Double rainbows are considered auspicious in many cultures, and it seems that luck was on Ray Korsch's side in Scotland.
Ray and his family travelled on a custom-made version of Nordic Visitor's Classic Scotland self-drive tour, a quintessential Scottish road trip that covers over 892 km (557 miles) from Edinburgh to the Isle of Skye and back across the Highlands.
They stumbled upon some incredible sights and experiences along their journey, including the colourful sky over Skye (pictured above) that adorns the top of this post. Speaking of luck, we had the good fortune of chatting with Ray about his family's adventures. It turns out that the winning rainbow wasn't their only lucky find...
NV: So, what inspired this family vacation to Scotland?
Ray: We had traveled to Ireland a few years ago and really enjoyed it there. Scotland seemed like the next logical step for us to explore.
We don’t have any family connections there and really aren’t big drinkers either (although we did try a dram of whisky), but our family enjoys the outdoors and likes a little adventure too. My son, Calvin, is into rock climbing and we all enjoy hiking. Scotland was a perfect destination for our interest.
As we are from Florida, we are used to many months of hot weather and sunshine. Believe it or not we were really excited about some cool weather and different scenery from what we are used to. Scotland was perfect for this.
NV: What were your absolute favourite highlights from this trip?
Ray: To start with, in Edinburgh we were able to go to the Edinburgh International Climbing Arena (EICA), one of the largest climbing gyms in the world. It's a really unique facility built into the side of an old quarry. It was the perfect opportunity to stretch and exercise after a long plane ride, and it was an awesome destination for our family.
The Falls of Bruar / House of Bruar was another great destination right on our route that I wasn’t expecting. It has really good shopping and dining, and right on-site is an easy and picturesque hike to see the falls.
We were also able to make it all the way up to the town of Durness -- the very northern edge of Scotland. Our primary destination was Durness Beach, and it was awesome. Very unexpected in Scotland. We got loads of great pictures. We took a long walk on the beach, hiked to the cliffs, climbed the rocks -- it was a blast. Afterwards we found the best cup of hot chocolate in the UK at a place called Cocoa Mountain!
Finally we made it to Skye, and the list of highlights is really endless here…
The most popular thing to do on Skye is a hike on the Old Man of Storr. This is a pretty good hike with a decent elevation gain. It is unique because when you get to the top you have basically a playground of other rock formations and trails that you can explore. Of course, if you take time to look behind you the scenery is amazing. After climbing, we were quite hungry and happened across a place called Skye Pie -- by far the best place we ate all vacation! They even catered to vegans!!
We also visited the Fairy Glen, which is not a really well known destination and quite challenging to find. Well worth it though! It is just as you would guess by its name, a really mystical and otherworldly place. The day we were there it was raining and very windy, which added to the feeling of magic.
The Fairy Pools was a pretty awesome place as well. Think Jurassic Park or Lord of the Rings. It felt like I was Frodo hiking towards Mount Doom the entire time. We were actually supposed to go mountain climbing this day but the weather was a bit rough so this was our back-up plan. Fortunately it was really cool. Hundreds of waterfalls of all sizes. A great hike for all experience levels and if you had the expertise and courage it's possible to summit “Mt. Doom” at the end.
After leaving Isle of Skye we spent the next few days traveling through the Glen Coe area and the Trossachs National Park. The Scenery and drive here was amazing, especially during the twilight hours. While near Fort William my son and his girlfriend had the chance to Ice Climb at a place called Ice Factor.
The absolute highlight of the trip, of course, was our climb up the Red Mountain in the Cuillin Range. Connected to this is a bonus climb after you summit the Red Mountain in which you head to a strange rock formation called the Inaccessible Pinnacle.
NV: How high did you climb on your Red Mountain tour?
Ray: The climb to the top is about 3,000 feet, not quite 3 miles in distance. It's a challenging elevation gain and as you get closer to the top, there's a decent amount of scrambling. At the top the weather creates a lot of danger and challenges -- visibility is very limited, it's raining, the wind is blowing pretty hard and no matter what time of year it's cold!
At the summit of the Red Mountain is the Inaccessible Pinnacle (In Pinn for short), a strange rock formation which is really the main attraction. Once you get to the top, you then get to go on a quick technical climb to the top of the In Pinn, which is really exposed -- although it's not a hard climb there is a lot of fear factor involved. Not to mention the challenging weather at the top...
We were originally intent on climbing Ben Nevis. This is the climb that shows up most when you research Scotland. The weather turned rough on us the day we wanted to climb, so we decided to stick around on Skye a little longer and climb the less popular, but maybe more interesting Red Mountain. Total climb was about 8 hours, and average speed about 1 mph.
We all made it! I suppose that's what it's all about, accomplishing things that we didn't think we're able to. I was so proud of my family.
[Editor's note: Ray and his family wisely used a local guide service, as we recommend all climbers of any level to do in Scotland.]
NV: Brave! Speaking of bravery, how was it to drive “on the wrong side of the road”? Was this your first time driving on the left?
Ray: Driving on the other side of the road takes concentration and focus. It is a bit intimidating in the larger cities at some of the intersections, but out on the country roads it wasn’t to bad. I had some practice from our previous trip to Ireland and my son did a great job navigating. The in-dash GPS definitely helps too.
Surprisingly, driving on the "wrong side" of the road wasn’t as challenging to get used to as the one-lane roads. We put about 1,700 miles on the car during the trip and at least 300-400 miles of that was from one-lane roads. This was a completely new experience for us -- trying to figure out which driver pulls into the passing area took some time and patience. But I've never waved or interacted with so many drivers!
NV: Thanks, Ray!
Pro tip: You won't always get lucky with the weather in Scotland, so pack plenty of layers! We recommend something warm, light and packable like the 66 North primaloft jacket that Ray won for being one of our Photo of the Month winners.
Good to know: A self-drive tour in Scotland is the way to go if you're interested in taking in the sights at your own pace and adding some extra adventures like Ray's family did. But if you want to experience Skye and the Highlands without driving, check out our Highlights of Scotland guided small group tour.