I finally got to take Kimberly to Scotland in September and show her some of the country where I was brought up. After spending 10 days teaching in England, Dublin, and Edinburgh, we had another 10 days left of vacation. After spending a day sight-seeing in Edinburgh we headed over to my home town of Helensburgh on the west coast for my sister's wedding. After that I took Kimberly on a four-day, whirlwind tour of some of my favorite parts of the north-western Highlands and the Isle of Skye. The scenery around there is really breath-taking and she loved it.
Below I've included a selection of my favorite photos from the trip. Click on them to get a 1024×768 version. Kimberly's also blogged a bunch of photos today, so checkout her post if you want to see some more, and hear her spin on things (including her scary sheep and cow problem…)
We went to Edinburgh Castle, as all tourists must do (must have been the 7th or 8th time I've been there). The castle is ancient, and the oldest part that survives today is St. Margaret's Chapel, which dates from the early 1100s. We were lucky enough to walk into the Great Hall just before a display of armaments and dress from the time of Oliver Cromwell in the 1600s. The officer in the picture had just noticed Kimberly taking pictures…
Next we headed down the Royal Mile to 900-year old St. Giles Cathedral to check out the architecture. As we went in I realized that I'd never been there in all the 8 years I lived and worked in the city. The image above is from one of the many stained-glass windows.
The day before the wedding, I took Kimberly for a drive around Argyll in the mid-west coast. This is a shot of the sea-front of Inverary on Loch Fyne. If you're into seafood and are ever in the area, make sure you visit the nearby Loch Fyne Oyster Bar for some of best and freshest seafood you'll ever eat.
The real reason for me organizing this trip – renting a cool car (Land Rover LR3) and pretending to rally drive around the perilous, single-track roads of northern Scotland :-). If you ever go to Scotland and want fantastic rental service, checkout Aberdeen 4×4 – they'll deliver a car to your hotel and you can drop it anywhere in the country when you're done.
After Inveraray, we headed down to Lochgilphead, which is very aptly named as its the town at the head of Loch Gilp, and then further west over the Crinan Canal. This is a photo looking east up some of the locks.
One of my aims that day was to take Kimberly to Kilmartin Glen, home to some of coolest Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments in Scotland. In the space of a few miles, there are standing stones, stone circles and burial cairns – the Wikipedia link is worth reading. It really takes a day to explore the whole valley but we could only stop quickly as we passed through. The photo above is of the larger Temple Wood stone circle, dating back 5000 years.
And on to the wedding, which was held in the hotel Kimberly and I stayed at in Rhu. This was the first time in my life that I'd worn a kilt! I'd always resisted it until now (although I describe myself as Scottish, because I lived there from a very early age, my parents are both English and I was born in England – so I'm technically English) but I *really* loved it. This was the same for my Dad (in the photo next to me) – but he didn't enjoy it as much as I did. I think we both look really cool.
And the happy couple. Well, not the couple that got married (my sister and her new husband Dean), but we're happy too :-)
After the wedding we had a day to recover (Scottish weddings involve copious amounts of alcohol) and my parents had a party, partly to celebrate Kimberly's birthday (cue more alcohol…). The next day we set off into the Highlands. I took Kimberly along the roads with the best scenery I could think of. This is a shot from along the A82 road through Glen Coe (which is often considered the most spectacular place in Scotland), on the way up to Fort William and then to Kyle of Lochalsh.
While staying in Kyle of Lochalsh, I took Kimberly on a trip around some of the really remote roads in that area. This is a shot heading up one of the wildest roads in the whole of the UK, the famous Bealach-na-Ba (Gaelic for Pass of Cattle) that rises about 2000 feet above sea level in the space of a few miles. The road is only just wider than the Land Rover and has some incredibly tight and steep switch-backs.
And here we're near the top looking down to the sea (almost exactly the same shot as in the Wikipedia link above). If you click to enlarge the photo, you can see that the road disappears over the precipice around half-way down – great fun to drive if you're used to single-track roads.
Here's why I wanted to drive that road – this is Applecross, one of my top 5 places on the whole planet. The name really refers to the whole peninsula that the road encircles, rather than just the little town itself. There's not much here – just little roads, awesome views across the sea to the islands, and sheep. Maybe a few cows too. But it's the views that are just unbeatable.
There are more sheep than people on the Applecross peninsula, for sure.
As we left Kyle of Lochalsh to head over to Skye (using the ferry, not the Skye Bridge), we passed by the famous, 800-year old Eilean Donan Castle on the shores of Loch Duich. This is my favorite castle in the world. You may have seen it in the movie Highlander (one of my favorite movies), or more recently in Made of Honor (not one of my favorite movies).
We'd decided to take the ferry from Glenelg over to Kylerhea on Skye. To do that we had to drive over another famous road, the Bealach Ratagain. Here's the view from almost the top looking down on Shiel Bridge and some of the Five Sisters of Kintail (a 3500ft high mountain ridge with 5 distinct peaks, none of which I've climbed unfortunately).
And here's the Glenelg ferry. This is a 6-car ferry and is the only surviving turntable ferry in Scotland. It's a far more romantic way to get to Skye than going over the bridge. There used to be a ferry from Kyle of Lochalsh to Kyleakin on Skye, but the advent of the bridge in the mid-1990s made it economically unfeasible to continue the service. The narrow waterway that the ferry crosses has one of the strongest tidal rushes in the UK – more then 12 knots during a Spring tide.
Once on Skye we did a bunch of touring around, mostly in the crappy rain. Kimberly has some good photos on her blog post so I don't duplicate them here. To finish off, here we are looking slightly damp after drying off in the bar of the Royal Hotel (very much recommended) in Portree, over a few games of cribbage and a few pints of good beer.