Monday, January 13, 2014

Contiki England and Scotland Day 7: Scottish Highlands

Contiki England and Scotland

Day 7
The Scottish Islands

I've watched the Scottish Highlands from the silver screen and always marveled at their natural beauty, so it comes as no surprise that this was by far my favorite day on tour. As we loaded into the coach in the morning and started to wind our way through the dramatic rolling hills and mountains of the Highlands I put my camera down and decided to take as much of it in as possible instead of sweating the difficulty that can come with shooting through glass on a rolling bus (glare, reflections and such). 

Once we arrived to the Isle of Skye we periodically got to hop off the bus, take in the fresh air and snap some photos from stable ground. 

At this particular stop along the roadway, we pulled over next to a couple competing in a cross country challenge in none other than a three-wheeled car. Unfortunately, I can't remember their names, but they were quite friendly and after chatting for a bit they told some of the details of their challenge and all the stops they had to make to collect point-of-interest photos to make it through.

Then it was back on the bus where tour manager Roxy started the hairy coo (hairy cow, aka Scottish Highland Cattle) punch game. You spot a hairy coo, yell it out and give a light punch to the person sitting next you, like the punch buggy game, just with large shaggy beasts instead of the small German car that hippies have become synonymous with. 

Our next stop while at the Isle of Skye was at an ever famous bridge where the waters of youth and beauty flow beneath its stone arch, at least according to local myth and legend that is. I'm a little foggy on the details, but essentially if you dip your face in the clear, cold, turgid waters below for 10 seconds, then your face will remain beautiful & young for as long as you live.

After a few tour mates had a go and we were given a little extra time to take in the sun, it was back to the bus for a quick lunch stop in the small charming of village Portree.

After getting a slice pizza, we were off to visit the ever famous and picturesque Quay Street complete with its colorful buildings. There's not a whole lot to see and do here, so after Quay Street we had some time to stop at a nearby Tesco to pick up snacks and water for the road before heading back on to the bus. By the way fellow Whovians, I found my first package of Jammy Dodgers here and had a wee nerd out moment-didn't taste all that great, but still a fun find.

The third to last stop of the day before arriving to our hotel was by my far my favorite. As our intrepid driver Mark dropped us off and did some daring maneuvering to turn the bus around on a small country road, we trudged up highland heather and a bit of muck for some breathtaking views. Something I learned, but with a smile on my face because hey, I was walking about in the highlands, is that the silver screen doesn't show that the earth here is quite, shall we say, moist? That's right, wear your dirty shoes or have a pair of boots and back up dry socks, because the ground is very wet and quasi covered in old sheep pies. So watch your step as you take in the view.

From Rob Roy to Highlander, and Elizabeth: The Golden Age to The World is Not Enough and the countless other film and television shows that have filmed here, our last stop of the day, Eilean Donan Castle, might look familiar. 

Of course not just a film set, the castle itself has a long and complicated history that started as a fortification and home for the highland clan Mackenzie. Eventually, as war ravaged the castle walls and time went by, it fell into disrepair until the island was purchased and restored in 1911 to its almost former glory. Now a museum, the castle is open to visitors for a modest fee & you can stroll the castle grounds (photography, unfortunately, is not allowed inside) and see much of the restored interior. Unfortunately, we weren't there at the best time of day for photos and our time was limited before we had to head to the hotel. 

Before stopping at the Regent Hotel in Oban for the night, we made a quick pit stop to Britain's tallest peak, Ben Nevis.

We arrived at this old hotel just as the sun was setting and had a beautiful view of it from our room. Once the sun set we walked about town to find dinner before heading off to Skipinnish, just a few minutes walk from the Regent Hotel.

Skipinnish is a little club of sorts where you can kick back and listen to the live music (one of the musicians, a Scotsman in a kilt playing an accordian, was a bit of a conundrum though), that is, of course, until they invite/make you get up to dance. I volunteered to document some of the festivities, which also included excellent Scottish step dancing by a local young lady.

Extra Tips:

*If you plan on walking through a highland pasture, wear boots or sneakers you're not afraid to get to wet and  dirty as the land is very soggy and full of sheep pies.

*Put down the camera every once in awhile and sit back and relax when going through the Highlands to take 
   nature's grandeur in.

The next blog post will be about my sixth day on tour from the Scottish Highlands to Glasgow.

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