Ah, another wonderful holiday/vacation. We spend 8 nights touring the Scotland Highlands (and Lowlands). I've been looking forward to this for some time as I was expecting a great mix of history and scenery. What I didn't expect was the great weather too.
This was our first major road trip of 3 planned this summer. Scotland is "close" but is a bigger country than some may realize and it was a challenge to choose what to see and not see for our week away. Since we visited Edinburgh last year, I was able to focus on the more rural areas.
I choose 3 bases: Callander (B), Portree, Skye (D) and Drumnadrochit on Loch Ness (E) for 3/3/2 nights respectively. From our base in Derby and with all the touring around we logged just under 1400 miles. With petrol around $8/USgal I was glad to have our mid-size diesel average 45 mpg (US gal).
Here's a zoomed in view of the Scotland bits. The Callander base for the historic Stirling sites and the scenery in the Trossachs. We picked up Glencoe and Glenfinnan on the way to Skye. Loch Ness was also a good mixture of history and scenery.
I've trimmed my 500+ photos down to 200 or so. I hope you enjoy it. It is a long entry so hunker down.
Day 1 (Friday) -- Drive from Derby to Callander
You can ride on a boat to experience it yourself but we passed on that. The boat rides in a tub for lack of a more technical term (cassions) and they stay level by rolling within circular bit like a gyroscope. It reminded Nicole of the Gyro Bowl advertised back in the States.
Doune Castle. The castle in its current form was largely built in the 14th century by/for Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany who was Regent of Scotland for over 30 years (a regent is the one who looks after things when the King is unable to, e.g. too old or too young). Much more info on the linked wiki site.
But enough about history, this was were a good chunk of Monty Python's the Search for the Holy Grail was filmed! The audioguide for the tour is done by MP's Terry Jones (link). Like most in my age bracket, that had quite the following back in high school and we must have watched it 20+ times. I'll have to go back and watch it again now as it has been some time.
the troops preparing to storm the castle
The castle was in fairly good shape. Here's Nicole in the oven.
The private loo off the Great Hall.
Looking at the village of Doune and the wind turbines in the background.
tempting, but a photo only
semi-artistic shot of the day (Scottish flag)
We carried on to our wonderful B&B in Callander. I've grouped the food photos at the end as well so sit tight for those interested in that.
Side note: Kuk was wearing a cheapie pedometer as part of the Global Fitness Challenge at work. It's a crude measure but will give you some idea of our activity each day. The goal is to average 10,000 steps a day which is hard to do during a normal work day but not on an active day off.
Day 1 total (with lots of driving): 9969 steps.
Day 2 (Saturday) -- Stirling area historic sites
First stop was to Stirling Castle. We were a few minutes early so we posed with Robert the Bruce. The castle is very strategically located and has factored significantly in Scottish history. The best shot is from below which I did not get. Try this link instead.
You can see by the shivering that it's a wee bit cooler than your typical June vacation spot. It was probably 50F (10C) in the morning with a nice stiff breeze.
hard to pass up a nice cannon photo
A few other tidbits from the tour: as we've heard before, the safest thing to drink at the time was ale since the water was a little dubious. A husband would therefore look for a wife that made good beer. The wife would look for a husband with black teeth (which meant he was rich enough to afford sugar).
The castle workers in the day were rationed ale and bread. Of course, they only received the harder/burnt bottom portion of the bread. The "upper crust" was saved for the elite.
Some statues that partially remain
view of the former King and Queen's gardens down below
one of my few castle shots -- it's hard to get an encompassing photo once on the grounds
fun with swords
both in the act this time (those swords were pretty heavy)
they had some massive hounds as well -- my first thought was Irish Wolfhounds but then I remembered we weren't in Ireland (duh)! Scottish Deerhounds rather!
more sword play
here's a view of the National Wallace Monument -- our next stop
Now, if you are like most, your knowledge of William Wallace is based on Mel Gibson's Braveheart. Obviously, that was a romanticized and fictionalized version of the facts but there are some (very) broad aspects of the truth in the story. [I asked this fellow afterwards and he's glad it came out despite the liberties with the story -- it gets more people interested.]
From the wiki link:
Sir William Wallace (born c. 1272, died 23 August 1305) was a Scottish knight and landowner who became one of the main leaders during the Wars of Scottish Independence. Along with Andrew Moray, Wallace defeated an English army at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297, and was Guardian of Scotland, serving until his defeat at the Battle of Falkirk. In 1305, Wallace was captured in Robroyston near Glasgow and handed over to King Edward I of England, who had him hanged, drawn, and quartered for high treason and crimes against English civilians. Since his death, Wallace has obtained an iconic status far beyond his homeland.
The Scottish and English had battled over the years but it wasn't until King Edward I started throwing his weight around and pissing people off by taking the Stone of Scone (1296) that things really heated up. Wallace's victory at Stirling Bridge gave Scotland its Independence (momentarily).
posing with the guide
statue of William Wallace on the monument
the famous sword (link for more info)
view of the river (albeit not the bridge) that factored into battle -- part of the strategy was to let the English cross and then attack. They could not effectively retreat over the small bridge.
of course, we climbed to the top (246 steps) -- the hike up the hill was harder
a view back to the castle and the King's Gold Great Hall
and a nice shot looking back at the monument (another glorious day)
Continuing our historical journey, we drove to the Bannockburn Heritage Centre (link). It's a rather drab looking building but contained a nice, small exhibition. Bannockburn was a significant Scottish victory (1314) for the Wars of Scottish Independence.
ready to battle (prop in exhibition)
Kuk with her battle face on -- also afraid to move because the hat and chainmail were really heavy
and Alex's (nice one)
photo with Robert the Bruce (again) -- Robert the Bruce was King of Scots from 1306 to 1329 during the time of the Wars of Scottish Independence (link)
After our enjoyable day, we made it back to our Callander B&B -- the highly recommended Annfield Guest House. This has to be one of our favorites that we've stayed in.
Step count for Day 2: 14,881.
Day 3 (Sunday) -- Exploring the Trossachs
We take a history break to explore the great outdoors. We set off to the Trossachs to walk Ben A'an near Loch Achray. Our info says it's a 2.5 mile walk with an ascent of 340 m (1100') according to this site. That's a pretty healthy climb for novices like us. It took about 3 hours (I think) counting lunch at the top.
Bundled up in the crisp air as we start off in the woods.
resting along the way up
we were overtaken by some mountain cyclists carrying their gear up -- we were curious as to where they were actually going to ride
. . . with some nice views back to Loch Achray
started out as a nice woodsy walk -- Kuk and Alex were on their own pace coming up
as we cleared the forest we had a slight oh "shoot" moment when we saw what lay ahead
that deserved a side rock climb (and rest) before undertaking the final ascent
Alex's not exactly looking forward to it -- not sure that's even comfortable
hey -- how'd this guy follow us from the Peak District?
future Darwin Award winner gives the descent a go on his bike -- full brake mode while skidding down and a complete look of fear and concentration on his face
the rest of his crowd were smarter and said forget this -- not sure it was worth carrying those bikes around but they probably found some areas to descend properly
ah, the reward -- Loch Katrine on the other side
the triumphant crew
another of Loch Katrine
a well deserved rest at the top
didn't realize the ominous clouds behind me -- too bad I'm not holding the Ten Commandments
too tired to finish the second half of his sandwich
thought we'd start by making a quick walk around the small island
and climb a few gnarly trees
. . . and finally the priory (built in 1238)
From the wiki link: The priory has a long history of receiving many notable guests. King Robert the Bruce visited three times: in 1306, 1308 and 1310. His visits were likely politically motived, as the first prior had sworn allegiance to Edward I, the English king. In 1358 the future King Robert II also stayed at the priory. In 1547 the priory served as a refuge for Queen Mary, aged four, hidden here for a few weeks following the disastrous defeat of the Scots army at the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh during the Rough Wooing.
As with most, the priory went into decline in the 16th century in the time of Henry VIII and the founding of the Anglican Church.
view back to the small pier on the main land
new bridge (the previous one was destroyed by a flood in 2004)
and finally , a partial shot of the falls
Step Count: 20,345 (!) plus the 1100' ascent -- quite a day
Day 4 (Monday) -- the long drive to Skye
and a nice view along the way (we still haven't gotten very far at this point)
The first stop was at Killin and the Falls of Dochart (link)
required pose in front of the site -- a had to wait for the bus load of Germans to clear
climbing on the rocks -- always a good thing with a lot of car time ahead
We hopped back on the A85 and took the A82 to Glencoe. This shot was on the way.
still some snow near the top (still near Glencoe)
close to Glencoe now
another glorious day -- are we really in Scotland?
Glencoe Visitor's Centre to read up on history of the area and to take a short walk around the grounds. You might have heard about the infamous Massacre of Glencoe (wiki) in 1692. Thirty-eight Macdonalds were killed by the their guests (murder in trust). The grounds for the killing were because the Macdonald clan was late in swearing allegiance to the new monarchs (William and Mary) and were made examples of in an attempt to bring the clans in order (i.e. government sanctioned murder). Much more info at the wiki link.
more scenery from our short walk
Glenfinnan. A monument is erected to commemorate the place where Prince Charles Edward Stuart ("Bonnie Prince Charlie") raised his standard, at the beginning of the 1745 Jacobite Rising. Stunning views up Loch Shiel on yet another gorgeous day.
. . . and another
shot of the viaduct looking back from the monument
at the top -- Charlie's seen better days; hard to clean off the bird poo at this height
From the wiki link: The Jacobite rising of 1745, often referred to as "The 'Forty-Five", was the attempt by Charles Edward Stuart to regain the British throne for the exiled House of Stuart, and recreate an absolute monarchy in the United Kingdom. The rising occurred during the War of the Austrian Succession when most of the British Army was on the European continent. Charles Edward Stuart, commonly known as "Bonnie Prince Charlie" or "the Young Pretender," sailed to Scotland and raised the Jacobite standard at Glenfinnan in the Scottish Highlands, where he was supported by a gathering of Highland clansmen.
More on the Jacobite rising later on in the blog . . .
what a day!
one more -- very picturesque location
We continued on until we ran out of land in Mallaig. Knowing that we had a lot to see, I pre-booked the last ferry of the day. We just missed the previous one and were 2nd in the queue. That gave us some time to walk around Mallaig (and find a pub for some liquid refreshments).
Note: we are into some long days here as we approach the summer solstice. Given that we aren't really night owls, we did not really see darkness as sunset was well after 10 (and darkness was after 11). Sunrise was around 4:30 -- we didn't see that either.
Step count: 15,308 -- not bad for being in the car most of the day.
Day 5 (Tuesday) -- the Trotternish Peninsula (Skye)
Yet another magnificent day. Could we make it all week without rain in Scotland?
The path starts off in a wooded area. It was actually quite dark under this canopy.
more amazing scenery
Alex had to climb this rock first though.
the girls started up the path
while Alex reach his summit
another look back -- the photos barely start to capture it
there's the Old Man -- you have to see it from the side rather than straight on
and the look back and to the right
crumbling rocks everywhere
quite a few in this direction . . .
next stop was Lealt (I think) Falls
where you can also view the beach from above
and the Isle of Raasay and the mainland
still a happy family!
next stop: Kilt rock
and looking "down" the coast rather than "up" towards Kilt Rock
yikes--fortunately the car going down has a pretty good view of the cars coming his way
the path beckons
Spectacular. This was one of the wider paths -- you can see what I mean about heights.
a few sheep up close
tiny sheep down below
another shot looking back -- here comes Kuk
Nicole taking a break
link). There were a half dozen or so thatched buildings like this with information inside. It was a little heavy on the reading, but a good stop nonetheless.
a view to the NW and the Outer Hebrides
thistle is the national flower -- we purchased a thistle themed tea set when in Edinburgh last year
Grave marker of local legend Flora Macdonald. She helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape after his defeat at Culloden and became a national hero for her bravery and support of the cause.
Step count: 23,901, a record!
Day 6 (Wednesday) -- Talisker, Dunvegan and Neist Point
Last full day on Skye and we decided to focus on the Northwest and the Dunvegan peninsula. First a few photos on the way. I'd been wanting to take a photo of the sheep warning but there was never a good pull out until this one. Perhaps I'll use it to warn Jay of impending domestic animal photos.
Two sheep stories: First, on the way up to Portree from the ferry there was a sheep between the road and the fence (i.e. not in the fence) and I was cruising along at 50+. He feints towards the road and Kuk lets out a death scream as I react. I remind her that screaming in my ear is not the best thing to do during an evasive maneuver and in fact caused more of a reaction than was necessary. It was, however, a good reminder to slow down when you see the sheep.
Another time when I was going considerably slower we passed a sheep who looked straight at me and gave me the business. Mouth open, eye contact, blaaaaaaaaah. Take that. That was a bit funnier than the first episode.
Before the tour we got a taste. Here's my 10 year old son with my 10 year old whisky (actually with my empty glass). No worries -- the kids wouldn't drink it if they could.
The tour was nice (no photos) though I think we could have had a better guide. One tidbit of note was that they had actually stopped production because of a lack of rain! Their water source (14 natural springs) had dried up and they had to wait for rain (can't use anything else or it wouldn't be the same).
The basics of whisky (Scotch) / whiskey (Irish/American/Canadian) are quite similar. The differences are in the subtleties of how things are done.
This 25 y.o. single malt was a little out of my range. I did come home with a bottle of 10 year old single malt though. I won't be drinking it every day (in fact, I have 2 years to finish it) so come by for a taste. Even I could taste some of the unique characteristics (smokey/peppery) and I thought it was a worthy souvenir.
random shot between the distillery and our next stop in Dunvegan
we had a tour of the grounds
we also took the extra boat ride out in search for seals -- Nicole's up front (savvy people call that the bow I believe)
one in the water
seals, seals, seals -- I think we saw 80 or so according to Alex's count
hasn't gotten old (yet)
one final close up
birds too -- Arctic terns I believe
Here we are. The lighthouse is on the other side of that cliff. Ready? Set? . . .
still a happy family!
a special one of my photogenic daughter
The famous Three Chimneys restaurant was along this road (albeit further "inland"). I had wanted to try it but the £60/person price point was even a little steep for me. Not sure what the kids would have done and I didn't want to come during the middle of the precious day for the more reasonable lunch. We'll save that one for the couples.
On the way back to Portree I had slowed to make a right turn and this very loud noise came from behind us. Kuk and I tensed for the impending crash as it sounded like a huge truck screeching to a halt (but I didn't see one). Turns out it was fighter jet screaming low overhead. Freaked us out!
Step count: 13,446
Day 7 (Thursday) -- Loch Ness
Eilean Donan. It didn't make the cut for a visit but did make for a nice quick look.
kids, castle and sailboat -- another gorgeous day
First stop at Loch Ness was Urquhart Castle. It used to look like this.
ready to go explore
Alex liked the trebuchet
Nicole and the blue skies
looking back across the castle grounds
up top with Loch Ness in the background
link) -- Loch Ness is the 2nd largest Scottish lake by surface area (Loch Lomond) but is also extremely deep (755'). As a result, it contains more water than all the lakes in England and Wales combined.
mother and son
one more shot
I know it is touristy but I wanted to go. There are a couple of sites like this but this was the recommend one. The exhibition was a series of video clips in a half dozen or so rooms that explain the loch/lake, the loch ness monster sightings and the subsequent explorations. I thought it was well done and I'm glad we went.
There were a few hoaxes along the way, but it's apparent that most people actually thought they saw something. However, they showed how easy it was to mistake wakes, ducks, branches, etc. for a "monster". They even showed how the underwater thermals can play havoc on sonar equipment.
link to guide) and a recommended hike around the craigs and to Dog Falls.
Here we go. We combined 2 loops to go about 4 miles (link).
Clouds are coming. Would we finally get wet?
The walk was more woodlands than hills some of which was on this large (and not so pretty) trail.
nice view of a small pond
taking a break halfway through
near Dog Falls
and finally Dog Falls
Kuk liked this one. I found it a bit anti-climatic given our more dramatic hikes earlier in the week. Still glad we went.
Step count: 19,284 (though easier steps than some of the others)
Day 8 (Friday) -- Culloden area
you'll just have to use your imagination
Back to history -- the first (and main) stop was the very good (and new) Culloden Battlefield and Visitor Centre.
A little bit more on our Jacobite rising. As mentioned above at Glenfinnan, Bonnie Prince Charlie had gathered some interest in his cause to claim the throne for his father (James "VIII" & "III") in 1745. Many of his followers were Highland clansman and there were also complicated Highland/Lowland and religious aspects to the rising.
As his following grew, he stormed his way towards London trying to pick up support along they way. He was "undefeated" as he marched through northern England but failed to pick up enough support to continue. (The English were also concerned with the French and other continental issues). He turned around in Derby of all places (Swarkestone bridge for the locals -- that's caused many a people to want to turn around!).
He retreated all the way back to the Highlands near Inverness in Culloden (1746) while being pursued by the English commander William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland. His troops were tired and hungry and he was completely out smarted at Culloden and met with resounding defeat (1500 to 50 in terms of casualties). He fled to Skye and later France. (more info at the wiki link)
This was the last battle on British soil.
The aftermath was just as gruesome as the highland clans were tracked down and killed. It became illegal to wear traditional tartans, etc. and hastened the fall of the traditional Highland clansmen way of life.
Mass grave marking from the 1800's (I think)
link plus wiki). This 18th century fortress was built after the Battle of Culloden and has never been attacked. It's used as a garrison today.
looking for dolphins
there's a pair along with some birds -- we probably saw 5 or so
we were amused by the red telephone booths we kept seeing in the strangest of places -- like inside the fort
last stop was the Clava Cairns (or the Balnuaran of Clava) -- link
my rock stars
Step count: 10,383 -- a lightweight day
No photos on our last day, an 8+ hr drive back to Derby via Inverness/Perth/Stirling/Carlisle etc. We made better time than I thought and were home for dinner.
Food, food, food
Special section for any foodies out there. We ate well and had some good but not necessarily great meals. I always endeavor to try new things.
Lade Inn, near Callander. Haggis, tatties and neeps. I had to try it. It was okay. Not sure what it was supposed to taste like. Kuk's meal was pretty disappointing so I assume this wasn't as good as it could get either. It's best not to think about the haggis too much. Overall, we wouldn't recommend the restaurant.
Full Scottish breakfast at the Annfield Guest House. I usually try everything and down-select on subsequent mornings. The mushrooms were unbelievably good. Best breakfast I can remember at a B&B.
Callander Meadows -- lamb. Very good though slightly overdone. Not quite as good as I had in Edinburgh which still rates the highest for lamb for me.
Kuk's fillet at Callander Meadows. Also a touch dry. Good meal, though our most expensive.
Mohr Fish, Callander. Halibut and bacon with Hollandaise sauce. Nice. The seafood chowder was also very good.
Cafe Arriba, Portree. Kuk's Thai crayfish curry.
salmon and rice for me. Also good. Funky, casual place.
Sea Breezes, Portree. I always like it when I can start with a clean slate (ha, ha)
seafood platter at Sea Breezes -- yum, yum
Loch Ness Inn, near Drumnadrochit. I had another go with haggis, this time as a starter. More flavor (and better) this time. Okay, don't need to try anymore. [haggis recipe for the curious]
"Pork chop" main at Loch Ness Inn. Pork chop? Where's the bone? Tasty enough but don't call it a chop; perhaps that's a cultural difference? Rice was bland.
Cobbs Restaurant, Clansman Inn, Loch Ness. I did well saving the best for last. Roasted duck breast with carrots and beets. Outstanding. Also came with a nice view of Loch Ness. 5 miles north of Drumnadrochit (9 miles south of Inverness).
Well, there you have it. Thanks for slogging through the long entry (assuming you made it this far). It was another great vacation. We really enjoyed Scotland and we might have to go back again before we head home.