Highland Weekend

# photography# travel

A weekend in a cottage with a fireplace.

Last weekend, Claire and I went up to the Cairngorms for the express purpose of spending a weekend in a remote cottage curled up next to the fireplace. We played board games, ate pancakes, and drank tea and whisky.

Highland cottage
Our cozy cottage in the Cairngorms.

The cottage was down a one-kilometer driveway, hidden behind expansive sheep pastures and tucked into the edge of an oak forest.

The castle on Loch an Eilein
The castle on Loch an Eilein.

The drives up and back were stunning. On the way home, we stopped at Loch an Eilein, a loch with a sunken castle in the middle.

The main North-South highway in Scotland is a stunning and surprisingly quiet two-lane road that curves through the heart of the highlands. Coming from the busy freeways of North America, this feels like a slow scenic route. Nonetheless, on our way back we cut off the highway to take an even more scenic route, following winding one-track roads over hills and valleys.

The view down Glen Lyon
The view up Glen Lyon.

That took us through the idyllic Glen Lyon, which the poet Walter Scott described as the “longest, loneliest and loveliest glen in Scotland.” We stopped for tea and cake in the Glen before turning up the mountainside for one of my favorite drives in Scotland, through a pass between Ben Lawers and Meall nan Tarmachan, on a route that Google simply describes as “unnamed road.”

Ben Lawers Dam
Ben Lawers Dam surrounded by the Trossach Mountains.

That road winds up through into the misty and desolate mountain pass, where there is a feeling of complete solitude, like you’ve arrived at the end of the world.

We did parts of this drive once before, on our first trip to Scotland in 2018. It was so beautiful, it helped convince us to move to Scotland. That time, we stayed in a small cabin near Ben Lawers, and one night we went for dinner in the closest town, Killin.

Killin is at the end of a loch, and a river runs through the town. An old, narrow stone bridge crosses the river at a wide set of rapids, called the Falls of Falloch. When you get across the bridge, there’s a small inn, which has an unassuming pub. Inside the pub, there are a few wooden tables, and a large fireplace. In 2018, Claire and I had dinner in that pub, next to the fire. Claire had haggis, and I had fish and chips.

As we drove home last week, we talked about getting dinner at the pub again. We were tired and we wanted to get home, but we wanted to relive the happy memory. We decided that we would stop at the pub and — if they had a table — stop for a drink.

Killin was just as charming as I remembered, with the inn next to the bridge over the rapids. When we went into the pub, the server told us there were no tables available. After a long day of driving, I think Claire and I were actually a little relieved to know we would just keep driving and get home at a reasonable hour. But I looked around the pub, at the fire and the families having Sunday dinner, and I felt very happy to see it again. Most of the time I feel possessive of my happy memories — like I want to collect all of these experiences and keep them in my closet. But then, every once in a while, I’m just happy to remember that this charming thing exists. As I left the pub, I felt reassured. It’s still there. Something is right in the world.

© Sam Littlefair, 2023