One of my most memorable trips so far was the trip I took from Edinburgh to the Scottish Highlands and the Isle of Skye. Even though it was a while ago, all I need to do is to close my eyes and remember, and I get transported to a happy place! I’ve decided to share my memories of that trip in two successive posts, starting today.
My great Scottish Highlands adventure started on a sunny June morning from Edinburgh, where I had already spent a few days exploring the city. I was travelling solo for the first time, didn’t know how to drive and wanted a cheap way to explore the Isle of Skye. Therefore, I had booked a three-day backpackers’ coach tour out of Edinburgh. There was a motley group of travellers on this tour – a mother and daughter from France, a couple from Argentina, female students from the US, a handful of Germans, two Russian brothers (one of them a Daniel Craig lookalike), a student from Taiwan, and me bringing in the Indian angle!
We left Edinburgh and drove out into the countryside towards the Highlands. A drive of about 90 minutes brought us to Bannockburn, the site of the famous 14th-century battle where Robert the Bruce had defeated the British. It was here that I realised that the movie “Braveheart” was not really as factually correct as I’d imagined it to be. Leaving Bannockburn we drove further west passing Stirling, with a brief halt to see Doune castle. We stopped for lunch at Callender, a small town with picture-book houses and pretty lanes lined with tiny cafes and shops. A single Main Street runs through the town, with most of the town businesses located on this street. I had a really delicious mint ice cream from one of the small shops here.
Just a little ahead of Callender we visited a personage called Hamish. Hamish is a Highland Cow (Hairy Coo!!) and something of a minor celebrity. Tourists flock to see this long-haired cow, feed him and take pictures of him. Everywhere we went in the Scottish Highlands, you couldn’t miss the souvenirs related to this animal. The Highland cow is a local VIP and an industry in itself!
As we drove further up into the Highlands I had my first glimpse of a Scottish Loch. We stopped at the rather beautiful Loch Lubnaig to stretch our legs and take some pictures of the spectacular scenery. Further up we stopped to see Glencoe, the valley (glen) where British troops had massacred the entire Macdonald clan. It seemed hard to associate this beautiful, peaceful place with so much bloodshed. Glencoe, by the way, is also where the set for Hagrid’s house was set up, for the movie Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
After Glencoe we drove on past long lake-shores (Loch Leven, freshwater, and Loch Lhinne, saltwater) to reach the midsized town of Fort William. It is the second largest town in the Scottish Highlands. This area is also the beginning of the 100km long Caledonian Canal, which links Scotland’s two sea-coasts along with the Lochs Lhinne, Lochy, Oich and Ness. The town is the starting base for treks and hikes up to the Ben Nevis, the highest peak in the British Isles. We passed the Ben and then went up past the Commando Memorial. This is where a British Commando unit was set up and trained during the Second World War.
Our last stop for the day was the Eileen Donan castle. I recognised this as the castle from the Patrick Dempsey movie Made of Honour. Unfortunately the light was failing and I couldn’t get a good picture here. The current castle is actually just about 90 years old. The original castle was used to store gunpowder during the Jacobite rebellions and ended up getting blown up by British cannon-fire.
We finally reached Stromeferry (population seventeen) at around 7.30 pm after a long day. We were staying at a lake-side house called the Stationmaster’s House, a small B&B. It had bunk beds and hot showers and was quite comfortable. After dinner was done and we had all helped to clear and wash up, everybody scattered to do their own thing – showers, naps, walks. I took the opportunity to go for a short walk around the incredibly quiet and scenic lake-side.
I got back to find that the ice had been broken; the group was playing card games and talking about themselves. I think everybody was a little surprised to see a female solo traveller from India. We were a rare breed then, not that there are tons of us around even now. (You can read some more of my posts on solo travel here)
Over the next two days we covered Skye and Inverness. You can read about that part of my Scottish Highlands trip in this post 🙂