Scotland is somewhere I thought I knew well, I have visited countless times in the past and was sure I had soaked up all the key sights. That is until I co-hosted a Rebecca Recommends trip with nine lovely American travel agents (almost all of who had never visited before.) Experiencing Scotland with these first time visitors opened my eyes to see Scotland in a whole new light and I fell in the love with the country all over again.
A four and half hour train from central London gets you right into the heart of Edinburgh, where I was then easily transferred to the G&V. Situated right on the corner of the Royal Mile it is the perfect base for exploring the city.
After meeting the agents we would be showing around Scotland and enjoying a delicious lunch in the G&V bar, we all set off on a walking tour of the city centre with one of Original Travel UK's fabulous local guides. Edinburgh's charm comes from the fact it's small and easily walkable. History covers every inch of the old town, where the castle fortress towers over the high street, boasting amazing views of the city. Our first stop had to be said castle, housed inside are the Scottish Crown Jewels, known as the Honours of Scotland which are even older than their counterparts in London! The oldest building in the castle is St Margaret's Chapel that dates back to the 12th century.
After exploring the castle we wandered down the Royal Mile, stopping off to explore historic points along the way, including a memorial known as the witches well, the writer's museum and to learn what closes and wynds are; (small alleyways and passages leading off the Royal Mile, closes historically had a gate at either end to 'close them off' and wynds did not.) Having a guide was instrumental to our time in Edinburgh, giving us a better understanding of the city, helping us to get our bearings and to appreciate the huge amounts of history woven into every step, which would have otherwise been overlooked.
The next day we were up bright and early with our knowledgeable driver for our journey to Aldourie Castle, in the Scottish Highlands. We drove through the beautiful Scottish countryside before enjoying a quick stop into the fabulous House of Bruar - a local store filled with country clothing, cashmere and a deli stuffed with local Scottish produce.
Then, after an hour and half drive, which was mainly through the beautiful Cairngorms National Park, we finally arrived to the sweeping drive of Aldourie Castle. The pink palace is nestled in the trees and looks out over the beguiling Loch Ness. Certainly of the most magical castles in Scotland, made even more so as it is only available exclusively.
After settling into the our new home, we set off on a private boat trip on Loch Ness (to search for Nessie of course!) which certainly blew away the cobwebs. A stop off at the ruins of Urquhart Castle was a real treat. Drinks were in the opulent drawing room where we were surprised by a be-kilted bag piper and the dinner in the grand dining hall was a huge success.
We awoke to a delicious breakfast and then it was time to wave goodbye to the castle and our gracious hosts. It was onto the Torridon, situated on the rural west coast of Scotland. A visit to the Glen Ord Distillery was a welcome break from the drive where we learned about the whisky process and tried a whisky (or three)!
We arrived to the Torridon and had the afternoon at lesiure to relax into our beautiful surroundings. The following day a guided hike was on the cards, and luckily for us the sun was shining! We enjoyed a five mile guided hike through the woodlands and the estate, walking on a path next to the gin-clear loch.
Country pursuits were the focus for the afternoon as we set off into the grounds to learn archery and clay pigeon shooting. We quickly realised we were all (of course) masters of the activities, and despite being slightly (read: very) distracted by the beautiful highland cows, we were all dreaming of owning country estates to be able to partake more regularly. Dinner was served in the cosy Inn which was really popular with our American guests for its good food and laid back vibes.
Our final day, it was time to make our way back to Edinburgh - via the scenic Glencoe and Eilean Donan Castle. After a long but beautiful drive the G&V was the perfect place to rest our weary heads. A perfect week away, enjoying all that Scotland is known for - fascinating history, amazing whiskies and beautiful scenery!