We packed up and left the hostel, heading towards Harris. This was the less populated of the two islands and we were rewarded with narrow roads, stunning vistas and constantly changing weather.
We briefly stopped in Tarbert, where we would take the ferry to Skye, and had some time to eat, poke around the small shops, or visit a local craft fair that was happening in a community hall.
Our first official stop was the medieval kirk (church) of St. Clement’s, which was built for the MacLeod’s. It was surrounded by rolling hills, stone walls, and a few animals. We were also cheered to see both the sun and experience a bit of warmth, with the first of the group tossing around a ball before heading back into the bus.
The next stop was what Debs called the most beautiful beach in the world. It seems as though almost everything that we visited ended up on a list of “the most beautiful” or “the sexiest” thing in the world, but she didn’t completely understate the clear blue water and sand we were about to face.
This picture was taken less than an hour after the photo at St. Clement’s. I had already decided I wasn’t going to swim – I’m from Atlantic Canada, I’ve been in the Atlantic Ocean, I knew how that was going to turn out – but the change in the weather made even the hardiest traveller reconsider. We were sitting on the beach just as a complete downpour started, soaking everyone. Debs begrudgingly opened the bus as we rushed back, deciding that eating our lunch in the pouring rain wasn’t quite the best use of our time.
Debs seemed a little peeved that we had decided a quick glimpse of the beach was enough. When the rain let up after 10 or 15 minutes – despite the foreboding sky – no one had any interest in walking back to the beach. We finally closed the doors and headed back out on the road, towards the small town that housed the ferry terminal. I headed down to the tweed outlet with a few people from the trip and ended up picking up a small change purse.
Our drive to Portree was fairly uneventful – stunning scenery, as always – as Debs regaled us with a few stories. Our hostel in Portree was, like many of the others we’d visited, in an old building and rather damp. Paying ahead was again the right thing to do as we were processed first and given the opportunity to head up to our rooms.
The plans for that night were to attend a bar called the Isles, which was located mere minutes from the hostel. Debs had promised us traditional live music, but also told us that it would be crowded. August is still the height of tourist season and Portree was bursting at the seams. We could barely get to the room where the music was playing, settling in at a table towards the back where there was room to breathe and we could still hear what was going on.
They definitely could have added a few more tables, or at least not put the bar in the middle of the room, but it was a great night out and I headed to bed content and ready to sleep.
I was up bright and early, taking the opportunity to walk around the town of Portree a bit before finding myself some breakfast. It was too early for much to be open, but I found a small restaurant / cafe that had non-instant coffee and a few members from my tour.
Debs continued to regale us with stories as we wandered through Skye and re-entered the Scottish mainland. We all held our faces in the water of a rushing river, promised that it would help us to maintain our youth and beauty. We traipsed off the bus and went to check out some beautiful scenery – some of us were more ambitious than others, losing their shoes in the mud – enjoying the fresh air along the way.
We didn’t visit Eileen Donan castle, but we did stop and take a few photos. Our agenda for the day was too full, and Debs suggested that it wasn’t quite worth the time. The only problem with the time of our visit, however, is that the light wasn’t quite in the right place to take a few photos.
There was a fairly brief stop for lunch – where I had some amazing fish and chips – before heading to the Culloden battlefield. This is where my experience of reading Outlander came in – I was one of the few who knew about the battle, and had been looking forward to visiting the site.
Unfortunately we didn’t really have time to explore the Visitor’s Centre. Debs led us out into the field, and to the memorials, and pointed out what the flags meant (they were the location of each position). She spent time telling us about the history of the site – she had been building toward it with her stories in the bus – but she really discussed the futility of the battle while on the windswept field. There were a few other visitors who listened intently, and peppered her with questions.
We had time to explore the field, which had stones marking where many of the clans had been. I noticed that Clan Fraser was the only one with flowers – one of the site interpreters, back towards the main site, was pretty open with his opinion that it was the Outlander effect.
I would have liked the opportunity to spend some time in the Visitor’s Centre and museum, but I feel that I would have been in the minority. I was one of the last to return to the bus as it was. I blame the “harry coos”.
We spent the evening at the Inverness Hostel, which is part of the Hostelling International network. I’ve never stayed at an HI branded hostel before, which is surprisingly, and while it was devoid of character and a bit confusing, it was clean and serviceable. It would have been nicer to stay closer to the action in Inverness, however, instead of having to walk back along some quiet, dark roads. I had a chance to explore a bit of the city, met up with the group for drinks and dinner, and went to bed at a fairly reasonable hour. Scotland was turning me into an old person.
Our last day of the trip! We had a bit of upheaval in the morning as a few members of our group joined up with a bus to head towards the Orkneys, and we picked up some individuals who had done an overnight in Inverness as part of a two day excursion into the Highlands.
From Inverness we headed straight to Loch Ness where we would have a few minutes to poke around the town before taking a short cruise out into the waters.
As unbelievable as it sounds, the Loch Ness trip was a lot of fun. It was incredibly high on the cheese factor – I mean, we’re looking for a mythical sea monster – but they had sonar and kept showing and interpreting these “unexplained large sea mammals”. I had a lot of fun listening to the stories in the lower deck and watching the presentation.
We hit the road once again, making our way towards Glen Coe. This incredibly scenic valley holds some dark history as members of Clan MacDonald were massacred by their guests for not pledging their oath to the English king in a timely fashion. The scenery is the main draw here – and there are lots of walking trails – but we took plenty of photos before piling back into the bus.
After Glen Coe things became a bit – unexpected. We had found out around lunch that two of the people we picked up in Inverness had flights leaving Edinburgh at 5 or 6pm which was much earlier than the tour company suggested booking them. Debs was very clear with these two travellers that she wouldn’t cut our trip short and that we had all paid for a full trip – which meant a full day – and that while she would do her best, and potentially drop them off somewhere more convenient, she couldn’t cut out hours of our day.
This discussion ended up being a moot point after sitting on the highway for a bit, and then being directed down what could only be described as a one way farm road. Our vehicle was easily one of the largest, if not the largest, and we definitely had a few issues navigating… running into farm machinery on a one lane road, while sitting in a bus? Let’s just say that most drivers were quite accommodating and Debs handled it like a pro… the one guy who wasn’t? I’m sure karma will get him.
We had to completely bypass the Stirling portion of our visit, and one we returned back to a main road we made an unplanned and unexpected stop in a small town so we could grab a few snacks and use some public restrooms. The travellers who were trying to get back for their early evening flight were completely out of luck at this point, so Debs made the decision to take us for a quick scenic walk in order to make up for our missing Stirling.
We wandered through the woods, checked out this beautiful scenic room that had been built by the landowners, watched the rushing water, and meandered back to the bus, knowing that this would be our last excursion of the trip.
Sure enough, we went back to the bus and made our way towards Edinburgh. We passed the “sexy” bridge, and as we made our way back into the city Debs narrated a few of the sites, encouraging us to visit and explore as much of the city as we could. With a few days left, I was definitely going to make the most of it – just after getting some sleep.