Monthly Archives: June 2010

Scotland – Highlands tour

Wow. I really am inept at keeping this up-to-date.

Well, I’ll make the last month brief: Toronto (a week recovering from my travel so far); London – UK (two weeks recovering from my week in Toronto); Edinburgh (not surprisingly, recovering from London – I see a pattern developing here).

Following Edinburgh, I signed up with Macbackpackers for a five day tour of Scotland’s Highlands and Isle of Skye. I don’t normally take tours, generally preferring to travel independently, but not wanting to drive, this tends to limit my options to cities and larger towns. I’d also had recommendations from friends about this company, so I decided that it would be a nice change.

And they certainly weren’t wrong; the tour was the most fun I’ve had during my trip so far. Our guide, a native highlander was excellent. From the moment he entered the bus, he had the group (of around 21-22 people) laughing and kept it up for the entire trip. His knowledge of the area and its history was first-rate, and had an amazing gift for storytelling while keeping the bus on the road.

The tour is designed for people under 35, but they don’t enforce this, unlike many of the “youth tour” operators in Europe (who won’t let someone like me, two years older than the cutoff point, aboard); they’ll welcome anyone onto the tour, as long as you’re happy to keep up with the fairly vigorous program, such as walking up steep hills, swimming in the freezing Loch Ness and late, alcohol-fueled nights in pubs. And then 9am starts the next morning.

Swimming in Loch Ness

Accomodation is at the company’s many hostels, which range from utterly excellent (Castle Rock, Edinburgh) to fairly cramped and lacking sufficient numbers of showers, but otherwise clean and friendly (Inverness); but you’re not obligated to stay in these – you can book hotels or B&Bs seperately, if you prefer.

The first day took us north from Edinburgh, via Pitlochry, to Inverness, visiting Ruthven Barracks and the Culloden Moor Battlefield. Day two was onwards to Skye, with a stop in Ullapool for lunch, and a scenic drive south along the west coast.
Following this was a day doing a circuit of Skye, including a couple of walks through the highlands.

The fourth day was packed with a boat trip on Loch Ness, and yet more walking, this time through Glen Coe. The tour’s evening grand finale was a night of Ceilidh Dancing in Oban, which is great fun; essentially it’s barn-style dancing, sometimes with one partner, sometimes with multiple partners, to traditional Scottish music.

After that, we wound down with a tour of Oban’s whisky distillery and a visit to the National Wallace Monument… and then a relaxing drive back to Edinburgh.

Ceilidh Dancing in Oban

I didn’t know any of the people I was travelling with prior to the trip, but within just a few hours we all got along really well. It’s amazing how quickly people will bond, if you pack them into a bus, goad them to strip down to their underwear (or bathers, for those of us who are slightly more prepared), bribe them to get into a freezing lake, and follow it with a bottle of whiskey (allegedly to warm them up, but frankly I think there was an ulterior motive).

Anyway, I now find myself back where I started: it’s taken me the best part of a week in Glasgow and Belfast to recover from this…

Standard disclaimer applies: I’m not affiliated with this company at all, but I really really enjoyed the tour, and highly recommend it.