Scotland: Day Trip to Loch Lomond and Stirling

As I mentioned before, I did a couple of day trips out of Edinburgh with Rabbie’s Tours. The first was to St. Andrews and the Kingdom of Fife. The following day, I went to Loch Lomond and Stirling. These two locations are actually part of the Highlands but still pretty close to Edinburgh and Glasgow, so they are a popular day trip option.

Stirling Castle from below
Below Stirling Castle
Below Stirling Castle

The weather forecast was looking good in the morning but rainy later in the day, so our tour guide rearranged the schedule a bit to give us decent weather while we were at Loch Lomond. We therefore started out by going to Stirling, but just stopping below the castle to take in the views, then returned later in the day to visit the castle. The sun was shining and the grass was very green below the castle.

Loch Lomond
Loch Lomond
Loch Lomond
Loch Lomond

From Stirling, we went on to Loch Lomond, stopping near Aberfoyle. From where we parked, there was a trail that led along the lake and then some stones that led up a hill. Our tour guide took several of us up that hill, where there were stunning views of the lake below. It was a slightly overcast morning, but we could see the lake quite well. It was so peaceful! After enjoying the view from the top, we walked down the hill and then had time to enjoy the peaceful lake and walk around as we wished.

Loch Lomond
Loch Lomond
Loch Lomond
Dukes Pass and the Trossachs

We stopped in nearby Aberfoyle for lunch (I grabbed a panini at Liz MacGregors), then took the Dukes Pass back toward Stirling. This is an incredibly winding road, but the views were wonderful, especially with the leaves changing colors. We could see the Trossachs in the distant.

Highland cows
Highland cows
Highland cows

At the bottom of Dukes Pass, we stopped at a farm to try to get a view of some “hairy coos”, or Highland cows. We were lucky and were able to call the cows over to the road to take pictures and feed them some treats. Though they are very hardy and look somewhat dangerous because of their horns, they are actually very friendly.

We went back to Stirling, and had a couple of hours to explore the castle. Stirling Castle is one of the largest and most important castles in Scotland. The castle dates from the 1100s, but most of the current buildings were built between the late 1400s and 1600. Built atop a crag and surrounded by steep cliffs on three sides, it had a strong defensive position and guarded a key crossing of the River Firth. Although it is a fortress, it has been used as a favored royal palace for centuries of Scottish kings and queens. Mary Queen of Scots was crowned here, as well as several other kings and queens, while others were born here.

What is unique about Stirling Castle is that much of it has been restored to its former glory, so that visitors can see the castle as it likely would have been several hundred years ago. This has been done based on extensive and careful research and more renovations continue to occur. The rooms really are stunning, and there are several exhibitions showing what life would have been like in the past. One of the largest undertakings has been the recreation of tapestries that once hung in the castle. They are truly impressive!

After walking around Stirling Castle, we headed back to Edinburgh, stopping for a bit at The Kelpies, massive metal sculptures just outside of Edinburgh. Keplies are mythological creatures from Scottish lore. Though they look like magnificent horses, according to lore if you get on the back of a kelpie, they will drag you into the water and eat you! These sculptures are also an homage to the strong workhorses that were a critical part of Scotland’s industrial past.

After walking around the Kelpies, we returned to the city for the evening. It was yet another beautiful day visiting sites!

Scotland: Day Trip to St. Andrews & the Kingdom of Fife

After returning from my 2-day trip to the Highlands, I scheduled a couple of day trips out of Edinburgh, also through Rabbie’s Tours. The first of these day trips was to St. Andrews and the fishing villages of Fife. The Kingdom of Fife is unique in that when Scotland’s various tribes first created a united Scotland, the Kingdom of Fife remained a kingdom. The clan that ruled Fife was powerful and was the last of the clans to agree to unite. The other kings and clans proposed that if Fife would join them in creating a united Scotland, then Fife could continue to be a kingdom, and the leader of the clan agreed. It’s a beautiful region of Scotland that is easily accessed from Edinburgh and is largely agricultural, along with quite a bit of coastline and fishing villages.

Anstruther
Anstruther
Anstruther
Anstruther

Our first stop of the day was at the fishing village of Anstruther. Anstruther is a picturesque fishing village. It’s quite small, but there are several small shops and cafes along the harbor, which is filled with small fishing boats. We had a little under an hour to walk around. It was a chilly but sunny morning and the views were spectacular over the ocean.

From Anstruther, we headed to St. Andrews. There are several things to do and see in this larger town. It is probably best known for St. Andrews University (you may recognize the name- it’s where Prince William and Kate Middleton attended) and the Old Course at St. Andrews (considered the oldest golf course in the world). There are also a couple of streets filled with cafes, restaurants, and stores, as well as castle and cathedral ruins. Our tour guide told us about some of the things we could do, then we were free to explore on our own.

St. Andrews Castle
Remainder of wall at St. Andrews Castle

We had parked near the Old Course, so I walked along the coastal road to St. Andrews Castle. I had purchased an Explorer Pass for the week for admission to several different attractions, and St. Andrews was one of the included castles. To be honest, it was pretty underwhelming. There’s a small exhibit inside the visitor center that gives a bit of information about the castle, but the castle itself only has a couple of walls still in place and there is little information as you walk around. That said, there is one thing to see that might make it worth the price.

Countermine at St. Andrews Castle

In the 1500s, the castle was under seige and the attackers attempted to build an undermine, or tunnel, under the castle walls in order to get into the castle and take it over. Those inside the castle could tell that the attackers were building an undermine, but could only see where it started and didn’t know where it was leading to. However, they were determined to construct a countermine, a tunnel leading from inside the castle grounds to intercept the undermine and prevent the attackers from entering. After several false attempts, they managed to hit the undermine and prevent the attackers from entering. The cool thing is that these tunnels are still there! They are very narrow and the countermine has very low ceilings since they were building under more extreme pressure and time restraints, but you can climb through both parts! It was pretty cool, but not recommended for young children or if you get claustrophobic.

St. Andrews Cathedral
St. Andrews Cathedral
St. Andrews Cathedral
St. Andrews Cathedral

After exploring the castle, I walked a few minutes over to St. Andrews Cathedral. Though technically a ruin, several walls and incredible arches are still in place, and it’s truly beautiful. Admission to walk around the ruins is free, but you can pay a small fee to enter the museum and walk up to the top of a tower (I didn’t have time to do this, so just walked around the ruins). It was built in the 1100s and is the largest church that was ever built in Scotland. It fell into ruin during the 1500s after Catholicism was outlawed following the Scottish Reformation.

St. Andrews Cathedral
St. Andrews Cathedral
St. Andrews Cathedral
The Old Course at St. Andrews

From the cathedral, I walked along some of the main streets and grabbed lunch. I walked very briefly around the Old Course before meeting back up with the tour group to head to our next destination, Falkland.

Falkland Palace
Falkland Palace Gardens
The Royal Tennis Court at Falkland Palace

Falkland is a pretty, small village located in Fife. It has become a popular place to visit as it was used in the filming of Outlander as a stand-in for Inverness. Many of the buildings and houses are several centuries old, and there is also a small palace to visit. Falkland Palace is a Renaissance palace built in the 1500s. It was built by King James IV and his son, King James V and was one of Mary Queen of Scots favorite homes. You can tour the house, which also functions as an actual weekend residence for a family that serves as its keepers, as well as the gardens. The gardens contain the oldest original real tennis court in Britain. While the palace fell into disuse in the 1600s, it was restored in the late 1800s and is really quite beautiful.

Falkland
Falkland: This house has the initials NM and AO, who were married in 1610 and moved into this house as newlyweds

After touring the castle, I walked around the small village briefly. When we had arrived in the village, our tour guide noted that many of the houses have writing above the main entrance, with the initials of married couples together with the year they were married. Many of these date to the 1500s and 1600s. It’s amazing to see these houses still in use several centuries later!

Forth Bridge

From Falkland we headed back towards Edinburgh, stopping for yet another view of the Forth Bridges before entering the city. It was a beautiful day with fantastic weather!

This is not a sponsored post, but I really enjoyed my Rabbie’s Tour. Check out their website here, and the St. Andrews & the Fishing Villages of Fife Tour here.

Scotland: 2 Day Highlands Tour (Part II)

Read Part I of the 2 Day Highlands Tour here.

As I mentioned in the previous post, I took a 2-day tour with Rabbie’s Tours to Loch Ness, Inverness & the Highlands. This post will pick up with the second day of the tour.

Loch Ness
Loch Ness & Urquhart Castle
Loch Ness & Urquhart Castle
Loch Ness

After a good night’s rest in a quiet B&B in Inverness, we departed fairly early in the morning to the rather famous Loch Ness. While most people know Loch Ness because of its supposed Loch Ness “monster”, known as Nessie, it’s a beautiful and unique loch for other reasons as well. Of the over 31,000 lochs in Scotland, Loch Ness is the largest by water volume. In fact, it’s the largest by water volume in all of the United Kingdom. It stretches over 20 miles long and is incredibly deep (745 feet at the deepest point). Surrounding the lake are the mountains that the Highlands are known for, and it’s a stunning location.

As for Nessie, while no one has been able to prove that he exists, there are recorded sightings dating back as far as the 6th century. St. Columba, a monk that had come to the area to convert the pagans living there to Christianity wrote about the experience in which the monster tried to attack a fellow monk who was swimming in the lake. Since then, there have been numerous investigations and supposed sightings, but everything has been inconclusive. Who knows?

Loch Ness & Urquhart Castle
Urquhart Castle
Loch Ness & Urquhart Castle
Loch Ness & Urquhart Castle
Loch Ness & Urquhart Castle

Everyone in our tour group decided to do the boat ride over Loch Ness to Urquhart Castle, which we then explored. Urquhart Castle is now in ruins and the present ruins were built between the 1200s and 1500s. Despite being a ruin, some walls still exist and one can imagine how beautiful it must have been in the past. There is detailed information telling about the various functions the rooms would have had and an informative video in the information center. Despite being a ruin, I highly recommend a visit to the castle.

Fort William

After wandering around the grounds of Urquhart Castle, we headed on to Fort William, where we ate lunch. It was raining hard when we arrived, so I only walked around a little bit. In the late 1800s, it was decided to extend the railroad to Fort William in hopes of increasing tourism. The town had to decide where to place the new train station. At the time, there was an old and very large fort in the town, but the townspeople determined that no one would want to see such a thing, so they tore it down (one wall remains) and used the space to build the train station and other buildings. So, while a cute town and a popular place to stop on tours and road trips in the Highlands, there is no longer the fort that gave the town its name.

Glen Coe
Glen Coe
Glen Coe
Glen Coe
Glen Coe
Glen Coe

After lunch in Fort William, we drove on towards Glen Coe, which is arguably one of the most stunning areas in the Highlands. We drove long stretches without seeing any buildings or houses, and stopped at a couple of locations to take in the views. Because it was fall, the hills and mountains were quite orange in brown in color, but still gorgeous.

Glen Coe
Doune Castle

We drove through a small part of The Trossachs before reaching Doune Castle, an Outlander filming location. It’s not open to the public, but we got to see the outside before heading back to Edinburgh.

All in all, it was a fabulous day full of amazing sights.

Scotland: 2 Day Highlands Tour (Part I)

When I started planning my trip for Scotland, I knew I definitely wanted to get up into the Highlands. However, when I started to do more research, I decided not to rent a car and found that many of the trains and buses have limited access to the Highlands during the fall months. Although I hadn’t thought I wanted to do a tour, I started looking into options and stumbled upon Rabbie’s Tours. Rabbie’s has a bunch of tours throughout Scotland and all tours are a maximum of 16 people. The reviews were great, so I decided to schedule a tour with them. I wanted to do a several-day trip, but my dates weren’t working out, so I ended up just doing a 2-day tour to the Highlands and two separate day trips with them. I highly recommend their tours!

Forth Bridge
Forth Bridges

Our tour departed early in the morning, with our first stop of the day at Queensferry Crossing and the Forth Bridges. There are three bridges that cross the Forth River just outside of Edinburgh. The oldest (and prettiest) bridge, built in 1882, is a railway bridge built with 54,000 tons of steel and 194,000 cubic yards of granite. It is majestic and impressive, and our tour guide, Stefan, commented he believes it will last forever. The other two bridges are road bridges built in 1964 and 2017.

Dunkeld
Dunkeld
Dunkeld
Dunkeld
Dunkeld

From there we headed to Dunkeld, a picturesque village with an old cathedral. The cathedral is partly ruin and partly still in use. We were let loose to explore on our own, so I walked along a path to the cathedral, took in views of the stunning fall foliage, and walked along the bridge for views of the river.

Pitlochry
Pitlochry
Pitlochry

Our next stop was at Pitlochry, a slightly more busy town. Our tour guide recommended walking to the dam since the foliage was so incredible. When the dam was built, the fish couldn’t make it to their usual spawning location, so a fish bridge was built, which is visible from the dam. It was a beautiful walk. This was also our lunch stop, and there were several restaurants and cafes to choose from (I had a panini at Cafe Calluna).

Loch Morlich
Loch Morlich
Loch Morlich

From Pitlochry we continued on to Loch Morlich. Scotland has more than 31,000 lochs (or lakes), so you can’t visit Scotland without seeing several. We had time to relax or walk along a quiet beach near Glenmore. It was sunny but cold and windy.

Tomatin Whisky Distillery

After an hour or so here, we had a surprise stop with a free whisky tasting at Tomatin Whisky Distillery. We were only there for about half an hour, during which time we had a small taste single malt Scotch whisky and watched a short video about how the whisky is made.

Clava Cairns
Clava Cairns (while not where Outlander was filmed or set, it is believed to be the inspiration)
Clava Cairns

Our final stop before Inverness, where we were staying for the night, was just outside the city. Clava Cairns, a series of stone circles and piles, date from prehistoric times. They are full of mysteries and history. After some time exploring, we were dropped at our lodging for the night. I walked through the city center, then grabbed a bite to eat before having a relaxing night in at my B&B.

Not a sponsored post, I just really enjoyed my Rabbie’s Tour. Check out their website here, and the Loch Ness, Inverness & the Highlands Tour here

Scotland: Edinburgh (Part 1)

Edinburgh Castle
Princes Street

On the second day of my trip, I took the train from Glasgow to Edinburgh. It’s about an hour-long trip and the train was fairly comfortable. Still being a bit jet-lagged, I may have napped a bit on the way. Upon arriving in Edinburgh, I dropped my bags off at the hostel I had booked. I couldn’t check in yet since it was still morning, but they agreed to store my suitcase for me until check-in. I had cut it a little close for the bus tour I had scheduled at 12:00, so I grabbed a very quick bite to eat at a cafe before heading to the bus stop for the Rabbie’s City Tour of Edinburgh. Although the tour can be up to 16 people, it was just me and a couple from England. The tour was about 2 hours long and drove us through the various parts of Edinburgh, providing history and interesting tidbits.

Calton Burial Grounds
President Abraham Lincoln at Calton Burial Grounds
Stewart Monument from below
Nelson Monument
Stewart Monument
Stewart Monument
Princes Street from above
Nelson Monument and National Monument

The bus tour started and ended along Princes Street, and when I got off the bus, there was an old cemetery right by the stop, so I decided to check it out. From there, I walked a short while to the hill where Stewart Monument, Nelson Monument, and the National Monument. The Stewart Monument was built as a memorial to Dugald Stewart, who was a Scottish philosopher. The monument overlooks the historic part of the city and the views are absolutely stunning. The Nelson Monument is a tall tower built to commemorate Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar. You can pay to walk up to the top, but I chose just to view it from the bottom. The National Monument was meant to be modeled after the Parthenon in Greece, but was never completed due to lack of money.

Scott Monument
Scott Monument
Scott Monument

From there, I walked back down Princes Street, which is the main road in Edinburgh, and walked past the Princes Street Gardens and the Scott Monument. This monument was built as a memorial to the writer Sir Walter Scott, and is referred to by locals as the “gothic rocket” because it does, indeed, look like a rocket built during the Gothic architectural period. It’s a stunning memorial, and the largest memorial in the world dedicated to a writer. There’s the option to pay admission to walk the 287 steps to the top, but I chose not to.

St. Giles Cathedral on the Royal Mile (built 12th century)
The Royal Mile
Canongate Tolbooth along the Royal Mile (built 1591)

I headed over to the Royal Mile, which is the road that stretches between Edinburgh Castle on the hill and the Palace of Holyrood down below. It’s actually longer than a mile and is the main street of the “Old Town”. This is the oldest part of Edinburgh, and the first buildings in this section of the city were built beginning in the 12th century. The buildings are built side-by-side, with “closes” between them. Closes are small alleyways between the buildings that functioned as small streets for those that lived in the buildings. The world’s first buildings above 4-5 stories were built here, and by 1645 there were buildings as tall as 14 stories and over 70,000 people lived within the royal mile.

The Royal Mile
John Knox House (built 1490) and Moubray House (built 1477) along the Royal Mile

After walking up and down the royal mile for a while, I decided to see if I could get a ticket for Real Mary King’s Close. This tourist attraction takes groups underground to see where Mary King’s Close once was. The buildings above where the tour goes were rebuilt for government buildings, but the underground parts were kept intact. The closes along the Royal Mile were named for various prominent individuals. What makes Mary King’s Close so unique is that it is named after a woman. Mary King, following her husband’s death, became a prominent businesswoman in the 1630s. The tour gives a glimpse into what life was like along the Royal Mile in the 1600s. Photos aren’t allowed, but it really was an interesting tour!

Sunset over Edinburgh

I had dinner along the Royal Mile, and admired the sunset over the buildings of both the Old and New Towns.