Packed full of history, scenery, castles and whisky this tour is not one to be missed and your guide, Mark, will tka eyou on a luxury tour of many iconic landmarks and places of interest.
From your hotel/pickup point, sit back, relax and allow Mark to introduce you to the Highlands as we take the short drive to the first attraction, probably the most famous stretch of fresh water in the world – Loch Ness. The loch is the largest by volume in Scotland – others are bigger by area, or deeper, but this is the daddy of them all. There is more water in Loch Ness than in every lake in England and Wales combined! Plenty of room for even a large animal to hide, you would think....? There will be plenty of photo opportunities here - and keep an eye open for a disturbance in the water...
We then pass Urquhart Castle in ruins (but destroyed by its own garrison to prevent it falling into the hands of the Jacobites). The castle has quite a history, being captured by King Edward I of England (The ‘Hammer of the Scots’). Later, Robert the Bruce held it and then the Clan Grant, Clan Macdonald, then the Grants again. Oliver Cromwell totally ignored it when he invaded Scotland. The Grants, unable to hold on, finally ‘slighted’ the castle themselves in 1688 during the First Jacobite Rebellion to prevent the Jacobites laying siege outside making use of it. The castle has a working model of a ‘trebuchet’ – a medieval siege weapon used to hurl stones (and other more smelly missiles) into the castle.
We continue to Invermoriston for a brief stop to view the lovely Thomas Telford Bridge and falls on the beautiful River Moriston. Also take a look at St. Columba’s Well. St. Columba was an Irish Prince and Saint who, having established the Holy island of Iona off the west coast of Scotland travelled extensively throughout the Highlands converting the local Pictish tribes to Christianity. It is from him that we first hear about a Monster in these parts...
From Fort Augustus we then travel around the less well-known, but equally beautiful south side of the loch. There are some beautiful views and interesting history to be discovered here! We visit the Falls of Foyers, discover about the occult and take in the views from Dores Beach including a visit to the Nessie Hunter!
Returning through Inverness we then continue with views across the Moray Firth to Drumossie Moor, scene of the battle which takes its name from the village some 3 miles away – Culloden. Here the last pitched battle on British soil took place in 1746, the final throw of the dice in Bonnie Prince Charlie’s effort to take the British crown and the death-knell of the Jacobite Rebellion. The Government forces wreaked much revenge in the aftermath and life in the Highlands was never the same. The battlefield is a living monument to those who fought and died that day, kept in very much the same condition that it was on that fateful April morning....
The Visitor Centre is excellent with interactive and immersive experiences. To walk on the field of battlefield itself is a moving experience. In order to keep control of the Highlands following Culloden a series of forts was built – the biggest of which was Fort George. This is where we head next. Jutting out into the Moray Firth it is an immense fortification, the largest in Britain, which had the role later in the 18th and early 19th centuries of preventing Napoleon invading Britain ‘through the back door’. Other forts were built along the Great Glen at Fort Augustus and Fort William. Fort George is still a working army base; the Black Watch is stationed there currently. With a museum, church and many other buildings there is plenty to see here, as well as dolphins in the Moray Firth. We then head to our accommodation for the night.
Day two begins with a visit to Cawdor Castle – a delightful baronial style castle with links to Macbeth. The link is well-publicised but not quite what it seems! The castle itself is delightful and well worth a visit. There is an opportunity to take a tour here if you wish. We then continue through the beautiful Cairngorms National Park through to Carrbridge and its very photogenic packhorse bridge before heading south towards a producer of one of Scotland’s biggest export – ‘uisge beatha’, the ‘Water of Life’ – whisky!
We visit the Dalwhinnie Distillery which also happens to be Scotland’s highest distillery where we can take a tour and maybe take a wee dram (or two!). Suitably refreshed, we then go to the Scottish Crannog Centre on Loch Tay. Set in an idyllic location, this is a reconstruction of an iron-age dwelling on stilts in the loch itself. It is a fascinating insight into how our predecessors lived more than 2000 years ago. Continuing the historical theme we pay a short visit to Ardoch Roman fort. The Romans are not usually associated with Scotland but they did go at least as far north as the Inverness area. The biggest Roman fort in the UK was built near Dunkeld. Here we see some of the finest preserved earthworks to be found anywhere in Great Britain. We then head for our accommodation for the night. Cromlix Hotel
Day three of our adventure is all about castles and battles, Robert the Bruce, William Wallace and Outlander (and a little Monty Python!) It starts with a visit to Doune Castle, used in so many films and TV series such as Outlander (as Castle Leoch) and Monty Python’s Holy Grail. From here we travel to the Wallace Monument. Sir William Wallace - a hero of Scotland and a true patriot, he had a burning desire for peace and freedom which united the country’s clans, gained the loyalty of its people, struck fear into his enemies and defied the cruel hand of an evil, warring and invading King – Edward I of England, more than 700 years ago. All the drama of Wallace’s campaign for freedom is captured at the world-famous National Wallace Monument – proudly standing on the Abbey Craig, overlooking the city of Stirling.
It is only a short journey then to Stirling Castle - the key to the kingdom of Scotland, dominating a vast volcanic rock above the river Forth at the meeting point between Lowlands and Highlands. Its origins are ancient and over the centuries it grew into a great royal residence and a powerful stronghold. During the Wars of Independence, which were civil wars among the Scots as well as a struggle between Scotland and England, the castle changed hands eight times in 50 years. And it is no accident that famous battles such as Stirling Bridge and Bannockburn took place within sight of its walls. In times of peace Scottish royalty came to Stirling to enjoy its comforts, the superb hunting and to hold court – the castle was often the centre of government. Royal building projects like the Great Hall, the Chapel Royal and the Palace of James V, marked it out as one of the most important places in all Scotland. Infamous deeds took place here, like the murder of the earl of Douglas by James II. It was also a childhood home of some of the most famous people in Scottish and British history, such as Mary Queen of Scots and James VI and I. Later it became an important military base and eventually home to the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.
We then visit the Bannockburn Centre which describes the most famous battle in Scottish history which occurred in 1314 between the armies of Edward I of England and the Scottish army commanded by Robert the Bruce. Edward was attempting to relieve Stirling castle, held by the English, but under siege for nearly a year by Bruce’s men. Unusually for a medieval battle this one lasted over two days, but Bruce’s men held the day for a variety of reasons, not least Bruce’s superior tactical brain, and Edward’s army was soundly defeated. Edward himself only just escaped with his own life. It is a fascinating story and the visitor centre is well worth a visit (even though it isn’t on the site of the actual battle) with its interactive displays telling the full story. From here we head west towards our hotel for the night on the ‘Bonnie, Bonnie Banks’ of Loch Lomond, Scotland’s biggest expanse of fresh water.
Day four begins with stupendous views across Loch Lomond. After a hearty Scottish breakfast we head along the loch and through the Trossachs National Park to Tyndrum, currently the centre of a small gold-rush! After a short break here we continue into the highland wilderness of Rannoch Moor with its ancient forest poking through the peat bogs. It can be quite an eerie place.
Then to the majesty of Glencoe, with its magnificent peaks on either side as we descend through the glen past the spectacular Buachaille Etive Mor - ‘the Shepherd of Etive’. Lots of photo opportunities here! This is the scene of the infamous Glencoe massacre in 1692 (and Campbells are still not trusted!) and we have the opportunity of visiting the information centre here. Onwards past Fort William, at the foot of Britain’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis, we travel to Glenfinnan.
In Scottish history this is the place made famous because Bonnie Prince Charlie raised his Standard here in the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745. It is still romantically referred to as ‘the ‘45’. Unfortunately, all did not end well as just eight months later the rebellion met its end at Culloden, where we visited on Day one. There is a monument here to the rebellion in a really beautiful setting at the head of the glen. Glenfinnan is probably more famous these days for the part it played in the Harry Potter movies and we can see the Glenfinnan Viaduct which is crossed by the Hogwarts Express in the film (if an alteration to the itinerary is wished, and made with plenty of notice, it may be possible to take a trip on the Hogwarts Express. Please ask for details).
From Glenfinnan we travel to the start of the Great Glen which cuts through the country from coast to coast. We visit ‘Neptune’s Staircase’ on the Caledonian Canal which follows the line of the Great Glen, linking several lochs to create a navigable waterway across the country. Built in the early years of the nineteenth century it is an engineering marvel. We then see the Commando Memorial, a fitting and evocative monument to the men who trained in this area during WW2, in a beautiful setting on a hill above the village of Spean Bridge, with views back towards Ben Nevis. From here we start heading back towards Inverness, through the Great Glen, passing lochs Lochy and Oich before reaching Loch Ness again for a final time before heading back to your drop-off point or hotel.