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.
Here’s a “wish list” of sorts, adapted from http://www.scotsman.com/lifestyle/travel/tourists-flock-to-scotland-s-magnificent-seven-attractions-1-4039181#ixzz41ScsirTe
Been there in 2015, will go back in 2016: A total of 1.57 million people paid to visit Edinburgh Castle during 2015, though the other places attracting a million visitors were free to enter.
The National Museum of Scotland was the second most popular tourist site in Scotland in 2015, followed by the Scottish National Gallery and (saw the outside in 2015) St Giles Cathedral.
In Glasgow, (maybe 2016?) Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, which ten years ago, undertook a three-year, £27.9 million refurbishment, was the most popular place for people to visit, attracting 1.26 million visitors in 2015.
Loch Lomond Shores in Balloch was the remaining site to pass the one million mark.
Professor John Lennon pg Glasgow Caledonian University, said: “Scotland is clearly punching above its weight in visitor attraction performance.”
In the list of the top ten paid for attractions, Stirling Castle also performed well, attracting 458,932 visitors last year.
In the non-paid for category, after (want to see, maybe 2016?) Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Gardens, which saw 836,755 visitors flock through its doors in 2015, Gretna Green’s Famous Blacksmith’s Shop was the next popular, with 775,868 tourist visits.
The Helix Park in Falkirk, which features the Kelpies horse head sculptures and the Falkirk Wheel provided a combined appeal to 1.3 million visitors to Scotland. Other top paid-for sites included Edinburgh Zoo, (Been there in 2015) Edinburgh Bus Tours, Glasgow Science Centre and (Been there in 2015, completely by accident) Urquhart Castle in Drumnadrochit.
The Royal Yacht Britannia and the Scotch Whisky Experience, both in Edinburgh, the Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick and Culzean Castle and Country Park in Ayrshire completed the top 10 paid-for list.
We’ll see what 2016 holds and maybe add on a 2017 trip?
Right now our 2016 trip includes 3 days in Edinburgh to see the Edinburgh Tattoo again (HOORAY!). Hopefully I will be able to get to the top of Edinburgh Castle to see the Scottish National War Memorial where my grandfather’s name is listed as a war hero.
Then, we move on to Glasgow for 7 days. No real plans yet, but we’re taking a side trip to Lockerbie, a trip I’ve wanted to make for several years.
Someday, I would love to visit Eilean Donan Castle, the one that’s in the Piano Guys video This is Your Fight Song…