O ye’ll tak’ the high road, And I’ll tak’ the low road, And I’ll be in Scotland afore ye…¹
For my monthly travelogue, I’ll finish up our 2010 trip to Britain with our visit to the Scottish Highlands. We made Edinburgh our base in Scotland, favoring historic sites over family ones (our family is from Glasgow and Renfrew.) We started our “hieland” trip from there.
Because our time was limited, we gave our niece her choice of highland tours, and she chose one that included a cruise of Loch Ness. She chose well – the guide on our tour had a magical, musical brogue, and shared the history of each area with humorous and wonderful stories. In most countries we would have rented a car, but in Britain, with the lanes reversed, we were happy to leave the driving to the tour company!
We left Edinburgh early in the morning, and headed northwest toward the Great Glen (Valley). The Great Glen is a fault line that runs from Oban (on the Firth of Lorne and the Irish sea), to Inverness (on the Firth of Moray and the North Sea.) It cuts a diagonal slash right through the middle of Scotland, and is dotted with lochs (lakes) left by ancient glaciers. The lochs are linked by the Caledonia Canal, which was built as a commercial inland waterway between the two seas. It’s not really used for commerce anymore, but like many other parts of the Glen, it now affords some wonderful recreational opportunities!
To reach the highlands from the lowland cities, we first had to cross the Trossachs. The scrub grasses and heather on Rannoch Moor support only hearty breeds like sheep and long-haired highland cattle, fondly known as the hieland hairy coos (cows). We enjoyed miles of beautiful scenery as we crossed the country from east to west through the Trossachs region.
We pulled off the highway at Glencoe (the Valley of Tears). The “tears” are springs of water forming tiny waterfalls. The name took on a second meaning when, in 1692, a group from Clan Campbell allied with the English king, slaughtered the MacDonalds of Glencoe in the valley. Having sought the hospitality of the MacDonalds on a winter’s night, the Campbells killed them as they slept. Some MacDonalds escaped up the sides of the mountain, many freezing to death. A piper often plays at the foot of the glen in memory of those lost in the “Glencoe Massacre.” (I apologize to those of you who may have read this story in a past challenge post – I just had to tell it again.)
As we reached Loch Linnhe near the bottom of the Great Glen, we turned north to follow the fault, passing Fort William and Ben (Mount) Nevis on our way.
We were in the highlands!
Ben Nevis is only 4,409 feet high, but it’s the highest point in Britain. It seems like that should make an “easy climb” for hikers and climbers, but it’s treacherous because of fog and ice that make the trails difficult to navigate as the day goes on.
We proceeded up the Glen past the Commando Memorial, dedicated to the British Commando Forces in World War II. From there, we passed Loch Lochy and Loch Oich on our way to Fort Augustus at the foot of Loch Ness.
Here, we boarded a boat for an hour-long cruise up the loch in search of “Nessy,” the legendary Loch Ness monster, and heard much of the folklore surrounding the lake.
Loch Ness is deep, and the water is murky black from all of the peat runoff from the hills around it. Divers who have gone in search of the beast can’t see more than a few inches. However, boats with sonar (including ours) have discovered what they believe are eels as long as a school bus in the depths of the lake. So maybe there is a Nessy!
After our cruise, we wound our way up the loch, stopping for a view of the ruins of Urquhart Castle before moving on to Inverness (mouth of the Ness.) This is the northernmost point of the Great Glen, on the Moray Firth (Bay), which empties into the North Sea.
As we left Inverness, we started our southeast trek back to Edinburgh. We passed the Cairngorms (a mountain range with good skiing, we were told), and the ruins of Ruthven Barracks, built on the site of an old castle. These barracks, and several others, were built around 1721 by the English after the Jacobite uprisings, as a fortified presence to regulate the highlanders. At one time the complex housed 120 British soldiers.
We drove past the Dalwhinnie Distillery, which produces a lovely smooth Scotch, then continued on, stopping in the charming town of Pitlochry for a scone and a cup of coffee.
We got back on the road and continued on past Perth, and on this long leg of the drive, thoroughly enjoyed the colorful stories our guide told. He had us in stitches, making the trip go quickly and painlessly!
Finally, we crossed the First of Forth and headed back to Edinburgh. From our vehicle bridge we could see the Forth Bridge, a railroad bridge, finished in 1890. It’s still studied as an engineering accomplishment today because of the length of its cantilevered span.
A long, wonderful day, filled with beautiful scenery and enchanting, dramatic history. And yet, there’s still so much more to see. We’ll save Culloden Moor, Loch Lomond, and Scone Castle for our next trip!
¹ Old Scottish song, On the Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond