England, Wales & Scotland
A Karen Brown Recommended Itinerary
ITINERARY AS EXCERPTED FROM KAREN BROWN'S GUIDE
This itinerary begins in Scotland's capital, Edinburgh, journeys to Inverness via Pitlochry, samples magnificent castles and portions of "The Whisky Trail," traces the shore of Scotland's most famous lake, Loch Ness, wends through the glens, and travels over the sea to Skye. It then takes you up into the beauties of Wester Ross where the gardens at Inverewe blossom in a harsh landscape then on to Fort William, Callander, and Glasgow with its magnificent Burrell Collection. At every turn there are echoes of history and romance-Nessie the legendary monster of Loch Ness, homes that sheltered Bonnie Prince Charlie and Flora Macdonald, and the lands where Rob Roy MacGregor roamed. The roads are few and often narrow and the long distances between villages and small towns add to the feeling of isolation. The fickle Scottish weather offers no guarantee that the dramatic scenery will be revealed, but what you can be assured of is a warm, friendly welcome from the hospitable Scots.
Recommended Pacing: Spend two full days sightseeing in Edinburgh. With an early-morning start you will find yourself at Kildrummy Castle by nightfall (skip Perth sightseeing). If you prefer a more leisurely pace, also include an overnight in Pitlochry. Stay overnight around Inverness because it's an all-day drive from Inverness to the Isle of Skye, then spend two nights on Skye-more if you prefer a more leisurely pace. If you are venturing up Wester Ross, plan on spending two nights there. A day-long drive from Skye will find you in Glasgow by nightfall. If you are not a cities person, skip Glasgow and stay instead in or around Callander.
Edinburgh is Scotland's beautiful capital, dominated by Edinburgh Castle sitting high above the city. Before the castle lies the long green band of gardens that separates Edinburgh's Old Town, with its narrow streets crowded with ancient buildings, and New Town where Edinburgh's shopping street, Princes Street, is backed by wide roads of elegant Georgian houses. The city's principal sights are easily explored on foot, but as an introduction to Edinburgh take one of the double-decker sightseeing buses from Waverley Bridge opposite the Tourist Information Office (tel: 0131-5571700) and railway station. The tours run every ten minutes and wind a circular route through the city with a commentary on the significance of the buildings along the route. Your ticket is valid for twenty-four hours and the bus makes frequent stops so you can take the entire tour for an overview of what there is to see and then later use it as transportation between the sights, hopping on and off to visit the places that interest you. Several guided walking tours are offered, some exploring the city's ancient underground chambers-purported to be haunted!
The most popular time to visit Scotland's capital is during the Edinburgh Festival. Actually the name applies to a collection of festivals that take place between the end of July and the end of August. The Jazz and Blues Festival kicks off the event followed by the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in the last three weeks of August. The Fringe offers everything from the avant-garde to the eccentric along with jugglers, mimes, and buskers, making this the most comprehensive international arts festival in the world. Pipers dance down the streets and kilts are worn almost as a uniform. The hum of bagpipes sets the stage with parades, flags, presentations, floodlights, and color appearing everywhere. The Military Tattoo provides tradition with massed pipes and drums from Scottish regiments alongside other military participants. It's an outdoor spectacle that culminates in a fireworks display. Tickets go on sale the previous December and sell out early.
Some of Edinburgh's major sights are:
Princes Street, the elegant main thoroughfare, its north side lined by shops and its south side bordered by gardens.
Majestically perched on the edge of the city atop an extinct volcanic outcrop, Edinburgh Castle looms against the skyline. There has been a castle here throughout the city's history, with today's comprising a collection of buildings from the little 11th-century St. Margaret's chapel, through medieval apartments to more modern army barracks and the Scottish United Services Museum. A dramatically staged exhibition tells the tale of the Scottish Crown Jewels, the "Honours of Scotland," which dazzle the visitor from their glass case. From the castle ramparts the view over Edinburgh is spectacular.
From the castle gates you enter a famous sequence of ancient streets, referred to as The Royal Mile. A short walk finds you at Gladstone’s Land (NT), a building which typifies the more pleasant side of what life must have been like in the crowded tenements of Old Town Edinburgh. The house is arranged as a 17th-century merchant's house with the ground floor set up as a cloth merchant's booth and the upstairs as a home.
Just a short distance off the Royal Mile on Chambers Street you find The National Museum of Scotland which chronicles the variety and richness of Scotland's long and exciting history, bringing it all to life with the fascinating stories each object and every gallery has to tell. An added bonus is the spectacular view from its rooftop garden.
On the High Street is the great St. Giles’ Cathedral, founded in the 1100s, whose role has been so important in the history of the Presbyterian Church. John Knox preached from its pulpit from 1561 until his death in 1572, hurling attacks at the "idolatry" of the Catholic Church.
The Museum of Childhood (free) is reputedly the noisiest museum in the city. Find out how children were raised, dressed and educated in times gone by, and try some of the games they played.
John Knox’s home is just a little farther down the High Street.
Further down the Royal Mile are two free museums of ordinary folk in Edinburgh: The Museum of Edinburgh is the principal museum of local history in which the People's Story tells the tales of the lives, work and leisure of the ordinary people of Edinburgh.
At the end of The Royal Mile lies the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the historic home of the Stuarts, to which Mary, Queen of Scots came from France at the age of 18. The six years of her reign and stay at Holyrood made a tragic impact on her life. Shortly after marriage to a meek Lord Darnley, the happiness of the couple dissolved and their quarrels became bitter. Lord Darnley was jealous of Mary's secretary and constant companion, David Rizzio, and conspired to have him stabbed at Holyrood in the presence of the queen. Just a year later, Lord Darnley himself was mysteriously murdered and gossip blamed the Earl of Bothwell. Mary, however, married the Earl promptly after Lord Darnley's death and rumors still question the queen's personal involvement in the murder. Conspiracies continued and Scotland's young queen fled to the safety of the English court. However, considering her a threat to the English Crown, Queen Elizabeth I welcomed her with imprisonment and had her beheaded 19 years later. Bonnie Prince Charlie was the last Stuart king to hold court at Holyrood in 1745. Today Holyrood, whose apartments are lavishly furnished with French and Flemish tapestries and fine works of art from the Royal Collection, is used by the British monarch as an official residence in Scotland.
Just across the way is the Scottish Parliament Building which opened in 2004. It's a magnificent modern building that cost a small fortune to build. Admissions and tours are free and what you see depends on whether parliament is sitting or not.
The adjacent modern building is Our Dynamic Earth where you can take a fantastic journey of discovery from the very beginning of time to the unknown future of Planet Earth. The special effects and dioramas are amazing.
The Georgian House (NT), at 7 Charlotte Square, is typical of the elegant Georgian homes found in New Town. From the kitchen through the drawing room to the bedrooms, the house is furnished and decorated much as it would have been when it was first occupied in 1796 and gives you an insight into the way the family and servants of the house lived.
Just outside the city, at the historic port of Leith, you can visit the royal yacht Britannia, which traveled to every corner of the globe as a floating residence for the royal family. A visitors' center and audio-visual presentation introduce you to the yacht's history then you can take a self-guided tour to every part of the ship. If you are driving, follow signs to Leith (North Edinburgh) and Britannia. There is a direct bus service from Waverley Bridge, next to the railway station.
Leaving Edinburgh, follow signs for the Firth of Forth Bridge and Perth. After crossing the Firth of Forth, the M90 takes you through hilly farmland to the outskirts of Perth where you take the A93 following signs for Scone Palace.
Before reaching the palace you can detour off the main road to visit the city of Perth, known as the "Fair City," which straddles the banks of the Tay. A lovely city, it was the capital of Scotland until 1437 and the murder of James I. Following his death, his widow and young son, James II, moved the court to Edinburgh. One of Perth's most important historic buildings is St. John’s Kirk, a fine medieval church that has been attended by many members of English and Scottish royalty. Also of interest are the Perth Museum and Art Gallery and the Museum of the Black Watch, which is housed in Ballhousie Castle.
Scone Palace is a 19th-century mansion that stands on the site of the Abbey of Scone, the coronation palace of all Scottish kings up to James I. By tradition, the kings were crowned on a stone that was taken from the abbey in 1297 and placed under the Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey. This token of conquest did nothing to improve relations between Scotland and England. The present mansion is the home of the Earl of Mansfield and houses a collection of china and ivory statuettes.
Continuing along the A93, shortly after leaving the abbey you pass through Old Scone. This was once a thriving village but was removed in 1805 by the Earl of Mansfield to improve the landscape and only the village cross and graveyard remain to mark the site.
Continue through Guildtown to Stobhall, a picturesque group of buildings grouped round a courtyard. Once the home of the Drummond family, much of the structure dates back to the 15th century.
Cross the River Isla and continue alongside the enormous beech hedge that was planted in 1746 as the boundary of the Meikleour estate. At the end of the hedge turn left to the village of Meikleour. The focal point of the village is the 1698 mercat cross, opposite which is an old place of punishment known as the Jougs Stone. Driving through the village you join the A984 Dunkeld road.
Continue through Caputh to Dunkeld. Telford spanned the Tay with a fine bridge in 1809, but this picturesque town is best known for the lovely ruins of its ancient cathedral. Founded in the 9th century, it was desecrated in 1560 and further damaged in the 17th-century Battle of Dunkeld. The choir has been restored. Stroll to Dunkeld Cathedral by way of Cathedral Street where the National Trust has restored the little 17th- and 18th-century houses.
Leaving the town, cross Telford's bridge and take the A9 for the 11-mile drive to Pitlochry where the Highlands meet the Lowlands of Scotland. The town owes its ornate Victorian appearance to its popularity in the 19th century as a Highland health resort. Now it is better known for its Festival Theatre whose season lasts from May to October and attracts some 70,000 theatergoers each year.
In the 1940s the local electricity company built a hydroelectric station and dam across the salmon-rich River Tummel on the outskirts of town. It is hard to imagine a power station being an asset to the town but this is certainly the case here. From the observation room at the dam you can watch fish as they climb the 1,000-foot Fish Ladder around the dam and fight their way upstream to spawn in the upper reaches of the river. A special exhibition is devoted to their life cycle and the efforts being made to conserve them.
Leaving Pitlochry the A924 winds up out of town towards Braemar. After passing through the village of Moulin look for a sign indicating a left hand turn to Edradour, the smallest and most picturesque distillery in Scotland. After a wee dram, your guide will talk you through the whisky-makers art and show you round the distillery to see Edradour being made today as it was in Victorian times.
Leaving the distillery the A924 winds up to the moorlands. Alternating lush green fields and heather-clad hills give way to heather-carpeted mountains as you approach the glorious Highland scenery of Glen Shee (A93). At the edge of the village of Spittal of Glenshee large orange gates are swung across the road when it is closed by winter storms. The road begins its steep climb across the heather up the Devil's Elbow to the ski resort at the summit and drops down to the green lush valley of the River Dee and Braemar.
Here in this picturesque valley the clans gather for Scotland's most famous Highland games, the Braemar Gathering, a brilliant spectacle of pipe bands, traditional Scottish sports, and Highland dancing. The event is usually attended by the Queen and her family. Also in the village of Braemar is the cottage in which Robert Louis Stevenson lived the year he wrote Treasure Island.
Following the River Dee, a short drive brings you to Braemar Castle, a doll-sized castle on a little knoll surrounded by conifers-a hint of the magnificent castles that wait you. Following the rushing River Dee, a turn in the road offers a splendid view of Balmoral Castle, the Royal summer residence. It's a very overrated Victorian pile of a building built in 1853 in the Scottish baronial style at the request of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. When the Royal Family are not in residence, you can visit the gardens and view the exhibition in the castle ballroom.
Coming into the tiny hamlet of Craithe, park in the riverside car park and stroll up to Craithe Church whose foundation stone was laid by Queen Victoria in 1895. The Royal Family attend services here when in residence at Balmoral just across the river.
Continue into Ballater, an attractive, small town internationally famous for its Highland games held in August. These include many old Scottish sports and the arduous hill race to the summit of Craig Cailleach. Continue along the A93, watching for the signpost that directs you left for a drive of several miles to Craigievar Castle (NT). This single-turret, pink-washed fortress surrounded by farmland is the most appealing of fairy-tale castles. Up the narrow spiral staircase the rooms are small and familial and furnished as though the laird and his family are still in residence. Willie Forbes, better known as Danzig Willie because he made his money trading with Danzig, bought an incomplete castle here in 1610. He wanted the best that money could buy and gave the master mason free reign with the castle's beautiful design. The best plasterers were busy, so Danzig Willie waited many years for the magnificent molded plasterwork ceilings that were completed the year before his death in 1627.
Twenty miles away lies Castle Fraser (NT), a grander, more elaborate version of Craigievar set in parklike grounds with a formal walled garden. Begun in 1575, the castle stayed in Fraser hands until the early part of this century. It contains a splendid Great Hall and what remains of an alleged eavesdropping device known as the "Laird's Lug."
Regain the A944, which takes you through Alford and on towards Rhynie. Detour from the main road to visit the romantic ruins of Kildrummy Castle (A97). Overlooking the ruins and surrounded by acres and acres of beautiful gardens is Kildrummy Castle Hotel.
The road from Kildrummy to Dufftown via the little Highland villages of Lumsden, Rhynie (where you leave A97 and turn left on A941), and Cabrach takes you across broad expanses of moorland. James Duff, the 4th Earl of Fife, laid out Dufftown in the form of a right-angled cross in 1817. Turn right at the Tolbooth tower in the center of the square and you come to the Glenfiddich Distillery, the only distillery in the Highlands where you can see the complete whisky-making process from barley to bottling. (Closed last two weeks of December, tel: 01340-20373.)
Malt whiskey is to Scotland what wine is to France. The rules for production are strict: It must be made from Highland barley dried over peat fires. Water is gathered from streams that have run through peat and over granite. Distillation is carried out in onion-shaped copper stills with the final product aged and stored in oak vats before bottling. A map is available from the tourist office in Dufftown that gives details of which distilleries are open and when.
Once a Highland fortress but now sadly in ruins, Ballathie Castle stands on the hill overlooking the distillery.
Four miles down the A941 you come to Craigellachie village and distillery (the home of White Horse Whisky). Turn left on the A95 for Grantown-on-Spey and follow the Spey valley through pleasant countryside to Ballindalloch Castle, the beautiful home of the Macpherson-Grants. An interesting selection of tastefully furnished rooms and a teashop are open to the public. This elegant home with its lovely gardens shows the transition from the tower house of Craigievar to the country mansion so idealized by the Victorians in the Highlands.
A short distance brings you to the Glenlivet Distillery.
Cross the River Spey at Advie and continue into Grantown-on-Spey on the narrow road that follows the north bank of the river. From Grantown-on-Spey the A939 leads towards the holiday resort of Nairn. After about 15 miles take a small road to the left signposted for Cawdor Castle. This was the castle Shakespeare had in mind when he set the scene of Duncan's death in Macbeth. The present-day Thane of Cawdor shares his family home and gardens with the public. Portraits, tapestries, lovely furniture, and, of course, tales of romance and mystery blend to make this an interesting tour.
An 8-mile drive brings you to the cairn that marks the site of the battle of Culloden (NT) where on a wet day in 1746 Bonnie Prince Charlie marched his tired, rain-soaked Highlanders into hopeless battle with the English: 1,200 Highlanders were killed. This was the last battle fought on British soil and Charles's defeat led to the decline of the Highlands and the destruction of the clan system. After the battle the British hunted Charles for five months before he escaped to France. A museum documents this sad incident and on the surrounding moorland red flags outline the Scots battle plan while yellow flags denote the English.
Nearby Inverness is known as the "Capital of the Highlands." Straddling the River Ness, the town takes its name from the river and the Gaelic word "inver" meaning river mouth. Leave the town on the A82 (Fort William road) and after a mile you come to the Caledonian Canal, which links the lochs of the Great Glen together to provide passage between the Irish and the North Seas. The canal splits Scotland in two and without it boats would have to risk the dangerous passage around the northernmost stretches of Scotland.
The road then follows the northern shore of Scotland's deepest (700 feet), longest (24 miles), and most famous lake, Loch Ness. This is the legendary home of the Loch Ness Monster or "Nessie," as she is affectionately known. So, keep an eye on the muddy gray waters of the lake and you may see more than the wind ruffling its surface. If she doesn't happen to surface for you, visit the Loch Ness Monster Exhibition at Drumnadrochit, which documents sightings that go back to the 7th century. Photographs of eel-like loops and black heads swimming give credence to the legends.
Monster spotting is a favorite pastime around Loch Ness and visitors gaze from the ramparts of Urquhart Castle because some of the best sightings have been made from here. The ruined castle dates from the 14th century and has a long and violent history.
Following the shores of Loch Ness, a 19-mile drive brings you to Fort Augustus, a village that stands at the southwestern end of the loch. Park your car by the Caledonian Canal and wander along its banks to see the pleasure craft being lowered and raised through the locks. Thomas Telford, the famous engineer, spent from 1803 to 1847 building the sections of this canal that connects the North Sea and the Atlantic without boats having to navigate around the treacherous Cape Wrath.
A few miles to the southwest, the little village of Invergarry is framed by spectacular mountain scenery. The village was burnt to the ground after the battle of Culloden because it had sheltered Bonnie Prince Charlie before and after the battle. Turn west in the village and follow the A87, through breathtaking Highland scenery, for 50 miles to Kyle of Lochalsh. The wild, rugged scenery changes with every bend in the road as you drive high above the lochs across empty moorlands then descend into glens to follow the shores of lochs whose crystal-clear, icy waters reflect the rugged mountain peaks. Habitations are few and far between yet, until the Highland chiefs decided in the 18th century that sheep were more profitable than tenants, the hillsides held crofts, schools, and chapels.
As you trace the shore of Loch Duich, on the last lap of the journey to Skye, Eilean Donan Castle appears, linked to the rocky shore by a bridge. The castle is named for a saint who lived here in the 7th century. It is a massive, walled keep that during subsequent centuries defended the coast against Danish and Norse invaders. More recently it has been restored and it is fascinating to go into rooms with 14-foot-thick walls and to climb to the battlements to see the loch spread out before you.
From the busy fishing port of Kyle of Lochalsh the toll road bridge takes you "over the sea to Skye." There is an exhilarating feel to the often mist-shrouded shores of the Isle of Skye where mystery and legends intermingle with dramatic scenery. Islanders still make a living crofting and fishing, though tourism is becoming ever more important. This is the home of the Scottish heroine Flora Macdonald who disguised Bonnie Prince Charlie as her maid and brought him safely to Skye after his defeat by the English at the battle of Culloden.
Set out to explore Skye's coastline where magnificent mountains rise from the rocky shore and sea lochs provide scenic sheltered harbors. Skye has very good roads, although often quite narrow, making it easy to tour portions of the island in a day. (A trip from Portree-around the northern end of Skye, west to Dunvegan, and back to Portree by the hill road from Struan-is all that you could expect to do comfortably in one day.) If the weather is inclement and mist veils the island, content yourself with a good book by the fireside, for what appears stunningly beautiful on a fine day can appear dreary when sheathed in fog.
Follow the A87 (signposted Portree) through the scattered village of Broadford set along a broad, sheltered bay. Skirting the shoreline, you pass the island of Scalpay before tracing the southern shoreline of Loch Ainort. The surrounding humped peaks of the Cullin Hills are spectacular as you follow the road through Sconser and Sligachan to Portree.
Portree, the capital of Skye, is its most attractive town. Pastel-painted houses step down to the water's edge, fishing boats bob in the harbor, and small boats arrive and depart from its pier. Climbing away from the harbor, the town's streets are lined with attractive shops. If you have not booked your ferry passage from Armadale to Mallaig, you can do so at the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry office behind the bus station (tel: 01478-612075. The town derives its name from Port an Righ, meaning "King's Haven," following the visit in 1540 of James V who made a vain attempt to reconcile the feuding MacLeod and Macdonald clans
Leaving the town, turn right onto the A850, a narrow, single-lane road with passing places, which takes you north. As you approach the shores of Lochs Fada and Leathan, the jagged, craggy peaks of The Storr (mountains) come into view. Standing amongst them is the Old Man of Storr, one of the most challenging pinnacles for mountain climbers.
Around the island's northernmost headland the crumbling ruins of the Macdonalds' Duntulm Castle stand on a clifftop promontory overlooking the rocky shores of Duntulm Bay. A short drive brings you to the Skye Croft Museum where four traditional Highland crofts have been restored and appropriately furnished to show a family home, a smithy, a weaver's house, and a small museum. These little cottages with their thick stone walls topped by a thick straw thatch were the traditional island dwellings-very few good examples remain though, as you travel around the island, if you look very carefully, you can see several traditional cottages in various states of ruin. Flora Macdonald is buried in a nearby graveyard.
Returning to the main coastal route (A850), a short drive takes you through Kilmuir and down a steep hill into the scattered hamlet of Uig whose pier is used by ferries to the Outer Hebrides. It is here that Bonnie Prince Charlie and Flora Macdonald landed after fleeing the Outer Hebrides. Continue to Kensaleyre and half a mile beyond the village turn right onto the B8036. When this road meets a T-junction, turn right onto the A87 for the 22-mile drive to the village of Dunvegan.
Just to the north of the village is Dunvegan Castle, the oldest inhabited castle in Scotland and the home of the MacLeod family for over 700 years. It stands amidst hills and moorlands guarding the entrance to a sheltered bay. After parking your car walk through rhododendron-filled gardens to the fortress. The castle's 15th-century section is known as the Fairy Tower after the threadbare Fairy Flag that hangs in one of the chambers. Legend has it that this yellow silk flag with crimson spots is the consecrated banner of the Knights Templar, taken as a battle prize from the Saracens. It is said to have the magical properties to produce victory in battle, the birth of sons, and plentiful harvests. Other relics include items relating to Bonnie Prince Charlie. During the summer you can take boat excursions to view the nearby seal colonies.
The A863 winds you down the western side of Skye. If you wish to visit the island's only distillery, take the B8009 to Talisker where the Talisker Distillery offers guided tours and a tasting.
Follow the road (A851) across open moorland to Sleat (pronounced "Slate"), which refers to the complete southern peninsula of Skye where most of the land is divided into two estates: Clan Donald lands to the south and those of Sir Iain Noble to the north. Sir Iain is a great promoter of Gaelic, which is undergoing a revival in the western Highlands. On a rocky spit of land almost surrounded by water, the whitewashed Eilean Iarmain hotel, a shop, and a huddle of cottages face Isle Ornsay-a postage-stamp-sized island whose lighthouse was built by Robert Louis Stephenson's grandfather. (The lighthouse cottage's most famous occupant was Gavin Maxwell.) Across the sound mountains tumble directly into the sea adding a wild, end-of-the-earth feel to this hamlet.
A few more miles of narrow roads bring you to the Clan Donald Centre where the stable block serves as a tearoom and gift shop whence you walk through the wooded Armadale Castle grounds to an exhibition on the Lords of the Isles and Gaelic culture.
SKYE TO FORT WILLIAM VIA MALLAIG
If time or weather prevents you from following this itinerary north into Wester Ross, you can board the ferry for Mallaig in nearby Armadale. The ferry sails five to six times a day during the summer months and reservations should be made before sailing-it is suggested that you purchase your tickets from the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry offices in Portree. The ferry company requires that cars arrive half an hour before sailing time. It takes 1½ hours to drive from Portree to the ferry, so unless you are an insomniac, do not book the 9 am ferry. Leaving Mallaig, you cannot get lost for there is only one narrow road, "The Road to the Isles," that leads you out of town (A830).
If the weather is fine, you may want to pause at the spectacular white beaches that fringe the rocky little bays near Morar. The narrow road twists and turns and passing places allow cars going in opposite directions to pass one another. The village of Arisaig shelters on the shores of Loch Nan Ceal with views, and ferries, to the little islands of Rhum and Eigg.
From Arisaig your route turns eastwards following the picturesque shores of Loch Nan Uamh, best known for its associations with Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobite Rising of 1745. The clan leaders met in a house nearby and after his defeat the prince hid near here before being taken to the Outer Hebrides-a cairn marks the spot where he left Scotland.
More than 1,000 clansmen gathered at Glenfinnan at the head of Loch Shiel to begin the 1745 Jacobite Rising. A tall castellated tower marks the place where they are said to have hoisted the Stuart standard. You climb the tower stairs to the statue of a Highlander overlooking the icy waters of the mountain-ringed loch. At the adjacent visitors' center the prince's exploits are portrayed.
Leaving the monument to Bonnie Prince Charlie's lost cause, follow the A830 for the 15-mile drive through Kinlocheil and Corpach to Fort William. As you approach the town, the rounded summit of Britain's highest mountain, Ben Nevis, appears before you.
SKYE TO FORT WILLIAM OR INVERNESS VIA WESTER ROSS
If you love Skye with its magnificent seascapes and mountains, then you will adore the Wester Ross coastline that stretches from Kyle of Lochalsh to Ullapool and beyond. It is a long day's drive from Kyle to Ullapool and the scenery is so magnificent that you may want to break the journey and spend several days in the area. Traditionally, Wester Ross has most sunshine in May and June, it rains more in July and August, then brightens up in September. Scottish weather is very fickle in May: we went from seven days of glorious sunshine to seemingly endless days of lashing rain. A great deal of the drive from Kyle of Lochalsh to Ullapool is on single-track road-one lane of tarmac just a few inches wider than your car (with passing places).
From Kyle of Lochalsh turn left to Plockton to see the hardy yucca palms growing bravely in the harborside gardens in this pretty village that hugs a sheltered spot of the wooded bay. Leaving Plockton, the road traces Loch Carron and after passing the Stratcarron Hotel, at the head of the loch, you turn left on the A896 for Tornapress and on to Shieldaig.
If the weather is sunny, rather than continuing along the A896 from Tornapress to Shieldaig, take the coastal road around the headland following signposts for Applecross. You will be rewarded by a most challenging drive and spectacular scenery. The narrow road twists and turns as it climbs ever higher up the Bealach-na-Bo pass pass with the mountains rising closer and taller at every turn. Crest the summit, cross a boulder-strewn moorland dotted with tarns (tiny lakes), and drop down into Applecross-a few whitewashed houses set in a lush green valley with salmon-pink sandy beaches. Grazing sheep fill the coastal fields and the occasional whitewashed croft faces across the water to the Isle of Raasay and, beyond that, the misty mountains of Skye. Rounding the peninsula you come to Ardehslaig, a few white cottages set round a rocky inlet with boats bobbing in the tiny sheltered harbor. Turn into Shieldaig where little cottages line the waterfront facing a nearby island densely forested with Scotch pines. It's an idyllic, peaceful spot and Tigh an Eilean (House by the Island) with its shop, hotel, and pub makes an excellent place to break your journey.
A deceptive few yards of two-lane road quickly turn to single track as you travel along the south shore of Loch Torridon where the Loch Torridon Hotel sits on its bank and through Glen Torridon to turn left on the A832, an arrow-straight, two-lane highway. After half a mile you find a whitewashed visitors' center on the left. The road traces Loch Maree with tempting glimpses of the glassy loch between groves of birch trees. The soft lushness and straight road give way to wild moorland and a single-track road to Gairloch with its wide bay of pink sand, scattered houses, cemetery, and golf course.
Heading inland to cross the peninsula you come to Inverewe Gardens (NT). Osgood MacKenzie bought this little peninsula in 1862, a barren site exposed to Atlantic gales but with frosts prevented by the warmth of the Gulf Stream. He planted belts of trees for shelter, brought in soil, and began his garden, a lifetime project that was continued by his daughter who handed over Inverewe to the National Trust in 1952. The lushness of the gardens is a striking contrast to the miles of dramatic, barren scenery that surround it. The surprise is not so much what the garden contains as the fact that it exists at all on a latitude similar to that of Leningrad. The gardens, shop, and tearoom are a venue that will occupy several hours. The National Trust brochure outlines a suggested route along the garden's pathways, but you can wander at will down the twisting paths through the azaleas, rhododendrons, and woodlands. Colorful displays are to be found in most seasons: in mid-April to May, rhododendrons; May, azaleas; June, rock garden, flower borders, and roses; September, heather; and November, maples.
Leaving Inverewe, another 35 miles finds you at the head of Loch Broom at an impressive vantage point that offers magnificent views down the valley across lush farmland to the distant loch. Travel down the hill and turn left into the green valley for the 12-mile drive to Ullapool.
Ullapool has a beautiful setting: cottages line the quay and overlook a jumble of slipways, quays, vessels from huge international trawlers to small wooden fishing boats, fishing gear, and nets. On the distant shore heather-clad hills rise steeply from the waters of Loch Broom. The port is a bustle of freighters and foreign fishing boats and is the terminal for the car ferry to Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis. Summer visitors add to the throng. You can always find good food and a reviving cup of coffee at The Ceilidh Place.
North of Ullapool there's a lot of heart-stopping scenery but beyond the Summer Isles there are no good places to stay. Journey to the Summer Isles by boat to see the seals and seabirds. Travel to Lochinver with its breathtaking views of beautiful coastline and visit the Inchnadamph Caves and the ruin of Ardvreck Castle.
Leaving Ullapool, a 60-mile drive (A835) will return you to Inverness from where it's a three-hour drive down the A9 to Edinburgh. Or retrace your steps down the northern shore of Loch Ness and continue into Fort William (A82).
Bordering the shores of Loch Linnhe, Fort William is the largest town in the Western Highlands. While the town itself cannot be described as attractive, it is the economic hub of the area and it is always crowded with tourists during the busy summer months.
From Fort William the A82 takes you southwest along the southern shore of Loch Linnhe, then turns you inland over the pass of Glen Coe, notorious for the massacre of the Macdonalds by the Campbells in 1692. After accepting their hospitality, the Campbells issued an order-written on the nine of diamonds playing card-to kill their hosts, the Macdonalds. The pass of Glen Coe is barren and rocky and the road south travels across this seemingly empty land. A short detour to Killin with its craft shops and impressive waterfalls provides an enjoyable break on a long drive.
The area of low mountains and serene lakes around Callander, a most attractive town, is known as The Trossachs. This is the country of Sir Walter Scott's novel Rob Roy and his poem Lady of the Lake. Robert MacGregor, "Rob Roy," existed as a romanticized 17th-century Robin Hood, who stole from the rich and gave to the poor. However, some regarded him more realistically as a thief and rustler! Scott's "lady" was Ellen Douglas, and her "lake" was Loch Katrine. There are several lovely lakes to view in this area, such as Loch Achray and Loch Venachar.
A few miles distant lies Stirling, dominated by its imposing Renaissance castle. Stirling Castle, once the home of Scottish kings, is perched high on a sheer cliff overlooking the battleground of Bannockburn where the Scots turned the English back in their attempt to subdue the Highland clans.
From Stirling the M80 will quickly bring you to Glasgow, Scotland's most populous city. Its established tradition as a port and industrial center has in recent years been surpassed by its reputation as a cultural center.
As in many large cities, the best way to get an overview of the major sights is to take a tour bus. Open-top double-deckers leave every half hour on two routes from George Square, where you also find the Tourist Information Centre, and you can hop on and off wherever you like. This is a Victorian city with a particular pride in its architecture and architects of that time, notably Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Alexander "Greek" Thomson, whose buildings feature prominently on the tour. Be sure to visit the 13th-century Glasgow Cathedral with its open timber roof and splendid collection of stained-glass windows. Here you find the shrine of St. Mungo, patron saint of Glasgow who died in 603, which was an important medieval pilgrimage spot.
Young and old enjoy the Glasgow Science Centre on the banks of the River Clyde at Pacific Quay. The Science Museum brings technology to life with hundreds of hands-on exhibits in the Science Mall. Take in a live science show and go view the latest IMAX movie.
Glasgow is home to over 30 art galleries and museums including the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, the most popular in Scotland, St. Mungo’s Museum of religious life and art, the only museum of its kind in the world, and The Burrell Collection, Scotland's most outstanding museum. The Collection is set in the delightful surroundings of Pollok Country Park, formerly the grounds of Pollok House (NT), and can be reached by bus, train, or car (take the M8 towards the airport to the M77). Sir William Burrell, a successful Glasgow shipping agent, amassed a magnificent collection of some 9,000 works of art, primarily in the areas of medieval European art (the tapestries are stunning), Oriental ceramics and bronzes, and European paintings. In 1944 he bequeathed his collection to the city, with the stipulation that it be housed away from the highly polluted city center and eventually, in 1983, it found the perfect setting here in a corner of the Pollok Estate in a custom-built, award-winning building.
At the other end of the social spectrum, it is fascinating to get a glimpse of what life used to be like for working-class Glaswegians, as you can in the Tenement House Museum (NT), a Victorian apartment re-creating the poorest living conditions in the first half of the 20th century. The People’s Palace and Winter Gardens opened in 1898 as a cultural center for the people of the East End, one of the unhealthiest and most overcrowded parts of the city. It is now the local history museum of Glasgow, telling the story of the people from 1750 to the present. Attached to the People's Palace is the elegant Victorian glasshouse -the Winter Gardens -where you can relax among the tropical plants and enjoy the café.
Shopping is excellent in Glasgow and evenings are alive with every kind of entertainment from opera to nightclubs.
* (NT) means that the property listed is under the care of the National Trust.
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