Thursday, 30 November 2017

Castles, caves and a cabin

From the 22nd to 27th October, Gary, I and our friends Martin and Stu had a trip to Scotland.  This was our first time there and we were very excited to see it.  The pictures we saw and the tales we heard made us even more eager to experience the place.  Our mates have been here before so they were acting as our tour guides but we had a few ideas of our own as well.


On the Sunday morning we started our long journey up to Edinburgh.  Our first mini stop off was at the border to get a quick picture of us standing in two countries at once.  On our way into the city we was in awe of the dramatic scenery of the gigantic mountains that were scattered with trees and wildlife and this was even before we hit the highlands.

We arrived and checked in then went straight out for a walk around the city.  With stone, medieval-looking architecture the city looked very ancient and grand.  It had a very warm and welcoming feel to it despite the drop in temperature.  There was a little market that was based in a church with many craft stalls inside.  One particular stall caught my eye as it was selling gemstones.  I got an excellent bargain by purchasing a seven layered gemstone orb!  In the early evening we ventured up to the backdrop of the city, Arthur's Seat which was very dark and chilly at this point.  We only made it half way, guided by torchlight but was rewarded with stunning panoramas of the lit up city below!

As it was close to Halloween we booked a tour to walk around the spooky Edinburgh Vaults.  We were part of a small group and had a animated guide to entertain us with ghostly and gruesome stories.  Martin ended up being chosen to act out some of the storyteller's scenes!  I had been selected to stop behind the group to check everyone had moved on, but I was anxious about 'Mr Boots' touching me on my shoulder! 😱  The vaults were very interesting as they were part of an original bridge and later had buildings erected around it, except for one arch that is still visible to the public.

In the morning we got up early to visit the Edinburgh Castle.  This was situated on an ancient volcano that overlooked the city and sea surrounding it.  We got some fantastic view points to take many pictures of us and the city.  We walked around the castle's buildings, underground and even got to see the crown jewels.  After our castle exploration, we set off on our journey up to our cabin near Invermoriston.

Loch Ness/Inverness

As we left the city, we passed through the Highlands.  The mountain backdrops got even more gigantic and epic-looking.  This was amplified by the various shades of reds and oranges that Autumn had brought.  The cabin we stopped in was very cosy and overlooked Loch Ness, it was literally inches away from us.  We settled in, ate and headed for one of the cabin's main features, a hot tub!  The sky was crystal clear so we turned the ambient lighting off and star gazed for ages.  There was no light pollution and was extremely silent - bliss.  The sky was that clear we even saw passing satellites!  We then started revelling in conversation about alien life beyond our galaxy and future human evolution impacting on our planet - pretty intense conversation for the first night!

Inverness was the closest city to us so we headed there on the next day.  We had a brief walk around and stopped by at Inverness Castle and replenished our stocks for the cabin.  In the afternoon we visited Urquhart Castle.  This was a very interesting place built on the edge of Loch Ness.  You start off being led into a mini theatre to watch a somewhat cheesy video on the history of the place but as the movie ends the curtains behind the screen open up to reveal the true castle in all its stunning glory.  You could walk around all of the ruins and climb at the top of the tower.  We wanted posh grub that night, so Martin and Stu recommended a drive up to Cawdor.  Here we found an unassuming tavern that Gary said gave him one of the best meals he had in years.  Succulent venison in a red wine and berry sauce on a bed of red cabbage.

Isle of Skye

You cant visit the North without having a day rambling in the wilderness - so we choose the Isle of Skye for this.  I had to listen to something very fitting to set the mood and so I played us the Prometheus soundtrack.  Not only did it enhance the misty and haunting landscape we were seeing with the visuals and audio giving us goosebumps, but it got me feeling very excited for the second part of the day...

Before we visited a particular place I was so excited to see, we went to the Fairy Pools.  From a distance it didn't look that far away, because of the trickery the giant mountains play, it makes everything seem smaller yet a massive layout.  We walked up the river side and saw gorgeous waterfalls cascading into openings where crystal clear water was pumping out.  A sharp pointed mountain with a summit covered by swirling grey mist gave the whole place an eerie and ominous vibe.  Afterwards, we all had a spot of lunch in a café in Portree and walked around the town and harbour.  Gary bought a coaster with a Scotsman's kilts blowing up to reveal his peachy bum!

Now, as a massive fan of the Alien movies (including Prometheus and Covenant), I was extremely excited for our next stop!  We visited the filming location of the beginning scene of Prometheus - the Old Man of Storr.  I just couldn't wait to put myself in the movie scene and make a discovery!  The views that we were given were incredible, I can see why this was chosen for the movie.  Those giant jaggered shaped rocks make it a very distinguishable place.  One personal mission I had was to get a particular picture of me and the rocks and merge with a familiar movie scene.  I didn't manage to get one grouped together like in the movie as the focal point was way up in the mountains.  However, I got this picture, merged it and just had to caption it with 'I think they want me to come and find them'.

I saw this as a once in a lifetime opportunity, as it's such a long journey to get to, so I embraced it and took every moment to get pictures against these ancient rocks.  This was a pretty treacherous place, at least on this day it was, the wind literally lifted me off my feet!  When we got up to climb around the Old Man of Storr, the wind was more powerful and nearly blew me down the steep descent!  In the fifth picture (left to right) you can see me to the bottom right, just to give you the scale of the place.

After another busy day, on our way back we headed for a local fish and chippy.  Obviously I just had chips and peas.  Then the daily ritual of a hot tub dip occurred followed by some board games.

For the final day we were tempted to head to John o' Groats but the three and a half hour drive ruled that out.  We visited the Highlands Wildlife Park instead.  This was very similar to the Yorkshire Wildlife Park which I visited again earlier this month.  However, they had some very different animals local to the highlands and some exotic ones, which was something new for me to see.  They had Arctic Fox, European Bison, European Forest Reindeer, European Grey Wolf, Japanese Macaque, Mishmi Takin, Red Panda, Scottish Wildcat, Snow Leopard to name a few.  Just like the Yorkshire Wildlife Park they had Polar Bear too.  We ended the night by carving our pumpkins we bought a few days earlier and displayed these on our cabin fence all lit up.  Gary made us a suggestive pumpkin design and with his fine art drawing skills, he drew Martin and Stu a Nessie imprint.

As we drove back home we took in our last sights of Scotland by passing through Glencoe, Loch Lomond and Glasgow, before hitting familiar territory.