The day after our full day of Edinburgh sightseeing, it was time to head off to the Highlands! We weren’t leaving Edinburgh just yet technically, this was just a day tour that I arranged ahead of time. The tour’s plan was, among other things to take us to Sterling Castle, Loch Lomond & and Trossachs and a whiskey tasting (which was optional but I’ll get to that later).
The morning began with a walk to meet the tour, where we piled into the bus and headed out of the city. As tends to happen, the views just outside the city are not the greatest just yet, but then the roads open up until vast fields and the scenery starts to get more and more beautiful the further away you get. This was definitely the case on this drive.
Our first stop was the Kelpies, two gigantic horse statues located in a park. The legend of the kelpies is that they are shape-shifting water spirits that take on the form of horses (though apparently sometimes they can also be human), and drag their victims underwater. They are said to reside in most of the larger lochs of Scotland. The Loch Ness Monster is actually supposed to be one version of a kelpie. Knowing the story actually makes them super creepy when you really think about it, but the kelpie statues were really cool.
The Kelpie stop was a quick photo stop and then it was back onto the bus to head to Stirling Castle.
The castle sits at the top of the town of Stirling, which is charming in it’s own right but we didn’t really visit it. I would be lying if I said I paid complete attention to the history of Stirling Castle but a quick Wikipedia search reveals that it “is one of the largest and most important castles in Scotland, both historically and architecturally. The castle sits atop Castle Hill, an intrusive crag, which forms part of the Stirling Sill geological formation. It is surrounded on three sides by steep cliffs, giving it a strong defensive position. Its strategic location, guarding what was, until the 1890s, the farthest downstream crossing of the River Forth, has made it an important fortification in the region from the earliest times.”
Regardless of history, Stirling Castle is a lovely place. All of these castles at the tops of hills are not only functional for guarding purposes, but also make for spectacular views of the surrounding areas. In addition, Stirling Castle also had some lovely grounds with flowers that were just starting to bloom, making the still nice weather seem even nicer. We were able to spend about an hour walking around the castle and appreciating the architecture, history and scenery.
One amusing story we learned about Stirling Castle was there was a man who decided he could fly off of one of the landings using wings he made of chicken feathers. He only survived because he landed in a dung heap. He later blamed the chicken feathers for his failure because they were the wrong kind of feather, however he did not try again.
Our next stop was also full of beautiful scenery, as we made our way to see Loch Lomond, a huge lake on the border between the lowlands and the highlands. We headed over to a scenic rest area where we were able to get ice cream and enjoy it with views of the water before walking around for a bit enjoying the water. The water views are surrounded with views of the trees and the mountains of the highlands in the distance.
We learned that the difference between a lake and a loch is that lochs can be either fresh or salt water.
We had lunch in the little town of Aberfoyle, which had a few restaurants and wool shops. The area was surrounded by mountains and animals, including a miniature horse named Merlin! It was the epitome of what you think of when you imagine the Scottish countryside in your head, it was great!
We had a quick lunch while we were there and did a little shopping and enjoyed the animals. It’s lambing season in Scotland, There are baby animals everywhere and they are so cute!
Our next stop was a scenic overlook for a few minutes to look out at the mountains, and then we went to see the Highland Coos! Highland coos are shaggy cows that are found only in Scotland. According to the tour guide, no one knows if they are actually native to Scotland, but at some point they genetically adapted themselves to the climate. They have longer, shaggier fur than cows you might be used to seeing and big giant horns. Our tour guide brought carrots along with us to feed the cows.
The cows lived at a hotel so they were used to people stopping by to feed them. They saw us pull into the driveway and started heading over before we had even gotten out of the bus.
At this point in the tour, we had the choice to go to a distillery or Doune Castle, which was where they filed Monty Python and Holy Grail, Outlander and even some of Game of Thrones. Because we were going on distillery tours later in the trip, we opted for the castle.
When I was a kid, my dad introduced my sister and I to Monty Python and the Holy Grail, so I was very excited to see Doune Castle. The most famous scene, arguably, is when John Cleese stood on the roof and yelled down at King Arthur that he would “fart in your general direction.” The interiors were also used to a number of scenes in the movie, as well as in Outlander. The castle is not fully furnished, unlike the other castles, so producers like to use it as they can dress it to suit their needs.
All in all, Doune Castle is a pretty small place, and it doesn’t take a ton of time to go through the whole thing. It had a lot of little rooms and narrow spiral staircases. They were rough for me to go up, I can’t imagine soldiers in bulky gear!
Surrounding the castle is a really lovely river walk that we did while we were waiting for the tour bus driver to pick us up again.
Doune Castle was the last tour stop of the day, and we made our way back to Edinburgh. Upon arriving, it was time to find a place for dinner. The restaurant I wanted to go to was full for the night, so we walked along the Air BnB block to find something else, and ended up at Element, which turned out to be a great choice. They were serving a Sunday roast which, as it was Easter Sunday, was the perfect choice for dinner and an excellent final Edinburgh meal!
Dinner and cocktails had, it was time to head back to the apartment to get ready for our flight to Islay the next day.
Read all about Islay in the next installment!