The DHA Effect and a Castle with a Rope Swing

I don’t think it’s my imagination that our family has some sense of shared purpose surrounding this year of utter chaos, adventure and togetherness. At least I know my 6-year-old is on the same page. We went to one of my favorite places to stay and eat in the Highlands called the Pierhouse. Over dinner Kurti got really excited about his idea which was not just ‘go’ places but that we actually ‘live’ in them. Clever boy. Must have been all the seafood affecting his brain–two bowls of steamed mussels, some langoustine, and a haddock fillet for dinner after the Scottish salmon for lunch. I’m sure it wasn’t the three sides of ‘chips’ and cup of ketchup accompanying the bounty of DHA. Kurti’s biggest complaint so far is with the word ‘chips’ and insists we use American English and call them french fries instead. He thinks British English is too confusing and would rather do without a translator! Looks like it will take a bit of encouragement to ‘do as the Romans do’ in the linguistics department, but we seem to be off on the right foot in terms of a general consensus. But, I think Kurt and I must need some alone time with all this familial togetherness. I just noticed I am fantasizing about coming back sans children for a romantic night over a Pierhouse Grand Platter for two, and rising early to catch the ferry to Lismore for a bicycle ride around the island. And just on the heels of my Monachyle Mhor fantasy. someday. maybe.

Another favorite place that deserved a revisit according to Anna and Sophia is Dunstaffnage Castle. So we headed toward Oban to pick up a bottle of our favorite whiskey, walk around town and stop for another cultural experience at Dunstaffnage, one of the oldest castles still standing in Scotland built in the 13th century. But first things first. We headed down to the area that was considered to be the original entrance, on the water front. Anna was checking out the efficacy of her new ‘wellies’ and her risky behavior had water lapping over the edge of her boots–not just once but twice she was dumping water and ringing out her socks.


I don’t mind that kind of risky behavior. Socks can always be washed. Last year she slipped off the tree swing and fell sliding down the hill in the mud ripping her jacket as well. ‘Healthy bruises’ is what our pediatrician would say. This year no one fell, and even Daddy got in on the action.


Up at the castle there was a typical well, a hearth, and a great view. All the kids wanted to do was run from me and my camera as soon as I said, “This is where the Stone of Destiny may have been kept–remember? the one on display at Edinburgh Castle?” Couldn’t even get to the fact that Flora MacDonald was briefly imprisoned here after helping the Bonnie Prince Charlie escape the redcoats. Sigh.

Our last dinner out in Onich was another seafood event at The Lochleven Seafood Cafe. The elder girls played chase and sun and shadows danced on the ben on the south side of the loch. YUM! again.


The next morning we were off to our big 3 week adventure in Applecross at the amazing eco lodge, Eagle Rock. On the drive up we stop at Urquhart Castle and Inverness. I couldn’t wait to plant in one location for 3 weeks and presumably have better internet connectivity than we had at the last two houses! And presumably better laundry facilities, too.


Harry Potter, The Bonny Prince and Our own Personal Castle

Our version of what was done and what to do when in the land of Ben Nevis…

The first order of business after landing in the western highlands was to ride The Jacobite aka Hogwart’s Express aka The Harry Potter Train. The children were not thrilled after we took our seats. They complained that we were victims of fraud and were convinced that I was trying to cheat them out of a real Harry Potter Train experience. The real steam engine must have plush compartments off a corridor, down which comes a trolly serving pumpkin pasties and chocolate frogs. I could feel my temperature rising after forking over almost 200 pounds sterling to hear more whining until I caught fellow adult passengers snickering at the outrageous nonsense coming from my entitled kids. “Are you kidding! What do you think this is, Universal Studios?!?” I cried with a sarcastic edge. It took some time before they realized that everyone we passed was waving up at us because we were on the famous train used in the movie, and apologies were in order. Lucky for them gratitude began to surface at some point before they had their faces glued to the window looking out for Dumbledore’s place of burial. Otherwise I would easily keep them at home in the study while I took a kayak out on the loch.

After climbing off at Mallaig we had some time to walk around a bit and snap a few photos of the Inner Hebrides and Kurti got to visit some of the boats docked in the arena.

The next day we drove back out to Glenfinnan to see the famed steam train’s viaduct once more and soak in a bit of history. In one direction the viaduct spreads across the landscape with a powerful ben behind it and in the other direction the towering monument of Glenfinnan symbolizes the beginning of the Forty-Five and the raising of the Stuart standard shortly after the Bonnie Prince landed on the local shores in 1745 after departing his refuge in France. There is a lovely hotel and restaurant where we ate called Glenfinnan House with local specialties and a fantastic vista.

Zipping back toward Fort William we made a quick stop at Inverlochy Castle.

Then on to Neptune’s Staircase where we were fortunate enough to see a boat come through, but didn’t stick around for the entire 90 minute process. There are a total of eight locks in the staircase and it’s really quite pleasant to sip a coffee in the cafe in inclement weather. We were lucky as it only started raining as we planned to leave.

Another day we went for a hike beyond Ben Nevis to Steall Falls. The valley you walk through to reach the falls is where the Harry Potter Quidditch match was filmed among other large screen movies, and for good reason.

Anna and Sophia love manouvering on the tight rope that crosses the stream. But Kristina and Kurti are too still to small and had to disrobe, walk, fall on the slimy river bed rocks, and be carried across by their courageous sisters. Anna and Sophia were more than willing to pose for the camera as the heroes, and walk out of the canyon sopping wet up to their knees.

Anna’s Italian sneakers from our trip last summer couldn’t be salvaged, but we did find a cool rock shaped like a dinosaur egg to carry back to the car park with us.

After dinner out we returned to Ardhu house, an imposing structure that was likely last remodeled sometime in the 70’s and our home for the week. The gorgeous grounds are set right on Loch Linnhe with an interior that must have been quite grand when it was fresh. The kids were so excited when we pulled up that they exclaimed, “We’re staying in a castle!” But after spending some time inside with the particular smells familiar to an older building, the  kids were often found outside soaking in the amazing scenery, sometimes with their mouths open to the brooding Scottish heavens as the rain poured down.