February Explorations in the Highlands

A romantic weekend road trip to celebrate my 27th birthday in Fort William & Oban.

I’m halfway through this semester and being the anxious person I am, all I wanted for my birthday was to get out of the city. I found a really good deal at Onich Hotel in Fort William, so my husband and I rented a car and took off after class on Friday for a long weekend on the magical West Coast of Scotland.

The Onich, looking all dramatic surrounded by the heath.
Our fancy rental car, courtesy of another Europcar snafu.

Being only a three-hour drive from Edinburgh, we took our time driving through the winding mountain passes and loch-side roads as we made our way through the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park. Once you are an hour outside of Edinburgh, the wilderness really takes over.

We arrived to our hotel just after sundown. It was unseasonably warm, even after dusk. Daffodils and crocuses are already sprouting up, making it feel like spring. We were fortunate to get a room with a balcony right on Loch Linnhe, which is actually part of the Atlantic Ocean. So we celebrated our arrival with a glass of organic red wine (Hoopoe Cabernet Sauvignon is a new favorite) while star-gazing and taking in the silence of the Highlands.

The night was so clear and bright with the light of thousands of stars, we even saw a few shooting across the sky. We spent a while just drinking it all in, shaking off the stress of the days and weeks before, reconnecting with the natural world.

After, we made our way down to the hotel pub, which was filled with hikers, skiers, bikers, and other nature-lovers, drinking drams around a cracking fire. Apparently Fort William is the ‘Outdoor Capitol of the UK.’ There was a communal sense of peace I have only ever felt when adventuring around Northern Michigan. When we stopped for gas on the way up, the attendant asked where we were from and we told him Edinburgh. “Ach,” he said, “that’s a different world from here.”

And he was right. The Highlands really do feel like a different world from the city. When you spend so much time in the hustle and bustle of Edinburgh — with cars and traffic and throngs of people — being alone amongst the trees feels like a sigh. The air smells different, I could taste the salt from the sea on my tongue. We fell asleep that night with the balcony door cracked open, listening to the waves crash against the shore.

The next morning, we ventured into Fort William (about 15 minutes from Onich), and after an incredible brunch at Wild Cat (a vegan restaurant!) it started to rain. But as with all weather in Scotland, it passes with the wind. It squalled throughout the day, but we made the best of it. After breakfast we wandered around the town, picked up some soap from the Highland Soap Company and popped into a bookshop.

Sunrise over Loch Linnhe
The inside of Wild Cat in Fort William
Lunch at Wild Cat ( vegan soup and sourdough bread with vegan butter).
The view from the Onich Hotel
The lovely Highland Soap Co. in Fort William

Then we drove to Glennfinnan Viaduct — the “Harry Potter Bridge” — where the movies were filmed of the Hogwarts Express traveling. Who knew Hogwats was in the Highlands? Sadly, we didn’t find it… But we did see this:

The Glenfinnan Viaduct // AKA the Harry Potter Bridge
Us! In the mist and the rain!
A beautiful beach we stumbled upon and spent a good hour wandering and checking out the bogs.
Two new Shetland ponies friends
Drama, as always.

Saturday night we shared dinner and drinks at Garrison West, which had organic wine and a separate vegan menu. Seriously, one of the best parts about living in Europe is access to affordable, beautiful, organic wine. I never get hangovers from drinking organic wine. Those sulfites are nasty buggers.

After dinner, we went back to the best little bar in the Highlands: our hotel balcony. We shared a nightcap and basked in the serene silence of the loch, staring up at the stars. As much as I love that introverted-me is living it up in Edinburgh, I get the greatest joy from watching the wind whisk over the water, heather blooming on the hillsides, and constellations sparkling in all of their glory. Some people like clubbing and pub-hopping, but I’m happiest when I am immersed in nature.

Chai & matcha lattes at Wild Cat on Sunday morning.

On Sunday morning we said farewell to the Onich Hotel after another delicious brunch at Wild Cat. We then headed back to Edinburgh. But not before we made one more stop — in Oban — as it was on our way home. Oban is known as the Gateway to the Isles, as you can get a ferry there to the isles of Mull, Iona, and Staffa. It is a quaint Portside town which boasts gorgeous views from their own version of a coliseum and the Oban Distillery — which produces my husband’s favorite scotch, called, you guessed it: Oban.

That’s the gorgeous Isle of Mull in the distance

After a whiskey break, it was finally time to head home. Our drive was beautiful and meandering as we came out of the wilds back into the city lights. This birthday trip was one of my favorites so far in Scotland. The West Coast is breathtaking and I cannot wait to go back soon.

Have you ever been to the West Coast of Scotland? Let me know in a comment below.

Until next time,



6 comments on “February Explorations in the Highlands”

  1. Really enjoyed this, Jessica. Felt like I was right there with you (how unromantic would that have been!)
    Great pictures and observations of your weekend get away. Hope you returned relaxed and refreshed!

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