Castles, Craigs, Whisky and Nessie… and they are just some of the reasons that we wanted to visit Scotland. We have just spent 5 days driving around this beautiful country, trying to take as much in as possible. It all started with a 4.5 hour train ride from London to Edinburgh, where we picked up our hire car and headed West to our first stop.
Ratho is a small town 30 minutes out of Edinburgh, where the Bryce family has a little history – and not necessarily good history – one of them went a little crazy when his girlfriend turned down his marriage proposal, resulting in him running across the river to the house where she worked and murdering one of her friends/co-workers. He was caught and was subsequently the last man to be hanged in Edinburgh. He lived with his parents in their home at the time and this house is now a local pub: The Bridge Inn. We stopped there for lunch and spoke to some of the bar staff about George Bryce, they knew all about him and said his ghost still passes through the place sometimes and haunts the staff. They also said that they would say hi to him for us the next time that he appears.
After lunch, it was time for a quick tour through Whitburn and Bathgate – which were also significant towns for the Bryce family – then the time came to drive north for an hour to St Andrews. The highlight of the drive was crossing the Firth of Forth Suspension Bridge. Our accommodation for the night was ‘The Old Station’ where we stayed in an old train carriage. The site was an old train station 5 minutes drive out of St Andrew’s and the owners had renovated and converted the place into a B&B. They then added the old train carriage out the front and converted it into two suites, (still on the old train tracks). We spent the night drinking red wine, eating cheese, playing Janga along with drinking the local sherry our hosts had provided for us.
In the morning, we had time to explore the 2 acres that was a part of the B&B site – which included a mini chip and putting green to practice our golf on. After a full home-cooked Scottish breakfast, we were on our way to explore the old university town that we had heard so much about.
Our first stop was the St Andrew’s golf course. The old course is where the game of golf was originally played in the 1400s. On Sundays, the golf course is closed to golfers and opened to the public to walk around. It meant that we had an opportunity to walk across the Swilcan Bridge, which every golfer walks across after the playing the 18th hole and therefore is famous for the pictures of iconic golfers that cross this bridge at the end of a game.
As the course is right on the water’s edge, it meant we could then walk down to West Sands beach which is famous for the ‘Chariots of Fire’ run in ‘Dead Poets Society’. Of course we couldn’t resist the urge to take a few “running” shots of ourselves while humming the tune of ‘Chariots of Fire’, as we ran along the beach.
After spending the next few hours exploring this small university town and visiting the other must see sights such as St Andrew’s Cathedral and the Castle, it was time to get on the road, but not before a quick stop in the very tiny town of Crail. Matt had insisted on visiting this place as it was only 20 minutes out of St Andrew’s and he had read about its number one tourist attraction….. “The Devil’s Stone”. This was a large boulder outside the Crail church, which was supposedly thrown across the ocean from the Isle of May to the mainland when the devil was angry. You are meant to be able to still see his fingerprints on the boulder, which were the blue stains at the bottom of the boulder. However, we arrived in Crail and realised that if you had blinked, you would have missed it, which gives you an indication just how small it was! We pulled up outside the church and there was a fairly large, ordinarily-looking stone in the car park. This was the “boulder” that we had divirted of our path for 20 minutes to see. It was not quite as exciting as Matt had described it. To make the visit to town more worthwhile, we had a quick walk along the coast and it turns out that Crail had something going for it. The views out over the ocean were fantastic, although the strong coastal breeze soon sent us back to the warmth of the car!
We continued north, stopping in Perth for Lunch and a quick visit to Scone Castle to help break up the 4 hour drive to our next destination: Loch Ness. We finally reached Inverness around 6:30pm that night and were excited to drive the final 20 minutes to our stop for the night… However we suddenly noticed a funny noise coming from the front of the car and pulled over to discover a flat tyre! Matt set about changing the tyre in the pouring rain while Hannah gave useful advice such as “righty tighty, lefty loosey” and half an hour later, we were back on the road.
That night, we had booked a glamping (glamorous camping) experience in an armadillo on a farm in Loch Ness. When we finally arrived at the campsite, we were a little late and the manager (Graham) was not impressed with us so when we realised that we couldn’t find our matches to light the BBQ, we decided that asking him for some was not an option. After consuming a bottle of red wine – our problem solving abilities were at an all time high – which resulted in us using our map of the local area to light the BBQ by sticking it into the toaster, until we had a good flame. After our map was well lit, we then had to run with it across the campsite towards the BBQ. It was all worth it in the end as the rain stopped and we had the rest of our wine next to the warm BBQ flames as we cooked the sausages. After dinner, we retreated into the warmth of our heated armadillo to drink the rest of our vino. Thanks Graham!
In the morning, we were very excited as today was the day we were part-taking on a voyage on the Loss Ness to search for the famous Loch Ness Monster! We bordered a boat and spent an hour cruising down Loch Ness. The boat had SONAR on board so we could keep an eye out for any suspicious movements in the underlying water, whilst we enjoyed the spectacular views that surround the Loch including the Urquhart Castle.
Next on the agenda was the Isle of Skye, but not before stopping briefly in Inverness for some lunch, while we waited for our car to have a new tyre fitted. Two hours later, we were well on our way as we crossed the Skye Bridge and began to make our way west across the island to one of the most remote parts; a very small town called Stein. Stein is an extremely remote town which consists of one street, which is about 200m long on the western shore of the Isle. To reach Stein, we had to make our way along an extremely twisty, one lane road – and at the same time – take in the breath-taking views, whilst constantly avoiding sheep. If it wasn’t for the constant rain throughout the drive, we could almost imagine that we were driving along an outback road in Queensland. We discovered that there was a complete lack of fences during our drive and that when the fences were present, the sheep were on the wrong side of them anyway. It made it an entertaining drive, and before we knew it, we had arrived at the Stein Inn, where we spent the night and had a Scottish dinner and plenty of whiskey.
The next morning, after having typical Scottish breakfast, including black pudding and haggis, it was time to set off and explore our first stop which was the well-hidden Faerie Glen. This was certainly a bizarre and delightful, miniature landscape of grassy, cone-shaped hills with flowers, waterfalls and of course… sheep. You can only reach Faerie Glen by turning off the main road, just before the town of Uig, and travelling 1 mile along a dangerous-looking road. Before long, you drive over a small hill – and all of sudden, out of nowhere – you are there. It is truly a beautiful sight even though it was autumn. We could only imagine how amazing it would look in spring!
After passing through Uig, we made our way along some more windy roads before reaching the Quairaing. This distinctive landscape is part of the rotternish ridge on the Isle of Skye. The whole escarpment was formed by a series of landslips and the Quirang is the only part of the slip that is still moving. Part of the road at the base of the landscape requires repairs each year. It has earned many names, the most famous being the Needle. This is a jagged, 37m high pinnacle which is a remnant of the land slipping. The Table is a flat, grassy plateau that has slipped down from the summit which is a popular place for walkers to visit. However, when we visited, it was pouring with rain and the fog was setting in fast and therefore was not ideal hiking weather.
So we continued on to see Kilt Rock (a famous cliff face on the eastern coast of the Isle), which is said to look like the pleats of a kilt, and the Old Man of Storr (a 50m pinnacle also on the Trotternish Ridge), which although, spending nearly an hour eating our picnic lunch in the car – as the rain and fog was so heavy – it was never clear enough for us to see it.
This concluded our visit to the Isle of Skye and therefore, it was time to head back to the mainland and continue through Fort William and past the UK’s tallest mountain, Ben Nevis. We completely missed any sightings of Ben Nevis, (including the base of the mountain) as again, it was far too foggy, so we continued on to Glen Coe for our final night.
We checked into the Clachaig Inn, which is well-known throughout Scotland for its secluded location amongst the towering mountain ranges and its many bars. The Boots Bar being the most well-known with over 200 different Whiskeys on offer. We dabbled in a little bit of whiskey-tasting and once our taste buds had been successfully burnt off, we continued drinking local beers with our dinner and a few games of pool (which Matt all won).
People often come to Glen Coe for hiking as there are many good trails throughout the area, and therefore it seemed appropriate that the next morning, we give one of the many hiking tracks a try. As we were pushed for time, we chose a short 1 hour walk to signal rock. According to the legend, this particular rock was where the signal was given to begin the Glencoe Massacre in 1692. It just looked like a large boulder to us, but the stories behind it were interesting and the walk through the woodlands was beautiful especially with the picturesque mountains in the background.
The last destination of our journey was to Stirling to visit one of the most visited castles in Scotland, followed by our last visit to a Scottish pub to have lunch in the Old Town. Afterwards, it was time to drive the 1 hour to our final destination, Edinburgh. It was from here that we boarded our train back to London. After what seemed a very short, but amazingly fun-filled week, we thought that we would definitely be back to Scotland one day…. but until then… Beannachd leat!