1st – 3rd June 2013
I really wanted to visit at least one of the islands off Scotland and had been toying with the idea of heading up to Inverness and trying to catch a tour to the Orkney Isles. Then one day when it was raining in Glasgow I popped into St Enoch shopping centre in the city and found myself face to face with a Flight Centre shop. Fate – or so I told myself! I walked out having booked a 3 day bus tour to the highlands and Isle of Skye, finishing in Edinburgh – killed three birds with the one stone.
Another couple of sad goodbyes, this time to my wonderful studio at the Embassy Apartments and to Glasgow in general, a last subway ride and some nervous time waiting in George Square for the bus to arrive. I didn’t realize it but the tour actually started in Edinburgh, so the bus was almost full when myself and two others boarded in Glasgow. A 29 seater bus with one spare seat – VERY squeezy!!
First stop was at a place called Luss on the banks of Loch Lomond – typical budget bus tour, stop, everyone pile out, take photos, jump back on the bus. Except, one guy thought the rules didn’t apply to him and he rocked up 5 minutes late. Well, the bus driver told him in no uncertain manner that if he was late again the bus would not wait for him!
The scenery was pretty gorgeous and Loch Lomond itself was beautiful. Before we got there the driver played a hauntingly sad version of the song The Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond. He explained the high and low roads in the song are about one person still living and the other one having died. Of course I was holding back tears, I always cry at sad songs and movies.
Obviously the first day was all about getting to the Isle of Skye, our lunch stop was at Fort William, but right on the edge of the town with no time to explore, then it was off again for more driving. I must admit, the driver, Gary, did his best to keep us entertained, he’s a born story teller and played some great Celtic music. He had a terrible day really, bike riders in a road race kept holding him up, the roads are not wide enough for two vehicles as well as bikes, so we were stop, start, three parts of the day – he was getting pretty irate about them at times, but nothing you can do is there.
We drove through some incredible country, stopped for photos of Britain’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis and I think a few other places – it all became a bit of a blur. There were lots of high foggy mountains with snow still clinging in places. I do know we stopped for a look through Eilean Donan Castle, it was pretty cool, and has even starred in a couple of movies, Highlander and Maid of Honour. The Isle of Skye isn’t far off the mainland, there’s a bridge connecting the two, but seems very far removed from Glasgow. We stayed in a little village by the name of Portree, my B&B room was great and the hostess was lovely.
Next day we drove all over the island, but spent way more time off the bus than the first day, so that was great. Quiraing felt like we were on top of the world, absolutely amazing countryside and views. The remains of diatomite works (for making dynamite) near Loch Cuithir were eerie in the dark overcast weather. A waterfall, just metres from the viewing platform, flowing over the cliffs into the sea was amazing. A walk to what seemed like the edge of the world to see ruins of a castle and the scenery around it was great fun. A visit to a fairy grove, hidden away in the wilds was awesome – everything was in miniature, so very cute. Neist Point Lighthouse was a non event for some of us, it was such a steep descent to just take a photo of the lighthouse from quite a distance that quite a few of us cooled our heels near the bus trying to keep warm, but it was a good opportunity to chat. Dun Beag, the remains of a broch, a type of Scottish roundhouse, was awesome – anything built some 2,000 years ago is always interesting to me. Hunting for hairy coooos was hilarious, every time someone saw a cow we were all trying to crane our necks to see if they were the special hairy ones – we didn’t see any all day, lots of false alarms though.
I was next to the window in the back seat and had a Canadian couple next to me who didn’t sleep the day away like most of the young ones had done the day before. I had a great time hearing about their travels, I can’t get enough of other people’s travel stories. They are currently in Saudi Arabia for three years and before that they lived in Iceland for two years, what a huge change!! So, a much more active day and a truly wonderful look at the island. Pizza and a red wine for dinner at a hotel in the square before toddling off up the hill to my room was a perfect end to the day.
Our last morning I shared seats with the Canadian lady; they were in the back seat again, and as I had a seat on my own, she asked if she could share with me because her hubby was so squashed. Then after lunch they just took the front seat for themselves – their reasoning was because the young ones who were sitting there kept sleeping!!
We had a really interesting tour around Talisker Distillery, and even though I’m not a whiskey drinker I though it was pretty nice. The sites of the famous MacDonald Clan uprising at Glencoe and the Glenshiel Uprising at Glenshiel were more great stops with Gary setting the scenes incredibly well beforehand. Once again, to remember it all you need a tape recorder going the whole time, just information overload for me, but great to see and hear. Our lunch stop was at Fort Augustus, a cute little village on the banks of Loch Ness. There is a series of locks running through the town and a swinging bridge, interesting to see them operating while sitting on the bank of the canal eating my baguette. We made a few stops in the afternoon for photos and also at the Commando Memorial. It’s set in the area where the commandos trained for the Second World War, amidst some beautiful wild country. As well as the big statue, there’s a tremendously sad section where people have left plaques, photos and flowers for commandos lost in other wars; most recently the war in Afghanistan has added too many names to the total.
I don’t think you could fit much more in and still enjoy it, there’s an awful lot to see for such a small place; and it was great to get all the history and legends associated with the places we saw. So, I don’t think I’ll be rushing out early tomorrow, a slow start sounds like a plan.