The Scenic Route through the Scottish Highlands

by Audrey on January 28, 2014 · 22 comments

I couldn’t come to Scotland and not explore the Scottish Highlands!

Once the New Years festivities were over and the crazy Loony Dookers had jumped into the freezing waters of the Firth of Forth, it was time to pack things up and head further north. For this part of the trip I joined Haggis Adventures, a company that promises a legendary adventure that will leave you feeling the Deep Scottish Love.

Sightseeing around Edinburgh in winter.

Being part Scottish, my red-headed partner in crime, Sam, was particularly excited to be going on this trip. And me, well, I was really excited to see my first Hairy Coo! (Just go google the Scottish Highland cow and then come back here.) Aren’t they cute furry things?!

I won’t talk you through every single spot we visited on the 3 day tour, but I do want to share some of the highlights here. One of the things I really liked about this tour is that there was a lot of variety in terms of the places we visited: castles, cathedrals, cryptic man-made structures, natural sights, and battlefields. This variety is something that I felt really helped tell the story of the Highlands.

So let’s get started:

Balnuaran of Clava (Clava Cairns), Scotland.

Balnuaran of Clava

I’m always up for a site that will leave you scratching your head, and this was one of them.

Arriving at Balnuaran of Clava all you see are some rather strange man-made rock structures sitting in the middle of a small forest.

I should start off by explaining that these rock structures, also known as clava cairns, are a type of prehistoric tomb chamber built in a circular formation with only a narrow passage providing access to the interior.

Inside the chamber there was a small space where our group crowded together wondering what exactly went on in here thousands of years ago. Our guide, Dave, decided to demonstrate his theory by getting us to crouch down on the ground, hold hands, and let out a deep ‘ommmmm’ - a place for meditation! Perhaps not quite historically accurate, but certainly an entertaining theory…

What we do know is that the people who built these chambers were likely sun worshippers as the narrow opening on the chambers align with the midwinter sunset.

While there are only 3 clava cairns standing at Balnuaran of Clava, there are an estimated 50 different tombs littered across the area in and around Inverness.

Eilean Donan Castle, the most popular castle in all of Scotland.

Eilean Donan Castle

Who doesn’t love a good castle?

On our second morning touring the Highlands we made it to Eilean Donan Castle, which translates to Island of Donan Castle. This is the most iconic castle in all of Scotland, and it’s easy to see why – this thing of beauty sits on a small island in the loch and can be reached by a stone foot bridge.

As impressive as it may look today, this castle was almost completely destroyed during the Jacobite uprising in 1719 and it lay in ruins for almost 200 years! It wasn’t until Lieutenant Colonel John MacRae-Gilstrap bought the island in 1911, that he proceeded to restore the crumbling structure. This was a project that would take him 20 years.

Since I visited shortly after New Year’s the castle was closed and I couldn’t tour the interior, however, it is possible to arrange visits throughout the year. Admission is £6.50.

The Isle of Skye, also nicknamed the Isle of Mist - you can see why.

The Isle of Skye

Oh, the stunning Isle of Skye!

On our day driving around the isle the weather graced us with an entrancing mist that hung over the mountains, gail force winds that you could literally lean into, and unrelenting rains that whipped our faces and soaked through our clothes.

At that time I was shivering and wishing for clear skies, but in retrospect I think this was the perfect way to experience the Isle of Mist.

I daresay this was the most scenic drive of our 3 days up in the Highlands. The temperamental weather and mysterious landscapes created the perfect setting for a Lord of the Rings scene to unfold.

The Three Sister, Scotland.

Glencoe

With its striking mountains and deer feeding in the valley, it’s hard to imagine that Glencoe, also known as the Valley of Weeping Glen, is the setting to a very sad history. It was here, in the midst of these majestic mountains that the Massacre of Glencoe took place in 1692.

During a time of political instability when allegiance to the king dictated your future, a senior member of the Campbell clan conspired against the MacDonalds after they delayed in taking their oath to the king.

The Campbells showed up at the MacDonalds in the middle of winter asking for shelter, and in true Highland hospitality, the MacDonalds opened up their homes and offered them food and shelter. However, what the MacDonalds didn’t know was that they were signing their own death warrant by inviting the Campbells in.

The Campbells had orders to kill and what makes it even worse is that this was “murder under trust”, a crime considered more heinous than murder in Scots law.

In the end, the casualties totalled 78 MacDonalds. 38 which were murdered in their homes, and 40 which later died from exposure to the elements after their homes were burned down.

William Wallace Memorial in Stirling, Scotland.

William Wallace Monument

On our last day we drove through Stirling, where we stopped to visit the William Wallace Monument.

Of course on the drive over we got to learn about all the inaccuracies found in the Mel Gibson epic Braveheart - and there were lots.

From William Wallace’s origins (he is believed to have been born into aristocracy and was not poor as depicted in the film), to the portrayal of Scots wearing kilts (something that would not come into effect for another 4 centuries), and the ‘relatively mild’ death William endures (which was actually a lot more horrific than what was portrayed in the film) – there were a few white lies woven into the storyline in order to make it, well, a better story.

And that’s just a little glimpse of our 3 days travelling around the Highlands. We also toured the sleepy town of Dunkeld, paid our respects at the Culloden Battlefield, drove past the dark waters of Loch Ness, stopped for delicious fish and chips in Portree, visited the ruins of Inverlochy Castle, and so much more!

Haggis Adventures: Wild & Sexy.

What to expect from Haggis Adventures?

Well, for starters the tour is a lot of fun! You will get to see beauty of the Scottish Highlands and visit many attractions that you may not have been able to find on your own.

For anyone considering doing a similar tour through Scotland, I have tried to answer what I think would be some of the most frequently asked questions:

What’s the average age on the tour? The tour is aimed at an early twenties to mid thirties crowd, but that doesn’t mean there’s a cap on the your age. The minimum age to join a Haggis Adventures tour is 17, and as long as you’re fit and have a good sense of fun, you can be a senior and still join! While most people in my tour were in their mid-twenties, there was one couple in their fifties travelling with their daughter, so there’s a wide range.

Are there popular nationalities? Australians!!! There were a few Brits, Spaniards, French, Slovenians, and of course two Canadians, however, our group was mostly dominated by Aussies – many of them in search of their Scottish roots.

What is the transportation like and what’s the tour size? You will be travelling in a bright yellow bus with the words “Sensational” on one side and “Wild & Sexy” on the other. The bus seats a maximum of 29 people, but your group may be smaller – especially if you’re travelling during the low season.

At the Culloden Battlefield with our Haggis Adventures guide.

Who are the guides? I had the chance to meet a couple of the guides who work for Haggis Adventures, and boy do they know how to pick ‘em! My 3-day tour around the Highlands was lead by Dave, a tall Scotsman with an awesome red beard who was brave enough to wear a kilt even though it was winter and it was freezing out! He was extremely knowledgeable about his country’s history, full of funny anecdotes, and he also had some great taste in music – our soundtrack to the Highlands consisted of Muse, Florence + the Machine, Arcade Fire, and some local Scottish talent.

Accommodations – where will I sleep? While accommodations are not included in the price of the tour, Haggis Adventures has a list of hostels, lodges and inns that they regularly work with and can vouch for. You are free to book one of their suggestions (that’s what most of the group did). All the places we stayed at during the trip had an option of a hostel dorm or a private room, so I would suggest sticking with the rest of group and booking at the suggested place. I spent the first night at Morag’s Lodge in Fort Augustus on the banks of Loch Ness, and the second night at Saucy Mary’s in Kyleakin on the Isle of Skye.

Meals – what will I eat? You’ll be purchasing your own meals for the duration of the tour. There will plenty of stops for snacks, lunch and dinner, and the guide will be able to recommend a few good pubs and restaurants in each town you visit. If you’re up for some local fare, you’ll want to try the haggis with neeps and tatties, as well as fish and chips.

Would I recommend it? If you have a limited amount of time in Scotland but want to see as much as possible, then I think this is a great way to go about it! Like when joining any tour, you do give up a bit of independence since there’s a schedule to adhere to, however, I was really happy with all the sites I got to visit and I also enjoyed being surrounded by a really fun group of people. So, yes, I’d do Scotland with Haggis Adventures all over again.

Have you been to Scotland?

Have you travelled through the Highlands?

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#blogmanay is brought to you by Edinburgh’s Hogmanay and is supported by ETAGEventScotlandHomecoming ScotlandVisitScotlandEdinburgh FestivalsMarketing EdinburghHistoric Scotland and co-creators Haggis Adventures. Created and produced by Unique Events.

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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Renuka January 28, 2014 at 4:30 pm

Scenic indeed! Sottish Highlands appear just like a dream.
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Audrey January 29, 2014 at 3:10 pm

Yup, some of the most striking landscapes I have ever seen. :)

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Sarah January 28, 2014 at 5:11 pm

Oh, the Highlands… sigh. These pictures take me back to what I think is one of the most enchanting in Europe! I didn’t have much time, so I took one of the tours. I’d love to go back for a longer amount of time and do some hiking and whisky-tasting!
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Audrey January 29, 2014 at 3:07 pm

I’m glad to hear you had a great time out there. My one regret is not having enough time to go hiking. I would have loved to climb up Ben Nevis, but I guess that gives me a good reason to return – preferably in the summertime. :)

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EuroTripTips January 28, 2014 at 11:27 pm

I consider myself extremely lucky that is was sunny when I visited Isle of Skye in May with Haggis Adventures. I can see that is not always the case!

Did they sing the Haggis song on board? :-)

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Audrey January 29, 2014 at 3:05 pm

There is a haggis song?!?! I didn’t learn that one! I think that means I need to take the tour all over again. ;)

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MollyG January 29, 2014 at 4:05 am

You didn’t post a picture of a Hairy Coo! They are the cutest! We saw them in Glasgow. I even posted about them!
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Audrey January 29, 2014 at 3:03 pm

I saw most of them in the fields in passing, so I couldn’t get a crisp shot – but they sure were cute!

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Neil January 29, 2014 at 12:07 pm

Sounds a great trip! Skye and Glencoe are stunning places and I agree they benefit from some mist to add to the atmosphere
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Glamourous Traveller January 29, 2014 at 12:22 pm

Very cool. I don’t know much about Scotland, and a some of the places you visited, I’m not even sure how to pronounce! but would love to go check it out. Thanks for sharing
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Rachel of Hippie in Heels January 29, 2014 at 5:07 pm

I have actually never done a tour before, except when cities offer “free walking tours”, but this one looks great!
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Carmen January 29, 2014 at 6:03 pm

I’m an Aussie with Scottish routes and although we lived in London for five years, we didn’t really see too much of the Scottish countryside. After seeing these photos though, I think it’s about time we planned a trip back :-)
Great photos, thanks for sharing
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Cycle Party January 29, 2014 at 10:44 pm

I googled the hairy coo!

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Karisa January 30, 2014 at 1:00 am

I love Scotland! (My Scottish expat friend can’t imagine why). I visited Scotland when I was 12 but didn’t see much of the highlands. I’d love to go back and try out that Haggis Tour :)
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Katie January 30, 2014 at 6:55 pm

This post has just reminded me that, for someone who was born and still lives practically on the Scottish border, I haven’t visited nearly enough of Scotland. The highlands look stunning – and Skye is definitely on my hit list. Glad you had an amazing time!
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Londoner Kate January 31, 2014 at 9:08 am

How much was it?? Living in the UK it’s shameful that I haven’t yet followed my dream to take a Scottish highlands tour like this one. I’m only just getting over to Ireland this weekend! It’s great that you’ve recommended this. I may well look into it!
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Heather January 31, 2014 at 5:56 pm

Gorgeous photos! The Highlands look so dreamy and romantic. And you’re right, I think the mist enhances the atmosphere!
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TammyOnTheMove February 1, 2014 at 7:25 pm

Oh I would love to visit the highlands one day. I have only been to Edinburgh so far, but I loved it and the Scots are awesome.
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Jackie D February 1, 2014 at 9:20 pm

I loved the Scottish highlands! Greenest, moodiest landscape ever. And the cows are hilarious. I think when we were there we met the most famous cow, which was named Hamish or something, and he had this ridiculously fancy lifestyle and girlfriend and birthday celebration and everything, and I remember thinking that we should all be so lucky to have a life as awesome as this Scottish cow’s.
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Leigh February 3, 2014 at 4:41 pm

I love the moodiness of your photos. You’ve captured Scotland the way I’ve seen it. A few years ago I hiked the West Highland Way – a great experience with rain only on a few days/
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Julie Danes February 5, 2014 at 4:02 pm

I am definitely adding Scotland on my 2014 What To See list.

Great pictures and review!

Looking forward to your next adventures.
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Casey @ A Cruising Couple February 7, 2014 at 5:24 am

I would LOVE to see one of those cows! What a fun adventure though. Looks like a truly beautiful place. You guys have me more sold on Scotland now then ever before :)
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