While in Scotland, I had the opportunity to experience Haggis Adventure's 10-day Compass Buster tour around the Highlands and Islands. Departing and returning to Edinburgh, the trip visits such places including the Isles of Lewis and Harris, Isle of Skye, Orkney, Oban, Glencoe, Loch Ness, and the opportunity to do the Jacobite Steam Train aka the "Hogwart's Express".
The first day of the tour was mainly a long driving day to get us to the ferry terminal in Ullapool and over to Stornaway on the Isle of Lewis. On the way though we did make a few key stops, including the town of Dunkeld and Culloden Battlefield, site of the last battle of the Jacobite Uprising.
On the Isles of Lewis and Harris, we visited the Callanish Standing Stones (which date back over 4000 years), the Gearrannan Blackhouse Village, and the famous Luskentyre Beach. Blackhouses are traditional Scottish cottages made out of stone and thatched roofs. There, you can also see Harris Tweed being woven. For tweed to be authentic Harris Tweed, it has to be woven on the Isles of Lewis and Harris.
Our journey to the Isle of Skye was sadly marked with rainy weather, but we still managed to get a peek of the Old Man of Storr and make stops at Sligachan, Kilt Rock, and Portree as we drove around the island. From there, we made our way back to the mainland, seeing the picture perfect Eilean Donan Castle before we stopped for the night at Morag's Lodge in Fort Augustus.
The next day, number 5 of our trip if you're keeping track, was another long driving day, this time in order to get up to John O'Groats and take the ferry to Orkney. By the time we got there, we only had time for one stop that day, at the historical Tomb of the Eagles, but we packed a full day on Orkney the following day. Highlights included Skara Brae (a Neolithic settlement that is older than Stonehenge), Birsay (where we saw puffins on the cliffs!), and the standing stones at the Ring of Brogdar.
Once back on the mainland, we spent day 7 exploring ruined castles and other historical spots on the drive back down to Fort Augustus. We were in for a big surprise when at one point we saw a pod of orcas swimming nearby off-shore, a pretty rare occurrence. During that time of year, orcas can be seen in the north of Scotland and by Orkney, but you have to get pretty lucky to see them. From there, we made our way to the banks of Loch Ness, stopping at Urquhart Castle quickly, before settling back in at Morag's Lodge.
For our free day at Loch Ness, some options included kayaking, taking a speed boat tour, biking around the loch, or just enjoying some me time at the hostel. Being 8 days into the tour, it was nice to have a day off from the constant travel to just relax if you wanted to. The next day was something I had been looking forward to the entire trip - our ride on the Jacobite Steam Train from Fort William to Mallaig. Not only is it consistently voted one of the world's most scenic train rides, but the train is indeed the one they used in the Harry Potter films as the Hogwarts Express. The most exciting part of the journey was when we passed over the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct - a place you might also remember from scenes from Harry Potter. After lunch in Mallaig, we had fun chasing the train backwards and watching it cross over the Glenfinnan Viaduct from up on the hill, thereby seeing it from two different perspectives in one day. And it made for great photo ops! To finish off the day of driving, we visited Glencoe - personally some of my favorite scenery in all of Scotland, and the site of a famous massacre in 1692. A truly tragic moment in Scottish history. That night in Oban, our tour guide Scot surprised us with a bagpiper to serenade us as we walked to the ceilidh. If you don't know what a ceilidh is, basically think Scottish line dancing.
Sadly, our last day had come, and it was time to drive back to Edinburgh and say goodbye. We visited Saint Conan's Kirk, saw Kilchurn Castle on Loch Awe, and met with some Highland cattle aka "hairy coos". To round it all off, we made one last stop at the Wallace Monument in Stirling. It's named after William Wallace, that guy you may have heard of because of the movie Braveheart (though don't depend on that movie for historical accuracy). After that, we made it back to Edinburgh at around 5pm and I jetted off to my next adventure in Glasgow.
Overall, if you have the time while in Scotland, I highly recommend checking out a tour with Haggis Adventures. Even if you don't have time for a full 10 day journey like I did, at least try to do their 3 Day Isle of Skye trek so you can get a taster of some of the prettiest places in the Highlands, like Glencoe, Eilean Donan Castle, and of course, the Isle of Skye. Really though, you can't go wrong on any of their tours.
For more photos from the trip, check out the extended gallery below:
Like it? Pin it for later!