SERIES PART 2 OF 3 – SCOTLAND
Land of bagpipes, castles, kilts, haggis and whiskey. My 5-day tour through Scotland was one I won’t easily forget. History and incredible scenery resound here. From the cities to the Highlands, Scotland has it all!
Day 1 – Arrival Day
Once I picked up my bag at the Edinburgh airport, I was met by a CIE representative, escorted to my waiting coach and brought to my hotel for my 2-night stay in Edinburgh. I must admit that since Edinburgh has two arrival areas, the meet and greet was a bit disorganized, but once we were all gathered – the transfer went very smoothly. Every hotel we stayed at during the tour had an included full breakfast as well and I may have taken an apple or muffin along with me for a snack during the day.
After a quick local lunch, our tour began with pick up from the hotel. It’s here that we were officially introduced to our driver, Colm and our local Scotland guide, Regine, and to the rules of the coach. These rules included seat rotation, no hot drinks, and how and when to use the onboard restroom. Seatbelts are mandatory on the coach in Scotland and Ireland and Colm was very adamant about making sure we were all tucked in before he got on his way. A daily guide was also posted at each hotel and we were invited to take a picture of it so we would remember when to set our alarms!
Our first day’s tour began at 2:00 pm and we were off for an introductory tour and a visit to the Royal Yacht Britannia. Even the pouring rain couldn’t dampen my excitement and the self-guided tour with included audio guide was really well done. Where the buses park, you actually have to walk through a shopping mall to access it so that was kind of weird. After our tour, we were brought back to the hotel where we all shared a welcome drink and dinner before calling it a night to get a well-deserved sleep before our early morning departure the next day.
Central Edinburgh highlights tour including bustling Princes Street, the 200-year-old Georgian New Town and an introduction to the Royal Mile. We visited Edinburgh Castle – and yes, the Crown Jewels are really something to see! We had been told of the history of the Stone of Destiny earlier in the trip, so it was a real something to see it in person. It’s considered a sacred object and is an ancient symbol of Scotland’s monarchy. It is placed under the throne at coronation ceremonies at Westminster Abbey. If you visit Scotland in August, you may have the opportunity to experience the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo which takes place at the Castle. While I was there, they were busily preparing and setting up the stands. It was crazy busy while I was there, I can only imagine the thousands that would be at the castle while the performances are on.
After our tour, we had the rest of the day to ourselves. For those who were not interested in spending the afternoon sightseeing, options to return to the hotel were made available – I thought that was a great option for some. For me, I was off exploring, hooking up with 8 others from our group.
Eventually around 2:30 pm – a lunch craving caught up with all of us and I was on the hunt for Sticky Toffee Pudding – a must do while in Scotland! We found a pub on the Royal Mile where the staff guaranteed us the best pudding anywhere – so that was lunch for 8 people – sticky toffee pudding and it was fantastic!!! Everyone met together again at 6:30 pm at the Jam House for a very lively Scottish evening filled with dining and a show with the music of singers, bagpipes and Highland dancers.
I love Edinburgh! It’s a compact but hilly capital, so wear good walking shoes! It has a medieval Old Town, and elegant Georgian New Town and beautiful gardens – but careful – many of them are private! My free time brought me to the end of the Royal Mile to Holyrood Palace and a tour!
A visit at a distillery and a castle! And we can’t forget about the rain!
Off at 9:00 am to begin our journey through the picturesque countryside of Perthshire brought to us to Blair Castle. As is the history of Scotland, strategic land holdings were of great importance. Blair Castle served as the gate to the Grampian Mountain Range and the route to Inverness. Construction of Blair Castle began in 1269 and has been transformed and extended several times. Guests included Edward III, and Mary Queen of Scots and Queen Victoria. It’s impression white walls and black roofing stands as a striking background to the rolling hills surrounding it. There’s something about Castles and Gardens, and the managed landscape of Blair Castle is beautiful.
There’s something to be said about enjoying a little dram on whisky right at the site of where it’s produced. We had a really interesting stop at the Blair Athol Distillery. This was a very informative tour! Water, barley and yeast….who knew it could taste so good!
The journey to Inverness through the Scottish Highlands to Nairn was incredibly beautiful and majestic. Please take the time to visit the gallery to experience the beauty of this region through the pictures. Nairn was just an opportunity for us to rest up for the night. We learned much of the meaning of the names of cities, rivers and lakes came to be – Inverness, for example, simply means – Mouth of the River Ness.
So, in my mind, all these lakes (lochs) would be small little round lakes dotted along the countryside, but I couldn’t have been further from the truth! Yes, there are some smaller lochs, but most of them are not which really surprised me. We travelled alongside Loch Ness and had a great rest stop to take pictures, smell the fresh air and of course, do some shopping. Cut off 30,000 years ago, Loch Ness is one of the deepest freshwater glacier lochs in Scotland. It 750 feet deep, 24 miles long and narrow. Learning a little more every day about Scottish folklore, we were told how no one captures white horses. The white-water horse is said to be a shift changer and can be deadly.
I’ve seen breathtaking scenery both living here in BC and while traveling this beautiful world, but there’s something special about the Highlands. The great Glenn geological divide fault line is evidenced here and 2 great mountain ranges dominate the landscape. There are only two roads to travel through the Highlands – the Skye Road and the Mountain Road. You will run into the occasional cow road, telephone road or military road crossing the two main roads. The glacier action on the land is clearly visible everywhere.
Electricity was brought to the region in 1975 by damming the canals that run from the North Sea to the Atlantic Ocean. These canals were built in 1803 and have 28 locks and 10 swing bridges. You can actually purchase a 5-day pass and vacation on the canals! The last two canals are saltwater. There are eight locks at the end of the journey called the Devils Staircase and they can be seen from the road.
We continued through the Highlands to the beautiful Eilean Donan Castle (inspiration for castle in the movie Brave), where we stopped long enough to take some pictures and crossed the bridge over to the volcanic Isle (Island) of Skye (Misty Isles) where we visited the Donald Centre at Armadale Castle the seat of the Macdonald of Sleat. That’s quite the historical story! This castle ruins date back to the 19th century and are completely unsafe to visit up close. The historic gardens date back in part to the 1790s and completed in the 1820s. There are wonderful trails to follow to experience the gardens and there’s a beautiful view of the Sound of Sleat off the western coast of Scotland.
There’s so much history in the region and the story of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Battle of Colladen dominate, as does the Jacobite Rebellion.
On our way to our hotel we stopped at the Glenfinnan Monument. This monument was erected in 1815 as a tribute to the Jacobite clansmen who fought and died for Prince Charles Edward Stuart. It stands 18 metres high. In the adjacent museum you can learn about the campaign from Glenfinnan to Derby at the final defeat at Culloden. It’s a moving story of Prince Charles Edward Stuart and the 1745 Jacobite Rising.
Just in the distance, you can see the Glenfinnan Viaduct where some filming for the Harry Potter movies took place – the Hogwarts express train along with the Prisoner of Azkaban and the flying car scene. You can also see the island where the Triwizard Tournament was held.
Day 5 – Isles of Glencoe and Alloway
The incredible scenery continued and brought us to Glencoe. There are waterfalls, mountains, forest walks, woodlands, bogs and beautiful coastal drives. The road is winding and very narrow (thank goodness I wasn’t driving!), and the Highland boundary fault cuts through Loch Lomond changing from bog to limestone.
Our trip continued along side Loch Lomond, the largest freshwater lake in Great Britain, and invites one to sing along…
O, you’ll take the high road and I’ll take the low road, and I’ll be in Scotland before ye, But me and my true love will never meet again, on the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.
I loved that local music was played in the bus as we drove along, and I bet that you know this one! But, do you know the story behind it? The song tells the tale of two persons in prison during the Jacobite rebellion. One is sentenced to death and the other gets pardoned. The low road speaks of the road that the dead take back home. To release their souls, it was necessary to take a stone and put it on the grave.
Our next stop was Alloway to visit the poet Robert Burns Birthplace Museum. It’s here that we said goodbye to our local Scotland guide, Regine.
Robert Burns was born in 1759. An extraordinary poet his works are a cornerstone of Scotland’s literary heritage. The museum allows you to not only see his writings but go out and explore his homestead. There’s a great walking trail that brings you from the museum entrance to the Burns Cottage, Burns Monument and gardens and Brig- o’Doon. Most of it is easily accessible. There’s even a golf cart that can bring you from the museum entrance to Burns Cottage. It’s a really great indoor/outdoor experience. As a bonus, there’s a little café at the museum and when we were there, they were BBQing hotdogs and hamburgers! I enjoyed my day here!
The end of this day had us crossing on a ferry ride to Belfast, UK, Northern Ireland.
Thank you for coming along on my journey through Scotland. It holds a special place in my heart. The last of the series of Chronicles will focus on Ireland…come along! Click on the the piece that you want to read next:
I also invite you to browse my pictures of Scotland by heading over to my gallery.