“Wherever I wander, wherever I rove,
The hills of the Highlands for ever I love.”
You could almost hear bagpipes calling through the misty, moody landscape of the Scottish Highlands. There was an immediate sense of loneliness – a yearning – that mixed with the wind as it swirled through the emerald hills and verdant valleys. It struck me as a yin and yang of scenery, both stunningly beautiful and hauntingly forlorn at the same time.
We had left Edinburgh early in the morning for an all-day tour of the Highlands, going as far north as Fort Augustus and Loch Ness. The sky was overcast when we met the Heart of Scotland Tours’ “Wee Red Bus” at Waterloo Place, and along with twelve other travelers, we headed northwest into the hills.
As soon as our driver began his commentary, we knew we were in for a treat. It turned out that Bill was a master storyteller as well as a guide, and his rich, melodic brogue was captivating as it echoed throughout the bus. There were many kilometers to cover, and as he navigated the winding roadways, he wove tales of the Campbell Clan, the MacDonald Clan and Rob Roy MacGregor, the “Scottish Robin Hood.” In between stories, he played recordings of Scottish music that seemed perfectly orchestrated to the views out our windows, lulling us into the world of long ago Scotland.
Hamish the Hairy Cow
Our first stop was a coffee break in the Trossachs, a small woodland glen near Loch Lomond. We visited the Trossachs Weaving Mill Shed, home of the area’s beloved tourist attraction, Hamish the Hairy Cow. Hamish has since passed away – at almost 23 years old, he was the oldest bull in the U.K. – and his two younger friends at the Weaving Mill have taken over the duties of visitor photo op.
Glen Coe and Ben Nevis
Back on the bus, we headed toward Glen Coe and Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles. We stopped for photos and a chance to take in the spectacular 360-degree views. Although the skies were threatening and the wind was brisk, we got the feeling that this was a fairly typical summer day in the Highlands.
In Search of the Loch Ness Monster
After a lunch break in Spean Bridge, we made our way toward Fort Augustus on the banks of Loch Ness, legendary home of the Loch Ness Monster. Bill told us we would have time to either explore the town on our own or take the Royal Scot boat ride on Loch Ness. Without hesitation, the four of us headed to the water for some sea monster sighting! Of course, we didn’t really expect to find Nessie, but it was a fun little tour and a chance to see the area from a different vantage point.
Loch Laggan & Strathmashie Forest
Our northerly route ended in Fort Augustus, and we headed south for the final leg of the journey. We traveled through Glen Spean, past Loch Laggan and more stunning Scottish countryside. As we drove along, it made me smile to think that I was in the homeland of our sweet West Highland Terrier Gatsby and the Westies we have loved so much over the years. I could almost picture Gatsby standing in the hills with his head against the wind, refusing to move the way he does at home, as he takes in the breeze.
Our final stop before dinner was the Strathmashie Forest, a peaceful spot with walking trails, streams and a waterfall. It was a perfect place to stretch our legs before the final drive to Edinburgh.
We traveled over the Forth Road Bridge on our approach into the city, passing the magnificent Forth Rail Bridge, a cantilever railway bridge built in 1890. It is the single longest cantilever span in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Our Wee Red Bus arrived back at Waterloo Place exactly twelve hours from when we had left. It had been a fabulous way to see the Highlands and was one of those days that has stayed with me ever since. It took awhile to get Bill’s lyrical voice out of my head, too. To this day I can’t say the words “Rob Roy MacGregor” without thinking of the way he rolled the r’s and stretched out the words. It’s a magical sound, and I can almost swear I hear bagpipes.