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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Read more: Glorious Travel with iVideo Pocket Wifi
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.
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
Pin Wee Memories of Scotland: The Highlands