Saturday, December 19, 2015

Loch Ness & the Highlands of Scotland

While planning our trip to Edinburgh, Drew and I talked about all the things we wanted to do while we were visiting. Since we won't have the chance to come back to Scotland, we knew we had to see Loch Ness. It's the most famous lake in the world! 
We were torn between renting a car and doing it ourselves or finding a tour that did it. Usually we do tours on our own, but this time Drew mentioned that he wanted to take it easy and not have to worry about driving. So I researched multiple different tour companies before I found the Ness Bus/Hairy Coo Company.

The Ness Bus prides it self as being Scotland's only Loch Ness, Highlands and Whisky day tour. It was simple to book the tour, at first I thought that Ness Bus and Hairy Coo were two different companies, but they're the same company! (If you book through Hairy Coo, you don't have to put a deposit down, if you book through Ness Bus you have to put down a 10 pound deposit)
Saturday morning we were picked up bright and early (before the sun even rose) at a location near our hotel. They provide pick up at multiple locations, you just need to make sure to show up at the right spot on time.
The bus hold 24 people max. It was a little bus, but it was nice not to have to worry about a big group and having to wait for people, especially because this tour started at 8am and didn't get back into Edinburgh until 8pm.
Our tour guide for the day was Donald, he is the co-owner of the Ness Bus. I love his story, he used to be a civil engineer, he got tired of it, and decided to become a tour guide! He is extremely knowledgeable about Scotland's History and he likes to add in his own little stories and tidbits. That in my opinion makes a good guide.
  The first stop of the day was to the Deanston Whisky Distillery, it is located on the banks of the beautiful River Teith. 
At the distillery you can opt to take a tour and learn about the whisky-making process from beginning to end and have a free complementary shot, or you can opt to get breakfast at the cafe. We decided to skip the tour and have a hot breakfast while the rest of our tour group took the tour, they seemed to have enjoyed it. But, looking back I was glad we decided to skip the tour. It was our only down time, if we weren't travelling in the bus. I was a little surprised that Drew didn't want to take the whiskey tour, but as he said, "We did the Jameson Whiskey Tour. That's like the Holy Land! I don't need to do a tour of a lesser whiskey just to say I did it. Especially when I could have a big Scottish breakfast with whiskey breakfast instead"!
We had a nice hot Scottish Breakfast, the food came out quick and we had amazing service! I guess that's what happens when you're the only people in the cafe.
After leaving the Distillery, we traveled through Loch Lomond and the Trossach's National Park. We got a nice view of the castle that was used as a setting in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I wish we would've been able to stop and take pictures, but I guess that's what happens when you're on someone else's schedule. 
We continued on our way to Glen Coe, the most famous valley in Scotland, where Skyfall and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban were filmed. We were able to stop off and take pictures here. Unfortunately, mother nature didn't agree with us...and it was rainy, cloudy and windy while we were there, so basically, the rain was falling sideways. It was still a beautiful site to see. I can only imagine how beautiful it is in nicer weather.

The whole point of this tour was to get to Loch Ness. You are given an itinerary, which shows that you're going through a lot of places. But you're actually just passing through.  
We pass through Fort William, home to the largest mountain in the British Isles, standing at a mere 4,409 feet, and see Ben Nevis (The Venomous Mountain). Again we don't stop to see it, but it's pretty cool to be able to see it.
The weather was pretty awful the whole ride, I was thankful we were in a bus, but pretty bummed because of the weather, but we all made the most of it. By the time we made it to Fort Augustus, the rain had cleared up. Donald suggested some restaurants to check out, before our 2 pm boat tour. The only thing that sucks, is that the tour company only does one tour a day and the 2 pm was the only one, which meant the boat was filled!

The tour was an hour long. It took us up and down the lake. In my honest opinion. It really wasn't worth it. The boat tour, just showed us their fancy equipment and their data of what's in the lake. On our way back they shared a story about how they once saw something on their radar at the bottom of the sea. I don't believe in the Loch Ness Monster, but it was still something I'm glad I did, only because I'm not sure if we will ever get the chance to ever go back.

 I have to admit, the radar detectors are pretty cool, once they were explained I knew what to look for!

After leaving the Fort Augustus, we headed to the Commando Memorial, it is dedicated to the men of the original British Commando Forces raised during World War II. Situated around a mile from Spean Bridge village, by the time we got back to it, the sun started to set, but we were still able to get some pictures of it. Drew was pretty happy about it, since he's loves anything that has to do with military history. The monument itself is quite impressive, and worth the stop.


On our drive back to Edinburgh, we drove through the Cairngorms National Park, there was snow on the road, Donald made the remark that we might have to stay the night if the roads were bad...I was pretty afraid that we would have had to stay, which would've sucked because if we had to stay we would have missed out flight back home the next day! Luckily we made it through the Mountains with no trouble. We did get a quick view of Blair castle, which Donald told us the story of the current Duke, who is from South Africa, because even in the 21st century, Scotland doesn't seem to want to give woman anything. So after her brother died, the current Duchess, figured she would inherit everything, unfortunately they looked elsewhere. 
 From there we headed off to the Victorian town of Pitlochry. Queen Victoria visited the town in 1842, she remarked upon the beauty of the area, which caused great interest and has been a popular tourist destination. We got less than 30 minutes here. I wish we would've gotten more time there, because all the tour buses stop in the town as well, after waiting in line to use to bathroom, the lines to get something to eat were astronomical, and of course their was only one store open.
We headed back to Edinburgh, and were dropped off back on the Royal Mile. All in all, it was a great trip. We haven't gone on a group tour in a while and although it was a nice trip. I wish we would've done it on our own. I feel like we're able to check more things out, there were a lot of places I wish we could have stopped and saw, I feel like if we did it on our own we would have been able to. I'm glad we were able to do the tour, Drew was able to relax and I didn't have to stress out about planning a trip. Our tour guide, Donald was pretty awesome, and I left the tour feeling happy. His commentary and stories definitely made the tour very interesting, and worth while. I'd say it was a success! But, if you're like me, someone who likes having a plan, but likes to be able to stop off and see everything interesting thing along the way, I wouldn't suggest a tour. It is easily done on your own and in my research a lot of people suggested touring on their own.