Wee Memories of Scotland: The Highlands

Three hours before sunrise and hardly six hours since we made it to our flat in Scotland, A and I were already bustling and getting ready for the day: the one day Loch Ness, Glencoe & The Highlands tour by Timberbush. For the Scotland leg of my #EURockMyWorld tour, there was nothing I was looking forward to more than my trip to the Highlands. I was so excited to see the Scottish landscapes that left me bewildered while watching Outlander.

Wee Memories of the Highlands

The Loch Ness, Glencoe & The Highlands tour by Timberbush was set to start at 8 o’clock in the morning but we got to the meeting point about a half hour early. It seemed like we were the first to arrive so there was enough time for me to have a taste of the famous bangers and mash.

Wee ones for the Loch Ness, Glencoe and The Highlands tour by Timberbush

We wee ones were already up in the wee hours of the morning for our Highland tour.

Ensign Ewart Pub meeting point for the Timberbush Tour

We were the first ones to arrive!

Bangers and mash Edinburgh Scotland

Our quick breakfast of bangers and mash.

 

After our harried and heavy breakfast, we made our way across the street to the Ensign Ewart Pub where the bus had already parked and our tourmates have already assembled. After a very quick check of our names against their list, we departed into the darkness – off to the mythical Highlands and its famous Loch Ness.

 

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Departing from Edinburgh, our driver, Patrick Douglas, gave a brief orientation on what to expect from the tour. He also regaled us with various trivia about Scotland (sheep outnumber people by 2 to 1!) and some jokes as well (What’s the best thing that ever came from England? The road to Scotland!). How I love the Scots for their pride and their history. If the Londoners were quick to diss their French counterparts, the Scots were quick to do the same to the English. And I find this really amusing.

 



 

Anyway, Patrick proceeded to make movie recommendations in relation to Scottish history (Braveheart no; Rob Roy yes). And because of Scotland’s amazing scenery and its myriad of castles, it’s no wonder that not only movies get filmed there, but also TV series. Our driver promptly gestured for us to take a look outside our windows at the famous Doune Castle, first among the many sets of Winterfell in Game of Thrones, and also the beloved Castle Leoch of Outlander. However, since it was winter and hours before sunrise, it was too dark to see anything outside.

 

Read more: Side Trip: Windsor Castle, Stonehenge and Roman Baths

 

Up and up away we went to the Highlands. We had a short bathroom and coffee break at a souvenir shop in Kilmahog where we spent about half an hour checking out the kilts, the scarves, the mugs and the whiskeys. We also looked at the cheaper souvenir options like the postcards, magnets and key chains (only they call them “key rings” on that side of the world).

 




 

We then drove by the pretty shores of Loch Lubnaig where we saw some Highland cattle. Oh, if only there was no fog and that the sun was shining! Unfortunately, our Loch Ness tour landed on a rainy day and there wasn’t much we could do about it (nor see outside the window!). But about three hours into the tour, I marked by first sighting of snow: on Meall a’ Bhùiridh, a mountain on the edge of Rannoch Moor.

 



 

As our tour continued, Patrick went on to tell us about the determination of the Scots to fight off the English like the many Jacobite uprisings and the Battle of Culloden (which I am very familiar with thanks again to Outlander). This set the somber mood until we reached our first photo op location: Glencoe, one of the most famous glens in Scotland and the site of the massacre of the Clan MacDonald. The story goes that one winter night in 1692 about forty MacDonald clansmen were killed along the glen while about forty women and children died from exposure as their homes were burned. Under the pretext of not having pledged allegiance to their new monarchs, the MacDonalds were killed by their guests, who had earlier accepted their hospitality. If this story sounds familiar, then it must be because this is the same historical event that inspired G.R.R. Martin’s Red Wedding.

The three sisters in Glencoe Scotland chasingjayce

Glencoe, site of the massacre of the Clan MacDonald and G.R.R. Martin’s inspiration for the Red Wedding.

Glencoe, Scotland

Glencoe is internationally famous and its remarkable landscape and ecological significance has given it the designation of National Scenic Area.

From Glencoe, we continued our tour, passing by the Great Glen or Great Mor, then Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest mountain. Again, how I wished for some sun and blue skies. We made it to the Fort William area where we stopped for some lunch at the Spean Bridge Hotel, which seemed to have the monopoly when it comes to tour groups as its parking lot was soon filled with tour buses. Though the bus was comfortably warm, we still wanted something to warm our bellies so A. and I decided to have the homemade soup which came with a roll. And because I am a sucker for hot chocolate, I also ordered a cup and was gleefully satisfied that it looked so rich and tasty. A promptly ordered one for herself despite her vow of cheapstity.

Spean Bridge Hotel

Our bus was the first to arrive here at Spean Bridge Hotel, too.

Soup at Spean Bridge Hotel

Bowl of homemade soup with a fresh bread roll and butter.

Deluxe Fairtrade Hot Chocolate

Deluxe Fairtrade Hot Chocolate – for the soul, the stomach and Instagram.

After lunch we headed towards Loch Ness but stopped first at the Commando Memorial for a brief picture-taking. The area is dedicated to the memory of all Commandos who gave their lives during World War II, and has become one of UK’s best-known monuments. Again, a light shower was falling and everyone was keen to go back to the bus.

Commando Memorial Scotland chasing jayce

The Commando Memorial is dedicated to the memory of all Commandos who gave their lives during World War II, and has become one of the UK’s best-known monuments.

Before our two-hour séjour at the Loch Ness, Patrick asked the group which of us would be interested in visiting the Urquhart Castle and take the ‘Loch Ness by Jacobite’ cruise. The prices for both were not included on the tour: the ‘Loch Ness by Jacobite’ Cruise + Urquhart Castle Package costs £18.50 for adults and £14.50 for children. I gave him my Explorer Pass and had to pay only £13 for the cruise.

Urquhart Castle Pass

Thou shalt not be late!

Urquhart Castle from the Visitor Centre

Urquhart Castle from the Visitor Centre.

Trebuchet Replica, Urquhart Castle, Scotland

Replica of a trebuchet, a mighty siege machine.

When we arrived at Urquhart Castle, we were given instructions on when and where to proceed, and true to form, we were reminded of the dire consequences of being not on time. It was at this point that A. and I got called “the wee ones”.

 

Read more: Explorer Pass: Castles of Scotland

 

After receiving our tickets, we stepped inside the souvenir shop that serves as a receiving point for tourists. We spent such a long time checking out the souvenirs (Outlander souvenirs are few and outlandish in price) that we missed the first film showing. But it was okay since they repeat it every 10 minutes. The film was a short documentary on the history of the Urquhart Castle, how its strategic position made it very sought-after and the clan that eventually abandoned it. After that, we made our way to the castle ruins, passing by a trebuchet replica on display. Although it was freezing, it was fun going around the castle. We also went up the stairs to check out the landscape. It was really possible to see for miles. And with the Loch Ness behind it, it was no wonder that a lot of people wanted to take over that castle.

Urquhart Castle, Scotland

The Urquhart Castle sits on the banks of the Loch Ness in the Highlands of Scotland.

Grant Tower, Urquhart Castle, Scotland

The Grant Tower of Urquhart Castle offers a great view of the Loch Ness.

Urquhart Castle ruins from the Grant Tower

From the Grant Tower, the ruins of Urquhart Castle can be viewed in its entirety.

ChasingJayce at Grant Tower, Urquhart Castle, Scotland

Peering at the Loch Ness from the Tower

After touring the ruins, we made our way to the dock for our ride across the Loch Ness. Some people managed to stay outside the boat, holding out for a glimpse of Nessie, the resident monster. Me, it was just too heartbreakingly cold and gloomy that I eventually gave up trying to get any decent photo.

Loch Ness by Jacobite cruise in winter Scotland

The bad thing about being on time was having to stand in the queue for a long time… under the freezing rain.

Loch Ness by Jacobite cruise in Scotland

Our ride to the other side.

Loch Ness by Jacobite cruise in winter Scotland chasing jayce

We from the tropics could only take so much of the Highland winters.

The Urquhart Castle from the Loch Ness

The Urquhart Castle from the Loch Ness.

On our way back to Edinburgh, we passed by the city of Inverness which made me really excited. Haha! I did promise myself earlier last year that I would visit this place and there I was. Unfortunately, I was aboard a moving bus and months later now, I could not recall what I saw in the darkness. I did remember that the place looked generally deserted.

 

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Our last stop was at the town of Pitlochry where I tried some whiskey ice cream. Wow. That was amazing. Nothing beats winter but ice cream. Extra points for the whiskey.

Whisky ice cream at Pitlochry

Nothing beats ice cream in winter. Except maybe whiskey ice cream.

The tour was mostly aboard the bus and the group looking out the window, hoping for a glimpse of the scenic Scottish landscapes. Our background was the constant flow of history from our grandfatherly driver, whom we grew very fond of. I truly enjoyed listening to him as history, especially that of the Scots, fascinates me. I must really commend him who pursued, despite the wintry darkness, in telling us points of interest throughout the road trip. He also played some bagpipe music along the way and that was fun. A bus tour has its pros and cons, like I experienced during my Windsor, Stonehenge and Bath tour, but I must say that opting for the bus tour, instead of going for a road trip on our own, had been wise.

 

December 30, 2016

***All photos were taken using iPhone 6

 

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Jayce Cairo

Jayce is a linguaphile who speaks four languages and currently works as a translator to finance her various interests. Scoring very high on “Openness to Experience” on the Big Five Personality Test, she is an avid globetrotter who aspires to retire at 35 and travel for the rest of her life.

7 Comments:

  1. That’s one thing about Scotland, it rains so much that to get pictures with a blue sky you’d have to be very lucky. When we visited over 10 years ago we had a fair amount of rain too but we loved it either way. It looks spectacular even in the rain. We visited Glencoe, Ben Nevis and Loch Ness too. I remember not wanting to leave it was so beautiful. Great post. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Scotland looks so beautiful, cold but beautiful. The Loch Ness tour looks to be a very busy schedule with lots of great scenery attractions to see. Love the look of Urquhart Castle in the distance, a very nice pic.

  3. Scotland is so beautiful! I’d love to visit the Urquhart Castle and see all of its beauty for myself someday. I’m sure you guys had an amazing time exploring this region. Btw I love Outlander too!

  4. It was lovely reading about your experience in Scotland. The photos make it come alive.

  5. Scotland is so gorgeous but I haven’t made it to the highlands yet. There’s something just so “fairytale” to me about this area. I’m not sure when I will get back this way but know that I should. Super freezing up there but worth every minute I expect.

  6. Such amazing countryside, so stunning. Like you I have been captivated since seeing the Highlander!!! Since then I have wanted to visit Loch Ness, Glencoe & The Highlands. The tour you were on sounds absolutely perfect.
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  7. I did a bus tour of the Scottish highlands too and LOVED it. I got addicted to outlander after I did my tour, years after in fact, so it would be great to get back now that I have more historic context and it actually means something to, for instance, visit Glencoe. Yes, it’s rainy in the highlands a lot, we experienced that too – though I do think it makes for more dramatic photography 😀

    Glad you had an amazing time!

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