Friday, 3 August 2007

Our Scottish Adventure!

A rather tame crossing over the border - this is the only
sign that you are leaving England to start on
your adventure into the unknown!
Be there Dragons?

Real Scottish heather!

Perth

Leaving Perth - next stop Edinburgh

HELP!

Edinburgh Castle - in passing!

Part of our Quest for Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle - in passing again!

Beautiful building seen during
our Quest - no idea!


The cable car at Ben Nevis - from the top!

Going UP!

One of many fantastic views from
the train window

and another!

Mallaig harbour

Harry Potters Bridge!

First station stop on the line

View along the crest of the mountain ridge
south bank Lock Ness


A Scottish Kirk!

Just one of the many beautiful gardens
overflowing with flowers that we saw


One of the many delightful little villages
encountered along the way


Our Hotel - The Old Pines
View from the Dining Room

A view from the top of a mountain road


Lord of the Isles - The Jacobite Steam Engine

The main tearoom in Mallaig



Just one view in Inverness

Canal boat on the Loch Ness

Another view of part of Loch Ness


Once a year, come rain or shine, the great pilgrimage to the land of our forefathers takes place. It is a time of great planning with many decisions to be made as to which new part of the United Kingdom we will visit each year. The main purpose of this annual pilgrimage is to see the first born and middle sons - the first couple of weeks always being spent, therefore, in the surprisingly comfortable if rather modern town of Milton Keynes.

This year it was decided to visit Scotland. Not just 'tame' Scotland but the wild and untamed (sort of!) Scottish Highlands of Robert the Bruce and Bonnie Prince Charlie fame. A trip which was also to fulfill a long held dream of mine to go Nessie hunting along the banks of that most famous of all Scotland's lochs - Loch Ness! So having packed the girl child off to Rome with her brother and a few friends, the husband and I hired a car and set off to drive the 350 odd miles to a delightful little town called Spean Bridge - right in the heart of the Highlands and overlooked by the UK's highest mountain, Ben Nevis.

Leaving Milton Keynes at the crack of dawn, we took the M6 North as far as Glasgow before heading off along the 'scenic' route to Fort William and thence to Spean Bridge. Glasgow caused a bit of a problem as the navsat my oldest and most diligent son had set up for us decided that Glasgow was even more than it could handle and went into a major sulk just when we needed it most! After being told to 'cross the (non-existent) roundabout and take the third exit' one too many times, the husband had a complete sense of humour failure and ripped it from its moorings, to be stuffed in the glove box and not to see the light of day again until returned to its rightful owner!

I was handed a map (the BIGGEST I have ever seen!) and told to take over navigation - a very dangerous thing to do as I have absolutely no sense of direction whatsoever which was well proved when I managed, in some way I still do not understand, to send us backwards over a very large bridge and off to the airport! A simple 'You'll have to turn around dear and go back the other way' was met with a few very choice words as the simplicity of my suggestion turned into the reality of actually trying to turn around on a four lane highway and to find the right exit to the bridge to be under repair and closed with a diversion which seemed to take us all around Glasgow! Thankfully good relations were quickly restored as the beauty of the route took over and the road became less well traveled.

As you slowly climb further and further up into the mountains and the air gets fresher and sharper, a sense of the vast isolation of the place begins to creep over you. The mountains are enormous with only a few little cottages standing in the big open valleys below. Each bend in the road brings yet another amazing vista that just has to be photographed! Progress, while steady, was slow! Finally, you come down into a valley and drive along the very edge of an enormous stretch of water, the steep sides of the mountains falling into the deep water. As you wind your way along the edge of a loch, the sudden appearance of the brightly flowered garden of a little stone cottage nestling amongst some trees comes as a bit of a surprise before being lost again as you travel around another bend. Finally you drive into the coastal port of Fort William, a strange mixture of old and new - one of the first things to strike my eye being a large and ugly Macdonalds! Although still bearing the name 'Fort William', the fort itself no longer exists having been bulldozed just after the 2nd World War to make place for expansion and housing. A silly thing to have done and much resented by most of the Scotsmen that I chatted with!

Spean Bridge is only 7 miles further up the road. We stayed in a delightful little hotel called The Old Pines - it gave the impression of a rather sophisticated log cabin! Our room was spotlessly clean and beautifully decorated with a superb little bathroom and with a wonderful shower pressure of steaming hot water. A delight in every way! We were welcomed with offers of tea or coffee and freshly baked scones with homemade raspberry jam and clotted cream - absolutely delicious. Although being small, it was extremely comfortable in every way - the owner making every effort to make you feel very welcome.

Our first outing of the trip was a day's excursion on the Jacobite Steam Railway which runs from Fort William to Mallaig and back every day, a trip of some 80 miles of the most amazing vistas I've ever seen. One of its major advertising blurbs informs you that the tracks run over the bridge used in the Harry Potter movies - a rather disappointing concrete edifice that must have been well air-brushed for the movies we decided! Otherwise a charming experience as our 'little engine' puffed its way up and down the hills with a merry toot at the road crossings to finally draw into Mallaig Station - gateway to the Isle of Skye amongst others. From this small fishing village you can catch the Caledonian Ferry to the Isle which, I believe, is well worth a visit. Mallaig itself mainly consists of little tourist traps in the form of curio shops and cafe's - our excursion only allowed time for a bite of lunch and a little shopping before hopping back onto the train for the return trip. The railway itself is run by a few steam enthusiasts who sell maps and other mementos and raffle off a couple of bottles of good Scotch whisky on the train - all proceeds going towards running expenses. It was a pleasant and fun way to see the countryside - I've always had a soft spot for the old 'puffing billy'!

With a couple of hours to spare between dinner and our train trip, my hubby persuaded me to venture forth up the mountains on the Ben Nevis cable car. Being rather fearful of high places I had my doubts about the wisdom of this but it was well worth it. The cable car doesn't actually run up Ben Nevis itself but goes about two thirds of the way up the neighbouring mountain from where you can get some pretty stunning views below and look at the patches of snow still on Ben Nevis' peaks. I was astonished to see mountain bikes for hire - apparently some people actually take their bikes up in the cable car and RIDE them down! The rough path down is very steep and winding and full of rocks - I just can't imagine anyone being that daft! Sadly there was no-one on the way down whilst we were there but the lady in the curio shop (yes, even at the top of a mountain) assured me that people do this all the time. Bizarre!

The following day was put aside for a session of 'Nessie Spotting' as we planned a day trip along the south bank to Inverness, returning along the much more popular north bank and stopping in to see Urquart Castle (or its remains at least!). The drive along the south bank took us high into the mountains to start with - absolutely amazing views and not even a sheep in sight - then down to the loch's edge to drive along a tunnel of trees with views across the loch suddenly appearing between the trees when least expected. There was definitely an eerie feeling as we drove along a nearly deserted road under a canopy of green - if Nessie was anywhere about, I'm sure this was the place! Maybe looking back at me as I peered through the trees looking for her? All too soon we reached Inverness and, regrettably, the hoards of tourists that flock to Loch Ness every year. I was glad that we had followed our booking agents advice to go along the south bank which seems to be far less appealing to your average tourist than the much more developed north bank.

Inverness is a pretty little town with beautiful old buildings and and well kept flower gardens and was a pleasure to drive through. We decided to stop for lunch at a largish hotel overlooking the loch just outside the town. After lunch and a spot of souvenir shopping at the rather expensive shop in the lobby, we moved on to Urquart Castle - a fascinating look into the past and another chance to spend money! A bit further up the road we came across a 'Nessie Information Centre' and couldn't resist checking it out. It was great fun - it had been set up as a sort of 'interactive' walk through which we thought was rather clever and would be very appealing to children in particular. They showed videos and explained in fair detail the past sightings and hunts for the 'Monster' and gave various facts and figures - all very interesting stuff.

After a leisurely breakfast the following day, it was time to head back to Milton Keynes. We decided to take a different route via Edinburgh to catch up with the M1 South - in theory giving us a clear run all the way back. It was a lovely scenic drive down through the mountains into the lower, more gentle 'hills' below. Our route took us through Perth (the original!), very pretty and easy to negotiate, and then on to Edinburgh.

Edinburgh - amazing place and much bigger than I expected! It was here that even the hubby's directional skills (normally considerable I might add!) came completely unstuck! The place was hopping with humanity, cars and buses and we drove round and round in square circles trying to find access to the mighty Edinburgh Castle. As you can see from my pictures, we were only mildly successful - those were taken as we kept trundling down wrong turns and one way streets in a desperate attempt as tempers rose with the temperature in the car! After wasting a considerable amount of time we decided to get the hell out of the place and then spent even more time trying to do that too! I'm afraid my impressions of what is in reality a very beautiful city were rather marred by this frustrating experience.

Then it was back on the road, time now pressing after all the craziness in Edinburgh, for a pleasant but rushed drive down the coastline and back, eventually, across the border into England and a long, weary trip on an overcrowded motorway to Milton Keynes.

I loved the wildness and vastness of the Scottish Highlands. I loved the fresh air and the cleanliness of the country and I hope one day to return to do some more exploring!

16 comments:

Ambre said...

WOW! Absolutely breathtaking shots Jayne. You must of had a wonderful time on your journey. Did you hate to come home again? Harry Potter's Bridge huh? Now I know where to find him.

~enjoyed my journey~

Rebicmel said...

Jayne, what can I a say I am speechless and that is hard to accomplish. What a wonderful trip. I loved the look of the heather and I loved hearing about loch Ness to bad yo didn't get to see Nessie though. I am so envious of the Harry Potter bridge hehehehe even if it isn't the original, it looks like it, is it the one? That one train almost looked just like the train as well. The pictures are fantastic, it makes it fell like you I was there with you. Excellent , excellent. Kudo's to you and hugs for sharing this with us.

Jayne :) said...

I do honestly believe that if the weather wasn't so freezing for the other 9 months of the year, I would move to Scotland instantly! :)

Tis the VERY bridge used in filming (or so we were assured) and it may well have been our little engine that they used too - there were a couple of others in the station at Fort William so I can't be sure.

Thanks guys - it's wonderful to share these moments with friends! :)

ERIK VAN TONGERLOO said...

Hi Jayne,

I heard that Scotland was a beautiful country but by seeing these pictures I am amazed. I really need to visit this beautiful place. It is not far from my country.

Also a very good article;

Tip : promote your blog in http://www.piecelibrary.com/ by writing an article there and make a link to your blog in the bylink. Your blog will attract more visitors.

Erik

jadey said...

Jayne I love the pics. I love the ones of the castle how beautiful! The one of the house with the garden was just so pretty breathtakingly so. So do tell any nessie sitings?

Ambre said...

I've just gone through this again Jayne and it is truly breathtaking. How fortunate you were to go!

Ambre said...

Jayne, please stop by my blog today to view my 'Wordless Wednesday' presentation. You should really sign onto this game, you have some great photos to share..

~smiles~

Rebicmel said...

Jayne, I always enjoy your writings. Where's the coffee dear I came searching for it. Oh I left a Cheesecake too.

Keith Hillman said...

Jayne

As I told you before, although I only live a day's drive or so from Scotland, I have never been there.

Your photos and article have done more to tempt me North than any travelogue or article has ever done.

marja said...

Jayne, Nice pics and what a beautiful trip. Edinburgh is on my wishlist of places to see. One day when I visit holland.
Was nice to came by good stories and good coffee.

jadey said...

Hi Jayne just wanted to let you know that if you stop by my blog my wordless wednesday pics are up as well as two chapters of a story I started

jadey said...

Jayne I have been doing a tribute to colors so far I have pink, green, blue, purple, and I just added red and orange please do check it out.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jayne and friends.

My name is Lors, I write on Helium, and it was there I stumbled accross your georgous wee coffee house, I was curious, and so here I am :)

I am from Scotland, infact I live in the small village of Ratho in Mid Lothian, right next to a beautiful canal, I adore watching the barges floating up and down, its very relaxing.

I loved reading about your trip to Scotland its a wonderful placed old rugged Alba :)

Hope to catch up with you soon as well as with all your lovely coffee house friends.

Love and hugs

Brightest Blessings

Lors (aka octoberustica)

Jayne :) said...

Hi Lors and welcome to my blog :)

I love Scotland - you are SO lucky to be living in such a beautiful place. If it wasn't for the very cold winters I suspect you have, I would move there right now. lol

Look forward to seeing you on Helium - I have a coffee shop there too :)

Louis McCormick. said...

Hi Jayne,

Good to see your pics. The road south out of Perth is familiar because I take it most days!

Sorry you got snarled up in Edinburgh. I can understand how the Old Town is a confusion of cobbles and alleyways to the unfamiliar.

Glad you got a good impression of old Alba.

Louis M. :)

Jayne :) said...

Hey Louis :)

Thanks for stopping by. These pics were only a few of the nearly 400 I took! Thank goodness for the digital camera - lol

One day I will go back to Edinburgh with more time in hand and a PROPER street map! I saw so much beauty there BUT the highlands are my first love without a doubt!

Being of Scottish ancestry on both sides of the family (I'm a Munro!) it was wonderful to see the family heritage - do you think I can lay claim to a small bit? Please? :)