Walking and Whisky and Ditches, Oh My! A Highs and Lows in the Highlands

Just one day after picking up my mom and two after we’d arrived there ourselves, we were back to the airport bright and early to retrieve Grandma’s lost suitcase and pick up our rental car (Snow Dash, or Bumblemobile, when we were pretending to be insect-themed superheroes) so we could hit the road for the Highlands.

A sidenote: A few weeks before she was scheduled to leave to join us, my mom sprained her ankle, and her recovery was frustratingly slow. She warned us well in advance that she might not be able to do much hiking (a true bummer in a region known for its awe-inspiring walks), but we were all ready to be flexible with whatever Grandma could give us. Our Highlands vacation was going to be amazing, darnit!

And despite everything that happened (foreshadowing!), it really was.

With the morning’s logistical hurdles behind us, our little foursome (along with everyone’s luggage) had a largely enjoyable travel day. The gray weather persisted, but the scenery was beautiful and the My Little Pony songs kept our spirits bright. Our lunchtime stop in the little town of Dunkeld was a highlight—sandwiches and fish and chips along the river, followed by a rare Julie-and-Dan-only stop at a local establishment called the Whisky Box. Will, the proprietor, eagerly recommended a bottle for us to buy for sipping during the week and distilleries for us to visit during our trip. His enthusiasm was infectious. We were so ready to get where we were going.

Our first destination did not disappoint. The delightfully named village of Strathpeffer, a Victorian-era spa town, was adorable, as was the little cottage we’d rented. Spacious and unbelievably charming, it’s part of a larger estate house and features a Pictish symbol stone dating back to the 400s or 500s right there on the property. Inside, it was stocked with everything we could have ever imagined needing, from baking supplies to cozy blankets to an extensive DVD collection.

Our first full day there dawned gorgeous, all blue skies and warm sun and wispy white clouds. We took advantage with a near-perfect hike right from our front door, past the Eagle Stone, on through the lovely houses of the town, across a stunning golf course (I’m normally not one for golf courses, but this one, in its natural habitat, was remarkable) and alongside a lovely loch. My mom’s ankle was feeling strong and we were cautiously optimistic that our gorgeous weather would hold. We celebrated that evening with a viewing of The Wizard of Oz, which Fiona was excited to watch after having read the book with Dan earlier in our trip.

On our second day I wanted to try a hike in nearby Dingwall to the 18th-century Fyrish Monument, mostly because I saw some striking-looking pictures of it that captured my imagination. Since we were off to an early start and the hike was billed as a modest one, Dan and I also booked a tour of the Singleton Distillery for later that afternoon as a post-hike treat.

Rolling along the narrow road, nearly to the trailhead, we encountered a car coming the other direction. Dan put the car in reverse, aiming for a passing place just behind us. Then, somehow, suddenly, through some mix of spatial miscalculation and mild panic, the left half of the car was no longer on the road.

Reader, we were ditched.  

It might seem obvious from the photo above, but it took us a few minutes to comprehend how utterly stuck in this roadside ditch we were. After trying every approach we could think of—including enlisting the help of three incredibly kind young women who happened to be driving by to try and push the thing out—we conceded that the car was well and truly trapped. While I called roadside assistance and Dan spent some time self-flagellating, Fi and Grandma Shirley took a little nature walk down the way to enjoy the beauty of what was truly the most scenic place we could have picked to be stranded by the side of the road.

During the hour we waited for the tow truck, we started to feel less freaked out/upset/annoyed and appreciate the humor of the whole situation. It helped that every person that drove by slowed down, leaned out the window and enquired with real concern whether we were OK and how they could help, commiserating that yes, driving off the road is par for the course around here and expressing their worry that our Scottish holiday would be ruined.

Our favorite passerby was a rotund, grizzled older man in a funny little tractor-car, who stopped, climbed out, surveyed our car, and said, in a thick, amused-sounding Scottish burr, “ya been drinkin’ already?” He then proceeded to give us his opinion on the road, the impeding tow strategy and US gun control, among other topics. We were, needless to say, charmed.

When the tow truck arrived, it was huge, blocking cars in both directions, which somehow didn’t seem to piss anyone off. One guy simply turned off his car and got out to chat with us while we waited; another family assured us that, as long as we were all unhurt, they were happy to wait as long as it took. Fortunately, it didn’t take long—the car was back on four wheels and declared undamaged within about 10 minutes. Five minutes after that, escorted by the kind and unflappable tow truck driver, we arrived at the trailhead to set off on a hike during which we passed every person who’d driven by us on the road, now all heading down the hill and interested to hear the story of how we’d made it out of the ditch.

It all made for a convivial ramble, if a little steeper than we anticipated. When Grandma Shirley’s ankle and Fi’s little legs had had enough, Dan and I left them to snack and read at the sweetest little lakeside spot ever while we climbed the rest of the way to the monument. The view was astonishing and, after so many hikes with our wee one, it was invigorating to crank up a hill at full speed.

Our ditch detour meant we were in a rush to make our distillery tour, but arrived just in time for a delightful lesson about the local whisky-making process (and, of course, samples of the results).

Ultimately, it was a day with more highs than lows, which we vowed to follow with something a little more low key and, ideally, much more low drama. How’d that work out for us, you ask? Stay tuned…

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