Chapter 8 - Highlands of Scotland

31 July 2008

Parked our car for the day and walked in to the city to Princes Street, doing a little shopping on the way. Hopped on to our Mac's Tour open topped bus, which wound it's way through the city past various points of interest. We got off at Edinburgh Castle and joined the many tourists who were making their way up to the castle.

The castle is huge and completely dominates the skyline of the city, while providing great views in every direction. The seating for the Edinburgh Tattoo was erected in preparation for the big event and Festival Fringe entertainment was being performed in the Royal Mile, the street that leads up to the castle. The National War Museum and the Scottish Crown Jewells are among the impressive displays in the castle. We spent a couple of hours looking at the displays and even saw the 1 o'clock cannon fired from the battlements.

Eventually we made our way out of the castle and walked down the Royal Mile which was bustling with activity, street entertainment and tourists everywhere. After our Mac's tour yesterday we had decided that we wanted to get some photos of the George Heriot's School, which was founded in 1628 and where scenes for some of the Harry Potter movies had been played, so we walked till we found it, then hopped on Mac's bus again, and off again when we reached the Georgian house in Charlotte Square that is managed by the National Trust. Once again, the National Trust's presentation was excellent and full of interest for us.

Luckily for us the tour buses just keep going around the same circuit, and you can get on and off where you like, so we were able to limp on to another bus and finish the circuit back to Princes Street, pretty leg weary by that time. We walked back to the parking station where we had left the car and drove the few blocks back to the hotel before heading back towards the city for a light meal.

Friday 1st August

Made our way out of Edinburgh and over the Firth of Forth Bridge. Heavy rain forecast but only a mist and drizzle happening. The road and rail bridges over the Forth looked eery in the mist. We took a wrong turn on the other side, but soon got back on track and headed for St. Andrews along the East coast.

St Andrews, famous for its Golf origins, is a pretty town with lots of shops selling golfing stuff. We photographed the ruins of St Andrews Cathedral near the centre of the town and visited St Andrews Links where we had a nice lunch at the Links Club House, just around the point past the Royal and Ancient Club. Had thought we would pick up some golfing souvenirs but they were all a bit too expensive for us. Visit www.standrews.org.uk for more information.

After lunch we crossed the firth of Tay to Dundee and carried on across the fertile valley of Strathmore towards Glamis. We were not expecting to be able to visit Glamis Castle, which was the childhood home of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, so were delighted when we found it was open to visitors.

The Castle is magnificent and looks like something from a fairy tale as you drive through a great long avenue of trees - we had a very interesting tour with an excellent guide. Loved the whole experience.

We drove on then to Blairgowrie in the county of Perthshire, where we booked in to the Altamount Country House Hotel, (www.altamounthouse.co.uk) a grand Georgian mansion built around 1802 and set in seven acres of garden and woods. A really great place to stay. We even saw rare red squirrels scampering around the garden, and peacocks.

Saturday 2nd August

Chatted with fellow guests Colin and Hilary Smith over breakfast, who suggested that we should go to Balmoral since we were so close. We would not be able to go to the Castle because the Queen was in residence, but we could go to the little village church at Crathie, (Crathie Kirk) which the Queen attends on Sunday morning, when she is at Balmoral. Jane's eyes lit up, and she made up our minds on the spot. She really liked the idea of going to church with the Queen, so, after taking some photos of Altamount and the red squirrels we set off for Balmoral Castle.

As the day was yet young we had lunch at the village of Ballater, near Balmoral, and set off to tour the hills of the Cairngorms National Park to the north, which would be covered with white snow in Winter, but now heather colours the hills with purple hues.

Back to the Dee Valley at Crathie where we booked in to the Inver Hotel (www.inverhotel.com), which dates from 1760. Family owned and managed, this is another delightful place to stay, with wonderful old furniture and paintings to admire, great food and very friendly hosts.

Sunday 3rd August

We made our way to Crathie Kirk in plenty of time for the 11.30am service. Since no photographs were allowed in or near the church, and we weren't sure if we'd even be able to see the Queen in the Church, Geoff waited near the lane that leads from Balmoral Castle to try to catch a photo.

I joined the small group of visitors - among them Hilary whom we'd met the previous day - and others who wished to attend the service and spent a pleasant time chatting while waiting for the Queen to arrive. The Queen with her Lady-in-Waiting slipped quietly in through the side door and sat in the alcove to the side away from the general congregation. I was lucky to have a great view of the Queen throughout the service. It was a very simple service, in a very beautiful little Church and I found it to be an extremely moving experience to be singing "God Save the Queen" at the end of the service, while standing and looking at her.

After the service we drove to Loch Ness via Inverness. We stopped at Drumnadrocht, near the ruins of Urquhart Castle, on the banks of Loch Ness for some lunch, then continued to Gairlochy and Achnacarry where we were wanting to visit The Cameron Museum. We were just too late for the museum so drove along a little way beside Loch Lochy and found accommodation at Springburn Farm House B & B at Stronaba, near Spean Bridge (www.stronaba.co.uk).

We have been so lucky with our accommodation. This was another B & B with a very high standard of accommodation at a reasonable price. On the other hand, we had dinner at the pub at Spean Bridge, which was very ordinary, and Geoff had to correct the waiters calculation of our bill. We wondered if the mistake was deliberate.

Monday 4th August

We wanted to visit the Cameron Museum at Achnacarry to see if we could find a reference to Jane's ancestor, Catherine Stirling Cameron, who was the daughter of Euan Cameron of Glen Nevis and his wife Catherine Fortescue. We had some time to kill before the Museum was due to open so we made our way past the Cameron Clan's headquarters and followed the shore of Loch Arkaig for several miles before returning to the museum. (I might add that the museum is miles from anywhere!)

The country around Loch Arkaig is particularly beautiful and it was a delightful drive along a very quiet and narrow road beside the Loch. There were many great photo opportunities along the way, some of which we took advantage of. The reflections on the lake were particularly beautiful, as were the moss covered stone walls and delightful little streams and waterfalls.

Back at the Cameron Museum a helpful attandant showed us genealogical records of the Cameron Clan and we were able to identify Jane's line. We spent some time reading about and looking at the many exhibits that document the history of the Cameron Clan.

After leaving Achnacarry we took the back road, avoiding Fort William, to Loch Eil and on past Glenfinnan and Kinlochnanuagh and along the coast road to Mallaig. Mallaig is the terminal for a vehicular ferry service to the Isle of Skye. It is also the terminus for a steam train that runs the scenic route from Fort William - the train that was used in the Harry Potter movies.

We debated whether to make the trip across to the Isle of Skye, but decided not to as time and weather seemed against it. We enjoyed lunch of very nice fresh haddock and chips at Mallaig, and took the return journey past Fort William, down beside Loch Linnhe, and eventually, after passing a number of guesthouses with 'no vacancy' signs, found another excellent B & B off the main road at Taynuilt, Argyl.

We were both pretty tired by this time and didn't feel like venturing out again for a meal so asked if we could just have a couple of pieces of toast. Marie, our very kind hostess, rustled up some toasted cheese and pickle sandwiches and a pot of tea - just the very thing we needed after a long day. As we were the only guests that night we had the use of the upstairs lounge to ourselves so we could sit back, enjoy our sandwiches and watch the TV.

Tuesday 5th August

The drive South from Taynuilt took us past Loch Awe where we stopped to take photos of the reflections in the still morning air. Another beautiful sight to remember. We continued on past Loch Lomond in drizzling rain. Like Loch Ness, Loch Lomond was difficult to see because it was screened by the excessive growth beside the road; fine for walkers maybe, but disappointing for drivers not to be able to see the water clearly.

We made our way past Glasgow and on the A76 to Dumfries (quite a long drive), where we stopped for a light snack, then around the Solway Firth. Through Carlisle again, and then we left the main roads to snoop through the farm lanes and villages north of the Lakes District of England, Lamonby, Skelton, Blencow, Motherby. So many amazing stone buildings, we would like to have been able to spend more time exploring around there.

Time to stop once more, but we had to continue on to Glenridding, on Lake Ullswater before we found a guesthouse with a vacancy sign out. The Beech House (www.beechhouse.com) proved to be another comfortable and friendly B & B, just a short stroll from the lake and with a very good restaurant nearby, Fellbites (www.fellbites.co.uk), where we had dinner.