Week 22: Hiking in the Highlands
We are stoked to introduce our next guest blogger Emma. She travelled Europe, Egypt and Jordan for impressive 26 weeks this year. Emma came to our 5 Day Highland Fling tour at the end of August this year and wrote this amazing post. After the tour, Emma even confessed to us: "I don't say this lightly when I tell you Scotland was my favourite". We hope you return to Scotland soon and take more fantastic pictures, Emma!
You can read more about Emma's adventures and her full bucket list on her blog.
This post appeared first in Emma's blog. All the photos are courtesy of Emma. Thank you so much for sharing your blog with us!
Week 22: Hiking in the Highlands
Please be pre-warned: this week was jam-packed full. I, unfortunately, can’t remember some of the places so I can’t possibly mention all the wonderful stops we made this week. But here’s a brief(ish) rundown.
For the first time in about eighteen weeks, I was on a tour again. This has many pros and cons, as does solo travel. I chose the Macbackpackers 5 day Skye and Highland Fling tour because I liked the idea of a Scottish company showing me around Scotland, especially the Highlands. I can work out cities for myself mostly, but to see rural areas you need local knowledge.
One of the first stops on Monday was to the Highland Museum, which features a ‘wee’ (hehe) township so authentic it has been used to shoot parts of Outlander. I’ve seen many historic castles and palaces, so this was a great opportunity to see a historic township where everyday folk lived. The whole museum is set up like this, with a farm and joineries and old classroom showcasing traditional Highland life.
Other stops for the day included the Culloden Battlefield, which has to be one of if not the most important battles for Scottish people, with terrible consequences for them. Due to the government victory parts of Scottish culture were banned for decades, such as the wearing of kilts.
Even though it was short lived and a little on the silly side, my favourite spot of the day was Loch Ness. This vast lake boasts more water than England and Wales, and of course is the home of the ever elusive Nessie. The whole area surrounding the lake is just beautiful, but sadly none of us spotted the great monster. After walking around for a bit we then headed off to Inverness, where we were to spend the night.
Tuesday morning we were up and about quickly to Rogie Falls, we also visited Corrieshalloch Gorge, before a lovely little hike along Beinn Eighe. I’ve been fortunate enough to spend the past couple of years living in the Upper Murray of Victoria which boasts gorgeous landscapes, but for me so far nothing has compared to the Scottish Highlands. This is one of those tours that you don’t want to fall asleep on the bus. One, because you may miss an excellent ‘true story’ from Neil, our wonderful guide about Highlander folklore. Two, you could miss driving past wonderful scenery like this:
Our final stop for the day was a short photo opportunity at Eileen Donan Castle. My apologies, I’ve already forgotten the history of it so I’ll just let the photo speak for itself.
We were spending the next two nights at Kyleakin, a small town near Skye Bridge, where the mainland connects to the Isle of Skye. In the past few years, Skye has become increasingly popular, so much so that residents haven’t been able to go on their normal day because of the thousands of tourists. While it is beautiful, the infrastructure is not in place to support such traffic. Due to this Neil was able to take us on some quieter hikes, where the track had not eroded and we could enjoy the epic panoramas. On one of these hikes we ended up at some fairy pools, where it is believed that by holding your face in the water for seven seconds it will slow the ageing process. I don’t even care if this one is bullshit, it was worth it to help with the whole waking up process. I’ll report back in ten years whether or not it worked.
For the most part of the week the grey clouds gathered and decided to rain on our parade. This only really affected one hike where I realised the difference between my water RESISTANT jacket and everyone else’s water PROOF. I’d gotten away with it for this long but it just wasn’t quite enough on Wednesday. Also, the mud pools that the track had become made for an interesting guessing game on where to place your feet. I lost a few times, ending up shin deep in a few spots. More than worth it, though.
We left the Isle of Skye on Thursday morning via a ferry back to the mainland. Fun fact: the greatest football team in the world, St. Kilda, gets it’s name originally from one of the most remote parts of Scotland’s Outer Hebrides. While we didn’t get to visit there it was interesting to learn about it.
That afternoon we stopped at a place named Glenfinnan, mostly famous for its huge viaduct. In 1898, when it was finished, the viaduct was the largest concrete structure in the world. We went for a short but sweet hike up to and on top of it, for some great views. Neither of these photos really showcase how big it is.
Scots are known for their drinking so I felt that the opportunity to visit a Scottish Whisky distillery was too good to miss. As it was in a period of non-production, there really wasn’t much action in the distillery. Also, I’m no-where near enough of a whisky fan to appreciate the process of how it’s all made.
Our final stop before the hostel was I think my favourite hike of them all. Glencoe has one of the most jaw-droppingly beautiful landscapes in all the Scottish Highlands, and therefore the world. The best views are actually from the bottom but we ventured slowly but surely (me more slow than sure) up the steep pathway. Cheers to Neil for the nice rest photo part of the way up. We didn’t have the time or equipment to summit, but it was a gorgeous landscape to explore for a few hours.
Our final night of the tour was spent in Oban. One of the local event halls holds what’s called a Cèilidh (pronounced Kay-lee) every Thursday night. A Cèilidh is basically a Scottish term for a gathering, this one involving music and group dances. I’ll call it a tourist trap because it is but I don’t really care because it was great fun. The musicians had to explain each dance very, very slowly but once we got going it was fine. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I actually danced a bit. Here’s a blurry photo (snapshot from a never-see-the-light-of-day video) as proof:
If you can’t tell that’s me on the left in the cream and blue sweater. I said I danced, I never said I danced well…
Friday was the final day of the tour but we were still able to pack a lot in. We stopped by a lovely old church and castle before heading into Doune.
Doune Castle was another great highlight for the week. I wouldn’t call myself a HUGE Outlander fan but I have watched one season and enjoyed it. I keep telling myself I’m going to read the books before I watch more. Anyway, reason for mentioning this is that Doune Castle was the place used for Castle Leoch, a major setting in the first season. It was also used for Monty Python’s Holy Grail and actors from both were added to the audio guide, giving more specific information about the castle.
Our final stop before heading back into Edinburgh was at the Wallace monument, situated at the top of a hill with great views of Stirling. Somehow myself and another tour member managed to get lost on the one-way pathway around the hill, and had to almost run back to the bus to make it back in time. What can I say, we’re pretty talented when it comes to directions.
I was able to enjoy one final evening in Edinburgh with my new friends, and many of us got together again this morning for breakfast. It was definitely hard to leave this amazing country.
And now I’m here at the airport, waiting on my flight to Paris. If the call of Paris wasn’t so great I would absolutely love more time in Scotland. But I have limited weeks remaining on this vast continent, and I want to make it count. On to France! Let’s see how often I can use the ten French words I can still remember from Year 8.
Our 5 Day Highland Fling runs year around. Read more about our tours.
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