Monday, September 14, 2015

The Highlands

Gray-old Glasgow got me feeling a bit down, so I took the first opportunity to get out into the country.

My original plan was to visit - where else? - Loch Ness. But I was apparently the only person who booked that tour, so the people at Discover Scotland switched me over to the "Oban, Western Highlands, Lochs, Castles & Glencoe" tour.

Our tour guide (whose name I unfortunately did not write down) was fantastic - energetic, knowledgeable, and with a slightly sardonic sense of humor. And red-headed.

We took off early in the morning and left the grime of Glasgow behind us. Soon we were in some lovely, greenish countryside - and gaining altitude. We passed the famed Loch Lomond - which is the subject of a popular folk song (which our tour guide played for us.) Then we passed Loch Long - which is, apparently, where the UK government keeps its nuclear submarines (?)

Along our way up, we made a brief stop at the delightfully named "Rest and Be Thankful" point, located high up in a pass.

Our first real stop was Inveraray Castle, the long-time (and current) home of the Duke of Argyll, who is by all accounts xxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxx and an xxx. [Content censored by the British Board of Blog Classification (BBBC) - for "insulting the dignity of our most noble nobility"]

We were allowed to tour the lowest level of the castle, and a little bit of the second level (but anything beyond that was streng verboten, since the Duke still lives there with his family when he's not xxx xxxxx xx xxxxxxxxx xxxx xxxxx xxxxx..) The "castle" was built in the 18th century - and it's interesting (to me at least) to think of a place that's been considered home to 13+ generations of a family. It must be nice (but also kind of imposing) to have that sense of rootedness and tradition. 

The guy has a thing for rifles, apparently. And sabers and pikes various other instruments of destruction.
On a side note: For some reason, while I was walking around the gilded mansion, I kept thinking of a song from a recent musical:

Anyways, I got my fill of sampling how the other half lives, so I went outside and walked around the gardens for a while until it was time to go.

Next up was St. Conan's Kirk, a 20th century church built (intentionally) to make it look and feel much older. The church is a real mishmash of architectural styles, but quite beautiful in its own right - and in a beautiful location perched above a loch.

This tomb allegedly holds a fragment of a bone of Robert the Bruce.

We lunched in the port city of Oban. A charming old town that feels old, in the best possible way. 

I walked around, then, still smarting at having missed the real thing in Rome, I hiked up to the fake Colosseum located on a bluff above the town. 

McKaig's Tower was built by a slightly eccentric rich man - though unfinished (he died, and apparently no one cared enough to complete it), it has a charm of its own. And it provides some spectacular viewpoints of the town and some of the islands in the bay.

I walked along the waterfront, enjoyed looking in at all the quaint shops, bought some wonderful ice cream, and ate a mediocre baguette at a pseudo-French bakery. Yum.

(Speaking of food, did I mention that they have haggis flavored potato chips in Scotland? No? Ok, well, they have haggis flavored potato chips in Scotland. And I tried them.) 

Then it was back up into the Highlands. We passed through the haunting landscape of Glencoe, the site of a horrific massacre by British troops. The story is awful, and you shouldn't read about it if you want to retain any faith in human nature.

(*cough* Sorry, I got a bit serious there for a minute.) 

The Highlands themselves are really beautiful, and somewhat mysterious.

Eventually we passed into a cool boggy wasteland, which is apparently impossible to build on and impossible to walk across (because you'll sink into the bog, even where the ground looks solid.) 

We passed a lot of lochs and a lot of castles along the way - some of the latter, like this one (the unfortunately named Castle Stalker), had fallen into a rather beautiful state of decay:

Castle Stalker, incidentally, was also a filming location for Monty Python and the Holy Grail. (The more you know...)

We finished off the day at the Drovers Inn (established 1705.) While others sampled the beer, I tried the beloved Scottish soft drink Irn-Bru (that's pronounced Iron Brew.) The drink is apparently even more popular than Coca-Cola in Scotland. It was incredibly sugary, and I could feel the enamel of my teeth dissolving as I drank it. But it wasn't bad. 

At the end of the day, I enjoyed the tour a great deal - which is saying a lot, since I tend to hate most tours. Beautiful scenery, fascinating history, a cool tour guide, and (this is very important) not too many people.

It also left me with a far more favorable impression of Scotland than I would have had if I had just stayed in Glasgow.

(That last sentence was awkward. Sorry about that.)


  1. The censored castle looks very well preserved inside and out; and is quite gorgeous. Wonder how many people it takes for the upkeep of a big castle like that. I guess if he ever needed to fight, he could undecorate the outside of the castle and take down the rifles, swords, sabers, etc.
    Love the flowers framing the picture of Castle Stalker. Were you actually allowed to go down to it?
    Looks like another amazing part of your trip. Between the Lochs, castles, bogs, highlands, churches, old villages, trying the Scottish soft drink and haggis flavored (yuck) chips, a nice guide, and not too crowded tour sounds like it was a success. (Loved the red hair hat-looked natural on you.

  2. The song was a nice touch too and very appropriate.