Five Activities to Keep the Children Entertained during a Weekend Holiday in Scotland.
Rather than spend a day in the kitchen, slogging away with turkey gravy and deviled eggs, my family used Thanksgiving Break to visit the West Highlands of Scotland. We packed our minivan full of food, warm clothes, and our dog, Buster. The house we reserved allowed pets, and with its fireplace, modern kitchen, and fenced in backyard it was the perfect fit for our family. If you need a two bedroom house on the outskirts of Balluchulish, I cannot recommend Ben View enough: https://www.homeaway.com/vacation-rental/p1807428?noDates=true
When planning our visit to the Glencoe region, family-friendly material was in short supply. Therefore, I wanted to create a list of activities we ended up doing in hopes of providing inspiration to others. It should be noted that my kids are six and four and most of the activities listed would not be suitable for toddlers or babies. Most everything involved physical activities that would tire little legs quickly.
1. Cuil Bay
A short stretch of rocks and sand on the water, this was a quick and pleasant visit on a sunny morning. There is only enough pull off parking for about a dozen vehicles, so I would suggest getting there early in the morning to get a spot.
When the day is clear, you can see across the water to the islands of Balnagowan, Shuna, and Lismore. Or if landmarks aren’t your forte, there are herds of sheep grazing in the fields across the road and swans roosting on the sandbars.
My kids spent most of our visit finding rocks to skip on the water and discovering the different colors and cuts in the minerals. They had ample room to stretch their legs and wander without worrying about keeping close to Mom and Dad. When you’re six years old and crave freedom and independence, getting permission to roam is music to little ears.
However, word to the wise: between the bay and the road is a minefield of sheep and dog droppings. Getting the kids to watch their step was a bit of a challenge, and we ended up carrying our youngest back to the car lest she christen our floorboards with more than English mud.
2. Glen Etive
In my brief searchings of all things Glencoe, the number one tourist destination I came across was driving the Glen Etive. Made famous for its appearance in films like Skyfall and Harry Potter, this twelve mile single track of road has earned its tourist destination title.
I would highly suggest making the drive about two hours before sunset; it takes approximately an hour to reach the dead end and another hour to return. Watching the sun sink below the mountains and the final rays hit the water was a sight worth seeing. Then catching the changing colors in the rearview as you head out leaves a sweet aftertaste in your mouth.
Like all good U.K. roads, Glen Etive is single track, but don’t let that deter you from venturing onto its pavement. My husband was impressed with how many passing places were provided, and we had no issue getting around multiple vehicles in our large minivan. In all honesty, the roads in Ireland were much more narrow and rugged.
During the drive, the kids can stay entertained by the red deer present. Beware, though, they are liable to enter the road and cause a traffic jam.
Everyone in the car can also keep an eye out for the magnificent Dalness Estate: http://dalnessestate.co.uk/. A luxury rental home that has since been added to my “If I Ever Win the Lottery, I’m Staying There” fantasy wishlist.
It might seem tempting to cut the drive short and turn around after thirty or forty minutes, but try to resist the urge. (This is coming from someone who tried to get her husband to do just such a move.) The end view is worth every minute of bumpy roads and cranky whining from the backseat. Once there, the kids can roam free and explore to their heart’s content.
My kids loved skipping rocks on the water and experimenting with echos. Similar to Cuil Bay, Glen Etive is a noteworthy location to let children explore and turn restless energy into scientific investigations.
3. Orienteering at the Glencoe Visitor Centre
The Glencoe Visitor Centre is a must for anyone passing through the area. In addition to the small mountaineering display and short film shown, the location has a well-stocked gift shop and free bathrooms. It does cost 4 pounds to park, but there are plenty of spaces and dedicated spots for caravans.
Inside the building, you can pick up an Orienteering Trail worksheet for a 1 pound charge. There are two versions: a photo trail and a stamp path. Since our kids are young, my husband and I chose the stamp edition.
The paper we were given showed the one mile walking path we were to follow around the visitor centre grounds, as well as the approximate locations for the ten stamps we needed to collect.
Along the way were gorgeous views of the surrounding mountains and several picnic spots you could stop at and rest. (We ate a packed lunch at one such spot.)
The ten orienteering spots were easy to find for my younger kids’ eyes; having them keep their eyes peeled for the marked posts kept them from boredom and quieted any whining from “walking so much.”
Along the route, we were also able to catch sight of the Inverrigan ruins; the remains of a slaughter known as the Glencoe Massacre. My six year old enjoyed the legend of the spared boy on the placard, and it presented the perfect opportunity to discuss verbal history and the importance of passing stories down through generations.
The orienteering trail took us about an hour to complete, but we did stop for food and pictures, and we were at the mercy of a four year old’s legs. I imagine older kids and adults could finish the activity in less time, making it a quick in-between excursion (especially if you’re doing the Ann Tor and Signal Rock walks).
4. Cow Hill Hike
Fans of hiking and hill walking don’t have to sacrifice the experience simply because young kids are in tow. Cow Hill Circuit, one of the many trails in Fort William, is a 4 mile loop around the main summit that blocks Ben Nevis from the town.
Hiking was not in our agenda for this trip, but a local told us this was the best setting for spotting the infamous Highland Coos, so Alex and I bundled the kids in warm clothes and set out on this impromptu adventure.
To get there, we parked at the Braveheart Car Park, a large lot located a few miles away from the center of town. It’s free to park, but there are no bathrooms at this location. If your kids need one you can stop at the Glen Nevis Visitor Centre and use theirs. I would recommend stopping in there, regardless, for a box of their mini shortbread cookies.
Walking the loop with a four and six year old took us 2.5 hours total, and this accounted for a lunch and play breaks. The walkways were well marked and wide enough for me to walk three-wide with my children. There were a lot of rocks and steep inclines, so this activity wouldn’t be ideal for unpracticed walkers. My kids have had years of experience walking the mountains of Germany and traversing over uneven ground on beaches, so I recognize that they had a leg up from other kids their age.
The main draw to this walk (besides the coos) are the views you get of Loch Eil, Loch Linnhe, and Glen Nevis. On a clear day, you can see for miles and get to enjoy uninterrupted sights of Scotland’s majestic landscape. Coming around the side of the hill and watching as the snow-capped top of Ben Nevis panned into view was enough to enthrall my son and daughter. They forgot about their tired legs, their boredom over tossing rocks, and the unusual stillness of the air around them.
Of all the excursions we took the kids on in the local area, walking Cow Hill was their favorite. Successfully completing the entire walk instilled a sense of accomplishment and pride in their little hearts, and I suspect they left Scotland a little more confident than when we arrived.
5. Drive Around Loch Lomond
Alex and I inadvertently made this spectacular trek when we were arriving and leaving the area. In order to reach Fort William and the accompanying towns north of Loch Lomand, you have to follow the main road, the A82 around the loch. It’s a narrow drive, with water on one side and mountain on the other, but once you overcome the trepidation of falling into the water or getting squashed by a loose rock, the views are mesmerizing. It’s water and mountains as far as the eye can see, your line of sight broken by charming bed and breakfasts along the shore and sheep grazing on the sharp rocks.
While the kids aren’t active in this outing, it does provide them time to rest their legs and grab a quick nap while you get to enjoy the views.
Upon first glance, Glencoe and Fort William do not seem like the first choice in destinations to take young children, but its rugged beauty and spotless scenery provide more than you would expect from the western outskirts of the land. Sure, there are no bustling city blocks housing museums and playgrounds, but sometimes kids don’t need a plethero of displays and ball pits to unwind. Sometimes, all you need is the ground under your feet and permission to “go play.”