Friday, April 21, 2017

Farewell Edinburgh, Hello Highlands

Part 1 -
Part 2 -
Part 3 -
Part 4 -
Part 5 -
Part 6 -

Packing only took a few minutes that last morning in Edinburgh thanks to my budding talents as a light packer.  I checked out of the hotel, grabbed a light breakfast on my way out and walked along the Royal Mile for the last time.  I was thankful to have so very little luggage to carry all the way up to Cafe Nero to meet my tour bus for the next leg of my Scotland Adventure: a 5-day Best of Scotland Experience Tour through Highland Experience Tours.  The sun was just starting to rise as I made my way up the street and there was hardly anyone around compared to previous days.  Seeing the old buildings and narrow side streets without large crowds gave the scene before me a slightly eerie look and, in a way, made it easier for me to put myself back a couple of hundred years and imagine it 1716 instead of 2016.
Edinburgh at Dawn

I signed up for this tour online through Viator because I had used the company in the past and had a very good experience.  After much research, I decided that this tour would would be the best for me to see as much as possible in the short amount of time I had available.  I don't usually like guided group tours but with only nine days to explore Scotland, I needed a starting point and I don't think I would have been able to see much in such a short period of time on my own.

I reached Cafe Nero with some time to spare so I took a seat outside and waited for my bus to arrive.  Only a few people were there when I arrived but slowly but surely, more people started to trickle into the waiting area.  Dozens actually.  I hoped to myself that they were not all getting on the same bus as me or my chances of getting a window seat would be slim to none.  Fortunately, when my bus arrived, only a few people got on and I had a seat all to myself.

Andrew, our guide for the tour, briefly introduced himself and informed us that we would be stopping in Glasgow to pick up more passengers.  He remained fairly quiet for the next hour, pointing out a few landmarks along the way.  Even as a passenger on a bus, I was able to get a good idea of what driving is like in the UK; fast with lots of confusing roundabouts.  Watching the road from the comfort of the bus made me glad I didn't rent a car for my first time in Europe. 

After the stop in Glasgow and with all passengers onboard, the mood on the bus changed.  Andrew became more chatty which got everyone else talking.  I soon discovered that there were other Canadians on the tour and people from all over the world including Brazil, Italy, Belgium, Norway, The United States, Denmark and India.

As we drove toward our first stop, we got a crash course on Scotland, it's people and some of it's history.  We also learned about a game that is played in the Scottish Highlands called Shinty which Andrew described as a combination of Hockey and modern warfare.  

The bonnie banks of Loch Lomond was the first stop.  I first heard that ghostly beautiful song about this famous loch as a child and was always curious if Loch Lomond in Scotland looks similar to Loch Lomond in Cape Breton.  Many places in Nova Scotia and especially Cape Breton Island are named after places in Scotland and I always assumed that it was because homesick Scots named places in the New World after places that looked similar back home.  Turns out Loch Lomond in Scotland looks nothing like Loch Lomond in Cape Breton; my Loch Lomond is surrounded by flat countryside and thick forest whereas Scotland's Loch Lomond is much bigger and is surrounded by mountains.  I walked along the banks of the loch and onto a little trail that went through a little village.  On my way back, I spotted a family of Highland cattle (with very cute babies!) resting under some trees.
Loch Lomond
Young Highland Calf

In the town of Inveraray, we stopped to have lunch and explore the pretty little town.  I wasn't overly hungry so I walked up and down the narrow streets, looking in the shop windows.  I found a tiny take-out restaurant close to the waterfront and went in to see what they had for light meals. This was the moment I was introduced to the Toastie - a Scottish name for what I know as a toasted sandwich. The girl behind the counter looked at me like I had ten heads when I asked her "what exactly is a toastie".  I must say, although there wasn't much to it, that toastie was quite delicious and quite filling.  I ate it on a bench by the boardwalk by the water where a bunch of seagulls and pigeons who saw me coming with food harassed me non-stop.

Kilmartin Glen is the site of 350+ Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments including burial chambers and the Temple Wood Stone Circle.  I was able to get a birdseye view of the area from atop nearby Dunnad Hill Fort which we hiked before visiting the ruins.  Likened to Stonehenge by some (but on a much smaller scale) Kilmartin Glen was as fascinating as any ancient ruins.  After a coffee break and little stroll through the village of Kilmartin, we were off again.
Some ruins at Kilmartin Glen
The view from Dunnad Hill Fort

I've been to some interestingly-named look-offs in my travels but I have to say the Rest and be Thankful  look-off near Argyll and Bute in the Scottish Highlands is by far the most oddly-named, beautiful, historical look-off I've ever been to.  The name comes from a stone with 18th century carvings that was found nearby that had the words "rest and be thankful" carved into it.  The scenery was vast, untouched mountainous land that looked wild and unforgiving on that cool fall day.  I can't imagine what a place like that is like in the dead of winter. 

The Rest and be Thankful Look-off
This was my first time ever taking a multi-day guided tour and I must say I was quite pleased with the pace.  I saw so much that first day and learned so much about Scotland.  It was early evening when I was dropped off at my guest house in the beautiful seaside town of Oban.  Ulva Villa was right on the main street.  When I booked this tour, I had two options to choose from for accommodations: Guest house or hotel.  I ticked guest house because it was cheaper and I don't really expect anything fancy when it comes to a place to lay my head for the night.  I assumed that the guest houses would be more like hostels with bunk-beds, shared bathrooms and limited facilities. I'd love to see what the more expensive hotel options were like because my guest house was anything but a hostel; it was a lovely private room with all the amenities of a hotel and more, including my own bathroom.  I left my bags in the room and set out to explore Oban and find something to eat before it got too late.  I didn't find anything open except a grocery store where I bought some snacks and fresh fruit to take back to my cozy guest room and relaxed for the rest of the evening.   

No comments:


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...