Eilean Donan, Loch Ness, and the North West Highlands two-day adventure with Timberbush tours, with driver ‘Marty’, our charming, Scottish, kilt-wearing guide, was a blast. I fell in love with Marty’s voice, delivery and Scottish accent immediately. He wove stories of history, myths and legends and I could have listened for days. He had us laughing and cracking smiles the entire way, filled with the right balance of history-story telling, factoids, music, jokes and some down time. I cannot reveal all the secrets said aboard but if you are so lucky to tour with Timberbush and/or with Marty, you’ll understand why. I highly recommend it. I’ll give some logistical information at the end of the blog.
For the record, I loved Scotland prior to going on this tour, but I couldn’t believe how much more my heart sank in awe with every passing mountain, hill, loch, sheep and the ever changing light that affected each moment. I’m sure it’s even more stunning as the seasons change and when the Heather blooms in the late summer for only a brief time. Canada will forever have my heart and a gold medal in beauty but Scotland has enchanted me. And it’s not because of all the tv shows and movies that feature Lady Scotland.
Our first stop was the Wallace Monument atop a volcanic crag, where upon arrival, I took the shuttle to the top to admire this tribute to Sir William Wallace. I took my time walking around it and to also question the architecture. Why did it remind me so intensely of Lord of the Rings? As I started walking back down, I saw a sign to a ‘vista’. It turned out to be a tiny sliver of sanctuary space away from the others visitors. I let the sun kiss my face, which felt amazing on my tired eyes. I breathed in the clean air and appreciated this amazing start to my birthday tour. After about 15 minutes, an intuitive hit (or complete lack of sleep for days) reminded me of the opportunity to enjoy a second cup of coffee before leaving for the next stop. Good idea!
As the tour got underway, it wasn’t long before the conversation turned to the elephant in the room. “Who here are Outlander fans?”, a giggle resided around the passengers. Fortunately, he played a few tunes from the Outlander soundtrack to set the mood. Then we were off to the Doune Castle. Forget the history lesson about this castle, they filmed Outlander, Game of Thrones, Monty Python here! Ha! (I’m shaking my head now, for the record) I walked around the ruins, trying to negotiate with the sun exposure in hopes of getting one good photo from this stop.
Soon, it was our lunch break at The Trossachs Woollen Mill at Kilmahog, near Callander, where three hairy Highland coo were there to welcome us. They are so used to the tourists and to being fed! The cute couple visiting from Kent shared their carrots so I could have a whirl at feeding the outgoing black one, the slobbery cutie-pie!
From there, we then stopped around Glencoe for some photos. It’s rugged purity viscerally pulls you in to one of Scotland’s saddest recorded days in history. I’ll leave you to research at will.
Throughout the tour, I don’t think I could truly articulate the beauty of the terrain we passed while driving the winding roads. I was captivated and I chose to leave my iPhone in my bag, leaving myself to be romantically drawn in to the present moment. The sun did follow us more than I had imagined, which was brilliant. During our Scotland assimilation, Marty also mentioned the West Highland Way. It’s a 96 mile trek through gorgeous parts of this country. Just a little bit more than my last long walk of 76 miles in Spain. I am definitely going to do that walk this year.
Speaking of walking and long famous routes, we did listen to the song “I would walk 500 miles” consequently one of Scotland’s theme songs, which is about the North Coast 500. They say it’s Scotland’s answer to Route 66 in the USA. The jury is still out about next year’s birthday celebration, or perhaps I might need some years to train in order to bike all that?
Moving along, the infamous symbol for Harry Potter, the Glenfinnan viaduct and monument marked our next stop. We had an hour or so to enjoy the area, so up the little hill I went to get a look and hopefully a decent photo. However, I have not yet conquered my photography dream of this ‘Harry Potter’ bridge until I capture it from the infamous curve, and just maybe, with a passing train? Not too much to ask, right? Big dreams over here, big dreams!
This Glenfinnan stop is beautiful and you could easily spend more time there. With the peaked sun, I was fighting with the light of the afternoon to capture the monument with the mountainous landscape, but you get the idea. After walking around the monument, heading to the water’s edge to fill my ears with gentle slapping water against the rocky shore, I turned back to the main area where I took advantage of some sun infusion until it was time to go once again.
From there, off we went to Fort William to our respective sleeping accommodations. It was a lovely B&B and reportedly the best one Timberbush recommends!
Day two started with a nice warm breakfast before heading out for a more driving dominated day (and consequently some napping).
But just shortly after getting underway, we soon had to pull over, as we spotted our first of a few rainbows. However, as I was a bit at the back of the bus, by the time I exited, it had disappeared. Blah! So back on the bus to my seat, only to discover it came back, so I basically rushed the person who was waiting for me to wait for her, when all I wanted, was to get out. She eventually caught on that it could be missed a second time, so she moved aside. Ha! I was filled with determination.
We then arrived 10 minutes prior to the opening of the Eilean Donan castle (smart move Timberbush!) and we were also the 1st bus there. And you’ll want to be the first bus there!
Full of rich history, it’s a highly visited and photographed residential castle and quite the spot for weddings and filming. As the morning waned on, buses upon buses were descending and fortunately, after an hour of touring the rooms and spaces, which included family trees and personal family photos, (what a trip!), I was happy to retreat to the cafe with a lovely view of the castle, relishing some alone time with a spectacular view of the castle.
From there, we drove through the Great Glen, passing significant Lochs, en route the well-known Loch Ness from the side of Fort Augustus for a lunch stop. I walked up the Caledonia Canal a little to stretch my legs prior to finding a spot for lunch. Fortunately, I had the best table at a place called Bothy in the solarium listening to a table of handsome Italian travellers in front of me and some very chatty American women to the right of me.
After lunch, I was walking towards Loch Ness when I passed “The Lock Inn”. Peculiar name for an inn. But the catch? Just below it says, “Genuine Free House”. So what, it’s free come in, but then oops, you’ll be locked Inn! Sorry, that was a bad pun, but in all fairness, they started it!
Loch Ness is not just about monsters but an impressive lake of dimension and depth, story and history. It’s 23 miles (37 kms) long and about a mile wide (1.6 kms), and over 750 feet deep.
Returning to the vehicle, we were now on route to our last stop, to the Falls of Bruar. Although I only went to the short bridge, it was sublime! It was a delicious end to the tour.
I would be remised if I didn’t bring up Scotland’s true claim to fame. Although the unicorn is Scotland’s national animal, let’s talk sheep here for a minute. You’ll never see so many sheep in your life, 20 million sheep in this country. There are many different kinds and colours, and tons of little ones this time of year! Cute!!
I felt like the 2-day tour whooshed by and was an incredible Highland teaser! I have two un-official Highland get-aways I’m trying to manifest, so until then, I’ll leave you with these crucial rules for any visitor in Scotland:
1. Eat haggis (there is a vegetarian option now, and it’s pretty good!)
2. Drink Whiskey – and follow the rules! Do not mess with the single malt!
3. Kiss a Scotsman wearing a kilt (Marty did direct this one to the ladies on the bus 😉
Heart filled, full of longing for the next highland adventure, I say: gus an ath uair (until next time)
Thanks for reading and lots of love,
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Practical Information about Timberbush:
- This is the link to the tour I enjoyed (slightly different than the description due to time, or beauty, or what-have-you):
- Special note: Accommodation is not included but they will arrange it for you – do follow up regarding costs as their website cost estimates are not up to date with the actual costs. Do splurge for the nice B&B though! They will know the one in Fort William. Although they also mention this on the website, some places accept cash only.
- We also got a discount for Eilean Donan castle if you give exact cash the evening before the visit (it was £6.50 rather than £7.50) because our driver bought the tickets for us. Yay! Note: these prices could change.
- The van is comfortable, but if you are tall, come early and check out the leg space for different seats.
- There are enough stops for breaks and food – do not to worry!
- Don’t forget to tip your guide
In Scotland, there is no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes.