We fancied a bit of the highlands and islands for our October break this year. We duly booked return flights to Inverness and then set about researching where to stay. The Telegraph ‘best of’ travel guides are usually pretty reliable so we booked ‘The House Over-by’ which is connected to the ‘Three Chimneys’ restaurant in Skye. We chose to spend our last two nights in Loch Ness because we wanted the contrast of landscape and also because it’s very close to Inverness and our early-ish flight home.
Inverness airport is fab, really small but perfectly formed. Once out on the road in our hire car we drove through the most amazing scenery and barely passed another vehicle until we got to the Skye bridge. Once you’re properly on Skye it doesn’t disappoint. It’s all undulating, sheep grazed hills with weather that changes in a heartbeat. I’ve never, ever seen so many rainbows. Once you’re off the main roads it’s all single track with frequent passing places but you barely see another car.
The House Over- By is charming and the staff are great. They are fonts of local knowledge and will supply you with maps for local walks, organise picnics, make suggestions etc. The rooms are well equipped and really comfortable. Breakfast, afternoon tea and the pre dinner snacks are off-the-clock yummy. My personal highlight after a fantastic day of walking in the elements, was lying in bed watching ‘Local Hero’ and eating homemade tablet and shortbread.
We ate in The Three Chimneys twice and loved it. It’s a celebration of all things local, it doesn’t get much fresher than this. Lamb, butter etc are from just up the road and your seafood has, in all probability, been hoiked out of the bay just in front of the restaurant before breakfast.
My son struggles in fine dining restaurants but they catered to his every need. They knew his name and made sure he was well furnished with the bread and shortbread he loved. The alpha and I had a disagreement about scallops. I couldn’t see them on the menu, he was adamant they were there. It turned out that I had been given a different menu because I can’t eat shellfish (we had told them, I’d forgotten). The Three Chimneys is that good, a class act with sublime food. Go.
We had weather on Skye, proper wind and rain. But it was fine, we came well prepared and actually I’d have felt rather cheated if we hadn’t experienced real Skye weather. You might get lovely conditions in the summer but you’ll also get masses of people and the infamous midges.
There are a couple of really weird things about Skye. The first is that you can drive for ages and barely see another soul but when you get to your destination it seems every one else visiting the island is already there! There are some beautiful local hotspots and they are popular but most people seem to turn up in a coach, take a few photos and get back on the coach.
The rewards when you get out of the coach and walk are huge. I think there’s a moral in there somewhere.
The other really odd thing about Skye is that it is odourless. You don’t get any smell of the sea, or the sheep, or grass or anything at all. Its noticeable by its absence. That is unless you are standing next to the Tallisker whiskey distillery, that definitely smells.
We said our farewells to the lovely island and people of Skye and meandered over Loch Ness.
Perhaps our visual palates were jaded by all the beauty of Skye, but Loch Ness itself was a bit of a let down to say the least. It’s a very large stretch of water in a valley and that’s about it. There’s no real sense of character, of individuality to give it the feeling of identity the hype would seem to demand.
The monster myth is a relatively recent invention. What a stroke of genius, it’s turned this place into a goldmine. I bet all the other lochs are kicking themselves that they didn’t come up with the idea first. What do people go to Loch Ness for? And they visit by the coach load. Do they really think they’re going to see the monster?
There is a ‘Nessieland’, I can’t comment, I didn’t go. I tend to avoid man made attractions with the word ‘land’ or indeed ‘Nessie’ in their title. There is also a visitor centre, again can’t comment.
Anyway, onwards to our B and B. I’m not going to name and shame but the Telegraph gave it 9 out of 10 in their best places to stay in Scotland. It doesn’t take much sleuthing to find it. We weren’t expecting the Three Chimneys but it wasn’t cheap, we had certain expectations.
The first thing that assaulted us as we walked in through the front door was the pungent stench of recently squirted air freshener. Unfortunately, exactly the same air freshener that is used copiously in my mother in law’s nursing home. We were shown to our room which, to be fair, was spacious and nice. One of the highlights of our room, apparently, was the courtesy decanter of Sherry from which we were free to help ourselves. This only served to add to the old folks home atmosphere. I’d far rather have had tea and coffee making facilities like you get in every other B and B on the planet.
We were then free to relax before going out to a restaurant recommended by the B and B. The bed was littered with an irritation of cushions. I am not a fan of gratuitous cushioning, far from making the room more comfortable, it gave it the air of an obstacle course. There was one particularly large, cylindrical offender which took both of us to heft off the bed. During our stay it kept mysteriously finding its way back. I think I may have discovered the real Loch Ness monster.
On to supper, table booked at one of Loch Ness’s best eating establishments for some pub grub. My son ordered a burger. He’s not hard to please. He loves a subway meat sandwich. The meat in a Subway sandwich is grim, it looks like an aspostle’s sandal. I ordered the Mezze platter featuring felafel. Our orders arrived. My ‘felafel’ turned out to be balls of beer batter with a couple of peas inside. I pick my battles, arguing the finer points of what does and does not constitute a felafel in Loch Ness is not a fight I want to have. The alpha dobbed me in. I’d popped to the loo and on my return a waitress wanted to know what the problem was. Let’s just say they removed it from the bill. My son left most of his burger, he said it tasted like stewed meat. Takes a lot for him to turn his nose up at a burger. Back to the B and B where we wrestled the cushion off the bed (again) and went to sleep.
The next morning we went down to breakfast to find they hadn’t set the tables out to allow for us to sit together. My son had to sit at a table by himself. He was happy but still. There were a handful of guests, how hard can it be to work out the seating arrangements. Food was quite good though.
I’d go back to Skye in a heartbeat, loved it. But on reflection, all that we experienced in Scotland, the good, the bad and the downright hilarious, have left me with a desire to explore it further. And that is the sign of a successful holiday in a beautiful part of the world.