Friday, January 22, 2016

Scotland Itinerary Part 2 - the Highlands

So, it has all been pretty mellow so far, but it is about to get crazier. After leaving Edinburgh, we started to really move and shake across Scotland.  We tried not to drive for more than 3-4 hours a day. We also tried to include at least one interesting place to stop on each drive.  We were also very lucky in that the weather was quite nice for this time of year.  We only had one day where it was rainy and foggy the entire day!  I think that is good for Scotland in October. If you are planning a trip, I think you really need a minimum of 7 days for Scotland. It would be better to have 10-14. We covered a lot of ground and saw what we wanted to see, but there are places I would have liked to have seen (Isle of Skye, sniffle) and places where I would have liked to have spent more time.

Another tip for saving money and time is to rent apartments with kitchens.  We always ate breakfast in the apartment.  I brought along a bunch of UHT milk, as well as cereal.  We bought eggs and bread at local shops.  We drank a lot of instant coffee that week because coffee makers are not de rigeur in Scottish apartments.  That said, I won't hold it against them. It is still a great place. 

We also skip touristy spots for more authentic locations. The Scottish Historical Society Explorer Pass was a steal for our family at around 100 euros. It covered entry to almost all of the castles and properties that we visited. Government run museums are almost always free and quite engaging and interactive. We didn't visit the Whisky Experience, Madame Tussaud's, the Edinburgh Dungeons or any other tourist traps beckoning in Edinburgh. I'm certain these are fun, but they are also quite expensive.

Day 5 -Stirling Castle and Inverness
We left Edinburgh in the pouring rain and I'm sad to say that it didn't get much better.  We stopped at Stirling Castle, en route.  While Edinburgh castle is a defensive castle, Stirling is more comfortable and luxurious.  It was the home of the Stewart monarchs and Mary, Queen of Scots gave birth to James here.  The castle has lots of actors throughout who play characters typical of the time period.  It is situated on a hill in a beautiful part of Scotland and should have views of the nearby Wallace Memorial. In reality, we spent the day more like this:

Ha!  Scottish weather. It is what it is.  Anyways, it rained all the way (3 hours and 45 minutes), but we made it to Inverness by nightfall. Our hotel was an apartment on the river.  With a super strange bathroom:
Chris demonstrating the size of the downstairs bathroom.

Inverness at night

Day 6:  Culloden Moor and Clava Cairns and the Highland Folk Museum
This was a great day.  Culloden had guides that involved the boys in a history lesson about putting on kilts, the Scottish clan system, warfare and a myriad of other topics. It did, however, start raining on us right when we started the battlefield walk in Culloden.  We ended up SOAKING wet.  Clava Cairns is a remote, untouristy spot with real standing stones. Y'know, like the ones in Outlander.  The Highland Folk Museum is free and absolutely amazing, for people with kids and without.  They have actors, such as a school teacher and farmers, who tell you about life during that time.  This also happens to be the place where the Outlander episode "Rent" was filmed.  I didn't bring along a pop-up Jamie, but I'm definitely a huge fan of the books and the series. 
Culloden moor, right before the rain came

Day 7: Inverness and Fort William
Now, we are getting to my very favorite location in Scotland.  We left Inverness and visited Urquhart Castle en route.  This is a ruined castle situated on Loch Ness. Nope, no sign of Nessie.  We looked. The drive itself was beautiful and took us toward Fort William.  The Fort William area and Glencoe, in the far west of Scotland, feel like the ends of the earth. It is isolated, remote and pristine. I would have loved to have spent more time here, and to have ventured further west to the islands there. I found a quirky hotel off the internet that was across one of the large lochs outside of the city. We could either drive 3 hours around the loch or take a 10 minute ferry that deposited us into the Inn's parking lot.  Um, we chose the ferry. The Inn at Ardgour is a quirky, old school and mellow inn, which was comfortable and memorable.  

Castle Urquhart and Loch Ness

Our view from the window of the Inn

Right beside the Inn

Violet was the only one keen on swimming

Day 8: Glencoe and Glasgow
 Our time in the highlands was, sadly, at an end.  We visited the Glencoe Visitors Center where we did a nature hike and learned more about the infamous Scottish massacre. Then, we drove on to Doune Castle - aka "Castle Leoch" (Outlander) aka "The Monty Python Castle" from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. This one was a huge hit with everyone. The audio guide was narrated by Terry Jones and the gift shop had coconuts they would lend you for photo ops.  Or, if you are Violet, you just carried them around through the entire tour. It was also a ruined castle, but restored enough to get a good idea of what it looked like.  The size was also quite manageable. It was definitely one of our favorite stops. Our hotel was on the outskirts of Glasgow and we saw none of that city.  It looked much bigger, modern and industrial than our previous stops.

Day 9: Return Home
We packed out of our hotel, enjoyed a huge Scottish breakfast (black pudding (blech), bacon, eggs, toast, potatoes, fried mushrooms and tomatoes), and hit the road.  We did stumble upon the remnants of Hadrian's wall perched atop the hills in Northumberland.  We didn't have time to stop for long, but we did take a few pictures. That afternoon, we boarded the ferry to return home.  
If you look closely, you can kinda/sort of see Hadrian's Wall. There isn't a ton left, but it is there.

The view of the Newcastle coast as we headed back to Amsterdam

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