While still in Glasgow during last year’s winter holidays, I made a day trip over to the Scottish Highlands, since I’d heard that they were gorgeous and not to be missed while visiting Scotland. I’d booked a coach tour beforehand (which was about 50 euros, or rather approximately 41 pounds) that was set to leave bright and early at 8h00 and from there I would spent the whole time touring as much of the Highlands as I could do in one day.
That said, I woke up early to leave my Couchsurfing host’s flat. From the last post I wrote, I was *unceremoniously* rejected from staying a third night in my host’s flat, so I packed all of my bags, said goodbye to my host who was still sleeping, and left for Queen’s Station to catch the coach for the day.
I briskly made my way over to Queen’s Station, getting a bit lost since I wasn’t quite sure where and which coach would be the one I would take. Had to knock on one of the coaches’ doors to ask if it was the correct one (it wasn’t) before having the driver of that coach tell me the exact one I should be taking, and rushed over to the right coach just as it was about to leave for the day. Whew!
The tour group was a small one, no more than ten of us in total. The coach itself was a small one, as it felt more like a larger version of a van than an actual full-size bus. Our driver was also our tour guide; he was a middle-aged Scotsman who kept us entertained for the whole twelve hours we were out, telling us bad jokes and spinning some Scots-related tunes to set the mood for our journey (he told us that he used to be a DJ back in the day). And of course, he told us information about the Highlands, the nature and context of it all in relation to relevant points in history and the media (e.g. Braveheart, the Loch Ness monster, etc.).
Our first stop was at Loch Lomond, where we essentially just stopped at a pit stop for coffee and a quick breakfast. I’d packed some food for the road, so I didn’t get anything there; instead, I took a look at the loch (fyi a freshwater lake) while the weather was pouring rain. Seriously, it was an atrocious storm, which would go on-and-off throughout the day. From what I’d experienced so far, Scotland isn’t known for beautiful weather, especially in the winter, but that didn’t stop me from capturing this photo of the richly-blue Loch Lomond before it poured.
We continued deeper into the Highlands, making a dozen or so stops on the road to snap photos of the scenery. Although it didn’t rain during the times we got out of the coach for the photo moments (luckily!), it still didn’t do away with the fact that it was absolutely freezing, not to forget incredibly windy so that it made the weather feel even colder than it was! It was the perfect time for me to put on my beanie as I snapped photo after photo of places like Glen Coe (the site for the infamous 1692 massacre of the McDonald clan), Glen Etive (aka “Skyfall Mountain,” where scenes from the James Bond film Skyfall were shot), and Ben Nevis (the tallest mountain in the British Isles). While unreasonably bone-chillingly cold, the wide-open landscape of the Highlands were undeniably gorgeous; even photos cannot quite do justice to the beauty of it all.
Eventually, we made it to the famous Loch Ness in the afternoon, where we had the choice of purchasing tickets to visit the Urquhart Castle and to take a boat ride along the loch for about 18 pounds. Even though I’m usually reluctant to spend more money than I should, I decided to go for them, since the other option would be hanging out in the touristy souvenir shops for ninety minutes.
Dating back to the thirteenth century, the Urquhart Castle was subjected to numerous raids throughout the Middle Ages by many feuding clans in the area, until the sixteenth century. Abandoned in the seventeenth century, the castle over time fell into ruins and today is opened to the public for visiting. Considering that it had just rained earlier in the day, it created a rainbow over the castle itself, which I was lucky enough to have caught while taking photos of it!
After an hour of exploring the castle ruins, I along with the other people in my tour group headed over to the docks, where we took the boat tour on the loch. Frankly, it proved to be very disappointing, just because it lasted only thirty minutes long and was just a way to go from one end of the loch to the other, where our coach was waiting for us. Regardless, having the backdrop of the loch contrast with the afternoon sun was quite stunning. Didn’t see the Loch Ness monster (“Nessie”), though!
We made it back to shore around 15h00, and from there, we were pretty much done for the day; it would then be a long, three-hour drive back to Glasgow. Night was falling as we made our way back; I caught the sight of some heavy-duty frost along the road side, for it was already deep winter at that point. Also saw Stirling Castle in the distance, which is famous for the War of Independence back in the late thirteenth century by the iconic William Wallace, aka “Braveheart,” as well as the site for crowning Scottish kings and especially Mary, Queen of Scots back in the sixteenth century. We made a brief stop in a small town (name of which I’ve forgotten) at a pub for a quick drink before finally arriving in Glasgow, first getting through the after-work traffic before getting dropped off at the same spot we’d gotten on at in the morning.
After thanking the driver for the long, but lovely tour, I headed over to the hostel that I’d booked the night before after, again, my Couchsurfing host had cut my stay short. It was not a very-expensive hostel, only 11 euros for one night, and really, one night was all I needed before I left Glasgow the following day. The hostel was a bit of a walk from where I was (about twenty minutes on foot), but eventually I made it over there, checked in, and tried to rest up after twelve hours of sightseeing. Granted, the hostel was absolutely filthy, with dirt and used tissues all over the floor and tons of guys (with B.O. to boot) sleeping or otherwise arguing really loud on the phone with their girlfriend or something. Not the most pleasant atmosphere, to say the least. Thank goodness I was only there for one night!
In any case, I was glad to have visited the Scottish Highlands, even though winter probably wasn’t the most ideal time to go, since the weather was temperamental with the rain and wind and the fact that it was absolutely freezing. Admittedly, the tour was more of a highlight than an in-depth one, and we only covered up to Loch Ness in the central Highlands. Still, the scenery was breathtaking, and if I were to return, I’d be interested in going even more north, perhaps to Inverness and the Isle of Skye. But of course, not in the winter!
I’ll be posting more of my adventures in Scotland, as well as those in the UK soon! Next stop: Edinburgh, Scotland!