Saturday, February 13, 2016

Adventures in Scotland: A Day in the Highlands

Samschdeg, 13 Februar.

On Saturday, we opted to do the most touristy thing imaginable and take a guided bus tour of the Scottish Highlands. Our tour from Scottish Tours took us through the Rannoch Moor, Glen Coe, Loch Ness, and Cairngorm National Park before returning to Edinburgh.

We got up early on Saturday morning and boarded a bus with about 10-15 other tourists. As we hurdled down the cobblestone street on our way out of the city, our guide -- a kilt-wearing retiree named Kenny who occasionally donned a fuzzy Heilan coo hat -- informed us that we were embarking upon one of the longest and most ambitious one-day bus tours in Europe. The monster trip would last twelve hours and take us along several hundred kilometers of narrow, twisting Scottish roads. (Good thing I don't ever get carsick ... oh wait.) But just as I was beginning to feel a little green, we emerged from bustling Edinburgh onto a stretch of wide, flat, and blissfully straight highway.

We drove by The Kelpies, the largest pair of horse statues in the world, but were hurdling past too quickly to take a good photo. As we made our way up and into the Highlands, we also caught a glimpse of Doune Castle (where they filmed Monty Python and the Holy Grail as well as episodes for the series Outlander) and the famous Stirling Castle (where the coronation of Mary, Queen of Scots, was held).

We then drove through Rannoch Moor, or Raithneach in Scots, where we caught our first glimpse of the amazing Scottish Highlands. The snow-covered mountains were a shock, after coming from the green and relatively warm south, but our tour guide informed us that the moor had been entirely covered in snow just one week before!

We made our first stop in Glen Coe. This glen, or valley, is often nicknamed 'the valley of the weeping' after the tear-like streams that flow down its hills. Of course, the valley has some pretty tragic connotations of its own. It was in Glen Coe in 1692 that members of Clan MacDonald were slaughtered by members of Clan Campbell, who were under orders to kill the family for having not sworn allegiance to the newly-crowned British monarchs (who were -- duh duh duh -- William and Mary). To make matters worse, the Campbells had been guests of the MacDonalds; the crime therefore constituted a violation of hospitality and was considered "murder under trust."

Despite this rather gloomy piece of Scottish history, it was impossible not to be happy as we caught a glimpse of Glen Coe. The hills, the winding trails, the snowcapped mountains -- it was just so much prettiness!


Rachel, our bus, and our fearless kilt-wearing leader.

Our next stop was the Commando Memorial, located just north of the town of Fort William. Erected in 1952, this memorial was originally dedicated to the British Commando Forces of World War II. These elite soldiers trained in the harsh conditions of the Scottish Highlands. Today, however, the memorial has come to commemorate the sacrifices of soldiers in several different conflicts and has become one of Scotland's most popular memorials.


We made an impromptu stop in Fort Augustus, located on the southwest end of Loch Ness. First named Kiliwhimin, this settlement was renamed and turned in a military installment after the Jacobite Rising of 1715. Today, it is a small town that relies primarily on tourism to survive.

The Caledonian Canal, which connects the east coast to the west coast.

I'm not really sure what I thought Loch Ness was ... but this is not what I was expecting. It is the largest lake in the British Isles (with a surface area of over twenty square miles), containing more fresh water than all the lakes in England and Wales combined.

In other words, IT. IS. SO. BIG.

Taking a panorama of the Loch ... when in Rome, you know?

After a brief stop in Fort Augustus, we hopped back on the bus and continued along the western edge of Loch Ness, passing the ruins of Urquahart Castle before continuing on to our pit stop. Rather than cruise the loch, Rachel and I opted to explore the nearby hiking trails.

Although the path was a little slippery at times, the view of the loch was incredible! We kept a close eye on the water, but sadly did not catch a glimpse of its most famous inhabitant.


Loch Ness was our last main stop of the trip. We passed through Inverness, of which our tour guide was not a fan -- "It's a crappy city. It used to be a crappy town, and now it's a crappy city" -- and continued down along the coast, back to Edinburgh.

The sun began to set as we drove through the Eastern Highlands, whose snow-capped mountains seemed to call out: "You've only been on a bus for ten hours! Don't you want to visit us too?!" Unfortunately, it was time to leave the Highlands and return to reality. As our bus driver recounted stories of ancient battles and long-dead monarchs, we snacked on Tesco-brand cookies, stared off into the increasingly dark horizon, and -- I'll admit it -- occasionally dozed off. (Remember, it had been 10+ hours.)


  1. Incredible scenery! Did you think Inverness was crappy too? Haha!

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  3. Em hello, this is Rachel. I JUST discovered this. (It's important to note that it is 1am here, and I 100% should be finishing a paper) But all the wasted time is worth this lovely trip down memory lane! <3 Miss ya lots!