Highland Tour, Day 7

Today was the last day of the tour, and I was a bit sad for multiple reasons.  One, I love Scotland, and would like to spend more time there in the future.  Two, I also got along really well with the other tour members.  I was a bit worried before I started, I was going to be spending 7 whole days with complete strangers, but most people were travelling alone and everyone was lovely to hang with.  It worked well.

We crossed the Skye Bridge that morning, and made our way to Eilean Donan Castle, the most recognized castle in Scotland.

We then made our way to The Commando Memorial, dedicated to all Commandos who lost their lives in the 1939-1945 War.

We had a quick stop in Glencoe, to learn about the Glencoe Massacre, in which the MacDonald clan was killed by the Campbells (who were their guests).

We drove by a bridge that looks remarkably like the one from Harry Potter but wasn’t.

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We stopped by Callander, to see my dear friend Hamish the Highland Cow.

And finally headed to the William Wallace Monument near Stirling Castle. Built in 1861, this is the tallest monument in the world for someone who isn’t Jesus. I had been to Stirling Castle on my last day tour in Scotland, but we didn’t make it to the memorial, so it worked out perfectly for me.

We eventually made our way back to Edinburgh (my fifth visit to this city).

I wandered around that evening, before heading to the bus depot, as I was taking an overnight bus to London.  Sounds like fun!

Highland Tour, Day 6

We started day 6 with a stop on the road, in order to get a great view of the mountains in Harris, and the Sea Loch. Simply stunning.

But our next stop at Luskentyre Beach was our real wake up. It was absolutely freezing cold.  But that wasn’t going to stop my new Canadian friend Stephanie and I from getting our toes wet.

We ran into some traffic on our way to catch the ferry to Skye, but still managed to make it on time.SAM_2813

On the Isle of Skye, our first stop was at Quiraing, known as the navel of the world.

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From here we made our way to Staffin’s Bay.

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And then to Kilt Rock, in which there is a rock formation said to be shaped like a kilt.

We stopped a few more times on our way to our next destination, Portree, when the views were too spectacular to pass up.

We had a bit of a break in Portree, but the views were so good I didn’t even want to go in any shops and miss out. But I was tempted by the windows, so shopping I went.

Our next stop was at the Sligachan Bridge.  Now I know our guide told us some story in order to get us to dunk our heads, but for the life of me, I’ve no idea what it was.

And that was it! We made our final stop in Kyleakin, where I got to watch the sun set over Skye Bridge.

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Highland Tour, Day 5

On day 5 we explored the Isle of Lewis, the largest island of the Outer Hebrides.

We started with a visit to the Callanish Standing Stones (in the rain). Placed in a cross pattern with a central stone circle, it is estimated that they were put in place about 5,000 years ago.

We then made our way to Dun Carloway Broch, the best preserved and most visited broch in the outer hebrides.  A broch is an Iron Age structure designed to impress and defend, and were probably the homes of tribal leaders.  They are built with two walls of stone, with a stairway within the walls to the upper floors. This one dated back over 2,000 years!

Next up was Gearrannan Blackhouse Village.  Used until the 1960s, there’s not a hostel, and a few museums showing what life was like here. I got to check out a wearing demo which was just to my liking (with a weaving machine from the 1920s).

But my favourite site on Lewis had to be its Butt.  The Butt of Lewis is the most northerly point on the isle, and absolutely gorgeous with its isolated lighthouse and stunning ocean views.

The day ended back in Stornoway, in preparation for our exploration of Harris in the morning.

 

 

Highland Tour, Day 4

Day 4 was my favourite day, and not just because it was my 21st birthday!

We started at Dundreggan Estate, which is a site for Trees for Life’s forest restoration project.  Part of the tour was to give back to the community, so we stopped by to plant a few trees.

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Next we went to Invermoriston Falls. This river actually tumbles into Loch Ness, and was the perfect morning walk.  We also saw J.M. Barrie’s (author of Peter Pan!) old summerhouse, which gave us a bird’s eye view of the river and Telford Bridge.

We stopped briefly back at Loch Ness to go to the world’s most touristy tourist shop, and got one last view of the lake.

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Our next stop was very special to me, for they surprised me with a birthday cake! We were at Rogie Falls taking a quick lunch break before hiking to the falls, and our guide pulled a cake out to celebrate me!

And I guess the falls were pretty too.

This was a long day, for we’ve many more sites to hit.  The next one, Corrieshalloch Gorge, I will never forget.  It was so stunning. There’s a bridge you can cross to get to the lookout area, but only 6 people are allowed on it at a time.  It was very high, and more wobbly than I would have liked, but just stunning.  Sometimes natures is pretty great to be around.

Our next stop was Ardmair Beach, a stone beach on the edge of the Scotland. I practised my rock throwing, put a couple in my bag, made a mini stonehenge and then continued on our way.

Our last stop on the mainland of Scotland was at Ullapool, which is where you catch the ferry to the Isle of Lewis and Harris (about 2.5 hours long). And that’s exactly what we did.  We spent the night in Stornoway, on Lewis, in preparation for tomorrow’s exploration.

Highland Tour, Day 3

Day 3 was spent exploring the area around Loch Ness.

The Loch Ness monster was first ‘spotted’ in 565AD by St. Columba.  His boat was untied and floated in the lake, so he hired a servant to go get it.  And the servant was attacked by a monster!  He brought out his cross and banished the monster.

It was most famously seen in 1933 when a surgeon photographed the lake and saw something in the developed film.

Unfortunately it was a bit of a gloomy day, so I decided to walk into town and by the canal, instead of going for a boat ride on the lake.

And that night I watched Braveheart for the first time.  Kinda appropriate to watch it in Scotland, don’t you think?

Highland Tour, Day 2

Day 2 started with a visit to Moray Firth, which had gorgeous beaches, and is apparently a great spot for dolphin sightings. It was a perfect spot to wake up.

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Then to make sure we were fully awake, we went for a hike to a Clootie Well.  Known as a place of pilgrimage in Celtic times, there’s a belief that if you hang the clothing of sick on the trees beside the well, the disease will disappear as the cloth disintegrates.

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And then it was time for history! We stopped in the town of Beauly to see an old priory. Built 800 years ago, there would have been up to 20 monks here, living off the land.

As beautiful as Beauly is, nothing will top Glen Affric.  It’s the finest of all of Scotland’s glens, and is seriously stunning. We took a little hike over the river, and just enjoyed being outside (which is not somewhere I particularly like to be).

Our last stop of the day was to Urquhart Castle, where we were given a demonstration on life in the medieval ages.

Finally we checked in to our hostel in Loch Ness just in time for a pub night at our hostel.  Isn’t it convenient when your accommodation is literally above the pub?

Highland Tour, Day 1

My next tour was a 7-day adventure across the Scottish highlands. This was definitely targeted to a younger demographic and was avery different experience from my last tour.  Both were great, just very different.

This time I went with Haggis Adventures, which had one bold bus.

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And I actually ended up being seat mates with a girl from Quebec — Canadians, we always find each other! Our day started with a view of the iconic Firth Bridge.

Scotland 1 (1).JPGThen we carried on to Dunkeld to see its mighty cathedral.

Our next stop was a somber one, at Culloden Battlefield. This is where the final confrontation of the Jacobite rising of 1725 took place (led by Charles Edward Stuart aka Bonnie Prince Charlie).

Finally, we ended the day in Inverness, where we all got to know each other a bit better.  Guesstimating, I’d say there was at least 30 of us, from all around the world, plus our guide and driver Carol.

Edinburgh

Seeing as this was my fourth visit to Edinburgh in as many months, I was very comfortable with my surroundings.  And surprisingly, there were still a few things I hadn’t seen.

First off was Holyrood Palace, the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland. It was pretty cool to see. You start with a guided tour (inside, and around the ruins of Holyrood Abbey) and then you can explore the grounds at your own pace. You also get a great view of Arthur’s Seat.

I spent the rest of the day exploring the Writers Museum and the National Museum (with a lunch break at the Elephant House as is my custom when in Edinburgh).

Istanbul to Edinburgh

This was really the first chance I had, in my whole life, to travel alone.  All the travelling I had done up to this point was planned by my friends or family, so I wasn’t sure how this was going to go.

So I came up with a plan.  I was going to spend the next three weeks doing tours across the Lakes District in the UK, in the Scottish highlands, and across Wales, and in between the tours I would try to amuse myself. At the end of the tours I would have a week to myself, and then my mom was going to join me for two weeks.

I figured this way I could slowly ease into being comfortably travelling alone, and maybe even give me a chance to read some guide books.  Instead, I discovered I really hate reading guide books.

Anyways, to start this next adventure off, I flew from Istanbul to London. I’ve no idea why, but they gave me a lot of trouble at the airport as I was trying to leave the country.  The check in desk wouldn’t give me a boarding pass, until the lady behind me spoke to them on my behalf.  She was my saviour. But then while waiting in line to board, security guards came over with a blacklight to check my passport.  At this point I was fed up.  C’mon I was trying to leave Turkey, not stay!  Not a great start to travelling alone.

I eventually made it to London, then caught another flight to Edinburgh. My seat mate thought it was amusing that I was traveling to Scotland in order to visit England, but the Lakes District is geographically closer to Scotland so to Scotland I went.

It was nice returning to a city I had been multiple times already.  I stayed at the same hostel, knew where to grab food for cheap, and was thoroughly comfortable with my surroundings. I lazed the day away, in preparation for this next trip.

Loch Lomond, the Trossachs & Stirling Castle

Most of our friends had an early class Monday morning, so they left to go back to Dublin on Sunday.  However, Kate and I had Mondays off, so we decided to stay an extra day and do a little day tour. It was bloody brilliant!

We left Edinburgh, and made our first stop in Glasgow.

Next up was Loch Lomond, where we took a very chilly cruise. Thankfully the beautiful scenery more than made up for the breezy ride. Loch Lomond is the largest expanse of fresh water in Great Britain.

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This is Cameron House. It was built in the 18th century by the Smollett family but was bought in 1998 by the De Vere Hotel Group for 16 million pounds. Some famous guests who have stayed there are Pavarotti, Cher, Michael Jackson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Clint Eastwood and Sean Connery to name a few.

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Auchendennan House. Built in 1866 to be King Robert the Bruce’s hunting lodge, it now belongs to the Scottish Hostel Association who use it as a Youth Hostel.

As we warmed up on the bus, we drove through the Trossachs National Park, stopping for a few perfect photo breaks.

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We were eventually forced to get back in the bus, and made our way to Callander to meet Hamish.

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Hamish the Highland Cow

We drove by the castle from Monty Python (the French castle with the cows)!

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And finally arrive at our last stop, Stirling Castle. Stirling Castle is one of the most strategically significant locations in the Scottish kingdom.  Throughout the middle ages and the period of the renaissance, Stirling was one of the most important royal castles.  But the core of what is now to be seen is a group of buildings that provided a setting for the royal court of Stewart Scotland at its most brilliant period, in the reigns of James IV, James V, Mary Queen of Scots and James VI.

And we also enjoyed the spectacular views from the castle, where you can actually see the Wallace Monument in the distance.

We flew back to Dublin Tuesday morning, as we did unfortunately, have class.  But it was a fantastic day.  I love Edinburgh, but I more definitely recommend getting out of the city; it’s just gorgeous.