previously posted on my blog Abroad in London
as a weekly update for family and friends
Wild & Sexy Scotland
Despite being trapped on buses from Thursday morning until early Monday morning I just experienced the greatest weekend of my life.
Upon arriving in London I had to do an orientation with my Visa sponsor, Bunac. One of the first things they show you during this orientation is a short video clip promoting a travel group called “Haggis Adventures”. Immediately I wanted to go on the trip – it was hip, young and quite exciting. Not only that but it was a trip through the remote Highlands of Scotland, an area that I desperately wanted to visit.
A month or so ago Michelle and I booked out trip – planning to take a train up and an overnight coach back while spending Thursday exploring Edinburgh and the weekend with Haggis Adventures. The trip is 3 days through Scotland – it begins in Edinburgh and goes as far as the Isle of Skye.
Thursday morning was quite disastrous. For some reason I’d gotten it into my thick head that our train left London at 8.30, when in actuality it left at 8. After some mishaps with my packing I arrived at King’s Cross station in London at 8.05 only to discover that my train wasn’t on the board of departures. I cross checked against the tickets and kicked myself for the rest of the morning. Michelle and I attempted to get on another train, but for £100 it simply wasn’t worth the effort. We crossed town to Victoria Coach Station in hopes of finding a cheaper alternative to the £100 train fair we’d run away from.
We lucked out and were on a bus within 10 minutes of arriving at the station – for a significantly lower price than the train was! We ended up paying something like £16 to get up to Edinburgh at last minute.. the only problem was we also got in about 5.5 hours later than we would’ve by train. Never the less I always make the best out of a bad situation and I managed to plow through 3 books on the way up to Scotland!
We arrived and called my cousin Elizabeth, who was gracious enough to let us sleep in her guest room for Thursday night, to double check her address. As it turned out she was literally next door to the coach station shopping at Harvey Nichols! The timing was perfect! We went home with her and her eldest daughter Athena for a quick carried through the city. At Elizabeth’s we were treated like royalty and I have to say that she is quite the amazing hostess. After a lovely dinner of Indian take out we joined Athena in watching the beginning of the “My Little Pony” movie I’d brought for her and the rest of her siblings (my favorite movie from my childhood).
The next morning Elizabeth kindly drove us to the Haggis Adventures office on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. We wished her goodbye, thanked her time and time again for being such a wonderful hostess, and then joined the rest of the people waiting to check in for our bus.
I, somehow, managed to snag likely one of the best seats on the bus. I grabbed the seats in the emergency row exit and they had the most legroom on the entire bus (like I need the legroom, I know, but it was really welcomed). The trip started out great and I immediately loved our tour guide, Nic. She was completely off the walls, fun, witty and it was clear from the get go she was out to have a good time. So was the rest of the bus.
We started with a short ride through the lowlands to Sterling. We got a brief history of the true battle of William Wallace and were warned about what was historically wrong in the movie “Braveheart”. We climbed up to the base of the William Wallace monument, located on Abbey Craig from where he executed a “highland charge” against the British troops. The views of Sterling from the top were phenomenal and this monument was definitely something to see. It was a great testament to someone who truly meant a lot to the history of Scotland.
From the Wallace Monument and Sterling we traveled through the country side of the lowlands and made a stop to visit the very famous rock-star of Scotland – Hamish. Hamish is a Hairy Coo – which is a form of highland cattle with shaggy pelts and long horns. He was a very sweet guy and seemed to love the attention. I even caught him posing for some of the pictures!
We made a stop to pick up lunch and another to eat it. We stopped by in a small town called “Calendar” in the lowlands just before lunch. As we entered this little town we were told that Calendar had the highest average age in any Scottish city and people would be hard pressed to find anyone under the age of 50. Our guide, Nic, jokingly told us that kidnapping one of the elderly citizens of the town would earn the kidnappers a significant amount of points – earlier that day we’d been introduced to two games to continually play.
The first of these games was a points game – you got points for doing various things including drinking whiskey the proper Scottish way, drinking a popular Scottish soft drink Irn-Bru as well as any other number of Scottish activities. The other game was the tractor game which became a fun highlight of the trip (and a continuous yell throughout the bus was “tractor!” for the whole weekend). Anyways.. one of the couples on the bus, James and Robin, managed to kidnap one of the elderly citizens of Calendar and brought her to the bus!
We bought our lunch in Calendar but ate it in Killin. We had our lunch by a rushing river and enjoyed the company of several new friends we’d met on the bus. As I was photographing the bridge and the river I noticed a little sign about a burial ground. I thought it was an interesting sign and I chose to take a picture of it. As I did so I noticed something – it was the burial ground for the Clan MacNab, which happens to be my clan. I wish we’d had more time to spend in Killin because the sign suggested picking up a set of keys to visit the burial grounds with, instead I had to satisfy myself with simply photographing the sign.
We made our way deeper into the Highlands and stopped off at Glencoe for a little ‘wee walk’ and a chance to soak up the atmosphere. We were told the story of Glencoe and the betrayal of the MacDonalds by the Campbells on behalf of the British government. The glen itself was something to behold. Where we stopped for our walk was situated in the valley between two amazing mountains dusted with low laying clouds. We left the bus to stretch our legs and go to appreciate the view from the road as well as the glen itself.
Onward we trekked through the Scottish countryside well into the Highlands that are known for their rugged and majestic beauty. It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before! Maybe I could compare it to like.. the White Mountains of New Hampshire.. on steroids and with a darker and deeper natural beauty than the Old Man in the Mountain could ever conceive of possessing.
Originally for the trip I’d brought along 6 books, knowing how quickly I read and knowing how much time I would end up sitting on a bus. I flew through 3 of those books on the bus ride from London to Edinburgh and then proceeded to only read a half of a book over the next 3 days. Why? I was too busy staring at the countryside or being goofy on the bus with the rest of the group. I also took about 600 pictures (unedited, so including some pretty horrible shots of fuzz or window glare) and a lot of those were taken from the moving bus.
From Glencoe we passed through Glenshields and several other little towns while we made our way to Fort William, near which we would spend the night.
Along the way we managed to make a short stop at the Spean Bridge Mill where Nic purchased the group some whiskey and we were able to spend a few minutes stretching our legs amongst the shops. It was really rather lovely and just kind of quaint. Plus by this time I needed to walk or else I was going to go mad with being so antsy from sitting in a bus for that long. We took the whiskey that Nic bought for the group and made our way to a Commando Memorial where we made a toast to the Scottish commandos and a toast to the beauty of the Highlands. I can honestly say that I will never want to try whiskey again – it’s not for me, I promise you that!
We finally arrived at our destination – Fort Augustus. Here is where we’d be spending the night but first we were going to attend a quick demonstration on the ways of Highland life ‘back in the day’. We made our way to a tourist center and that’s where we met Ken. He ushered us into a room that was something like 7meters wide by 5meters long. A tiny little room, to be fair, and this was the type of home that the Highlanders would live in. We were given a lot of information on the Highland way of life but I think the most memorable was watching Ken dress up a man and a woman in the traditional Highland dress. We also got a quick demonstration on the Highland weapons (which were totally brutal).
Following our Highland demonstration we trekked a short distance up to the hostel where we would spend the next two nights. Morag’s Lodge was nothing like what I would’ve expected from a hostel – it had a beautiful reception area, it’s own bar, a lovely dining hall and all kinds of amenities. I shared a room with 5 other girls but at least we had our own bathroom.
At dinner that night Michelle and I made new friends with two guys from Buffalo, New York and sat down with them to eat and then again later to listen to the live music by Davy Holt – a Scottish folk singer. He was really something to listen to. We played a few hands of cards and eventually were joined by the second tour group who was running in tandem with us. I made several new friends in this group and ended up spending the rest of the night with Sara and Travis. And the rest of the night included a dip into Loch Ness and lying on the shores of the Loch to stare up at the sky. That was one heck of a magical night.
Day 1 Picture Highlights:
After a pretty decent night’s sleep Day 2 started with a quick breakfast and we were on the road by 8.30. And somehow, within those first few minutes, our coach was stolen by the driver of the tandem coach. So for a good 15 minutes we were stuck with Tony (instead of our beloved Pete). We eventually got Pete back and continued down the road on our way to Skye.
The drive up to Skye was beautiful and we got a quick stop for a photo opportunity at Eilean Donan Castle, one of the most photographed castles in Scotland, and probably my favorite that I’ve had the pleasure of seeing in person. It was really a site to see, situated just off the shore in a Loch.
From Eilean Donan we went straight to Skye and got to travel along the coast for a little while we approached their new bridge (which is supposed to be two seagulls flying wing by wing but I didn’t really see much of that influence in the design). We were regaled with tales of Saucy Mary and then we crossed over into Skye and made an hour’s lunch stop over in Portree, the major city in Skye. I really fell in love with Portree, it was a small little town, and just truly lovely. We did a little shopping, Michelle and I, and then we grabbed lunch at an adorable little cafe overlooking the port. The city was just quaint and old fashioned and I was rather disappointed when we had to leave.
We then spent the afternoon exploring Skye and getting to enjoy the beauty of it. Our first stop for the magical afternoon was at the major city on Skye called Portree. We stopped here for a bit of a rest and for a lunch period. Michelle and I explored the city and found the quaintest little place for lunch (and easily the best bacon sandwich I’ve had in the UK). It overlooked the port and had some delightful views.
We were told stories of faeries and magical wishes and we were even introduced to a magical stream of youth – in which I did dip my face into it for a good 7 seconds. The story was about a daughter of one clan and the son of another being pledged to each other in marriage. When the girl suddenly lost her beauty after a riding accident he refused to marry her and it threw the clans back into battle. Her beauty was restored after dipping her face into the river for 7 seconds but the damage had already been done. I have to say that I loved this part because it was refreshing!
Following that we were brought to a small waterfall on Skye which we climbed. At the top we filled water bottles straight from the stream and it was really wonderful tasting pure water. There was a fun tradition of if you could make it back down the hill with a full mouth of water and touch the bus you were able to make a wish that would come true. I tried it.. and after a very muddy attempt I certainly made it down the hill, to the bus, with the water and made my wish. Lucky for me the hostel we were staying at took in laundry or else I would’ve had no clean trousers to wear on the third day! We also visited the “Kilt Cliffs” along the rugged coast.
And went up Quairang which was rather difficult to do in a bus (major kudos to our amazing driver, Pete!) from which there were spectacular views of Skye! That was really a highlight of the tour for me and I was so giddy that I even did a few cartwheels.
We traveled back down through Skye, through Portree and back along to Eilean Donan again. This time we had another angle to take pictures from, a little closer, and a chance to stop off at the gift store there. We got a group photo of everyone as well (which was promised to be emailed to me by our guide Nic!). Finally we made one last stop to view a beautiful Loch in the shape of Scotland herself and then ended the evening back at our hostel on Loch Ness.
This night was quite more subdued for me.. between Friday and Saturday I had completely covered my two pairs of pants in mud. Lucky for me the hostel did laundry and I lounged in my PJ pants while I played card games with a group of people and watched the England/France rugby game later. It was a quiet evening for me but after a swim in the Loch Ness I knew nothing I did the second night could top the first.
Day 2 Picture Highlights:
Sunday morning we traveled along Loch Ness and were off for a Nessie hunt. Nic was convinced she knew the exact way to get Nessie to show her pretty little head and we all gathered by the shore of Loch Ness to watch her crazy routine. To be honest.. despite not getting to meet Nessie during my midnight swim on Friday night I am still a believer.
There were several points that Nic made that would suggest that there is something rather large living in the Loch. I won’t go through all the points she made but I do believe in Nessie! We went down to the water’s edge somewhere along Loch Ness and joined Nic in trying to lure Nessie out of the water in a bit of a goofy dance (I’ve posted the video on Facebook for those interested in viewing it).
From Loch Ness we traveled through Inverness and had a really stunning view of the countryside. Sunday was the day where we really got the full power of Scottish weather as we were assaulted with rain, sunshine and clouds with a very unpredictable weather pattern. It felt Scottish so no one complained.
Unfortunately all the rain made it nearly impossible to take pictures during the morning of the countryside from the bus!
In a trip that is all about Scottish history it makes sense that we stop and visit Culloden. In 1746 the Jacobites fought against the British at the Battle of Culloden and lost. It was one of the greatest losses in Scottish history and was the end to the Stuart claim on the throne.
We visited Clava Cairn, which was an old ritual site of some kind built during the Bronze age and is one of the oldest ruins in Scotland. It was really an interesting place with mounts of rock (no mortar or anything) standing in three large circles in a field. Nic headed a little simulated ceremony within the Cairn to celebrate Adelle’s birthday. We danced around like fools (and it was fun!) and eventually it ended with a bit of a surprise (I’m working to get the video online because it’s so much more fun to watch than to tell).
We stopped for lunch at a pub in a small village with a quick game of ultimate frisbee before we were once again on the road, this time celebrating Adelle’s birthday wit ha raucous round of ‘Happy Birthday’ and a little bit of cake to split amongst the bus. Ok.. a lot of cake to split amongst the bus.
Our final stop of the trip was in Dunkeld as we visited an old Abbey with a dark past and the River Tay. It was a lovely little stop with a whole bunch of sheep, a quiet Sunday afternoon in a small Scottish town, and the dark tale of the abbey’s past. IT was in ruins after being burned several times in his history.
And finally it came time to say goodbye. We had a great trip and in the end it was well worth it. I would recommend Haggis Tours to anyone looking for a wild and fun time. I think it was simply a blast, a well organized, well planned and well executed trip.