Epic Scotland Adventure

Over the Queen’s Jubilee, we had an epic 7 day adventure in Scotland with Tara’s parents, who came all the way from the great state of Texas.  We traveled by car, train, steam engine, bus, and boat.  We traced the Grant/McIntosh family roots, explored castles, hiked the Scottish countryside, saw some amazing sites, and drank learned a lot about Scottish whisky.

Welcome to Scotland!

Here’s our route:

Piece of Cake

And here was our basic plan of attack:

  • Edinburgh (pronounced  EH-din-bur-uh, with a mean Scottish growl) via car
  • Inverness/Grantown/Loch Ness via car
  • Isle of Skye via train and bus
  • Fort William via Ferry and Steam Train
  • Oban via Train
  • Glasgow via Train

This was our first trip that we actually took any time off of work.  Due to the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, we got Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday off of work, so we went ahead and took the other 2 days off to spend the whole week exploring Scotland.

Edinburgh

Our first stop was Edinburgh.  We just stayed one night in Edinburgh on our way up to Inverness, but we still got to see a lot of the city.  The first thing we did was check out the Rosslyn chapel, which was made famous by the movie/book The Da Vinci Code.  I haven’t seen the movie or read the book so the appeal was completely lost on me (Sorry Mona).  It just looked like a really old church to me.  It wasn’t huge and it didn’t have crazy art work.  It was just an old small church.  Oh well, at least it was quick.

The famous Rosslyn Chapel

Next, we explored the city.  We walked the Royal Mile, which is a historic road that leads from the castle to… something else.  We never made it to the end to be honest.  We did find a bunch of cool Scottish Whisky stores.  I had no idea there was so much variety when it comes to Scotch.

Our first of many Scotches

Here’s a cool structure in Edinburgh.  My background knowledge is really slacking.

Cool structure

This is also where I learned that every Clan has their own Tartan.  And that basically means that every family has their own style of plaid.  There were a ton of Scottish stores on the Royal mile so the Grants took advantage and stocked up on ties and scarves in their style of plaid tartan.

That night we had a traditional Scottish dinner and hung out at some local pubs.  We took the last train home and it was incredibly crowded.  On the train ride, we ended up in this tiny compartment that may or may not have been a storage closet.

Dan is very claustrophobic!

Inverness/Loch Ness/Grantown

The next morning we had a full Scottish breakfast and headed up towards Inverness.  The drive was really scenic and enjoyable.  Along the way, we followed the recommendation of  Tara’s Scottish friend and we stopped at the House of Bruar store.  It had TONS of authentic Scottish stuff.  It reminded me of a combination of Cracker Barrel and Whole Foods, except with all things Scotland.  Tara took about 30 pictures in this place before we found out pictures weren’t allowed.

mmm….. Haggis Crisps

Next up was Moy Hall, which has been the home of the Clan McIntosh Chiefs since the 14th century.  Dan contacted the mother of the current chief to see if we could get a tour, but she was unavailable.  We drove through the estate and snapped a few pictures.  Tara’s grandma is a McIntosh, by the way.

Loch Moy and the Moy Hall Gatehouse

Next up was Loch Ness.  We got a really sunny day to look for Nessie, but we still came up empty.  We drove from Inverness to Urquhart Castle, down to Fort Augustus, and back up the west side of the Loch.  Here are the remains of the castle.

Castle with Loch Ness in the background

As it turns out, there was a tower at this castle that was built specifically for members of the Grant Clan.  I had no idea my wife is such a VIP in Scotland!

VIP room at Grant Tower, overlooking Loch Ness

And here is the castle from the opposite side of Loch ness.  Too bad we didn’t get a glimpse of Nessie.

Urquhart Castle from Across Loch Ness

On the way back to Inverness, we spotted our first clan of hairy cows.  I think these cows are completely awesome.  I want to get some of these when we move back to the states.  I was driving at the time these were spotted so I immediately pulled over and put my zoom lens to use.

Hairy Cow #1

After all the Loch Ness excitement, we checked into our Inverness B&B and explored the city a bit.  We walked up to the castle and snapped this good view of the city.  According to the signage on the castle, it’s still used today as a courthouse.

View of Inverness from the Castle

At dinner that evening, we all tried haggis for the first time.  Haggis is sheep organs, oats, meat, and spices all wrapped up in a sheep’s stomach.  Since we were all pretty scared, we ordered the deep fried version to soften the blow.  It was actually pretty tasty.  I ended up eating the majority of this dish.

mmmm…. sheep organs

After dinner, we found a local bar with live music and camped out there for the rest of the night.  Since we had an hour to kill before the live music started, it was the perfect opportunity to learn about all the different scotches available at the bar.  After an hour of drinking scotch, the band sounded amazing.

The next morning, we continued on the Grant/McIntosh family history tour with a trip to Grantown.  On the way there, we passed by the Clan Grant Centre.  This was another bonus because no one knew where this place was or if it existed.  We just happened to drive by it.  Apparently, it’s where a ton of Grants are buried and there is also a church.  It was cool to see all of different names of old Grants on the stones.

Clan Grant Centre

Speaking of bonus finds, check out this ridiculously amazing cow!  This cow was itching his neck on a barb wire fence about a few miles from the Clan Grant Centre.

Check out the hair he’s leaving on the fence!
(Hairy cow #2)

He must have been really itchy.  His horns were so long he could even scrach his back legs!  I’d be so jealous if I were a regular cow.

AHHH….That’s the spot!

When I spotted this guy from the car, I immediately requested that Tara pull over.  No zoom lense needed here.  We were right next to this fine Scottish angus.  After I started taking pictures of this guy, 3 more cars pulled over to copy me, but I can’t really blame them.  This is the coolest cow that I will probably ever see in my entire life.  Here is one more pic for good measure.

I wonder if he can see anything at all?!

After 2 bonus finds, it was time to actually go to Grantown.  I was thinking that Dan and Mona Grant (Tara’s parents) would be treated like royalty in this town since the town was basically named after them, but it turns out that almost everyone in this town has the last name of Grant.

Authentic Grants

We checked out the Grantown Museum and learned about the history of the town.

Too bad there isn’t a Schetzelville….

The motto of the Grant Clan is “Stand Fast”.  After the Museum, we drove out to Macallan distillery.  It was about a 25 mile drive through the Scottish countryside and it was really beautiful.  We ran into grouses, huge bulls, tons of sheep, and you guessed it, more hairy cows!

Hairy Cows #3 through #8

The Macallan distillery was really cool.  We showed up without a reservation, which is apparently a big no-no because they get booked well in advance.  The head tour guide lady felt sorry for us since Dan and Mona traveled all the way from Texas.  She ended up skipping her lunch and took us (and a Canadian couple) on a tour of the distillery.  Seeing how it was made gave me a greater appreciation for how the different tastes come together to make a good single malt scotch.  It also made me want to drink more scotch!

mmmm…. Scotch

After the distillery and dinner, we ran into some authentic bagpipers on the streets of Inverness!

And on top of that, there was a Scottish stilt/kilt guy and a huge fake dog.  These guys were hilarious.  They were doing this act all throughout the streets of Inverness.  According to the waitress, they do this once a year, so we got really lucky.

Giant Scot and Dog!

After all of the hoopla on the streets, we took our newfound appreciation of Scotch to a local pub to sample some of the local fare.  This pub actually had a graph of how the various Scotches taste, which is really helpful for the visual learners.  After much trial and error, the group came to an agreement that rich and delicate was the favorite.

Lower right is my go-to

Isle of Skye

The next morning, we hopped on the train bound for Kyle of Lochalsh.  Yet again, it was a gorgeous journey.  We took some pictures from the train, through the glass window, and they still turned out pretty good.

Check out that water

I repeat, check out that water!

From Kyle of Lochalsh, we took the bus to Portree, on the Isle of Skye.  At the bus station, I snapped a picture of the bridge over to the island.

Bridge to the Isle of Skye

Once we got to Skye, Tara and I headed straight for the Old Man of Storr.  One review on trip advisor said that this walk had the best views on the planet, so that was enough to convince me.  We followed a walk that we found online and it ended up being amazing.

Old man of Storr rock formation

Tara on top of some rocks

Old Man of Storr in the background

After the straightforward walk through the forest and up to the base of the old man, we jumped a fence, climbed up a rocky cliffside on all fours, and made our way to the very top of the mountain with no walking path!  Our phones weren’t working either, so we had to navigate our way with only our map and a compass.  We didn’t even have the written description in the link above because I forgot to print it out before we left.  I was kinda worried for a while, but we ended up figuring it out and getting all the way up and down with no major issues.

Close to the top

Lounging lamb at the tip top

Me and Tara at the very tip top

The rocky way down

That evening, we met a nice couple from New Orleans that shared their table with us in a crowded restaurant.  We sampled some local beer and had a great night.  It turned out that the guy who shared his table with us actually worked for Dan’s father.  Small world!

Fort Williams/Ben Nevis

The next morning, we took the ferry over to Mallaig.  I sound like a broken record here, but the ferry ride had some amazing views.

Ferry from Armadale to Mallaig

From Mallaig we took the Harry Potter Steam Train, otherwise known as the Jacobite over to Fort William.  The steam train was really cool.  It felt like we went back in time.

Tara in front of the steam train

Head on view of the steam train

Going over something famous from Harry Potter
(I haven’t seen this movie either)

After the great journey to Fort William, we had some dinner and then just hung out in the lounge of our B&B and drank some Macallan.  Tara and I had to rest up because of our plan to hike up Ben Nevis the following morning.

For those of you keeping score at home, Ben Nevis is the highest point in the UK at 4,409 ft.  Our previous highest peak was Kinder Scout, at a measly 2,087 feet.  Everything we read said to bring 5 different layers because it gets so cold up there.  When we started the ascent, it had to be 80 degrees!  Why would we need 5 layers?!

Here we are at the very bottom, with way too much clothing on

Heading up

Still heading up! Notice I’m in shorts and a t-shirt now

Taking a break. I look miserable….. This was taking forever!

This walk never seemed to end!  We just walked and walked and walked some more.  Every time we thought we were getting close, we’d just find out there was more.  It was really annoying.  The views were pretty good, but there wasn’t much variety.  What you see behind me in the last photo was pretty much the view the whole time.  It got gradually colder the higher we got.

What?!? Snow? It was 80 at the bottom

Like I said, gradually colder!  I put some more layers on when I saw the snow.  After 3 hours and 10 minutes, we finally reached the top!  We wanted to hang out on the top and savor our victory, but it was damn cold up there.  We could barely feel our fingers.  And after about ten minutes of being up there, a storm cloud rolled in and completely ruined the view and it started getting really windy.  That was our cue to start the descent.

Finally made it!

View from the top. We are basically in a cloud

Here’s the view after the storm cloud rolled in. Breathtaking, isn’t it?

After a little ways down, we took a better victory picture.

Victory!

It took us about 3 more hours to get down.  We had some celebratory drinks at the bottom and then some more at dinner and a few more at a pub with live music.  I had no trouble getting to bed that night.

Oban

The next morning, we hopped the train to Oban.  It was yet another great train ride through the Scottish highlands.  Once we got there, we had a few hours to kill before we could check into our B&B so we ate lunch and took a boat tour.

Oban Boat Tour

The boat tour was totally unplanned, but really fun.  We got up close and personal with a seal colony and saw some more great scenery.

Seals

More seals

Great View of Oban.  We walked to that Roman Colosseum looking thing later that evening

That evening, we ate some really good seafood at a local restaurant and took a walk around the city.  Here we are McCaig’s Tower, which is the Roman colosseum looking thing in the previous picture.

At McCaig’s Tower

This night in Oban was the last night on our Scotland trip.

Glasgow

The next morning we caught the train to Glasgow where we picked up a rental car for the journey home.

Walking through Glasgow

Derby

Since we had one more night with Tara’s parents before they headed back to Texas, we decided to take them to an Indian restaurant because they had never eaten Indian food before.  They said they really enjoyed it.  Here’s one last pic of the Grants in Derby.

Bye Bye Grants! See you in August.

Overall, the trip was a great success.  It took a lot of planning because we were constantly on the move, but it ended up working out perfectly.  I couldn’t ask for a better way to spend a week off of work.  Hopefully the Royal Family does something to warrant a few extra days off next year as well.

That’s all for now.

11 thoughts on “Epic Scotland Adventure

  1. Your trip to Scotland sounds so exciting—You describe it so well I almost feel as if i were there with you !! I just can’t seem to get the feel of drinking the Scotch though and Ihad no idea there were so many different kinds. Guess that proves “your never too old to learn”
    I miss all of you so much.

    • I had no idea either. Take a look at that chart and try some from each quadrant. They really do have a different tastes. Mona really liked Glenmorangie, so maybe you should try that one. Add a few ice cubes and take small sips.

  2. Wow – great post and really wonderful pictures! Looks like a good time was had by all. Love the cows too. And no surprise that y’all conquered the highest climb in the UK!

    Can’t wait to see you two in August.

  3. Doug — enjoyed your photos and comments. Some similarity to our trip (at the same time!) but different as well. Perhaps a little more whisky and less history. :-)

    Great cow photos. My daughter is jealous. We didn’t see as many and didn’t have the good pull outs when we did (nor a monster telephoto lens).

    Great job on the Ben Nevis climb. You also went further up the Old Man of Storr than we did as well.

    • Tons of similarities! We saw a fighter jet when we were in Fort William either Wednesday or Thursday. Is that when you saw yours? You took a picture of the Jacobite and we were on it. The list goes on.

      You guys did a lot more on Isle of Skye. We were only there for 1 night. Kinda wish we stayed longer because it was so amazing. You could make a whole trip out of exploring the Isles.

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