Although it felt like we had just returned from our sojourn in the Cotswolds, I was more than ready to start the journey up north to Scotland. So off we went, at 5:30am on a crisp, Sunday morning. Walk to Victoria station. Bus to Stansted. Flight to Edinburgh.
When we landed, I honestly thought we were in the wrong place. How could there be sunshine?! I’d been given ominous warning after ominous warning about how much wet weather there was, kind of of like the ramblings of a doomsayer in a horror movie.
Thanking our lucky stars, we rushed headlong into what was to be a long, happy day in Scotland’s capital. We explored the streets of Old Town, took some photos of Edinburgh Castle, treated ourselves to a seafood platter and learnt all about whiskey. Lesson learnt: whiskey is horrible!
We then walked down towards Holyrood Palace and Holyrood Park. We walked up to Arthur’s Seat, the highest point of the 650-acre park, where we gazed out over Edinburgh while trying not to be blown away by the ferocious wind. Our night in Edinburgh was complete with some haggis, a quick stroll through New Town and a documentary on Ladyboys and the men who loved them (“I don’t consider myself gay, no”).
Yawning our way into Monday, we met out tour guide Colin and bundled into the mini-bus that would be our home for the three-day tour with Highland Experience. Colin turned out to be an extremely affable zombie-loving, techno-producing father-of-two. He also had one beautiful Scotttish accent that I tried in vain to reproduce. I ended up somewhere between Gerard Butler in P.S. I Love You (2007) and Leonardo DiCaprio in Blood Diamond (2006). Not pretty.
After picking up some more travellers in Glasgow, we were off and away. Driving north through Rannoch Moor and Glen Coe, we were treated to some utterly glorious landscapes. If you’ve ever watched Skyfall (2012), you might remember the scenes where Bond is driving his Aston Martin to his childhood home in Scotland and the scenery is AMAZING. Well imagine that but multiply it by 1,000. If you haven’t watched the film, take a look at this:
Other highlights of the drive included a photo stop at Eilean Donan Castle, excitedly spotting deer and trying to subdue car sickness. Scotland has to have the world’s most windiest roads! As Colin kindly explained, the roads were designed to suit the drunken stupor of its inhabitants. Lovely.
The Isle of Skye, our final destination, was reached in the pitch black of night. After a night of dinner, drinks and bonding with our fellow travellers – I heard a truly disturbing story involving an elderly Nazi and a candlestick in a place where no candlestick should ever go – we woke to a full day on the Isle of Skye. It was the next morning when I discovered how fortunate I was to miss the sight of an Englishman urinating into his pint glass and then drinking it. One for the travel vault.
Most of the day involved driving through the isle’s magnificent landscapes and hearing its legends. We passed the Old Man Of Storr, gaped at the Cuillin Mountain range and experienced a true Scottish downpour when we stopped to take photos of the Quiraing:
A rather unique part of the day involved stopping at Staffin Beach to try and find some fossilised dinosaur footprints, which were discovered after a storm in 2002. Although I’m still not 100% sure whether he was on the level, Colin insisted that it was he who found them! In addition to finding one of the dinosaur footprints, we were also treated to some lovely views:
After a pub lunch in Portree, Skye’s largest town, the bus was off once more. Our destination: Loch Ness.
So back we went, past mountain ranges and valleys and deers, trying not to focus on the bumpy, windy drive but still enamoured with the scenery around us. Coincidentally, it was Guy Fawkes Day and we managed to catch sight of fireworks far off in the distance. Remember, remember, the fifth of November…
Loch Ness turned out to be – well – a big lake. I don’t really know what I expected, but I was left feeling a little unsatisfied. I guess a wee part of me thought maybe I would see something. If Nessie was in there, she kept her head down. As Colin spoke to us about the Loch’s history, the word ‘scam’ seemed to reoccur a lot. The magic was ruined.
Luckily, my spirits were revived when we found ourselves at Balnuaran of Clava, a prehistoric cemetery that was built between three and four thousand years ago. The very picture of autumnal goodness, I must admit I was more enchanted by the colours of the leaves than focused on listening to Colin’s history lesson. However, it was more than a little awe-inspiring to stand in the cairns (stone stacks) and imagine their creators at work.
One of our last stops was at the Battleground of Culloden. It was here where an uprising by the Jacobites was crushed by the British troops. Scottish history was a big part of our tour and I was definitely reminded of our trip to Ireland when I heard the stories of dissent under English rule. Of course, many references – some scathing – were made to Braveheart (1995) and William Wallace. Turns out he wasn’t the real Braveheart!