During all of our travels throughout Europe, almost everything was planned and selected by me. Solely because James is happy to travel anywhere with me and doesn’t particularly care where we go. The only things he asked we do was to visit Dublin and do the Guinness Storehouse Experience, visit Italy, and visit Munich as our German city since his brother lived there for 6 months.
I decided for Christmas I would get him an experience as opposed to a material gift this year. He loves the outdoors, and spending time in nature, whether it’s going for a hike or camping – he’s happy. The Scottish Highland tour fit the bill and was readily accessible since we were already planning to visit Edinburgh.
We got to Scotland on a Monday evening and had two full days there before departing early Thursday morning. I selected the Tuesday for our tour, which is a whopping 12 hours long. We were pleasantly surprised to see the tour group wasn’t very large, only about 30 people or so. At 8, we were off with Jon Paul, our tour guide, to drive through the country and see the highlands. Scotland is divided into 3 parts, the highlands in the north, the lowlands in the south (where Edinburgh is), and the borders in the middle. Jon Paul was very informative throughout the entire experience explaining bits of Scottish history as he drove along. Some interesting facts we learned was that Edinburgh was quite a small town, dating back to 1000’s. It mainly consisted of the old town and the royal mile and about 250 years later the rest of the city was developed. Now the population of Edinburgh is roughly half a million. The Edinburgh Castle, which sits atop a high mountain like feature is actually sitting on a volcanic rock and also a glacial rock.
As we drove out of Edinburgh and we were on the highway, we could see Sterling Castle off in the distance. Unfortunately, it was a bit rainy and quite a misty day, so the castle was difficult to discern from afar and any photos I took weren’t clear. However, the Sterling Castle is the main attraction, as it was the main home of the Royal Tudor family.
Directly next to the castle is a monument for William Wallace – if you’ve seen the movie Braveheart you know who he is. He wasn’t a noble, just an ordinary man who rose against the English. Right, next to the castle there is a hill and a valley lies between the hill and the Castle. During one of the battles William Wallace and his men were on the hill, while the English were at the castle and each party were trying to wait out the other. The English caved initiated the offense and a massive slaughter of a battle ensued between the two.
A little, ways after we saw Doune Castle in the distance. This castle was also used by the Tudor family and was used as a film site for the movie Monte Python. Sadly I wasn’t able to take a photo of this castle since it was on the other side of the bus.
About 1 hour had passed and we made our first stop – at Loch Lubnaig. Without a doubt, this was my favorite spot of the entire day. Regardless of the fog and the “gloomy” skies it was breathtakingly beautiful. The water was so still that the mountains and forest reflected against it like a mirror. It was almost impossible to tell where the water ended and where the land began. It was also absolutely freezing at this point and I was thanking heavens I wore leggings under my jeans and a fleece shirt underneath my Patagonia fleece.
While driving through the countryside Jon Paul was kind enough to point out different animals we came across. We saw some sheep, deer, a stag, and a highland cow. Since we were traveling at a quite a speed most the photos I took while on the bus were blurry at best.
Our next stop was in Glencoe at the Three Sisters Mountain. Essentially it’s a mountain range with three large peaks, colored in hues of yellow and green. The pictures don’t do it justice. What was most interesting at this spot was the information Jon Paul relayed about Glencoe. Following the acquisition of Scotland under the English there was turmoil for quite some time. The clans were forced to sign an oath in allegiance to the King, or face the consequences. The leader of the McDonall clan, waited until the very last day of the deadline, December 31st, to sign the paperwork declaring his oath. As it turned out his paperwork had been moved to a different location because the English weren’t expecting him to sign since he waited so long and he had to travel the new location, a few days away, to sign it. Essentially he would sign the paperwork “late”, but the staff on the site sent a message to the King that even though he will be signing late, he did attempt to do it within the deadline. The King decided to make an example of this and told the Campbell clan to go pay a visit the McDonall clan and ask for hospitality and stay there. Following the King’s orders, the Campbell clan stayed at the McDonall’s village for some time, unsure what their purpose was. Finally, the King sent them an order, that at first light they were to massacre the McDonall clan and not spare a life under the age of 60. It is said many of the Campbells didn’t want to do it – especially considering they were guests and about to murder their hosts, but they were under the King’s rule and did it anyway. The McDonall clan lived in the Glencoe mountains, and there was nowhere for them to go to escape since the Campbell clan had situated themselves in each valley blocking all escape routes. Many tried to climb higher into the mountains to escape – but then eventually succumbed to the elements. Many other clans were outraged that the McDonall clan showed the Campbell clan hospitality and the Campbell clan repaid it by murdering them. The Glencoe Massacre is just crazy and it was really interesting to hear this piece of history while looking at the mountains where it occurred.
Fort William & Loch Ness
Following Glencoe, we made our way past Fort William. Fort William is one of the most picturesque areas we saw and I wish we were able to stop during the tour to walk around. It encompassed a massive loch, with mountains on both sides. The greenery was lush, and the clouds were white and floating mid-mountain height, drawing images of a town in Switzerland.
Loch Ness is the largest loch in all of the U.K. So large that it is said can fit the world’s population in it, three times over. Also, it’s about 700 feet deep. The most notable thing about Loch Ness – the secrets it holds. Everyone has heard the stories of Nessy, the large sea monster that has been glimpsed by many. However, an interesting fact we learned was that the first sighting of Nessy was in 500 A.D. by a monk who was crossing the water. Supposedly a beast rose out of the water ready to attack the seamen on the boat, and the monk demanded the creature return under the sea in the name of God – and it did. Fast forward many, many years later, in the early 1900s, and the town itself knew of the creature under the sea. Many had seen the creature but it didn’t bother them so they didn’t bother it. It wasn’t until the story was taken to a journalist in the 1930s, that it became public to the world. Around the same time, Godzilla had premiered so the fascination with monsters was at an all time high. During our tour of Loch Ness, we had the option to do an hour long cruise or a 30-minute visit to ruins of a castle with a 30-minute cruise. Both options were an additional fee, and considering we’re cheap we went for the free option. Stay at Loch Ness for an hour and walk around. We actually ended up doing a hike on a trail along the cliff that stood over Loch Ness. It was quite steep and took us about 30 minutes to get up but was worth the view.
Following Loch Ness we were on our way to Inverness the capital of the highlands. Since it is December and we are nearing the shortest day in the year our daylight was about gone. By the time we got to Inverness we weren’t able to really see much of it while driving through because it was getting dark. However, I’m sure if you were to do the trip in summer it would be a much better experience.
At about this time I’m not ashamed to say most of the bus fell asleep. I know personally James and I were a bit tired after our hike and lack of sleep from our hostel. About an hour or two later we woke up to Jon Paul announcing we will be stopping in a town called Pitlochry to grab a bite to eat. After strolling through the high street and deciding we didn’t want to eat bread and peanut butter for the third time today, we opted for some hot chips.
At this point, the trip was basically over, and it was just a matter of driving back into Edinburgh. At 8 pm we made our way back and James and I proceeded to our hostels to rest for our next day in Scotland.
Total cost for James and I: £98.20
- Highland tour tickets for James and I: £46 x 2tickets = £92
- Large Chips: £1.20
- Food (oats, peanut butter sandwich, crisps): £5
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