I have had a thoroughly Scottish, and absolutely lovely day. The day began in darkness, waiting for the taxi to take me to George Square, Glasgow, where I waited for 15 minutes in icy cold for the minibus that would take us to the Highlands for the day. I grabbed some breakfast from the shop next to the pick-up point, and was thankful for my big black overcoat, scarf and hat that insulated me against the cold. I figured if I were cold here, imagine how cold it would be later in the day!
The bus turned up precisely on time, and I and 8 other tourists (1 Scottish woman, 5 Indians and 2 Australians other than me) piled in to the bus. While I was probably one of the last on board, I grabbed the front single seat so I would have a clear view to the front and side of the bus for the route – best seat IMHO. We travelled quickly through Glasgow, with our tour bus guide, Bruce, telling us about the history of Glasgow and the stories of the clans and their deeds. The skies were heavy with a true Scottish mist which revealed and then swallowed buildings trees and bridges. But as we travelled the mist began to rise and by the time we reached Loch Lomond, we could get a few photos and see the sun filtering through. We got back in to the bus and headed up the road to the stunning Glencoe, by which time the mists only hid the tallest peaks and the three sisters rose above us like a timeless judiciary. This is incredibly beautiful country, rugged and challenging, yet full of grandeur.
Then onwards and upwards, we travelled to Fort William in the shadow of the great mountain, Ben Nevis, and on to Spean Bridge for lunch. There I had Scotch broth (chicken and thick vegetable soup) and a cup of tea before browsing the tartans and having the tiniest spoonful of the local distillery’s product before tumbling back in to the bus and heading north. The skies were a deep blue, utterly cloudless, and the view from the bus with the sun shining on this green country was simply amazing.
We followed the pathway of Loch Lochy and Loch Oich to Glen Garry, past Fort Augustus, and finally had our first glimpses of the magnificent Loch Ness. Every time you looked there were post card images through every window. And through it all, our driver, Bruce regaled the tales of the MacDonalds and the Campbells, the McGregors and the Bruces, Rob Roy, Robert of Bruce and of course, William Wallace.
Finally we arrived at Urquhart Castle, where the ruins of the former Scottish stronghold remain, after the majority of the building was destroyed to prevent the Jacobites taking it over. After exploring the ruins, we caught a ferry up Loch Ness to Inverness. What a journey! Nessie is so deep, so cold and so black I can entirely imagine the tales that have been spun about her. As we journeyed up her glacial route, black waves spiralled off behind us like a long dark serpent, and in the distance, the sun shone brightly on her softly undulating surface. To enter entirely in to the Scottish spirit though, I was informed I had to try a nip of the local product, so with a thimblefull of single malt cupped in my hand, I watched the waters for the monster, but our ferryman told us that the sun was clearly keeping her away.
We landed at the Loch Ness ferry terminal and browsed the Nessie paraphernalia before climbing back on the bus and heading to Inverness and down to Pitlochry in Perthshire for dinner. I steeled myself and ordered Haggis with a Baked Potato, and enjoyed every bite. Basically a spicey mince meat, it was a fabulous and filling meal with the potato and salad. And Pitlochry is such a beautiful little town, full of guest houses and festivals. I’d love to stay there longer some day.
Then finally we headed back in to the bus as the light faded and the mists once again began to close in, but we managed to see Stirling Castle from a distance, lit brightly in the darkness. We arrived at George Square ahead of schedule at 8pm, whereupon I hopped on to the Underground for the quick trip to Hillhead in Glasgow’s West End.
And now, I’m enjoying a nice cup of tea and marvelling at the photographic record of my day. I’ve had the full Scottish experience: mists at dawn, tales all day, Scotch broth at lunch, exploration of the ruins of a twelfth century castle, a nip of whiskey while I marvelled at Nessie, and Haggis for dinner! There’s nothing like getting in to the spirit! But seriously, Scotland is simply a stunning country. And this Highlands tour is truly a wonderful experience; I’d highly recommend it to anyone coming to this part of the world.