Night is falling. You’re weary. You haven’t eaten. The road is long and is just getting longer. Or at least this slow-going, single-track road feels like it is.
You long for a roaring fire, lively company, hearty grub, a refreshing beer and, most of all, a humongous bed to collapse into.
What you’re longing for looks a lot like the Whitebridge Hotel, near Loch Ness. Built in 1899, on the site of a fire-ravaged soldiers’ hostelry, the hotel has been welcoming strangers looking for shelter and sustenance in Stratherrick, in the foothills of the picturesque Monadhliath Mountains, ever since.
Owners Lesley Renton and Bella Kilgannon took over the property in 2018 and they have been busy refurbishing, and leaving their mark on this charming Highland haven.
The sofa in the residents’ lounge make for a cosy resting spot, and there are board games, books and records to pluck from the shelves.
As for my en suite room, it’s tartan-carpeted and comes with imaginative touches, such as a tea table secured on a stack of old suitcases, as well as lovely views and, yes, the king-sized bed of my weary dreams.
Before dinner, there’s time for a short stroll to the 1732 humpbacked bridge built over the River Fechlin which gives the hotel its name. Brief history lesson: the property sits on one of George Wade’s Military Roads, a network built in the 1700s to carry troops around the Highlands following the Jacobite Rebellions.
The Whitebridge bar is a popular gathering place in this peaceful hamlet, and there are a few residents in for a drink and dinner, as well as guests. Numbers are sensible, though, given Covid restrictions (I visited in the autumn, between lockdowns). Tables are sensibly spaced, and servers are wearing face masks. Everyone observes social distancing, well except, perhaps, the odd furry friend or two. Yep, dogs are absolutely welcome here.
The food is great, with large portions to satisfy the weariest of wanderer. The steak and ale pie with chunky chips is fantastic, and my two pints of West lager taste great.
Up early the next day, and after a hunger-busting cooked breakfast in the dining room, it’s time to follow one of Lesley and Bella’s tips. From the hotel it’s a 10-minute drive to Loch Killin, one of those off-the-beaten-track beauty spots most people will pass by.
The road is empty, save for a deer that bounds on to the road ahead, before disappearing into the thickets. Loch Killin is only a mile or so long but just a peaceful few minutes walking along the rocky shore in splendid, early-morning isolation is well worth the short drive.
Then it’s back to the main road and on to Fort Augustus. It’s a lovely village with pubs, café, and craft shops but its centre-point is the flight of locks connecting the Caledonian Canal and Loch Ness. The place is abuzz with boat-watchers.
The Caledonian Canal Centre does a delish scone and coffee. Seating is, at this time, outdoor only but the staff are quick to rush out and push up the parasol when rain somewhat inevitably descends.
Speaking of water, Cruise Loch Ness’s boat tours are a great way to enjoy the sights and sounds of the world-famous monster magnet, and feel the spray of the waves on your back.
There seems to be little in the way of bird life today, but that’s probably the conditions. Nor are there any monsters but, of course, Nessie sightings are reported regularly. Not long after this trip, sonar equipment on Cruise Loch Ness’s boat picked up a 10m-long unidentified image at 190m deep which it was claimed could be the monster. And there were a dozen sightings of her in 2020.
Another hotspot for Nessie-hunters is Urquhart Castle. Its grounds are all nooks and peaks, hills to climb to get fantastic views over the loch, or venture down to the shore and feel the water lapping at your shoes.
On the road home, there are two more quick highlights: a short walk through the woods at Invermoriston to the Old Summer House, the best place to view the waterfall, and a climb to Suidhe Viewpoint, and its spectacular view across the Great Glen.
Another must-see on the southern side of Loch Ness is the Falls of Foyers. Reached by pathway through lovely woodland, it’s a stunning waterfall with a spectacular 140ft drop into a gorge.
Whitebridge Hotel, Whitebridge, Stratherrick, offers a double or twin room at £75 per night, kingsized £85, family room £110. Visit whitebridgehotel.co.uk, call (01456) 486226 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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