Scotland. That old world place of history, castles, and verdant green ocean cliffs. But when you slow down and start to look a bit deeper than the obvious, you’ll find a place with stories deeper than meets the eye. Bajan Wed member, Jess Leigh Photographer, spent 15 days traveling Scotland and photographing it on film, and we love what she captured here!
“Where to begin? I was inspired to take this trip for many reasons. Scotland had been calling to me for a few years, partly from learning that my heritage traced back there and partly, I won’t lie, because of watching Outlander- if you know, you know! When I first started thinking about a trip I tried pretty hard to convince a friend to come with me. The idea of being alone on vacation was a little odd to me. Traveling alone, from a to b, no problem, I’d done it a million times. But actually taking a trip alone? Spending every day alone, eating, sleeping, driving, sight seeing- everything alone. It was hard to imagine. Ultimately, I could not find a friend who was able to join me on the journey and so I made the decision to go alone. In short, the best decision I’ve ever made.
I spent 15 days traveling Scotland alone, basically from bottom to top. Most visitors to Scotland hit the main cities towards the south, Glasgow and Edinburgh and sometimes venture into the lower Highlands for a few smaller cities and big attractions like Loch Ness and Inverness. The luckier ones will get to drive through Glencoe valley and even luckier still, stay a night or two on the Isle of Skye. All of the above are amazing ways to see some of Scotland and get a taste for its culture and natural beauty. When I planned my trip, I knew I wanted to do something more. I wanted to see it all! And although I drove over 1200 miles in 15 days, I still didn’t manage to see it all- but so close!
The thing that sets my trip apart from the average traveler’s journey to Scotland and maybe even the average photos you’ve seen of Scotland before is the North Coast 500. The North Coast is Scotland’s Route 66 through the northern most Highlands of the country. The road takes you on a 500 mile loop along the coast of the Highlands (north of Inverness) to the very most northern point of Britain. In one word it’s: awe-inspiring. The scenery is unreal. The feeling of remoteness and peace is life changing and for me, the natural beauty moved me to tears on more than one occasion. Here is a little more about the journey …
I started my trip in Edinburgh, enjoying how small and historic the city is, walking miles on end to see everything possible. After a few days, I picked up a car in Edinburgh and headed north. My first day driving wasn’t going to take me far but I had several planned stops that I couldn’t wait to see. I toured 18th century home and estate and got to visit Lallybroch (Outlander fan girl moment). I visited the famous sea side town of St Andrews and walked the 12th ruins of Scotland’s largest Catholic church. Then I headed to my stop for the night, the quiet town of Falkland. I walked the town, only a few streets wide, and sat in the square with hardly another person in sight as the church bells rang and the sunset on my first experience in a small Scottish village. The next day I headed out before sunrise to be at Dunnottar Castle before the crowds. It was so worth it! To photograph the stunning castle perched above the sea – with no one around- was one of my trip highlights! I ended the day in Inverness and spent a few nights in the area exploring historic sites like Culloden Moor and a lazy afternoon beachside at Loch Ness in a small local pub.
Then came the big day: The start of the NC500. The Google Maps timed me at just under 3 hours for the day’s journey, though I knew I would make enough stops to at least double it. By the time I made it to my final stop that night it was 9 hours later! Stopping at every little town that peaked my interest, I headed up the coast. A stop for coffee at a tiny village by the sea. Around lunch time I followed a random sign for a cafe down a single lane gravel road that dropped several hundred feet until it leveled out by the ocean and there was a water front cafe next to a tiny sea port. As I ate my lunch a local man sat at my table and started talking with me. Come to find out, the cafe and this street had been closed all week because they were filming for an episode of The Crown! He was very relieved it was open again so he could have his lunch. Heading north still, passing villages, too many sheep to count and cows grazing on hills that dropped off into the sea. I was chasing the light to make it to the most northern town, John O’ Groats before sunset so I could catch the views off the cliffs at Dunnett Head. At one point while driving, I crested a hill and when I could finally see over it, all there was was ocean. The road was coming to an end, I’d made it. The sun was low and the light was misty, I could see the end of Britain and the islands off the coast. It was overwhelmingly beautiful to see so far into the distance. I walked a giant field of sheep to get see the Stacks of Duncansby, talking with them along the way. One even posed for a photo! It was so peaceful and quiet, though I tried the photos don’t come close to doing it justice. The coast line was all cliffs dropping into the sea and sun sank below the horizon with a heavy mist iconic to what I’d always dreamed up the Highlands to be.
The next day was even more spectacular than the first. The scenery on the western side of Scotland is unlike anything. Gorgeous tall mountains, deep blue lakes, crystal clear ocean on white sand beaches, endless valleys and scenery beyond your dreams. I stopped at a village coffee shop I’d been told to check out and chatted with locals. Visited a 400 year old beach side church and kirkyard. Stopped into little shops and talked with artists- and bought a hand made mug! I drove single lane roads for hours without seeing a single car. Finally making it to Ullapool, my stop for the evening and one of my favorite cities of the whole trip. The pub at my beach side hotel was bustling on the Friday night and I sat among locals who watched their kids and dogs play on the banks of the ocean as the sun set. It was one of my favorite spots of the trip and I will be back again.
The remainder of my time in Scotland was spent on the Isle of Skye, Glencoe and lastly Glasgow. Skye will take your breath away! For me, it was a bit busy after being in the middle of nowhere for days before but if you want to see some of the most spectacular scenery in Scotland, all on one very easily navigated island- go to Skye! There’s even a place on Skye where you can see dinosaur footprints- that’s how old it is. The history of Scotland is fascinating and can be felt all around the country. But hands down, my favorite part about Scotland and the entire journey was the people! The Scottish people were beyond amazing and taking this trip alone turned out to be the best possible way I could have pushed myself to meet them. The Scottish people today are diverse, kind and welcoming. It’s a stunning country with a rich history. It’s a place where the modern meets the historic in a beautiful and thoughtful way. The food, especially by the ocean, is amazing and the whiskey is obviously second to none! If you’ve ever been interested in Scotland, or if I’ve hopefully now peaked your interest- go!”
Jess Leigh is transitioning from being based in Mexico to Colorado – go check out her work here!