Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Scotland Highlands

Heading north out of Edinburgh we crossed the Firth of Forth and headed east to St Andrews. St Andrews is, understandably, a golfing town, but it does have a lot of history associated with it. The remains of a huge cathedral are atop one of the cliffs. This cathedral would have been incredibly large and would have had a prime position in the town. We stop in the town for some lunch and a look at the golf course before setting off again.

As I mentioned we didn't have solid plans for this trip, so we were uncertain as to where we should head to setup our camping gear for the night. We drove west towards Stirling and a campground called Witches Craig. What a fantastic campground! It was nestled in the base of the Logie hills and had great facilities. The tent was up in no time at all and we headed into Stirling to find some dinner and have a look around. Finally we settled into a local pub called the Rob Roy for a few beers, mingling with the locals and a round of songs by the karaoke DJ. There was a good little Chinese shop next door and we took that back to our tent for our first camping dinner.


The next morning we awoke to a perfect, but a little windy, day. We left the campground and went to the Wallace monument which is located high on top of a hill. The monument is to Scottish icon William 'Braveheart' Wallace. It shows his rise from resistance fighter to resistance leader and famous battles with the English such as the Battle of Stirling Bridge and the Battle of Falkirk.

On the road again we headed west to Loch Lomond, the loch with the largest surface area. We first turn off at Dryman and stop at Balmaha to have lunch overlooking Lomond. The eastern side of the loch is less populated and much more quiet than the touristy southern and western edges. We head back out around the bottom and up the western side to Luss. Luss is a simple lakeside town, but it is a major stop for the tourist buses on their route up to the highlands.

Click on the photo to see more of central Scotland

We continue along the loch on a narrow windy road up to Crainlarich. Along the way there is a cute little waterfall just off the main road. As we head towards Glencoe we can definitely tell that we are entering the highlands. The mountains are steeper, the scenery is amazing and the number of cars and tourist busses has dramatically dropped. Just before Glencoe there are the Three Sisters mountains, of course not the Australian ones, but the Scottish ones. Our destination for the night is Fort William, which is one of the larger towns in the highlands. There is a campground just out of town in Glen Nevis. Glen Nevis is the valley that leads up to the base of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the country. It is a bit of a drizzly evening, but we setup the tent and head back into town for a pub dinner.


Today we wake up to a mildly overcast day. We get in the car and head north through Spean Bridge (I only mention this because I like the name!) up to Fort Augustus, which is at the southern tip of Loch Ness. Loch Ness is much like any loch, except that it is very deep and the largest loch by volume, which lends itself to the stories of monsters of the deep. The Loch Ness Monster 'Nessie', is (by all evidence presented to us by shops in the town) living in the loch. However, being somewhat shy, she usually just swims underwater, keeping her allure and mystery by breaking the surface only when a shakey, poorly-focused camera is pointed her way. Kelly and I have a look over the loch and take a few photos, but unfortunately, due to our superior photographic ability, we don't catch a glimpse of Nessie. Back on the road we go around to Invermoriston, which has a nice walk through a gorge that leads onto Loch Ness.

By lunch we reach Loch Duich, our main destination for the day. Loch Duich is a peaceful and scenic loch that leads out to the Isle of Skye and the ocean. Perched on a small rocky island in the north of the loch is Eilean Donan castle. It is well kept and apparently the most romantic castle in Scotland. It had a turbulant past, starting as a defensive castle against the vikings, then becoming a stronghold for the area, before being occupied by Spanish troops in 1719. The castle was recaptured that year but was demolished by Royal Navy frigates. It was restored in the early 1900s and has been in films such as Highlander and The World is not Enough.

We have lunch at the castle and look around inside. It is a very nice castle and it has wonderful views over the loch and on a clear day the Isle of Skye. Leaving the castle we drive along Loch Alsh and across the bridge to Isle of Skye. Unfortunately time is getting the better of us, so we can't sample much of the Isle of Skye but we had south to Ardvasar, where we can catch a ferry across to Mallaig on the mainland. While waiting in Ardvasar Kelly and I have an ice cream and watch a seal swim about just off shore.

Off the ferry at Mallaig we drive towards Glenfinnan. The road winds through gorgeous rainforest and weaves its way over and under the rail line. The West Highland Railway trip by steam train between Fort William and Mallaig is supposedly one of the most scenic - we see it by road however. One interesting point on the railway is at Glenfinnan. There is an arched viaduct that has 21 arches at a height of 30m and it has been made very famous by the Harry Potter movies, where it was filmed with the Hogwarts Express crossing over it.

Not too far down the road is Fort William, where we head back for a late dinner and our tent.


Today we need to make the drive back down to Edinburgh. If we had had more time in the highlands we would really like to have climbed Ben Nevis. But there was no way that we were equipped for a 5 hour hike in dense fog. Instead we walked up Glen Nevis, which is a peaceful valley and creek near the campground we stayed in. It was a really nice walk.

All to soon it was time to hit the road. We took a slightly different route back to Edinburgh, via Doune. One thing that Doune has is the castle used in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. We stopped and had a look at the castle. From there it was straight through to Edinburgh via Stirling.

Back in Edinburgh we had a look at the castle before heading out for our flight. Read about Edinburgh.

Click on the photo to see more of highland Scotland

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