We were recently lucky enough to enjoy a short break in a log cabin at the stunning Eagle Brae in the Highlands of Scotland, just north of Inverness.
While the Highlands are filled with adventure of their own, we crammed as much as possible into two days - exploring the natural landscape, heritage, history, breweries and distilleries of the area.
Armed with our English Heritage and National Trust cards, as well as the recommendations of Eagle Brae owners Mike and Pawana Spencer-Nairn, we headed into the Highlands for an adventure of our own…
Our first stop was Plodda Falls in the Caledonian pine forests of Glen Affric National Nature Reserve. The road to the site is unadopted beyond the village of Tomich and is full of pot holes, windy bends and sheer drops, making the drive to get there an adventure in itself.
The walk to the falls from the car park is short, although there are a couple of longer routes you can follow which take you further into the forest.
We were on a time-limit, so took the shorter route down to the falls, following the sound of the gushing river down to the top viewing platform over the falls - a sheer 151-feet.
Nick’s not fan of heights, so I went first and had to turn around to tell him not to try walking on the platform, which is suspended above the falls. In fact, I wasn’t 100 per cent comfortable myself. However, if you’re brave and don’t mind heights, it’s well worth it for the views of the forest and the falls alone.
A few minutes walk downhill and there’s another viewing platform to see the falls from the bottom, up, which is a spectacular sight in itself. The force of the water is deafening and even there, Nick wasn’t particularly thrilled about the height.
The falls are surrounded by evergreen Douglas firs, which rise like steeples above the river and smell incredible all year round. A highly recommended trip if you have an hour to kill.
Not far from Plodda Falls is the Corrimony Chambered Cairn, a heritage site that is free to park and enter and only takes 10-15 minutes to explore.
The 4,000-year-old cairn contained the body of, what is believed to be a woman of nobility, which was discovered in the 1950s although all the remained was an outline of where the body lay.
Surrounding it are standing stones which would have been put in place at the same time as the burial, during the Bronze Age, although only four are original. The others were additions made during the Victorian era.
Back on the road, we headed to Loch Ness and the unmistakable Urquhart Castle which sits on its shores. Urquhart is arguably one of the most photographed castles in Scotland and for good reason. Laying in ruins overlooking the legendary Loch, it’s hard not to get swept up in the romanticism of it.
The ruins date back 1,000 years and you can take guided or self-guided tours, visiting various aspects of the castle and learning more about what each would have been used for - from the dungeons to the banqueting halls.
There is also chronological interpretation throughout so that you can get an idea of the stories and people who once lived within its walls and the unfortunate series of events that led to the castle’s ruin.
There are stairs that lead from the castle down to the shore of the loch where you can take in the view that have remained unchanged for centuries (and have an Outlander moment if you’re so inclined).
The visitor centre, gift shop and cafe are all accessible with views over the loch and the Great Glen and there’s plenty of opportunity to pick up souvenirs of your visit to the castle, or Scotland, in general.
Talking of Outlander (and it’s hard to avoid it when you’re in the Highlands as the souvenirs are everywhere), our next stop was Glen Strathfarrar, once land belonging to the Frasers.
The Glen is private and to enter during the summer months, you have to ask for permission at the gate. They only allow a limited number of vehicles in at one time to help preserve the glen, which has been relatively untouched since the last Ice Age. And it’s breathtaking.
We couldn’t quite believe it was real and the photos don’t do it the justice it deserves. Herds of deer roam the glen and you’d be very unlucky not to run into at least one of them (quite literally) as you drive the 15-mile stretch of road that follows the River Farrar from Struy down to Loch Beannacharen and Loch a’ Mhuillidh.
We stopped the car after every turn just to take in the views of the surrounding Munroes and, despite it starting as a misty, drizzly day, by the time we turned around the sun was starting the break through the clouds and the views changed again. It was breathtaking.
If you’re staying at Eagle Brae over the winter, they do have a key to the gate but we’d advise only heading into the glen if you have a sturdy car. Our advice would be to give yourself at least half a day to explore (by car), longer if on foot or bike. We just about squeezed as much as we could into a couple of hours before heading back to the cabins to begin our adventures again the next day…
Over on the Black Isle is The Black Isle Brewery, situated on an organic farm with a visitor centre and shop where we headed on day two and were given a tour by owner David Gladwin.
Founded in 1998, the brewery soon outgrew its humble beginnings in an old farmhouse and visitors can see its progression over the years as it’s now based in larger farm buildings, just down the road.
As a reverse-diversification, David started farming after the brewery was well established and now owns a 300-acre farm where he grows organic barley, vegetables and keeps 400 black Herbridean sheep and a small herd of dairy cows. That’s as well as brewing 10,000 litres of beer a day, which is shipped all over the World.
During the Summer, tours run twice an hour and are free to visitors, with tasters of their four regular beers.
David also supports WWOOF (Worldwide Workers on Organic Farms) and employs young people from all over the world who have left their mark on the brewery…
In central Inverness, Black Isle run a bar and hostel and have a wide and varied selection of their ales on tap, so worth dropping in if you’re looking for lunch or a quick pint.
Anyone with an interest in history will know the impact of the Battle of Culloden in 1746 on Scottish history and as it was so close to Inverness, we took the opportunity to visit it after lunch.
It was the battle that ended the Jacobite uprisings and, in turn, ended the Scottish way of life as it stood - with wearing tartan outlawed and many of the Jacobites either killed, imprisoned or sent to the colonies as slaves.
But the atmosphere on the battlefield has remained to this day.
The visitor centre at Culloden takes you on a chronological journey through the Jacobite risings and the events that led the Jacobite and British armies to meet on that fateful day. There is even a 360-degree video room that puts you directly between both forces, so that when you step out onto the battlefield, you already have a sense of the emotion that drove both sides that day.
While to an outsider it’d just be a bleak-looking field, paths lead to marker stones that each represent one of the clans that fought that day and red and blue flags show the position of both sides, putting you directly in the footsteps of those who died. It’s a very eerie place to walk around.
The museum is also filled with artefacts from the uprisings and the battle, from shots fired to correspondence leading up to the events from Bonnie Prince Charlie himself.
It’d be criminal to visit Scotland without visiting at least one distillery and while there are several surrounding Inverness, we opted to visit Glen Ord - the home of Singleton whisky. Plus, after Culloden, we needed a drink.
In the name of full disclosure, neither of us consider ourselves to be whisky experts - preferring a pint of beer to spirits (apart from gin, of course).
It was therefore really interesting to learn a bit more about the process involved in making and ageing whisky at the Glen Ord museum - part of the visitor centre on site.
I was particularly interested in the way different woods and barrels impact the taste of the whisky having tried one earlier in the trip that had been aged in an old rum cask (which was delicious, by the way).
The tour ends with a taster of Singleton’s 12, 15 and 18-year old malts which demonstrate how ageing impacts each barrel. And we got a souvenir glass as part of the package - a great way to end our tour of the countryside around Inverness.