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Scotland - A Land of Mist & Magic

Updated: Jul 1, 2022

For this post, I wanted to make sure I could live up to my blog’s namesake, so this one will be all about travel!

I want to take you to an enchanting land of dramatic landscapes, a land rich in history & lore, & filled with magic & mystery. The land of which I speak is the breathtaking country of Scotland.

There are many reasons why I was drawn to travel to Scotland (one of which may have been the binge-reading/binge-watching of the series “Outlander” by Diana Gabaldon). But, lets be real, when you’re in Scotland, especially the highlands, you feel like you’re in a different realm. Something about the sparkling lochs, the dramatic cliffs & green hills, the deep glens surrounded by the striking mountains, it stirs up feelings of pure freedom. Not only is Scotland beautiful, but their culture, folklore, & history are pretty incredible too (their national animal is a unicorn for goodness sake)!

So as luck would have it, I had the opportunity to travel to Scotland in April 2017 & I full-on jumped at the chance. Scotland had been one of the top destinations on my “Dream Travel” list for quite some time. After traveling there & experiencing Scotland, I learned a lot its’ history, weather, & culture. Now, I would like to share what I learned with you! My goal is to give you my top picks for where & what to eat, where to stay, & what to see if you plan on traveling to Scotland! So, put on your best hiking boots, a good rain jacket, maybe a tartan scarf, & follow me as I share my tips for traveling to this beautiful country!


Before we start, there is one thing to know about Scotland – it is misty, damp, chilly, & rainy most of the time. So be sure to bring a waterproof jacket, warm wool socks, a wool hat, waterproof hiking boots, & mittens. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did. Depending on where you explore, Scotland can be quite windy, making it feel even colder, so keep that in mind as well! I took my trip in April which is technically considered the “off-season” of tourist travel. This can have both pros & cons. The pros being: less likely to have huge crowds, more availability for activities & places to stay, prices for travel & admissions are lower, & it offers a more private touring experience. The cons being: certain tourist attractions may be closed, the weather may be more unpredictable, & it can be harder to get around. These are just a few thoughts to consider before booking your Scotland trip, but every traveler & trip is different!



If you plan on going to Scotland one of the places you cannot skip is the Orkney Islands. This magical archipelago off the northern coast of Scotland is such a gem! The islands are filled with prehistoric history & together, many of the attractions make up the “Heart of Neolithic Orkney” which are considered UNESCO World Heritage Sites. When you travel to Orkney, you as if you are in a very remote place of the world, but in actuality, you’re only an hour by boat from mainland Great Britain. One thing Orkney is fairly famous for is its’ weather. The island has fierce winds & is absent of trees which makes for a very sweeping, dramatic landscape. This beautiful cluster of islands will always hold a special place in my heart (and I am sure if you visit, they will for you too).


There are two main ways to get to the island – air (small passenger plane) & sea (a ferry). When I traveled, we opted to travel by sea & used Pentland Ferries based out of John O’Groats which is considered the “Land’s End” point acknowledged as the northern marker of the longest distance between two inhabited British points on the mainland.

I am not a huge fan of flying, so the ferry offered an anxiety-free option for me. The best thing about the ferry was not only was it an absolutely beautiful way to enjoy the scenery, but it was functional as well. The boat ride was only about an hour long & it allowed us to transport our rental car over to the island so that we could use it to move from site to site. Plus, there is just something about sailing, especially in Scotland, that tugs at the heartstrings. The wind in your hair, the gulls overhead, the smell of the sea, & the expanse of blue where the ocean meets the sky – it really doesn’t get any better than that. Another convenient feature of traveling by ferry is the docking point. The ferry company we used docks at St. Margaret’s Hope, an adorable little town on one of the adjoining islands off the mainland. It is a great starting point if you’re looking to head to the mainland island of Orkney.

If you choose the ferry, I do have a word of caution. For those who get sea sick easily, the ferry may not be the best option for you. The waters around Orkney can be quite turbulent due to strong, & even gale force winds, that the islands experience for most days out of the year. Given this fact the ocean can often be a bit rough. In fact, the morning we were due to leave the island, our outbound ferry was late by 1 hour & the typical hour-long journey took 2 hours due to the roughness of the ocean. Although it was a bit jarring, the it is one I chalk up to a good story & we ended up bonding with a Scottish family over the unpredictable ocean.


View from our AirBnB in the bay of St. Margaret’s Hope

We arrived in Scotland in the evening so we had nothing planned for that day. However, the next morning we wanted to get an early start & catch the 7 AM ferry over to the islands. Because we had to get up at the crack of dawn, we wanted to choose an Airbnb that was within fairly close proximity to the docks. We decided on a tiny village called Thrumster, where we spent the night in an old school house (you can see the listing here). The accommodations were clean & comfortable & our host Jo & her husband were warm & welcoming! It was also extremely convenient to be within a 30 minute drive of the docks.

When looking for accommodations on Orkney, we wanted to make sure we stayed somewhere central to where we would be day-tripping, as well as a place close enough to the docks to catch the early morning outbound boat back to the mainland the next day. We found the perfect place right in Gill’s Bay in the town of St. Margaret’s Hope. We had an entire house to ourselves which was perfectly situated right on the water! We could literally see the ferry docks from our window & it would make for an easy morning to just jump right on the ferry (if you’re interested you can see the listing here).



Skara Brae is truly a sight to behold. Nestled in the Bay of Skaill, it is a Neolithic settlement dated to be 5,000 years old, making it older than Stonehenge & the great pyramids of Egypt. It also happens to be one of the most well preserved Neolithic sites in Western Europe. Skara Brae is a collection of prehistoric circular houses that make up a small village along the coast. When you visit, you are walking on ground above the houses & are able to look down on the contents of the houses to see how the Neolithic people might have lived during their time. The site was discovered in 1850 after winter storms eroded away sand dunes in the bay, uncovering the ancient site.

Skaill House is part of the Skara Brae grounds & is included with admission to Skara Brae. Skaill House is an old manor house that was built in the 1600s & was home to the man that discovered Skara Brae. When visiting, you can tour the gardens/grounds surrounding the estate, explore the many rooms inside the manor house, & even hear some ghost stories!


When it comes to Maeshowe, you definitely shouldn’t judge a book by its’ cover. I know it doesn’t look like much on the outside, but Maeshowe is pretty spectacular on the inside. Well, I know what you’re probably thinking – what is it? I am aware that to most, it probably just looks like a glorified hill, but it’s arguably Orkney’s largest & most impressive prehistoric chambered cairn.

Maeshowe was built roughly 5,000 years ago & is similar to the well-known Newgrange chambered cairn in Ireland. My husband & I got really lucky when we toured Maeshowe, because we fortuitously ended up being the only two people who signed up for the last tour of the day, so to us, it felt like we were getting our own private tour!

Unfortunately, when inside the cairn they don’t allow photography for preservation purposes, but, you better believe that there was some inappropriate Viking graffiti carved into the stone walls. The story goes that there was a Norse break-in during Viking raids on the island in the 1100’s & they decided to “make their mark” on the cairn (and in my humble opinion, it is the finest example of humanity being lewd since the beginning of recorded time).

If you can ignore the hilarious Viking graffiti, you will see that Maeshowe is beautifully haunting. The reason being that it was expertly designed to align with the setting of the midwinter sun. On the last days of the mid-winter solstice, the final rays of the setting sun shine through the entrance passage & illuminate the tomb’s interior chamber. There are many theories as to what the design phenomenon represents (fertility, life after death, a type of calendar system), but if you visit, I’ll leave it up to you to formulate your own belief!


The Ring of Brodgar is, perhaps, one of my most favorite places not only in the entirety of Scotland, but ever. I may be a bit partial though, because I had the fortune of getting engaged on our trip in the middle of this ancient stone circle (still giving praise to my now-husband for pulling that off)!

This ancient stone ring is positioned on a beautiful, heather-covered hill, overlooking the Ness of Brodgar, which is a thin strip of land separating two lochs (AKA lakes), Harray & Stenness. It is estimated that the ring of stones was constructed between 2500 BC & 2000 BC. Originally, there were a total of 60 stones that made up the ring, however only 27 are still standing today. Of course this place was on my “must-see” list because it obviously has a very “Outlander”-ish type vibe. Did I put my hands up to the stones hoping that I would be transported back in time, only to become an expert healer & herbalist, & to be quickly whisked away by a handsome, kilted, Scottish warrior? Maybe….. but can you blame me?

Anyhow, regardless of whether a handsome, Scottish man in a kilt is involved or not, the stones are enchanting. You can’t help but feel a sense of magic when standing inside the ring. With historic sites, I often contemplate what sort of events occurred here & what types of people stepped into this stone circle throughout the ages. It’s definitely an otherworldly, yet humbling feeling. We finished off the day touring this spot & it only seemed right that a rainbow positioned itself right over our car as we were leaving.


The exterior & the name might seem very unassuming, but trust me, this place is worth the stop if you want delicious food at a reasonable price & to experience Orkney like a local. Robertson’s definitely ticks all of those boxes & gives you that “mom & pop” type feeling when you walk in the door. The restaurant is located right in the village of St. Margaret’s Hope & was a short walk from our AirBnb.

When you walk in, you’re greeted by old fashioned bar stools, a black & white checkered floor, & dozens of open shelves lined with bottles & trinkets. They serve customary Scottish fare such as fish & chips, but I opted to have the fried shrimp scampi & mushy peas (literally just mashed up peas), along with the very traditional side dish, “neeps & tatties,” (Yes, this is the actual name of the dish. And, still to this day, my husband & I inappropriately make jokes about it). Its basically just rutabagas, a root vegetable similar to a turnip (never thought I’d get to use the the word rutabagas in seriousness, let alone eat one), & white potatoes mashed together & served hot. Its like mashed potatoes but with a little extra oomph! All in all, Robertson’s was fantastic & I would definitely recommend this place to anyone who finds themselves in Orkney.


Ahhhhh… Cullen Skink. There really is nothing better than having a warm bowl of this smokey, creamy chowder after an afternoon of cold, sea air whipping at your face. During our exploration of Skara Brae, the weather was particularly unforgiving & despite our warm mittens & hats, we were completely numb. Around that time we began getting hungry, so we stopped close by to have lunch & this dish for sure hit the spot. If you like seafood, you’re going to love Cullen Skink! It’s a traditional Scottish cream-based soup/chowder that includes potatoes, leeks, & smoked haddock. Paired with a warm piece of Scottish brown bread, it’s absolutely heavenly! If you want to try your hand at making Cullen Skink so you can taste it for yourself, click here


I like to think of Inverness as the gateway city to the Scottish Highlands. The city itself is beautiful & there are so many thing to do in the surrounding areas. We only spent a day in the area, but we made sure to make the most of our time in the hub of the highlands!


We opted to book with another AirBnb because it allows you to get to know the locals & their top picks for food & fun things to do in the area. We stayed in a little village called Balblair (you can see the listing here), which is about a 30 minute drive outside of Inverness. Our host Jennifer was so pleasant & our room was spotless! I loved that it included little nods to the famous traditional Scottish garment, the tartan (the room was complete with matching tartan drapes, bedspread, & lounging chair). Overall, we had a great stay at this AirBnb; it was conveniently located for our jaunts around the highlands!



Urquhart Castle is over 1,000 years old & is perched perfectly on the banks of the famous Loch Ness. It was once one of Scotland’s largest castles & has seen some pretty amazing things throughout the ages. First, a Pictish fort, then a medieval stronghold, & finally an imposing ruin, this castle has seen its’ fair share of history. Exploring this castle was tons of fun, especially with the picturesque Loch Ness as its’ backdrop. For those of you who are fans of the “Outlander” series, it’s also mentioned in the book as a destination on Frank & Claire’s second honeymoon. Whether you are visiting as a history buff, a novel lover, and architecture aficionado, or anything in between, it was well worth the visit!


Loch Ness is probably one of the most iconic Scotland destinations but, I think it has it’s resident lake monster, Nessie, to thank for that. Whether you believe in Nessie or not, a visit to Loch Ness is time well spent. Whether you decide to drive around the lake or take a lake cruise (we didn’t get a chance to do this), you are sure to take in breathtaking vistas. One thing that Tony (my husband) & I did while at Loch Ness, was visit the Loch Ness Centre & Exhibition. Was it a bit touristy & corny? Yes, of course it was! But we had a ton of fun going through the exhibit & learning about the lake & its’ history. In all seriousness, the exhibition center does have a lot to offer when it comes to education on subjects like prehistoric lake creatures & their evolution, depth monitoring technologies, & local myth/lore. I was scanning their online brochure not long ago & noticed that they recently refurbished their entire exhibit this year (2019), so it may be different from what we experienced back in April 2017.


We didn’t get much time to explore the city of Inverness, but the time we did get was leisurely & alluring. After spending all day exploring Loch Ness & Urquhart Castle, we finished up the day by strolling through the city to at least lay eyes on the major sites. Following dinner, we took a peaceful walk along the River Ness & made sure to catch a glimpse of the Ness Bank Church & the “Three Graces Statue,” nearby. Inverness Castle is also a majestic sight that can’t be missed, as it is perched upon a hill overlooking the city & the river.


Speaking of Inverness Castle, you really can’t get a better view of it than at The Castle Tavern Pub. It gets an A+ in my book for food, location, & atmosphere. The pub serves the traditional pub fare, but its not any of that hokey stuff, its the real deal. The location is fantastic because like the name says, it is right across the street from Inverness Castle, which provides some great views while you’re dining. The atmosphere is very cozy & feels just like a pub ought to feel!


I don’t care what anyone says, haggis is absolutely delicious. If you know me, you know that I’m originally from the Pennsylvania, not too far from Lancaster, which is famed for its’ Pennsylvania Dutch cooking. We have a dish in good ol’ PA called scrapple (a bunch of pork odds & ends mashed together with cornmeal into a grey loaf). And while I hate to admit it, I love scrapple, but will never willingly order it (that certainly doesn’t mean that I won’t steal some off of my husband’s plate). But, I digress, haggis is extremely similar to scrapple both in taste & texture. Instead of pork you have sheep & instead of corn meal you have oats. Whether you like it or not, its definitely worth at least giving it a try!


It’s true what they say about the Isle of Skye, it really is magic. Whenever I think about the Isle of Skye or see a photo of it I think of the Robert Louis Stevenson Poem or what is now known as the “Outlander” theme song – The Skye Boat Song. Out of all the places we hopped around to while on our travels in Scotland, this area was by far the most enchanting!


Again another AirBnb was chosen for our time spent on the Isle of Skye. Although our accommodations weren’t technically on the Isle of Skye, it was just a short drive over the Skye Bridge to the village of Kyle of Lochalsh. Our hosts’ house happened to be right near The Five Sisters of Kintail, a famous hiking trail in the area. We were our hosts’ very first AirBnb guests & we had such a fun time (you can see Jenny’s listing here)! After our busy day spent on the island, we spent the rest of the evening in our hosts’ kitchen watching her daughter perform traditional highland dances & her son play us some tunes on his bagpipes! This was one of my favorite experiences while in Scotland & had we stayed in a hotel, we wouldn’t have been able to experience the local culture quite like this.



Eilean Donan Castle is, hands-down, Scotland’s most famous castles, & for good reason! It is truly a Scotland icon. The castle was built in the mid-13th century & offers an extensive tour with history about the castle from the time it was built all the way up to present day! It’s perched on its’ own little island at the point where three great sea lochs meet. It is definitely a piece of Scotland that you cannot miss!


Although the glen has no real mention in Scottish lore or myth in relation to fairies, you really can’t help but feel as though they are hiding around rocks & hills when you step into the Fairy Glen. The area has no real significance other than it being just an unusual land formation, but somehow it manages to bewitch hundreds of thousands of people to visit it every year. It’s free to visit, but is frequented by tour companies & large buses so be sure to get there early to experience the glen in magical solitude. Maybe if you’re there at sunrise, you’ll even catch a glimpse of the faeries!


The Old Man of Storr is another iconic image when thinking of Scotland. It is a large standing rock formation situated on the Trotternish ridge. The photo above is what it looks like in perfect weather, however, from we experienced of Scotland, that doesn’t happen too often (which you can see from the photo we took below).

This is what The Old Man of Storr looks like in normal Scottish weather! Despite the hike up the mountain soaking us to the bone due to the heavy mists & it ending with getting a less than stellar view of The Old Man, we had a great time! Even for novice hikers like Tony & I, it is doable in 45 min to an hour to actually reach the rock formation. It was a bit treacherous for us due to the mud & wet rocks, but if you have a good pair of hiking boots you should be just fine.

I will say that even though the mist obscured our view of the Old Man, it added to the whole Scotland experience, & we were still presented with some beautiful views on our way back down the mountain!


After our damp hike to The Old Man of Storr, we were ready for dinner, & found a great restaurant in the nearby town of Portree. The dining area was clean, cozy, and comfortable & the food was incredible. There was also a stoked fireplace to greet us & we enjoyed dinner by the (much needed) warmth of the fire!


We didn’t get to spend as much time in Edinburgh as I would’ve liked, but the parts that we did get to see were pretty spectacular. Obviously Edinburgh Castle is a must see & it really is like its own self-contained village. It’s one of the oldest fortified places in Europe & is a must see. Because its the capital city of Scotland, its always going to be packed, so just be prepared for the hustle & bustle of the city, the narrow, cobblestone streets, & horrendous traffic.


Scotland will always have a piece of my heart & I’m sure everyone who visits will have something stirred in them when visiting this land of enchantment.

If you’ve traveled to Scotland, I would love to hear from you! What sort of things to you do & see? If you haven’t yet been to Scotland what is on the top of your list to do?

Until next time…..