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.
Here’s our route:
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.
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.
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.
Here’s a cool structure in Edinburgh. My background knowledge is really slacking.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
And here is the castle from the opposite side of Loch ness. Too bad we didn’t get a glimpse of Nessie.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We checked out the Grantown Museum and learned about the history of the town.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?!
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.
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.
After a little ways down, we took a better victory picture.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This night in Oban was the last night on our Scotland trip.
The next morning we caught the train to Glasgow where we picked up a rental car for the journey home.
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.
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.