The past few days have been magical, to say the least. It was my birthday on Wednesday (a middling 27) and things got off to a great start with the early morning arrival of Jake (the missus). I had only arrived back into Edinburgh from Belfast by way of Dublin late the night before so I was up again after a quick pitstop at the same Edinburgh hostel I had stayed at during Fringe.
After a wet gooey reunion at the terminal we picked up our rental car and hit the road for a 9 day road trip north into the Highlands. On Wendy's (fellow La Wayaka artist) recommendation, we set out for the North Coast 500, a tourist route that does a big lap mostly hugging the Scottish coastline on the mainland.
We stopped at a well-manicured garden with an incongruous entry fee, and had a quick snoop in the town of Perth as I slowly got my head around how to drive our Citroën Picasso.
Now, just a quick rant about our rental... It's a decent enough drive, but I've never come across a car that feels so much like a super computer. Everything is digitised including the dashboard and speedometer, and there's also keyless entry, rearview cameras and buttons for hand brakes and engine start. Call me old-fashioned but I just feel more secure when I get to physically release a tangible hand brake and can only start the car once I insert a key into the ignition. We also spent a good long while trying to get the fuel gauge to show up on the upper dash, because apparently that's not something that needs to be seen at all times(?)
After Perth we entered the Highlands and drove around the perimeter of Cairngorms National Park on the way up. More stops were made at Loch an Eilein (photos above), the ruins of Ruthven Barracks and the Potting Shed Tearooms. Getting to the tearooms felt like a long drive through the Dandenongs, as we went down endless single lane winding roads through thick and picturesque woods until out of nowhere appeared a beautiful working garden with several aged cottages scattered throughout. I had my proxy birthday cake there in the old greenhouse.
From there we continued driving past Inverness until we arrived at Balavil Farm in Conon Bridge. Part of Jake's extensive birthday present was a night at the B&B in the beautiful farmhouse. Dinner that night was a bit hit and miss, but I can honestly say that Balavil was one of the best Airbnb experiences I've ever had.