Travel Series: Scotland Part 2

When we planned to go to Scotland, we knew we wanted to travel north from Edinburgh. Since we were flying to Edinburgh from Dublin, we had a few options from there. We could rent a car and drive up into the Scottish Highlands. Using a rental car, we could stay a night at a hotel farther north before traveling back into Edinburgh. Another option was to book a tour with a touring company, either a day trip or an overnight stay. Although David was not excited about the idea of being on a tour with other travelers, we opted to sign up for a guided tour to make the most of our time. This allowed us to see several different places without having to deal with driving a car on the left side of the road! We already had a short amount of time to spend in Scotland, and we wanted to be able to see as much as possible.

We researched some tour companies that offered tours leaving from Edinburgh. We found a few different places, and started looking into the specific tours they offered. There were all kinds of options, from a Braveheart tour to an Outlander tour to a trip to see castles and Loch Ness. We picked based on the tour itinerary rather than the company, and ended up going with Rabbie’s. We chose the Highland Lochs, Glens & Whisky day trip. It offered five different points of interest and traveled a good bit north of Edinburgh, which is what we were interested in. On our next trip, we definitely want to travel farther into the Highlands, but this was a good distance to cover in just a day.

All of Rabbie’s tours out of Edinburgh leave from their cafe located in the city centre. We were scheduled to depart from the cafe at 9:00 am, so we walked over a little early to order breakfast. We checked in at the desk outside the cafe, and then headed in to enjoy some croissants and lattes while we waited. There are screens on the wall with the status of each tour, telling you whether you should wait, be ready to depart, or if you’re very unlucky, if your tour has already departed. As each tour is ready to load up, employees come in to ask all the people scheduled for that tour to head outside and to their bus. We were in a sixteen passenger van. We were the last to board, so we didn’t get to sit next to each other but we did both get single window seats. Our driver’s name was Jude, and she was fantastic. She was funny and informative and kept our trip moving at a good pace.

We traveled a bit through Edinburgh first, heading north to cross the Firth of Forth into Fife. That is not a joke. Our first stop was in a very cute little town called Dunkeld. There, we had the opportunity to take a little walk into the forest and visit a ruined cathedral. This was one of the things David was most excited to see, and it did not disappoint. The cathedral itself was lovely, and the views we were starting to see were breathtaking. It was just on the edge of the River Tay, and from one side you could see the water and on the other side the mountains of the Highlands.

We hopped back onto the bus for a short drive to the Hermitage, a beautiful forest featuring waterfalls and a few other attractions. Jude led us on a walk into the forest and taught us some of the faerie legends from the place. While walking with her, I had an opportunity to talk to her for a bit. She had a Scottish accent, so I assumed she was from Scotland and asked if she was from Edinburgh. She laughed a little and told me she was actually from the Netherlands originally, and came here for a two-week backpacking trip about fifteen years ago and never left. We saw a tree stump covered with coins that had been driven into it as offerings to the faeries to heal sickness or in the hopes of a good crop. The forest got its name from the hermit cave there, built during a time when it was fashionable to have a hermit living on your property. The legend goes that the owner of the land build the cave and advertised for a hermit to come live in it, but nobody would come. Eventually, someone agreed to come do the job, but only during working hours rather than actually living there. The cave is pretty far down the path, so David decided to run down there on his own to see it while I stayed and to look at the Black Linn Falls. He came back in time for us to take some pictures, and then we had to do some trail running to catch up with our group and make it back before they left us at the forest.

Our next stop was the small town of Pitlochry. This was our lunch stop, so we had some time to wander a bit. We got some takeaway sandwiches and wandered a little farther out of the town. We came upon some picnic tables in the sun with a lovely view of the trees and mountains surrounding the town, so we decided to stop and eat there. Once we were finished, we headed back into town and got some ice cream before joining the rest of our group on the bus.

After lunch, we had a bit of a drive ahead of us. The wonderful thing about being in the Scottish Highlands is that driving through them is an activity in itself. The driving time didn’t feel like wasted time because we had such beautiful views to admire and enjoy. Jude kept us entertained the whole time with funny legends and stories, and also taught us quite a bit about Mary, Queen of Scots.

Our next stop was Queen’s View, a favorite of Queen Victoria. It was a short climb up, and we were rewarded with a spectacular view over Loch Tummel. I, of course, was very excited that the view included a few flocks of sheep. We took some windy roads up in the mountains to get there and to our next destination – Dewar’s Aberfeldy whisky distillery.

This was another one of the destinations David was excited about. I’m not much of a whisky drinker, but I was determined to try. 🙂 I’m also not much of a beer drinker, but I discovered on the Guinness tour in Dublin that learning about the process of making it helped me to appreciate and enjoy it a bit more, although I’m still not going to order a Guinness when there is wine or cider to be had. When we got to the distillery, we were given the option of purchasing a tour with just one whisky tasting at the end, or an extra tasting of whisky straight from the cask to go along with it in the middle. I, obviously, went with one tasting, while David, obviously, went with two. It was a really cool experience to see the whisky at all different stages and meet some of the people involved in the process. David really enjoyed his special tasting of the cask strength whisky in the middle of the tour. I took his word for it that it was good. Once the tour was over, we came back into the bar area and got to choose one of their whiskies to sample. I discovered that I definitely do not like smoky whiskys, so I picked the one I thought I was most likely to enjoy. Just like with the Guinness tour, I found that I was able to appreciate it more once I understood more about it and knew what I was tasting.

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Once the whisky tour was over, it was late in the afternoon and time to start our long journey back to Edinburgh. Again, the stunning views outside our windows combined with Jude’s storytelling made the time pass quickly. She was fantastic, and even David, who was so reluctant to take a guided tour, thoroughly enjoyed the day. I would love to take another tour with Rabbie’s someday. I found them to be very easy to work with and the tour was outstanding. The nature of taking a day trip is that time is limited at each stop, but I felt that we got to experience so many different things in the time we had.

After returning to Edinburgh, we met Meagan for dinner at Ting Thai. They both had Thai curries and I had shrimp pad Thai, and everything was delicious. We had fun discussing the different accents we’d heard that day over dinner, and then headed back to the apartment to prepare to leave Scotland the next day.

We can’t wait to be back in this place again someday.

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