HIGHLANDS and LOCH NESS, SCOTLAND: Scotland definitely is one of the most beautiful and diverse countries in the world and one of my most favorite place. Apart from its big and beautiful cities, highlands is the place where Scotland’s true beauty lies. This is a paradise for the photographers and nature lovers.
I wonder if it’s the natural beauty or Scotland’s whisky that made this country a hotbed of geniuses. Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of telephone was a Scottish man and so was the inventors of steam engine, bicycle, and television. The country also produced writers like Sir Walter Scot from the past to J. K. Rowling to this age. Peter Pan and Jackal & Hyde are just some of the classics that originated in this country too.
For sheer atmosphere, Scotland’s rugged and unbeatable scenery can be enjoyed when you get out of its big cities and enter into a continuous breathtaking wilderness. You get to visit Scotland’s most spectacular mountains, picturesque fjord-like lochs and a diversity of islands. Although I only saw from distance, if you are lucky you just might see some cute long-haired highland cows or may be some wild lives in their natural habitats. Wood, forests, mountains, lochs, walking, wildlife watching, water sports, fishing, golf or just taking in the view…just to name some of the things you can do in the highlands. I wish to go back there one more time again to enjoy Scotland’s vast natural beauty whole heartedly. This was a place where I could pause and create some unforgettable memories…I haven’t seen anything like this before.
I booked this day-trip to the Highlands through my hotel “Ailsa Craig Hotel” in Edinburgh. The company was Gray Line Scottish Coach Tours and they charge 41 GBP per adult (prices are for transport and guided coach tour only and the trip is not suitable for children). I was picked from my hotel at 7:30am and the tour started sharply at 8am. They had lots of different choices, like visiting Glasgow, Rosslyn Chapel, Stirling Castle, and etc., but the one I took was the longest of all which lasted about 12 hours. By the time I was dropped off near my hotel, it was little bit past 8pm. The tour is available every day and I think, even in winter season. The driver, who was also our guide, was a knowledgeable and a fun person who gave us history and told stories of highlands all the way; once in a while he played some Celtic and Scottish/Gaelic songs and some significant songs that tells stories on the places we’ve visited, like songs about Glen Coe Massacre when we stopped at Glen Coe and Loch Lomond song when we were passing the lake. Overall it was a memorable journey and the drive from beginning to end was jaw-dropping and pleasant, would highly recommend to anyone visiting Scotland.
As our guide put it, this trip was a just an appetizer. To enjoy Scottish Highlands to the fullest, you need to stay in the local sights and spend few days. That trip gave us only the highlights of countryside from highways and by the road-side.
TIME of TRAVEL: The day started very nicely with some cloud and little cold. But later we got drizzle and winds, or as the Scots would call it “whiskey weather”. It does get very windy up on the mountains or near the lakes. Bad part was that it started raining, kinda badly, when we took the cruise on Loch Ness. I still managed to get some pictures but I just wished it was little bit warmer and no water drops on my camera.
The best part of coming to Scotland was that I got to see the most beautiful colors of fall in the countryside, on mountains, and by the lakes. Unlike other places, falls stays in Scotland for 6 weeks, plenty of time to enjoy the rustic autumn color or to photograph them.
MY HOTEL: Please see my page on Edinburgh to see the hotel I stayed in during my trip to Scotland.
PLACES I’VE VISITED: The total journey of this trip was 360 miles/600 km in 12 hours. And the highest point we’ve visited here was about 1016 ft. above sea level. Hope you like the pictures I took along this journey.
After our bus got out of the city and started toward the countryside, we passed few castles and monuments, like Doune Castle and Wallace Monument. Another historic landmark we passed by was the field of Battle of Bannockburn. Robert the Bruce fought here in the 14th century with King Edward II of England for Scotland’s freedom and Scotland won victoriously.
After passing one of the famous lochs/lakes of Scotland, Loch Lomond, we stopped in the dark brooding Pass of Glen Coe (meaning “Valley of the Weeping” in Gaelic). Here we stopped for 5 minutes to take some photos…in the rain. This beautiful valley got famous after the massacre of 1692 where 180 people (including women and children) were murdered by the English. Glen Coe looked like a very beautiful valley w/snow-capped mountains, small hills, creeks, and water falls. It looked stunning even in rain.
While we were heading for Loch Ness, we saw the mountain range Nevis and many other big and small lakes and rivers. We were lucky to see the highest mountain of Britain, Ben Nevis, (also known as “Scotland’s Outdoor Capital”) on our way too.
Main highlight of this tour was visiting the famous Loch Ness. So here we were in Fort Augustus for our lunch break and our cruise on Loch Ness. Cruise is optional in tour and costs additional 12 GBP per person. Most of the people in our group took this cruise…to see Nessie, the Loch Ness monster. Yep, even the cruise has hi-tech sonar under water imaging system that provides you with the best chance to see what really lies at the bottom of the famous Loch Ness.
We had about 1 ½ hours to spend in Fort Augustus to eat and look around before getting on board. Fort Augustus is a bustling little touristic town which becomes really slow and quiet during the winter time. I had some meat pasty for lunch, although there were some nice restaurants in the town to sit down and relax… I preferred walking while eating.
Loch Ness is an 800 ft. deep and 270 miles long lake, making it the longest lake in Scotland. When the boat leaves the harbor you can see St. Augustus Abbey at one side from a little distance. As I mentioned above, for those who are fanatic about finding Nessie the Loch Ness monster, the boat is equipped with an underwater camera system, tourists can view on a TV what is really beneath the boat. But while we were all looking for Nessie, I was having good time looking at many shades of fall by the lake’s bank and nearby hills.
After we were done with our cruise, we started driving to north again along the entire length of Loch Ness, stopping next at Urquhart Castle. The water near the castle has the deepest point at 800 ft. We just stopped for 5 minutes again to snap some pictures of this old castle. Urquhart Castle is a 15th century castle which is in ruins now. This 15th century photogenic place is shown in most of the Scottish calendars. We only saw the skeleton of it from a distance and barely managed to take some photos. But the castle is open all year round and tourists can pay a fee to visit it.
It was almost after dark when we reached Inverness, the Highland capital. Of course Inverness is a big city and you really have to stay here overnight to actually visit all the places here. It looked very beautiful as we drove thru its old town passing some old and new buildings and small squares…wish we could stop somewhere for little bit to take some photos.
Pitlochry was our last stop before heading back to Edinburgh. It has a delightful Victorian resort town, nice place for shopping and spend couple hours. But it was too dark by then and everything closes early in the winter time.
And as the final site, we saw the gorgeous railway bridge, Forth Bridge (3rd in top 10 bridges of world), before arriving back in Edinburgh. Too bad I couldn’t take any picture from our moving bus. It was built in 1890 and is one most iconic railway structure in the world.
So, we spent about 12 hours in this trip driving on Scottish Highlands, passing many villages, famous lochs, green meadows, historic castles and monuments, and finally got to see the famous Loch Ness where Nessie the Loch Ness monster lives. We did try our best to see him but he was hiding so deep in the water, we missed him this time…uh, maybe next time Nessie, I will be back in Scotland again to have a cup of tea and Scottish fudge with you…till then stay cool.