Scotland June 2005

This trip came about one Friday night after going out for drinks after school. In a contemplative mood, I got thinking that the material possessions I have lined up to buy once I finally got working again were very fine, but when it came down to it what I really wanted was to have some adventure traveling again.

So I typed in 'cheap flights Canada' into Google and hunted around to see what was available. Calgary to Manchester for $ Cdn 429 w/tax included seemed like an incredibly good deal. I clicked on the 'request more information' button, and promply forgot about the whole thing.

9.00 am Saturday morning I am woken up by a cheerful voice on the phone "The flight you have selected leaving tomorrow from Calgary and returning in two weeks is available, you have an hour to call back if you want it".

What the hell.

So there I was. I thought about it, phoned the agent back and accepted, sent in my Visa info, packed like crazy, phoned up some relatives living in near York, and after frantically searching through the guidebooks in the bookstore for something else to do ended up on a 6 day backpacker tour of the Highlands with a company called Haggis.

After a great time visiting with my relatives in Yorkshire (and recovering from the sudden trip departure) I headed up to Edinburgh, Scotland, for the start of the Haggis tour.

Similar to the Rocky Express tour, the people were backpackers from all over. Australia, New Zealand, Canada, U.S., South Africa, Hungary, and even one from Scotland!

Front, left to right: Russell, Sarah, Denise, Sarah, Georgina, Chrissy, Sabrina, Kelly, Stu, Jane, Esther
Back, left to right: Rajen, Shane, Me, Stephanie, Marlize, Lindsay, Matt, Sharon, Crystal, Erin, Luke, Celena, Andrew, Bec, Meghan, Craig (JB), Steve, Miki

So we climbed into our little yellow bus and off we went.

Our guide/driver, the most wonderful Claire. Not only a very good driver, but a never ending source of information on Scottish history and general entertainment. Other than her love of Scottish bagpipe techno music, the perfect guide. Photo by Miki.

Our route headed roughly clockwise around the Highlands, overnighting first in Oban on the west coast, then two nights on the isle of Skye, a night at Carbisdale castle in the north, finally ending up on the shores of Loch Ness before heading back to Edinburgh.

Day 1 stops: Wallace monument, Doune Castle, Calendar town for lunch, Hamish the hairy coo, Rob Roy's grave, Loch Tulla, Rannoch moor, Glencoe hike, stay in Oban.

Wallace monument, just outside Sterling. William Wallace was the first of many famous Scottish historical characters we would learn about. The main character in the movie 'Braveheart', the site actually had a statue of Mel Gibson at the bottom. FREEDOM! Arggh!

Doune castle, famous from from Monty Python's 'The Life of Brian'. They rent coconut shells, heh. A lot of Monty Python and Harry Potter seems to be set in this area.

Hamish, the 'hairy coo'. Nice job, stand at the fence all day and get fed goodies by the tourists. The Scottish cows we saw were all this strange small hairy breed.

Scenery getting increasingly wild. Scotland gets amazingly barren of people. Deforested hundreds of years ago, most of the land in the highlands seems to consist of marshy grass clinging to ever more rocky and barren terrain. Very surprising compared to the genteel and heavily populated/cultivated appearance of the rest of Europe. Large areas of nothing mixed in with rivers rushing by the highway and the occasional campground, travelling here feels somewhat like some areas of north america, and a lot like the South island of New Zealand.

Not surprising the military finds this a perfect area for jet fighter exercises, and throughout our trip sightings of fighters zooming through the valleys was common. We were told they use the Haggis buses as markers as there is always a few in the Highlands and they are a nice bright yellow.

With the weather closing in, hiked up Glencoe, only to get forced back down by rain. Stayed in Oban on the coast overnight. The first night drinking and getting to know each other. Pub really friendly.

Was informed that the Scottish diet is probably one of the least healthy on earth. Fish and chips was tasty but there was an interesting feeling afterward similar to eating a chapstick or gargling with lard. A 'gravy diet' type of thing. 'Iron Bru' on the other hand (a Scottish soft drink that outsells Coke here) was quite fine. Photo by Steph.

Day 2 stops: Castle Stalker, Ft William, Glen Nevis, Glenfinnan, Spean Bridge, Commando memorial, Loch Garry, Glen shiel, Eliean Donnan castle, stayed at Kyle of Lochalsh on the isle of Skye.

Castle Stalker

Whiskey to try at Spean Bridge. Strong stuff.

Out to stay at a hostel in Kyle of Lochalsh next to 'Saucy Mary's Lodge'. Named after a local woman in Viking times that extracted a toll on the boat traffic, and then as a bonus flashed her boobs at the departing sailors.

Hiking back from the ruins behind the town. The rain had quit and we would have great weather for the rest of the tour. Still the countryside stayed wet. The Scottish Highlands seemed to basically one big bog, whether on a slope or not, everything oozed water.

Kyle of Lochalsh harbour, with the ruins in the background. Photo by Miki.

Day 3 stops: Sligachan river, Portree town, Fairy falls, Old man of Storr walk, Kilt rock, Flodigarry hotel for haggis, Duntulum castle, Grave of Flora MacDonald, Black houses, stayed again at Kyle of Lochalsh.

View over Skye on the walk back from the Old Man of Storr. Beautiful clear weather, apparently unusual for Skye. Photo by Miki.

Haggis, neeps and tatties, washed down with a Guiness. Very good. Opinion was divided in the group, however, some would rather die (or dress up as a super hero in someone elses thong).

Sunset off Kyle. Photo by Miki.

After the girls had finished flashing the sailors, its pub time.

Day 4 stops: Robert the Bruce by Loch Carron, An Teallach, Ullapool, Ardmair beach, Knockan crag, Bone cave hike and crawl, stayed at Carbisdale castle.

History lessons in school were never this fun. We got through a ton of Scottish history. Photo by Steph.

Skipping stones on the world championship skipping beach. Every stone is more or less perfect.

Hiked in to the 'Bone Caves', while airforce jets boom overhead.

Grabbing flashlights we wriggled our way inside, getting pretty dirty.

The next hostel, Carbisdale, was an actual castle, awesome.

Down the dark lane over the fence and across the fields to listen to some traditional music in the tiniest pub ever, complete with a drummer no more than 8 years old.

A critical part of the evening, getting the birthday boy as drunk as possible. He held up pretty well.

Day 5 stops: Swimming in the North sea, Glenmorangie distillery, Inveress for lunch, Culloden Battlefield, Clava Cairns, Loch Ness boat tour, Urquart Castle, Clansman Center, stayed in Ft Agustus.

 Four of us brought our swim stuff and ran out about a mile until it got deep enough to swim while the others rolled up their pant legs and waded. Note that the North sea is a pretty much just a renaming of the Arctic ocean, doesn't really warm it up much.

Feels good when you get out though.

Distillery tour, complete with superhero. One of the Haggis innovations was a list of punishments than anyone late on the bus had to pick out of a hat. 'Don't put in anything you wouldn't want to take out' was the only guideline. The best idea yet for getting people on the bus on time.

Typical lunch, grab something out of a supermarket and eat it out in the parking lot.

Loch Ness boat tour, complete with amazing sonar systems (that is the underwater sonar view of the loch, one that unfortunately can not show living things) and some pretty detailed and fascinating info on the loch and the monster.

More pub time, this time dressed up in the worst clothes ever, courtesy of Claire's 'tickle trunk'.

Day 6 stops: Loch Loggain (Argvreckie Castle), Rutchven Barracks, Dunkeld Abbey, Forth Railbridge, ending up back in Edinburgh.

The road back, the only stretch of real highway on the trip. A good chunk of the driving was on single lane roads with pull off spots.

And that was it. Some left Edinburgh as soon as we got back, but quite a few hung around for a last drink together and we were off our merry ways. FANTASTIC! as they say in Scotland. Oh, I was tired.

Tired enough to sleep not too badly in the airport and off home was I.

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