“Give me but one hour of Scotland,
Let me see it ere I die”
~ William Edmondstoune Aytoun
On Wednesday, the 19th of December, I set off for a trip to the Highlands of Scotland and Loch Ness. I wanted to see a bit more than just Edinburgh and booked the trip on the internet. I would have preferred to do an overnight tour but choices are fairly limited this time of the year. But what a lovely experience…
(Note: The pictures taken in this post are amateur pictures taken with a Sony Cybershot ‘mik en druk‘ and are not meant to pose as professional photo’s. One day I will buy myself a proper camera, but for now, feel free to share them and reprint them on postcards to all your family and friends. Yeah right!)
I was fairly tired on Tuesday night, after travelling 18 hours to reach my destination in Edinburgh, so was not too excited about getting a really early start on Wednesday morning. I set the alarm for 6:30 as the trip was starting at 8:00 and I still had to go and find the starting point. And after getting lost the night before, I made pretty sure that I knew where it was, only a 15 minute walk from my hotel, per the trusted Google maps. I arrived at the starting point, the offices of Scotline Tours on 87 High Street with time to spare, and the first thing I heard was some fellow travellers speaking Afrikaans, which of course was the tell-tale sign that they were from South Africa. They were in Edinburgh for only a couple of days, stopping en route to Iceland to go and see the Northern Lights (another add-on to my bucket list).
Shortly after 8:00 our coach arrived and 10 of us got onto the huge bus for our day trip. Other than the 2 South Africans, there were a few Chinese, Germans and someone from Brazil. Paul, our retired-architect tour guide, introduced himself, and we were on our way. It was quite dark when we left and since we were travelling on a bus and could not stop too often for photo stops, the pictures I took were mainly when we entered the Highlands, but will give you some idea of the beauty of this landscape. The disadvantage of travelling to Scotland in the midst of winter is that your days are short and it is wet and cold (I have not seen the sun since I arrived), but the advantage is that there are far fewer people on the road, which means longer, and less crowded stops.
We travelled east out of Edinburgh along the road towards Stirling. We passed the towns of Linlithgow and Stirling, crossing the river Forth at Craigforth and then passed Blair Drummond and Doune Castle along the way, both places recommended for future visits by Paul. Doune Castle, by the way, was apparently where most of the scenes from Monty Python and the Holy Grail was filmed, a favourite of mine.
Our first stop was at Kilmahog, about an hour and a half into the trip.
We then travelled on through Rob Roy MacGregor country on the way to Glencoe. We were now in the Highlands and the scenery changed dramatically. The mountainous passes are magnificent. We stopped at the Black Mound, just before Glencoe for a photo stop. Outside, the icy wind cut right through your bones, but it was the beautiful views that took my breath away!
The icy lakes leading into Glencoe were magical. The pictures were taken from the moving coach…
We now turned towards Ford William and Inverness. We stopped for lunch at Spean Bridge and then carried on towards Loch Ness. Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the UK loomed above us, the tips of the mountain covered with clouds. Spean Bridge even had a whiskey room (whisky like the Scots spell it…) and a wee bit of tasting was in order.
From here onwards we started moving along the many lochs that make up the area, starting with Loch Lochy, Loch Oich and finally arriving at Loch Ness, crisscrossing the lochs several times. The views were all spectacular, but nothing could prepare me for the sight of Loch Ness. For some reason of another, the only thing I really knew about Loch Ness was that a mythical monster has been (allegedly) spotted there many times. I had no idea of the size of this mass of water. It spans over a distance of 37 kilometres and is the largest loch (by volume) in Scotland. The tour guide informed us that it contains more water than all the lakes and rivers in the whole of England and Wales combined (a fact confirmed by Wikipedia, so it must be true..:-)).
We stopped for an optional visit at Urquhart Castle, combined with a 30 minute cruise or alternatively an hour cruise on Loch Ness. I am very happy that I chose to go and see the Castle, which was destroyed by the Jacobites in 1692. We arrived just before sunset and I had the castle all to myself. Absolutely breathtaking views. This is when I thanked my lucky stars that I did this visit in December as the castle apparently has up to 400 visitors at a time during the summer holidays. And you really have the most breathtaking views of Loch Ness from the castle.
From here onwards we travelled through Inverness back to Edinburgh via Perth. Unfortunately, it was dark by now, so we could see little, but the tour guide carried on with his little quirky tales about the area. We finally stopped for a brief while in the Grampian Mountains, before finishing the last leg of our tour, crossing the river Forth, with spectacular views of the Forth Rail Bridge, the first major steel bridge ever constructed and completed in 1890.
We finally ended the tour at the Waverley station at 8:30pm and I walked the 500 odd meters back to my hotel in awe.
This was certainly a day I will not forget soon, and I would love to go back one day and spend more time in the Highlands, with its spectacular mountains and awesome lochs.
So like the Scots will say “See ye efter!“