The Queens Not Home (Loch Ness to Stirling)

Trip Start Dec 07, 2008
Trip End Jan 02, 2009

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Loch Ness, being one of the most famous landmarks in Scotland brings with it a certain amount of expectation.To put it plainly, it was underwhelming. Loch Ness wasn't as big as I had imagined and over the past week I had seen some incredible Lochs, that it just couldn't compare to. Hamlin and I drove down to Loch Ness with two Korean Girls who we met at the hostel. We stopped at Urquhart Castle for a good view but instead of paying to see the castle we just took photos from over the fence.

Next we headed out to Glen Affric which was much more impressive. Glen Affric is a long valley with a raging river running down into Loch Bein a Mheadhoin. The area is forested with dense vegetation covered in the last of the snow and the rivers and lakes had the same deep, dark coloured water. We took several walks, seeing waterfalls, dam walls and grassy beaches. It would rain on and off but not enough to get really wet. This was a really beautiful place.

After dropping the Korean girls back in Inverness, we drove South-East into the Cairngorms National Park. By this time it was starting to get dark so we picked up some supplies in Avimore, spent some time at one of the locals and headed further into the national park to spend the night. It was very dark when we parked and went to sleep. Waking up in the morning in a thick forest, with huge trees all around was a surreal experience, and really validated our decision to travel and stay in the car.

Most of the following day was spent traveling around the Cairngorms. We stopped off at Loch Morlich, where there was a sprawling sandy beach. It was cold and windy on this day, but it would be brilliant here is Summer. We drove to the base of the ski slopes on Mount Cairngorm where we could get a great view over the whole national park. Its a huge place so we spent quite a few hours driving on narrow winding roads until we came to Balmoral Castle, the holiday residence of the Queen. We couldn't actually see any of the castle or the grounds and the gates were locked. The visitors centre was open so we had to resort to looking at postcards of the castle.

From there we headed towards the East coast of Scotland. On the way we made a brief stop at Drum Castle. This was a renovated castle, not a ruin, and was a working house that someone lived in. It was still nice, but much less interesting.

We arrived in Aberdeen in the mid afternoon. We walked around the town centre and visited the maritime museum. To make the most of the available light, we continued on out of Aberdeen and made it down to Dunnotar Castle, just as the sun was going down. Dunnotar Castle is more of a complex of stone buildings surrounded by a wall than a castle. It sits on a small peninsular that juts out into the ocean. Perfect location for defense. As usual we weren't able to get inside so we walked around the surrounding cliffs as best we could, just taking in the magnificent site and surrounds. Then continuing further South, we ended up spending the night just out of Montrose.

Tripping down the East coast of Scotland, it was getting warmer and the days were getting a little longer. We started the next day in Arbroath, first visiting Arbroath Abbey, the first of three ruined Abbeys for the trip. After seeing a documentary on the Seven Wonders of the Industrial World the year before, I was interested in visiting Bell Rock Lighthouse, which stands on sea-washed rock 18 kilometres off shore from Arbroath. There were no tours out to sea surprisingly, so we had to be content with visiting the Signal Tower Museum. From here you could get a view of the lighthouse. It was a tiny pin on the horizon.

Further South, we drove through Dundee and on to St Andrews to visit the cathedral and the castle. We walked along the waterfront between the two, and through the old churchyard of the cathedral. St Andrews Cathedral would have been impressive when it was complete, but I liked it as a ruin. It had a faded grandeur that made it more interesting than your average church.

Heading inland towards Stirling, we visited Wallace Monument and had a walk around Stirling Castle. Wallace Monument, part tower, part memorial, part museum, is an impressive building that seems a lot bigger on the inside than the outside. The weather had turned again and it was hard to avoid getting wet. You can normally see Wallace Monument from the castle and that was true of this day despite the poor weather. You could just make it out in the fog.

The last stop for the day was the Falkirk Wheel, a rotating lift that transports boats between two canals. This is a futuristic looking engineering masterpiece. It was nice to see something new and modern after ten days of historic castles and lochs.

We spent the night on a windy hill just outside of Edinburgh. The spot overlooked a huge complex of power stations that were so lit up that the whole area had a yellow glow. It was a change from the pitch black darkness of the previous nights.
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