A Highland Fling by Rita Catinella Orrell

BonBon Break


I find that one of the biggest challenges of parenthood is the limited time I get to spend alone with my husband. Time to sit at dinner, enjoying a chat and a glass of wine, without someone asking if we want to see their boogie. We love our kids more than anything, but we know that we need some time to focus on just us once in a while in order to keep everyone happy.

This is why I think it’s absolutely vital that we take kid-free vacations when we can. Choosing the location is the easy part – in this case, we wanted to go to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Figuring out what to do with our two daughters, aged two and four, was a bit more complicated. In order not to impose on either set of grandparents for too long, we decided to split up the girls. My parents would get our two year old, while our four year old would fly with us to Scotland where we would hand her off to her British grandparents. While a great plan, there was one concern. This would not only be the longest time I’ve been away from either of my daughters since they were born (cue the guilt), but also the longest the girls have been apart from each other (cue double guilt).

It was a dreary rainy Monday morning in Glasgow when we arrived, but my four year old was beaming when she saw my in-laws in their new camper van parked outside. They installed a car seat and were going to spend the week with her sleeping in the van and stopping at a few campsites, before meeting up with us again. My in-laws had made plans to take her to tour a safari park, to the beach, the pool, and to visit her great-grandma and cousins. I knew she was going to be fine.

My daughter in front of the camper van that would be her home for a week.

On our first day in Scotland we had big plans. We picked up a rental car in Glasgow and headed for our first stop of the trip – the Isle of Bute. After making the crossing to Bute we headed straight to the neo-gothic Mount Stuart completed in 1912. The home was elaborate and overly ornate — the interiors gave me a bit of a headache to be honest, but I loved the exterior. We drove to Rothesay and we checked into the modern Boat House B&B. After a nap (this was our first day in Scotland after all) we had a spectacular meal at the Waterfront restaurant, including a lamb and rosemary gravy dish that I would eat every day of the week if I could. Not a bad start to the trip at all.

Mount Stuart on the Isle of Bute, Scotland.

The next morning was bright and sunny as we headed back over to the mainland for a visit to Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Hill House in Helensburgh, a suburb of Glasgow overlooking the River Clyde. We arrived an hour and a half before the house’s odd opening hours of 1:30-5:30, so we walked around the neighborhood and the beautiful gardens on the property. Built in 1904, the house is described as a mix of Arts and Crafts, Art Nouveau, Scottish Baronial, and Japonisme architecture. I was impressed by how forward-thinking Mackintosh was – and how brave the clients were to build it.

We then headed up north to spend a night in Glen Coe, stopping to see Loch Lomond on the way. As we approached Glen Coe the mountains seemed to close in on us. Everywhere I looked there were different shades of green, shadows from the clouds, and dramatic rock formations carved by the glaciers. We checked into the Clachaig Inn in Glen Coe, which was rustic but clean and cosy. We had a surprisingly good dinner at the Inn’s Boot Pub that included boar burgers and local ale. Glen Coe is where I finally met the infamous Scottish midge — a dreaded little gnat-like bug that sucks blood. The midges are like a part of the weather here. If it’s sunny and hot or windy they stay away — but the second the sun goes in and wind dies down, they are everywhere.

In front of a mountain range near Glen Coe, Scotland.

Our next stop was the Isle of Skye – specifically the Kinloch Lodge in Sleat, which is the home of one of the most famous chefs in Scotland, Claire MacDonald. On the way we stopped at Fort Augustus to visit Loch Ness – I bought some Nessie dolls and posed with them along the shore. There are lakes everywhere up in the Highlands, but no one swims in them—not even in the middle of August!

A photo at Loch Ness, with a Nessie doll for my daughter, was an absolute must.

The next morning the weather was perfect (I should mention that it is unusual to have such good weather in northern Scotland), so we decided that I would drive across the island to visit the Dunvegan Castle and Gardens estate. I had never driven outside of the U.S. before, let alone on the other side of the road, and this is something that I would have never attempted if the kids were in the back seat. I didn’t enjoyed the winding roads, the “Passing Places” that allow other cars to overtake us, or the round-abouts, but I was proud that I took on the challenge. Later that day, we hiked up the Old Man of Storr rock formation, a 1.5 hour round-trip challenging walk I didn’t think I would finish.

Our hike up to the Old Man of Storr on the Isle of Skye. If you look close you can see people ahead of us.

After another amazing breakfast at Kinloch Lodge, we headed to the town of Gairloch where we booked an 1.5 hour cruise on the lake, spotting some Harbor seals, herons, and other sea birds. We then drove to the nearby town of Poolewe to spend a night at the Pool House, a romantic B&B on Loch Ewe that is owned and run by the lovely Harrison Family. We weren’t aware until after we checked in that the house is claimed to be haunted by not one, but two ghosts — the first owner’s wife and an Edwardian butler. I didn’t see any ghosts, but I did feel like I was being watched in the room and had a hard time falling asleep.

My breakfast of salmon and egg whites at Kinloch Lodge on the Isle of Skye.

A Harbor Seal named Samantha visited our boat in Gairloch.

On the way back to Skye for our last solo night, we stopped at the scenic Eilean Donan castle, a 1938 renovation of a medieval castle that was blown up on the site centuries earlier. Back on Skye, we went to visit some amazing natural formations, including the Faerie Glen, an incredibly magical landscape of miniature hills, lakes, and crumbling stone walls.

Eilean Donan Castle, on a small island on Loch Duich, is one of the most scenic castles in all of Scotland.

The last night we checked into The Three Chimneys, an acclaimed restaurant/hotel and had a fantastic dinner. The sun sets late in the Highlands in summer, so you can start to watch it at 7:30 and it’s just going down around 9:30. If you get to The Three Chimneys, and it’s worth it if you can, get a table with a view. As we sat at our table, having our last dinner alone for a long time to come, we started to make plans for our trip next summer. It was going to be the Scottish Highlands again.

All photos © Rita Catinella Orrell

Rita Catinella Orrell is currently a design magazine editor and writer working in New York City. She has been a design journalist for over 16 years, covering interior design, home furnishings, kitchen and bath design, and architectural building products. She is also a published poet and her chapbook Stuck in the Dream Wheel was published by Finishing Line Press in 2005. Her blog designy things is dedicated to lovely objects, from kitchen gadgets to personal accessories, that demonstrate a combination of beauty and function. In between working, commuting, and blogging, she raises two beautiful girls and a Boston Terrier in New Jersey with her British husband.

She doesn’t get out much in the real world, but you can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest.

This piece was written by Rita Catinella Orrell of Designy Things exclusively for Bonbon Break Media, LLC