Having a local take you around a new city or country, telling you information that you may not find on popular websites, taking you to locations off the normal tourist route, is a fantastic way to gain new insights and appreciation for where you are visiting. I have not yet taken a multi-date bus tour anywhere until I decided to take a 3 Day Isle of Skye and Highlands tour in Scotland with the Heart of Scotland (Wee Red Bus) tour operator.
We were all loaded into a bus that accommodated up to 16 people and with such a small group, offered us a chance to talk to each other and find out about where they are from and their experiences in Scotland. On my bus were 3 people from Calgary and 2 people from the USA, as well as people from Sweden, Taiwan, Argentina and more.
We had an excellent bus driver, who also spoke to us as he drove about the sites we were about to see. Andy C. was a wealth of information. He studies history so was able to tell us about the different clans and wars that have occurred in the Highlands and the Isle of Skye. You wouldn’t get the same level of information, or emotion, by reading about this on the web as you drove along yourself. Andy stopped at various natural sites, such as waterfalls, as well as villages and towns.
The 3-day tour was packed with lots of things to see and do, and I would recommend it for anyone to take. The only thing I would recommend that you take lots of pictures and bring a rain jacket as rain can fall at any time and when it does, it usually is a torrent for a brief time, then clears up. Following are the tour stops and highlights to me. The land is very beautiful and you can be taking pictures non-stop. Enjoy.
A Few Tour Stops and Highlights
We drove past Linlithgow Palace where Mary Queen of Scots was born in December 1542 and stayed on occasion. As well we passed The Kelpies, which look like two huge horse heads coming out of the ground. I’ve read they represent a shape-shifting water spirit inhabiting the lochs and pools of Scotland.
Next, we passed Stirling Castle and William Wallace monument. Stirling was the main entry point to the north of Scotland in the past, so control of it was very important. Wallace wanted a united Scotland. At the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297 Wallace and his men attacked the soldiers of King Edward I of England, defeating the soldiers. Wallace was eventually captured, taken to London, found guilty and executed, but his drive for Scottish unity continued with other Scots.
Our first stop was at Kilmahog to feed and pet some Hairy coos. A coo is the Scottish word for cow. These cows though are specially bred for the Scottish weather. I read that they do not have the layer of fat that other cows have; instead, they have extra long hair to keep them warm in the winter. The coos were Hamish the bull, Honey the mother, and Holly the baby.
We passed Loch Lubnaig, a lake with a bend in it. Lubnaig means “crooked”. Loch means “lake”.
Next, we passed Glencoe where the New Avengers Infinity War and James Bond Skyfall films were shot. Glencoe is infamous for the Massacre of Glencoe in 1692, where 38 people from the MacDonald clan died; 24 were women and children. The massacre was undertaken by the Campbell clan and are still viewed unfavourably in Scotland according to Andy.
There were 2 places along our route where we saw a Viking Marker Stone as we drove by. One Viking Marker stone was at Onich.
Have you ever heard of Harry Potter? Do you remember the train? That train leaves from Fort William. We followed Loch Linnhe to Fort William. You can ride this train on your own, but it was not part of our tour.
We had a quick lunch at Spean Bridge then departed for the Isle of Skye. Our first site was the Scotlands Loch. It is a special lake because it is shaped like the outline of Scotland. Obviously, someone shaped the banks for this effect, but it was interesting to see.
Our next major stop was the Eilean Donan Castle. It is very picturesque on a small island jutting out into an area intersected by 3 lochs. But, it was downpouring buckets of rain at the time so I had a quick view and photos from the outside only. Then a visit to the gift shop and a coffee and snack before loading back in the bus. Some say that this is the most famous castle in Scotland.
River Sligachan is known as the River of Beauty or Fountain of Youth; as the story goes that a Highland maiden was disfigured by a clan rival but was saved by a faerie queen that immersed the girl in the Sligachan River and when she emerged she was beautiful again. This day the river was very angry due to the recent rains.
We finally pulled into the largest town on the Isle of Skye, Portree, where we had our dinner and stayed two nights. Andy again was very helpful driving us around town and pointing out the different restaurants he recommends.
Our first stop was the Brides Veil waterfall. Although small compared to our falls in BC, it was nonetheless quite pretty to see.
The Old Man of Storr rock pinnacle was next.
The fog rolled in and out so quickly that you had to take a picture very quickly before the Old Man was shrouded again.
Next, we stopped at the Prince Charles Caves where we viewed the ocean from the edge of cliffs. We did not see any caves, but it is the vistas that made this location for me. A short way away we stopped at Kilt Rock. Viewing both the cliffs and Kilt Rock was truly an awesome experience. The sheep do like to graze along the cliffs. They must have very sturdy steps as it is a long drop if they slip.
As we continued to travel northward, we stopped at Quirang, which is a natural landscape where a large mass of land had slipped forming the amazing view you see below. It looked like it could be a location for The Hobbit. I’d recommend clicking on the picture to make it larger so you can see all the detail in this area.
Another beautiful overview was at Ouig Bay followed by a stop in the town at the Isle of Skye brewery where we tried and purchased a few craft beers.
Dunvegan Castle was our next stop at basically the northwest tip of the Isle of Skye. A truly lovely castle along with gardens; at this place we had time to tour plus eat our lunches. I noted that the plants in the garden really reminded me of Vancouver. There were rhododendrons, hydrangeas in bloom, lilies, ferns, and rain! Inside the Castle was fully furnished so you could imagine what it would be like for the residents of this castle many years ago.
A few more views along the ocean then back to Portree to end Day 2.
Ammoll Waterfall was our first stop at the day followed by the Dun Beag Broch which was a roundhouse built many years ago but is now a historical remnant.
Fort Augustus would be one of our next stops. You may not recognize its name, but if I say that this is the location of Loch Ness, I’m sure this will pique your interest. It was a cloudy day and the loch was dark and moody. There were some ripples along the water but as I peered, I was unable to see Nessie. Alas, I had my lunch, viewed some gift shops, and watched the locks above Loch Ness successively open and close to allow the passage of several sailboats.
Along the way, we did see Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest mountain, located near Fort William. I would show you a picture but I cannot tell for sure which one it is in my 1125 photos.
Invermoriston was our next stop, and although it is a sleepy little town, it is best known for the author Jim Barry who lived there and inspired him to write Peter Pan.
As we continued our journey we passed Loch Lochy then stopped at the Spean Bridge Commando Monument. While there were many wars from the 1200s and older, Scotland also sent many people to war in modern-day. This monument is meant for WWII soldiers and as well as has a nearby area for soldiers lost in recent campaigns in Afghanistan, for example.
We passed through Cairngorms National Park and stopped at the Laggan dam. Continuing along we passed by the Dalwhinnie Distillery (for Scotch Whisky). A special feature of all Scottish distilleries is the tall peaked chimney which was designed to help them malt the barley. It looks like a pagoda.
A quick stop in Dunkeld to buy some baked goods for my breakfast the next day then back in the bus.
Rolling into Edinburgh we pass by the “3 Bridges of Edinburgh”, which show bridges of different ages. OK to see, but not to stop.
Thank you very much to Andy C for being such an entertaining and informative tour guide. I had a great time on the tour, even with all the rain in the middle of summer. Give the Heart of Scotland tours a try if you want to leave the driving to someone else while you do the sightseeing.
How did I get to Scotland? From Vancouver you can fly to Halifax then on to Glasgow via Westjet.