Published: September 20th 2011August 4th 2011
This was always destined to be a slightly more relaxed part of our trip. We had hired a car from Inverness, and were planning to travel along the west coast of Scotland down to Glasgow, missing on purpose going through any major cities, and keeping our driving to only a few hours each day. In that sense, we certainly achieved our objective.
We started with a cheap flight from Belfast to Inverness with discount airline FlyBe, which we had booked several months earlier. While there was no problem with the flight, we were somewhat bemused that at the airport not only did we have to pay a surcharge for our luggage, but we also had to pay for our seats, in effect almost doubling the initial cost of the flight. This prompted the enquiry from us that if we were paying for our seats now, what did the initial fare cover? I couldn't get an answer to this!
We first had a short stay in Inverness, home to the original Collie clan, but had neither the time, nor to be frank the enthusiasm, to spend hours searching through graveyards for tombstones. However, as a trade-off, we made the short
excursion to the nearby town of Nairn (Joan's maiden name) on the Sunday afternoon, only to find the town all but closed up. Add to that the persistent rain, and it wasn't the most successful of side trips, but at least we could tick that one off the 'bucket list'. On the other hand, we found Inverness to be an attractive city, with lots of old buildings and interesting churches and other structures, and we were lucky enough to have rented a great apartment overlooking the River Ness and Inverness Castle.
Our driving excursion initially took us down the flanks of Loch Ness, but while Nessy wasn't performing that day, the very historical Urquhart Castle was a great alternative, perched on high overlooking the Loch. From there, it was a very pretty road across to the Isle of Skye, which we were able to reach via a bridge at Kyle of Lochalsh. We stayed in our first B&B just over on Skye at a place called Broadford, where we had a great view of the Skye panorama from our room, and had our first taste of the fantastic Scottish B&B hospitality.
As expected, Skye is a pretty rugged,
convoluted island about 50 miles long, ringed by a beautiful coastline and dominated by a range of mountains called the Cuillins. First stop was the magical Eilean Donan Castle, not far from Kyle, which like Urquhart was one of the most attractive castles we saw, and the super calm waters of the adjoining Loch Duich made it a photographer's dream. Skye is not a place to rush around, with most roads being strictly one-way, with 'passing places' every 100 yards or so, with it often being a toss-up which car would back up to let the other through, with friendly waves to all passing traffic for their courtesies. We took a drive out to one of the remote villages at Elgol, with the 40 mile return trip taking us almost 3 hours. The highlight on the way back was a chance sighting of a small herd of highland cattle, well recognised by their long hair and shaggy appearance.
We caught the ferry from Skye back to the mainland and stayed that night in the pick of all our B&Bs at a place on the banks of Loch Morar, the deepest lake in the UK. This was a purpose built
B&B with great facilities, and really friendly hosts, and yet was one of the cheapest we stayed at (name was 'Braes of the Loch', and no, I don't get any commission!). We thought the highlight was catching sight of a couple of baby deer in the bushes nearby, and after we had spent about half an hour in the shrub trying to catch a photo of them, the B&B owner came outside with an apple and they came right up to him and fed out of his hand, before being similarly fed by Joan.
The Isle of Mull was not dissimilar to Skye, except even more remote if that is possible, but even this remoteness has its own beauty. Highlights were seeing Governor Macquarie's Mauseleum, along with the family gravestones; Duart Castle, a fortress dominating the Sound of Mull, and seat of the Maclean clan; and the fishing port of Tobermory, with its brightly painted houses reflected over the water. Again the roads were narrow and slow going, but that gave the driver lots of time to take in the great scenery!
All in all, well worth the visit, and complemented in general by fantastic hospitality (and breakfasts)
from our Scottish hosts. One of the items that bemused us somewhat was the acceptance by the locals of peoples' dogs in places that would be unacceptable in Oz, such as restaurants, buses, ferries etc. Next time I take a local flight, I won't be the least surprised to find a canine neighbour, although they probably prefer to travel business class!
So from here it is just a short train ride south into the Lakes District for a brief stay in Keswick before trekking further south. Stay tuned.
There are more photos below