We woke up at 7 am for our last full day of the trip. Big plans, and a lot of driving. Breakfast consisted of sandwiches we made for the trip, plus a special treat.
We were debating the options for how to get up to Inverness and Loch Ness. One was a bus tour, but that gave us absolutely no control over the trip. Another was a train to Inverness, and then either rent a car or take a bus to Loch Ness. But we decided that the best option was to drive it ourselves. Who can pass up a chance to drive through the Scottish Highlands, and especially in our Mercedes Benz A180? We had to drive this thing!
The trip was just under 300 km, and once we were well out of Glasgow, it was gorgeous. We got into the highlands, and the rolling hills covered in trees soon gave way to treeless hills covered in purple heather and green scrub. Just amazing. The pictures taken from a moving car don’t do it justice (but click on them anyway to get a sense).
We eventually got up to Inverness, which is just north of Loch Ness, and very close to the North Sea. Inverness is beautiful on its own, but we just blasted through, stopping only to get mustard for our homemade sandwiches.
Without having any real idea on where to best see the 37 km long Loch Ness (and Nessie!), we decided to head to the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition. Big mistake. This centre is located 3 km from the loch itself, and is just a tourist trap. You can’t even see the loch from this combination of minimal exhibition, care and souvenir shop. I asked one of the very bored parking attendants where the best place to visit the loch was, and he unhesitatingly said Castle Urquhart, and gave me directions.
Castle Urguhart was incredible! It’s located on a strategic piece of land slighting jutting out into Loch Ness, giving it an excellent view up and down the loch. Originally set up as a simple settlement in the 6th century, Castle Urquhart was built in the early 13th century, was soon captured by the English King Edward I, and went on to play a very important role in the wars for Scottish Independence. Eventually it was destroyed by inhabitants in the 17th century to prevent its use by the Jakobites. So much history!
The castle ruins have many features still intact, and plaques did a great job of explaining the functions of different rooms and walls. This was my favourite place on the whole trip, and it being situated on Loch Ness was just a huge bonus. (Oh, and pay attention to the Latrine picture. Yes, they pooped out of a hole in the upper floors, and it fell to the ground at the base of the tower.)
Eventually it was time to go home, and here’s where it got interesting. It was starting to rain harder, and we were heading straight back down the loch towards Fort William. Then it got darker and rained even harder. The road back was like a narrower version of Irish roads, so narrow that there was rarely a centre line, and involved constant hills and turns. Twice during the ride back our Apple maps told us of major problems ahead (not surprising given the conditions) that added over 40 kms to the white-knuckled trip.
But the good news is that one of the detours took us right beside the Dalwhinnie distillery, so we stopped in for a single malt tasting and the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had. They’re very proud that Dalwhinnie is Scotland’s highest and coldest distillery. (Stock photo below as it was too rainy to get a good pic ourselves)
After 5 hours we eventually made it back to Glasgow. Dead tired, we barely had enough energy to get pizza and hunt for Pokemon. Glasgow is a little darker version of Edinburgh, but still with amazing buildings and a wonderful sense of history (Glasgow City Chambers picture to the right).
They also have a massive Royal College building with a large relief sculpture of James Watt (a brilliant guy who. among many other things, invented the Watt steam engine which lead to the Industrial Revolution.)
We were up even earlier the next morning, and were off to the airport. I had to say goodby to my Mercedes Benz A180… And then we were on our way home to Canada.
This was a wonderful trip, and I really enjoyed spending so much time with Kevin. We saw a lot of Ireland, from the beaches to the ports to the cities. And we saw two of Scotland’s great cities, plus a magnificent trip through the Scottish highlands. Didn’t see Nessie, but Castle Urquhart easily made up for it.