Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Edinburgh and The Highlands

Edinburgh, o my heart. What a whirlwind.

Erin and i had a couple days in Edinburgh  before leaving for our Scottish Highlands tour, and we were able to do a bit of sightseeing...in the rain. The walking tour was pretty miserable, as i was shivering-stage freezing. It was amazing to see all the inspirations behind harry potter, around town! Rowling took a bunch of names from a cemetary and we saw the castle school that Hogwarts was based on. Weird! 

That night we headed underground for a ghost tour, which was pretty scary, dark and damp, and ended up with us being startled by a masked man jumping out at us and me twisting my knee on the wet stone floor.

I was able to visit a great vintage shop called W Armstrongs where i found trousers, a dress and a few skirts for a decent price.

Early on the 27th we set off on our highlands tour. I really didnt know what to expect for this tour... Everyone was pretty sleepy at first, getting their bearings perhaps. All i can say is: this was not the case at the end! We found that the bus was entirely aussies except for erin, me and our tour guide, so obviously we laughed basically the entire tour. Bless em! :)

Heres a general itinerary of the tour, which got switched around and added to quite a bit:

Day 1: Edinburgh to Oban
Heading north from Edinburgh, we take in views of Stirling Castle the Wallace Monument and hear tales of the real Braveheart. We enter Rob Roy country where the landscape changes from the Lowlands to the Highlands before passing along Loch Awe and by Kilchurn Castle, set in some of Scotland's most iconic scenery. Oban for the night (the 'Gateway to the Isles') with spectacular views over to the Isle of Mull. Tonight is your chance of a proper Highland Fling with some traditional dancing at a ceilidh!

Day 2: Oban to Isle of Skye
First stop today is the beautiful but eerie Glencoe, setting of the infamous 1692 massacre. Then it's onto the Glenfinnan monument where Bonnie Prince Charlie began his claim for the throne of Scotland. There is also the spectacular viaduct that featured in the Harry Potter film. This afternoon we get the chance to visit a local whisky distillery in the shadow of Ben Nevis, Britain's highest mountain. After a drop of the 'water of life' we make our way west to the coast and a stop at the magnificent Eilean Donan Castle perched on the shoreline and overlooking the sea. Then it's over the bridge to the Isle of to the stunning Isle of Skye.

Day 3: Isle of Skye
Today we explore the 'winged isle' or 'Isle of Mist' with its ruined castles, awesome scenery and home to the legendary MacLeod and MacDonald Clans. Immersed in Celtic myths and Viking legends, hear tales abound with faeries and fights, we explore the windswept landscape and brooding Red and Black Cuillin Mountain ranges. There is also the chance for a hike through this stunning environment before we return to the mainland past the beautiful Eilean Donan Castle and on to Fort Augustus on the shore of Loch Ness.

Day 4: Loch Ness and the Highlands
Today is a stunning drive through the north west Highlands which is some of the most remote and most isolated mountain terrain in Europe. There will be the chance to take a walk through some of this amazing environment led the way by your fearless local guide who will ensure we make it back to civilisation... Through the remnants of ancient Caledonian Pine Forest, our journey takes us through Drumnadrochit and along Loch Ness. We see the ruins of Urquhart Castle before arriving back at Fort Augustus for a party night to remember.

Day 5: Loch Ness to Edinburgh
We hear tales about Bonnie Prince Charlie and the tragedy of his defeat on the eerie moor of lonely Culloden Battlefield, scene of the last major battle in Britain. Then past the mountains of the Cairngorms National Park and through Perthshire, surrounded by mountains, forests and salmon packed rivers. There's time to take in Dunkeld, heart of Macbeth country and its mighty cathedral and pass the famous Forth Bridge before arriving back in Edinburgh

Our tour was guided by a lovely man named alan, who is a hilarious, musical fellow and a passionate and dedicated Scotsman. We rode around to a soundtrack of "the greatest hits of the last 30 years" which made for awesome bus dance parties and sing alongs. Alan has also worked as a studio musicial, and his knowledge of music reminded me a lot of my pop, so i was in my zone. And probably annoyed at least half the people on the bus OH WELL.

Other fun things: an amazing dance party after a whiskey tasting at our hostel, put on by a cool dude named Stevie, traversing forests and cliffs, exploring castle ruins, and more generally, my barin failing to comprehens all the amazing sights we were seeing! Truly, it was an amazing ride. Bless you, alan!

Back in edinburgh on friday night, erin and i ditched our prebooked hostel for a more central location, then met up with the haggis crew again for drinks and dinner. Couldnt get enough, i suppose :)

On our last day in edinburgh erin and i checked out edinburgh castle and some spots on the royal mile , then separated so she could check out the national gallery and i could see the modern art museum with my pal sam. My fave part of the museum were the neon sign installations out front... Amazing. We gor some food at the museum then headed back to erin to wander over to the palace and arthurs seat. By this time things were closing up so erin took her leave, and the forboding rain only got us part way up to arthurs seat. We gave up and got pizza, and a bar man gave us free cake. Not a total bust, despite being soaked through with rain.

We were off the Glasgow by train the next day! Goodbye Edinburgh, you were swell :)

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