My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here, My heart’s in the Highlands a chasing the deer; Chasing the wild deer, and following the roe; My heart’s in the Highlands, wherever I go.Robert Burns
Aug 30-Sep 3 2014
Leaving Edinburgh we headed north towards the Scottish Highlands. First we had to cross the Firth of Forth, a large inlet that connects to the North Sea. While traveling across we got views of the famous Forth Rail Bridge, a massive cantilever structure that is often regarded at Scotland’s greatest man made structure.
Our first stop was just outside of the city of Perth, Elcho Castle. The property is still owned by the family of the original builders, the Wemyss family. Although it has not been inhabited for some 200 years, it has nevertheless been kept in good repair, one of the earliest examples in Scotland of a building being preserved purely for its historical interest. Maggie is actually a decendent of Clan Wemyss and that was the main reason we wanted to stop and check it out. We would be spending time seeing my clans castles later in the trip, so I thought it would be nice to incorporate at least one of her’s as well.
Continuing on our way to the Scottish Highlands, we stopped next in the small town of Birnam to participate in the local Highland Games that happened to be occuring that weekend. Marc jumped right in and participated in a kilt race, finishing second, narrowly missing the win. We were surprised to find that the Scottish version of the Highland Games were much different then their United States conterpart, more of a county fair atmosphere then a celebration of Scottish heritage and individual clans, which makes sense. Of course similiarly it had all of the games that you’d expect, including the caber toss, highland dance competitions, bagpiping, sheaf toss and track events. While there we also enjoyed some traditional haggis, which was the real deal unlike what you can find in the States, and it was surprisingly tasty too.
From Birnam we continued the drive north to Inverness where we based for the next couple of nights. Inverness is the capital of the Highlands and the largest city in the north. The town is bisected by the River Ness crossed by many bridges that light up in spectacular colors at night. The center of town is dominated by the red stoned Inverness Castle, closed to visitors as it is a functioning government building, but the grounds are free to visit.
Leaving Inverness we took the back roads to the small villages of Dingwall and Strathpeffer, it was like stepping back in town wandering the old streets and peaking in the various storefronts. Just outside of Strathpeffer we stopped at Castle Leod, a special place as it is the seat of the Clan McKenzie, my families ancestral clan.
We continued the beautiful drive out to Corrieshalloch Gorge and hiked around the falls of Mesach. Many beautiful wildflowers were in bloom and it really showcased the nature and tranquility of the area.
After the hike we turned around and headed back towards Inverness, stopping by Glen Ord Distillary along the way for a tour and some Scotch Whisky tasting. It was very informative and interesting to learn what makes Scottish Whisky what it is and the history behind it. We then returned to Inverness for the night.
The following day we would head east and pay our respects at Culloden Battlefield, the site of the final battle of the 1745 Jacobite uprising and the last battle to be held on British soil. The visitor center and monuments are all fairly new, having been constructed in 2007. The battlefield is still preserved much like it was though during the battle, and you can walk along various footpaths lined with monuments dedicated to all of the individual clans that participated. We also hung out with some hairy Highland Cows grazing nearby and took pictures next to the majestic beasts.
A short drive from Culloden we stopped and checked out the Clava Cairns, a 4,000 year old prehistoric site that consisted of the remains of an ancient cemetery, set on a terrace above the River Nairn. Various stone igloo like structures dotted the area and provide many clues to the beliefs of Bronze Age society. Afterwards we once again headed back to Inverness for the night.
The next day we would pack up and make the drive to our next destination, the village of Dornie near the Isle of Skye. Along the way we stopped by Urquhart Castle set upon the famous Loch Ness. The castle consisted of ruins dating from the 13th to the 16th century, with the site playing a pivitol roll in the Wars of Scottish Independence in the 14th century. A very interesting place with a beautiful setting. And no, we did not see the Loch Ness Monster.
We continued south along Loch Ness and then headed west towards Dornie, passing magnificient scenery along the way. You can check out the final part of our trip through the Highlands in the post Isle of Skye.
Following our adventures in Dornie and the Isle of Skye, we got back on the road and completed the last part of our road trip before reaching Glasgow. Along the way we passed more spectacular sites, including Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles; Glen Coe, in the Lochaber area of the Highlands; and Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park.
One of Scotland’s best known glens, Glen Coe shadows the highway from both sides, with the enigmatic Aonach Eagach ridge on one side and the Three Sisters, Beinn Fhada, Gearr Aonach and Aonach Dubh proudly sitting opposite. It can’t be helped wanting to stop and admire the wonderful sites of Glen Coe, and thankfully there are plenty of car parking places along the way.
Once outside of Glen Coe we started traveling along Loch Lomond, the largest inland stretch of water in Great Britain. The lake sits on the boundary of the lowlands of Central Scotland and the Highlands, with the route along the lake leading you into The Trossachs National Park. We stopped for a bit to stretch and grab some snacks, takeing in the fresh air and surrounding beauty one last time before we would reach Glasgow.
Driving in the Scottish Highlands was one of the most epic road trips we have taken so far. The landscape, the history and the people were just as amazing as what we read about or saw on television and in the movies prior. Being able to visit the areas that my ancestors are from was a wonderful experience and added a special meaning to the trip. It is one experience you have to try if you ever visit Scotland as the roads seem to hold new and amazing things around every turn.