Visiting the Scottish Highlands
Our study abroad in Exeter spanned through December, so I decided a great Christmas gift for James would be a trip to Scotland. We were in Scotland for two days, one of which we spent exploring Edinburgh, and the other visiting the Scottish Highlands.
The Highlands Tour
The tour itself was booked through The Highland Experience Company. We selected the Monsters, Mountains and Massacres tour which spanned 12 hours. The tour only cost £45 a person and took you to Loch Ness, Glen Coe, Inverness and the Cairngorm Mountains.
The tour departs from Cafe Nero in Edinburgh and you should get there no later than 20 minutes before your scheduled departure. I would recommend getting there early so you can pick the most optimal seats on the bus, as you’ll be sitting in it for quite some time.
We were pleasantly surprised to see the tour group wasn’t very large, only about 30. At 8, we were off with Jon Paul, our tour guide, to drive through the country and see the highlands. Scotland is divided into 3 parts, the highlands in the north, the lowlands in the south (where Edinburgh is), and the borders in the middle. Jon Paul was very informative throughout the entire experience explaining bits of Scottish history as he drove along. Some interesting facts we learned are that Edinburgh was quite a small town, dating back to 1000’s. It mainly consisted of the old town and the royal mile and about 250 years later the rest of the city was developed. Now the population of Edinburgh is roughly half a million. Edinburgh Castle, which sits atop a high mountain, is actually sitting on a volcanic rock and also a glacial rock.
As we drove out of Edinburgh and we were on the highway, we could see Sterling Castle off in the distance. Unfortunately, it was a bit rainy and quite a misty day, so the castle was difficult to discern from afar and any photos I took weren’t clear. However, the Sterling Castle is a main attraction, as it was the main home of the Royal Tudor family. Jon Paul did a great job of pointing out the castle as we drove past it.
Directly next to the castle is a monument for William Wallace – if you’ve seen the movie Braveheart you know who he is. He wasn’t a noble, just an ordinary man who rose against the English. Next to the castle there is a hill, and a valley separates the hill from the castle. During one of the battles William Wallace and his men were on the hill, while the English were at the castle and each party were trying to wait out the other. The English caved and initiated the offense and a massive battle ensued.
A little ways after we saw Doune Castle in the distance, which was also used by the Tudor family. Fun fact, it was used as a film site for the movie Monte Python.
About an hour into our journey we made our first stop at Loch Lubnaig. Without a doubt this was my favorite spot of the entire day. Regardless of the fog and the “gloomy” skies it was breathtakingly beautiful. The water was so still that the mountains and forest reflected against it like a mirror. It was almost impossible to tell where the water ended and where the mountains began.
Our next stop was in Glencoe at the Three Sisters Mountain. Essentially it’s a mountain range with three large peaks in hues of yellow and green. What was most interesting at this spot was the information Jon Paul relayed about Glencoe.
Following the acquisition of Scotland under the English there was turmoil for quite some time. The clans were forced to sign an oath in allegiance to the King, or face the consequences. The leader of the McDonall clan, waited until the very last day of the deadline, December 31st, to sign the paperwork declaring his oath. As it turned out his paperwork had been moved to a different location because the English weren’t expecting him to sign since he waited so long and he had to travel the new location, a few days away, to sign it.
Essentially he signed the paperwork “late”, however The King decided to make an example of this and told the Campbell clan to go pay a visit the McDonall. The Campbells were instructed to ask for hospitality and accomodations, unsure of their purpose. Finally, the King ordered to kill all that were younger than 60 at first light. It is said many of the Campbells didn’t want to do it – especially considering they were guests and about to murder their hosts, but they were under the King’s rule and did it anyway.
The McDonall clan had lived in the Glencoe mountains and there was nowhere for them to escape since the Campbell clan blocked all escape routes. Many tried to climb higher into the mountains to escape but then eventually succumbed to the elements.
Fort William & Loch Ness
Following Glencoe, we made our way past Fort William which was one of the most picturesque areas we saw and I wish we were able to stop. It encompassed a massive loch, with mountains on both sides. The greenery was lush, and the clouds were white and floating mid-mountain height, drawing images of a town in Switzerland.
Loch Ness is the largest loch in all of the U.K. So large that it is said can fit the world’s population in it, three times over. Also, it’s about 700 feet deep. The most notable thing about Loch Ness – are the secrets it holds.
Everyone has heard the stories of Nessy, the large sea monster that has been glimpsed by many. Interestingly the first sighting of Nessy was in 500 A.D. by a monk who was crossing the water. Supposedly a beast rose out of the water ready to attack until the monk demanded the creature return under the sea in the name of God.
In the early 1900s many townsfolk knew of the creature and had seen it but didn’t fret about Nessy. It wasn’t until the story was taken to a journalist in the 1930s that it became public to the world. Around the same time Godzilla had premiered so the fascination with monsters was at an all time high. During our tour of Loch Ness, we had the option to do an hour long cruise or a 30-minute visit to ruins of a castle with a 30-minute cruise or explore Loch Ness. Both the cruise and castle were an additional fee so we chose to instead explore Loch Ness. We ended up hiking on a trail along the cliff that stood over Loch Ness. It was quite steep and took us about 30 minutes to get up but was worth the view.
Following Loch Ness the tour stops at Inverness, however since we were there in December and daylight was minimal we did not stop to explore. I would definitely recommend taking the trip in summertime if you want to guarantee stopping at all the sites.
Somewhere between Inverness and Pitlochry most of the bus fell asleep, and we woke to Jon Paul announcing we will be stopping to grab a bite to eat. After strolling through the high street and deciding we didn’t want to eat bread and peanut butter for the third time today, we opted for some hot chips.
At this point, the trip was basically over, and it was just a matter of driving back into Edinburgh.
We arrived back to Edinburgh around 8 pm and we made our way back to our hostel to get some sleep for our upcoming busy day exploring Edinburgh. We definitely had a blast visiting the Scottish Highlands and would love to return one day!
Total cost: £96.20
- Attractions: £90
- Tour: £45 per person = £90 total
- Food: £6.20
- Large Chips: £1.20
- Groceries (oats, peanut butter sandwich, crisps): £5
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