Where it all began
Mum and I took a whirlwind tour of Scotland in August 2012. We had 3 weeks and were determined to experience as much of the country as we could, in terms of history, culture, food and scenery. The original incentive for the trip to Scotland was the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, which we had secured tickets for after watching it on TV for many years. We also had several other “must-sees” including the Falkirk Wheel (for me) and Bell Rock Lighthouse (for mum). We planned the entire trip ourselves, hired a car and pre-booked most of our accommodation but still managed to leave ourselves a bit of flexibility about what we did when.
Here is a short summary of our trip (as short as I could get it!). I haven’t explained what anything is (you can google them all) or told you how amazing everything is because it simply would’ve got too long!
Day 0: We arrived in Glasgow at 8pm after a Perth-Dubai-Glasgow flight with Emirates (about 20hrs) and checked into the Pipers Tryst Hotel (part of the National Piping Centre).
Day 1: I took a long walk up the Clyde and back past the Summer Gardens, then we took the Hop-on-Hop-off bus tour stopping to walk around the whole Botanic Gardens (and met an old Belgian Shepherd), try the Ubiquitous Chip for lunch (yum), wander around Glasgow Uni and spend several hours in Kelvingrove Museum (which is an amazing place and you need at least a full day to make the most of it. Our Scottish cuisine included smoked haddock and Tennants Lager . We also saw the Lighthouse in the middle of Glasgow and found a real life TARDIS, . . I mean Police Call Box!
Day 2: I went rowing in the morning on the Clyde (out of the Clydesdale Amateur Rowing Club). While I was there Mum took the bus out to see Clydebuilt, the shipyard museum but unfortunately it was closed. We went to the Willow Tearooms on Sauchiehall Street (high tea in a building designed by John Rennie Macintosh) then were back on the Hop-on-Hop-off Bus to see some more of the city: the Cathedral, the Necropolis and Mungo’s Museum of Religion then we headed to the Pig and Butterfly pub for dinner. Local cuisine today included Cullen skink and black pudding.
Day 3: We took the tour of the Piping Museum (unfortunately didn’t get to see a demonstration), went to the Royal Highland Fusiliers museum, the Tenement House, did some shopping and headed to the other Willow Tea Rooms in Buchanan St (there are two).
Day 4: I ran to the Fossil Grove in the morning but unfortunately it was closed. We picked up our hire car, checked out of the Pipers’ Tryst, and headed back to the Fossil Grove to check it out. We then drove north along Loch Lomond (stoppingat Luss for a look and some icecream), along some crazy narrow windy roads and dropped in at Cruachan, the Hollow Mountain (a hydroelectric power plant built inside the mountain). We didn’t have time for a tour today so got some info and headed back on our way. Through Inverary (a very white village) to Kilmartin Glen, an ancient fort (Dunadd Fort) and some standing stones, circles and cairns (Templewood) for some walking and photos. We then drove up to Ellenabiech, on the Isle of Seil,where we checked into our B&B (Garragh Mhor) then had a rushed dinner of cheese and onion sandwiches because we were booked into a Corrywreckan whirlpool tour with Seafari that evening. There was lots of driving today, but also lots of wildlife including a hedgehog and some deer on our walks, plus porpoises, buzzards, kittiwakes, black backed gulls, common gulls and cormorants on the whirlpool tour.
Day 5: After a stunning breakfast at Garragh Mhor we drove off the Isle of Seil over the “Bridge Over the Atlantic” and up to Oban where we stopped for some treats at the Oban Chocolate Factory. We continued NW towards Fort William, stopping for a tour of the Cruachan Power Station, a walk around the Sea Life Sanctuary then a long stop at the Glen Coe visitors centre (and a visit to Glencoe village to see the Macdonald Monument). We didn’t have time to do any serious walking but did take a detour down the A82, saw Ossian’s cave (from a distance) and walked up most of the Devils Staircase (part of the West Highland Way). This is where I first saw Buachaille Etive Mor, which I want to walk up on my next trip. We headed back to Loch Lihnne and up to Fort William, to our B&B, Taransay.
Day 6: Today was mountain climbing day. We set aside the entire day for Ben Nevis. Mum only went ¾ of the way up, but I made up for it by going up 1 and ¼ times! Because I kept going up, and she came down first, we ended up missing each other. Because I’d taken a wrong turn on the way down I headed back up the normal path to try to find her. It turns out she’d also taken the same wrong turn and we’d missed each other by walking along different sides of the stream! Luckily I decided to turn back after I hadn’t found her by ¼ of the way up!
Day 7: We started the morning with the first bit of rain we’d had for the whole trip. A light drizzle which didn’t deter us from exploring Neptunes Staircase, the series of locks (not lochs) at the start of the Caledonian Canal which stretches from Fort William to Inverness. We drove up the Great Glen, stopping at Spean Bridge for some tartan and soap shopping and my first whisky tasting, the Bridge of Oich, Fort Augustus (more locks, a glass blowing gallery and a traditionally dressed piper) and spending a few hours at Urquhart Castle (on Loch Ness). We got to Inverness and went straight through to the Culloden museum and battlefield. We only had an hour until closing so rushed through the museum, absorbing as much as we could then took a much slower walk around the Battlefield. Back to Inverness to our B&B, St Ann’s House, and to the Waterfront Hotel for dinner. I ordered my first whisky (a Balvenie?).
Day 8: I went for a jog up the River Ness thismorning (and to see the final locks at this end of the Caledonian Canal) then we visited the Highland House of Fraser kiltmaker visitors centre to learn all about kilt making and wandered around the Victoria Markets. We drove north to Rosemarkie to learn all about Pictish stones at Groam house, then went back through Inverness south to the Cairngorms. We took the funicular railway to the top of Cairn Gorm and visited the Morlich Reindeer Farm, even going up the hill to feed the reindeer in the “wild”. We headed to a fancy restaurant back in Inverness that night, the Mustard Seed (yum), and I tried a different whisky (Dalmore).
Day 9: Today was a long driving day – all the way from Inverness to Uig on Skye, via the A835 almost to Ullapool (Braemore Junction) then back down the coast. Unfortunately something had disagreed with me the night before so I was feeling pretty awful. Still, it was a stunning drive and we still managed to stop off at a lot of places on the way including the Falls Of Measach (our first encounter with midgies), Inverewe Gardens and Eilean Donan Castle. We did the northern half of the coastal drive we were planning to do but skipped inland for the southern half as I just wasn’t feeling up to any more windy single lane roads. The scenery was stunning though and we stopped quite a few times to take photos or just give me (the driver) a better chance to enjoy the view. We drove across the Skye bridge, past the red Cuillin hills, past Portree and arrived quite late at our B&B in Uig, Woodbine Guest House.
Day 10: Feeling better today and after a hearty breakfast we headed off for an anticlockwise tour of northern Skye. Our first stop was very close to Uig to explore the Fairy Glen. Then on to Edinbane Pottery, where I bought a beautiful new crockery set (which they later made up to my request, combining the shapes and colours I wanted) and mum bought a big serving tray. Luckily they could mail it back to Perth as it would’ve been too heavy (and fragile) to carry around with us! Next stop was Shilasdair Yarns, near Ardmore Point, to learn about local natural fleeces and dying, plus a stop off at the nearby Skye Skins Tannery were it was very hard not to buy more stuff! Continuing around the island we stopped for a tour at Dunvegan Castle and then headed back around to Portree where the annual Highland Games were in full swing at “the Lump”. We saw some pretty impress “heavy events” (including caber tossing) as well as highland dancing, the track and field events (including our hostess, who came 3rd in the hill run!) and the all important Tug-o-War. With the games wrapping up we continued on our anticlockwise tour. Up to Old Man Storr (I walked part way up), a look at Kilt Rock, a stop at Flora Macdonald’s Grave and a look into an iron age round house / cellar (“souterrain”).
Day 11: We had a reasonably early departure on the ferry (Calmac Ferries) to go to Tarbet on the Isle of Harris. We stopped briefly at a photography gallery then drove north up the Isle of Lewis. We drove all the way to the top (Port Niss and the Lighthouse at the Butt of Lewis) before working our way down the western coast. On the way back down we explored Stengeleit Cairn and stone circle, the Arnol Blackhouse, an ancient Norse Mill, Dun Carloway Broch and the Callanish Standing Stones (I, II and III). We stopped for coffee and cake at an amazing art gallery, seemingly in the middle of nowhere (near Shawbost?) and also managed to see an huge whale jawbone (complete with harpoon) adorning one of the towns. We stayed that night at Eshcol Guest House in Breasclete, near the Callanish Stones.
Day 12: Was an early start to drive to Stornaway to catch the ferry (Calmac again) at 1pm. We wandered around town, visited the quite unique Harris Loom Centreand explored the fascinating Museum of Island Life before catching the ferry to Ullapool. From here it was a long drive up the north west coast through some stunning and every changing scenery. This is when I first saw (and photographed) Quinag, which has led to an irrepressible desire to climb it! We also stopped at Ardvreck Castle and many other photo points (including the beautiful Kylesku bridge). Tonight was the first night we hadn’t booked anywhere to stay and at 8:30pm we still hadn’t found any. Luckily the Smoo Cave Hotel had one room left, plus a lovely barman who helped introduce me to a few more whiskies (14 in total!) as well as the distinctly Scottish beverage Irn Bru.
Day 13: We had been hoping to visit the Cape today, but I wasn’t up early in the morning (nor feeling well enough) to manage that. I did drag myself on the walk with mum to visit Smoo Cave (no photos though as I realised I’d left the camera in the car and wasn’t willing to walk the 500m back to get it!). We headed off west across the coast stopping near Strathnaver to see a broch, longcairn and black village clearance site (well, mum went and saw it, I slept in the car), Betty Hill and the Farr stone (again, mum explored, I sat in the cafe and had a cheese sandwich!) and all the way to the lighthouse at Dunnet Head. Then to our B&B at Bencorragh House (partly booked because they have Irish Setters), with a lovely dinner at the Northern Sands Hotel.
Day 14: Another ferry trip thismorning from Gills Bay to St Margarets Hope on the Orkney Islands. This was a much smaller ferry (Pentland Ferries) and for the first time we could actually see the car . . . and hear the alarm going off everytime it rocked in the waves. We also got to see some seals. Our task for today in the Orkneys was to get from St Margarets Hope to Kirkwall. Luckily that was all we had planned as there was so much to see on the way. We started off heading south to see a Bronze Age house and the Tomb of the Eagles, then headed back up north, stopping at the Aquarium of Sea Life, the Italian Chapel (and Churchill Barriers), Gloup Cave (with a short coastal walk as well) and the Broch of Deerness. In Kirkwall, we checked into our B&B (Karrawa Guest House) and headed out again. We explored Magnus’ Cathedral and had an impressive dinner at the Kirkwall Hotel (including Monkfish, Boozy Raspberries and Orkney Fudge Cheesecake).
Day 15: I went for a jog around town (and around the Peedie Sea) then out of the B&B and off to the Kirkwall Museum to kill time waiting for the Highland Park distillery to open up for a tour and tasting! Then out on our tour of the island – first stop was purely by chance at the Ness of Brodgar where we saw an archeological dig in progress. On to Skara Brae, the Brough of Birsay, Earls Palace at Birsay, the Stones of Stenness (and Watchstone), to Stromness for a quick walk around town and dinner at the pub, then back to Maes Howe for a sunset tour. We then drove back to Kirkwall for a 11:45pm departure on a Northlink Ferry. We had a bit of a sleep in the car while waiting, then got an awful shock when they started calling us onto the ferry!
Day 16: We arrived in Aberdeen at 7am after a reasonably restful (and not too rough) sleep in our cabin on the ferry. It was dreary and raining and we headed straight out of town as I was scared of peak hour traffic. After some arguments about where we were going (with a stop at somewhere like Newtonhill to sort it out) we headed down the A90, turning off in Brechin to go and see the Aberlemno Stones. From there, on to Forfar where we had Bridies for lunch. Next stop Arbroath, the home of Arbroath Smokies (which we’d had earlier in the trip which was lucky because we’d already had lunch). We spent a long time in the Bell Rock Lighthouse museum, but sadly for mum, couldn’t see the lighthouse itself as it was too misty. We did take a photo of where it would’ve been so she has since photoshopped a picture of it in! From there we headed to Dundee just to cross the Tay Bridge then along the south side of the Firth of Tay up to Perth and the Scone Palace. After wandering around the Palace and grounds for quite a while (including tea and scones) we continued north up the A93 then across to Pitlochry. This was another night with no pre-booked accommodation but how could we go past Annslea Bed and Breakfast? (mum’s name is Ann). We went for a walk and saw fish ladder at the dam, then had a lovely local dinner at a pub in town.
Day 17: Our first stop today was Killiecrankie to see the Soldier’s Leap. Then off east to the Highland Chocolatier in Grandtully (near Aberfeldy) then to the Crannog centre on Loch Tay where we learnt to make fire and turn wood with ancient tools. We drove across the northern edge of Loch Tay, coming with 15km of where we’d driven on Day 4 then turned south and meandered back to Falkirk, via Callander but skirting around Stirling. We were on a bit of a timetable as we had to be in Edinburgh in time for the Tattoo tonight and still had to see the Falkirk Wheel. We arrived at the Wheel and booked in for the next available tour (up the Wheel, along the Union Canal for a bit, then back down again). While we were waiting we went for a walk up to and along a short section of the Antonine Wall. We left Falkirk at about 3pm. . . surely enough time to get to Edinburgh, find our hotel, drop the car off and have some dinner before the Tattoo at 9pm. Yes, barely!! A combination of the worst traffic we’d seen all trip, a deficiency in maps (moving from our “entirety of Scotland” map to our detailed “centre of Edinburgh only” map there was a large area we needed more detail than we had!) and a series of roadworks and roadblocks (including digging up entire streets in the centre to remove/repair tramlines and blocking entire streets for the festival) meant that we arrived at our hotel at about 7pm (including over an hour spent driving around the same square kilometre), spent another hour trying to drop the car off then barely had time to cram down a sandwich before heading to the Tattoo. The Tattoo was brilliant, despite the rain which at least stayed at a drizzle.
Day 18: I went for a walk down to the rowing clubs in the morning then we visited the Castle and saw the Scone Stone (the real one?) and the 1 o’clock gun (definitely need a whole day there). I also went for a row in the evening at St Andrews Boat Club on the Union Canal (so now I’ve been on both ends!)
Day 19: This morning we started with a wander up the Royal Mile (including some shopping) then visited the Childrens Museum and Museum of Edinburgh. Mum and I parted ways – she toured the city on the Hop-on-Hop-off bus while I went for a walk up to Holyrood and Arthurs Seat, then back to the city to see the Scott Monument, Greyfriars Bobby, and some of the festival.
Day 20: We took a trip out to Roslyn Chapel today and also had some more wandering around Edinburgh and the festival.
Day 21: Today was our departure day. We caught the train at mid-morning to get to southern England for the rest of our trip and we’ve been longing to go back ever since!