You absolutely need more than one day to explore the Scottish highlands, but since our time in Scotland was limited, we made the most of the time that we had. The highlands were my favourite part of Scotland. We explored Edinburgh, and St Andrews, but nothing compared to the wild, magical beauty that encompassed the Scottish Highlands.
We booked a twelve-hour mini coach tour of the highlands with Rabbies. We selected a tour that would take us as far up as Loch Ness, with stops at well known sites in the Scottish highlands such as Rannoch Moor, Glencoe, the Great Glen, the mountains of the Cairngorms National Park and the Grampian mountains.
Our tour group was small and led by a tour guide named Paul. Throughout our tour, Paul packed our heads full of so much history and information about the Scottish highlands. During the quieter times on the drive, he played Gaelic music, and told us the stories that inspired each song we listened to.
We left Edinburgh and drove past Linlithgow palace, birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots, and Stirling Castle. There wasn’t time to stop, but both landmarks looked impressive in the distance. Just past Stirling, we drove by Doune Castle. Doune Castle plays a leading role in the show, Outlander, substituting for the fictional Castle Leoch – home to Colum MacKenzie and his clan in the 18th century episodes. (I’m a huge Outlander fan girl, so this was a big moment for me!)
Before we headed into the highlands, we stopped in the small town of Callandar for coffee and a break. Paul told us before we stopped about a bakery on the high street that sells delicious chocolate, cream-filled doughnuts. We raced there to grab two the moment we got off the bus, and then proceeded to walk around the small village taking in the sites. The doughnuts by the way, were totally worth the calories!
After crossing the Highland boundary the scenery changed quickly – the flat plains of the Scottish lowlands disappeared and gave way to mountain hills. Shortly after we entered the highlands, we stopped quickly for a meet and greet with Hamish, the famous highland coo (it is ‘coo’, not ‘cow’) He was hairy, and adorable.
As we continued on our road trip through the highlands, slowly the mountains became taller, and the terrain more rugged and wild. The scenery was stunning. Every time we stopped to take it all in, I kept reminding myself to memorize what I was seeing in my mind. The beauty of the highlands is overwhelming.
We drove through Rannoch Moor, and came into Glencoe, an area made famous by the Glencoe massacre in 1692, when members of the Campbell clan betrayed and slaughtered members of the Macdonald clan in the dead of night. Paul told us the story in detail to build our anticipation as we drove into Glencoe, and came up upon the Three Sisters, a set of three beautiful mountains.
We made a stop at the ruins of Inverlochy Castle. Inverlochy Castle was built in 1280, and three battles were fought there. The ruins are whimsical and romantic. We spent half an hour wandering through the grounds. It was raining softly during our time here, but we didn’t need umbrellas. Roaming the ruins was more special in the rain, all the colours popped, and everything seemed to be brighter, and more alive.
We arrived in Fort Augustus in time for lunch, and had about two hours to explore the town and admire the mystery and beauty surrounding Loch Ness. There was the option to take a boat tour, but since it was raining, we opted for a pub on dry land. We snuggled up and enjoyed fish & chips, and local beer from Loch Ness Brewery while the rain hammered down outside. Honestly, it was wonderful. We felt like we were experiencing a small piece of authentic Scotland – all bundled in a pub, beers in hand, while the unpredictable weather whirled wildly outside our door. Eventually, the rain slowed, and we walked back to the shores of Loch Ness, and wandered along the banks. Unfortunately for us, there was no sign of Nessie, the world-famous Loch Ness monster. I definitely believe she’s out there though… somewhere…
We enjoyed a leisurely drive back to Edinburgh through Cairngorms National Park. We stopped at lookouts and listened to Paul tell stories. He told us about highland culture, the clans and their volatile history throughout the centuries. We drove past the Dalwhinnie Distillery, where they produce 15 year old single malt Scotch. My husband would have loved to stop here for a tasting – next time perhaps!
It was an incredible day in the highlands, and above everything else we learned on our tour, we learned that we want to go back and spend more time exploring the mystery, history and tradition that surrounds the Scottish Highlands. We’re already planning out next trip!