A Family Holiday to Loch Ness - Part 5 - Castles and Dolphins

***REVIEW***
If you have been reading our recent posts you’ll know that last month we took a family holiday to Loch Ness in the Highlands of Scotland. Before we travelled, I had thought that it would be a good trip - but honestly, I never dreamed it would be half as amazing as the week actually turned out to be.

So far during our week-long stay in Scotland we had cruised on Loch Ness, discovered waterfalls, explored historic battlefields and taken a road trip with the Harry Potter train but on day 5 our plans changed and we'd end up in both the West and East coasts of Scotland photographing castles and dolphins.


Family Holiday to Loch Ness with Castles and Dolphins at Eilean Donan, Plockton, Black Isle and Moray Firth


We had a booking for a 4pm boat trip on the Dolphin Spirit on the Moray Fifth, leaving from Inverness Marina. We had planned to have a relaxing morning but the forecast of heavy rain on the west coast for the following day brought our plans for Thursday forward and instead on Wednesday we headed in a North West direction on the way to Eilean Donan castle. This castle, reputedly the most photographed in Scotland, is one of the reasons we booked to come to Scotland. Hubby had seen lots of photographs of this castle and being only just under an hour away from our base at Loch Ness we got up early and headed there first.

Family Holiday to Loch Ness with Castles and Dolphins at Eilean Donan, Plockton, Black Isle and Moray Firth


Eilean Donan Castle

The 13th-century castle is one of the most iconic images of Scotland. It’s THE castle on a lake. It is recognised around the world and has appeared in many films including Highlander, The New Avengers, Bonnie Prince Charlie, Loch Ness and James Bond – The World is Not Enough.

It is located on an island where three sea lochs (Duich, Long & Alsh) meet and is surrounded by amazing scenery and picturesque villages. It is also so accessible. From Loch Ness it took about 45 minutes by car to reach Dornie and the castle on roads where we rarely saw other cars,  which is on the other side of Scotland, you are very nearly on the Isle of Skye when you arrive there – and can see it in the distance.
En-route whilst driving along the shore of Loch Duich we spotted a sign for a vista view. 


Family Holiday to Loch Ness with Castles and Dolphins at Eilean Donan, Plockton, Black Isle and Moray Firth

This took us high above the loch and then and you start to descend you suddenly get this brilliant view of the castle. Well worth the small detour off the main road. 


Family Holiday to Loch Ness with Castles and Dolphins at Eilean Donan, Plockton, Black Isle and Moray Firth

We got there early but we were still in the overflow carpark. It’s a very popular site. With plans changed this was going to be a whistle stop tour and more about the panoramic views and scenery than interiors so we didn’t go inside the castle but stopped for a while to take in the stunning location.


Family Holiday to Loch Ness with Castles and Dolphins at Eilean Donan, Plockton, Black Isle and Moray Firth


Family Holiday to Loch Ness with Castles and Dolphins at Eilean Donan, Plockton, Black Isle and Moray Firth

The boys took photographs too.
Family Holiday to Loch Ness with Castles and Dolphins at Eilean Donan, Plockton, Black Isle and Moray Firth

Our original plan had been to continue on to the Isle of Skye, however, having to be back in Inverness by 3.30pm  we instead followed the coastal route around the headland, turning right at the bridge to Skye instead of heading over the water and ended up in Plockton. Skye is somewhere I'd definitely like to return though, the Fairy Glen looks amazing.

Plockton

Whilst researching the area, I'd read about Plockton and that it affords amazing views and I was not to be disappointed. It is a beautiful fishing village that sits on a sheltered bay with stunning views overlooking Loch Carron. 


Family Holiday to Loch Ness with Castles and Dolphins at Eilean Donan, Plockton, Black Isle and Moray Firth


Family Holiday to Loch Ness with Castles and Dolphins at Eilean Donan, Plockton, Black Isle and Moray Firth

Often referred to as the “Jewel of the Highlands”, it offers everything: breathtaking scenery and landscapes, secluded bays, coral beaches, islands, panoramic views and the possibility of seeing an array of marine life at close quarters. It is part of Balmacara Estate owned by the National Trust for Scotland.


Family Holiday to Loch Ness with Castles and Dolphins at Eilean Donan, Plockton, Black Isle and Moray Firth

Because of its spectacular setting and traditional Highland atmosphere, Plockton has appeared in numerous film including The Wicker Man and television productions, the most well-known being the BBC’s ‘Hamish Macbeth’ series. We had a walk around the village, soaking up the gentle and relaxing atmosphere of this delightful village before heading on our way. 


Family Holiday to Loch Ness with Castles and Dolphins at Eilean Donan, Plockton, Black Isle and Moray Firth


I could easily have stayed longer and would love to go back and stay there one day. 

We decided to travel back through Glen Carran. This started with a picnic stop for lunch at a viewpoint over Loch Carran. The sun had now appeared and we were afforded absolutely beautiful views looking down on the loch surrounds by blue skies and very blue water.


Family Holiday to Loch Ness with Castles and Dolphins at Eilean Donan, Plockton, Black Isle and Moray Firth

This road back to the east coast of Scotland is a B-road and as such is a mix of single track with passing places and two-way roads, however, there was very little traffic so the journey back took much less than two hours.


The Black Isle

Now back on the east coast, the sun was shining brightly and as we had a little time before our pre-booked dolphin trip we decided to drive around the Black Isle where on one side we saw the Port of Invergordon and a mix of industry and cruise ships; and on other the other side dolphins at Chanonry Point.


Family Holiday to Loch Ness with Castles and Dolphins at Eilean Donan, Plockton, Black Isle and Moray Firth

Despite its name, the Black Isle is not an island, but a peninsula, surrounded on three sides by water – the Cromarty Firth to the north, the Beauly Firth to the south, and the Moray Firth to the east with the Rivers Conon and Beauly marking its western edge. Long famous for its rich farmland and the annual Black Isle Show, it's now also well known as a great place to enjoy wildlife - from dolphins to deer, from osprey to otters, from seals to Scots Pine. It's also steeped in history, with castles, cairns and even a cathedral and three museums to enjoy.


Family Holiday to Loch Ness with Castles and Dolphins at Eilean Donan, Plockton, Black Isle and Moray Firth

Apparently, Chanonry Point is the place where it is easiest to spot dolphins in the UK - and in the 10 minutes, that we were there enjoying an ice cream we spotted a couple of dolphins too and a crab. Dolphins at Chanonry Point can be seen at any time (and not at all!) but the best time to see them is usually on a rising tide. From around 1 hour after low tide, the tide turns and dolphins start to chase fish in. Drive through the golf course and at the end is a small car park.


Family Holiday to Loch Ness with Castles and Dolphins at Eilean Donan, Plockton, Black Isle and Moray Firth


There is a memorial to the Brahan Seer on the links, on the spot where he was burnt to death in a tar-barrel. Known in his native Scottish Gaelic as Coinneach Odhar, and Kenneth Mackenzie, he was, according to legend, a predictor of the future who lived in the 17th century. And s a "witch" who was executed in this barbaric fashion in the 17th century.

Dolphin Spirit Wildlife Cruise

But now it was the time that we had to head back to Inverness over the Kessock Bridge, a suspension bridge constructed in the 1980's, and into the Inverness Marina where the Dolphin Spirit is based. We checked in and waited a few minutes until our boat was ready.


Family Holiday to Loch Ness with Castles and Dolphins at Eilean Donan, Plockton, Black Isle and Moray Firth


Family Holiday to Loch Ness with Castles and Dolphins at Eilean Donan, Plockton, Black Isle and Moray Firth


The Dolphin Spirit Wildlife Cruise offers a comfortable, family friendly, easy access, trip around the Inner Moray Firth. On the trip, you are accompanied by a specialist guide giving full commentary. A family ticket for a trip (2 adults + 2 children) costs £55. Under 4’s travel free. Trips last 1 hour and 15 minutes, going out into the Beauly Firth, under the Kessock Bridge, the out towards Munlochy Bay before returning.


Family Holiday to Loch Ness with Castles and Dolphins at Eilean Donan, Plockton, Black Isle and Moray Firth


The dolphins in the Moray Firth are common bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus). They live in groups of between 10 and 30 individuals called pods. We received a safety talk and an idea of what wildlife could be seen in the Moray Firth as well as being told that you're not guaranteed to see any dolphins. Whilst they do their best to get you as close to known activity as they can, the wildlife can sometimes be elusive. Undeterred as we set off we were on the lookout for otters, seals and of course Dolphins.

Family Holiday to Loch Ness with Castles and Dolphins at Eilean Donan, Plockton, Black Isle and Moray Firth


The trip lasted over an hour during which we had great commentary on the area, the wildlife and landmarks. We also heard how dolphin spirit adheres to wildlife space policies meaning we would cover a set route rather than chase after any wildlife.


Family Holiday to Loch Ness with Castles and Dolphins at Eilean Donan, Plockton, Black Isle and Moray Firth


The first hour was a very pleasant boat ride, the sun was shining, the sky was blue and we were all really trying to spot something, however so far no luck. As we headed back one of my boys told me its ok we'll see something just before the day and he was right, in fact, it was my boys who spotted the first. A seal, swimming a fair distance away from the boat but clearly visible with its head above the water and then more wildlife appeared. This time a dolphin as we approached the entrance to the marina. Charlie the dolphin had caught a fish and was showing it off!


Family Holiday to Loch Ness with Castles and Dolphins at Eilean Donan, Plockton, Black Isle and Moray Firth


Following our successful afternoon with Dolphins, we headed back to the lodge, this time taking the route along the north shore from Inverness through Lochend, Drumnadrochit and Invermoriston and we yet again enjoyed a lovely dip in the hot tub. The perfect was to end a very long but amazing day in the Highlands, where we had taken in both the West Coast and East Coast of Scotland.

Have you spotted dolphins in the UK?

Deb x

Disclosure: We received a complimentary family ticket for the Dolphin Spirit in return for an honest review.

16 Comments

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  2. Wow! It sounds like you had an amazing time. Scotland is so beautiful. I would love to go back again, we always used to go to Jura, and my daughter (Isla) is named after the island next to it - Islay.

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    1. That's somewhere we haven't been yet. On the list ...

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  3. This looks like such an incredible trip. The castle looks truly magical and I would love to see Dolphins in the wild.

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  4. This trip looks amazing, and you've fit so much into it! The scenery looks incredible! x

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    1. We did do a lot - but it was worth it x

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  5. Scotland looks amazing! We are hoping to visit there in 2019 (seems a long way off! but we've planned Wales for next year)

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    1. I've spent quite a lot of time in Wales too and it will be just as good.

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  6. Looks so pretty! I would love to visit loch ness and try to spot nessy :-)

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  7. This area looks so peaceful and as far away from suburbia as you can get. Lovely photos, I have a FB friend who lives in thr highlands and this just makes me want to head up there x

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    1. You should - it really is beautiful x

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  8. I love Scotland and spend a lot of time there, never tire of it. Really enjoyed this post great photos.

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