This morning we wave goodbye to Gleneagles for an early drive to Mallaig and the Skye ferry, via the stunning Trossachs National Park.
The drama of this journey is difficult to exaggerate, for it takes in the lush Perthshire countryside, the tranquil beauty of the Trossachs and then crosses the wild, desolate expanse of Rannoch Moor, 50 square miles of bog, grass and standing water. The Great Moor guards the entrance to the valley of Glencoe, scene of an infamous massacre by the Campbell clan of their hosts the Macdonalds in 1692.
We stop at the Kingshouse Hotel, a tiny white house in the vast expanse of moor and mountain and a welcome sight for many a weary traveler in the past. This is our coffee stop before passing through the village en route to Fort William and Glen Nevis.
Late morning, we leap from our bus, picnics in hand packed by Gleneagles, for one of the most beautiful hikes you will ever do: an hour and a half circuit up Nevis Gorge to the Steall Falls (stopping first at the Ben Nevis Visitor Centre to use the facilities and orientate ourselves). Even if you are not in the mood to hike, picnic spots abound within easy walking distance.
It’s now time for the islands: our journey to the ferry will take just over an hour, with photo stops at Thomas Telford’s Neptune’s Staircase, the longest stepped lock in Britain, built in the 1820s on the Caledonian Canal; the 21-arch Glenfinnan Viaduct (1901), which starred, with the Hogwarts Express, in the Harry Potter movies; and finally the Prince’s Cairn, where Bonnie Prince Charlie embarked for France in 1746.
If time allows we’ll take a break at the gastro Café Rhu in beautiful Arisaig before the last 15 minutes into Maillaig for catching the ferry. The views of the islands make it a spectacular crossing – and on arrival we will make a brief pilgrimage to Armadale Castle and its gardens. Visit the Clan Donald Museum or simply stretch your legs in the lovely gardens or take one of the woodland trails.
We leave Armadale as it closes to complete the last leg of our picturesque journey – a 45-minute drive north to our hotel, driving between the Black Cuillins to the west and the Red Cuillins to east to arrive at the pretty harbor capital of Portree and our seaside hotel where we will dine together this evening overlooking the harbor.
CUILLIN HILLS HOTEL (B, L, D)