The rut is in full swing and the hills and glens of the Scottish Highlands are ringing out with the sound of roaring stags. There’s no better time to visit the Highlands. Think, spectacular scenery, magnificent wildlife and cosy Highland hotels to coorie in. We recently returned from a break, that offered all of those things and more. Over a long weekend, we stayed at three fabulous Highland hotels owned by Black Sheep Hotels.
One of the things we loved about the trip, was that the hotels (Whispering Pine Lodge, Rokeby Manor and The Cluanie Inn) were located fairly close to each other. It let us immerse ourselves in a beautiful part of the country and get to know it better.
Day 1 – Exploring the Scottish Highlands
Walk – Creag Meagaidh National Nature Reserve
We made our first stop in the Scottish Highlands at Creag Meagaidh National Nature Reserve – a must, if you like walking and wildlife watching. There are three trails on the reserve, which is home the black grouse, mountain hare, golden eagle, ptarmigan and red deer.
We chose the Allt Dubh Trail (meaning black burn in Gaelic).
It led us through the only woodland in the Scottish Highlands where alder trees have grown continuously for hundreds of years.
Emerging from the trees, we passed rocks carved with a quote from a poem by Sorely MacLean.
I saw the little tree rising, in its branches the jewelled music.
The path got rockier, as it climbed towards a viewpoint.
When we reached the viewpoint, the boy rolled in a bog while we admired the scenery.
Leaving the viewpoint, we followed the final section of the trail back to where we’d began our walk.
Despite not spotting any wildlife, we did hear stags roaring in the distance, so were hopeful we’d spot the magnificent beasties at some point over the weekend.
Back to the Ice Age in in Glen Roy
Our next stop was Glen Roy. The glen is famous for The Parallel Roads which cross its hillsides. Despite the name, they’re not roads.
For years they puzzled scientists, including Charles Darwin who visited Glen Roy in 1838. In 1840, Swiss Geologist Louis Agassiz deduced the landscape had been shaped by ice.
In 1861 Scottish Geologist, Thomas Jamieson put forward his theory (the accepted theory). The Parallel Roads had formed during the Ice Age, when the glen was blocked by ice. The ice restricted the flow of a river causing a lake to form. When the ice began to retreat, the water level in the lake dropped in three stages, scarring the hillside and creating The Parallel Roads.
The Commando Memorial at Spean Bridge
Before checking into our accommodation, we stopped at The Commando Memorial in Spean Bridge. The memorial depicts Second World War Commandos looking towards the Nevis Mountain Range, where they trained for combat. It’s dedicated to the Commandos who died in the Second World War.
It’s a poignant tribute, to brave men.
Night 1 – Whispering Pine Lodge
Whispering Pine Lodge sits beside its own private beach on the shore of Loch Lochy. The location is stunning. The hotel is too, after undergoing an extensive refurbishment programme when it was bought by Black Sheep Hotels.
We loved Whispering Pine Lodge from the second we set eyes on it. Stepping inside, we loved it even more. The interior is a quirky homage to Scotland – like a Canadian mountain lodge, built by a homesick Scot.
Our room – Luxury Spa Room
Our room was a Luxury Spa Room with patio doors and a fab view.
The room was spacious, cute and cosy. Wood flooring and a huge bed, topped with an embroidered throw, added to the mountain lodge vibe.
Our en suite had a shower, large fluffy towels and toiletries from local soap maker, The Highland Soap Company.
Keen to unwind before dinner, we bought drinks from the hotel’s Burns Bar to have in our room.
Slipping into hotel robes and slippers, we sat by the window, enjoying our drinks and the view. The boy appeared to be in a Zen like state on the doggy bed the hotel had provided for him.
Dinner – The Lochside Brasserie
After some chill time, we headed to the hotel’s Lochside Brasserie for dinner. The restaurant is dog friendly, but we left the boy snoozing, so we could eat in peace.
The owner of Black Sheep Hotels is Indian and the hotel menus offer a mix of Scottish and Indian dishes, along with old favourites like burgers.
I LOVE Indian food.
I started with chargrilled broccoli florets marinated with yoghurt and garlic and topped with toasted pine nuts – it was super tasty.
Mr G had cod tikka served with chutney. His starter was also a hit.
For my main course, I had chicken Amritsari – a traditional Punjabi curry. It was rich, spicy and delicious.
Mr G had classic butter chicken. He’s not a spice fiend like me, so prefers creamier curries. He raved about how good the dish was for days afterwards.
For me, there could only be one choice when it came to dessert. It had to be kulfi (Indian ice cream) – my favourite dessert. I thought I’d discovered the perfect kulfi at a hip Indian restaurant in Reykjavik a couple of years ago. That was until I tried Black Sheep Hotels kulfi – utter perfection.
Mr G had a Scottish bread pudding with creme Anglaise and whisky sauce. It looked lovely and he confirmed it was.
Farewell Whispering Pine Lodge
We slept soundly in our cosy room that night and woke the next morning feeling refreshed.
Being early risers, we were the first to arrive at the Lochside brasserie (this time with the boy in tow) for breakfast.
After devouring a cooked breakfast, it was time for us to leave Whispering Pine lodge. We’d loved everything about the hotel – from the friendly staff, to the fabulous location, our lovely room and the great food.
We’d be spending the second night of our trip a short hop away in Invergarry, but first we had exploring to do.
Day 2 – Exploring the Scottish Highlands
After stopping to admire reflections on Loch Oich, our sightseeing took a macabre turn.
The Well of Seven Heads
By the shore of Loch Oich, stands a monument, topped with seven heads and a hand holding a dagger. It’s linked to a MacDonald Clan feud. In September 1663 Alexander, Chief of the MacDonalds of Keppoch and his brother Ranald were murdered by Alexander MacDonald from Inverlair and his six sons.
Iain Lom, a relative of the victims, fought tirelessly for the murderers to be punished. He eventually persuaded a MacDonald chief on the Isle of Skye to seek permission from the king to capture the murderers by ‘fire or sword’.
Lom arrived in Inverlair with fifty men, who decapitated Alexander MacDonald and his sons.
After washing the heads in a spring beside Loch Oich, Lom had them presented to Lord MacDonnell at Invergarry Castle.
The spring (known as The Well of Seven Heads) lies beneath the monument. You can visit if you dare.
Our next stop was Invergarry Castle (where the heads were taken). The castle was almost as creepy as the well.
The imposing 17th century tower, was the seat of Clan MacDonnell (a powerful branch of Clan Donald). The boy didn’t like the castle one bit and refused to entertain the notion of exploring in its shadows.
Walk – Alt na Cailliche Trail, Glengarry
It was time to forget tales of murder and seek solace in nature. We found the perfect place – Glengarry Forest, where there are two walking trails. We chose the Alt na Cailliche Trail (3 miles), the longer and more strenuous of the two.
It took us past the River Garry, then into a forest, where large areas of native Caledonian pinewood still survive.
It looked like a magical fairy kingdom with every shade of green imaginable on display.
The trail followed a burn (Allt na Cailliche or burn of the old woman) uphill, then along a steep-sided gorge.
Our efforts were rewarded when we reaching a spectacular waterfall, closely followed by an even more spectacular waterfall.
The sound of water thundering into the gorge below was deafening.
From the falls, the trail climbed further still, before turning onto a track that led downhill. The track offered pretty views of the mountains surrounding Glen Garry, but lacked the wow factor of our ascent route.
Night 2 – Rokeby Manor
We’d spent a fun day exploring the Scottish Highlands, now it was time to check out another of the Highland hotels in the Black Sheep flock.
Rokeby Manor is a charming Victorian manor, located on the outskirts of Invergarry. Like Whispering Pine Lodge, the hotel has also been refurbished to an extremely high standard.
The interior style is traditional country cottage, with a proud Highland heart.
Our room – The Rowanberry Suite
Our room was a spacious suite (The Rowanberry Suite). It had period features and was decorated in keeping with the age of the building. It had a fire too – perfect, for toasting toes during the winter months.
The boy was delighted to find another doggy bed waiting for him. He’d taken a shine to the one at Whispering Pine Lodge.
The Victorian theme continued into the en suite, which had a bath with shower over it and luxurious underfloor heating. Bare feet on warm tiles = bliss.
We spent time chilling in our room before dinner. The hotel’s restaurant, Emily’s Byre, has a dog friendly section, but we left the boy snoozing to indulge in another peaceful meal.
Dinner – Emily’s Byre
Emily’s Byre, reminded me the quaint places we visited in Amish country, Pennsylvania. I immediately, loved the feel of the place. It was like stepping back to a simpler time.
The menu was similar to the one at Whispering Pine Lodge, but offered a number of different dishes.
I started with crunchy lentil bites, served with a coconut and mustard seed dip, while Mr G had an Indian paratha wrap with chicken, egg and red onions. Both were good.
For my main course, I had a lovely chicken and rice stir fry, cooked in a black pepper sauce.
Mr G had haggis, neeps and tatties in a whisky sauce. He cleared his plate in record time – a sure fire sign he’d enjoyed the dish.
For dessert, we both had kulfi. Mr G was keen to find out what all the fuss was about – he’s now a kulfi super fan too.
Before leaving Emily’s Byre, I was given a box of treats for a Rokeby Manor VIP.
They were gratefully received.
Farewell to Rokeby Manor
After another great sleep, we were up and ready for an early breakfast.
We readied ourselves up for the day ahead with porridge drizzled with honey, while the boy had a sausage.
We really enjoyed our stay at Rokeby Manor and although we were sad to leave, we were looking forward to spending another day exploring the Scottish Highlands.
Day 3 – Exploring the Scottish Highlands
We passed some incredible scenery as we headed towards Glen Shiel, our final overnight destination.
There were lochs, including one shaped like the map of Scotland (Loch Garry), glens and rugged mountains.
Battles, brochs and iconic castles
After soaking up the scenery, we stopped in Glen Shiel at the site of the Battle of Glen Shiel. The battle was fought in June 1719, between Jacobite supporters (aided by Spanish troops) and government forces. The Jacobites were defeated and the would be rising halted.
We followed a narrow path from a cairn commemorating the battle. It led to a waterfall, then up a steep hill that offered amazing views of the glen.
After leaving Glen Shiel, we crossed the spectacular Ratagan Pass into Glenelg.
The glen is home to my favourite brochs (2,000-year-old Iron Age towers), a Jacobite era barracks and a fab inn (The Glenelg Inn), where we stopped for lunch.
The village of Glenelg is twinned with Glenelg on Mars, so if that’s not reason enough to visit, I don’t know what is.
After leaving Glenelg, we continued our journey west, stopping at the poster boy of Scottish castles – Eilean Donan. The castle has appeared in many movies over the years, including the iconic Highlander. Even if history isn’t your thing, there a great cafe on site (Heilan’ Scran) that serves takeaway and a fab wee shop too.
Wee Jock’s return to Lochdubh
In the mid-nineties, a TV comedy-drama set in a fictional village in the Scottish Highlands aired for the first time. Hamish MacBeth, was based on novels written by Scottish author M.C. Beaton. The lead role of Hamish Macbeth (the village policeman) was played by Robert Carlyle, but he wasn’t the true star of the show. The true star was the stunning Highland village the show was set in. The fictional Lochdubh, was the beautiful village of Plockton. When I say Plockton was the true star of the show, anyone familiar with Hamish MacBeth will know I lied. The true star of the show was Hamish’s trusty companion – Wee Jock the Westie.
Little did I know, that one day I’d be a regular visitor to Lochdubh with a Wee Jock of my own.
Finding ourselves so close, we couldn’t resist visiting Plockton for a stroll by the shore of Loch Carron.
After our stroll, we bought coffee and cake from a wee shop (The Shores) in the village. The cake was deeeeeeelicious.
Night 3 – The Cluanie Inn
Leaving Plockton, we headed to our final Black Sheep hotel of the weekend. The Cluanie Inn sits at the head of Glen Shiel. It’s surrounded by mountains – in fact, 29 of Scotland’s 282 Munro’s (mountains over 3,000 feet) are on the doorstep. For that reason, the inn has long been a favourite with outdoor enthusiasts.
When Black Sheep Hotels bought the inn, it was in desperate need of some TLC.
Refurbishing somewhere people have a strong emotional attachment to (despite the state of repair), is always tricky. Yet, Black Sheep Hotels pulled off a blinder with The Cluanie Inn.
Despite being extensively refurbished, The Cluanie Inn retained what people loved about it – the look and feel of a traditional Highland inn. Somewhere, you could enjoy a dram by a roaring fire after spending a day in the mountains.
Our room – The Highlands Suite
Our room was a beautiful suite (The Highlands Suite), with a gorgeous four poster bed and spectacular mountain view.
It was worthy of a clan chief.
There was a bed waiting for the boy too. Black Sheep Hotels, go all out to welcome canine guests. Beds and bowls are provided and hotels have a fenced off dog area outside, where your four-legged buddy can go to the loo.
Our en suite was chic and modern, with a jacuzzi bath.
The bath had colour changing lights, jets galore and Bluetooth connectivity, so you could listen to the radio.
After grabbing drinks from the bar, we settled in chairs by our room window to unwind before dinner.
Before long we heard a familiar roar. A stag had appeared outside our window with hinds, he was trying desperately to impress.
Another stag was roaring nearby and every time he did, our stag responded with a bellow.
I learned something new too – apparently stags are pretty damn good at dressage.
Dinner – Cluanie Bar & Kitchen
After wildlife watching, our attention turned to food.
The menu at Cluanie Bar & Kitchen featured some of the signature dishes that were on the menus at Whipering Pine Lodge and Rokeby Manor, but it was more international. There were Indian, Scottish, Mexican and Italian dishes to choose from.
I started with Mexican chicken quesadilla. It was a great choice. Mr G had mushroom soup – one of his favourites. It passed his mushroom soup QA assessment with flying colours.
For main, I had a simple, but flavoursome Italian dish – spaghetti aglio e olio. It was the perfect comfort food, after spending the day outdoors.
Mr G had something more flamboyant. The Cluanie Inn’s version of fish and chips. It was beer battered pieces of cod, sole, prawns and calamari served with tartar sauce and chunky chips. As a fish lover, he was delighted with his choice.
We were a tad traumatised to discover there was no kulfi on the menu. Luckily, our waitress recommended another Indian dessert she knew we’d love.
Baked yoghurt with lemon ripple ice cream. I was doubtful, but oh my – it was fantastic. We both approved.
Farewell to Cluanie Inn
We slept soundly in our posh bed that night and woke the next morning wishing we could linger longer.
Sadly, our stay at the iconic Cluanie Inn was drawing to a close.
After tucking into bacon butties for breakfast, we reluctantly said goodbye to our beautiful suite.
It’d been a wonderful stay at a fabulous hotel.
And wowzer – what a location.
My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here, my heart’s in the Highlands, a-chasing the deer.
Three days spent exploring the Scottish Highlands, staying at three wonderful Highland hotels in three fabulous locations – our first experience of Black Sheep Hotels, definitely won’t be our last.
We stayed with Black Sheep Hotels on a complimentary basis, however all opinions are my own.
Until next time …