SNOW was much in evidence on the high mountain tops as our almost full EasyJet aeroplane descended on the final approach to the runway at Inverness.

We’d left Bristol Airport in chilly, grey-skied, breezy, rain but now, as we touched down much further north, it was warm and sunny. What a lovely welcome to the Highlands of Scotland.

Up for a long weekend for a cousin’s 50th, we’d eschewed our normal form of transport, the car, opting instead for the much quicker and altogether less stressful plane.

We’d booked an isolated cottage tucked away up a glen in the deer-filled forest at Strathconon, through Holiday Lettings on the internet.

After getting the keys from Budget Car Hire at the airport for our upgrade Ford Focus – we’d really been looking forward to driving the interestingly named Citroen Cactus that we'd originally booked - we were on our way.

The drive to the cottage was as exciting as opening the door to the gorgeous property.

West Lodge, as the name suggests, is a former lodge of a simply massive county house in the middle of nowhere.

Set in among towering firs at the foot of an upward-sloping lawned garden on a quiet rhododendron flanked lane, the three-bedroom, two-bathroom period property was the epitome of idyllic peace and quiet. Beautifully decorated, complimentary bottle of wine and local chocolates laid out to greet us and a log burning stove with a small mountain of wood to boot - bliss.

We headed into nearby Dingwall to stock up on supplies before driving in the other direction to Beauly for a drink at the rather grand Lovat Arms before meeting up with a relative who had barrelled up from Edinburgh, two mountain bikes in the back of his car, to join us in the cottage for the weekend.

It’s fair to say that this part of the world is a naturalist’s heaven. The forests are stocked full of all sorts of plants, lichens, mosses and flowers, birds all vying to make themselves heard, beautiful red deer – one stag was actually in our garden one evening – majestic red kites and wonderful silver birch woods bounded by rushing mountain streams in among the Douglas fir trees.

Strathpeffer is an unexpected delight. Not your typical Highland town, this was a Victorian spa town. In its heyday it attracted those, in the main landed gentry and their entourage, wanting to take the ‘healing’ waters. The spa town is less of an attraction for the people looking for health through water drinking now – we did ask but was told health and safety prevented it being served - and rather more through its solitude and the great outdoors, in particular, it would seem, mountain biking.

There is a marvellous bicycle shop in the centre of the town, Square Wheels, where you can hire or buy a bike, and also get essential maps for some perilous trails to try on the nearby mountains. While Dan and Uncle Ken set off for a day tackling the 'Strathpuffer' route, Jo and I walked out of the front door of the cottage and up the nearby hills, through the forests and on largely trackless, tussocky grasslands to find some local lochs and the source of the water for the cottage.

Starting off in blistering sunshine, the weather turned the higher we reached and was a full blown, howling rain storm at the top - good job we’d gone properly equipped.

On local recommendation from the birthday girl, we dined at The Cottage Bar & Restaurant, in the village of Maryburgh, which was excellent. The next day we met up with more relatives at Red Poppy bistro in Strathpeffer before heading to Tomich where we discovered the breathtaking Plodda Falls. If you are ever in this part of the world, these falls are not to be missed. You stroll down the hill and find some rather tame, but lovely, falls. Then stroll a bit further onto what looks like a wooden bridge - only to find that when you get to the end of the platform you are dangling hundreds of feet above the ground while the majestic falls plummet beside you. Needless to say Jo was taken very much by surprise at this and ran back to the solid ground as soon as she could.

A trip to this fabled land can never be complete without a visit to Loch Ness and the brilliantly-named Drumnadrochit with it's Nessie-filled gift shops, followed by a serious scan of the water for any sign of the girl herself.

A French TV crew was unloading their filming kit ready for an escorted boat excursion exploration of the loch when we were in the car park. The fellow at the Loch Ness centre, with a serious Scots glint in his eye, told the Gauls that as it was clear and still they would have as good as chance as any of seeing the Highland water beast that day.

We bought obligatory Nessie souvenirs at the shop and headed for Fort Augustus as part of our circumnavigation of this most famous of lochs.

Driving in the Highlands requires a certain amount of extra skill. Sure, there isn’t much traffic and the roads in general are very good, but off the beaten track they are single lane with the odd passing place. And we found on a number of occasions during our short but brilliant trip north, the locals do tend to just step out into the road unannounced - and by that I mean the red deer.

Earlier, after full Scottish breakfasts all round with the family in Inverness, thinking of something to say to clear fuzzy after party heads and to get a memorable group smile from the assembled weary group for the obligatory photo in a flash I decided on something which had barely been discussed the entire time although, it’s fair to say, both sides of the debate were present.

Ready? One, two three … S N P ! Got the exact reaction I was wanting!