Glasgow to Loch Ness to Home: The End of a Great Trip

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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.2016-08-18 19.45.54.jpg

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.

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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)

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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.)

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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.

 

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Edinburgh to Glasgow: Our First Glitch

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We got up fairly early to get out of the suburban hotel and took a taxi to the Edinburgh Waverley Train Station.  The idea was to put our bags in storage for the day, and then wander the city. The problem here was that while standing in a long Left Luggage line (not to be confused with Lost Luggage), we noticed that it would cost us £12 per bag for the day.  Just to store it in a big room! So we looked up options and found out that the Bus Station was only a 5 minute walk away, and we could get a locker for the day, easily big enough for both of our bags for only £6.50.

With our bags away, we started exploring this magnificent city filled with beautiful stone buildings. Everywhere we went, history was staring us in the face, and there were all these fascinating little archways leading to more areas to explore.

There were a couple of interesting aspects to the day.  Edinburgh was hosting the Fringe Festival, which meant there were thousands of people on the streets, as well as extremely goodfringe festival crowds.jpg street performers. And when these performers were in front of old buildings, it worked!  The one truly jarring visual was the Royal Bank of Scotland, est. 1727, with Fringe Festival tents and activities taking place on the front lawn.

It was amazing that so many people were able to withstand the unseasonably hot temperatures for Edinburgh.

waverley station.jpgOnce we’d had enough sightseeing, and were tired anyway, we gathered out bags and headed by train to Glasgow.  It only cost us £12.50 each. Definitely a bargain.And in fact Waverley station itself is quite a marvel.  It occupies a few city blocks in a low valley in the downtown area, and has roughly 25 acres all under a roof.

 

It’s when we got to Glasgow that the problem started.  I had rented a EuropCar through RentalCars.com and after a 3 km walk got to the EuropCar office. There I found a problem.  They wanted an extra £56 for me to return it to the airport, and an extra £24/day for mandatory insurance that RentalCars didn’t tell me about. That’s a LOT of extra charges.  i checked my agreement, and it stipulates that unless you call RentalCars.com from the rental car counter, they will not offer any refunds.  So I tried and the very friendly EuropCar tried to get in touch with them for over 30 minutes. No luck. Kevin tried online. No luck. Finally we gave in and took the car and all those massive extra charges. Pissed, but nothing we could do about it until we got back home.

But there was a silver lining. EuropCar upgraded us to a Mercedes Benz A180 !!!!  Which is great.  Because we certainly got good value out of it on the very next day……

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