Scottish Highlands

Scottish Highlands

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.

Logistics

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.

Edinburgh Castle

Stirling Castle

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.

William Wallace

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.

Doune Castle

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.

Loch Lubnaig

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.

Scottish Highlands Loch

Scottish Highlands Loch Lubnaig

Glencoe

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.

Scottish Highlands Glen Coe

Scottish Highlands Glen Coe

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

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. 

Scottish Highlands Loch Ness

Scottish Highlands Loch Ness from Mountains

Scottish Highlands Loch Ness

Inverness

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.

Pitlochry

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

Cost Breakdown

  • 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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21 Comments

  1. December 30, 2016 / 6:13 PM

    We did this tour some years back…. the first vacation that my husband and me took together and we had the best time! The tour was very long but we enjoyed it a lot.. our tour guide/driver always said loch nessssss (with like 15s) and since then I can’t read this word without adding many many s’s at the end 😀

    Happy New Year!

    • January 2, 2017 / 5:13 PM

      It was loads of fun I am so happy my boyfriend and I went on it! Happy New Year as well 🙂

  2. stylishtravlr
    January 1, 2017 / 2:12 PM

    wow that sounds like an amazing trip. I am planning to visit Scotland for the longest time! I am definelty saving this post for when I go. Every post I am reading about that place make me ask myself why I haven’t go there yet since I live in UK 😀 Love your photos !

  3. January 1, 2017 / 2:13 PM

    The Scottish Highlands are my absolute favorite place in the world!! We lived in Leith for a time this year and we drove into the Highlands as often as we could. There’s a certain kind of magic to the area! It looks like you hit a lot of really amazing places on your tour! Thanks for sharing – and taking me back! I often find myself dreaming of the Highlands.

    • January 2, 2017 / 5:11 PM

      It was honestly one of the best trips I’ve taken. The surreal beauty of the highlands is insane!

  4. January 2, 2017 / 1:30 AM

    The Edinburgh Castle really looks amazing. Nice shot you got there. Lochness is another legend. Would love to visit these places.

  5. January 2, 2017 / 5:17 PM

    I’d love to visit the Scottish Highlands someday 🙂 I’ll be bookmarking this post for when I do! Thank you so much for sharing about your experience. (Also I love that you got him an experience rather than a material gift for Christmas! So good!)

    • January 3, 2017 / 1:22 AM

      Thank you I hope it helps! & it was such a good idea I think I’m going to keep doing experiences from now on 🙂

  6. January 2, 2017 / 6:34 PM

    Your blog post totally made me want to visit Edinburgh again! I went way back in 2003 when I was at uni in the UK. I really loved the vibe of the city and its atmospheric pubs too! If I visit again, I would love to go to Glencoe. Looks great!

  7. January 3, 2017 / 1:46 PM

    That sounds like a good tour with complete value for money! I went to Edinburgh on a day trip and explored the whole of Old and New City, the Castle, and managed to hike the Arthur’s Seat and Calton Hill and my guy totally loved it! For him, its one of our best trips ever. I can’t believe you guys managed to visit Edinburgh and Lochness & Inverness in the same day!!! I wanted to visit Lochness & Inverness but it sounded a bit too much to cover in a day trip.

  8. Milijana
    January 4, 2017 / 5:29 AM

    Lately, when surfing the net, I found myself constantly stumbling upon posts about Scotland and Edinburgh. Now I am starting wondering is it a sign to finally take Scotland off my bucket list?! Anyway, I am bookmarking your detailed description of Scottish Highlands as “must see places in Scotland”!

  9. January 7, 2017 / 6:08 PM

    Edinburgh Castle really looks amazing. I have a friend who lives not too far from there and am planning on visiting myself really soon. Maybe on this upcoming Eurotrip! 🙂

  10. January 7, 2017 / 11:18 PM

    What a wonderful day trip to spend some time exploring the outdoors with your sweetheart! I find these photo really interesting, and I can’t believe how still the water looks in the photo with you, just like a mirror! Do you know if the area has these beautiful orange and yellow colors year round, or were you visiting in a time like autumn?

    • January 8, 2017 / 5:26 PM

      We were there at the start of December! Not sure if they stay like that all year round.

  11. February 1, 2017 / 3:53 PM

    Very informative blog and the pictures of the highlands are stunning. Following you for more adventures. Stephen

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