A Travellerspoint blog

41: A touch of Highlander

rain 13 °C


Well I’m back in my buggy again today and am on the road to Skye! My first stop of the day though was to drive back out to Glen Finnian to see the Jacobite monument. The monument was built to honour the memory of all the people who died fighting to return the ‘rightful king’ to the throne during the year’s of the Jacobite revolution.

The monument is probably in one of the most picturesque places on earth. The monument is this huge stone pillar topped with a Highland hero. It is sitting proudly on the banks of a loch with two large mountains flanking either side of the loch. Just beautiful. I had travelled the same route as the train had travelled the day previous, so I did spend a heck of a lot of time snapping more photos of the loch and its reflections… I think I may have a few photos by the time this trip is over!

On the way back to Fort William (from Glen Finnian) I decided to drive on the other side of the loch to get a shot of the Jacobite as it travelled out to Maillag. This was a great idea and I got a heck of a lot of nice snaps except I hadn’t realised that the road on that side of the loch actually ended up at a dead end on some peninsular (because the loch that Fort William is on is a sea loch not a fresh water!). I realised this quite a while after I had been driving down it, so I ended up doing a good hour and a bit round trip just to get back to the Fort William road before I even got back to Fort William! Needless to say that it was well after lunch before I made it back to Fort William and with a good three hour journey to Skye ahead of me…. Aaah

The road from Fort William to Skye must be one of the most beautiful road trips you can do. The mountains are really breathtaking and nearly every valley either has a loch or a stream with countless waterfalls. Just amazing! Unfortunately for me the weather was pretty poor so I wasn’t able to snap too many pickies because it wouldn’t stop raining. I did make a stop at Eilean Doonan castle (the uber famous castle I mentioned the other day) to get some ok snaps. (Its pretty hard to get a good photo when the sun isn’t shining and the tide is out!) I can only dream of how beautiful it must look at high tide (and the castle is surrounded by water) and the sun is shining.. Must be pretty specky.

My other stop was to a tiny town called Plocktown. (About ten minutes off the main road to Skye right before you hit the Skye bridge). Plocktown is the town where Hamish MacBeth was filmed back in the 90s and is a really quaint little fishing village set on the banks of another loch. I had planned to have a late lunch here but the only item I could get to eat was a microwaved sausage roll so my lunch was pretty ordinary! The view was worth the poor lunch though. On the opposite side of the loch (to the town) is this gorgeous 18th century castle surrounded by woodlands with a back drop of a huge mountain. Really spectacular.

I finally arrived out on the Isle of Skye just on dusk so I grabbed myself some dinner and headed off to bed.. Driving all day is damned tiring (esp in the rain). Tomorrow will be a full day of exploring the Isle of Skye

Posted by weary_feet 08:04 Archived in Scotland Comments (0)

40: Hogwart's Express

semi-overcast 14 °C
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I’m staying in Glen Nevis at the base of Ben Nevis, the largest mountain in Scotland. Glen Nevis is about a 5 min drive outside Fort William and is just beautiful. The Glen is as described, a glen! I’m staying in the valley of Ben Nevis, which has at its base a gorgeous waterfall (although this isn’t too exciting…. there are waterfalls everywhere in the Highlands!).

My plan for today was to not going hiking up the mountain (which is what many tourists do who come to Fort William). I actually came to this town to ride on the Hogwart’s Express (the train is actually called the Jacobite but hey it is the train from the movie so..)! Yup, the train that was used in the movies is the steam train that runs from Fort William to Maillag (about an hour and half each way). So I got myself up very early and hot footed it down to the train station to buy a ticket. (This train ride is super popular and all of the online tickets had sold out so the only way I could get a ticket was to try and get a last minute one on the platform an hour before the train departs). Luckily for me they had reserved fifty tickets for ‘day trippers’ and as I was the third person in line I got one easily (I even scored a window seat!)

I have to say that there is something really exciting about taking a steam train! For starters, they look so much better than regular trains do and they make such a satisfying “woosher, woosher, choo, choo” noise.. I’ve only been on one other steam train (that I can recall) and to be frank I don’t recall too much of that trip so I was super excited about taking this train. As we were leaving the station the announcement came over for everyone to ensure that “they kept their heads inside the train” which was pretty funny because I think it was the first thing we all did—stick our heads out!

I spent the whole trip not sitting in my allotted window seat but standing at the end of the carriage snapping pickies! I’ve been on some spectacular train rides.. Flam railway springs immediately to mind.. but I have to say that I think this one tops it!! The first half hour or so is travelling out to Glenn Finnian so the train follows this series of lochs. Today there is not a breath of wind and the reflection off the Loch is just stunning. Absolutely incredible! The highlight of the journey is the Glenn Finnian viaduct. It is this huge stone bridge that spans this small river but very steep valley. It is the viaduct that was shown in nearly all of the movies of “on the way to Hogwarts”. You can also clearly see the Glenn Finnian monument from the viaduct, something I’ll have to go and see tomorrow cause I’m not going to get a chance today!

Like I said before, I can’t really recall what it is like to be on a steam train (from my last trip) so I had forgotten or didn’t quite realise how choking the old coal smoke is, when you go through a tunnel! I swear that I am still covered in soot even after having a shower this evening! The smoke is really quite awful and really does make you cough! The other thing I hadn’t realised is that when you do stick your head out (normally accompanied by my camera for a photo) you often get hit on the head with a piece of flying coal.. Its not super pleasant when you get some coal in your eye let me tell you! But all of that aside I had a really top journey out to Maillag.

We stopped for an hour and a bit in Maillag to have a bite to eat and a stretch of the legs. I had brought my lunch along with me so I found myself an out of the way place on the pier to eat my lunch and soak up the view of the offshore isles (not sure which ones). The wind had picked up so it wasn’t overly pleasant sitting outside so I soon retired to a coffee shop to thaw out and wait out my time til the train returned to Fort William. (Maillag is a fishing village so there really wasn’t much site seeing to do.. It was a case of ‘ten minutes and you’ve walked from one end to the other!’)

The trip back was just as picturesque as the trip to Maillag. I spent the time sitting in my chair chatting away to the other passengers in my little area. They were a nice elderly couple from England who had come up for a holiday with their granddaughter. He was a steam engine buff so he was regaling me with all of the steam train trips I could possibly do in the future.. the train buffs crack me up!

The train pulled in at about 4pm and so I spent the remainder of the arvo catching up on some reading and doing my laundry as my clothes really needed a good wash after being covered in coal dust!

Posted by weary_feet 13:14 Archived in Scotland Comments (0)

39: Relaxing Loch Side

semi-overcast 15 °C
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Sunshine this morning!!! YEAH! (I really couldn’t live here in Scotland… I mean more rain than anything else gets really wearing after a while!!)

With the sun shining I thought I had better do at least some walking and photo taking around the town of Oban. This was one of the key places that my folks had told me “I had to go to” so I figured it must have something going for it! The town itself is set on the coast off the Isle of Mull (and I guess most people go to Oban on their way to Mull). Mull is supposed to be a really lovely little island (and is number #1 rated in my guidebook) but will need to go on my ‘next time’ list as I just don’t have enough time left in Scotland to see everything! What I could see from the shore (its not very far off the land) looked really nice. Mull is also the gateway to the Isle of Iona the home of the first Christian pilgrim to Scotland- Saint Columba.

Oban is obviously an old fishing village (and probably still has a large fishing industry) and has a really delightful, ruined castle sitting on the banks of the loch. So after taking a few pickies of the loch, the islands and the castle I decided I had ‘done’ Oban (as much as you can in an hour) and headed on the next leg of my voyage to Fort William!

The drive today to Fort William was much shorter than the day previous, which meant plenty of time for me to stop on the way to check ‘stuff’ out. First stop was this gorgeous castle that I found sitting on the banks of some Loch (the castle is called Stalker). The castle is one of those ones that is built on a tiny island out in the middle of the loch. I stopped at a road side café (that has gorgeous views over the loch and castle) for a cuppa and some info. It was one of the castle’s used in the Highlander series (although not used as much as Eilean Donan—the uber famous ‘castle on the loch’—I’m planning to visit later in the week) and was also the scene for Monty Python’s Holy Grail! It was originally the home to the MacDougal Clan, before it was lost in battle to the Stewart’s, who then eventually lost it in a bet in the 1600s to the Campbell Clan! Now it is again privately owned by a member of the Stewart family who have done it up and actually live in it!

I really enjoyed my cuppa and my rest by the loch.. I enjoyed it so much that I just had to rub it in via facebook to everyone back home! My next stop on my drive to Fort William was to Glencoe.

Glencoe is this really nice valley at the start of the Great Rift (of which Loch Ness is a main part). Many people do a lot of hiking and stuff in the valley and it is really quite pretty. I came to Glencoe not to go walking but to hear all about the Glencoe Massacre. The Massacre occurred back in the 1600s and it was a massacre of the MacDonald Clan. What lead to the massacre had by the sound of it been brewing over many hundreds of years. For a long time the MacDonald Clan were the dominant clan in the highlands, to the point where they appointed themselves Lords of the Isles and almost ruled as a separate kingdom to Scotland. (From what I can work out they were sworn to the Scottish Kings but largely acted alone in the Highlands). Over many years they had tyrannised much of the Highlands and in fact they seemed quite savage (raiding into other clan’s territories, stealing cattle etc)—I’m sure all of the clans did it though… So they were quite disliked within the Highlands.

By this time, the MacDonald’s were no longer the dominant force but still continued the raiding etc of other clans. In particular, they weren’t popular with the Campbell’s or with the Stewart’s (the old royal family of Scotland). The massacre occurred during the time of William of Orange- many of the clan’s had rallied to the Jacobite banner (including MacDonald) and so William wanted to make an example in the highlands to ensure they would all ‘toe the line’ and actually back him as the new ruler. What William did was make all of the clan’s swear fealty to him by the end of one year (I think it was 1659 but don’t hold me to it) and sign a document indicating so.. in return, he would pardon the clan of any past crimes or issues with the crown (ie being members of the Jacobite revolution). The head of the MacDonald family decided to leave his signing of the document to the last possible day.. When he went to swear fealty to the Sheriff in Fort William he was told that he couldn’t and that he had to travel to Inverary to swear fealty to the Duke. Therefore, the MacDonald clan did not swear fealty or sign the document until a week or so after the deadline. The head of the house was assured that this would be ok so he returned home not worried about any retribution from the crown.

William and the Duke of Argyll took a different view and probably deliberately decided to make an example of the MacDonald clan and decided to kill the entire clan (even the children). They therefore arrived on an appointed day to Glencoe and were hospitably received (this being the Highland way in winter that anyone who comes to your door will be granted to enter your home and share your food etc). For a fortnight the soldiers stayed within the houses of the MacDonald’s and then one evening the massacre began. Many of the MacDonalds actually escaped the massacre but an untold number of people probably died in the Highlands after the killing because it was winter. The full death toll was never understood. The official number is 38 killed.

So after this sombre (but very interesting) visit I decided to continue on my way to Fort William to really start my trek into the Highlands!

Posted by weary_feet 12:44 Archived in Scotland Comments (0)

38: Lochs, Lochs and more Lochs!

rain 14 °C
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Another overcast rainy day! Well I guess, what should I expect.. I am in Scotland!!!!

Anyway took off early for my day of driving to Oban. (It actually is only a couple of hours drive if you drive direct but I decided to go the long way, around the coast, so it took nearly all day)

The drive itself was very picturesque (but then so is everywhere in Scotland!!). The landscape from Loch Lomond through to Oban is a mixture of mountains (rounded topped not alpine peak style) covered in forests. Nearly every vista also includes water of some description whether that be, sea lochs or inland lochs! More often than not the low land slopes of the mountains have some sort of farm/ pasture that is normally dotted with rocks, sheep and sometimes cows (or coos as it is pronounced here in Scotland).

My main stop for the day was at the town of Invererary the hereditary home of the Dukes of Argyll and therefore the Campbell Clan (my adopted Scottish home.. although I have to say that I’m not super proud of the Campbell’s they did some pretty yukky stuff… Massacre of Glencoe comes to mind). The Dukes of Argyll were number #2 behind the King for most of the years between 1200 and 1600-ish and therefore their baronial home is pretty impressive as is the small town that would have supported the home. I really enjoyed my pasta lunch and had a short walk around the town and up to the castle gates (I didn’t bother to go in and have a look) before I started to again get wet and decided it must therefore have been time to continue my journey to Oban!

Arrived in the town of Oban by about 4pm and spent my afternoon walking around (in the rain) looking for a wifi location to download my emails!! Grabbed a coffee and ‘played emails’ before getting some dinner and retiring to my hostel for dinner and some tv. If the weather was more clement I would have made more of an effort in Oban but continuous rain and strong wind is never super conducive to photo taking or site seeing.. Finger’s crossed for tomorrow!

Posted by weary_feet 12:30 Archived in Scotland Comments (0)

37: Secret Submarines

rain 12 °C
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Woke up to some more rain although the weather forecast is for clearing rain so I decided to start a drive around the loch and just see where the road would lead me!

‘Loch’ is a Gaelic word and the translation to English is Lake so not surprisingly I spent the day driving around the edge of the Lake. I made a couple of stops on the way at wayside parking bays and at one point the rain had stopped enough for me to actually go for a walk!! One of the things that I find incredibly good about the UK is the number of walking tracks and cycling tracks.. If you are into your cycling you can cycle all the way from Loch Lomond to Inverness along the Great Glen Way. I think its pretty impressive of the Scottish govt to build a purpose built bike track for almost 400km!

First stop was at a Luss, a small town that is famous for being the home of Saint Kossag. Kossag was supposedly an Irish man who came over around 500 AD with Saint Columba of Iona. He was thought to be an Irish gentleman who had converted to Catholicism and who through divine intervention became a roving missionary in Pictish Scotland. Kossag settled on an island in the middle of Loch Lomand. Archeologically, no remains have been found on the island that he was supposed to have settled from this era but remains from a later monastery have been found. Regardless, Luss has been a place of pilgrimage for well over 1500 years and even today is a stop for Catholic pilgrims on their way to Iona!

By now, lunchtime had come around and I found myself a nice stop at another little town on the banks of the Loch, Tarbet. I had a ‘picnic’ on the banks of the Loch before stretching my legs again by walking down the bike track a bit. The weather had started to close back in again so I thought I’d head back to Balloch (where the hostel is located). I went back ‘via the cape’ meaning it took me a lot longer to get home than it did to get there! In fact, I got myself a little lost and ended up in a MoD outpost… Some sort of top secret facility on the loch!!!

By the time I got back to Balloch the rain had let up a bit so I thought I’d finish off my day by going for a little walk around the castle’s parkland (the castle is closed for renovation). Early night tonight, with me off to Oban tomorrow!

Posted by weary_feet 12:16 Archived in Scotland Comments (0)

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