A 7 Day Road Trip Through Rural Scotland

The Scotland Road Trip Map
The route, color coded by day, I took during my road trip through the Highlands.

Scotland. The land of primal music, men in kilts, Braveheart, and scotch. It is easily my favorite country in Europe.  There’s just something about the naked beauty of the Scottish Highlands that captivates my imagination and draws me back time and time again.  It’s a place that is perpetually kissed by rain that serves as the lifeblood through which Scotland’s ethereal essence persists.  Part of Scotland’s magic is its lush greenery, the prolific waterfalls, the small streams crashing down over weather-worn rocks, and the lazy mist-laden clouds that casually caress the walls of grand glens, lochs, and mountains which shoot up and out of the sea, racing towards the unusual light of the Scottish north.

VW Beetle Coup - Scotland Roadtrip

My recent roadtrip through Scotland marked my fifth trip back to Scotland since I was first introduced to the country in 2004.  Each time I expanded the parts of the country I explored while re-visiting old favorites.  On the first four trips I predominantly relied upon day trips or multi-day budget backpacker tours.  These introduced me to the world renowned Isle of Skye, as well as some of Scotland’s lesser known and more rural regions: The Orkney Isles, the Outer Hebrides, and Scotland’s northwestern coast.  Yet, as great as the budget-backpacker trips were, they lacked the freedom and flexibility to stop when and wherever I wanted. They also meant I couldn’t explore side roads or take the time to properly photograph some of the places I fell in love with along the way.  This left one and only one solution – to return for a fifth time and swallow my fear of driving in Europe, one way streets, and the angst of having to navigate the opposite side of the road. In short, it was time for a road trip.

Follow the Leader - Isle of Skye

When selecting a rental car, my first impulse had been to opt for a tiny smart car.  As someone who learned to drive in the US and grew up driving large cars with automatic transmissions on Arizona’s boulevard-like streets, the concept of parallel parking, roundabouts, and manual transmissions terrified me. I figured that, if I got a smart car, it would be small enough that even in parallel parking situations, I’d be able to just pull in and park normally.  Unfortunately, they were all out of smart cars.  They also opted to upgrade me from the Chevy Aveo I’d reserved to a brand new (46km on the odometer) automatic VW Beetle Coupe. As I sat in the passenger seat of the Beetle as the associate who picked me up drove me to fill out the paperwork at the Enterprise lot, I felt a bit torn.  Here I was, a 6’4″ tall male about to undertake a 7 day solo road trip … and it was looking like I’d be driving a sky blue VW Beetle.  Luckily the new 2013 coupe was a radically re-imagined version of previous incarnations of the beetle. After I settled in, I fit comfortably and I decided I rather liked the look and that my masculinity would survive and even come to embrace the color.  So when the time came to take over the driver’s seat I charted the first leg of my trip and set off.  Palms sweaty, heart racing, and breathing shallow I felt the touch of a gas peddle under my foot for the first time in more than a year and slowly eased out into Scottish traffic on to what to me was the wrong side of the street.

Highland Lakes - Scotland

Day 1 – Edinburgh to Ratagan Hostel

The first day’s drive was a long haul.  Despite a relatively late start – it was approaching noon before I got on the road – I had to cut across the center of Scotland to the western coast and then up through Fort William before threading through the famous Glen Coe to eventually end the day’s drive at the small village of Ratagan.  The first day’s drive was grueling, in part because it covered the part of Scotland I’d seen several times before. It is a beautiful stretch, but mostly consists of the foothills to the Highlands and my goal with this trip was to delve deeply into Scotland’s hinterlands.  I’d chosen Ratagan because of its availability and proximity to the Isle of Skye.  The plan was to reach it from Edinburgh in one day and then spend the following day on Skye.  In retrospect I really wish I’d left Edinburgh earlier in the morning. As familiar as the Edinburgh to Skye drive was, having the freedom to explore it on my own meant that I still found myself feeling rushed.

The Mirror Lake - Scottish Highlands

My route took me through thickly wooded forest, past moss-covered stone fences, through open fields, and provided me with the chance to pause and re-visit Scotland’s famous highland co0 (cow) who patiently stands vigil at a small truck stop near the entrance to the Scottish Highlands.  If you’ve never seen Highland cows, they usually have orange or black hair, large horns, and shaggy hair with big bushy bangs.  Despite the usual light rains which are to be expected, I got incredibly lucky and broke through the clouds just as I entered the flats that stand at the entrance to Glen Coe and its sister glens.  For those unfamiliar with Scottish terminology, ‘glens’ are what we’d more commonly refer to as valleys and ‘lochs’ are what we’d call lakes. You can have freshwater lochs and saltwater lochs.  The saltwater lochs or sealochs are closer to what non-Scots call estuaries, bays, or fjords.

A Brief Break - Scottish Highlands

I knew that the one place I absolutely had to have time to explore was Glen Coe. As I approached the inspiring glen, I found myself making a quick stop at Lochan Na H-Achlaise – a small lake that marks the mouth of Glen Coe. The lake is located in a near-treeless highland meadow, ringed by the rich purple blooms of fresh heather which are brilliantly reflected in its perfectly still waters. It’s the type of loch that brings Arthurian legend to mind and I found myself staring at the still waters breathlessly, waiting for the Lady of the Lake’s hand to break the water with Excalibur clasped in her grip.  With great difficulty I jumped back into the car and made it about 10 minutes down the road before spotting a side road that cut back into one of the side glens that sits just behind Glen Coe. Without a moment’s hesitation I dove down the paved one-lane track and wound my way along a fern-lined stream that wandered its way between the valley’s mighty walls.  Mindful of time but unable to resist the solitude of the spot, I paused again to reflect, relax, and snap a few photos before returning to the car and the main road.

Glen Coe - Scottish Highlands

The winding road that wraps its way into Glen Coe is full of distractions.  It often clings to the wall of the valley just above the glen’s small stream. This provides numerous overlooks and opportunities to pull out and oogle the stream’s numerous waterfalls. When the glen eventually opens up, the road comes to one of the two large pullouts where road-trippers and tour-bus travelers alike are able to disembark. It’s a fantastic feeling as you stand in the midst of the glen surrounded by steep rock walls that glisten with moisture that seeps out from the mountain’s depths.  All the while, the clouds drift across the rock faces giving you a real feeling of movement.  To add to the powerful sensation that marks Glen Coe, it’s also a place with a rich and tragic history.  A place of murder, of betrayed trust, of politics, and of winter sorrows. For those familiar with the history of the Glencoe Massacre, it doesn’t take much to imagine the glen covered in snow. Snow stained by blood.  Luckily, it also has a happier history and served as one of the primary spots for filming in the Harry Potter films. So Harry Potter diehards with a keen eye may just be able to recognize a familiar hill or sweeping vista.

Rays of Light and Rock Cairns

As the light thinned and my first day raced to a close I sped along the coast and up past the small town of Fort William.  From there, I drive past captivating loch after captivating loch. Each provided some new twist on the beautiful white Scottish light that provided its own special feeling and appeal.  At other points I found small pull-offs where travelers had built stone cairns. These stood like shadows of the small forest that no longer lined the banks of the now naked lochs.  It quickly became apparent that I hadn’t given myself enough time and I was forced to skip a number of wonderful spots to make sure I arrived at the  Ratagan hostel while it was still light out and before check-in ended for the evening.  But, even as I slowly rolled along the coastal road that served as the main artery for the tiny village of Ratagan, I was treated to still waters painted by the red hues of sunset and the crisp reflections of old sailboats anchored in the bay.

A Black Hairy Cow - Isle of Skye

DAY 2 – The Isle of Skye

About a year and a half ago images started to appear on the social sharing site Reddit.com of gorgeous waterfalls and pools somewhere on the Isle of Skye.  They captivated my imagination and left me eager to see if I could visit the ‘Fairy Pools’ in person.  This, combined with a strong desire to re-visit the Quiraing and the Old Man of Stor, shaped my itinerary for my day-long visit to the Isle of Skye.  In retrospect, one day was too short a visit. I needed 2-3 to explore it completely.

Eilean Donan Castle

As I pulled out of the parking lot in front of the hostel, the view that awaited me was one of a flat bay, smooth waters, and nearly clear sky that had the texture of brushed steel. In short, it was the type of weather you often dream about in Scotland but rarely get to enjoy.  Though I’d paused for the evening near Skye, I still had a 25-minute drive to reach the bridge out onto the island.  This allowed me to visit one of Scotland’s most sought after gems, Eilean Donan Castle, at both the start and conclusion of my day’s drive.  The castle, which is actually a 100-year old reproduction of a historic blueprint, has been used in a number of different movies and stands vigil on the nearby sealoch from a tiny island which visitors are able to reach by way of a hardy stone footbridge. While the visitor’s center charges for access during they day, those who are more interested in just walking the area and seeing it from the shoreline can visit after it closes at 5 pm for a more intimate look at the castle. Just remember to be careful, as the tide in the loch rises quite quickly!

Random Falls - Isle of Skye

After a minor diversion at the castle for several photos I crossed the bridge onto Skye and encountered one of the island’s many roadside waterfalls. As regular readers are well aware, I’ve got a bit of a waterfall obsession and so it only took me a brief moment of hesitation before I pulled over, grabbed my camera gear, and went tramping across the springy Scottish peat for an up-close and personal view of the falls.   The falls themselves were lined by the rich green hues of fresh peat and a veritable sea of healthy ferns.  Sporadically thrown into the mix were the vibrant purples and violets of heather in full bloom.  This combination of rich earthy greens, sweet honey-scented heather blossoms, humid fresh water, and the twang of salt-sea air, created an incredible bouquet of smells which left me switching from smelling flowers, to shooting photos and back again.  Photos snapped, and spurred by my fairly tight time frame, I took 10 minutes to lie down beside the falls upon a comfortable bed of peat and heather before returning to my car and continuing my trip towards the southwestern part of Skye.

The Elegant Hairy Cow - Isle of Skye

Eager to take the road less traveled, I took old service roads and traced my way along the coast. After a  brief stretch of main road I returned to another side road. This offered views of the large circular salmon fisheries which can be found floating in the midst of the lochs, as well as small herds of rather rotund and well-cared for Scottish (Hairy) cows (Coos) with their charming bangs, massive horns, and shaggy black and ginger coats. In some places the cows had found resting spots along the road. They seemed eager for attention while at the same time showing a cat-like level of apathy and boredom with the small groups of tourists that jostled against the barbed-wire fences in the hope of snapping the perfect Scottish photo.

Wild Highlands - Isle of Skye

I was still feeling somewhat uncomfortable driving on the opposite side of the road but was rapidly gaining confidence. Using my map, I attempted to navigate the countryside in my pursuit of the warren of unmarked roads and small country lanes which I hoped would lead me to the fairy pools. As my drive progressed, I left behind the coastal ring road and cut into the island’s interior in pursuit of the rugged mountain range that stretches across the southern part of the island. What greeted me were rolling hills, small lochs, blooming flowers, and naked mountains that seemed resurrected from a different time in earth’s history.

Abandoned Boats - Isle of Skye

Several missed turns later, with a slightly confused look on my face, I eventually found my way down to one of the sealochs on the opposite side of the island where I was greeted by two beautiful things: a) this row of abandoned fishing boats resting on a stone beach just beside a graveyard dedicated to those lost at sea; and b) the road to the Talisker Scotch Distillery. Unfortunately, as I lacked a designated driver and time, I opted to spend a few moments with the ships before taking a tiny one-lane road in the direction of what I hoped were the Fairy Pools at Glen Brittle.

A Country Road - Isle of Skye

The country road was a joy to drive. It rounded sharp curves, wound along a small hill crest, and jumped over dry stream beds in a way that drove and felt a bit like a rally race. It also came with an imposing view as I worked my way out of the gentle rolling hills of Skye’s inland areas and made my way towards Glen Brittle.

The Fae Pools - Isle of Skye

Situated in the midst of Glen Brittle, part of what makes the Fairy Pools so impressive and mystical is their location at the foot of the Cuillin which is the largest mountain range on the Isle of Skye reaching 3,250+ feet at Sgurr Alasdair along the Black Cuillin. The stream that feeds the pools flows from a crack in the midst of the mountain that looks truly otherworldly. It is, in many ways, straight from what one might imagine in the Lord of the Rings, as a portal to another realm. Combined with the mountain range’s dark rock and treeless mystique, it strikes a strange balance between something that could seem slightly off-putting and, at the same time, has the look and feel of vibrant life, fertility, and mother nature’s lustful beauty.

The Fae Pools - Isle of Skye

With the mild threat of rain on the horizon, I eventually found the pools and prepared for the brief walk down to them. The path cut across Glen Brittle and was mostly flat with small hills and an earthen path that threaded through the grass, peat, and heather.

The Fae Glen - Isle of Skye

One of the things that makes Scotland so unreal to explore is the unique texture of the ground beneath your feet. Where we’re often familiar with walking across grass fields, dirty paths, rocky outcrops, or mossy forest floors, Scotland is covered by dense tundra-like foliage consisting of grass clumps, heather bushes, and peat. All of which comes together to create a springing ground covering that can leave you feeling as though you’re bounding across one giant mattress.

Blooming Heather - Isle of Skye

This fascinating combination truly is the stuff of fairy legends. It is common for the very ground you’re walking on to be awash in multi-colored blossoms and a densely woven mixture of different plants, flowers, ferns, and grasses.

The Fae Pools - Isle of Skye

The Fairy Pools themselves are a series of small waterfalls and deep pools filled by crystal clear water which is a combination of rain runoff and snow-melt from the nearby Cuillin mountains. This small stream has cut deep grooves into the bedrock with rich blue crystal clear waters that tease at your senses and almost demand that you strip off your clothes and dive in.

The Fae Pools - Isle of Skye

While the falls and pools would still be quite charming if found elsewhere, what really makes them so special and a-typical is the heather, ferns, small trees, moss-covered rocks, and imposing presence of the Black Cuillin which surround them. It takes the pools from merely beautiful water features and transforms them into something which is almost a little too colorful, too green, and too lush to be believed.

The Fae Pools - Isle of Skye

For those who look closely, it is easy to see just how impressive a force water can be. In many places small channels have been cut through the rock. These channels often rest beside others, with perfectly smooth walls which look like they have been carved by small fairy craftsmen. What results is a mixture of deep pools and shallow fountains which demand exploration.

Near Dunvegan Castle

As a light rain started to fall,  responding to a rumbling in my stomach, I headed back to the car and wound north. The hope was to swing by the Old Man of Stor and Quiraing for a re-visit. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time, but did manage to grab takeout fish and chips from a small shop that claimed it was the oldest bakery on Skye. Back in the car I turned down a tiny dirt lane just past Dunvegan Castle.

Dunvegan castle - Isle of Skye

With a lap full of absolutely fantastic fish and chips, I relaxed in the front seat of my VW Beetle Coupe with the windows down and watched fisherman pass through the loch in front of me as a light rain settled over the island.

The Sketch Artist - Eilean Donan Castle

Rested, fed, and concerned I was going to miss sunset at Eilean Donan Castle, I wound my way back down and across the Isle of Skye before pulling into the car park that sits just beyond the castle’s bridge. Once there, I walked along the coast towards the coastal highway bridge where I stumbled upon a charming sigh t- that of an older women pausing atop a tiny hill beside the castle to sketch the structure and the sunset.

Eilean Donan Castle

As she watched the castle, I found my own perch to rest, smoking my pipe in the gentlest of rains, as the tide slowly swallowed the rocks that spread out before my feet.

Dramatic Sunset - Eilean Donan Castle

My visit to Skye finished with a spectacular sunset that cast piercing rays of light upon Eilean Donan Castle while simultaneously sourcing richly-colored reflections in the near-still waters of the loch.  I still feel as though I have a lot to discover. While the island is becoming increasingly popular and slowly losing some of its rustic charm, there are still many rural areas to explore and less-known roads and paths which offer the peace and silent tranquility that makes Skye so hauntingly beautiful.

Jump to Part II and Part III of my road trip as I leave behind Skye and strike northward along Scotland’s rugged western coast.

*A special thank you to www.carrentals.co.uk who partially sponsored my car rental and helped make this trip possible.

Highland Reflections – Weekly Travel Photo

Scottish Reflections

Located along Scotland’s A82 a few miles before the world famous Glen Coe are a series of small lakes.  These lakes rest in the open, surrounded by a few hearty trees that stand as silent sentinels braving the area’s brutal winters, unpredictable weather and near-constant winds.  These pools rest as beautiful oases in the midst of highland grasslands ringed by the imposing figure of the nearby glens.

As I made my way towards Glen Coe a few hours before sunset I found myself chasing small patches of blue sky glimpsed amidst movie-perfect cotton-ball clouds.  The road slowly wound between hills before spilling out into the near-treeless flat lands and as I crested a final hill, I found myself greeted by vivid reflections in the still waters of the highland lochs.  Enthralled by the sight, I quickly pulled my sky blue Volkswagen Beetle Coup to the side of the road and strolled across the squishy peat, careful to step around small clumps of blooming heather. I found a small path which led me to the water’s edge, where I snapped this shot of the cloud’s reflection visible in the still waters of Lochan na h-Achlaise. The mountains in the background are the little siblings of the mighty brutes which famously make up Glen Coe and have been featured in movies and songs for generations.

It was a magical moment, one that embodied the ethereal spirit of the Scottish Highlands – a place where nature’s raw and primitive beauty is pervasive.

Make sure to head over to flickr to see the rest of the album.

Would you like to see previous Weekly Photos? View past travel pictures here. This photo was taken on a Canon T3i (600D) Camera.

Revisiting 17 of My Favorite Photos From My 2007 Europe Trip

September 11th 2007 I caught a plane to Europe with a one way ticket and and the butterflies of uncertainty fluttering away in my chest.  What followed was a three month trip that started in Scotland and wound its way down through Europe to Crete before looping back up to fly home from Athens on December 12th of that year. At the time I shot on a Canon Powershot G6. I was recently looking back through some of my old photos and decided to touch up the color on a few of the shots and re-post them.  Here are 17 that made the cut.  Enjoy!


Number 1 – Glencoe Valley, Scotland

Scottish Castle

Number 2 – Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland

 Scottish Waterfall

Number 3 – Unknown Scottish Waterfall, Scotland

Big Ben in London

Number 4 – Big Ben, London England

German Fairytale Castle

Number 5 – Neuschwanstein, Fussen Germany

German Foggy Forest

Number 6 – Woods Near Neuschwanstein, Fussen Germany

Swan Lake in Germany

Number 7 – Swan Lake near Neuschwanstein, Fussen Germany

Plitvice Lakes Croatia

Number 8 – Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

Plitvice Lakes Croatia

Number 9 – Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

Number 10 – Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

Plitvice Lakes Croatia

Number 11 – Plitvice Lakes, Croatia


Number 12 – Roman Cathedral, Rome Italy

San Marino at Dusk

Number 13 – San Marino Castle, San Marino

San Marino

Number 14 – San Marino Castle, San Marino


Number 15 – Ponte Vecchio, Florence Italy

Cinque Terra

Number 16 – Cinque Terra, Vernazza Italy

Cinque Terra

Number 17 – Cinque Terra, Manarola Italy

Always fun going back through old photos and posts and remembering past adventures and magical places!  I hope you enjoyed the shots!

This Beautiful World: 30 of My Favorite Travel Photos

The following are 30 of my favorite travel photos.  Shots were taken on PowerShot G series cameras (G6, or G11).  All are my original photos.  Please do not re-produce them without my consent. You can view more of my photography on flickr.

Sunrise in Playa del Carmen

1. Playa del Carmen, Mexico – Canon G11


2. Scottish Highlands, Scotland – Canon G6


3. Southern Crete, Greece – Canon G6


4. Glencoe Valley, Scotland – Canon G6

Barrier Reef - Sailing Tour - Belize

5. Tobacco Caye, Belize – Canon G11

The Bridge in Smoo Cave

6. Smoo Cave, Scotland – Canon G6

Dos Ojos, Mexico Cave Snorkeling

7. Dos Ojos, Mexico – Canon G11


8. Rob Roy’s Grave, Scotland – Canon G6

Plitvice Lakes - Croatia

9. Plitvice Lakes, Croatia – Canon G6


10. Edinburgh, Scotland – Canon G6

Breakfast Parrot

11. Flores, Guatemala – Canon G11

Coastal Village

12. North Western Coast, Scotland – Canon G6


13. San Marino, San Marino – Canon G6

Highland Road

14. Road to Orkney, Scotland – Canon G6

Tobacco Caye, Belize

15. Tobacco Caye, Belize – Canon G11

Scottish Highlands

16. Small Village, Scotland – Canon G6

Barrier Reef - Sailing Tour - Belize

17. Belize Barrier Reef, Belize – Canon G11

Germany: Bavaria - Neuschwanstein Castle

18. Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany – Canon G6

Plitvice Lakes - Croatia

19. Plitvice Lakes, Croatia – Canon G6

Fijord Fronds

20. Northern Coast, Scotland – Canon G6

Germany: Bavaria - Oktoberfest

21. Oktoberfest, Germany – Canon G6

York, England

22. Cathedral, York, Scotland – Canon G6

Plitvice Lakes - Croatia

23. Plitvice Lakes, Croatia – Canon G6

Prague, Czech Republic

24. Prague, Czech Republic – Canon G6

Scottish Highlands

25. Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland – Canon G6


26. Cathedral, Italy – Canon G6

Dubrovnik - Croatia

27. Dubrovnik, Croatia – Canon G6

Florence - Italy

28. Florence, Italy – Canon G6


29. Nafplio, Greece – Canon G6

Cinque Terra - Italy

30. Cinque Terre, Italy – Canon G6

So Began A Highland Adventure

The following morning we dragged ourselves out of bed at what seemed like the crack of dawn.  We had about a mile’s walk to get to the Wild in Scotland office – which was located about halfway up the Royal Mile – before the 8:30AM start of the tour.

I’d had the pleasure of doing Wild in Scotland’s 3 day Isle of Skye trip during my 2007 trip, which started in Scotland. At the time, I had been incredibly impressed by the company. Utilizing 16 person mini-buses and hostels for evening accommodation the company is designed to cater to backpackers and experienced travelers who want the history and convenience of a quick guided tour – but are eager to maintain the backpacker feeling.

Most tour companies use large 60 person coaches, ferry you from tourist trap to tourist trap and are geared towards luxury travelers and retirees. Wild in Scotland on the other hand focuses on delivering a down and dirty experience that blends the basic structure and framework of an organized tour, with a flexible schedule allowing the driver to personalize the experience with their own detours and discoveries.  All the while, the size and approach also allows you to stop at any point you want for photos or to explore.  Even if it’s not on the itinerary.

Case in point. The itinerary for our 5 day, 4 night voyage into the northern reaches of Scotland was scheduled to move counter clockwise across the island.  Instead, our driver elected to do it in reverse and to toss in some new places he’d discovered along the way.

The other thing I really like about Wild in Scotland is that they charge two fees.  How’s that a plus? The first – 150 British Pounds or $225 covered the tour itself and went to the company. The second 120 British Pounds or $180 went into the kitty.  The kitty cash covered our hostel each of the 4 nights, entrance into several attractions, a few drinks, our ferry crossings and the purchase of food each of the 4 nights.  The pot luck food purchase works great as a way to bring people together, and ensures that you eat well during the trip.  Combine the kitty cost with the limited number of tourist traps the company strands you at – and you get a more enjoyable and far less expensive experience than the standard super coach tour.

Having made better time than expected, we arrived at the office around 7:40.  The rain was coming down in a light mist which was pleasant and hardly noticeable.  We settled in and waited for the office to open.  By 8AM they opened the office up where we paid our kitty money, set down our bags, and stepped next door to the Subway which had just opened for breakfast. We also bought a half sub to take with us on the road.

By 8:30 we had all arrived and piled onto the 16 person bus. Our driver and guide introduced himself with a bright smile and thick Scottish accent and then we were off.  Weaving tales and explaining Edinburgh’s history we wound through the city’s streets and found our way out into the countryside.  There we were greeted by gorgeous rolling green hills, dam roadways, pastures full of sheep and large patches of blooming foxglove – a beautiful pink-purplish flower you’ll see in many of my photos.

Our drive took us towards Sterling. We drove past Sterling Castle and wound up past the city of Sterling to the Wallace Monument.  A large medieval looking structure that has been built on top of a nearby hill.  We parked and began the first stroll of the trip.  Up a rather steamy hillside, winding through ferns, trees and wild foxglove I paused briefly to pick several ripe raspberries. Once at the top we gathered around, dodging the Scottish thistles, with the monument to our backs and an incredible view of the valley surrounding Stirling laid out before us.

There Martin explained the true story of Wallace and Robert the Bruce. Debunking the mythology and creative re-write of history in Braveheart.  He explained Wallace’s role and that the monument itself should actually have been dedicated to Robert the Bruce – a character who was almost vilified in Braveheart.  He also explained that there had been a statue of Wallace located in the car park by the visitors center, which had since been destroyed.

Wallace Monument Stirling Scotland

It turns out, it was the famous statue of William Wallace with “freedom” engraved in it.  I say famous, because a photo of the statue has been circulating the web for a year or two showing the statue of Wallace – a freedom fighter – encased in a large steel cage.  As I chuckled, Martin explained that the locals hated the statue (which looked a lot like Mel Gibson) with a passion and had taken a sledgehammer to it. Undeterred the government had re-commissioned the statue/repaired it, and then encased it in a large steel cage.  Thus the famous photo.  Equally persistent and in true Scottish fashion the locals apparently traded their sledgehammer in for a shotgun and blew the face off the statue – which is no longer on display.

Monty Python Castle

After the Wallace monument we wound through stunning countryside, before pausing at a small castle ruin. The castle itself was not particularly incredible, but was an exciting stop for those of us who love Monty Python’s Holy Grail. Don’t recognize it? It’s the same very same castle ruin used in this clip:

Imagining French taunters and flying cattle, Nate and I wound around the castle and enjoyed the natural beauty of the area. Now well manicured the castle sits on a hill, in the midst of a small clearing surrounded by trees next to a beautiful moss adorned stream.

Kilmahog Wild In Scotland Bus and Crew

Chuckling, it was back onto the bus and onward to Kilmahog where we snagged a quick bite of lunch. How’s that for a name? From Kilmahog we hopped back in the bus for a quick 3 minute drive down the road to see Hamish the world famous hairy coo. What’s a hairy coo? Why it’s a hairy cow. Having trouble picturing a hairy cow? Well, believe it or not they exist. Not only do they exist – but they’re relatively common in Northern Scotland and parts of Northern Ireland. Most are Red but some are black. As it turns out one of the Queens (I believe a red-headed one) decided that the cows should match their herders and worked to selectively breed them, so that they are almost exclusively ginger colored.

Hamish the Highland Coo

After feeding Hamish sliced turnips, apples and carrots it was back onto the bus and down winding 2 lane roads with low hanging trees, stone fences, and thick underbrush.

A Scottish Loch

As we rounded a bend, in a light Scottish drizzle, the road began to wind along the shores of our first sizable Scottish Loch. With still water gently lapping a small sandy beach and small stands of foxglove dotting the shoreline we made a brief unscheduled stop to snap a few photos and watch the clouds lazily roll over the mountains.

A Bridge in Balquhidder

From there it was onward to Balquhidder. No, that’s not a spelling error – though I’m not sure how you’d even go about pronouncing it. I’ll leave it to the Scots!

Rob Roy Waterfall

We parked at a community center, before walking up a small lane that looked more like someone’s driveway than an actual path. The driveway eventually diverted over a moss covered old stone bridge. Our path split off and wound – sandwiched – between two properties. With an old stacked stone fence on our right, we were delighted to find the small path hedged by ripe raspberry bushes on our left. With red fingers, we skipped along up a slight incline, before curving right and encountering a wet wooden bridge over a small stream, which ran by the gorgeous waterfall shown above.

Rob Roy Grave

From there it was up a small muddy footpath, which dumped us out behind the old stone church we’d come to see. Well, to be more specific, we’d come to see a specific gravestone – one among many, all worn by years of harsh weather and rains. There, with a beautiful view of the countryside was Rob Roy’s grave. For those unfamiliar with the movie, or story attached to him. He was a clansman who many believe was the basis upon which the Robin Hood myth was born. Buried in another clan’s cemetery as a passive aggressive act, the famous bandit and swordsman’s grave is the only one facing the opposite direction. Apparently, tradition was to bury the dead facing one direction – to ensure they were able to enjoy the sun’s first rays every morning. Poor Rob Roy however, has been deprived of that otherworldly pleasure.

Moss Covered Stone Wall

After a brief story recounting the circumstances of Rob Roy’s death (blood poisoning from a self inflicted wound received as an act of charity during a sword fight with a young man) we set to scaling the hill at the foot of the old Church. Legs pumping, breathing heavily and with a grateful grunt, we walked through a light misting, stripping down to our t-shirts as we went. Grateful for the cool weather, we paused briefly by the moss covered stone wall pictured above, before climbing the last (and steepest) part of the hill to the lookout. I’ve included the picture of the wall to help convey what I’m talking about when I say a moss covered, stacked stone wall. Something that green and that covered in moss is without a doubt a foreign concept to those of us who spend most of our days sweltering in the dry Arizona heat.

Scottish Countryside by Alex Berger

The path was lined by ferns, blooming heather, Scottish thistles and gorgeous foxgloves in blossom. By the time we reached the top of the hill we could smell and see smoke rising. Someone had started a small traveler’s fire at the summit. Huddled around the fire warming their hands they relaxed as a gentle rain fell. We walked past, said friendly hellos and then took in the vista that stretched out before us. With a gorgeous loch fading away into the highland mists to our right and the gently rolling farmland sandwiched between majestic mountains winding away to our left, it was truly an incredible view.

Scottish Clouds by Alex Berger

You’ll see me mention rain quite often as I write. Most places, it would be a pain. When in Scotland – it’s part of the experience. In fact, without the clouds the place loses some of it’s magic. There’s something incredible about the way the clouds drag slowly across the countryside, lazily pausing on mountaintop after mountain top. It pulls you in, hugs you and shares a story.

Glencoe by Alex Berger

From Rob Roy’s grave it was off towards Glencoe. Easily one of my favorite spots in Scotland. The sheer scope and majesty of the valley is breathtaking.

Glencoe Boots by Alex Berger

Once at Glencoe we paused and walked down to a small grass hill in the middle of the valley. With sheer cliffs skyrocketing towards the heavens in every direction our guide began an introduction to the highlands and recounted the tragic story of the Glencoe Massacre. A pivotal point in highland history which occurred in 1692. As he recounted the sad story, with a light rain falling and gentle gusts of wind tossing our hair the story wound to an end – he paused – and then began another.

This was the story of Highland Scotch. As he introduced what has become a famous part of Scottish culture, he reached into his small backpack and produced a bottle of single malt Scotch. With a quick cheers it began it’s away around the circle as we each took turns taking a swig, while Martin explained the various differences between Whiskys, Whiskeys and proper Scotch.

Glencoe Valley from Below by Alex Berger

From there it was down into the lowlands once again as we wound west, where we paused at a Tesco and sent in a small group to pick and gather the goods we’d need to cook that evening’s dinner.

Castle and flowers in Scotland

With food stuffed into every spare nook and cranny in the bus we took advantage of the long summer days in Scotland and paused at the ruins of an old castle. The castle was beautiful, but made far more impressive by the huge stands of violet flowers that surrounded it.

Loch Ness

From there we paused at the canals used to connect Loch Ness to the other great lochs/ocean. The small town was gorgeous and every bit what you’d expect. After taking in the great docks used to manage the different water levels between lochs we hopped back into the van and made our way towards our hostel.

Loch Ness Hostel

Located just off Loch Ness – the small backpackers hostel was perfect. We settled in and set to cooking a large bowl of pasta with meat sauce, potatoes, stuffed mushrooms and garlic bread before heading over to the local pub where I tried a delightful 18 year old Highland Park Scotch. Each sip had a different flavor, each whiff a different aroma.

Amazed by all we’d seen, it was finally time for bed. With a contented smile on my face and an exhausted sigh I crawled into my top bunk and began to snore contentedly.


It’s about 11:00PM Sunday evening here – and I’m just winding down from an incredible 3 day tour of the Isle of Skye and Scottish highlands. After arriving and meeting a few of the guys in my sleeping area we hit up the town and explored a bit.

Day 1: The first night a group of 4 of us formed up and headed down to the local Three sisters Pub which has a large outside area and was showing the Scotland-France soccer game. The pub was packed and the energy level was insane – after a lot of back and forth Scotland eventually scored which resulted in an explosion of activity and excitement…everyone was jumping up and down and shaking things, pints, and pint glasses fell to the ground left and right, and the whole crowd was jumping up and down in excitement. After things settled down a bit Scotland eventually won, 1 zip which led to another round of celebration. From there we explored a few other pubs, met a number of other travelers and eventually found our way back to the Hostel.

Day 2: I woke up fairly early, did some wash, got settled and set out to explore the town with Chris – one of the guys from the night before. We started with a 3 hour free walking tour of the city, which covered history, and was just a great general intro to the city. Edinburgh is really incredible, because as a capital city – it’s incredibly small and has a fantastic historic/old town. In addition to the old town and tenement buildings, the closest part of the new town was all built in the Victorian era at the same time on a master planned design. So it has an incredible classical uniformity, beautifully laid out pedestrian and motor oriented areas and a great standard look. When the tour ended we explored the city proper a bit, found a market, the bus station, the train station, and a number of other random stops before returning to the hostel, cooking dinner, socializing with a few randoms in the kitchen, then taking a quick snooz. About 10:00 we woke up and made our way down to what I hoped was going to be an active Salsa club. Unfortunately, it was a standard night and the turnout was poor – i’ll try again Monday (which is a designated salsa night). After leaving the salsa club – pretty much upon entry we walked around a bit more and sampled a few other random pubs. Unfortunately, while Edinburgh has a ton of natural beauty, it’s missing natural beauties. About to give up and call it a night, we stumbled into an odd Cafe/bar that had a great local crowd and was full of attractive, friendly girls. After an hour or two we called it a night – both having early mornings.

Day 3: I decided to do a 3 day Isle of Skye/Highland Tour to really get a good taste. The tour consisted of 10 people. Myself, Simon (our Driver/Tour Guide, 2 other Americans, A Tasmanian, A Hungarian, 3 People from Taiwan and 2 Germans. From Edinburgh we made our way straight into the country side. Our first stop was the castle where Mary Queen of Scots was born for coffee/tea and to introduce ourselves. From there we made our way to a historic battle field where Simon shared a mixture of folklore and history with us. After the battle field we meandered through the lowland country side – which included a brief stop to feed/see a harry island cow (had to throw tater and carrot slices at the fat thing to get it to come visit/eat some more). When we crossed into the highlands we made a quick stop to look at the country side/rolling mountains/talk about peat at which time Simon also pulled a bottle of single malt Scotch Whiskey from his pocket and explained what made it special, before teaching us a traditional toast and then passing the bottle around. The bottle of scotch followed us throughout the trip and served as a fun little tradition whenever we had stops that were exposed, especially cold, or rural and significant.

After our introduction to the Highlands we continued on making a few other stops to explore lochs, glens, or take pictures. Eventually we arrived at the valley of Glencoe made famous in songs and folk lore that recalls the massacre that occurred there. The place itself is incredible. A riveting valley with rich waterfalls and steep, graceful walls all around you. We parked and walked the 1/4 of a mile or so down to the river where we paused for more lore/history before making the way back up to the bus. When I get photos up – this is definitely one set you need to see. From Glencoe we continued along our way making a few other stops and eventually coming to a reconstructed version of an old castle. The castle sat out on a small island and was connected by a bridge. Rebuilt to spec in the early 1900s it was incredibly picturesque. As the sun set, and the golden rays of dusk started to reach out and embrace the castle we took a few photos, shivered from the cold northern wind and piled back in the bus. From there we had one final brief stop at a super market to pick up food for the evening and headed to the hostel. All the while the sunset was one of the most incredibly and gorgeous sights I’ve ever seen. In fact, it was so incredible, as we wound down a 1 lane rural road we stopped to just take it in for about 15 minutes (the whole sunset lasted a good hour).

We reached the hostel which was a great little place, then started cooking – as part of the tour we all paid an additional £35 which included lodging, breakfast, and dinner. We BBQd Ribs, Hamburger, Sausage, and Chicken before all heading to the local (tiny) pub to meet some of the locals and reflect on the day.

Day 4: (The Isle of Skye) – The day was a blustery, cloudy, rainy day – one quite different than the day before. We left our main packs at the hostel (we’d return there again for the evening after making a circuit of skye) and piled into the van. The first 30 minutes or so was pretty quiet as everyone suffered through their respective hangovers and tried to figure out what exactly had happened the night before – but then shortly after that we all got back into touring mode. A good 20 minutes took us to the main bridge from the mainland into Skye and another 10 minutes later we stopped at a lookout that sat across from a huge, majestic, bald, sweeping mountain. At the foot of the mountain and all around us there were – what looked a bit like large ant hills made in the peat. There Simon told us about the folklore that claimed that each was a Fairy den and how the locals avoided harvesting peat from them out of respect. As the weather continued to deteriorate we piled back into the car and made our way further up the coast. After a few other fun stops for local lore, history, or fun photo shoots we came to a set of high cliffs that reminded me of a miniature version of the cliffs of moehr (Moore?) in Ireland – except, unlike those cliffs a waterfall shot out and off the down one side, spilling crystal blue water out and down the 200 or so feet to the rocky cliffs below. On the other end of the lookout we could see the sheer cliffs as they plunged into the sea.

We left the cliffs and made our way to one of the old ruler’s former castle. The castle was perched majestically on the side of a cliff overlooking a bay, with a large island. The spot we stopped initially gave us a great vantage point while Simon told us a bit of the history. From there though, several of us decided to brave the rain and howling winds and make the 10-15 minute walk the long way to the castle. It was well worth it. After arriving at the castle and exploring it briefly the others (who had stayed in the van and come around to walk out a shorter – straight but less interesting path) arrived as well. Hunkered down in a corner overlooking the bay Simon again recounted more of the Castle’s quirky history. As we made our way back down to the van we had to cross a stretch of exposed coastline. The wind was so fierce that you could lean halfway into it. The sheer power of it inflated your cheeks and stole the breath from your lungs as the soft rain stung your face. It was incredible! The energy, power and crispness. The castle behind us, cliff to the side of us, beautiful gray torn ocean out past us and highlands in front of us.

Drenched, cold, and excited we continued on a short way where we elected to stop at a small goods shop. Where we picked up sandwiches, hot pies, and drinks – before heading down to the coast where teh waves were crashing in. Huddled in the van we pulled up onto the dock and faced out into the wind and the bay while we ate our meals and watched the wind blow the rain past us. The sea and sky merged into one gray, glorious entity as the waves came crashing in onto the black rocks dotted with orange seaweed and kelp. After finishing lunch we continued along our way and eventually came to stop at a beautiful waterfall near the road. Behind the waterfall as a majestic backdrop was an incredible stone formation that looked like a spear or spire sticking up from the mountain. Again after a few photos, a lot of water, wind and rain, and a few people slipping and sliding on the wet grass/hill we paused with the waterfall crashing down beside us to listen to Simon recount the story of an old man (who later became the stone spire) and the brownie he helped.

From there we continued along the way – almost all 1 lane roads – surrounded by hundreds of waterfalls, awe inspiring highland mountains, beautiful lochs, and peat covered in blooming heather (a beautiful red/purple low bush) to what Simon called the fairy Glen. The glen was a beautiful little area with a climbable spire – about 100 feet up that offered an incredible view of the valley, loch etc. Just visible through the mist and fog across the valley were huge waterfalls. Meanwhile in the glen there were sheep everywhere, wild ferns, peat, old treas covered in green moss, small streams and a gorgeous waterfall. We explored the glen for a good 40 minutes. It reminded me of some of the opening scenes in the Lord of the Rings/the parts around Rivendell – only it was real, the rain was still falling but more of a light mist and with just a bit of wind.

From there we continued along and stopped for goods and a snack at one of the larger towns on Skye. We checked out an interesting Himalayan bizarre they were having, i grabbed some chips (fries) and then we headed home.

I’ve left bits out, and I’ll try and follow up when I have better internet access – needless to say though – it was incredible.

Day 5: The return – I’m out of time now but it was also a great day. Mixed weather we stopped at Loch Ness, an incredible canyon where there was a beautiful waterfall with jumping salmon and moss covered trees, the last battlefield ever fought on British soil and a quick scenic stop. I’ll have to continue later as I’m out of time. Hope to get photos up soon!