Glen Shiel, Scotland.
Scotland, July 2009
The weather is dry and not as cold as we have almost expected when we land in Edinburgh on this Monday in July 2009. The rain does not start until two minutes later when we are being transported by bus from the plane to the arrival building – and after we have picked up our Mercedes 190E Automatic the showers continue as we head north on the M90 across the Forth Bridge and through Perth towards out first stop in the town of Pitlochry on the edge of the Highlands. We are travelling with Solveig’s sister and brother-in-law, Gunhild and Gert, and we have booked rooms for our first night in Scotland at the Tigh Na Cloich Hotel overlooking the town and valley. Pitlochry is a pretty little town dominated by grey stone houses – and after a stroll down the main street we have dinner under a clear sky at the Port Na Craig Inn with a beautiful riverside location in the western part of town.
The following morning we have decided for the so-called Killiecrankie Walk before we head north to our next stop. According to our travel guide the walk is 13 kilometers long and easy – because the path the whole way follows the riverside and the banks of Loch Faskally – so we are expecting to complete the round in a couple of hours or maybe a bit more. Steep hillsides and cliffs rise from the lake and river to all sides and with a clear sky on our side the walk through the woods of the beautiful glen is nice and refreshing, although longer than expected. Halfway at the Clunie Foot Bridge we have used over two hours and after we cross the River Tummel and reach the woods on the other side, dark clouds begin to build up above us – and soon it starts to rain. We are hoping it is just a light shower, but it is not. The raindrops grow large and heavy and before long the rain just pours without mercy for a full hour as we are trotting northwards and cross a branch of the river via the Coronation Bridge, built in 1860 in honor of George IV. In spite of our coats and jackets and ponchos, all of us are now soaking wet – and at one point I am beginning to seriously fear that my camera and cell phone and all other electronic equipment will just simply drown in the flood. But suddenly the rain stops, and during the last hour of the walk we are all again able to see the forest, the hills and the tumbling river – through our stained eyeglasses. The experience is a lesson: Do not underestimate a Scottish shower. It can hit you anytime and anywhere – and the raindrops are large and heavy.
The next days we are staying at the small Hotel Benleva in the village of Drumnadrochit – in the middle of the Highlands and close to Loch Ness. With the shape we are in, the impressive ruins of Urquhart Castle on the lochside are within walking distance from our hotel – and in the Mercedes we go for day trips to the Isle of Skye in the west and to the Dornoch Firth and the city of Inverness in the northeast. Particularly the trip to Skye is phenomenal. We have sunshine and a clear sky the whole day and see some magnificent landscapes in the valley of Glen Shiel on our way to the coast – and later, on Skye itself, the steep Old Man of Storr and the tall flat range of Quirraing near the north tip of the island. From the cliffs at Duntulm Castle in the northwest we have a clear view over the Atlantic Ocean with the westernmost Isle of Lewis in the horizon. Everywhere in these remote parts, the glens and mountain sides form large and open landscapes with no trees, no cultivated fields and for miles and miles hardly a building or house – but always with a rich growth of either heather and grass or ferns, mosses and other low plants in all possible shades of lush green. Down the hillsides water is flowing everywhere, soon gathering into sparkling streams and at the bottom of the glens, into roaring rivers.
Glenmorangie Distillery, Tain.
Hotel Benleva houses the most popular restaurant and pub of the village, and in the evening – together with a crowd of local guests – we enjoy a pint or two of the traditional Scottish ales on draught, most of them from the tiny Isle of Skye Brewery in the town of Uig on the west coast of the island. The pub also offers a hundred or more different malt whiskeys – and you can taste the malt of the month (Jura) for £ 1,95. Benleva’s restaurant is excellent too – serving several kinds of great seafood and for example lamb spiced with garlic and curry or chicken with crispy vegetables and new potatoes.
Another daytrip goes north to the Dornoch Firth and the village of Edderton – which on an open field outside of town has an ancient Pictish standing stone with magic symbols and strange inscriptions. On the same trip we pay a visit to the Glenmorangie Distillery in the town of Tain and spend a few hours of the afternoon visiting the biggest city of the Highlands, Inverness – with a magnificent castle, the great river Ness and some streets and houses in the center sadly destroyed by brutal and unfortunate city improvements of the 1970’s and 1980’s.
After Benleva and Loch Ness we head down the Great Glen which cuts diagonally through the Highlands from Inverness in the northeast to Fort William and Loch Linnhe in the southwest. On this stretch the lochs line up numerously like pearls on a string, surrounded on both sides by green and tall slopes with Ben Nevis at 1344 meters as the highest peak in all of Great Britain. From Inchree and Onich we head inland and climb to the phenomenal ravine of Glen Coe where the bright green slopes reach into the sky and we run into another heavy shower just when we have found the perfect spot for a walk by the river. In the evening we stay at the Inverbeg Inn on the bank of Loch Lomond – and it is in full harmony with our spirits when on this Saturday evening the musical couple performing at the restaurant of the inn round up a series of traditional rock and folk song with the classic ballad of Loch Lomond – ”Oh ye'll take the high road and I'll take the low road / And I'll be in Scotland afore ye / But me and my true love will never meet again / On the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond”.
We spend the last days of our journey in the old city of Edinburgh, situated majestically on a hill on the south side of the Firth of Forth on the east coast of Scotland. The center of the town covers a relatively small area and everything is within walking distance both in the old town at the top and in the new town further down. The old town is dominated by a single street called The Royal Mile which runs from the new parliament building and the Castle of Holyrood at the lower end to the vast Edinburgh Castle at the top. Over the full mile the street is lined by magnificent unbroken rows of tall and old stone buildings. Some of the houses hold small museums – and you can easily spend a day or two just wandering in and out of the old houses and maybe in between stopping for a Scottish mocca, latte or cappuccino at one of the cafes. On the last day we round up our visit to Scotland with a hike to the top of the steep Holyrood hill forming a pleasant backdrop to the city landscape. The path rises steeply to the top of the green hill with a great view over the city – and it is not until we have returned safely back down to the busy streets that once again the Celtic sky cracks open and the rain begins to pour...
Written on July 24, 2009 .
This rewrite in English made on July 27 and July 30, 2009 .
Old Man of Storr, Isle of Skye.
More photos are available here: