Our honeymoon began on 16 March 2014 with a train ride from Manchester to Edinburgh. The journey is around three and a half hours, but as intercity train journeys go, it’s a pleasant one. Once the train gets to Cumbria and begins to travel up through the borders, the scenery is fantastic.
Our accommodation in Edinburgh was The Scotsman Hotel on the North Bridge. Built in 1905, the impressive Edwardian building was the home of the Scotsman newspaper for almost a century. When the newspaper moved to a new home in 1999, the building was transformed into a luxury hotel (which opened in 2001). There’s a nice family connection here, as Hannah’s uncle worked at the Scotsman offices for a while after leaving school in the 1960s—though we didn’t actually find this out until just before the wedding!
The hotel has retained or refurbished many of the original features of the building, which gives you a nice sense of its former purpose. The street-level access from Market Street faces Waverley Station, and was originally used to take the newspapers from the basement printing house to the trains that would transport them around Scotland. Four floors up, and you reach the street-level entrance on the North Bridge (if you’re not familiar with this quirk of architecture, there are a number of buildings in Edinburgh like this). This part of the hotel was originally the editorial offices and trading entrance of the newspaper, and the marble staircase and wood-panelling have been preserved throughout the hotel’s middle floors. The famous Scotsman steps that wind around the outside of the building—104 steps in an octagonal tower, built in 1899 as public access linking the North Bridge with Waverley—have recently been refurbished with colourful marble, contemporary artwork and new wrought iron gates modelled on the original Victorian ones. I believe the gates are now locked at night—just as they were when originally constructed—in an effort to make the steps more pleasant for pedestrians during the day.
The suites have fantastic views of Edinburgh Castle, the Firth of Forth and Calton Hill
The hotel offers a number of different rooms, from the ‘classic’ rooms to the Penthouse suite (originally the newspaper’s pigeon loft). As they knew it was our honeymoon, the hotel upgraded us to one of the wood-panelled suites (and gave us a free box of handmade Sebastian Kobelt chocolates)! There are only a few wood-panelled bedrooms at The Scotsman, though the original oak can still be seen in quite a few of the public areas, but if you’re able to book one, they’re absolutely stunning. Most of the suites at the hotel have fantastic views, looking out over Edinburgh Castle, the Firth of Forth, Calton Hill and Princes Street. If you’re bored of the views, the suites in the hotel all have an Edinburgh Monopoly board for your entertainment. (There’s also a good Wi-Fi connection, but this seems a little less romantic!).
All in all, our brief visit to Edinburgh really kicked off our honeymoon in style.
Through the Highlands and Over the Sea to Skye
For the next leg of our journey, we used a travel agent to make our arrangements. This isn’t something we’d normally do when travelling in the UK, but this was our first trip to the Western Isles, and we thought it was best to get some expert help with the logistics. The company we used, Absolute Escapes, are a small(ish) company based in Edinburgh, who specialize in tailor-made Scottish holidays. The whole experience of booking with Absolute Escapes was great and we’d recommend them to anyone looking to book a holiday in Scotland that’s a little out of the ordinary. They responded quickly to our initial enquiry, provided a personal itinerary based on our request (and worked with us through a few different versions of this until we got exactly what we were looking for), and then provided us with a very thorough and comprehensive information pack complete with touring maps.
We collected our hire car from Waverley Station, and left Edinburgh. Our drive took us through Stirling and Callander, before we arrived in the Trossachs and the Highlands. We didn’t have time to stop for much sightseeing, but the drive alone was stunning. We carried on through Bridge of Orchy, Rannoch Moor and Glencoe, at which point we had to stop to take some photographs. It’s pretty much impossible to drive through scenery like this without stopping for a photo opportunity.
We carried on to Fort William and then took the A830 (known as the ‘Road to the Isles’ until we reached Mallaig just in time for our ferry crossing to Skye. Half an hour later, we’d crossed the Sound of Sleat and were arriving in Armadale.
We travelled north through the dramatic island landscape
Our accommodation on Skye was in Portree, so we travelled north from Armadale on A87 for just over an hour through the dramatic island landscape. Skye’s coastline is made up of a series of peninsulas and bays, but the centre of the island is dominated by the imposing Cuillin hills—an area that includes some of most challenging mountain terrain in Scotland due to its composition of gabbro and basalt and its jagged summits. Portree, the largest settlement on the island, is a pretty harbour just north of the Cuillin.
Portree has no shortage of bed and breakfast accommodation, as Skye is a hugely popular holiday destination. However, because we were travelling off-season, much of the holiday accommodation was still closed for the winter. The same was true of many of the restaurants, but we managed to find several nice places to eat despite this. On our first evening in Portree, we ate at the Bosville House Hotel, which was lovely though the choice was a little limited for vegetarians (but we knew this would be a theme of the holiday, and the dishes that were on offer were very much to Hannah’s taste… so it didn’t really matter).
Because we were island-hopping, we only had one full day in Skye, so we decided to make the most of it. We began with a tour of the Talisker Distillery in Carbost. The distillery was founded in 1830 by Hugh and Kenneth MacAskill, and has been using local spring water (which naturally flows over peat) and peated malt barley to make their smoky (and delicious) single malt whisky. On the distillery tour, visitors can see the mash tuns where the barley grist is mixed with hot water to release the sugars, then the washbacks where yeast is added to ferment the mash. Perhaps the most dramatic part of the tour is the visit to the still room (Talisker has five stills) where the distillation process takes place—the varying temperatures, aromas and fumes at this stage of the tour make for quite the heady experience. After this, the ageing and bottling process is explained, and visitors can view the maturing whisky casks through a pane of glass. (I assume visitors are forbidden from the cask room to ensure they don’t sneak any of the angels’ share.) The only bit of the whisky-making process you can’t see at Talisker is the initial malting of the barley. This takes place at the Muir of Ord kilns, and the malted grain is then transported to Skye.
The trip ended with a short talk about the distinctive Talisker flavours, and a little taste of the ten-year-old whisky. This was also the ideal opportunity to buy Hannah’s brother a little gift to say thank you for all his help with the wedding.
After leaving the distillery, we decided to find somewhere to have a coffee and a bite to eat. The tour guide had recommended a couple of places, but we were rather intrigued by a small sign at the side of the road, directing us in completely the opposite direction and to a place called ‘The Wee Tea Room and Photography Gallery’. Mostly, we were surprised to see that this place was open all year round (quite a rarity on Skye), but appeared to be a tiny little business, in the middle of nowhere, on a road with no real passing trade. We took several wrong turns trying to follow the signs (which were placed at intervals along the road), but by this point our curiosity demanded that we had to find the place… and we weren’t disappointed.
The Wee Tea Room and Photography Gallery is situated in Glen Eynort, at the home of Jon and Linda Pear. Jon is a talented photographer, who describes himself as a ‘purist’ and has a wonderful portfolio of evocative and dramatic landscapes and wildlife shots, with particular focus on the Highlands and Islands. Linda makes fantastic homemade cakes, which you can enjoy while gazing out of the window at the incredible views.
Inspired by some of Jon’s pictures of the island, we spent the rest of the afternoon driving around the Trotternish peninsula, with a small detour to get a good view of the Quiraing, a series of dramatic rock pinnacles that are both beautiful and menacing. Our drive then continued through Staffin, Duntulm and Uig, before we returned to Portree for the evening.
Skye is a vast and varied land, and we’ve got a lot more exploring to do
The following morning, we took a little drive around part of the Duirinish peninsula and to Dunvegan. The castle—ancestral home of the Clan MacLeod for over 800 years—was closed for the winter season, but the scenery (like that elsewhere on the island) was amazing. If you look at a map, Skye looks like it’s quite small in comparison to the rest of the UK, but we had two long drives and still didn’t get to see the whole of the island. We didn’t even get chance to see all of the Duirinish peninsula! The overwhelming feeling we got was that Skye is really a vast and varied land, and we’ve got a lot more exploring to do on our next visit.
But, on this visit, we had to head back to Uig by lunchtime and get ready to board the ferry to Harris. It was time to continue on to the Outer Hebrides, and the next stage of our honeymoon.
Featured image: The Integer Club via Creative Commons