I was going to write up Edinburgh first, but I must say I was quite distracted by the highlands!
We chose Rabbies Tours and I'm glad we did!
This is Rabbies 'Highland Explore' 5 day tour.
INTO THE HIGHLANDS:
We travelled north out of Edinburgh and stopped first of all in the little high land village of Dunkeld. Dunkeld holds a quaint path behind the village to the chapel and river, the air was cool and fresh after becoming accustomed to Edinburgh’s humid summer.
And apparently J.K. Rowling lives nearby!
Where we stopped next was one of my highlights of the day! The Highland Folk Museum in Newtonmore; here was an iron age village in enactment used in filming Game of Thrones and Outlander. It just so happens the day we visited was the Outlander day! (a bit of a massive fan) The village was filled with stalls of both tasteful fan merchandise and period goods, as well as re-enactors dressed from the series and giving any historical information you might want.
The view of the highlands was amazing as well.
At the café I bought Irn Bru, a Scottish national soft drink, which will definitely be my go to fizzy drink from now on!
The highlands slow grew around us, until they couldn't grow much more. With the average mountain peak now towering above us, it was time to stop for another break, and this time at Loch Ness. This short Nessy spotting sport resulted in nil sightings (although we got to pet a few dogs!). Oh and I collected a few good looking rocks from the beach, now well-travelled.
Note: the seemly emerging Loch Ness Monster is just 2 doggos
Stopped at the black water in Garve, known because the organic matter in the water makes it look dark and syrup-like.
After a little more of a drive we were all excited for a walk! And our bus driver Micheal had done a wonderful time introducing the facts on Corrieshalloch Gorge. Hyped with excitement, we bounded straight past the sign to say the suspension bridge was shut. We ended up taking a pleasant walk through the wild flowers and forests on a little path that lead back to the bus and showed us a wonderful view of Ullapool from a far.
I’d like to say that words could describe the beauty of Ullapool, and they probably can, however it’s beyond my limits.
Ullapool sits on the sea loch of Loch Broom and on the opposite side to the loch, looks out on to the Atlantic Ocean. We stayed in the Riverside B&B and it was absolutely lovely, they even catered gluten-free breakfast!
A DAY OF ASSYNT:
Ullapool in the misty morning sun.
The rising country a contrast of strong fluorescent greens and the misty purple of heather.
The highlands were set to become more beautiful as we explored the mountains and beaches of Assynt.
On the ancestral lands of the MacKenzie Clan, the brilliance of Achnahaird Beach's blue waters and white sand is matched only by the magnificent highland mountains sitting comfortably behind the beach.
Unfortunately, because we visited on a Sunday, there wasn’t much of Lochniver open to explore! We stopped at the traditional fishing village for lunch and a break.
Next stop, through the chilly wind and light Scottish rain, was the white sand secret beach of Achmelvich Bay. Apparently used in many TV and film sets, the secret beach was a little hard to get to and magnificent despite the icy winds.
Below shows the 15th Century ruins of Ardvreck Castle – stronghold of MacLeods' of Assynt.
And in the distance the 18th Century Calda House, the Laird’s house of the Mackenzie's of Assynt.
(YES the grass was that fluorescent green)
By this time, Michael, the tour guide had gauged what we are interested in and the next stop was the Knockan Crag geological site. Stunning views over the nearby loch and mountain ridge. The walk around the mountain would take about an hour, however we didn’t have the time and looked only at about hundred metres of the sculpture track.
We had an early night back to Ullapool, arriving around 4:30pm allowed us to sneak a quick look around the galleries and shops before closing hours.
We also saw a seal begging for fish of the wharf.
It was particularly cold that evening and we soon retreated to our cosy B&B.
OVER THE SEA TO SKYE:
The morning was filled with coast views of Skye and the Hebrides, complimented by the Scottish weather systems.
Past the mountains of the Beinn Eighe Nature Reserve and along the coast line of Loch Torridon.
We stopped a few times of the way to Skye: Shieldaig, on the side of the road to see highland coos, and Applecross.
Bealach na Ba was described as a high and exhilarating road! In a mini bus, one lane, needing to pull off to pass any cars, cliff edge one side, wall rock on the other.. I’d say terrifying?
However, once we came out of the cloud and down the other side the view was extraordinary.
Eilean Donan Castle: My third ever castle! After Edinburgh and Ardverck, and Eilean Donan definitely goes on the list of favourites. Translates to the Island of Donan, the Castle sit on the junction of three lochs and was built in the 13th Century to protect Kintail from Vikings. Although it was occupied from much earlier on. It had been elaborately restored in the 1930’s and some parts of the castle are used as private apartments.
The highlight for me was the hand written and signed letter from Bonnie Prince Charlie calling the clans to a meeting. There was also a lock of his hair!
The Isle of Skye:
The Black Cuillin Ranges, partnered with the Red Cuillin Ranges to the left out of frame, on the Isle of Skye.
In Celtic creation mythology this landscape was formed by the fighting of two giants. One giant came to Skye from another isle, hearing the giant on Skye on strong and wanting to prove his power. However the woman giant on Skye was fierce and they fought and crashed around the landscape forming the Cuillin Ranges.
After a truce was called, the giant from Skye was walking near this river when some faeries commented on the cuts and bruises marking her face. They said, hold your face in the water for 7 seconds and your face will heal, and so she did and within a day her face was smooth and her youthful looks never faded.
Yes, I did put my face in the water for 8 SECONDS.
Only time will tell!
We then arrived late in Portree to our cosy B&B not far from the town square.
THE SIGHTS OF SKYE:
A quick morning walk lead to discovering a path down to the bay and this heavenly view!
Old Man of Storr is another story involving faeries, although there are many versions and variations. We learned never to whistle, swear or put your hands in your pockets around faerie prone locations such as waterfalls. They like to play tricks on humans and particularly when we annoy them with the above listings.
Magic waterfall, where the faeries helped Mum slip on the mud!
Kilt rock- named because it looks like the pleats on a kilt, showed stunning basalt cliffs and blue water.
And then Quiraing. WOW. Absolutely drop dead stunning. I need to come back here to do the hike or even just to soak up the beauty some more!
The Kingdom of the Faeries aka Faerie Glen
Here shows the Faerie Castle, portal and miniature glens.
A bagpiper from the local village used to practice down in the Faerie Glen, and one day when he was so good, a faerie appeared to him and invited him to play at a faerie wedding. This, would of course require him to past over to the Faerie Kingdom through the portal, he thought what a great opportunity! He passed through the portal with ease and the wedding went fantastically, so much so that the faeries invited him to stay. However, with a family at home he insisted he go back and the faeries warned that nothing would be the same if he returned.
When he returned home and tried to enter his home he discovered that his family no longer lived there. For, every minute that passed in the faerie world, a year had passed in the human world.
Just a quick stop near Dunvegan Castle for a photo opportunity of both the castle and the local seal residents.
As the final event of the day, Michael managed to score us some free whisky tasting at Talisker Distillery.
Returning late from our group dinner, we discovered we had mistakenly been given only the key to our B&B room and not the front door, Luckily, we weren't out in the cold for too long!
Mostly a day of scenic travel, with one last photo op of Eilean Donan Castle.
Down the rugged mountains of kintail, a quick stop at Glencoe, through Glen Garry, past Ben Nevis, and Fort William for Lunch.
The eerie Glencoe: famous for the massacre of the MacDonalds of Glencoe, the regiment under command of Captain Robert Campbell. The regiment stayed with the MacDonalds for weeks, accepting their highland hospitality and eating their all their meat. However, on February the 13th of 1692 the regiment murdered the Clan Donald men, burned down the village and left the women and child to die of exposure in the winter. And hence came 'never trust a Campbell'...
Home to Edinburgh.. then onto Bonnie Dundee!
A SCENIC SOUND TRACK:
Rabbies had collected a playlist of Scottish songs, with some telling the story of the landscape, and social or political history.
At times the songs were profound without prior knowing the history. Our guide would then tell us the stories and history layered in the land and replay the song. This stunning mechanism allowed us to see further than the encompassing mountains, cleverly giving an insight into the importance of the land .
Some that stood out to me:
'I Voted Yes' by Stanley Odd:
'Pride' by Amy Madonald
'Skye Boat Song'
'Outlaws' by Capercaillie
'Throw the R Away' by The Proclaimers
All in all I would recommend Rabbies tours, we had a fabulous time, learned a lot of history and experienced an excellent introduction to Scotland. I am very excited to stay on as I study at the University of Dundee this Semester and experience much more of this wonderful country!