love Glen Coe. Most people who visit Scotland love Glen Coe. You probably love Glen Coe. But how do I begin to explain the unexpected magical Winter wonderland that is Glen Coe in the snow?
As we drove by Ballachulish, we did see the odd sprinkle of snow, but literally zero humans expected the magical Scottish snow-globe we were about to enter. As we entered the glen, Scott and I were both speechless. So speechless in fact that we both put down our cold sausage rolls in complete awe. We never put down our sausage rolls. But alas, sometimes pictures speak louder than words.
Exploring my Highland Hame
We had such a lovely time visiting my Highland home on the #HameTownTourist trip with VisitScotland because #ScotlandLovesLocal. It was great to get out and about on my own stamping ground, something I couldn’t have needed more after a year of, well, let’s just say it’s been a year.If you can get out and about in your local area, do take the time to do so. Not only are fresh air and distractions extremely helpful at this time of the year for raising your mood, but there are so many gems on your doorstep. It’s also so important to support local businesses where you can, shop local, eat local, buy local. Each time you support a small business, you are helping to support your local area, and ultimately someone’s dream. If you are looking for further information on the areas we visited or to plan your own Wintery trip to the Highlands, check out the below resources. Take care and stay safe.