A tour of Stirling, Fort William, climbing Ben Nevis and back through Loch Lomond all in one bank holiday weekend.
Restrictions finally lifted but not enough to allow us to go abroad. We began thinking of where to go for a Staycation and the Lake District was my first thought. We’ve explored a lot of the lakes now and to be honest were struggling to find accommodation. It seemed like everyone else had the same idea. James had mentioned Scotland and it just did not excite me at first. I felt as though we would just be going away for the sake of it and still potentially spending a ton on petrol and accommodation. However, once I started researching where to go and what to go my excitement grew and grew.
James was keen on visiting St Andrews and Loch Lomond. If you’re unsure just how big Scotland is (like I was) get a map out now! As much as I’m sure both of these places would be great to visit, I think it would be best to visit them during separate trips. They’re rather far apart. After ditching St Andrews I quickly realised that if we went to Loch Lomond only we’d easily fill a long weekend. We were looking to visit during the May bank holiday - Thursday night to Monday. I quickly discovered three main towns I wanted to visit and some amazing hikes:
Scottish Highland Towns
Now I was excited! To get to Loch Lomond was around 3 hours 20 minutes for us and I didn’t want to travel much further afield. It was all coming together.
I then turned to Instagram for some inspiration and started searching for the most picturesque places in Scotland. Glencoe kept popping us, as did the rest of the Scottish Highlands. I asked some Instagram friends who adore Scotland so I knew they’d be able to give us the best recommendations and as expected they suggested we head up to Glencoe. James had wanted to climb Ben Nevis for some time and this was the final of the three peaks to tick off the list (although we haven’t quite reached the top of Scafell Pike - Sophie wore the wrong shoes and didn’t fancy trudging through snow in her trainers, woops). We then started looking at how we could combine Glencoe and Fort William which is the start of the Ben Nevis hike. To get to Glencoe was another hour for us and then another 30 minutes to get to Fort William but we knew we’d regret it if we didn’t drive that little bit further.
We arrived at the Hidden Valley car park and got ready to embark on our first hike of the trip. The car park is also a stunning view point where you can capture some incredible shots of the Three Sisters mountains, traditionally known as Bidean nam Bian. This hike is easy to follow and a popular route so you’re likely to make human and dog friends along the way. There are some steep parts and a little bit of scrambling but nothing too tasking. The walk is also a good length at around a 2-3 hour round trip. The highlight of the walk is reaching a vast expanse of grass and flat terrain with the perfect view of a gorge ahead - this is when you’ll know you’ve reached the lost valley. From here you can carry on to hike to the top of the valley but we opted for a picnic stop in the sun. We came across a white iPhone during our picnic stop. Don’t get excited, this isn’t a prize for reaching the end of the hike, someone unfortunately had just left it behind. We didn’t know what to do for the best - take it and hand it in somewhere or leave it. The trouble is with the hidden valley hike is there are no cafes or other facilities around so we had no option but to leave it. Once we’d finished our picnic and took some shots of the hidden valley, we made our way back the way we came to the hidden valley car park.
It was now time for a beer in the sunshine so we headed to the Claclaig Inn. From here you can start another popular walk up to Signal Rock but we left that walk until the following day and chose to relax in the sun instead. The pub is intimate and cosy and great for families with a playpark for children. We sat outside, enjoying the sun and re-jigged our plans for the trip. We’d plan to do a lot more on this first day but really just wanted to stop and appreciate the beautiful hot weather. Whilst we were enjoying our beers I overheard someone on the phone explaining they were using their partner’s phone as they’d lost theirs on a hike. I quickly thought back to our picnic and by pure chance this was the iPhone we’d spotted during our picnic stop. We went over and explained it was still there and the couple explained they were going to hike back up to get it after they’d had some food and a beer. I remember thinking they were very blasé about the whole thing. As sad as it sounds, we’re all a little addicted to our phones these days, I’d be lost without mine. I’d be heading straight back to see if I could find it, not relaxing with a beer and a burger!
We made our way to our hotel for the night, the luxurious Kingshouse Hotel.
Glencoe Day 2
Our plan for this day was to first drive to Glen Etive. We’d read this was a beautiful drive and just 25/30 minutes from Kingshouse. Unfortunately the road leading to Glen Etive was closed so that scuppered our plans. Luckily we had plenty of other things on our list. We started with a walk to Signal Rock and An Torr. This is a gentle woodland walk with a slight incline to reach signal rock. There are 3/4 marked paths from the Signal Rock car park. We chose to reach Signal Rock first and then on the way down took a detour in the direction of An Torr. Both walks are very easy and suitable for all ages. We saw lots of families with young children enjoying the walk and the nice weather. This walk only took an hour or so and then we drove the short distance to our next stop at the end of Glencoe village. This is another short walk but this one is super picturesque as it takes you past Glencoe Lochan. This turned out to be our favourite walk of the day and we ended up getting some great shots here. Another manageable walk for all ages. It was then time for lunch and because we were still blessed with sunshine and blue skies we opted for another picnic outside. We drove to Ballachulish which was the starting point of our next walk and stopped at the local Co-op to buy some lunch. We then drove the short distance to the Isles of Glencoe hotel, which is part of the same family as Kingshouse - the Crieff Hydro Family, parked up, walked up some steps to the left of the hotel and found a bench overlooking Loch Leven.
After lunch we drove back to Ballachulish visitors car park and opposite the car park we started another short woodland walk. This walk was quite shaded and actually quite deserted. We only saw one family on the whole walk and for some reason the child in the family was walking with no shoes on - rather unusual for any outing but especially a hike on rocky terrain. The woodland really reminded me of ‘Behind her eyes’ on Netflix and that was one of the shows that really got to me. You know when you watch something and it stays with you for a couple of days then every time you think about it it gives you cold shivers? Yep, one of those. So I couldn’t quite get that out of my head which distracted me from what I’m sure was a beautiful walk.
Once the walk was finished it was time to leave Glencoe and head North to Fort William.
We weren’t finished walking just yet and had one more walk to conquer before we could settle down for the evening and explore Fort William. We visited Steall Falls which is a 15/20 minute drive from the centre of Fort William. The walk is only 2 miles long and the Steall Falls waterfall is your reward at the end. It is breathtaking. The start of the walk is quite sheltered and takes you through the Nevis Gorge with some steep steps and scrambling at times. After this the area opens up and you’ll catch your first glimpse of Steall Falls. Continue to walk towards the falls to capture the best photos. If you’re brave enough you can also climb along the riggity wire bridge to the right. We watched a man walk across the bridge and then his dog met him on the other side by swimming across in the water below. It was adorable!
We were all walked out and ready to get settled into our accommodation for the next two nights. We were staying in the Brevins Guesthouse, a 17 minute drive from Steall Falls. We were met by Vincent who gave us a delightful Highlands welcome and showed us to our room. We had a good chat and he told us that we could walk to the start of Ben Nevis from the guest house. This was music to our ears as we didn’t want to have to get up horrifically early just to bag a parking spot. The guest house is only a 15 minute walk from the start. Vincent also gave us some recommendations of the best places to eat in Fort William. Luckily one of his recommendations matched with the restaurant we had in mind. We had a quick shower in our spotless room, got changed and walked into the centre of Fort William which was only a 15 minute walk.
We ate at the Geographer. I’d done my research into the best restaurants in Fort William and this place kept popping up again and again. This place is modern serving trendy street food style dishes and deviates from the traditional Scottish menus you’ll find elsewhere. It is extremely popular. We rang in advance to book a table and were told they don’t take bookings on a weekend. We arrived just after 6pm and were second in the queue behind another couple. We asked how long they’d been waiting and they said around 20 minutes but were told it would be 40 minutes for a table. We strapped in ready to wait and contemplated whether this place was really worth it or whether we should just go elsewhere. There was a fish and chip shop next door which had even more people queuing outside. It seemed as though the two best places for food in Fort William had teamed up and got spots in the middle of the street right next to one another. Another couple approached the line and asked whether we were waiting to be seated. I explained we were and said we weren’t able to book. The couple had a booking so strolled straight in! Rather annoying it seems as though its different treatment for different people. Anyway, shortly after this we were seated and we only waited around 10-15 minutes in total so I can’t complain.
The beer selection was small which didn’t suit James and I had an expensive gin and tonic which was definitely overpriced. However, the food made it all worth it. It was incredible. James had the mac and cheese and I had buttermilk chicken strips and fries. I have never grown out of chicken nuggets and chips being my favourite meal as it was when I was a child so I strive searching for the adult version on every menu. At the Geographer I found just that and I was in my element. The food and service could not be faulted and I will definitely be recommending you visit this place during your trip to Fort William.
We made our way back to the guest house for the night, watched the Champions League final and had an early night ready for Ben Nevis the following day.
Luss and Conic Hill
After a good nights sleep we carried our tired legs down to breakfast. We had another delicious breakfast at the Brevins guest house (this time I had a cheese and tomato omelette, it was great) and it was time to head back home. However, we’d planned quite a few stops along the way to prolong our holiday as long as we could. Our first stop was the Falls of Falloch. We parked up in the tight car parking spot and walked just 5 minutes to reach the falls. We quickly got distracted by a group of men at the top of the waterfall daring each other to jump. It took a while to encourage each other to ‘go for it’ but we were invested so we waited around to watch them jump. Luckily, everyone jumped with no issue and it was good entertainment for all.
We then continued onto Luss, a village on the west of Loch Lomond and within the Trossachs National Park. This is a quaint sleepy little village and it feels like a fairytale. The buildings all look like Snow White’s cottage with coffee served in tartan cups and a fairy trail, perfect for children (and grown ups). It was another boiling hot day so there were plenty of half-dressed teenagers queuing for ice cream and drifting around Loch Lomond on lilos. We stopped for a coffee at the Coach House Coffee Shop, sat in their garden area and relaxed. I was craving fish and chips but unfortunately the shop I had in mind, Loch Lomond Fish and Chip Co was closed. We continued wandering and found the ’Faerie trail’ which was utterly adorable. There were little animal figurines, stories and myths allowing you to enter the world of the fairies and trolls. The trail takes you by the side of Luss water and it is such a pleasure.
My craving for fish and chips led to desperation so we decided to grab a bite to eat at our next stop. We headed to the Conic Hill car park and ate at the Oak Tree Inn. It was difficult to get a table outside as the sun was blazing and it was first come first served but we waited it out and bagged one as soon as we could. I finally got my beloved fish and chips and they did not disappoint. We wolfed down our food, filled up our water bottles and then it was time to head off on our last hike of the trip, Conic Hill. This hike is a 2 hour round trip, there are some steep sections but the views at the top make it all worth it. I’d definitely recommend this hike but maybe not after 2 full days of tough hiking and a plate of fish and chips!
It was time to leave and as we drove back to Newcastle we reminisced about our trip and how we were desperate to revisit. There is so much to do and see in the Scottish Highlands and if you’re into hiking I don’t think you could ever run out of mountains to climb. Catch this place with some good weather and it is one of the most stunning places in the world. I am so glad we chose to go on this staycation and if you’re from the UK and not wanting to travel abroad this summer, head to the highlands. You won’t be disappointed.
Next post: Climbing Ben Nevis