We were up early for our bus tour. Our internal clocks were still a mess, so we woke up close to 3 am, even thought we needed to be at the meeting point at 7:30. The tour was a 12 hour tour through the Scottish Highlands, including a stop at Loch Ness. Yes, we are on our third day, and still driving. Must be Brain Damage.
Last night the streets were absolutely shoulder to shoulder with people. I went down at about 6:30 and the city was abandoned. It was also surprisingly clean considering how big this event is. A big section of the Royal Mile is closed to car traffic, and that party zone had really very little litter. I imagine the cleaning crews are working overtime, but prople seemed really respectful as well.
We made it to the Cafe by 7:30 where the tour groups meet. Thank God they had coffee, and some breakfast sandwiches. I was pleased to learn they had a Haggis sandwich available. Haggis is a Scottish dish that scares everyone, it’s ground Lamb plus organs plus Oats and Barley plus mystery then all cooked in a Sheep’s stomach. (I think they just use a Hot Pot today.) Most Americans think it’s horrible, but I love it. It’s kind of like a Game Meat Sloppy Joe in flavor.
In any case, I was in the back of the bus eating my Sheep’s Stomach Sandwich, with Yulia and Sasha in the seats in front of me, and Henry and his wife Kathy beside me. We were driving out of Edinburgh while our driver gave us an excellent history of toilets and death, which several hundred years ago were deeply linked. This was going to be a long tour, so some of what we saw was just passing by, and we had several stops that were timed so we could make it back in time. Our first major drive-by were “The Kelpies.” These are huge statues of horses heads <insert Godfather joke here> near the river, which matches the Scottish legend of magical horse creatures near water that would trap and drown people. The Scottish really need some more positive legends. We also passed (but didn’t stop at) the castle that was used for Winterfell, and also used in Monty Pythons Holy Grail. Man we really wanted to stop there, but apparently it is a full tour itself.
We did stop at a nice Loch (lake) for a break. This wasn’t a major site, but a rest station with a really nice view. We got a few photos, and found out that our guide was a photographer and designer for his day job. He took a few photos of us with my camera, posing us around a nice stump. The first shot looks like it is the cover of our first Prog Rock albumn, but he got the poses right at the end, and it’s pretty neat to have a pro shot done for us. Once we all got back into the van, he gave us a choice, go faster up to Loch Ness so we could take the Boat tour, or take more stops in the Glencoe valley. He made it pretty clear that the cruise is a bit of a tourist trap, so we all chose more time in Glencoe.
Glencoe was an amazing valley, it was well worth our time. The valley walls were steep enough between the hilly peaks that it kept creating separate microclimates as we drove. The weather would change from sunny, to misty, to pouring ran, and back again. We took several stops for photos along the way. One of our stops was a riv er view with a bridge and small farmhouse across. Our tour guide was clear that we could take photos on the bridge, but don’t cross over onto the private land. The house was still someone’s real house, and he wasn’t too excited about having lots of people walk on his property. Of course, we arrived there and the place was swarming with tourists. with some of them walking clear up the farmhouse drive.
Our Guide was furious. He dropped us off, then went and berated the other tour guides. Abusing the kindness of someone is an easy way to get permission to be there pulled completely. He was able to get most of the tourists back where they belong, and we got a few photos of some dejected tourists who didn’t understand that the world isn’t their personal doormat.
Despite dealing with these folks, The whole valley was amazing. From the bottom, the peaks rose steeply above us, with countless waterfalls cascading down to the creeks and rivers below. From there we started working our way towards Loch Ness, which is part of a set of connected Lochs (Lakes) which are connected via a series of Locks (that raise water up and down). We also learn that the term Loch can refer to not just fresh water Lakes, but also ocean inlets, such as a Fjord. It’s a bit confusing, but we understood enough not to annoy our guide too much.
The port town of Fort William was on the way, to Loch Ness – or specifically to the town of Fort Augustus on Loch Ness. Fort William itself is really beautiful. It’s a pretty standard port filled with boats, and that by itself is enough for me to like it. Apparently the town id also famous for having the worst whisky distillery in Scotland. Our guide met the owner, who conceded as much to him. It seems that by itself, the Fort William whiskey is just bad tasting and a bit off-putting in its own right. But the recipe is never changed, as it is used in a lot of blended whiskey, and it has a specific something that blenders exactly need. I almost wanted to pick up a bottle, but I decided to take the review on Faith.
Fort Augustus itself was small, with a series of connecting Locks right through the middle. We had an hour and a half to get lunch and tour around. We were at the tapered end of Loch Ness. The Loch itself is long and slender, and disappeared into the mist pretty quickly. That mist disappeared into actual rain just as fast, and we got out of the rain and into somewhere to eat quickly. Our running there ended up being the fastest thing that occurred. The food was really nice, but the staff had no idea what they were doing, and everything took forever. We almost missed our tour, and ended up busing our own drinks at one point. It was a mess. The rain kept up, and we never saw any monsters, (the bill for that lunch excluded).
Back on the tour, we continued our drive through mountain passes on our way back to Edinburgh. We had a stop at a waterfall that was golden brown from all the Peat that flowed into the river. It was crazy dark, but apparently still perfectly fine to Drink. I didn’t test it. We also drove past the Dalwhinnie Distillery. It’s a lighter whiskey, but one of my favorites (yes I like both deep peated whiskies and lighter whiskies as well. Sue me.)
Our final stop was the town of Piltochry. We treated this a chance to stop into a pub and get a shot of whiskey for each of us. They town also apparently had an ice Cream parlor that made a whiskey ice cream that everyone loves, but the line was big and time was short. That tends to made decisions by default. We went back over a bridge on the river Forth from the 1960’s that was literally falling apart – cars aren’t allowed to drive over, but tour buses aren’t prohibited. That tells you the value of tourists. We took that bridge because it gave a view of a much older (the 1890’s in fact!), and much better built, railroad bridge. We couldn’t stop on the bridge to take photos (and frankly it was in bad shape and we weren’t eager to get out her, but we were treated to a break in the rain and an amazing rainbow over the river and bridge.
Sometimes you can’t get a picture, so the memory will have to do.