So begins the routine of touring, up early, bags out, breakfast and on the coach. After all the kilts last night we were "treated" to the presence of a Welsh rugby team in the dining room at breakfast this morning.
Weather started out dark and cloudy with rain definitely threatening. First stop once out of Glasgow was Loch Lomond. There was a pretty Victorian stone hotel nearby. Really there wasn't much to look at, just the lake. The clouds were dark and low and actually, the photo that Carole took came out quite interesting, as a friend said, "typical scottish weather". Back in the bus, down the narrow back roads up through Rannoch Moor and Glencoe, where the famous massacre of 1692 took place and another photo stop. This part of the country is the beginnings of the highlands and the scenery is really rugged. Weather is getting better and by the time we get to Fort William with a lunch break at a woolen mill shop, the sun is out. Peter, our guide, seems quite knowledgeable and has a dry sense of humour and I think he's going to be a winner.
Had a quick sandwich and a browse through the shops before setting out on the narrow winding road, The "Road to the Isles" past the Glenfinnan monument where Bonnie Prince Charlie returned to Scotland and raised his standard. Very pretty drive along here, with lochs and mountains, small cottages and sunshine. We are catching the ferry at Mallaig to the Isle of Skye. I love the little cottages and houses, whitewashed with a chimney at either end of the house.
The ferry ride to Skye only takes about 20 minutes and the scenery of the mountains on Skye from across the water was heart stopping! I never realized Skye was mountainous and though the haze over the water the mountains were spectacular!
It was a very short drive to the Clan Donald Center where we are shown a short film on the history of the highland clans but because of the early morning and dark projection room, I'm afraid I nearly nodded off! We glanced through the museum artifacts, just a small room or two, and went out into the gardens. There are acres of gardens on the property with a nice little visitor center and tea room and the ruins of Armadale Castle overlooking the water. We walked through a bit of the gardens and were astonished to see bushes that were alive with hundreds of butterflies! It was an amazing thing to see! We parted ways for a bit, Carole heading up into the gardens more and I down to the castle ruins to take some photos and we met back up at the car park to go for tea.
The tea room is round and looks like a chapter house in a cathedral with high narrow pointed windows and a vaulted ceiling. All bamboo and wicker furniture and the chairs even had peaked backs. It was really pretty!
The drive to Broadford along the coast was about a half an hour, over hills full of peat bogs. We were hoping to be able to see the Eileen Donan Castle over on the mainland but guess we weren't in the right spot. Lots of sheep, crofters houses and the weather is now clouding over again.
The hotel, Dunollie, is a smallish hotel, just a few floors, no lift, no phones in the rooms. It's right on the water though, a very pretty spot. There are a few gift shops nearby but they were just closing when we got there. The rooms are each "named" with a plate with a brand of Scotch whiskey on it and are very pretty, decorated in seafoam greens and peaches and white painted furniture. Beds are comfy too! :) We had a bit of a walk up the road before dinner and caught the sun starting to go down, yes it's shown it's face again for the evening display! Had a drink in the lounge with some people and then went to dinner. Dinner was very good, the dining room looks over the bay as well. It's a nice peaceful little spot here.
Tomorrow we go to Inverewe Gardens and on to Inverness with a stop at Loch Ness I think.
6 a.m. came early today! And dark! Breakfast was ok, had porridge but my eggs were runny even though I asked for them to be well cooked. We went outside the back of the hotel after breakfast just as the sun was coming up over the mountains on the mainland. What a spectacular sunrise!!!
On the bus, there was the usual morning confusion over the changing of the seats. We drove across the new bridge to the mainland then we turned off that road and started climbing. We had a photo stop at a spot overlooking Loch Carron and that was beautiful! The sun was coming out and it was still only about 9 and the mountains, starting to be coloured in autumn colours were reflecting in the loch!
Most of the morning was driving north through Wester Ross on narrow twisty single track roads along lochs and coastline. We must be fairly high up because the puffy clouds look incredibly low, sitting on the mountain tops! Other than sheep the population is getting sparser and sparser. Loch Maree was even more barren and rugged with even less and less living things on the hillsides other than bracken, heather and sheep. These mountains are all volcanic remains and very unspoiled.
We come to Inverewe Gardens, on Loch Ewe. The gardens were started in Victorian times by Osgood MacKenzie. The latitude here is 57.8 degrees north, farther north than Moscow yet some plants that thrive here have to be grown under glass in the south of England! The Gulf Stream keeps this area of Scotland temperate and many exotic plants are grown here. The gardens are extensive, and the site is run by the National Trust. We had lunch first then looked through the gardens.
The real star of the gardens is the sunken Walled Garden, flowers and vegetables. It's just so beautiful, walking through the paths with a stone wall along the perimeter and the Loch beyond shimmering in the sun. There are a lot of paths and places to explore and you could be there for hours. But, as usual with a coach tour, you have limited time.
A bit further north along the coast which is even more bleak if possible. This really is wilderness, God forsaken country and probably pretty diabolical in winter but yet so majestic! A photo and loo stop at Corrieshalloch gorge, where there is a look off stop and little bridge over a gorge about 300 feet deep! By mid afternoon we are losing the blue sky and entering the Cairngorms as we loop back towards the Great Glen and Loch Ness.
The mountains turn into rolling hills, more farms, villages, vegetation and tourists. A photo stop at one end of Loch Ness where there was a requisite piper playing for tips. I only got off the bus to stretch my legs and try out my new 200 mm zoom telephoto lens for a shot down towards Urquhart Castle on the shores of the loch. When you've seen Loch Ness once, there's not much else to see.
Short drive to Inverness. Our hotel is a Jurys right on the river Ness downtown. Good view from our window over the river. The bags were delayed in coming to the room. We had wanted to go out and walk but didn't want to leave the cases out in the hall so we waited. By the time we got out it was past 5 and getting darker. We are only a few blocks from Inverness Castle which is just a Victorian heap of pink stones. It's used for government offices but has a lovely statue of Flora MacDonald who aided and abetted Prince Charlie after Cullodden. We went up on the castle grounds and then down to the bridge across the river.
Back up through the pedestrian shopping street and we found a pub and had a drink and a sit down. Back to the hotel to watch corrie before dinner at 8. It was quite good, service was very prompt and we had enjoyable dinner companions with the Ontario couples. Cullodden tomorrow, the Glenlivet factory and on to Braemar.