London Diary – A perfect birthday on Isle of Skye!

(A fore note: Although shamefully delayed, so glad I did not give it up. Writing this travelogue was to some degree reliving the joy and excitement of the journey itself.)

Jun, 2017

I had been asked many times, “have you been to Scotland yet?” Now, I can finally answer, “yes, yes, yes.” We made it to Scotland this Jun. So glad we did too, Scotland is beautiful and its highland is simply breathtaking. Endless mountains, valleys, lochs, and castles in-ruin or intact, there is a picture everywhere you turn. Scottish highland is the most scenery concentrated place I’ve ever been.

Edinburgh

We opted to try the train. The ride from London Kings Cross Station to Edinburgh Waverly Station was an interesting four hours’ journey. Apart from the countryside, Durham, New Castle and Royal Border Bridge are some of the lovely sights on the path. The track is right by the sea near the border, visibility was however extremely poor at the time due to the dense fog. As soon as the train veered away from the sea, the fog lifted and sky cleared.

Tre train ride was a nice little warm up for the journey ahead. Once in Edinburgh, we were ready to pick up a rental car. To our dismay however, there was a huge kerfuffle with the reservation. We tried multiple rental company before we finally got a car. Not a pleasant start. Luckily, it was back to smooth running in Edinburgh after that.

Picturesque surrounding hills, grand monuments, awe inspiring castles, clean and neat neighborhoods, Edinburgh is lovely, and vibrant with an interesting mix of people and variety of dining options. Most iconic would probably be formidable Edinburg Castle located on Castle Hill. Overlooking the city it is truly amazing and enjoys stunning views far beyond. Outside of main entrance to the castle is where the famous Royal Mile begins. Right at this western end of the Royal Mile there are a couple of fun things to do. Whisky Experience offers tour with tasting and a visit to its stunning Whisky collection, where you find the oldest bottle in the collection from 1897 and a 50 year old Balvenie valued at £27,500. It is interesting even if you are not a Whisky drinker. Across the street is Camera Obscure, which is fantastic fun for young and old alike. The rest of the Royal Mile is lined with more landmarks, shops and restaurants.

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Views from Calton Hill is far reaching and rewarding, including a perfect view of the hills known as Arthur’s seat and that of Edinburgh’s dry skiing slope. Nelson Monument is open and visitors can climb up to the top for panoramic views of the city and beyond. While up at the hill, I spotted a colossal shaft of cloud hung in the distance over the bay north of the hill, my first spotting of an isolated shower in its entirety, cool phenomenon. National Monument is a popular spot on the hill. It is not easy to get up to its terrace, probably not allowed, but it deterred not the group of high school or college aged youth who gathered on the terrace, later changed into black robes and started singing. Alas they were shortly afterwards stopped by pouring rain. Luckily we had finished our visit to Calton Hill by then.

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P.S. Don’t be afraid to try Hagis. The Cellar Door serves a delicious Hagis starter dish.

Rosslyn Chapel

I learnt of the 15th century Chapel from a BBC documentary. Everything about it is fascinating, and its story of being featured in Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, which in turn put it on the global tourist track and helped bring in the fund to restore it, piqued my curiosity further.

In about 30 minutes we reached Rosslyn Chapel south of Edinburgh. Though small the chapel is truly magnificent. Almost every inch of its surface inside is covered with beautiful carvings, ranging from simple to intricate but all riveting. An introduction is given regularly inside the chapel. Sit in one of those, it is informative, well delivered and makes the visit so much more interesting. Take one of the brochure and take your time to find all the featured carvings. Photos are not allowed inside.

Before you leave, don’t forget to visit the partly ruined Rosslyn Castle close by. Situated in a secluded spot on a cliff and reached only by a draw bridge, the ruined castle is evocatively beautiful.

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Loch Lomond

Weather that had been mostly sunny while in Edinburgh turned unfavorably the morning we were heading towards Isle of Skye, it was grey and rainy. I expected not much for the 6 hour drive ahead of us. I was however pleasantly surprised.

On route, we drove through Glasgow downtown before going further north to Lock Lomond. Driving along the lakeside, there is no mistaken about the long reach of the lake as the largest in Scotland. There is a convenient rest stop and nice view point at Inveruglas where lake cruise is also available. Although we did not take up the cruise, a few visitors did. Our next stop is Falls of Falloch, an impressive, roaring water fall; where we also found hordes of midges and spotted a notice about a dog that had fallen into the water.

Not long after we came upon The Green Welly Shop, café and shop in one with ample parking space, it couldn’t have been timelier. It serves homely but tasty food; I had an onion soup with bread and butter, it was delicious.

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Isle of Skye

Ten or fifteen minutes back on the road, the surrounding began to change, more and more intense it became, mountains loomed from all sides, lakes appeared one after another, and ribbons of waterfalls meandered down the mountain sides. We realized we were going through Glencoe Valley. Grey, low hanging clouds there maybe, pouring rain there maybe, it could not shroud or dampen the beauty of the surrounding. If anything, it added a somber and mysterious quality and accentuated the greenery around.

From there on, it was a feast of beautiful scenery all the way. Eventually the view opened up and the bridge connecting the highland with Isle of Skye loomed ahead.

Planning and arranging for this trip only a couple of weeks in advance, accommodations in Isle of Skye had already been almost all taken up. We were lucky to find availability at Mackinnon Country House Hotel, a charming house with lovely garden and mountain-view. It was not without hiccup before we got settled in though. Upon arriving and eager to check in, we were told the reservation made via Expedia.co.uk had been received, and it was fully booked. After a couple of hours of working with Expedia and the house to try to sort things out and find alternative accommodation, there was nothing available. Just as anxiety was turning into despair, the house informed us they did have something available after all; a cancellation, which, again due to some mix up by Expedia, had not been discovered by the house until that moment, and it was exactly what would accommodate us three. A stroke of luck? Whatever that was, we were only too happy to leave all that behind and settle in. The rest of our stay was fine, breakfast room was elegant, breakfast was excellent and service at breakfast was superb.

Waking up the next morning, weather showed sign of improvement, and by the time we left the house for our self-guided tour of the island, the sun was beaming down at us happily. Indeed it remained glorious for the rest of day and the sun did not set until 10:30PM. What could have made it better? It was my birthday! A wonderful day exploring stunning Isle of Skye with my “boys” by my side, it was the best birthday ever!

Here is to hope that my words and pictures do justice to the joy and excitement I experienced that day on Isle of Skye, thus preserving the happy memory. Highlights of Isle of Skye are Portree, Old Man of Storr, Kilt Rock, Duntulum Castle, Dunvegan Castle, Idrigill, Cuillians, Fairy Pool, and Carbost.

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Eilean Donan Castle

This picturesque castle has been praised as the most romantic castle by many. It is still privately owned and family members come to stay occasionally but the castle is open all year long.

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Fort Augustus Village

It is a small village on Loch Ness with parking, a number of dining options, shops and cruises. At noon, its lock was quite busy with boats going out to the lake, attracting a number of onlookers.

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Urquhart Castle

Whilst in ruin, this castle, advantageously situated on the bank of Loch Ness, is atmospherically beautiful.

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Inverness

Capital of the highland and a lovely city!

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Glencoe Valley, Ben Nevis, Spean Bridge, Fort Williams and others

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