Before we came to Scotland this year we’d decided to go on day trips using trains and/or buses to cut down on the driving (remember – “because this is Scotland, the car was a 5-speed manual transmission – and you drive on the left side. The roundabouts go around to the left.”)
Last night I’d looked online to see what was available and came up with today’s 12-hour tour from Rabbie’s (which my spellcheck always tries to make as rabies):
You leave the cobbled streets of Edinburgh and travel past Linlithgow Palace and Stirling Castle.
This region is soaked in history, so sit back and relax as your driver-guide entertains you with the tales of Mary Queen of Scots, William Wallace, and Scottish folklore.
If you keep a look out, you can catch a glimpse of the Kelpies. These 30-metre tall horse head sculptures need to be seen to be believed.
Your first stop is in the town of Callander on the edge of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park. You can grab coffee here and peruse the yummy local delicacies on offer.
After this stop, it’s time to get your camera ready. Because as you travel north into the Highlands, the landscapes suddenly become more provocative.
Shimmering lochs, rugged mountains, forest filled glens: it’s all so beautiful that it’s easy to forget these were once battlegrounds for fiercely territorial Highland clans.
You stop in Glencoe, one of the most famous natural landmarks in all of Scotland. This beautiful area boasts steep slopes and photogenic peaks. Your driver-guide may reveal to you the tragic tale that’s haunted this valley for over 300 years.
You then enter the glacial valley known as the Great Glen and pass under the shadow of Ben Nevis, Britain’s tallest mountain.
After this visual feast of mighty inclines, you arrive in Fort Augustus on the banks of Loch Ness. At 23 miles long and over 700ft deep, Loch Ness is the largest loch by volume in Scotland.
You have around one hour and a half here. You can search for the infamous monster on a relaxing boat cruise, wander around the shores of the loch at your own pace, and grab a bite to eat.
Your journey south is packed full of classic Highland scenery. You travel through the curvy Cairngorms National Park, along Loch Laggan, and past Blair Castle.
Amongst the tall trees of Perthshire, you have a final refreshment break before journeying alongside the UNESCO Forth Rail Bridge and back into Edinburgh.
I’d checked maps, an app I have called ETA and determined the amount of time it would take to get to the meeting point. We went to the lobby of the hotel where we knew there was a dedicated phone to call a cab. The cab turned out to be a “pre-hire” sort of Uber. We got to Rabbie’s cafe just the smallest tad late so we couldn’t sit together in the 16-person van. Tom got to ride shotgun and I was behind him. Amazingly, someone was even later than we were and they had to go to the back and sit in the bench seat with a couple other people. Throughout the trip we were careful to be on time – who wants to find a cab from a remote glen? – but this other person was consistently late.
I had planned to get coffee and pastries at Rabbie’s Cafe before we left so that didn’t happen. We went the opposite way of this map so our first stop was Pitlochry (no pun intended) hidden on the map just south of Blair Atholl.
According to Desmond, our driver for the day, Pitlochry is mostly a tourist town and today, WE were the tourists. We stopped off the main drag in a hugeish parking lot, climbed a small (for Scotland) hill and found a small cafe with about 4 tables.
Tom and I got sandwiches and coffee to take away and eat on the bus.
6. Highland Perthshire – Travel through pine-clad slopes and take in views of fast-flowing rivers – and stop at the coffee shop in Pitlochry, mentioned above.
5. Grampian Mountains and Cairngorms – Enjoy classic views of one of Scotland’s most mesmerising mountain ranges. When we stayed in Aviemore, we visited the Cairngorms several times. On this trip, we just drove through. (this trip’s photos in the gallery, below)
4 Fort Augustus – This wee town of 650 inhabitants is a great spot to watch boats traversing the Caledonian Canal. The canal was so cool – they opened the locks for about 6 boats while we were there.
Loch Ness – Take a chance to go on an optional boat cruise or wander around this alluring and eerie loch. We had been to a different part of Loch Ness when we went to Urquhart Castle in 2015.
3 Great Glen – A humongous fault line through the Scottish Highlands; it’s a location that’s as historically important as it is beautiful. I’m not sure why we didn’t stop to see the fault line but Desmond said it was there so it must have been.
2 Glencoe – Be moved by the sheer beauty and tragic tales of one of Scotland’s most famous landscapes.
Desmond played the music to Skyfall while driving through Glencoe.
And the worst part of the beautiful place.
1 Rannoch Moor – Admire unforgettable views at this epic expanse of untouched wilderness.
All our photos from this day trip – trying out a gallery for the first time.
Tom took a bunch of short videos with Desmond’s narrations but I haven’t figured out how to embed them all here and it’s slow going to upload them individually. See those videos here.
As promised, we got back about 8, found a cab and had dinner (burger/fries and Commonwealth Games) and bedtime to get ready for another adventure.
I woke up about 7 because it was very sunny, with the sun streaming through the bedroom windows. I was able to get back to sleep until 10:30. Then, at 11:30 it was cloudy and it began to rain.
We stopped at the Aviemore post office to change dollars to pounds since no one here is interested in American money.
Then, we went on to Cairn Gorm Mountain through Rothiemurchus Forest with a reindeer center, a sled dog center, clay pigeons shooting and Segways. Stretching from the River Spey to the high mountain plateau, Rothiemurchus sits within the Cairngorms National Park.
We also went by Loch Murlich (Scottish Gaelic, Loch Mhùrlaig), a freshwater loch in the Badenoch and Strathspey area of Highland, Scotland near Aviemore. The loch is home to a watersports center with kayaking, sailing and windsurfing among the activities available. There is also a yacht club and cycling routes around the loch. The loch is at the foot of the Cairngorm mountains, just a few miles from Aviemore and were planning to go back another day but we didn’t make it.
Cairn Gorm (Cairngorm) (Gaelic: An Càrn Gorm, meaning Blue or Green Hill) is a mountain in the Scottish Highlands overlooking Strathspey and the town of Aviemore. At 1245 metres (4084 ft) it is the sixth highest mountain in the United Kingdom. It has given its name to the whole range, although these hills are properly known as Am Monadh Ruadh (the Red Hills) rather than the Cairngorms. Cairn Gorm is the most prominent of the Cairngorm mountains in the view from Speyside, but it is not the highest.
The mountain road was quite twisty and we had to go through a few snow gates but we got to the parking area – and it started raining.
We took funicular up, as far as it would let us go. In the winter, skiers can go higher.
The funicular railway operates by ‘hauling’ up one carriage using electric motors to pull the haul rope as the other carriage descends at the same time. The system is powered by two stationary in series 500 kW electric motors, a gear box and a ‘soft start-soft stop’ control system which can increase the electrical frequency and vary the current and voltage to control the carriage speeds as they approach or leave a station. An hydraulically operated ‘counter’ rope is connected to both carriages to maintain haul rope tension. The two carriages are permanently connected by the haul rope and the counter rope and can never operate independently.
The funicular railway system is normally operated from a manned control room within the Ptarmigan building but can also be operated from the Base station control room or from each railway carriage. There are dedicated sophisticated computer control, instrumentation, communication and safety systems for the railway which have a range of back up systems and there are also standby generators and manual back up systems for moving the carriages.
At the top, they had a very nice display, including a replica of the funicular car – complete with working horn, which children delighted in honking over and over.
There was a short video and information about a huge snowstorm which had covered the funicular and the first floor of the station.
We also learned about the Big Grey Man of Ben MacDhui.
Am Fear Liath Mòr (Scottish Gaelic pronunciation: [əm fɛɾ ʎiə moːɾ]; also known as the Big Grey Man of Ben MacDhui or simply the Greyman) is the name of a presence or creature which is said to haunt the summit and passes of Ben Macdui, the highest peak of the Cairngorms and the second highest peak in Scotland (and also in the British Isles).
It has been described as an extremely tall figure covered with short hair, or as an unseen presence that causes uneasy feelings in people who climb the mountain. Evidence of the existence of this creature is limited to various sightings and a few photographs of unusual footprints.
It is traditionally seen as a supernatural being, but Am Fear Liath Mòr has been compared to the Yeti of the Himalaya and the Sasquatch or Bigfoot of North America. References to wild ‘Greymen’ in Scotland and similar creatures elsewhere in Europe, sometimes called Wudewas or ‘Wood Men’, date back to the 13th century, and are believed by some to represent relict hominids.
We went through the giftshop – of course. You always have to go through the giftshop to enter or leave anywhere that tourists might be.
We had lunch at the The Ptarmigan Restaurant, which is the highest restaurant in the UK. The Ptarmigan offers great panoramic views down to Loch Morlich and across to Ben Nevis (Ben Nevis is an Anglicization of the Scottish Gaelic name “Beinn Nibheis”. “Beinn” is the most common Gaelic word for “mountain”) and Ben Hope (Scottish Gaelic: Beinn Hòb).
I had Mac and cheese with slices of tomato and chips (fries) and Tom had chili over rice. The TV was showing Benedict Cumberbatch complaining about fans taking cellphone pictures while he was acting in Hamlet.
The TV also showed stories on milk prices, nightclub owners complaining about losing business to festivals, the Ferguson shooting.
We went to the observation deck. It was still raining but I went out, anyway.
We had to go back through the restaurant to get to the funicular and ran into the waiter from yesterday. What are the odds of that?
We took the Funicular down instead of walking, since it was raining so hard. Just before we got to the bottom station, we stopped. The operator said it was because the other car wasn’t at the top yet, which is when I learned that funiculars could be operated by a counterweight.
A funicular (/fjʉˈnɪkjʉlər/), also known as an inclined plane or cliff railway, is a cable railway in which a cable attached to a pair of tram-like vehicles on rails moves them up and down a steep slope, the ascending and descending vehicles counterbalancing each other. Funiculars of one sort or another have existed for hundreds of years and continue to be used for moving both passengers and goods. Its name derives from the latin, funiculus, diminutive of funis, meaning “rope”.
We drove back through the pouring rain and it was nap time!
We woke up about 7pm and went to reception for to report that the sunroom heater stopped heating, then off to Tesco for groceries. This time, we took bags since they weren’t eager to give us any yesterday.
Then, back to reception to find out about where the laundry facilities were.
Our dinner was soup and potato salad since we’d had peanut butter sandwiches earlier.
On TV – same Benedict story as we’d see on the mountain, followed by tattoo fixers.
I’d planned on going to bed but then there was David Attenborough showing us the animals he’d take if he had an ark. We’d talked about him earlier since he had been prominently featured in a brochure onRothiemurchus and here he was on tv.
Then, there was a show on hormones, including Dr. Harvey Cushing, then a show on tower (bell) ringing. Aach.
I finally got to bed at 1:30am