Our holiday to Edinburgh was over a three-day weekend. So because we only had one full day on Saturday, we decided to book a tour to see the Highlands. The Highlands have always been something so remote and romantic in my mind. No, I have not read the Outlander series, but after seeing the green and lush hills, I may just run out and find a copy.
At 8a, we boarded a small tour bus from The Highland Experience, and off we were on a 12 hour tour around Northern Scotland. That’s right–12 hours. This was definitely the longest of the tours available, but the route went through the famous Glencoe and Ben Nevis up to Inverness and Loch Ness, coming down through the Cairngorm Mountains. It was the best way for us to see these gorgeous landmarks on the budget and timetable we had.
But besides the long day on the bus, the only other con on the long list of pros was the fact that someone brought their 4 year old and 2 year old on the trip. I get antsy after a few hours of sitting still. How were these kids going to hold up?
The first landmark we passed was the famous Kelpies statues of two Water Horses coming through the land. Standing 30 meters high, these two beautiful sculptures by Andy Scott are propped right on the side of the highway. Built in October of 2013, the horses represent the horse-powered heritage across Scotland. We drove by so quickly, my camera barely had time to register the image, but at least we got to see it.
This was the first of many drive-by-tourist moments on this drive. Because we were covering about 500 miles of terrain, we had little to no time to stop. On three occasions, our driver pulled over for us to snap some pictures, but we blew right past Stirling Castle and the William Wallace Memorial along with many other monuments to history. The commentary on the bus filled us in on what we were missing, so we spent a lot of time with craned necks and blurred memories.
We passed by Linlithgow Palace where Mary, Queen of Scots was born. It is mostly ruins now, but the structure has stood proudly since the 12th century while under the rule of King David I. We also passed Doune Castle, which is now more famous for being the location for the series Outlander, but it was also the location for some of the hilarious scenes in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
It’s only a model.
But, historically, it was a strong hold built in the 13th century close by Stirling Castle.
The bus followed along the River Teith through village after village, one of which was the home of Rob Roy, a Scottish outlaw turned hero named the “Scottish Robin Hood.” And soon after passing through Strathyre, we found ourselves in the backdrop of Robert Lewis Stevenson’s novel, Kidnapped about the Appin Murder in 1752 during the Jacobite Uprising. I won’t go into the history because that would turn into a dissertation, but if you’re interested about that time, I encourage you to look it up.
Next on our sight-seeing tour was the famous Glencoe. Now, here is some history I do want to explore a little. On February 13, 1692, after the Jacobite Uprising, a three-part massacre took place in villages all inside the glen. Thirty-eight members of the MacDonald clan were murdered by guests staying at their home after they had just pledged allegiance to William of Orange and Queen Mary, co-regents of the United Kingdom. Forty more members of the clan were killed after their homes were burned. To read more about it, click here.
Something the Scottish love to do is immortalize their history in song. The Massacre of Glencoe actually made one of the most haunting and beautiful pieces of music I have ever heard.
The next mountain range we came to were The Three Sisters: Faith, Hope, and Charity. These gorgeous mountains, also known as Bidean nam Bian, are popular for hikers who come to Scotland year round. We did get a chance to stretch our legs here and take some photos. Many hikers and bikers were out that afternoon making us jealous of their “freedom.” (Come on, I had to get one Braveheart quote in there, right?)
Our lunch stop was in a tiny village just north of Fort William and Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in the UK. Getting restaurant food was out of the question for our time table, so we settled on gas station choices and a free sample of honey whisky. But the views of Ben Nevis were quite beautiful. Every year, sporting events occur on the mountain and upwards of 100,000 people ascend the collapsed volcano.
We piled back in the bus and didn’t stop again until we hit Loch Ness. I was so excited to see the land of Nessie! Jeff and I opted out of the Nessie Cruise that runs every hour to save the £26 and stayed at the hotel bar where I tried my first Drambuie on the rocks. I could not imagine a better drink to take off the outside chill and focus our vision to spot the legendary Nessie.
They did say we missed her by just five minutes, so maybe we would have better luck next time. But after we heard just how deep Loch Ness goes, it did spark our curiosity. The loch is so so large, they said you could fit the world’s population inside and still have room for more. The Eiffel Tower can fit inside, top to bottom, and you wouldn’t find it. It runs so deep, there is a whole tide system in the depths creating underwater waves. How can something not be lurking in that water with those kinds of stats?
Inverness was our turn around point of the tour, so once we boarded the bus, it was a straight shot back to Edinburgh. We fought sleep as the bus sailed along the highway, but I did my best to stay awake and take in the sights.
We came back to Edinburgh just before 9p. Weary and a little motion sick, we were glad we got to see all we could see. It really was a beautiful day and worth the £49 we paid per person. I don’t think I would do it again, though, for the time spent in the van. But it did give us some spectacular ideas of what to focus on if we come back to The Highlands.
Interesting factoids about Scotland bonus round:
- There are 1.5 sheep per person in the country.
- But that pales in comparison to the deer population, which overcrowds the sheep.
- Glen means “valley.”
- Ben means “mountain.” So, Ben Nevis is the tallest mountain in the UK.
- Mac means “son,” so MacDougal means “Son of Dougal.”
- Inver means “opening,” so Inverness is the “opening of lake Ness.”
- When you hear “Mary, Queen of Scots,” it is because the people did not believe you could rule the land itself. You were a ruler of the people, or the Scots. So, it was never, “Mary, Queen of Scotland.” Scotland belonged to Mother Earth.
- There is a South African Scottish Duke who has his own army, the Atholl Highlanders. He lives in Blair Castle. But because he and his army treated Queen Victoria so royally on a visit to his castle, she bestowed upon them the “colours” making them a private British regiment.
Have you been to Scotland? What have been some of your highlights and favorite moments?
What do you think is lurking in the depths of Loch Ness?