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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

A brief Highland fling

Given David’s fondness for a wee dram, it was  surprising he had never visited Scotland.  I’d been briefly but only to Edinburgh and Perth.  Arriving in the UK in early May, before our house/animal sitting began in earnest, it seemed the ideal time to rectify matters.   We flew into Edinburgh and, after a day and night exploring this beautiful city, picked up a rental car and headed for the highlands.   We drove north to Inverness through breath-taking countryside, visiting spectacular Balmoral Castle and driving through several ski fields on the way.

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Friends who’d visited waxed lyrical about Scotland’s beauty but nothing quite prepared us for the magnificence of the highlands – the remoteness, the vastness and the sheer and spectacular beauty were overwhelming.  From Inverness we headed up the coast visiting the privately owned and treasure filled Dunrobin Castle with its immaculately manicured formal gardens.  We were lucky enough to be in time for the magnificent falconry display.

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On we drove, through magnificent country to the north coast where we were awed by the beauty of this rugged coastline.  The white sandy beaches and crystal clear water were not what we expected in this part of the world!  Durness, near the north west point of the aptly named Cape Wrath was a stunning spot- we strolled on the beach soaking up the late afternoon sunlight without realising it was in fact 9pm…the long evenings were wonderful.

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Slowly and carefully we tackled the narrow and winding coastal roads, constantly stopping to admire the startling views.  After several days of blue sky Scotland decided to show us her true colours; the rain came as did the wind and suddenly the landscape and lochs changed from blue and green to gloomy grey.  The temperature plummeted and as the rain became torrential we decided to stop.  We found a wonderful hotel at Shieldag on the edge of Loch Torridon, booked a room overlooking the loch and hunkered down in front of the fire with the Sunday Paper and a bottle of red.  The Loch looked both magnificent and menacing as the wind whipped up the waves.  The weather abated enough the next day for us to drive the tortuous single track Bealach na Ba to Applecross.  Rising to 626m with hairpin bends it was heart in mouth stuff, especially with swirling mist!

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Our visit to the Isle of Skye was particularly memorable mainly for the weather – horizontal rain and biting winds - but they did accentuate this island’s raw beauty.  What else should one do on a miserable Scottish day but visit the Talisker distillery?  Later that evening in the picturesque town of Portree, with the weather still ghastly, it seemed the only thing to do was to find a nice bar and enjoy more of this delicious peaty single malt.  It’s not hard to find a nice pub here and the whiskeys speak for themselves.

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 From Skye we took the ferry across to Mallaig and drove through to Fort William enjoying a wonderful leisurely drive around beautiful Loch Leven and visiting the scenic Glencoe valley and town,  site of the 1692 massacre of Clan McDonald.

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One of the highlights was spending a night in picturesque Inverary.  The first room we were given at the Argyll Hotel looked nothing like it did on the website so we complained (nicely) and were immediately upgraded to a huge room with a four poster bed and deep bath – bliss.  The buildings in Inverary are painted white with black accent – even shop signs conform.   Nearby, set in beautiful grounds with a seriously impressive stable complex is the privately owned Inverary Castle, home to the Duke and Duchess of Argyll.

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Our time was running out so we reluctantly headed for Glasgow via Loch Lomond planning to do a cruise.  Once again the weather intervened and with the loch looking particularly gloomy we instead headed to Stirling and visited the magnificent castle.  Then it was on through the beautiful border country to Jedburgh to stay with David’s cousin Biddy and husband Bob.  They were wonderful hosts and we had a fantastic night with them.  Next day we were up early to get the car back to Edinburgh for our flight back to London.  It was a whirlwind trip but the magic of Scotland made its mark.

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