Scottish Highlands in Summer
Rolling green hills, cool cows and a Loch (or lock) or two.
The beauty of the Scottish Highlands surprised us. We toured North of Glasgow as far up as Inverness and as far East as Dundee and St Andrews. Along the way, we stared in wonder at the vibrant colours and never-ending green rolling hills. The weather was perfect and so we took our time. We were able to stop often and simply enjoy the unique character of the Scottish countryside as we went.
Our biggest adventure in the highlands was a full day driving tour from Glasgow to Inverness and back. We stopped at waterfalls, hairy highland cows, and many Loch’s and locks, it was confusing.
Our first Loch was Loch Lamond, a short way North of Glasgow. Being a large wide body of water, it nestles dramatically between hills and paddocks.
The passage past Loch Lamond, toward the North, contains some visual gems, but you do have to detour to ensure you don’t miss them. For example, if you blink you will miss the tiny flourishes of colour. Like this house, which the girls thought was beautiful.
We also stopped into a tiny town, Luss, with white-washed buildings, a creek, church and a wharf on the Loch. From here you can enjoy a slow cruise on the water or hire a speed boat for a private tour.
We nearly missed the next stop. We drove past the waterfalls but then turned back. Waters in these parts, if not frozen, run cold and fast. After parking the car and taking only a small stroll along a well-worn forest trail, we walked onto a metal viewing platform.
After getting back on the main road, we headed North toward Glencoe. Along the way, we saw the famous hairy Scottish cows, or ‘heelan’ coo’, as the Scottish would say. Red hair or brown, they are placid beasts, short legged with long hair and the coolest fringes ever seen on a cow.
We also saw deer and heaps of sheep. Yet, most spectacular was the scenery. The road from Crianlarich to Glencoe is 57 kilometres of highland mountainous ranges. These are the hills of Ardgour and are almost completely barren of a forest, making them visually spectacular. While we encountered short bursts of rain and light cloud cover, each time the sun came out, the rolling green hills shone.
Like many other tourists, we stopped to gaze up and out toward the hills and took so many photos that our two cameras ran flat. We had to rely on a mobile and iPad for a lot of the journey.
Further North we passed, Loch Linnhe, Loch Arkaig, Loch Lochy (seriously) and Loch Oich, being the last Loch before Loch Ness. The entire stretch of connected waterways begins South West in the Isle of Man and cuts across Scotland, toward the North East, ending in Inverness.
They run along ‘The Great Glen Fault’ and the stretch of road that covers these Loch’s is the Great Glen Way.
Loch Ness is a long narrow stretch of water, not as wide as Loch Lamond but steeped in history. The only castle on Loch Ness, Urquhart, is only a ruin but sits proudly on the waters edge. We didn’t pay to walk over to it but Autumn climbed the rock wall and captured some photos for us. We read that once it was the largest castle in Scotland.
Of course, we looked for Nessie but she was too shy to appear. And as soon as we reached Inverness we knew we had all had enough and raced back south to our accommodation in Glasgow.
In total, we covered 548 kilometres. The roads are smooth and much of the highlands are unhindered by trees, sign posts and fences, making for an enjoyable and scenic drive.
So the body of water is a Loch and the gates that allow boats to pass from one Loch to another Loch are ‘locks’. Confused yet?
As each body of water is connected to another, and in the case of The Great Glen, covers the country, the Scotts have produced some spectacular engineering to enable passage between them.
When we stopped in Fort Augustus we watched as a passenger ship moved out of Loch Ness through step locks. Five steps in total moved a the vessel from Loch Ness into the Caledonian Canal. From there it can travel into Loch Oich and further South.
The Falkirk Wheel is another engineering marvel. It connects the Forth and Clyde Canal’s. This impressive device connects the waterways of Glasgow and Edinburgh.
A short distance from the Wheel and still in Falkirk, is an extension of the waterways from Forth and Clyde. A large park has been created and the centrepiece is two 30 metre high horse sculptures. They are called ‘The Kelpies‘, and they represent the long history between horses and the waterways.
Each destination has its own visitor centre and café, making it easy to purchase Scottish memorabilia or overpriced shortbread. We avoided all that and merely enjoyed the scenery and unique waterways.
Dundee and the East
Our final Highland adventure was to Dundee in the East of Scotland.
The entire area is of course steeped in history and has many traditional buildings. We dropped into a tiny town called Kirriemuir, just North of Dundee and then on our return drove across the river Clyde toward St Andrew’s.
St Andrews and its golf course are landmarks not to be missed when visiting Scotland. It is only a few hours North of Edinburgh and sits on a windy coast.
The view as you travel through the Scottish Highlands is the stuff of movies and Bear Grill style survival shows. It is harsh and diverse but fortunately for us we stayed close to the main routes and had good weather the entire time.
We are not sure a winter visit is necessary to experience this area in a different light as every Scotsman will say; “Scotland is VERY cold”.
Next Winter tells another chilling tale.