A modest grand tour of the Highlands and Islands – Stage 2: Pitlochry to Achnasheen
The Birnham Oak near Pitlochry is supposed to mark the boundary between the Lowlands and the Highlands. As our introduction to the Highlands, we are privileged to see ospreys at Loch of the Lowes: a chick on its nest with Mum watching from a nearby treetop and Dad dropping a fish into the nest. All clearly visible from the hide, even with the naked eye. Such a thrill!
Pitlochry was once the height of fashion – from Victorian times to the beginning of WWII – when the rich and fashionable came to have Spa treatments and play tennis at the grand Athol Palace Hotel. My grandparents were among them and I have photos from the 30s showing them enjoying tennis parties there. Now it is a mere shadow of its former glory, the town and the hotel catering for mass market tourism and coach tours.
The drive through the Cairngorms introduces us to a barren mountain landscape, awe-inspiring and stern. We eat up the miles on the excellent A9 and soon we’re passing through Inverness and onto Black Isle, crossing the pretty Moray Firth suspension bridge.
Now the landscape changes again as we cross over to the Western Highlands. Craggier, less sculpted and softer. We are staying at the Ledgowan Lodge Hotel in Achnasheen, another place of faded grandeur. It has a quirky charm and the food is good.
Our day is capped off with a beautiful woodland walk by Loch Maree – in the pouring rain. There are even midges! We have definitely reached the Highlands!