Have you ever dreamed of sleeping in a castle? Who hasn't, right?
My son had that dream for many years. Not this son pictured above, but my other son—this son's twin brother—who was actually sleeping in a castle—not the one pictured above—when this photo was taken. That's because he was recuperating from nearly dying in the castle the night before.
But I have gotten ahead of myself. If you have previously read Part I of this Skyelanders post, then you'll remember that we had just "jumped ship" (i.e.: abandoned our cruise ship) in Greenock, Scotland with plans of rejoining our fellow cruisers two days later in Invergordon.
You're probably thinking, "Why would you abandon a perfectly good cruise ship when you paid good money to voyage on it?" The only answer I can give is The Old Man of Storr.
The Old Man is an ancient 164 foot pinnacle of rock jutting out of the Trotternish landslip on the Isle of Skye. The moment I saw a photo of it I began scheming to find a way to hike it.
The photo above* is similar to the photograph I first saw of the Old Man of Storr.
I knew right then and there that I had to travel to this incredible place.
Below is a photo I took of the Old Man during the three hour hike to its base.
Skye is a part of Scotland's Inner Hebrides and our cruise ship itinerary included a Day at Sea where it would sail between Skye and the Outer Hebrides before arriving north in Invergordon the next day.
So my bold plan went like this:
Day 1: Use our sightseeing day in Glasgow to travel to Skye instead.
Day 2: Hike on Skye while our cruise ship sailed around it.
Day 3: Arrange for a private driver to pick us up and give us a tour through the Highlands while heading north to Invergordon where we would rejoin our ship that evening.
And if something went terribly wrong, we could catch the ship the day after in Edinburgh. (If you jump ship, always make sure you have a backup plan in case you miss the ship's next stop.)
If this whole thing sounds crazy, well . . . it kinda was. But it was totally worth it.
We disembarked in Greenock and caught a taxi into Glasgow where we boarded a train for a gorgeous 5.5 hour ride through the Highlands to the port of Mallaig.
Shortly after we left the Glasgow station we passed the port of Greenock.
And in this distance we saw our cruise ship!
It was one of those moments when you pause and think, "I hope jumping ship was a good idea. Gulp!"
But any misgivings I had evaporated as we sped along the gorgeous scenery.
We passed small towns alongside lochs. Mountains and valleys. Rushing streams and ruins in fields.
It came as no surprise when I later learned that the West Highland Line from Glasgow to Mallaig is ranked as one of the Top Five Train Journeys in the World.
And finally we hit the Highlands. And let me tell you, they ARE all they are cracked up to be.
When we arrived in Mallaig we had about 10 minutes to make it to the ferry for the last crossing to the Isle of Skye. Fortunately, it was walkable (at a fast pace). It was a chilly crossing but my son Max and I braved the biting winds for the thirty minutes it took to reach the shores of Skye, while Dan and Nick enjoyed the warm cabin below.
I had contacted a gentleman named Kenny of Kyle Taxis and he had a rental car waiting for us at the ferry station upon our arrival. We drove to our B&B that night and set out to hike the Old Man of Storr the following morning. Now a lot happened on that day—you'll just have to read the previous post—but in spite of experiencing insane weather, we made it up to The Old Man by the late afternoon.
See if you can make out the three figures scrambling up to the base of the Old Man.
That would be my husband and two sons.
Afterwards we made our way back to the car—wet, muddy and triumphant—to make the hour and twenty minute drive to Plockton, a wee town located on the mainland just on the other side of the Skye Bridge. I had set up a special surprise for our son by booking rooms in a bonafide castle for the night. It was going to be the perfect end to an exhilarating day. But during the drive Max began to feel queasy. We chalked it up to the curvy mountain roads so we parked him the front seat, hoping he'd feel better.
Driving towards the dramatic Black Cuillin mountain range, a Mecca for climbers and mountaineers.
More of the ever-changing terrain of this magnificent island.
By the time we finally crossed the Skye Bridge to reach the mainland, we were pretty hungry. So we stopped in the little town of Plockton to grab some dinner. That's when we began to suspect that Max wasn't suffering from car sickness. He turned a deep shade of green when he looked at the menu. Snapping it shut he muttered, "I don't think I can eat anything."
Now THAT was a sentence that one NEVER hears Max say. We all exchanged worried looks.
"Do you think you might have eaten something bad at lunch?"
Max swallowed hard. "Maybe. Can we NOT talk about food?"
Just then the waitress popped by. "'Ello! What food would yew like to ordah?"
"Oh, I'll have the fish and chips with the mushy peas!"
"Mussels for me, thanks."
"I'll have the shepherd's pie please."
Max grimaced and broke out in a sweat. Dan and I looked at each other.
"It's gotta be food poisoning. Sorry Max. We'll eat really fast and get you to your room as soon as possible."
We had gulped down about half of our meal when it became clear that Max was not going to make it to dessert.
We scrambled to the car and drove as fast as we could to the lovely Duncraig Castle.
Now we had never stayed in a castle before and had we not gone to Skye exclusively for the hiking, we likely would have packed nicer clothes. You know, the kind of clothes people wear when they are lounging about in a castle: silks and velvets, long cloaks and those fancy gloves that go all the way up to your biceps. But the thought didn't even occur to us UNTIL we walked into the castle and were greeted by the castle’s new owner. She was decked out in a lovely gown, ready for an evening out on the town.
She literally gasped out loud when we tumbled inside; soggy, muddy and looking desperate. Had we been carrying pitchforks we would have looked like a pack of peasants looking to overthrow the local lord and lady.
"Oh! Uh, hello. Welcome to uh . . . Duncraig Castle. You, um, must be the American family, correct?"
I suppose it was the fact that we looked like we had just fought the Revolutionary War that gave us away. I felt the color rise in my face and I would have been deeply embarrassed at our lack of appropriate apparel—except at that very moment I noticed all the color leave my son's face. His jaw tightened and his eyes began to dart about the room, scanning for an exit.
"I'm so sorry. We just finished hiking the Trotternish and we think my son has food poisoning," I wailed. "We need to get him to his room immediately!"
The semi-dismayed look on her face became a look of sheer terror as she appraised my son, weaving slightly and looking like he was about to upchuck on her fabulous tartan carpet and/or tiger pelt.
"THIS WAY!" She semi-shrieked as she spun around and made for the stairs.
She led us to the boys' room first. Max bolted inside and immediately ascertained that it was not an ensuite.
"Closest bathroom please?" he squeaked, through gritted teeth.
"Across the hall!"
Then she spun around again to funnel Dan and I back down the hallway towards our room and away from what was about to occur as Max made a quick run-walk to the loo. He remained there for most of the night, practically hurling his stomach and intestines up along with whatever foul thing he had ingested.
Dan and I were escorted into the "master bedroom" which featured spectacular views over the loch and gardens. Normally I would have been over the moon, but all I could think about was our poor son puking his guts out. “Great!” I moaned. “I feel terrible. Max had specifically requested a castle stay and I give him one on the ONE NIGHT that he needs a modern hotel—where the toilet is only a few feet from his bed!”
After a time, Max seemed like he'd be okay, so Dan and I changed out of our mud-splattered peasant attire and went outside to explore the grounds while Nick kept watch. (That's why you have twins, right?)
View of the front garden.
Dan walking along the lush entrance road.
Behind the castle are beautiful gardens and grounds overlooking Loch Carron.
The views from inside Duncraig Castle are equally stunning.
Lovely views of Loch Carron.
Below is the beautiful dining room, where we had breakfast by a roaring fire.
Our charming bedroom above.
Views from our bedroom window below.
When we went back inside to check on Max we discovered that he was getting worse, not better. Then we heard that the news was reporting about an E. coli outbreak in Germany and France. People were dying from it. Vegetables like cucumbers and tomatoes were being investigated. Dan was so concerned that he decided to stay in the boys' room that night to keep an eye on Max. Poor Nick was forced to sleep on the child's bed that was in our master bedroom. It was a LONG night. None of us slept.
This was Max: All. Night. Long.
The sounds of retching ricocheted through the halls all night long. It sounded like some awful medieval horror film in which someone was being drawn and quartered. I cannot imagine what guests in nearby rooms were thinking. And I have no idea what they did for a bathroom. Hopefully there were others near by.
In the early morning hours, Max collapsed into his bed, almost completely devoid of bodily fluids. But he was alive! And for that we were grateful. But though our fervent prayers for his survival had been answered, he clearly was not up for a day spent driving through the mountainous roads of the Highlands.
"What are we going to do?" Dan asked as we watched our sleeping son. “If we put him in a car he’ll get sick again. We’re gonna miss catching our ship!"
"It's okay. I have a back-up plan. We just need to see if we can spend another night here in the castle. I'll call Kenny and ask him to drive us to Edinburgh tomorrow instead of going to Invergordon today."
So we made our way downstairs to inquire about staying another night. Luckily Max and Nick's room was available for another night but our swanky master bedroom had been booked. Fortunately one other room was available and the owner kindly booked it for us on the spot. I called Kenny and he was like, "No problem. I can pick you up tomorrow instead. But I can only drive you halfway to Edinburgh. I will arrange for another driver to meet us and take you the rest of the way there.” Then and there I fell in love with Mr. Kenny and the owners of Duncraig Castle. They had saved our vacation.
Sighing with relief, Dan and I collected Nick and we made our way to breakfast where we sat at the table nearest to the roaring fire. "Max is completely dehydrated." Dan murmured. "We need to find a store and get him something like Gatorade."
After we finished eating, we hopped in the car and made our way to a grocery store to stock up on food and drink for two days. It must be said that grocery shopping is one of my husband's favorite things to do when we travel, so he was having a roaring good time.
Meanwhile, I needed something a little more stimulating. After returning to the castle and getting some fluids down Max, I suggested that we do a little sightseeing in the area.
"Where can we go? Dan asked. “We’re tired and I don’t want to drive far."
"Well, it just so happens that Eilean Donan Castle is just down the road. It's the really famous castle with the bridge—the one from the Highlander film."
My menfolk immediately perked up. Soon we were strolling around Eilean Donan's beautiful grounds.
"Tol' ya I had a backup plan!" I whooped, as Dan and Nick grinned from ear to ear. "Isn't it gorgeous?"
Nicholas posing in front of the iconic Eilean Donan.
Picture taken during the filming of Highlander above; featured on some signage.
Dan and Nicholas crossing the famed bridge below.
Photos below are from inside the castle walls.
Not a bad sidewalk for a nice stroll, eh?
After a few hours of exploring we returned to Duncraig Castle to see how Max was doing. He was weak but feeling much, much better. We left him to get more sleep and walked around the castle grounds and relaxed in our new room (below).
In the morning Max was up and about, still weak but ready to make the four and a half hour drive to Edinburgh.
He joined us for breakfast and was like, "Man! This room is so cool! I can't believe you guys were getting to eat breakfast here while I was missing out!”
But at least he was able to eat. Toast that is.
After breakfast we spent about 15 minutes strolling around the castle with Max. He hadn't seen any of it. Except for the loo, of course. He was a little sad that he hadn't gotten to enjoy castle life, but he was awfully glad he survived it. I’m sure he was making silent plans of returning someday.
Kenny arrived shortly after and we piled in the car (Max called shotgun) and began the drive to Edinburgh. Kenny was a marvelous tour guide and stopped at beautiful overlooks and at the Spean Bridge Memorial.
Taking in those Highland views with Kenny, Max, Dan and Nicholas.
The Spean Bridge Commando Memorial below.
Passing the impressive Stirling Castle, one of the largest and most important castles in Scotland.
(Max seemed less interested than he normally would have been when it comes to a castle.)
By early afternoon, we had arrived in Edinburgh. Our driver took us straight to South Queensferry, where our cruise ship was parked. Dan and Max tendered straight to the ship and Max went back to bed.
Nicholas and I took a cab to downtown Edinburgh for some sightseeing for the rest of the afternoon. (That's why you have twins, right?)
And our first stop was—you guessed it—the castle!
1. Always have a back-up plan if you decide to
"jump ship" on a cruise.
Make sure you have a way to reach the next port if you fail to make it to the first one.
2. Always pack NICE clothing if you are going to stay in a castle.
3. pack a simple med kit that includes things like aspirin & Imodium in addition to bandages and first aid creams.
4. Be sure you can get to a store to purchase things like gatorade. If you plan to be out hiking in the middle of nowhere, take some kind of liquid with you that can replenish electrolytes in case of an emergency or food poisoning.
5. try NOT to get food poisoning.
If you plan a holiday on Skye or the nearby area of Kyle of Lochalsh and need a rental car, give Kenny at Kyle Taxi Company a call. Kenny has saved us on two separate occasions. Once, during a return visit, Kenny called us as we were boarding the train in Glasgow to inform us that the rail line had washed out and that we would not make it all the way to Mallaig to catch the ferry. He told us where to get off the train and when we arrived there a few hours later, Kenny had a driver waiting to drive us to Kyle where we could pick up our rental car and drive to our destination on Skye. We were so amazed and impressed. Kenny will always look out for his clients. He's the best!
If you dream of staying in a castle, then you'll want to check out Duncraig Castle.
The owners have completely remodeled the castle since our time there and it is spectacular. The bedrooms are all ensuite and feature a beautiful modern feel while still maintaining Old World charm.
I want to go back.
Maybe Max will too—now that the rooms are ensuite.
* Old Man of Storr image from Pixabay, courtesy of Frank Winkler.