Friday, October 26, 2007

Day 19: Exploring the Highlands

I'd had a hard time deciding what route I wanted to take in our last week, when we planned to head as far north as Inverness. Mountains or coast? We solved the problem by settling for the coastal route, but planning a day trip up the A9 which is the central route north through the Scottish highlands.

As usual, the time information on my photos shows it was late morning before we got away. We headed east as usual through Stirling (for the usual petrol and supermarket stops - the petrol station near Stirling castle was the cheapest we found on our whole trip). The main road skirts around Perth before turning northwards. Our first stop off was at the village of Dunkeld:

On the map I noted another small village nearby - Birnam, whose name will be familiar to Shakespeare fans. In fact a bit south of here is a visitor attraction called "The Macbeth Experience" although we didn't make that stop. As usual, there was far more to do than we could fit into one day. (And yes, Macbeth was a real king of Scotland).

From Dunkeld we returned to the main road and continued north to the village of Pitlochry:

We did a little shopping here. I was charmed by this sheep in a shop window (though I didn't buy it):

A mile or so east of Pitlochry is the Edradour whisky distillery.

Edradour is the smallest distillery in Scotland. If the stills were a centimetre or so smaller, they would be illegal. Apparently there is a legal minimum size as it's considered that small stills are too easy to hide, and thus escape the excise tax gatherers.

We arrived just in time to join a tour of the distillery, which starts with a free taste. I will admit, I'm not a fan of whisky, but their cream liqueur -similar to Baileys - is very smooth and slips down easily!

We felt at this point that we hadn't really seen the highlands. In New Zealand, we are used to mountains!. The A9 seemed to us to travel a rather gentle sloping hillside - not quite the dramatic scenery we had expected. So we continued north for half an hour or so, until we had nearly reached the valley on the other side, southeast of Loch Ness. The scenery here seemed no more mountainous, but it was more barren -more heather, less lush green grass (though the grass was still quite lush in the valleys). The heather was just coming into bloom while we were there and we could only imagine how spectacular it would look a few weeks later, with the hillsides covered in purple bloom.

We turned back south, taking a side road through the village of Blair Atholl, where we were too late to tour Blair Castle, so we had to be content with photographing the gatehouse, and the castle itself from the wall by the road. We weren't too disappointed - after all, we had seen quite a few castles and stately homes already, and a whisky tour instead of a castle seemed a fair exchange!

These cows were grazing in a fenced area just by the entrance to the castle grounds:

One of them was staring at me, posing perfectly, until the exact moment when I got my camera focussed and he strolled off to munch at the grass, so I had to be content with taking photos of this one who seemed to have an itch.

Just north of Pitlochry we turned westward so that we could take a different route back via several lochs. This is Loch Tummel:

The photographs were taken from a spot called the "Queen's View". It is indeed a spectacularly beautiful view, but as it was late in the afternoon I couldn't turn my camera directly westward - the first photo is looking eastward and the second is as far to the west as I could manage without getting the sun directly in the camera lens - the strategically placed tree shielding the sun a little.

We continued around Loch Tummel then south across some moorland to Loch Tay. At the western end of Loch Tay is the village of Killin, and just past the village we were surprised by this beautiful sight right by the road - the Falls of Dochart.

(And just for once, there was actually room to park and take photos, right there - parking by the roadside was generally a huge problem wherever we went, unlike New Zealand where most roads have quite wide verges.)

There were several more small lochs between us and our hotel. Unfortunately it was getting dark, so we took the quick route back, rather than the more scenic route. The road south passed the turnoff to Loch Voil, and the village of Balquhidder where Rob Roy's grave is located. It then runs along the east side of Loch Lubnaig, and if it had been daylight we would have turned west along Loch Venachar and Loch Achray, then south through the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park - but as it was dark we continued back through the town of Callendar, which is a tourist centre for the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park.

Once again I was left thinking that a whole week would not be too much to explore the area we had tried to cover in a day.


Jan said...

Amazing, Catherine.
Particularly liked the look of Blair castle,,,fine location for some story telling.
THe trip sounds just marvellous.

Endment said...

Another great armchair trip - thanks for bringing us along

Shephard said...

Wow, Catherine!
As soon as I saw that first photo, I knew this would be a great read. Castles and landscape. Stunning.
And I LOVED that sheep! I'd have bought him in a heartbeat. :)

Michele says hello!

texasblu said...

Absolutely beautiful. Would love to visit there someday. :)

Thanks for visiting!

barbie2be said...

the scenery is so beautiful! i wish i had gone with you.

Michele sent me to have a look.

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

What a FANTASTIC trip, Catherine...Your pictures are wonderful, and I LOVE that first little your photograph it almost looked like a painting...! This is more of Scotland than I have ever seen, and I know this is just a drop in the bucket!
I am enjoying your trip, very very much, my dear!

Thanks for your visit....You know what is funny about the name "Gertrude"...My oldest sister Robin's middle name was Gertrude.

Smiler said...

There's never enough time when discovering a new place is there? Beautiful, gogeous photos. I especially like the cow and the Queen's View photo with tree shielding sun is superb. Thanks for bringing us along!

jsdaughter said...

Thank you for the lovely tour. Your words made me feel I was there with you for awhile!
Michele sent me tonight- I'm glad she did!

Carmi said...

You are a wizard with a camera, Catherine. I think you should give lessons on travel photography, because you capture journeys better than anyone I know.


The cow episode made me smile....visiting from Michelle's. :-)


Are you done with this vacation...or how much longer do you have to go? It is really exciting to read. :-)