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A week in the Highlands of Scotland

Home -> Europe -> Scotland -> Travelogue Scotland -> 07 to 13 September 2019

Saturday 07 September, a week in the Highlands of Scotland

We are on our way again to Scotland, first a week to our friends in Beauly and then another week in The Borders, the council area in the southeast of Scotland that is beautiful but often overlooked by tourists. This is mainly because the only highway enters the country at Gretna Green to the west of the borders and leads directly to Glasgow or Edinburgh. Or people take the coastal road from Newcastle to Edinburgh and then skip the beautiful interior of the Borders. But before we get there, we drive to Dunkirk for the boat to Dover and then we have cross the whole of England.
In the port of Dunkirk Chalk cliffs at DoverWe are well in time for the 2-hour boat, but English customs are very strict. "Are you practicing for the Brexit", I ask jokingly? No, it probably won't take place, they answer. Boris Johnson, the prime minister has sent the parliament home for 5 weeks in the hope of forcing the Brexit to go on, but the parliament passed a law at the last moment that no Brexit should take place without a deal with the EU. Great Britain has ended up in a political chaos and we will probably tell more about that later. We only feel happy when we see the chalk cliffs at Dover, now 500 kilometers more to go.
We don't have much delay until we arrive in Yorkshire where many roads and highway exits are closed. We have booked a Travelodge just outside of Leeds (for 42 pounds) and because of the diversions it is already dark when we arrive. After 14 hours on the road and 1,000 kilometers of driving we are pretty tired. we just want to have a look at the news on the internet and then go to bed. Well, the internet doesn't work. The receptionist is very helpful and is on hold for half an hour to have the problem solved. Having to wait anyway, I decide to adjust a setting in the dashcam. Unlike in Greece, we now want to keep the dashcam on continuously to see if we can extract some nice and interesting videos for the website. You can also watch all our videos on our YouTube channel and when you subscribe to the channel you will get a message when a new video is posted. We still have to make all the videos of this Scotland trip (it takes quite a lot of time), as soon as they are ready we also put them on these pages.
The app to manage the dashcam does indicate that I have to make a backup, but oh well, I think, it is only a small adjustment (the time zone was not correct) so I skip that. "Memorycard will now be formatted," the voice from the dashcam says ... the whole first day goes up in smoke! Especially the crossing of the border and the arrival on the ferry would have been nice to show. But we still make this same trip sometime in the future so it is not a disaster.

Sunday 08 September 2019, to Beauly

Spending the night in a Travelodge is fine: they are usually not that expensive and have clean rooms and good beds. Well rested we are on our way again for the next part, almost 700 kilometers to Beauly, near Inverness. We have to take a good look at the route because now we are also passing through the Borders and the Tour of Great Britain (a cycling event) is underway and goes through this area today. We are also looking for the undulating road where we almost got a rollercoaster feeling last year, the road was a succession of hills with steep slopes so that you had no idea what would be behind the hill. On that road we decided to purchase a dashcam to record such roads. But unfortunately, I thought for sure that it was the A68 but probably just on a point earlier than where we now join the road. Enough hills but not as spectacular as last year's.
Drinking coffee in Jedburgh The abbey of JedburghWe follow a more westerly route and make our first stop in Jedburgh, opposite the ruins of the 12th century abbey. We have a cup of coffee at a pub and sit outside in the sun. Although we will visit Jedburgh also a few times less than 10 days later, we don't remember than that we were here today, we only realize it when we look back at the pictures when we are back home. Next week we will be two pubs away from here a few times, less than 50 meters. Then we will also tell you more about Jedburgh itself.
Those who follow these reports a little know that I started a substantial project 20 years ago: I want to have driven all roads in Scotland (as they are on the ANWB, the Dutch AA, map). Before that, I had the map laminated and mark the roads where we have already been. The map is already quite black with pen strokes and certainly in the Highlands there are not many roads where we have not been yet, but the Scottish Borders is an area where we still have to see a lot. That is why we will be going here a bit longer next week, but today I am already making a start and choose some 50 kilometers of roads that I do not know yet. The nice thing is that in the most unexpected places you can come across funny things, castles or nice houses. But not today, I can mark the roads but without taking special pictures.
The house of BruarVia Edinburgh we drive further north and on the south side of the Cairngorm Mountains we stop at the House of Bruar. 16 years ago we were here for the last time to see the falls and The House of Bruar was a not too big center with a few shops and a cafe. Now it has almost become a large department store where you can buy (much too expensive) clothing and local dishes. In the restaurant we take a cup of soup although it is £ 4.95 per cup, that is about € 5.50! In 2000, during our first trip to Scotland, we discovered on the first day that Scotland is expensive, very expensive. But well, it is a special country and so far we think it is worth the money every time.
At the end of the afternoon we arrive in Beauly where we surprise our English friend Rachel. We knew she was there but she had no idea we were coming. She is surprised but also almost indignant because it is also Elisabeth's birthday and she has nothing for her to give. But we have brought gifts for everyone. Meanwhile, Iain and Cathy have prepared one of their delicious meals and we spend a great evening together. Iain and Cathy used to have a hotel, now they are retired and use the rooms to accommodate friends. We have never been to Scotland without passing by here and it feels a bit like coming home every time.

Monday 09 September 2019, work to do and to Inverness

Since it is no longer a hotel, we make our own breakfast together and then I go to work. Like every year, Iain has all kinds of problems with internet, e-mail and Wi-Fi and for years I have been solving everything for him. That way I earn my living because they don't want to take any money for accommodation and food.
Candy store in InvernessIn the afternoon we drive around a bit and head to Inverness, the largest city in the Highlands. It is dry but cold and we walk past a number of stores that we know have things that we won't find as easy in the Netherlands like a certain type of fudge that Elisabeth likes very much. And I always like to look around at the large second-hand bookstore Leaky's bookshop on Church Street. Even now I find a few books by writers that I don't know yet.
After drinking a coffee somewhere, we go back to Beauly fairly early, where I still have a job to do: we don't have wifi in our room and for that I have to go into the attic of the 400 year old building. Quite an adventure in itself to get there because the openings are very small and the floor plates are not all that strong anymore so I have to balance a bit on the trusses. Eventually I move the wifi amplifier to a place where a next time I can reach for it more easily and also much closer to our own room so that the wifi works great again.
Well, I have earned a cold beer. Although they prefer to drink warm beer here, or at least at room temperature. That is not to my liking, so yesterday I already put some beers in the fridge as a precaution.

Tuesday 10 September 2019, the car breaks down in the middle of nowhere

Cuckoo in the garden of Iain and CathyAfter breakfast we stay a while to drink coffee with our friends and watch the many birds in the courtyard of Iain and Cathy. Cathy is crazy about animals and feeds the birds all summer and winter time and the courtyard with a pond is a popular breeding ground for dozens of sparrows and other birds, including a cuckoo pair. It is the first time that I have seen a cuckoo so close.
But then we want to go somewhere. When we start the car, it only stutters a bit and does nothing further, the battery is empty! Fortunately Iain has jumper cables and Rachel drives her car in front of ours and soon the engine runs again. I must have left the lights on. All kinds of strange messages start to appear on the dashboard, brakes that would not work, something with the steering column, and so on. It will probably the fact that the battery was completely empty and first has to charge properly again and, indeedm after a while the messages disappear.
This year I brought my metal detector with me because I would really like to search with it in Scotland where there is so much history. The most pleasant places to search are the freshly plowed fields, but we haven't seen much of them yet, the majority of the arable land is grassland with sheep or cows on it. Towards Nairn I speak to someone who is working on the land and he sends me to a farm. There I get the phone number from the boss but he indicates that the land is rented from an estate and that they have an appointment with a small group of metal detector seekers who are allowed to search there. Most of the farmland and forests in Scotland are owned by a very small number of owners. In 2015, 70% of the land would be owned by approximately 1,100 owners. Many of these owners are foundations or companies in which the estates are often organised, but with 89,000 hectares, a Danish billionaire is the largest private landowner.
Searching with the metal detectorJust past Cawdor, known from the castle known as MacBeth's, although it has nothing to do with it, we stop in a forest where I take out the metal detector to at least briefly have a search with it. But I don't find much more than some cans and other human waste. I get some nice signals on the path but the ground there is incredibly hard and it is difficult to dig. After about 20 minutes we decide to drive on, I will be looking for another nice piece of land to do some metal detecting.
But this time the battery doesn't do anything, not even a beep! I hope that it is the starter that gives problems, it sometimes starts to work when you hit it hard. But my knowledge of cars is no longer up-to-date and under the hood of our car everything is pretty crammed together. So I call the Dutch Anwb who can inform the AA (Automobile Association, not the Alcoholics Anonymous). But we have almost no mobile reach and the connection is broken a number of times.
No mobile coverage in the Highlands Car toruble in a deserted place in the HighlandsEventually I have to walk a long way down the road to be able to make the call and the first question is along which highway we are. Well, we're on an unnamed road in the middle of nowhere. That is not possible sir, every road has a name. I try to explain that things are different in Scotland but I can't look at the navigation and we don't have mobile internet even though we have our dongle with us. We receive a text message with a link that we can click on so that the Anwb gets our position, but without an internet connection that is very difficult. After walking further down the road I succeed and I can send the message with the location, so I assume that people now know exacrly where we are. A little later I receive the same type of text message from the AA and again I have to walk down the road to pass on the location to them as well.
In the meantime we have made ourselves comfortable in the sun, it will take about 2 hours, we were told. But I'm not sitting for 5 minutes when I get a call from the AA: where are you, I've already driven the highway twice. They told him that we are on the A96, somewhere between Inverness and Nairn. I explain to him that we are somewhere between Cawdor and Littlemill along a quiet road in the forest. And that there is an intersection (without signs) with a small T-junction just before. Oh, he says, then I know exactly where you are, I'll be there within half an hour.
The AA is coming to save usAnd indeed, within 20 minutes I see the yellow AA bus appearing at the T-junction and drive with him to our car, about half a kilometer away. He has lived in this area all his life and knows it through and through. There was only 1 small T-junction in the area as I described it. And then he has to get to work. After half an hour of measuring and testing, it appears to be just the battery that drains faster than it recharges. But the English model numbers are very different from the European ones. "Something for the EU to regulate?", I ask somewhat cynically. He appears to be a fervent proponent of the EU and does not understand the political crisis in his country at all. Nobody thinks about the people, he says, it's just about power. A sentiment that we hear more.
He has 7 different batteries with him and the third one seems to fit. The cover plates can no longer be put on, but we can drive again. With a 5 year full warranty on the battery, but then of course it has to break down while we are somewhere in Britain. We must of course pay for the battery immediately, € 130, a bit more expensive than it would be in the Netherlands, but at least it has been installed for us.
From the moment we made the first phone call for help, it took about 1.5 hours before we could hit the road again. The friendly AA-mechanic hurries to his next job and we drive a bit more in the area but soon return to Beauly. Fortunately we have had no more car problems during the entire holiday. But it is a bit of a shock when you get a breakdown in such a remote place without mobile coverage, only then you realize how obvious we find all these modern means of communication.
Meat in the kitchenElisabeth sees an unrecognizable piece of meat in the kitchen, she has no idea what it is. It is probably a piece of a pheasant because we are served that in the evening, along with mashed potatoes and a thick gravy, various vegetables, pieces of chicken. As always it is an abundant and delicious meal. We can make our breakfast ourselves, but Iain and Cathy insist to make the dinner themselves and they can do that as the best, we could never match their cooking skills, so we think that's fine.

Wednesday 11 September 2019, between Elgin and Lossiemouth

Today I finally get to mark some roads on the map again because in the area between Elgin and Lossiemouth, about 60 kilometers from Inverness, there are still a lot of places that we have not been to. I admit, it can sometimes be a bit boring, driving all those roads back and forth, then stop again to update the map and look for the next road to take. We regularly pass the same intersections or take the same the road but well, that is the risk when you set yourself such a goal. In areas with relatively few roads such as the Highlands it is a lot of fun to do but in a somewhat busier area it is really a tedious task that I have set myself. Sometimes we come across something nice, extraordinary or funny on the way, certainly in Scotland, but not always. I don't want to think about all the roads around Glasgow and Edinburgh that I still have to do, I will save them until the last when I really have no other roads to drive.
Organic pig farm in the HighlandsToday we do not come across anything spectacular, but see many organic pig farms where the animals have a large outdoor space for themselves and a house to hide and sleep. The meat in most supermarkets is mainly imported, but people here prefer the more expensive meat from local animals. We are not such gourmets and we probably only notice the difference when we are reminded of it, but we know enough people who are convinced that the local products are much tastier, which of course is good for the local economy.
Duffus Castle near Elgin Gatelodge near ElginNew for us is the ruin of the so-called moth castle Duffus. A motte is an elevation or mound and above it was a fortified house with a fortress wall or a canal. This castle was built around 1150 but there is not much left of it.
We often find the gatelodges, gatekeeper's houses at the entrances of an estate much nicer than the castles themselves. We do not know exactly which estate it belongs to, but it is located quite near Duffus Castle.
Fighter jet at a gas station in ElginAt Lossiemouth we drive around the large area of the RAF air force base. During the 2nd World War, crews of bombers were trained here and in the 1st Gulf War the pilots from Lossiemouth fought there also. Pilots are still being trained and we have regularly seen low-flying fighter jets coming from this base above the Highlands; such an empty stretched area is of course ideal for practice. But they make a lot of noise. This aircraft at a gas station on the outskirts of Elgin is probably a Blackburn Buccaneer, a device that was widely used from the 60s.
But that is about all we have seen, so not really interesting things and at the end of the afternoon it turns out we only took 6 photos. I can, however, mark almost 100 kilometers of new roads on the map, which was the most important goal of the day for me, so one mission accomplished.

Thursday 12 September 2019, around Loch Ness

Today we are going to drive through an area that we know and that is more beautiful in nature than the area where we were yesterday. First we go up and down along Loch Ness on the east side and after that we take the west side. The main (and busy) road runs along the west side but we find that much less beautiful than the east side. The lake is flanked on both sides by plateaus that lie high above the lake and run down to the south and north.
Dead deer along the wayVia the highway we drive to Daviot and then go inland. There are many deer living here, but we don't get to see any live ones, unfortunately only this ran over deer. They are beautiful animals to see but nowadays almost a scourge in Scotland. There are half to three-quarters of a million in Scotland and they are destroying young plantings and they spread ticks with Lyme disease. There have never been so many deer since the last ice age and have (except man of course) no natural enemies since there are no more wolves on the island. Approximately 100,000 are shot every year, but there is also talk of reintroducing the wolf. Obiously, farmers with cattle are not really happy with idea because sheep would be easier targets for wolves than deer.
Valley east of Loch Ness Valley east of Loch NessAlong Loch Duntelchaig we drive to a valley along a river where we encounter nobody at all. The east side of Loch Ness is much quieter in terms of traffic anyway and very woody even though a lot of wood has been cut down in the past. Nowadays this is still happening, but people are more aware of it and there are extensive reforestation projects.
The sun is shining and it is 16 degrees, great weather to go outside occasionally and take some pictures.
Thick pipeline near Loch NessHalfway through the valley we see a thick pipeline running through the road. It seems that in this area there are kilometer-long tunnels where pressured water is fed to the Foyers power station where electricity is generated. Due to the height differences and the many large lochs, the north-west of Scotland is ideal for this type of power stations. In 2015, more than half of the electricity was generated in an environmentally friendly way, of which at least a quarter was exported. In addition to hydroelectric power stations, more and more wind farms are being built and energy is also being extracted from tidal differences. Yet such a large metal pipe over a lovely river is of course not really a nice sight, they could have covered it somehow.
Image of a stag deer Cottage at the Loch Ness Highland ResortPast Loch Tarft, which is still high above Loch Ness, we gradually descend to Fort Augustus, a town on the southern tip of Loch Ness. We drive on to the Loch Ness Highland Resort, a large campsite with a bronze statue of a deer in front of the entrance. Slightly further on are the 5 locks of Fort Augustus through the Oich river and the Caledononian canal that bridge a height of over 15 meters between Loch Oich and Loch Ness. We have already looked more often at the locks that are operated by hand, but today we turn around and drive north again.
Sitting outside near the Foyers falls The Foyers fallsAt Foyers are the Foyers Falls and opposite is a restaurant with a large parking lot. The sun is shining nice and we first have a cup of coffee before we walk to the Foyers waterfall. The waterfall falls over the rocks for about 55 meters into a small pond. There are two viewpoints which you can reach reasonably easily, one just above the waterfall and one halfway. Various walks have been plotted in the area, including one that runs to the shore of Loch Ness.
Poem by Robert Burns, Foyers fallsAt the upper viewpoint, a part of a poem by Robert Burns is engraved on slate. Robert Burns was a well-known poet from the 18th century who wrote in the Scottish dialect (not Gaelic, the Celtic Scottish). One of the most popular English songs is 'Auld lange syne' that he wrote in 1788 and that is still often sung on New Years Eve. In 1787 he visited the Foyers waterfall and wrote a poem on the spot about it. The Scots are very proud of their famous writers and you regularly see references to their work in public areas.
Loch Ness and Urquhart castle Loch NessFrom Foyers we can drive closer to the east bank of Loch Ness, the largest lake in Great Britain in terms of volume and certainly the most famous. Opposite Urquhart there are several parking places along the bank and very far away, on the other side, we can see the castle. Most of the reports of the Loch Ness monster were made there and in the bay of Urquhart. Despite all the scientific studies, no traces of a large animal have ever been found. Just before we left, a new study suggests that the observations may be from giant eels after extensive investigation of DNA traces in the lake.
We then drive via Inverness to the west side of Loch Ness and via the A82 to Fort Augustus. The A82 is the main road from the south and usually quite busy. It is a winding road with few places to stop by the lake. To the west of the road, the country rises quickly to a plateau and there are a few narrow, steep roads up. Unfortunately the sunny weather is over and we can't really take any nice pictures of the lake on this side.
Here too, we drive to Fort Augustus and return via Drumnadrochit and then the plateau on the west side of Loch Ness. In Drumnadrochit, where Urquhart Castle stands above the shore of the lake, there are 2 exhibits about the Loch Ness monster but we have already seen both of them. And frankly they are not very interesting either. When we have finished searching our dashcam films, we will show a compilation of today's ride.

Friday 13 September 2019, The western Highlands, Plockton

The morning starts with some rain but when we leave Beauly it slowly gets dry. Also today we are not looking for roads that we do not know yet, but are making a journey that we have made a few times before through a very stunning landscape. Via Drumnadrocht we drive to Invermoriston along Loch Ness and turn right onto the A87.
Loch Duich Landscape at Invershiel in the HighlandsThe A87 is a good and wide road that runs along the elongated loch Cluanie and further on along the saltwater loch Duich. This is the main route to Skye and in this area you can see the nature of Scotland at its very best: green colored hills, the occasional loch and vast areas where almost no people live. The hills and peaks all have names and there is some history attached to every place. In Scotland this is often about battles such as in Glen Shiel where in 1719 the Jacobites (very simplified: the Catholic Scots) fought with the English after the kingdoms of England and Scotland were united in 1707.
Landscape along Loch Duich Eilean Donan castleAlong Loch Duich we stop at Eilean Donan which is built on an island, in our view one of the most photogenic castles in Scotland and we are probably not alone in that because the castle and its surroundings are used as the background scenery for many films. Just before the Battle of Glen Shiel took place, the castle was blown up with 343 barrels of gunpowder and the ruin was abandoned. The castle was purchased by a lieutenant colonel in 1913 and then restored. We have been inside a few times so now we are content to admire the exterior and the extraordinarily amazing location.
The coast at Plockton Duncraig Castle at PlocktonOur route then takes us to Plockton, another beautiful place along the west coast of Scotland. It is known for its mild climate and there is a certain type of palm tree from New Zealand that is doing particularly well here.
Along Loch Carron is a long boulevard from where we see Duncraig castle across the loch. It is now a luxury bed breakfast but was once built by the Matheson family who had become rich with the opium trade. The castle has even been the subject of a reality series on British TV at the start of this century.
After our trip to Plockton we first drive along very narrow roads to Strathcarron and then towards Garve. Part of the road has been widened, but most parts are still a single track road that leads through a desolate area. Only occasionally do we pass a village and it is hard to imagine that many more people used to live here once. Especially in the 19th century, most of them were chased away by the powerful landowners who preferred sheep to humans on their land (the Clearances) because it was more profitable.
The entire trip is about 230 kilometers long, but even without stops you have to take at least 4 hours for it. And the landscape invites us to stop often, although we still find it difficult to get a good picture of its beauty and vastness. But maybe images of our dashcam can make that clearer.
Well, the dash cam. I realize that I need to retrieve the files from the memory card. The card can hold 64GB but a few hours of video takes up a lot of space and when I copy the data to the laptop, I find out that the card is full and that the images of 8 and 9 September have already been overwritten. But yesterday and today we still have, so soon you can see our video compilation here.
We have a last quiet evening with our friends who are somewhat indignant that we are leaving tomorrow. But we told you! No, We thought you were leaving on Monday ... Well, that's how it goes every time, as far as they are concerned, we can't stay long enough but we want to see more of the country, although it is always nice to come by this place every year.


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