Hills of Purple Heather

“Come along, come along, let us foot it out together 
Come along, come along, be it fair or stormy weather” 

Scotland feels like a lifetime ago.  We’ve done so much since then, but going back through all the images I get to relive it.  Part of our reason for travelling to Scotland was for me to meet Rohan’s mother’s extended family who i’d heard so much about.  On arrival in Glasgow we had Rohan’s aunt and uncle greet us at the airport, along with his parents who had stopped off in Scotland during their own overseas holiday from Australia.  We hadn’t seen his parents since leaving Oz back in April 2011 and it was a great reunion for everyone, and a great time for me to meet all the names and faces, aunts and uncles, cousins and partners and second cousins.  We were incredible spoilt with home cooked meals, a chauffeur, and a beautiful house to stay in for the first few days.  We drove in for a look around the city, wandering the university district and seeing the inside of the Glasgow Cathedral, and Provands Lordship.  Then onto look at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, and also Macintosh designed ‘The House for an Art Lover’.  Outside of the city we also visited the countryside and discovered the huge Whitelee Wind Farm, the first i’d ever seen on that type of scale with 140 turbines stretching over the horizon.

From Glasgow, we drove to Edinburgh with Rohan’s parents for a look around the beautiful old medieval city.  We stayed with some of their old friends Barbara and Ian (from primary school!) in a little village called Balerno just outside of Edinburgh – a nice contrast to the busyness of the city which was hosting the Fringe Festival as well as the Military Tattoo at the same time.  It makes such a difference when you can experience a new country by staying with family and friends.  During the days we ventured into the city centre to wander the streets, walk up to Edinburgh Castle and to see the Edinburgh Military Tattoo at night.  Rohan’s Aunt Eileen had organised tickets for us all we we had amazing views of the castle and the performance.  Thank you!!!!  It was such a great experience to be able to see the show (it gave me goosebumps), and after days of drizzle and grey skies it miraculously stayed fine that night.   It was such a relaxing few days, and we were able to enjoy a lovely lunch all together in South Queensferry as a send off before Rohan’s parents and us drove onto our next stop, St Andrews.

On route to St Andrews, we stopped at various points along the coastline, mostly small fishing villages with quiet streets and colourful harbours.  This section of the coast was definitely a highlight for me.  The quaint seaside towns with their little wooden boats and trawlers were so picturesque, and best of all the streets were mostly empty of tourists.  August is the best time to visit Scotland, but somehow we’d escaped the crowds.  Pittenweem is the harbour featured in the following photographs.  It was my favourite of the stops.  It had a feeling of times gone by without much change at all, a few fishermen untangling nets or having a smoke outside the pub.  It felt real.  It was nice.

By the time we’d arrived in St Andrews, famous for being the home of golf, the weather had started to turn nasty.  The next day we tried to head into town to see what was around, the old university and the cathedral ruins, but had little success with sideways rain and inside out umbrellas.  Rohan had been to St Andrews previously visiting his family 8 years ago and had had blue skies and rounds of golf with his cousins.  I hardly believed this was possible considering what I was experiencing.  We had the most intense wind and rain i’d experienced in a long time, so gave up walking the streets and decided to take shelter in our rental car and drive up the coast.  We drove north to try and escape the rain, over the Tay Bridge and through Dundee, then up the coast road to Toadhead Lighthouse.  We could barely see the coastline, but you can’t blame us for trying.  It looked beautiful from what we could see (which wasn’t much).  Most of the rugged coast was farmland dropping off shear cliffs into the ocean.  Just up the road from the lighthouse was our castle, the one we’d set out to see.  Dunnotter Castle was quite spectacular, set out on a rocky outcrop, all alone.  Ruined.  I’d wanted to camp down on the beach had the weather been kinder to us but this wasn’t to happen.  Not this trip.  I’m sure one day when we return to Scotland we’ll finally experience blue skies and pleasant camping weather.

After leaving St Andrews and the family behind we were now on our own, just the two of us.  We had managed to borrow a small tent, so bundled this into our little car and head out into the foggy highlands with no real plan.  Actually, we did have a plan.  The plan was to ‘wild camp’ along the way, staying in the hills and cooking on an open fire, but that didn’t happen at all.  Most nights we struggled to find a flat, dry site away from wind.  If anyone wants to do it sometime, let me tell you that it’s quite a challenge.  What was supposed to be picturesque mornings in the highlands were actually campgrounds or village commons.

We drove north through Cairngorms National Park stopping every 10 minutes for me to stop and take pictures.  We followed rivers and glens, and found small villages with flower pots lining the streets – pretty places like Dunkeld, Pitlochry, and Braemar.  We followed a narrow and winding road up to the so-called most photographed view in all of Scotland, Queens View.  It was stunning, and you could see all the way up the Loch.  The drives during the days were so  spectacular in the highlands with rolling hills of purple heather blanketing the glens.  I honestly could never get tired of looking at this beautiful landscape.  I simply MUST come back one day.

There was only one day that I got to drive, and the Whiskey Trail was the day.  Go figure.  I don’t drink scotch whisky and Rohan needed the education.  We went on 3 distillery tours, with mostly the same information given each time.  But we had to in order to earn a tasting.  The whole area from Grantown-on-Spey along the Spey River had tons of distilleries.  There were the big, well known and internationally recognised brands, as well as small family run businesses.  They all basically had the same principles on different scales.  We visited Glenfiddich, Glenlivit, and Tomatin distilleries.

Inverness is a really pretty city.  We stopped there for only a short while, then travelled down along the road beside the famous Loch Ness.  No Nessy could be seen but we did try.  This particular loch was a little bit of a let down for me, apart from the story of the mysterious creature, it really didn’t have much going for it.  It wasn’t nearly as pretty as some of the other lochs we’d seen, so didn’t waste too much time hanging around.  We had organised to visit some friends of family, Donald and Sue in Tomich, a VERY small town with one street and no stores.  Our connection was that my cousin and brother had previously sailed with Donald a few years back, on his boat Spirit of Affric.  Donald and Sue’s family run a self catered holiday property/farm near Glen Affric which you can check out by clicking here.  They are such wonderful people, taking us in to their beautiful home where we sat around talking sailing adventures and travel plans.   They were extremely hospitable and i’ll never forget that night of dry comfort and conversation.  If you ever go to that area of Scotland you should definitely stay at their property.

From Tomich, past Fort Augustus, and out to the western coast we passed the most incredible landscapes without seeing much at all, for the low cloud was still giving us poor visibility (I think there’s a particular theme happening here!).  We’d skipped over a few of the castles along the way, but Eilean Donan castle had to be seen.  It’s quite a famous image of Scotland, so we braved the wind and rain to go and check it out.  The loch and landscape surrounding the castle was breathtaking, even through the cloud of grey.  Inside the castle was fitted out with period furnishings and displays to help understand castle life.  It was nice to wander through the walls and passageways and I got quite excited by the prospect of Rohan purchasing it for me.  I’ve always wanted my own castle, but it didn’t work out and we just took pictures in the rain instead, and left.  Back in the cosy comfort of our car and on towards the lovely seaside village of Plockton.

Donald and Sue had mentioned a lovely little place called Plockton on the shores of Loch Carron, on route to the Isle of Skye.  We detoured to see what it was like and were pleasantly surprised – a wedding ceremony in a tiny church all complete with bagpipes, a glimmer of hope as the clouds thinned out, a shoreline of palm trees (caused by a north atlantic drift) and a local fish and chip shop for our lunch on the shore.  Sigh, the afternoon was complete.  We stayed here for a long time, hours actually.  It was nice to simply get out of the confines of the car and walk.  The light was beautiful, and the leaning fishing boats and the yellow of the seaweed at low tide was an added bonus for picture making.  I had all cameras loaded, and ready.  It was time to get my groove on. *film is still processing at the lab.

I had high hopes for Isle of Skye, but this one picture below reflects what I have to say about that.  We drove onto the Isle, drove all the way around Isle, and kept driving looking for something to do, somewhere to go, and somewhere to camp.  Nothing turned up.  We couldn’t see anything.  The problem is that when you plan a driving holiday in Scotland you only plan to see things and explore and hike, and when you can’t see out of the car window, and can’t go exploring because of the the wind and rain, you feel pretty miserable.  This was the low point.  We yelled at each other, then ignored each other.  Then tried to put the tent up on the side of a highway but couldn’t get the pegs into the rocky ground without a mallet (which we didn’t have).  We tried to have beers at one pub that had no atmosphere, but sat there staring at each other.  It wasn’t going well.  Just about when we were ready to kill each other and pay $150 for a shitty hotel room for the night we were saved.  At 9pm we’d completed the loop of the Isle of Skye and ended up passing a campground on the road where we started from.  Thank goodness!  The following picture is from the next morning.  We felt a little better once the rain had eased and we stepped outside and discovered we’d unknowingly camped beside a river in paradise.  All was well again.

The last few pictures are from the white sand coast just south of Mallaig.  We took a side road and stumbled upon this, a stunning coastline reminiscent of sand at home.  Note:  If anyone ever wants to go take the B8008.  We kept driving south as the rains came in again.  We passed Ben Nevis, the highest point in Scotland and the UK, and drove through the Grampians without stepping foot on a hiking trail or even leaving the car.  We were just driving.  Hoping for something to become visible but saw nothing.  “It’s ok”, I kept telling myself.  I’ll just come back again.  And I will.  I have to.

That night in Oban could have been disastrous, but it wasn’t, then it was.  We came to the coastal town, and decided to treat ourselves to a hostel as we were done with camping in the rain.  Everything was wet, and we felt like we deserved it.  The hostel was great, fish and chipper dinner was great, beers at the pub was great (we finally found young people!), and then BAM!  I got really ill.  Like my insides were getting cut out of me type ill.  That was the final straw for this country.  We had to cut the last few days short and drive back to Glasgow.  Thankfully I gradually felt better each day and had the luxury of feeling at home at Aunt Eileen and Uncle Donald’s house.  I can’t ever imagine having to go through something like that in a hostel for days.  I was cared for and rested, and was well enough to say goodbye to everyone and get on our flight to Rome, Italy.

Although it may sound like a great disappointment with the weather (well, it was) I still thoroughly enjoyed our time in Scotland.  For one, I got to meet Rohan’s mother’s family that I’d heard so much about, and two, well, that’s just how it is in Scotland.  I feel like I really got to know the country, and all it’s mighty natural surroundings.  I got to experience the real Scotland, how it is most of the time.  No special consideration for Wendy (we’ve had a pretty good track record travelling so far) and we got through it, of course.  It was tough, but it was fun.  I’d somehow managed to forget all the hours of driving through cloud until I sat down to write this blog post.  All I have are photos of the good times, and that’s the way I think I like it.

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4 comments

  1. Gorgeous photos! I love the old, rustic look.

  2. Very informative, thank you! I’m thinking of taking a rental car around Scotland too. How long was your trip?

    • Thanks Annie! We were in Scotland for only 2 weeks, but it was long enough to get a taste of everything.

      • Oh nice. I’ll only have a few days there, but i mainly want to visit isle of skye so it should be enough time.. Do you have any tips on how to camp in the horribly damp weather aside from getting waterproof/resistant gear?

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