North to the Highlands, the other Scotland.


Beautiful Urguhart Castle on Loch Ness

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Our two day Timberbush tour from Edinburgh to the Highlands with an overnight in Inverness departs from the same place as yesterday and we know the drill. We arrive early to insure a good seat on the bus and again appreciate the small 19-seater that arrives right on time.

Our new driver is another Graeme – spelled differently but he’s just as gregarious and knowledgeable as Graham was yesterday. As we get ourselves organized and out of city traffic he asks everyone where they’re from. I can see we have a mini united nations on board and we Caucasians are in the minority. There’s a couple from Hong Kong, a family from Mumbai, two young women and a young man from Bankgkok, a young Japanese woman from Toronto, and a mother/daughter from Norway. Gail and I, and a couple from the mid-west, make up the contingent from the US.  Very interesting group, you really wonder what brings people from Hong Kong, Mumbai and Bangkok to Edinburgh? I can understand London, Paris, Berlin, Rome but I didn’t think Edinburgh would draw people from all over the globe. Yet here we are and I’m so glad I’m able to spend time in Scotland.

Graeme our driver and out guide.

Today we head west following the path of our fateful journey in Lucifer, but this time we get to watch the scenery and let Graeme watch the road. The first thing we encounter is the Kelpie sculptures just out of Edinburgh. Its quite a site and I wish I could see them up close and not from the highway. The following information is from a website called Colossal, an art website.

Kelpies sculpture in Falkirk north of Edinburgh

Currently in the last stages of construction after nearly 7 years of development, the Kelpies are a pair of gargantuan horse heads by public artist Andy Scott that now tower over the Forth & Clyde canal in Falkirk, Scotland. The sculptures measure some 30 meters tall (99 ft.) and are meant as a monument to the horse-powered heritage of Scotland.

According to Wikipedia:
The Kelpies name reflected the mythological transforming beasts possessing the strength and endurance of 10 horses; a quality that is analogous with the transformational change and endurance of Scotland’s inland waterways. The Kelpies represent the lineage of the heavy horse of Scottish industry and economy, pulling the wagons, ploughs, barges and coalships that shaped the geographical layout of the Falkirk area.

Our first stop is Castle Doune which we had already seen, and I’m glad,  because this is a quick stop and I’m disappointed not to go inside. Graeme points out the section of the outside castle wall which was the background of Monty Pythons famous Holy Grail scene called “French Taunting”, hilarious in that weird Monty Python way. (check it out on UTube)

Another look at Doune Castle. Sp peaceful, I could spend all day here.

The rest of the day we drive  through Loch Lomand, Trossacks National Park, Glen Coe and the Highlands. The southern part of Scotland is more inhabited and industrialized with large cities (Glasgow and Edinburgh being the largest)  but as you go north the landscape changes and it gradually becomes more remote. Inverness it the northern most city and there’s a lot more of Scotland beyond Inverness. I would have liked to visit the northern islands, the Okneys and Shetlands. From what we saw spending a short time on Mull and Iona, the islands have their own unique landscape, customs, and history. The Orkney and Sheland Islands are that much farther north and away from “civilization”, full of Neolithic and Viking history. 

There are so many fascinating places and people on this earth. I begin to understand why some people chuck everything, slap on a backpack, and just go!  Not everyone can do it but I envy those who can (or just do!), at least for a period long enough to gain understanding of our vast and fascinating world, before coming back to reality.

The Highlands are breathtaking because for the most part there aren’t structures to mar the panorama. There are many lochs and rivers, and vast areas of nothing but mountains, not the jagged peaks we’re used to in North America, these are older and worn smooth. Verdant green valleys stretch between the mountains but you can see how hard it would have been getting from A to B before trains, planes and automobiles. As you go further north there aren’t many trees, just lots of rock and uneven ground. Even now there are few roads and Graeme describes how dangerous it is to be caught in the highlands in a winter storm. Blowing snow completely obliterates the road and you can easily drive into a ditch or worse.

It’s so nice driving through this amazing landscape so different from anything in North America.

Loch something or other, there are so many.

Abandoned railway line, apparently it was built on the side of an unstable hill and there were so many landslides they had to abandoned it and rebuilt the line on more even land.

This goes on for miles and miles, green and beautiful

Another beautiful body of water

Gail and Kathy, watching for some kind of beastie that we were told were all over this beach, but we saw none. However the scenery made up for any lack of beasties.

This is Heather and Hamish. They’re outside the restaurant where we stop for lunch. Both are clearly very used to people taking pictures, apparently this is a common bus stopping place and everyone comes to take their picture.

Graeme stops several times as we drive toward Loch Ness and Inverness where we’ll spend the night.

We stop at Dochart Falls for pictures and bathroom break. The falls are lovely but on the walk across the river we pass the Clan MacNab Ancient Burial place Dochart Falls. I would like to visit the burial ground and stop at the Folklore museum in Killin where the falls are located. These are the drawbacks of a short tour, you get just enough time to want more and then you move on. Frustrating.

Loch Ness.  The Loch is large, very deep, cold and lovely. This is a nice break from the bus ride but if up to me I would spent the time differently.  After 5 minutes I’m done with Lock Ness and have another 55 minutes to go!

Loch Ness

Nessie (actually a small figure drawn on the window, quite clever, afterall why else would you take a boat on Loch Ness if not to take a picture of Nessie?)

We arrive in Inverness at dinner time and Graeme starts depositing people  in various B and Bs and guest houses.  There’s a delay as he drops off a one couple only to find the owner has them booked for the following week! Whoops!  Graeme scrambles to make calls and find a substitute accommodation.  The poor guy is driver and tour guide and even though there are only 19 of us I’m impressed – I do worry about his blood pressure though!

Timberbush booked us (last minute) at the Waterside Inn.  Our room doesn’t overlook the River Ness but its comfortable and a short walk to town. We’re tired and hungry and unfortunately chose the first pub we see,  this turned out to be a big mistake. The pub is preparing for a large bus group and clearly its limited and unaccustomed personnel are putting all their time into prepping for the group. Our meal is late, overcooked, and almost inedible. Cranky – time for bed!

Inverness isn’t Edinburgh however in all fairness we’re only here overnight and won’t see enough of Inverness to make judgment. Graeme will pick us up first thing in the morning and we’ll leave Inverness without so much as a glance. BTW  Inverness has a castle , a cathedral ,  and a huge amount of interesting history.   I wish we had more time, a return visit is necessary!