I didn't find Nessie, but I did find some neeps & tatties.
We woke up and went for a brief walk in the downtown area of Inverness in the morning — there weren’t a ton of people out just yet, and we were searching for some coffee that was better than the instant stuff in the hotel room. We’d be setting out for Loch Ness just a bit later — another bucket list item for me!
The drive was lovely — I’m really missing the greenery, the beginnings of fall foliage, and water. It was windy, chilly, and sprinkling. The lake was pretty choppy, and if you can believe it, we completely missed Nessie. Other than the history + the legends about Loch Ness, it was a pretty standard (but pretty) lake. Urquhart Castle — or what’s left of it — stands right along the edge of Loch Ness. We wound up leaving Inverness a little earlier than we needed to, so we made it to Urquhart Castle before it opened for visitors. We decided to forego waiting around to walk the grounds, since we got some cool pics from our vantage point.
We backtracked to town, where the Loch Ness visitor’s center is situated and walked around a bit. The goal was to find some trinkets to take back to the kids…and we did! Our timing was perfect with Urquhart and Loch Ness, because by the time we passed by Urquhart again, there were tour buses and quite a few folks waiting around. Glad we missed that!
The drive out of the Loch Ness area was really nice — we passed by & over a few more lochs, and also wound up waiting for a swing bridge that had traffic backed up quite a bit. It’s hard to be upset about it when you’re seeing things for the first time, and just trying to take it all in.
We set out on our way to Loch Lomond and The Trossachs. That drive, though. All the heart eyes. Driving through the mountains — seeing them on both sides of you, and feeling so small. I’m not even sure I have the words to describe it. It was just so gorgeous. I really want to go back and explore this area a bit more — hike a bit and really immerse myself in the surroundings. There really aren’t words to do it justice, so I’ll leave you with a few beautiful pictures instead.
Just as quickly as you wind up in the midst of the mountains, you wind up right out of them and find yourself where there are bogs, small lakes, and a totally different landscape. Man, Scotland really does have it all.
We stopped off in a place called Tyndrum, and since it was on the menu… haggis, neeps & tatties. Y’all think I’m crazy, probably, but whatever. It was delicious and I’d eat it over and over again. Of all of the haggis I ate on the trip, this was probably the most traditional dish, given that haggis is typically served with neeps & tatties. (Other variations we had were in a black pudding stack, and on a pizza. Yes, a pizza!)
One thing that I noticed on this particular leg of the trip was that the signage gradually changed as we were driving out of the Highlands — signage was in English, and Gaelic. Google tells me that it’s not a very large percentage of people that are fluent, but cool nevertheless.
We stayed in Aberfoyle, with a view of Loch Ard at the MacDonald Forest Hills Hotel. By the time rolled into town, we were ready to check in and not be in the car for a little while…but as luck would have it, road work was happening about a mile from the hotel that shut the entire road down for multiple periods during the day. See, the road we were on was barely wide enough for passing a single car in the other direction. There was no shoulder. On one side, a stone wall that was right next to Loch Ard. Literally, no bank, the stone wall was basically retaining the lake. And on the other side, trees and bushes. While the road was in decent shape, there was barely enough room for two cars to pass each other, let alone allow for heavy machinery to do their jobs. So, we got turned away, and the lovely worker suggested that Jeffrey take the “lady” (LOL) out for a coffee. We turned back, and found a place in Aberfoyle called Liz MacGregor’s. My cappuccino was great, and the millionaire’s shortbread was delicious.
Aberfoyle is a really small place, actually, but it seems like most villages are like this in Scotland and England. Literally just a spit of buildings on the road, and if you blink, you’re going to miss it. There’s something really appealing to me about the village lifestyle, though, admittedly, I have yet to experience it more than just a passing-through of the villages we came upon.
We successfully killed an hour of time at Liz MacGregor’s, and made our way to the hotel. The grounds were beautiful — well-kept and manicured, and the landscape was just beginning to turn beautiful autumn colors. Our room was super nice, and we had a few of the lake from our window. Oddly enough, even with the beautiful views, well kept grounds, comfy bed…there were two things we were most excited about. 1. Doing laundry, and 2. Staying in the same place for two nights!
Self-guided stair-climbing expeditions on an ancient rock.
Since we stayed in this beautiful place two days, we planned (loosely) to spend our second day relaxing a bit more, going on hike, or something of the sort. The weather had different ideas. It alternated sprinkling and full-on rain, and the forecast didn’t show any signs of it stopping. A little rain never hurt anyone on a hike, but I don’t think either of us wanted to wind up chilled because of hiking in cool temps, paired with water, and wind. Not to mention, we also didn’t pack for this so SoCal hiking clothes wouldn’t have really done the trick here.
We did a little looking around on the ‘net and looking at the info that MacDonald supplied, and settled on more castles, and another distillery. Rough life, I know.
We went to Stirling Castle first, and I’m sure glad we made it the first stop of our day. Prior to Stirling, none of the castles had been crowded — a few folks here & there visiting, but not tour buses. Yes, there were tour buses there! We’d find out later from one of the staff members working at Stirling that Stirling was one of a few castles in Scotland that actually makes money by charging admission. The other would be Edinburgh, and another he mentioned escapes me currently.
Given the weather in Scotland during our trip, we saw quite a few rainbows, as well.
Dumbarton Castle was recommended to us by the staff member, as well — so, we went there next since it wasn’t too far away. I had no idea what I was in for with Dumbarton, haha. I swear it was nothing but stairs.
One cool thing about Dumbarton is that it’s situated on a giant volcanic basalt plug that is 334 MILLION years old. Incredible, right? Though the recorded history of Dumbarton Rock goes back much further, the castle wasn’t constructed until the 1300’s…which is still incredibly impressive, as far as age goes. It has the longest recorded history of any stronghold in Scotland, and is situated on the River Clyde.
The weather was less than stellar whenever we were there, and I think I was a little hangry during our self-guided stair-climbing expedition. But, I quite enjoyed the displays at some of the overlooks, telling us what we were looking at across the town, the river, and such.
One thing I noticed is that no matter the level of upkeep on these castles, they still seemed very much alive, but perhaps not as bustling as they once were.
After Dumbarton and what seemed like five bajillion stairs, we went to Glengoyne Distillery. In contrast to The Glenlivet, this place was much smaller with older equipment. (The Glenlivet had just upgraded and built some new structures recently.) Even though the material for the tour — detailing the process about how whisky is made, talking about the equipment, etc. — was largely the same, our tour guide was quite lively and entertaining. Plus, his pants were tartan, which really made me smile. Glengoyne’s property was beautiful, as well, so it’s hard to go wrong with that.
Our guide mentioned that even though it was merely an interesting fact for conversation these days, the road that divided the distillery from the aging warehouses was once the difference between the Scottish Highlands and the Lowlands.
We hit the gift shop after the tour to see what kinda goodies we could take home. We asked the staff if there was anything there that we could get only there, and not back in the States…which is how Jeff wound up pouring and bottling his own from the cask they had in the shop. He even had to label it, and they logged it in the books.
The next day, we’d be heading to Edinburgh!