In Search of Nessie- Scotland Day 6

Standing on rocks in the loch, hoping to catch a glimpse of Nessie…

I am not going to lie, it was difficult to leave Skye with so much unexplored. However, today was a new day! We were off to the opposite side of the country, from Skye to Pitlochry. As we made our way down the winding roads, we couldn’t help but be in awe of how different each part of Scotland is from the next! Our first view of Loch Ness made us feel like we were in the PNW, not at all like anything we had seen in Scotland so far.

We ended up stopping in Ft. Augustus, partly by accident, but it was on our list of places to go. We are glad we did! Works were being done on the Caledonian Canal and we got to see it in operation. There is also a good amount of history here, old fort works, construction of the canal and the Clansman Centre. While it is a popular tourist stop and you can definitely feel that here, it is a charming place to visit. We enjoyed our fist bit of tourist shopping so far and scored a made in the UK wool cardigan on sale for 10 pounds.

From Ft Augustus, we made our way to Urquhart Castle. Urquhart Castle is part of the Historic Scotland Pass and has excellent presentations. We participated in the history talk with an overview of the castle and area as well as the Historic Reenactor talk. He was quite humorous and very informative. He gave a display of traditional highland weaponry and dress. He also pointed out some things of significance to do in the area. The castle itself is magnificently perched on a point near the deepest part of Loch Ness. It makes for a beautiful place to try to spot Nessie from. The castle’s old water gate takes you right down to the loch and is a fun photo op.

Loch Ness is one of those places that instills a sense of wonder in you. It is shrouded in a sort of mythical cloud that makes you want to never leave until you have solved all of its mysteries. From the clan fighting along this all important watery highway to stories of a monster in the deep, it’s no wonder that so many people visit this area. Urquhart is an excellent starting point to launch an exploration of this beautiful and mysterious area.

Control of this castle meant control of the watery highway through Loch Ness…

From Urquhart we made our way north to Inverness. We stopped for a late lunch and met up with some local geocachers. This was our second time to briefly be in Inverness. We realize now, after the end of our trip, that Inverness and Loch Ness deserve more attention and we should have taken a day each to explore them both.

From Inverness it was on to Pitlochry. The part of the Cairngorms we drove through was beautiful, even though not as dramatic as the Great Glen landscape we had grown familiar with over the last couple of days. We stayed in the Atholl Palace Hotel, a 19th Century Estate built specifically to be a hotel. We appreciated it’s lovely architecture and luxurious feel. We could have spent an entire weekend at this retreat without ever leaving the property. Happy to have two choices for on-site dining and laundry facilities, we were ready to take a slower pace here over the May bank holiday weekend.

The view from our room in the tower…

One of our “ I hope this happens while in Scotland” items was crossed off in the pub situated in a tucked away corner of the hotel. We had a sing a long! Over a pint of Magners cider and a venison pie, we sang many songs with the entertainer who happened to be from Dunoon and was very familiar with the US Navy’s time in Holy Loch. His wife actually served up our fish an chips at Anselmo’s. We shouldn’t have been so surprised, it is a Small world, after all.

Glens, Trains and Waterfalls- Scotland Trip Day 4

Our breakfast with a view of Loch Leven…

Our bodies protested going down to breakfast, despite how delicious we knew the “full Scottish breakfast” awaiting us would be.  We were quite sore and our thigh muscles didn’t seem to be very willing to allow our knees to bend.  We pressed on and just used bagging a Munro as our excuse for appearing as though we aged fifty years in one day.  Today was one of the few things Ben actually added to the plans of our trip. 

Not too far from the beautiful tourist laden Glencoe is the almost silent Glen Etive. Beautiful in its own right, yet very different.  We found this to be true of every glen we visited.  Not like the last and not like the next.  Glen Etive has some beautiful scenery accessed by a single track road that is dotted with sheep and houses we could only guess the ages of. 

The road to Glen Etive

The road follows the river and opens up to a beautiful loch bearing the same name as the glen. You are treated to several waterfalls on the river and many more meandering down the hills if it has rained recently or if any snow is melting. 

We wandered down this road for a small layby that was a 007 Skyfall filming location.  This is the particular road that M and 007 drive an Aston  Martin down to his “home”.  They pull off and look down the glen.   Ben wanted to recreate this image, unfortunately for him our travel budget didn’t include a fancy car.

Thinking James Bond thoughts…

From Glen Etive, we made our way northward again.  We had to navigate around tour buses and crowds not yet encountered on our travels.  This was our 3rd day experiencing Glencoe. We were sad for the busses of people who only experienced 30 minutes of this majestic and storied glen which presented a different personality each and every day.

After that, we were on our way to a beautiful place I saw on the Visit Scotland Facebook page. Glenfinnan Viaduct, a 21 arch viaduct from the turn of the century located near Loch Shiel, and its Jacobite train that crosses 4 times a day. Bonnie Prince Charlie landed here when he came to try and reclaim the Scottish throne, but more people visit here because the Jacobite train was the Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter Movies.

The Jacobite Steam Train

It is a gorgeous glen and worth the visit, even if you aren’t a Potterhead. There is a monument marking the landing of the Bonnie Prince on the beach of the loch. You can buy a ticket to climb to the top at the visitors center that also houses a museum, cafe and gift shop. Parking fills up quickly, but if you are patient and willing to go back and forth a few times, you can park in the parking lot for a small fee.

To catch a glimpse of the train, you have to plan ahead. Forty-five minutes before the train is due in Ft. William, the train crosses the viaduct. Usually you can see the two trains, one going in each direction. If you want to see it up close, take the path that crosses under the viaduct and up the hill. If you want to see it set against the glen, try the path up the hill to the viaduct viewpoint. Or for the less adventurous, you can eat at the cafe set in a dining car with a view of the tracks near by. We opted for the hill, it was an excellent place for a picnic.

Don’t forget to look behind you at the viaduct viewpoint.

Our next glen on the list was Glen Nevis. Unfortunately we had fine Scottish weather today and Ben Nevis was hidden in a misty shroud or drizzle the entire time we were nearby. This glen had one of the most enjoyable drives we experienced in Scotland. Single track, curvy, low traffic and gorgeous views.

The winding road ahead…

Braveheart was filmed in this glen, all of the village and fort scenes. The back story before you get to the fighting. However inaccurate Hollywood depicted William Wallace, it was important for us to visit this glen because it was our introduction to Scotland and Scottish history.

We decided to venture past the fort and village location to Steall Waterfall. From the car park there is a rugged .6 mile hike up to a beautiful area that made me want to set up camp, and many people do. We could have stayed here for a very long time. The fact that the area around the waterfall is flat is amazing considering the elevation you gain. There is a cable bridge that crosses the river to appeal to the adventurous. I opted for my rubber boots and played in the creek.

Dinner consisted of the instant dishes courtesy of the in room kettle and several other items left over from our Morrisons run. We drifted off to sleep with the setting of the sun and the sounds of the bagpiper in the lobby. Scotland has been purely bonnie indeed and magical to boot.

Scotland Trip Day 3- Finding the Mountain Scene from Braveheart

Today we searched for a mountain. To be more exact, we searched for a specific part of the path near the Am Bodach peak on the Aonach Eagach ridge. This was one of our first views of Scotland growing up. It was home to the scene in Braveheart where Mel Gibson runs across the mountain and looks all around him. Ambitious, we knew, but others had done it, so we wanted to try.

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Scotland Trip Day 2

Bonnie Scotland indeed! So much happened on day 2. We were still exhausted from our travels and majorly sleep deprived. It’s not a terribly great foot to get started out on. As the cop on the Royal Mile told a lost Ben (who was trying to get to an April that was grabbing bags and checking out of the hotel) we carried on. And what carrying on we did!

Continue reading “Scotland Trip Day 2”

Scotland Trip Day 1

Our first day was one of the longest of my life. I of course couldn’t sleep very well, despite having been fully packed two days beforehand and my house being clean (which for me is a necessity before a trip). We even tried to sleep and wake up on Scotland time. I was very excited to wear my Very Hungry Caterpillar socks through security, although no one else seemed to notice.

Our flights from CHS-BOS-AMS were ok. Couldn’t sleep a wink on the long haul ove the pond. We watched Aquaman and more impressively saw all of the colors possible in a glorious sunsrise.

AMS is under construction and not at all like the gleaming pictures the internet shows (go figure). It was kind of a chaotic and confusing place. I feel my opinion is valid since they lost 1 of 2 of our bags.

Arrival in Scotland was everything we hoped it would be. Beautiful, cloudy and sunny all at once, green of course and yellow which was surprise. Some kind of pokey shrub that starts with g that I didn’t snap pic of yet.

Inverness was very welcoming and all of the people very nice and helpful. After dealing with the lost luggage we decided to splurge and get a cab. It was a brilliant decision. He pointed out landmarks and oddities of the road. Roundabouts make me nervous for Ben!

At the train station two other Americans were helplessly lost. I joked with ticket attendants “As Americans, are we all so lost?” “Aye I’m afraid so” he said. We joked about if he came to South Carolina he would be an instant celebrity on accent alone and would have many offers to be shown around and dinners at grandmother’s homes. (Thinking of my memaw and how she asks for us to bring home a man everywhere we go). We did get a pretty decent recommendation for lunch out of them too!

We took the train to Edinburgh and had lovely views of the countryside, when we were awake anyway.

Once in Edinburgh we checked in to our hotel with views of Waverly. We were thankful to not have to walk far.

We crashed, got refreshed and walked around Edinburgh with no other agenda than getting lost and finding dinner. A great little place on the Royal Mile called “The Clam Shell” was the winner, after Deacon Brodie’s had a terribly hot dining room and too long of a wait for the jetlagged travelers. We had fried haggis with chips, a deep fried Mars bar and Irn Bru.

Our adventure continues today with a car rental!