Variety of dishes at The Rosedale Hotel, Portree.

The Skye’s the limit – for the credit card! The Highlands, Part 2

The first half of our Scottish Highlands tour had been filled with stunning mountain and loch views, medieval architecture, wholesome grub and 8,000 midge bites. All my hopes – and fears – had been realised. But something was missing… A hangover! And something else… an eye-watering food bill!

Fortunately, we were about to reach Portree (note: you can read part 1 of our Highlands tour here)…

 

Kyleakin time en route

Having spent the preceding 3 days in continuous motion, moving from one B&B to the next, I was looking forward to the promise of ‘chilling out’ in our own house…

Mrs. B.B. clearly had other ideas.

Cue stops in Plockton:

plockton-boat-highlands-part-2

Kyleakin:

kyleakin-saucy-marys-restaurant

More scenic photos! (I don’t have a clue where we are now)

another-scenic-photo-scottish-highlands

And quite possibly the best hollandaise sauce I’ve ever had (no question, the most generous portion).

eggs-royale-en-route-scotland

Deli Gasta

Perfectly located in Broadford to capture the tourist traffic en route to Portree, Deli Gasta is a slightly hipster café – a converted old barn brought bang up to date with modern interior design, neat beards and sound tracked by ‘before their time’ indie tunes.

Don’t let that put you off!

It wasn’t just the Eggs Royale that impressed. Mrs. B.B.’s Highland Ploughman’s was so fresh – locally cooked bread and salad which had quite possibly been harvested within the hour. It was also a ridiculously generous portion for just £5.45:

highland-ploughmans-en-route

Plus, their flat white compared favourably to Coffee #1. Enough said.

 

Swills, spills and bills – but still walking in Portree

Now, we were never going to travel all this way to sit in the pub – I was told after arriving.

Portree is a small, picturesque fishing village made to feel much larger because there are lots of people, like us, spoiling other people’s photos.

We also help to finance the fantastic restaurants and pubs – but I had to earn those!

Yes, we were back on the road around the Trotternish Peninsula, taking photographs of the Creag An Fheilidh ‘kilt rock’ and Fairy Glen, Uig:

fairy-glen-uig-walk
Pesky tourists (move along please!)

And there was the Fairy Pools walk from Glenn Brittle – where we finally crossed paths with one of these beauties:

highland-cow-fairy-pools-glenn-brittle

But, yes, eventually, I’d paid my dues – it was time to fill my belly…

Antlers Tea Room & Restaurant

Or was it the adjoining Portree Bar and Grill?

Not realising just what a happening place Portree is on a Monday night – and having prioritised beer and gin that evening – there were no spaces left in the posh half of the building.

“Despite very clearly offending the bar man not once, but twice… they agreed to serve us.”

Fortunately, we managed to squeeze in next to the sister bar – and, despite very clearly offending the bar man (twice) by mispronouncing Caorunn, they agreed to serve us.

My confit duck and fried egg dish lacked finesse, but it was rich and hearty cooking – crucially, it complimented my fourth pint of Belhaven Best. Mrs. B.B. went full-blown meat eater for the evening with the venison and mashed potato. Tender with a decadent sauce.

antlers-tea-room-venison-mash

The food had slowed us down – but we still had time for a quick night cap in The Isles. The stand out of the local bars with a decent beer selection, and only a slight whiff of disdain from the locals.

Dulse & Brose

You know things have gone up a notch – and a few quid – when you get…

bread-dulse-brose-portree

And it wasn’t just any old bread and butter. The bread was made with Brose (oatmeal) and the butter included Dulse (seaweed) – see what they’ve done there?

It was at this point in the waitress’ explanation that I realised why my lamb two ways was going to cost me north of £25 – and I should have predicted a snowman’s nose would be sticking out of it:

lamb-carrot-dulse-brose-portree

The mains were luxurious, but heavy – Mrs. B.B.’s usual safe choice (aka “going veggie”) backfiring as her chickpea salad came topped with approx. 400g of subtly smoked halloumi. In fairness, she wasn’t complaining about the portion size – but did find the tomato sauce overpowering.

The standouts, however, were the starters – fresh, visually exciting and every ingredient had its place. The trio of salmon included a rillette that surely is only allowed to exist on the Great British Menu? Whilst Mrs. B.B.’s goat cheese panna cotta with a ricotta bon bon (only one?!) was light, delicate and tasted even more exciting than it looked:

goats-cheese-dulse-brose-portree

And a commendation for the waitress who was putting in a real shift during a busy evening service – despite having to be up bright and early for school the next morning!

The Rosedale Hotel & Restaurant

Situated on the harbour front, The Rosedale Hotel doesn’t look like much – £100 for tapas and dessert suggests otherwise.

Fortunately, neither the paint work nor the menu’s price point put us off – consuming Navy Strength Rock Rose Gin earlier in the evening played a big part in that!

rock-rose-navy-mini-bottle
57%?!… I was only allowed a little bottle!

I left Mrs. B.B. to the cured meats (and dodged the “foul tasting” apple and saffron chutney), whilst I overcompensated with the dangerously addictive crispy smoked paprika and parmesan beignets. The herb crusted plaice was as fresh as you could hope for given the restaurant’s location. The Ras El Hanout roasted lamp rump was tender and worked well with the pickled red cabbage – and even Mrs. B.B.’s reservations about the seared salmon with fennel and grapefruit proved unfounded.

lamb-tapas-rosedale-hotel

Although she was unhappy about the lack of vegetarian options – and “where was the Scottish cheese?”

But it was the desserts that truly left their mark:

dessert-rosedale-hotel-portree

Just look at it.

Go back and look it.

What else is there to say?

Ok, if you insist… For me, the Chocolate pave was dense and rich but cleverly lightened by the accompanying crème fraiche and marshmallow. For Mrs. B.B. (again, see picture above), the creamy whisky ice cream had a great kick and was contrasted well by the sweetness of the raspberry three ways (fresh, dry and coulis!).

It’s just a shame that the whole experience was let down by the dining room’s awkward layout – the restaurant’s prime scenic window table situated right next to the entrance. It didn’t help that the waiting staff chose to congregate there – and chat amongst themselves – for much of the evening.

 

Oh, Oban – you’ve got a lot to live up to!

I’ll admit, I was reluctant to leave Portree – and not just because of the hangover.

You just don’t get this on your doorstop every day:

isle-of-skype-pipe-band
The Isle of Skye Pipe Band

But there were fish and chips to be eaten. And not just any old fish and chips – “The best fish and chips I’ve ever tasted” (according to Rick Stein – I’ll give them an alternative quote to use later).

And I was also getting to see a key location from the best film ever made, the best 80s film ever made, the best film Christopher Lambert ever made, the only decent film Christopher Lambert ever made en route: Eilean Donan Castle.

Don’t pretend you don’t know it.

Ok, Highlander!

The castle itself, rebuilt from ruins in the 1930s, is grand and impressive:

eilean-donan-castle-highlander
There’s definitely only one of these.

But it wasn’t quite how I’d imagined it.

It had more charm in Highlander’s version of 1536.

“Time has moved on since faux 1536.”

There wasn’t a massive car park for starters. I didn’t see Lambert struggling (well, besides not to laugh) to park his car amongst the obscene number of brand new 4x4s (Arnold Clark is clearly doing a roaring trade from the tourists), or queuing for a postcard in the equally imposing tourist centre…

Nowadays, nobody gets accused of witchcraft or banished from the village.

I was convinced it wasn’t the same place until we found a room with behind the scenes photos.

Guess time has moved on since faux 1536 – and it was time I did the same (yep, I was getting hungry)…

Oban Fish and Chip Shop

Had we not read Rick Stein’s endorsement, we probably would have missed Oban Fish and Chip Shop (if not missed Oban out altogether).

We’d have followed the crowds to one of the two chip shops conveniently located on the sea front – but the 100-metre walk (or so) up the road was worth it.

The fish was fresh; the batter was light and crisp (not greasy at all!); and the chips were on another level completely – the crunch was ridiculous, yet still fluffy within.

oban-fish-chips

If they want a new quote:

“The fish and chips are mind-blowingly tasty!” (some random bloke with a beard in Wales)

Kerrera Tea Garden & Bunkhouse

I wasn’t aware that my ‘cake treat’ would involve driving to a harbour, a boat trip to one of the nearby islands, a 2-hour walk (including another castle visit) – and lots of teasing:

kerrera-tea-garden-signs
You big teases.

Service isn’t necessarily Kerrera Tea Garden & Bunkhouse‘s strong point (hey, it’s a different way of life!) – it took over half-hour for our cakes to arrive (and even then we had to chase up on two occasions), but you can get away with it when you serve up cake as sexy as this:

rhubarb-custard-cake-kerrera-oban

I could have eaten a tray of it cake. I’m salivating as I type…

The custard and rhubarb were plentiful and cleverly baked in. It was firm but perfectly moist – and it was packed with flavour without being overly sweet or sickly.

Mrs. B.B. feared a dense chore when her fudge chocolate brownie arrived, but it was “gooey yumminess” – in fact, “the most gooey yummy brownie ever” (in case you’re reading this and need a quote for your next poster!).

Baab

Baab would prove to be the final highlight.

Located in the Perle Oban Hotel, we had a spacious and airy dining area, which perfectly matched the meze & grill menu. Fresh, light but pretty substantial – even when picking from the ‘small plates’.

baab-meze-perle-oban-hotel

Now, this is Mrs. B.B.’s kind of food. We ordered 6 dishes, from various locations on the menu (and around the world) – all beautifully cooked and presented. But the standouts were the Lebanese fried halloumi in crispy panko bread crumbs, and the wonderfully tender grilled lamb kebabs, which had been faultless marinated in cinnamon and nutmeg.

 

We’ll cross those days off for Callander

No time to mention the gin… we had to do a runner!

Well, once we got our money back.

We were unaware on booking that our flat in Oban was in the same building as student accommodation – and they were back with a bang (well, about 100) for the weekend’s music festival.

The list of crazy antics could easily make for a part 3, but, ultimately, after a lovely young gentleman tried to force his way into the flat at 4am, we opted to start our long journey home a day early.

It’s a shame we couldn’t keep ourselves awake long enough to properly experience Callander. Although the quaint but classy Lubnaig Guest House served its purpose as we caught up on our sleep before the final leg home.

 

The final leg – for us and for you

A dramatic and disappointing end to the holiday – in fact it got worse. I’m sure the stodge served up in the Mill at Conder Green in Lancaster gave me food poisoning!

No burp.

robs-mill-ponden-green-lancaster

But these articles have only scratched at the surface of the wonderful things we saw, did and experienced – mainly because neither of us has time to sort through the 5000 photographs that were taken.

I’m sure you’ll see more if you follow us on Instagram and Twitter as we try and pad out our lifestyle until we can afford another adventure.

The missus has already decided we’re moving to the Highlands. I’m not suggesting you do anything as dramatic, but I’d recommend a less committed stay if you’ve got a few weeks to spare – well, if you can cope with midge bites and Rabbie’s tours

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Bill's asian ribs and coleslaw in Liverpool

A fab time in Liverpool with John, Paul, Ringo, George + Roger (and don’t forget Bill!)

Liverpool may be the birthplace of the biggest and best band of the ‘60s, but for one night only its people made the biggest and best band (well, sort of) of the ‘70s feel right at home – despite what they’d been charged for a ticket!

Finding a wife who, like me, had grown up infatuated with her dad’s record collection has its pros and cons.

On the plus side: a shared love of ‘60s and ‘70s rock and pop acts.

Not so great: Abba; a loft full of 2nd hand brown and orange curtains; and having to spend a small fortune to see musicians now compensating for several hefty divorce bills.

Plus, you often need to travel – on this occasion: Liverpool to see ‘the Messiah’ aka Roger Waters.

 

Taking the long and winding roads (to avoid the M6)

Having endured endless road works and average speed limits on the M5 and M6 a few weeks prior, we decided to take the scenic route from South Wales – ok, it was an excuse for cake!

We timed our packed lunch perfectly (well, an hour after leaving home), to arrive in Ludlow at ‘cake-o-clock’.

Unfortunately, the DeGrey’s Tea Room was no more – replaced by a Deli that looked far too clean and modern for our tastes. Turning the corner, we quickly found what appeared to be a suitable alternative.

Carvell’s The Art of Tea

Creaky floor boards, antique but ‘not worth any money’ furniture; nonmatching, tea stained china; and an engraved table top filled with dust and crumbs – all sure signs of a fat, just out of the oven, home-made scone.

Well, it looked good on Instagram:

carvells-tea-scone-cream-liverpool

The reality: too small, too dry – in fact, had I bought a multiple pack from Tesco (that had been open for a few days), this is what I would have expected.

To make matters worse, we had to share a meagre portion of clotted cream – it wasn’t too sickly, so I could have happily indulged… And the jam? I guess it came 2-4-1 with the scones.

Don’t get me started on the unbrewable tea! Maybe it was art – I didn’t get it.

 

A warm welcome in Liverpool

I say warm. Wow! The sun was angry.

We hid for a few hours in our surprisingly chilled Ibis hotel room – no need to use the air con, as we hadn’t travelled over from the Antarctic!

Ridiculously well-priced at £65 p/night considering it was only 5 mins walk from the Liverpool Arena / docks. Clearly, they are yet to adopt Cardiff’s policy of quadrupling room prices when there’s an event on.

Ok, it was a box room, but there was enough space to crack open this beauty for pre-drink drinks:

fraoch-heather-ale-liverpool
Fraoch – William Bros. Brewing Co.

The ginger / space flavour and floral notes took me by surprise (guess I should read the bottle), but it was a nice divergence from my customary malty choices. Although I think the bottle deserved a meadow for its photographic setting.

 

All you need is… a sticky, moist rib

Not wanting to veer too far from our prime location, we opted for the first casual restaurant that wasn’t a Pizza Express or a Nando’s.

Bill’s had updated its menus since my last visit – and a quick Google photos search was enough to persuade me to order the Oak Smoked Asian Spiced Ribs – despite the £16.95 price tag!

bills-asian-ribs-body-close

Admittedly lacking in The Plate Licked Clean’s considerable rib eating knowledge / experience, I have rarely come across ribs as meaty, moist or tender.

“The size of the dish nearly put me to sleep.”

Borderline acceptable if you want more than a little chew left in them – but I was content in the knowledge I wouldn’t be distractingly tonguing at the dry meat which had wedged into my gums throughout Roger Waters’ set.

Although the size of the dish nearly put me to sleep – and I’m sure it has taken a few years off me.

Mrs. B.B.’s Macaroni Cheese was well cooked – the pasta still had bite left – but was really lacking a creamy, cheesy sauce.

macaroni-cheese-bills-liverpool

Plus, “there wasn’t any garlic bread” (I’m not sure if that’s a standard combination?). Overall, “a bit dry” is never a positive statement.

We did return the following morning for breakfast – again, we didn’t fancy Pizza Express or Nando’s.

The porridge was smooth and plentiful – the coconut milk making it a little richer than usual without being overpowering. The compote was more like a very sweet jam.

bills-restaurant-porridge-liverpool

My Eggs Royale was edible, but not up to their usual standard (we were served by the same staff as the previous evening, looking suspiciously less sprightly). One egg was slightly under, one was slightly over. The hollandaise sauce lacked punch – and was a little on the thin side. And it was served cold.

bills-restaurant-eggs-royale-liverpool

 

Us + Him

Now Roger Waters likes to tell us we are one and the same.

£105 a ticket says we’re not.

Neither does preaching against plastic waste whilst swigging out of a bottle of water. Nor does complaining about inequality and mocking wealthy public figures, whilst charging your fans more than even the Rolling Stones would dare (even the t-shirts were £30!)…

“Some of the protestations were embarrassing for their hypocrisy.”

I’m sure he means well, but some of the protestations were embarrassing for their hypocrisy.

And Roger’s habit of strutting across the stage to reach his arms out as a messiah-like figure made me uncomfortable – if not numb.

Because you can’t get past the fact he’s authored some of the greatest rock songs in the history of music – and has a live band as authentic to the group he founded as you could possibly wish for. Dave Gilmour wasn’t missed at all between the virtuoso guitar work of Dave Kilminster and uncanny vocals of ‘resident hippie’ Jonathan Wilson.

roger-waters-live-onstage-liverpool

Opener ‘Breathe’ lulled us in, before ‘One Of These Days’ attacked every sense – the repetitive bass guitar, distorted vocals and aggressive guitar and drums were heightened by the lighting and visual effects. It was a real jolt to the system that demanded your attention – and Roger & co. kept it until the end.

Of course, The Wall and Waters’ latest album provided plenty of ammunition for anti-Trump / anti-establishment imagery:

roger-waters-anti-trump-pram
Mrs. B.B. can’t fathom why he hasn’t been sued – although, maybe that accounts for the ticket price!

‘The Happiest Days of Our Lives’ was particularly powerful, with local school children dressed in orange Guantanamo bay detainee uniforms lined up at the front of the stage, faces masked and heads bowed – before revealing black ‘resist’ t-shirts and lightening the mood with some enthusiastic dance moves for ‘Another Brick In The Wall, Part 2’.

roger-waters-resist-liverpool-arena

The audience seemed to appreciate the more restrained moments – ‘Wish You Were Here’ and ‘Comfortably Numb’ giving the mostly shaven-headed, pot-bellied 60-somethings a chance to show off their tender sides. Arms aloft, swaying and singing their hearts out en masse as they brought to mind The Kop in full voice on a European night.

roger-waters-fans-arms-aloft
“… And you’ll never walk alone.”

I could not have imagined these Floyd classics sounding any better had the original line-up played them in their heyday.

I’m just about over the cost.

 

Let it be! You also got to see The Beatles

Well, not quite. But The Beatles Story was the next best thing only alternative.

I couldn’t wait to buy my t-shirts, ensuring I looked extra nerdy armed with the store’s branded carrier bag and audio guide as I photographed everything in sight.

There were some nice touches – recreating the Mersey Beat office, the inside of a ‘Yellow Submarine’, and the Cavern Club, which brought back fond memories of my less-costly gig going youth at the Cardiff Barfly.

beatles-story-cavern-club-liverpool

But it was largely a collection of photos and anecdotes that you’ll have surely have seen / heard already. However, you feel like you’ve had value for money – the audio tracks ensure you don’t move too quickly.

And the baked potatoes taste better than they look:

beatles-cafe-baked-potatoe

 

Getting back to where we still belong

We did all the touristy photos we could manage in the heat – plus one of a seagull:

seagull-liverpool-docks

And made our way back – unfortunately, via the M6 (no cake!).

Our stay was sadly brief, but who else can say they’ve seen the biggest and best bands of the ‘60s and ‘70s within 24 hours?

Ok, technically, I can’t. But it was the closest someone born in the ‘80s was ever going to get. 

Follow us on Instagram and Twitter to see more pictures from our Liverpool trip and other adventures.

 

Close-up of my burger at the Ben Nevis Inn, Fort William for the banner.

Man vs. midge: Who ate more of whom? The Highlands, Part 1

Hospitality in the Highlands has improved considerably since a French Connor MacLeod was driven out of his village and paid to not to laugh in the face of a Spanish (or was it Egyptian?) Sean Connery – I either need to watch more films or learn to Google places.

Here are a few of the predominantly food-related highlights from the first half of our 16-day road trip, which took in Stirling, Fort William, John O’Groats – and plenty of midges (first piece of advice: talk little and often – please note: there’s no more advice).

 

Close, but still Carlisle

I agree, it’s odd to feature Carlisle in a Highlands article.

Plus, I have enough material ammunition to create a standalone piece on the B&B we stayed at: 4-foot long bed, next to the sort of bars that make the Borough look tame, etc.

But the reason I wanted to start here was to wax lyrical about a hot pot.

The Old Bank City Pub and Chop House

carlisle-old-bank-pub-chop
Highly deceptive.

It may not look like there was much room underneath those crispy potatoes – but they certainly made the most of it. Plenty of chicken, big chunks of ham and a tarragon and cream sauce I could drink by the glass.

Mrs. B.B. went for the vegetarian option: tagliatelle with asparagus, mange tout and peas. “A huge portion. Probably too much chilli for most people – but I found it made the dish really addictive. Somehow managed to gobble the lot – stretching my stomach in preparation for the meals to come. Often feel cheated when ordering pasta dishes out, but this was definitely worth a tenner.”

A lengthy gin list for the cool kids amongst you – even if the waitress herself seemed surprised that they sold most of them!

 

‘There can be only one’ in Glasgow

Ok, so we didn’t stay in Glasgow – have you seen Taggart?!

But as fans of Strongman, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to attend a ‘Highland games’ – even if it was just a small local event on the outskirts of Scotland’s biggest city…

We didn’t expect to see the one, the only, “The Mountain from Game of Thrones” (surely a catchphrase now for Colin Bryce), 2018’s European Strongest Man, 2018’s World Strongest Man, 2018’s Arnold Strongman Classic winner… you getting the picture yet?

Yes, Hafthor “Thor” Bjornsson (did I mention he’s also Iceland’s Strongest Man?) was – we still can’t believe this – Chieftain at the Carmunnock International Highland Games. And yeah, he only went and broke the world height record for the 56lbs SHGA weight (and probably for the slowest moving queue to get a fan photo).

highland-games-thor-world-r
Who was the real star attraction?

Slim pickings on the refreshments (the less said about my anaemic-looking burger, the better), but a good-natured event, with plenty to keep all the family entertained – well, mainly the compere’s scathing putdowns of Thor, the contestants, and the waifs in the crowd who attempted ‘The Manhood Stone Lift’.

 

A gold ‘old time’ in Stirling

By the time we reached Stirling, there were concerns that factor-50 wasn’t going to cut it.

We hadn’t come to Scotland expecting to get a tan. Fortunately, Mrs. B.B. is a packing magician, and we’d managed to squeeze both of our wardrobes into a Skoda Fabia. Amongst the puffa jackets, rain coats, wellies and woolly jumpers, we had an ample supply of shorts and tees for the heat wave that was to remain a constant.

stirling-castle-sun-shining
Finding some shade to admire Stirling Castle.

It’s only a small city, but the temperature certainly helped us work up an appetite as we explored the imposing castle, Wallace Monument and various historical landmarks.

Friars Wynd

Of course, I had to kick off the holiday ‘proper’ with some ‘proper’ Haggis, Neeps and Tatties.

fryars-wynd-haggis-neeps-ta
Lost a few marks for the dressing.

Friars Wynd obliged – not too dense, plenty of pepper. Although it didn’t look as impressive as Mrs. B.B.’s chorizo and prawn packed paella – which arrived minus the advertised langoustine and calamari.

Mrs. B.B.: “With two key ingredients missing – two key reasons for ordering the dish! – it was disappointing. As much as I like chorizo, I have my limits. It was far too greasy.”

“They weren’t kidnapping the clientele!”

And fortunately, they weren’t kidnapping the clientele! We were a little concerned as people failed to return from ‘the toilet’ – but we checked before calling the police and discovered it’s also a hotel. Phew! Although, I could have made the evening more comfortable for myself had I known at the time.

Brea

I was in meat heaven at Brea:

brea-lamp-chops

A little on the pricey side (£24.95!), but give me 3 lamb cutlets and I’ll pay anything. The pesto sauce really complimented the lamb in fairness – something I need to try at home. And there was a decent selection of local beers – something the nearby Wetherspoons failed to deliver on (Lancaster Red the closest geographically).

Mrs. B.B.’s sweet potato, spinach and butterbean stew was “a little pricey for what was basically a plate of veg! It was well cooked – and a nice healthy option as I attemped to compensate for the chorizo overdose the night before – but £14.95?! I don’t think so.”

Victoria Square Guesthouse

With our original accommodation cancelling just days before, we had to up the budget to find a last-minute alternative. And on this occasion, the old proverb that you really get what you pay for rung true.

victoria-square-guesthouse-stirling

An 1880s Victorian building, the guesthouse was beautifully decorated and well maintained – with nods to the past, but contemporary in its design and features. Although located just a few minutes from the city centre (and the DJ surely past 5 on the Richter magnitude scale), it was remarkably quiet. In fact, we wouldn’t have known anyone else was staying – had they not drunk all the complimentary sherry each evening!

“Even more rich and luxurious than it sounds.”

And the all-important breakfast: I was particularly wowed by the VS Eggs Benedict – toasted muffin topped with haggis and a poached egg. My only regret was opting for the salmon on day 2 – Scotland’s national dish would prove almost impossible to come by over the subsequent weeks. Mrs. B.B.’s porridge, served with cream, brown sugar and a splash of whisky, was “even more rich and luxurious than it sounds.”

 

Walking everywhere… but up Ben Nevis

That we reached Fort William in less than a day was some achievement. A 2-hour car drive extended to 8 as we stopped at every passing place roadside gravel patch to take photos of the awesome loch and mountain views. Mrs. B.B.’s protestations that we’d have plenty of photo opportunities over the next fortnight falling on deaf ears.

en-route-fort-william-views
One of about 4000 mountain shots.

We sensibly opted out of climbing Ben Nevis, but our stay in Fort William was still filled with action – and even a little danger – as we walked to Steall Falls along Nevis Gorge, visited the Neptune’s Staircase and fought for a prime ‘Harry Potter train’ viewpoint (otherwise known as the Glenfinnan Viaduct for the non-geeks).

harry-potter-glenfinnan-via
Took a few bruises from the Harry Potter fans to get this shot.

But the real excitement was to be found at the local Wetherspoons.

The Great Glen

Now, for all its founder’s faults – and the occasionally suspect clientele – we’re not adverse to a Wetherspoons. Low effort, decent beer selection (not always the case – see Stirling above), and comparatively tasty fast food. It seemed like a good choice after I’d exhausted us with endless “photo opportunity!” stops.

However, we must have visited on everyone’s first day at work! Orders heading to the wrong tables, angry complaints, refunds being issued in every direction – and then they ran out of coleslaw! (Not ideal when you’ve only ordered a jacket potato with coleslaw).

In fairness, they did offer us a refund – for 2 steaks! And then proceeded to bring a plain jacket potato out post-refund (for the correct amount – we’re honest!). However, we opted against the freebie and moved a few doors down…

The Geographer

There was a table left in The Geographer! (who knew Scotland was such a tourist magnet?!)

I wasn’t convinced by the menu’s ‘Global inspiration’, but my Braised highland venison and mushroom stew was simply divine. The meat was moist, it was packed with flavour and the sweet potato chips somehow remained crisp to the death. It was enough to forgive the lack of air con as the alcohol consumed poured just as quickly out of my forehead.

the-geographer-fort-william

Mrs. B.B.’s Mexican vegetable and bean chill “was as memorable as it sounds.”

Ben Nevis Inn & Bunkhouse

We may have bottled Ben Nevis, but we weren’t afraid of a battered fish the length of my wife’s forearm (and twice as wide). Well, I was – playing it safe with the inch-thick Ben Nevis Beef Burger, topped with melted cheddar (I still have dreams about it now), streaky bacon, BBQ mayo, tomato relish – and 50p wasn’t going to put me off a pot of coleslaw (it’s rare in these parts).

fish-ben-nevis-inn

Unsurprisingly, Mrs. B.B. could only manage a few chips, but thought the fish was a knockout – “light and crisp batter, wasn’t greasy; nice and fresh.”

I had my favourite beer of the holiday at this point – Nessie’s Monster Mash. A smooth, malty ale from the Cairngorm Brewery Co. which currently holds a rare 4.5 rating from myself on Untappd (will I ever give a 5?). I’m sure they feel honoured.

nessies-monster-mash-ben-nevis

It was an important meal at The Ben Nevis Inn to regenerate – the midges had feasted well that day.

Ardlinnhe B&B

It was at this point in the holiday I made the sensible decision not to feast on a full English (or Scottish!) every day – breakfasts would consistent of fruit, yoghurt and a variation on egg (ok, I had the odd vegetarian sausage) from this point on. No complaints on the poached, scrambled or fried eggs on offer here.

We’d been spoiled at the Victoria Square Guesthouse, so neither the building nor the room offered the same elegance or splendour. But we were, again, just a few minutes’ walk from the town centre, had stunning views of the loch:

fort-william-hotel-view-day

…and couldn’t fault a thing. In fact, it seemed remarkably cheap given every B&B we saw (and they seemed to be everywhere) had no vacancies.

 

Into the mist: John O’Groats and then… well, we couldn’t see where!

My shooting rate remained stubbornly high, but my photos were compromised as we made our way up North (properly up North now!) to John O’Groats and then back down the ‘other side’ via overnight stays in Lybster, Durness and Loch Luichart. The sea mist that was to set in only heightening the otherworldly feel as cyclists appeared in what appeared slow-motion from the clouds.

cyclist-john-o-groats
It wasn’t a figment of my imagination!

It was at this point, I had well and truly lost touch with reality – we had the Carry On box set as our companion, the only other vehicles on the road were camper vans – and chickens had made their home at the local petrol station. It would take me a few weeks to readjust to the 30-minute morning queue into Newport when we returned home.

Dunnet Bay Distillers

No longer primed for 5:30am starts, I did put our 11am gin distillery tour (with the makers of Rock Rose gin) in jeopardy – fortunately, we were only 2 minutes late! “No apologies necessary,” we were ushered in and promptly handed a glass of gin and tonic that went straight to my head.

dunnett-bay-distillers-rock
Mrs. B.B. is more accustomed to opening bottles of gin!

If you’re on trend, you’ll be a gin expert. We’re laggards, so found the tour enlightening in every respect. The engaging guide talked us through the history of everything from the local area to the founder’s various Frankenstein-esque experiments.

It was very good value, with plenty of interaction, a dogged determination to get the wax melter working – and enough gin consumed (and taken away) to cover the entry fee!

Oakwood Traditional Scottish Restaurant & Gift Shop

Sorry, I was a bit too keen to get to the gin then!

The day before the distillery tour, we met up with the Elgin-based in-laws for lunch near Loch Ness at the Oakwood Traditional Scottish Restaurant. It would be one of the best-tasting meals of the holiday.

And it was unexpected to say the least.

There was more than a little trepidation as we pulled in to the car park:

oakwood-restaurant-building-scotland

…and the décor certainly had more in common with the hotel in Carry On Abroad than any restaurant we would normally choose to part with our hard-earned cash. But there was a collective sigh of relief, which turned into disbelief, and finally adoration as our eagerness to bequeath plaudits saved us from indigestion.

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The bread and butter pudding that nearly put our marriage in peril.

The laird’s casserole was exactly what the menu promised – rich in flavour (red wine, port, brandy and, of course, gin!) – and the meat was so tender.

“Slow cooked to heaven.”

Mrs. B.B.: “It might not have been all that to look at, but my butternut squash casserole had been slow cooked to heaven in cider, with sun-dried tomatoes and mushrooms.”

This was hearty home cooking at its best.

I couldn’t quite fit in a dessert – but I was happy to steal half of Mrs. B.B.’s bread and butter pudding, which was light and moreish. I’ve regretted not sucking it up and dealing with the heart burn of a full portion ever since – and Mrs. B.B. still hasn’t forgiven me.

Smoo Cave Hotel

Once we’d passed Loch Ness, it was slim pickings on the grub front. The electric cool box and never-ending supply of Shredded Wheat bitesize were both a genius move on Mrs. H.’s part.

However, we did have one hell of a pie at the Smoo Cave Hotel. Well, two – one each!

steak-pie-smoo-cave-hotel
The pastry could barely contain the filling!

Crispy pastry, packed with meat – I don’t recall any veg (inside the pastry that is), but I guess there wasn’t room for more than a whole cow – and a decent beer or two (the Raven Ale from Orkney Brewery stands out as a Golden delight).

Hillside Bed and Breakfast

Our hosts – who had moved from Warrington to run the B&B – were welcoming to the point it felt like we were simply staying with friends. It’s a shame we couldn’t see the views – the mist made our accommodation seem even more isolated than it already was, although it did add an eerie quality that elevated our visit to the Smoo Cave (the actual cave – the stares from the locals served the same purpose in the restaurant!).

 

Don’t loch now..

Having survived the midge invasion in Loch Luichart – there’s a horror book in me now – and a mattress I assume was filled with cement, we started to make our way to The Isle of Skye for the second half our Highlands getaway.

The alcohol consumption would increase, the food bills would set off mild convulsions – and we’d make a four-hour road, ferry and foot trip to find the best.cake.ever!

Don’t forget to check out part 2 – and to follow us on Instagram and Twitter as we try and pad out our lifestyle until we can afford another adventure.