Scotland trip, The West Highlands
Last 3rd of July I left the office a little earlier than usual. I had a flight to take, a flight that took me and my girlfriend from London to Glasgow. We had been waiting for this trip for a while. For us, this was not simply a sight-seeing trip, but a chance to enjoy the beauty of nature and the Scottish landscape.
A couple of disclaimers: Bear in mind that some of the pictures were taken by me while others were taken by Anna. Also, I will not get into details about whether some towns are just villages, towns, or cities.
Update: I finally published a video of the trip. Take a look and enjoy.
We arrived in the city late in the evening and went straight to our hotel, only stopping by in the first open food place we came across to have some pizza. A big pizza, actually. When we said “large” we didn’t realize that would actually be so big. Well, we were hungry anyway, so it didn’t last too long.
When we woke up the next morning it was raining. The weather forecast for the whole week was basically rain every day, but we hoped that the crazy weather of the north would give us some sunny days, too. It was not that day, though, so we had no choice but to get to the nearest Poundland and buy ourselves two umbrellas. Two umbrellas, two pounds. Easy.
The journey begins
As I said, our journey was not really about the cities we went to, so we didn’t spend that much time in Glasgow. That very morning we took a bus to Inveraray and, after crossing the very pronounced bridge that welcomes visitors to the city, we were already impressed by the beauty of the landscape.
It’s not that I’ve never been to gorgeous places. I’m a lucky guy that has lived his whole life in a nice town by the Mediterranean coast, with great sandy beaches and lofty mountains, all in one place. I had also enjoyed with my parents the beautiful mountains and rivers of other parts of Spain, and there are really amazing places out there. But this felt rather different. It was a different kind of natural environment, much greener, and unknown to me.
The most famous part of the place is the Inveraray Castle. I could say that it’s the home of the Duke of Argyll, but it’s probably more well-known for being the location of the two-hour-long Christmas special of Downton Abbey in 2012. I’ve not watched the show, but I guess it must be really exciting if you're a Downton Abbey fan. Not very exciting to me, though.
I really liked the castle, though. It has marvelous gardens and a luxurious interior full of paintings. The current weapon room is full of all sorts of weapons. When I got in there I really felt like I was Nathan Drake in one of his adventures. The fact that the room is the tallest castle room in Scotland also adds value to the scene.
After a good lunch in a local restaurant, we were headed to our next stop: Oban. Oban is a little village that I liked very much. The Mccaig's Tower reminded me a lot of a similar place in my home town. It’s in top of a small mountain where you can enjoy fantastic views over the village and the sea.
We also had a sunset walk on the seafront. It really is a great way to relax and enjoy the evening.
Next day, we took the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry to start what may well be the best experience of our trip. In the ferry we were able to enjoy great views of all the coast and the islands.
At some point, during the sail, a seagull decided to follow us very closely. The bird was flying just on top of our heads all the time, occasionally attempting to come to rest on the banisters of the boat. Everyone was really excited, and taking pictures and filming... Me? Well, just standing underneath some stairs to avoid being pooped on by the damn bird! It would have been a bad way of starting the day...
On Mull we immediately took a bus that drove us to the other part of the island. The driver, who also happened to be the tour guide, was really nice and informative. She explained us things about the island, how people live there, and a bunch of anecdotes. She was really funny, especially every time we came acrooss other vehicles driving in the opposite direction. She tried to be nice and not to use bad language, but some tourists managed to overcome her patience :P
Driving through the island was itself a great experience. All the green hills were again really beautiful. One thing that surprised me a lot was seeing how the water lives with those mountains. I’m used to see rivers flow through the mountains, but there the impression was different. The water seemed to come out from the middle of the mountain in random places.
When we got to the other tip of the island, a small boat was waiting for us. This was the boat that took us to Staffa, a small island full of grass and cliffs. One of the most impressive things on the island is Fingal's Cave, a sea cave that you see from the boat when you're arriving. Seeing it from the boat is already awesome, but it’s even more impressive to walk there. There is a small path on the rocky coast that gets you in the cave. One thing that surprised me a lot is how unattended you are there. Yes, we are all adults here. We can take care of ourselves. But I couldn't avoid feeling the place was a little too dangerous. The more so considering you enter the cave through a path where only one person can fit at a time, without any type of handrail.
After seeing the cave we went to the top of the island, almost running, because we didn’t want to miss the chance to see the big show.
Photo by Anna Port, she was really close to them :D
The Puffins!!!! This was the best part of everything! I knew that we were going there to see them, but I didn’t had much expectations. With wild life you never know where they will be, and while I had really hoped to see them, I would never have expected to actually have them just by my side.
The experience was even better because just a couple of weeks before we saw the film Happy Feet 2, where one of the new main characters is a Puffin that impersonates a penguin.
The situation is really funny because near the nest it is always full of seagulls, which makes the puffins always be hiding in the nests or down in the sea. But when humans are there, the seagulls tend to go away, and it’s then when the puffins come flying from the sea to the nests, usually with the beak full of food for the little babies. Eventually, all of the humans there realized that we were actually sitting on top of the nests. The puffins nests are basically holes, kind of a rabbit hole, so they just come flying and get in a whole right underneath you. It’s just an awesome experience!
After that we spend the afternoon in Iona, another island nearby, before going back all the way to Oban.
Next town in our trip was Fort William. We spent some time visiting the town, but the thing that we will always remember is how we got lost in the forest.
We don’t actually got lost, but the day was quite funny. We went to the Glencoe Visitor Center expecting to take a route to see the lakes of the area. After walking for a while in the forest, we just ended up back to the visitor's center. We knew where we were, but not where the lakes were. Obviously not there. In the end, we realized that the lakes were not near the visitor's center, but near the town, right in the opposite direction.
We had to walk back to the town and through the correct path to the Glencoe Lake. When we were there the fun didn’t stop at all. The lake was full of ducks and when they saw that we where having lunch by the lake they started approaching us.
Don’t think that after finishing our lunch the ducks just forgot about us. Not even close. They kept following us all the time while we were walking by the lake. From time to time, we gave them some gift, so they wouldn't stop stalking us :D
Next town: Mallaig.
Before arriving in Mallaig, we had to make a mandatory stop in Glenfinnan. Only by the name you may not recognize the place, but if I tell you about the Glenfinnan Viaduct...
Yes! The railway viaduct that leads to Hogwarts! I’m a HUGE fan of Harry Potter, you have to understand that I grew up basically with him, with both the movies and the books. I basically was the same age Harry was back at the time. After seeing the Hogwarts area in the Universal Studios Park in Orlando, and the Warner Bros Studios here in UK, this was another Harry Potter place I couldn't miss.
There is also a monument in the Glenfinnan beach, but who cares. Anna says that for her this beach is the one that was used on the loch ness monster film, but who knows. I’ve not seen it myself. Maybe I will soon.
Back to the viaduct, we had one of those moments of indecision. Right behind the information center there was a short path that takes you to a place where you can see the viaduct, but there was also another longer path crossing the bridge that was supposed to let us have a better view of the viaduct and see the train so much closer. We wanted the best views possible, obviously, but when you are there you really run against the clock. The steam train only passes by one time in the morning, so you have to be on the spot right before that happens. The thing is that we were not sure how to get there, even if that place was actually better.
This brings me to one thing that I’ve noticed in this trip: in general, the information available for tourists in Scotland is pretty scarce and useless. Yes, okay, you have information and tourist centers in almost every village or town, but the actual information you come across on the road on your way to the lakes, mountains or points of interest you want to see is virtually inexistant.
Anyway, I have to say that the decision we eventually came to was the right one. Being able to see the Hogwarts Express so close, with the same landscape you see in the film was an exciting experience. And we really deserved it, because while were waiting for the train, we were mercilessly attacked by a horde of mosquitoes. It was insane. I’ve never seen anything like that. The second you stopped waving your hands around you were literally devoured by them. Everyone there was the same, but it was worth it, after all. Totally worth it.
After that, we waited for the bus to head to Mallaig, but, incredibly enough, the bus didn’t stop for us. The driver saw us and just opted to blatantly ignore us. We were there with another couple, and our faces were a plain WHAT THE FUCK. The guy in the tourist center told us that was really weird... In any case, we ended up stucked there, and having seen the Hogwarts Express we had no more interest for that place. We and the other couple had to walk all the way to the train station and hope we would be lucky enough to be able to take the next train.
We had to wait for quite a long time in the station. Waiting for the next train, we wondered if there would be any seats for us in the train. The station didn’t sell tickets, so only the train guard would know if there were any seats available.
The happy surprise (I guess one has to always see the good parts of everything) was that the train we took was not a modern train. The afternoon was already there, so we happened to run into the second steam train of the day!
We traveled with the Hogwarts Express!! (not really, it's called The Jacobite, but it’s actually the same train). Travelling in that train was really special. The interior of the train felt really old style, so it's nothing just made up. While going through tunnels the steam got inside of the coaches, and when outside the tunnels you could see the steam from the windows. It was like magic.
We ended the day finally in Mallaig. We wanted to visit the village and spot some seals to end the day. The owner of the inn where we stayed said that in the fishing port there are usually seals. These animals tend to be very lazy, so if there is free food for them they'll always be there :P Sadly, we weren't lucky that day, so there were no seals for us.
From Mallaig you can take a ferry to Skye. That’s actually the quickest way, but we wanted to reach the island by land, to enjoy more the journey to the island itself and be able to cross the bridge that connects it to the land.
Skye is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. There is no way I can express how we felt in that island. Everywhere we looked was simply amazing. The experience we lived there is just unforgettable.
Portree is the nice little village where we rest. It was our resting point in the island. Walking over the harbor, there was a young boy playing the bagpipe. It was really fascinating to sit there for some minutes to listen to that music in that very special place.
As in almost all of the trip, we didn’t have a good Internet connection, only GPRS on the phones and a WiFi that was just trolling us all the time. Therefore, I remember that evening as a special and relaxing experience. While Anna was taking a nap, I sat by the window, with an amazing view over the harbor, the sea and the mountains, writing on my iPad and listening to classical music. It is one of those special little moments that you can give to yourself every now and then.
The quest for dinner was a funny part of the story. We went to a pizzeria to grab some pizza to eat in the hotel, and we overheard people saying that that was the last place on the town that they would go to have some food. All of the other places were full, and so was this one. But because we just wanted to take away, we had no issues. However, expect having to eat Margaritas only because they don’t have any other ingredients. Plus, we had to wait for more than half an hour! But well, at least the pizza was good :P
We had reserved a tour around the island. I sometimes like these kind of tours because, if they are well done, they made you forget about everything. You just have to sit, be taken to places, and enjoy. But the key of these tours is more often than not the guide that accompanies you. wW were lucky, very lucky. We had Bill with us, the best tour guide in all Skye.
We started the tour in the minibus. That felt really nice because immediately all the group started meeting each other. A family from California, two sisters from South Korea, a father and his child from France, two women from some part of Europe, and three girls that were exploring Scotland. The group was really nice, and it was a good complement to the views we saw.
We visited the most important and beautiful places of Skye. We started going north and seeing Old Man of Storr from the distance. It was the start of a great day. As Bill said, we will be saying “OSOM” quite a lot (that was a joke for the Americans :P).
Then we stopped to see Kilt Rock & Mealt Falls. Seeing the waterfall falling in the sea is quite an amazing view. The only problem was that we were at the same border of the waterfall so it’s quite difficult to have a great and clear view.
After that, we went up to the mountains to have great views over the eastern part of the island in the Quirang. I think that for me this was the most beautiful place in all of the trip. Having the views of a big part of the island, with all that green, with all the hills and it’s smoothness.
The fun part of this places is that there were people recording the future King Arthur movie. Now I’m interested in watching it just for that fact ^^.
Next, a magical place: the Fairy Glen, where the legends says that lies the gateway to the world of the fairies.
It is said that there is a small hole on that big rock were you can listen to the fairies play the bagpipe with their magic. Behind that, there are circles made of stones where you can make a wish.
After visiting the fairies, it was already lunchtime, so we stopped in a little road town to eat something. Anna and I went directly to a little place called Blas. We were not really hungry but that’s the name of my father, so it was a special moment.
The weird and funny moment was seeing what Blas means in Irish.
Already in the west part of the island, the next stop was the Neist Point. An amazing cliff and its lighthouse. To be on top of the cliff and to visit the lighthouse you have to descend for the stairs, the slope is steep so you can imagine how funny is going back up afterwards. That place is also full of sheeps, there are in some crazy places, almost falling from the cliff, but they don’t care, there are happy living their lives. And even if they are used to the tourists, if you get close enough they will just run from you ^^
But again, the best part of all this trip for me was not seeing concrete points of interest, but looking back to all the mountains, the green hills, the waterfalls and enjoying every little piece of the landscape. In almost all the places I was more excited by the general views that for the concrete thing that was supposed to be the reason to be there.
And the Nest Point was not an exception. Yes, the cliff and the lighthouse are great views, but looking back was much, much better.
The evening was approaching and so the end of the tour. The last stop was the Fairy Pools. Small natural pools made by the flowing water in the mountainside. The mountain by itself was really spectacular. All the hills and mountains there are really smooth, not so crisp as I’m used to see them. Some crazy people swam in the pools, yes, with the crazy weather.
The pools and the river itself remembered me a lot to La cola de caballo, a great place in Huesca (Aragon) that I used to visit with my fathers. It was nice to bring back those memories, but that also made the Fairy Pools not so great compared with the rest of the island :P
I will always remember that day. For everything. The landscapes, the group, and specially Bill and his histories. The great histories about the bagpipe player that meet the fairies in their world, or the giants that come to Skye to steal and eat the cattle.
At the end of that day I felt like sometimes on the past. With the feeling that those people that you just meet, with who you shared some moments of your live, you are not gonna meet anymore. Is a weird feeling that I have quite a lot, and somehow seems ridiculous that with all the social technology that we have today this still happens.
If you are planning to go to Skye and make a tour, no doubt, contact Bill from Real Scotish Joruneys. Thank me that later ;)
After Skye, the end of the trip was near. We went to Inverness, but not before stopping in Eilean Donan Castle, the most romantic castle in Scotland (or so they say).
Inverness is a really nice town. The view from the river where you can see all the churches and the castle is impressive.
However, at this point we were already feeling very tired. Also, having dinner at a Chinese buffet was not the best choice we've ever made. I had a really bad night, :( which didn’t help at all.
The first day in Edinburgh we visited the city a little, but as I said we were really tired already, and, to be honest, not really interested in the city itself at that point. I’m sure we will come back someday to explore it much more thoroughly.
The weather was also not helping, so we ended up spending the morning in the Apple store. The idea was to let Anna try the watch. She wanted to feel it on her wrist, and, yes, I ended up buying two watches and one phone. The women that served us was really, really nice, even for the standards of an Apple store, so I guess that helped. Plus, all the time that I’ve been wanting one... the only thing that was keeping me from buying the iWatch was my 4S. That’s the reason why I had to buy an iPhone 6 as well, and, to be honest, I still think that the whole purchase was cheap, but that’s for another post.
Back to home
The way back to home was the worst, as usual. I’ve never experienced any kind of flight delay, but the last two trips that we’ve done have been really bad. The worst part is that in such cases you miss the bus that is supposed to take you from the airport to central London. Moreover, in this case the tube was also already closed, so we ended up going to sleep at 4 am. Still, I woke up as I usually do at 8 am to go to work. Yay! ^^
Well, this is the end of this long post.
It has been an unforgettable experience, a trip that I am sure we will always remember. It has been simply amazing and OSOM (awesome).
Thanks to my dear friend Ernest Pujol for reviewing the post.