Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park: Scotland’s Playground!

Most visitors to Scotland will be keen to travel the castle trail, the whisky trail or visit the many historic sites and areas or soak up the culture of the big cities. Many will be keen to immerse themselves in the highland landscapes and possibly seek out those places their ancestors came from. There is nothing wrong with these activities – many visitors will have a wonderful time exploring Scotland.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/But what about the native Scots? What do they do, where do they go for their ‘staycations’? Well, one of the most popular areas in the west of Scotland is Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. Loch Lomond lake (the largest loch in Britain by surface area) is Scotland’s premier water sports location.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/Yachting, power boating, paddle boarding, kayaking, water skiing and angling (both game and coarse fishing) can be had on the loch and anglers can be sure of a varied catch with Loch Lomond fishing since Loch Lomond has more species of fish than any other loch in Scotland). And to answer a fairly common question from non-Scots, on whether the Loch Ness monster is found in Loch Lomond – the answer is no. It is said to be found in Loch Ness and you can read about that here.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/Loch Lomond contains about thirty islands (a few of which are seasonally inhabited) and boat excursions are available around some of them. Balloch, a town on the southern shore of the loch, has a large marina and is the base for several boating tours which range up and down the loch. It is also the place to go for boating enthusiasts who simply wish to admire the huge range of small pleasure craft which use the marina.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/Balloch is also where you will find the ‘Maid of the Loch’, a paddle steamer which used to sail Loch Lomond but is now moored at Balloch Pier whilst funds are raised to, hopefully, return it to its previous life carrying passengers and sightseers up and down the loch. In the meantime she serves as a restaurant, bar and events venue. If you’re in the area and feeling a bit peckish you could do worse than visit her.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/Getting around Loch Lomond is surprisingly easy since a waterbus service runs on the loch. If you need to get from one place to another or just want to take in the views, the waterbus allows you to enjoy a relaxing journey and also have time onshore to enjoy a scenic lunch stop. Scheduled services depart from various piers and pontoons strategically placed on the loch allowing you to take in the stunning scenery at your leisure – and feel free to bring your four-legged friends along for the trip!

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/Of course not everyone is into water sports but don’t despair; Loch Lomond lies within the 720-square-mile Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. Established in 2002 this was the first of Scotland’s national parks and it covers a large portion of the western part of the southern highlands. It is the fourth largest national park in the British Isles.

Included within its boundaries are many other lochs (although none as large as Loch Lomond) and no less than 21 of Scotland’s Munros (mountains over 3000 feet) one of which is Ben Lomond, Scotland’s most southerly Munro, which towers over Loch Lomond from its eastern side and, if you have the energy to reach its summit, is a magnificent viewpoint for the entire 22-mile length of the loch.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/The entire area of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park offers wonderful opportunities for outdoor adventures. Apart from the water sports there are opportunities for mountaineering, hill walking, orienteering, mountain biking and more and the range of wildlife to be seen in the park both on Loch Lomond itself or around its shores and in the wider park is astounding – the water birds alone make for spectacular sights both summer and winter.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/After visitors have indulged themselves in their favourite outdoor activities there is also the opportunity to try some indoor activities. At the southern end of the loch, close to Balloch is Loch Lomond Shores. With excellent views over the loch this upmarket shopping experience is a relaxing way to unwind after a hard day’s exploring.

The nearby Drumkinnon Tower is home to the Loch Lomond Aquarium whose 26 exhibits contain mainly native Scottish species. It features touch pools, ray tanks and a tropical ocean tunnel. Drumkinnon Tower also has a 350-seat cinema and a cafe. Don’t forget to visit the National Park Gateway Centre where lots of information about the park can be found including its history and the background into its establishment in 2002.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/Loch Lomond is just a hop, skip and a jump away from Glasgow, Scotland’s biggest city and the wider area of the Trossachs National Park is also easy to reach from most of the central belt of Scotland making this one of the most popular ‘staycation’ destinations in Scotland. Surely it’s worth a visit if you happen to have a day or two to spare?

For those who do decide on a longer stay the area has a plethora of hotels and guest houses ranging from small and cosy to big and beautiful and there are numerous camping and caravanning sites available so you’re bound to find something to your liking.

Loch Lomond Map and Information:

YouTube Video: Watch a video of the Loch

One of the most famous Scottish songs is about Loch Lomond. Here is a beautiful version of it.

The song itself is about a Scottish soldier who is to be executed. Legend has it that the spirits of Scots who die abroad return to Scotland by the “Low Road” and the singer says they will return by the “low road”.

Gold Panning Scotland

Come to Scotland for whisky, golf – and gold!

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/If you ask anyone what Scotland is best known for they would probably say ‘whisky’ and ‘golf’ and many tourists who visit Scotland will no doubt want to investigate both. But there is more to Scotland than those two well-known and well-frequented pursuits. How about a different kind of activity when you visit Scotland? How about panning for gold? Unlikely as it may seem, gold can be found in many of Scotland’s rivers and streams. It isn’t hard to find and Scotland has experienced its very own gold rush! It wasn’t on the scale of the California gold rush but in 1868 and again in 1869 the Sutherland gold rush in the north of Scotland attracted many hundreds of people and yielded modest quantities of gold.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/Panning for gold has been popular for centuries. Gold is found in the sands and gravels in streams which act as a natural means of concentrating the gold. Scotland doesn’t contain huge quantities of gold but with a little bit of luck it can be quite lucrative – the largest single gold nugget ever found in Scotland (in 2016) weighed 86 grams which, at the current price of gold, is worth nearly $70,000 and there have been recent rumours of an even bigger one being found!

The Scottish Crown Jewels, better known as the Honours of Scotland, which are on display in Edinburgh Castle, are made from Scottish gold and one fact may surprise you – Scottish gold has a market value five times higher than other golds due to its rarity! Isn’t it worth having a go?

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/Commercial gold mining hasn’t really been carried out in Scotland, but a new gold mine has recently opened at Cononish in Tyndrum, Perthshire, where Australian company Scotgold expect to mine in the region of 20,000 ounces of gold annually, which at today’s prices is worth approximately $22 million. This should give you some idea of the value of gold to be found in Scotland although, to be honest, most people will be lucky to find enough to make into a ring or a pair of earrings but they will have fun doing so.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/If you wish to follow in the footsteps of the 1868-69 prospectors in Sutherland then the Suisgill Estate is the place to go. There you can obtain licences and equipment to pan for gold on the estate. There are other places in Scotland where gold can be panned but many of them are covered by what is known as ‘Mines Royal’ – the gold is, in fact, owned by the Crown. This doesn’t mean that you can’t pan for gold but it would be wise to check out the legal position in the area you plan to go since you may not be allowed to keep any significant finds you make. You can see a gold in Scotland map, showing places where gold has been found.

Whichever area you choose you will have a great time and, of course, there is always the possibility of finding a new record-breaking gold nugget!

Gold Nugget on YouTube:

If you need to know more about whether you can legally search for gold in Scotland, you need to check out the legal position. It is YOUR responsibility to check the legal position for any place you may choose to search for gold. Some information can be downloaded as a PDF at the link below, however, it may not be the latest information and you are strongly advised to check the current position before trying panning for gold in Scotland.

Legal Stuff about Mines Royal:

Dunfermline – Scotland’s Other Royal Mile

Most tourists who come to Scotland will pay a visit to Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city (once known as the ‘Second City of the Empire’) and then move on to the nation’s capital city of Edinburgh. What many of them won’t know is that Edinburgh hasn’t always been the capital of Scotland. Drive north across the Forth Road Bridge and you will very quickly come to the Royal Burgh of Dunfermline, a town which played a significant role in the early history of Scotland and a place bursting with history.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/Dunfermline’s beginnings go back to the 11th century when King Malcolm III built a fortified tower on a rocky hill on a site which is now in a public park and established Dunfermline as the new seat of royal power and the town became the de facto capital of Scotland for the next 350 years. Take yourself through 900 years of Scottish history, explore the ruins of the royal palace and Dunfermline Abbey, the last resting place of no less than 12 of Scotland’s kings and queens (including Robert the Bruce, who is revered in Scotland as a national hero). Dunfermline was also the birthplace of other royals including King James I and King Charles I.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/You might visit the Abbot House Heritage Centre in the 15th century Abbot House – one of the few houses to survive a devastating fire in 1624 which consumed most of the town and left the bulk of the population homeless and don’t miss a visit to the award-winning Dunfermline Carnegie Library and Galleries where you can learn all about Dunfermline and its history.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/Dunfermline Abbey is a fascinating place to visit and is just a short walk from the beautiful Pittencrieff Park (known locally as The Glen) which was gifted to the town by Andrew Carnegie. It’s a real oasis in the middle of the town with tranquil woodland walks which are great for wildlife spotting. It also has beautiful formal gardens, several childrens’ play areas and is home to a resident muster of peacocks!

King Malcolm’s Queen, Margaret, is Scotland’s only female saint, and her shrine in Dunfermline Abbey has been visited by many thousands of pilgrims over the centuries. Tucked away in the corner of a public car park you may visit St Margaret’s Cave where the deeply religious queen came to pray and, as you follow the tunnel and descend the 87 steps down to the cave, you can feel the weight of 900 years of prayer and history. This place has a special atmosphere.

‘The Auld Grey Toun’ of Dunfermline is also the birthplace of one of the world’s most well-known philanthropists – Andrew Carnegie. The small cottage in which he was born is today preserved as the Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum – a museum and monument to his life where you can hear the story of how he became the richest man in the world and how he gave away vast sums of money to worthy causes.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/The Royal Burgh of Dunfermline is often overlooked by tourists visiting Scotland but a visit to this ancient Scottish capital will more than repay the time spent there and will reveal some fascinating facts which will surprise many people – did you know that the USA had a Consulate in Dunfermline from the late nineteenth century right up until the 1920s? In addition to the history, don’t forget the town itself. Dunfermline has a great indoor shopping centre and its pedestrianised High Street is a safe place to wander along, simply taking in the atmosphere of this vibrant and modern town – and don’t miss out the side streets heading downhill from the High Street. There are some real gems down there ranging from specialist shops to a good variety of eating places including cafes, restaurants and pubs.

Take a wander around historic Dunfermline in this video:

VisitScotland: Dunfermline

Falkirk Wheel Tour – Boating In The Sky!

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/Connecting two largely disused waterways the Falkirk Wheel, the largest ‘functional sculpture’ you are likely to see anywhere, is the world’s only rotating boat lift. Opened in May 2002 by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II as part of her Golden Jubilee celebrations the wheel connects the Union Canal with the Forth and Clyde Canal, both once used extensively for commercial purposes.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/Situated pretty much half way between Glasgow and Edinburgh, and part of the Millennium Link project, this 35 metre (115 feet) diameter wheel lifts boats 24 metres (79 feet) from the lower canal up to a pair of locks leading on to the higher canal and re-establishes a link between Glasgow and Edinburgh which was severed in the 1930s due to disuse and industrial development.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/You may wonder why was the Falkirk Wheel built? Not only was the wheel built to reconnect Scotland’s two major cities, Glasgow and Edinburgh, with the much-valued leisure resource of a recreational waterway, it was also built to be a major tourist attraction and today the Falkirk Wheel is one of Scotland’s busiest attractions boasting a state-of-the-art visitor centre with a Falkirk Wheel gift shop and café.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/The visitor centre is free to enter and, over a coffee, you can simply sit and admire the effortless ease with which the Falkirk Wheel boat lift rotates the combined weight of water and boat (some 500 tonnes on each side) from one level to the other using no more electricity than it would take to boil a few kettles of water – which speaks volumes about the efficient design of the boat lift.

Whilst many visitors will be happy to merely watch this remarkable structure in action the real thrills come from trying it out for yourself. Departing from right in front of the visitor centre, and lasting about an hour for the full ascent and descent experience, boat trips on the Falkirk Wheel are very popular with some 400,000 people visiting the wheel every year and about 1.3 million visitors in total have taken a boat ride since the wheel opened.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/If you are spending any amount of time in central Scotland this is one tourist attraction and impressive feat of engineering you really must visit. The site is fully accessible for visitors with mobility problems. It is wheelchair friendly and wheelchairs or mobility scooters can be taken on the boat trip. Designed to last 120 years the Falkirk Wheel will be ready and waiting for you when you decide to take your ride on the world’s only rotating boat lift!

Check out the Falkirk Wheel Website:

Youtube Video showing the canal boat being lifted nearly 80 feet into the air to join the upper canal.

Except where otherwise credited, all photos are believed to be in the public domain, from Pixabay.com

Visit Scotland On A Budget

If you have always wanted to visit Scotland but have a limited budget then you will be pleased to know that there is a very affordable alternative to expensive hotels. The Scottish Youth Hostels Association, along with its affiliates, runs a network of self-catering hostels throughout Scotland offering budget access to the entire country and it’s a great way to see Scotland without breaking the bank.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/‘’But’’, I hear you ask, ‘’aren’t youth hostels those smelly wooden huts with bunk beds?’’ Once upon a time they were but not any more! Many of today’s youth hostels are modern, comfortable buildings with full facilities, often with family rooms and Scotland has a vast range of hostels from basic to amazing! They offer varying facilities from economy dormitories to private rooms with en-suite facilities and are ideal for families, groups and individuals of all ages.

They can be found in locations as diverse and scenic as the Isle of Skye (you must visit the ‘’Fairy Pools’’), Gairloch (go on a whale-watching trip) and many of the Hebridean islands, the Orkney Islands and the Shetland Islands (recently voted the three best areas to live in Scotland) as well as being scattered randomly throughout the country in both rural and urban locations.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/The Scottish Youth Hostels Association even have four-star rated hostels right in the middle of Scotland’s capital city of Edinburgh and another in Glasgow, Scotland’s biggest city, as well as first-class hostels in other cities. But be warned – not all SYHA hostels are easy to get to, some are located in very remote areas. Glen Affric Youth Hostel is eight miles from the nearest road and the only way to reach it is by hiking over the hills!https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/

And there’s more! The Scottish Youth Hostels Association offer a series of activity holidays suitable for all levels of experience and fitness ranging from Munro-Bagging to Winter Skills to Tai Chi all of which are small groups led by qualified and experienced instructors and are a great way to learn new skills, so whatever you are seeking from a holiday in Scotland be it exploring the cities, an experience in the wilderness, or learning new skills, there is a hostel which will fit the bill for you – and that bill won’t be expensive.https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/

Membership of the Scottish Youth Hostels Association is surprisingly cheap and you don’t even have to be a member to stay in one! Costs vary but a one-off payment for a one-night stay in a hostel needn’t cost more than a couple of cups of coffee – a bargain certainly. And the Scottish Youth Hostels Association hasn’t forgotten Man’s Best Friend! For a small extra charge many of Scotland’s Youth Hostels are only too happy to welcome your canine companion but do check with the hostel first since the number of dog-friendly rooms is limited.

All things considered a tour of Scotland via its wonderful network of youth hostels is definitely worth thinking about.

FOR MORE ON SCOTTISH YOUTH HOSTELS VISIT THE SYHA WEBSITE

 

YouTube video:

Smoo Cave – Subterranean Scotland

In a dramatic location on the north coast of Scotland, near the small town of Durness you will find Smoo Cave. Lying just off the North Coast 500, that picturesque touring route which is becoming ever-more popular with visitors to Scotland, Smoo Cave is one of the many spectacular sights Scotland has to offer. An unusual combination of sea cave and freshwater cave – partially carved by the sea and partially carved by the Allt (river) Smoo, the name is thought to come from an old Norse word which meant a hiding place.https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/

Largest Sea Cave Entrance

It is the largest sea cave entrance in Britain and the sea approach to the cave is quite breathtaking. The cave entrance and main chamber have been considerably enlarged by sea action to nearly 130 feet wide and 50 feet high and the entrance is located at the end of a nearly 700 yards long tidal gorge (Geodha Smoo) which, before that section of the roof collapsed, was once part of the cave. If the weather is clear (not always guaranteed in Scotland!) then following the path above the gorge is well worth the effort for the view it gives down its length.https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/

Three Chambers

The cave consists of three chambers and you are free to explore the first two by yourself by means of a wooden walkway but the third chamber is generally inaccessible. Don’t worry about the tides. Over time the cave has undergone a certain amount of uplift and today it is only at the highest of spring tides that the sea encroaches into the entrance. Unfortunately, access to the cave can be problematic. There is a steep path from the car park on the A838 which leads down to a bridge over the Allt Smoo and thence to the cave entrance.https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/

Occupation Back To Mesolithic Age

So what will you see inside Smoo Cave? The first chamber is impressive – 200 feet long, 130 feet wide and about 50 feet high at the entrance. This chamber was formed by the sea. Archaeological investigations have unearthed Neolithic, Norse and Iron Age artifacts here. It is believed that human occupation of the cave extends back to the Mesolithic age and, given its size, it’s easy to imagine that a fair-sized community could have made its home here.

SinkHole And Waterfall

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/From the first chamber a walkway leads to the second chamber where you find the 60-foot waterfall of the Allt Smoo dropping into the cave through its sinkhole with a gushing roar – really spectacular after rain! This is as far as most visitors can go but, during the summer months when the water level is low enough, it is possible to take a boat tour to the third chamber which includes a short walk and an interesting talk on the geology of the cave. Both the second and third chambers were carved by the action of the Allt Smoo.https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/

Near the car park a wooden bridge has been built across the Allt Smoo at the point where it drops into the sinkhole giving a safe view of this most impressive feature. There are many stories of the cave being a smugglers’ hideaway or the location of an illicit still or even the dumping ground for murder victims some of whom were (allegedly) dropped down the sinkhole of the river to be washed out to sea. There are also tales of the supernatural – ghosts, ghouls and devils have been, at various times, said to inhabit the cave. It has even been claimed that the cave is an entrance to hell and, on dark and stormy evenings when the river is roaring at its loudest and the waterfall is foaming and surging at its most violent, one could well believe it!

No tour of northern Scotland can be said to be complete without a visit to Smoo Cave. In fact, for anyone travelling the North Coast 500 it’s practically mandatory!

Smoo Cave Website

YouTube Video of Smoo Cave

Isle of Arran – Scotland in Miniature

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/Many tourists who visit Scotland will want to spend a few days on one of the islands off the west coast. Known as the Hebrides. The most visited is probably the Isle of Skye (famous for the Cuillin mountains) since it has been connected to the mainland by a bridge since 1995 and it’s a simple matter to drive there.

Travelling to all of the other Hebridean islands requires a ferry crossing but don’t let that put you off visiting them – they are definitely well worth that little bit of extra effort to reach but there is one island which is often overlooked by tourists possibly because it isn’t part of the Hebridean archipelago, situated as it is, much further south.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/In the Firth of Clyde between the mainland and the long, southward-stretching tongue of the Kintyre peninsula lies the Isle of Arran. Scotland’s seventh-biggest island, Arran is also one of the most accessible of the west coast islands being close to the heavily-populated central belt and just a short ferry trip from the mainland. Arran has been continuously inhabited since the early Neolithic period and numerous prehistoric remains have been found. The island once belonged to Norway but is now firmly in Scottish hands!

Rugged and mountainous in its northern half and flat and fertile in the south, Arran is often called ‘Scotland in miniature’. This quirk of geology mirrors the Scottish mainland and is the result of the Highland Boundary Fault, which divides Scotland into the highlands and the lowlands, continuing through Arran resulting in two quite distinct geological zones, just like the mainland – a ‘Scotland in miniature’!

It is possible to fly to Arran but the best way is to catch the ferry from the mainland ferry port of Ardrossan (well served by road and rail links) to Brodick, https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/Arran’s main town. The crossing takes just under an hour and if you are travelling by car, advance booking is recommended. During the summer months, you can also sail from Kintyre to Lochranza in the north of the Island, a trip which takes only 30 minutes.

Once on the island there is a wide choice of things to do. For those with plenty of energy there is Goat Fell. At 2886 feet (874m) it’s the highest peak on Arran and all who venture into this dramatic and spectacular landscape are treated to unrivalled views of the island and, on a clear day, all the way across to Ben Lomond on the mainland and the coast of Ireland to the southwest.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/For the less energetic outdoor enthusiasts there is a plethora of paths, trails and walks of all lengths to explore, ranging from short and easy wanders along sandy beaches to longer and slightly more challenging routes. Whichever you choose, remember to dress appropriately and tell someone where you are going – just in case!

Challenging mountain climbs, dramatic landscapes, seascapes and wonderfully scenic walks are not the end of Arran’s attractions. There are no less than seven golf courses, lots of wildlife and local arts and crafts and produce to sample. You can go sailing, sea kayaking, paragliding, windsurfing, pony trekking (or ride a horse along a beach with the spray in your face), go sea fishing, trout fishing, salmon fishing or ride the waves in a rigid inflatable boat.https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/

For those of a more relaxed frame of mind there are historic castles, museums, two malt whisky distilleries, a brewery and lots more to explore and since Arran is only 56 miles in circumference nowhere is more than a 30-minute drive away from where you are staying.https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/

Speaking of places to stay, Arran offers a wide range of accommodation from basic campsites to youth hostels, independent hostels, guest houses, B&Bs, self catering cottages and a number of excellent hotels all the way up to 5-star accommodation. You can even arrange a vacation stay using Airbnb and, since many people on the island work in the tourist industry you can be assured of a warm welcome.

Scotland in miniature it may be but there’s nothing small about a vacation on the Isle of Arran!

 

YouTube Video:

Website for the Isle of Arran

All pictures, other than those identified on the picture itself, are CC0 and can be used freely without accreditation.

Visit Queen Elizabeth’s Favourite Ship – Britannia

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/Coming to Edinburgh? No vacation trip to Scotland’s capital city would be complete without a visit to the Royal Yacht Britannia, one of Scotland’s most popular visitor attractions. Launched in 1953 Her Majesty’s Yacht Britannia (her proper name) was a much-loved favourite of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and the British royal family for over 40 years and during her lifetime was probably the most famous ship in the world.

In April 1954, carrying a young Prince Charles and Princess Anne, Britannia sailed on her maiden voyage from Portsmouth to Malta and thence to Tobruk in North Africa where Queen Elizabeth and her husband, Prince Philip, boarded her for the first of many voyages. Since then she has carried the Queen and members of the Royal Family on almost 1000 official voyages to virtually all of the worlds’ seas and oceans.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/From her launch to her decommissioning in 1997 she travelled more than a million nautical miles on the high seas and during her career she was the scene of many official receptions and state visits to countries all over the world. She played host to many VIPs and heads of state, including several Presidents of the United States of America. In her role as a floating ambassador for Great Britain she helped to generate many billions of pounds in trade deals and was also used by the royal family as a holiday cruise ship. In 1981 when Prince Charles married the then Lady Diana Spencer they spent their honeymoon aboard her.https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/

Built at the famous John Brown’s Shipyard on the River Clyde in Scotland, this veritable floating palace is now an award-winning visitor attraction and events venue permanently berthed at Ocean Terminal, Leith, in Edinburgh. Receiving more than 300,000 visitors a year she is a fascinating glimpse into royal life and an important historical resource and museum piece.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/On your visit you will be able to explore the bridge, the state apartments, the crew’s quarters and the engine room. Highlights of the tour through the five decks include the sun lounge, the Queen’s bedroom, the state dining room and drawing rooms, the Royal Marines’ barracks and the sick bay. https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/The majority of items on view are the originals (on loan from the Royal Collection and other contributors) including furniture, paintings and photographs from when Britannia was in royal service.

The route you will follow is fully accessible with lifts and ramps to aid your progress from one fascinating exhibit to another and there is no hurry to complete your visit. Tours are neither guided nor timed – you are free to go at your own pace and admire your glimpse into royal life at your leisure. An audio handset is provided to assist your tour. Allow at least two hours and another hour or so if you wish to visit the gift shop or the Royal Deck Tea Room (highly recommended)

A tour of Britannia is surely one of the highlights of any vacation to Scotland’s capital city and shouldn’t be missed. You are welcome to take as many photographs as you wish although the rule is ‘look but don’t touch!’. And until you can go there, check out this YouTube Video.

 

North Coast 500: Explore Scotland by Road

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/
North Coast 500 Passing Place

Thinking of visiting Scotland but don’t really know where to start? Or maybe you’ve already done the castle trail, the whisky trail, and the city experience and now you want to see more of the real, wild Scotland. So what’s the best way to see Scotland’s amazing scenery without confining yourself to one or two relatively small areas?

How about the North Coast 500? A 500-mile road route around the coast of Scotland the North Coast 500 has been called ‘’Scotland’s Route 66’’ after the iconic highway in the USA which no longer exists as a complete route.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/
Inverness

Beginning in Inverness this circular route can be done in either direction depending on which order you want to see the magnificent scenery it reveals to you. From narrow, single-track roads with passing places to long stretches of lonely road where, at times, you will hardly meet another vehicle, the North Coast 500 winds its scenic way around long, narrow, sea lochs where well-positioned parking places offer stunning views of cliffs, sandy almost inaccessible bays and misty views of distant islands.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/
Applecross

From numerous vantage points around the route you will have the chance to see dolphins and whales of many different species, ever-present seals and many species of seabird as well as the recently reintroduced white-tailed sea eagle (the largest bird of prey in the UK and the fourth largest in the world).

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/
Glen Docherty

Although mainly a coastal route the North Coast 500 does loop inland in places and there is a 60-mile cross-country section from Inverness in the east to the Applecross peninsula in the west giving you the opportunity to see some of Scotland’s beautiful inland lochs and mountains (you must pause at the head of Glen Docherty to gaze in awe at the view west to distant Loch Maree) as well as the chance to spot Scotland’s iconic bird, the golden eagle, soaring its way along the flanks of a hill and disappearing into the mist.

Along the route you will pass through scattered settlements and villages often with only a handful of houses and a couple of dozen inhabitants as well as larger towns although the biggest still does not exceed 10,000 people. Although it’s only 500 miles the North Coast 500 can’t be done in a couple of days. To do so would miss out on much of what the route has to offer.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/
Dunrobin Castle

There’s the Black Isle (not an island at all), John O’Groats at the tip of Scotland, unforgettable mountain scenery including Ben Hope (Scotland’s most northerly Munro), the bizarre-looking steep-sided ridge of Suilven, the fairytale castle of Dunrobin, Ardvreck castle ruins and Achmelvich and Dornoch beaches both of which, when the sun shines, will rival any caribbean beach. These are places to savour, not whiz past in a rush.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/
Single Track Road

Spreading your journey over several days will give you the chance to sample the best which Scotland has to offer in the way of cuisine and accommodation and offers opportunities to divert a little from the route to visit places of special interest to you. It’s no wonder that the North Coast 500 route is regarded by many to be one of the best coastal trips on the planet! You may also wish to take some time to explore your starting place, the city of Inverness with its wonderful bridges over the river and its informal coffee shops and cafes. Inverness is also the place where, allegedly, the clearest English in the United Kingdom is spoken!

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/
Lonely Road Along the NC500

If you would love to experience this route but don’t want to organise it yourself or are reluctant to drive yourself (those single-track roads can be awkward if you’re not used to them or to driving on the ‘’wrong’’ side of the road) then don’t despair because there are travel companies which can chauffeur you along the route – either part way or all the way – enabling you to devote all your time to marvel at the passing scenery. Travel itineraries vary and you can choose from full-on luxury hotels to basic camping, travelling by either four wheels or two – including by bicycle.

Whichever direction you decide to take out of Inverness –  north up the east coast or west to Applecross – you will have an unforgettable journey and if you are sufficiently impressed by the North Coast 500 (and you won’t fail to be) then maybe you’ll come back next year and do it the other way around!

The North Coast 500 website has suggested itineraries, where to go, what to see and do and a very useful interactive map which shows accommodation and attractions all round the route. You really must take a look.

North Coast 500 Website:

North Coast Video on Youtube

All pictures courtesy of Pixabay.com CC0

Cruising on the Caledonian Canal

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/Want to see Scotland from a different perspective? How about hiring a motor cruiser for a leisurely cruise across the country? Opened in 1822 the Caledonian Canal runs from Fort William on the west coast to Inverness on the east coast stretching for some 60 miles (97 km) from one side of Scotland to the other and a cruise along its length is a magnificent way to see some of the best of Scotland’s scenery for the Highlands provide a backdrop of incredible beauty for your cruising holiday in Scotland.

Only about a third of the canal is man-made, the rest consists of four lochs – Loch Lochy, Loch Oich, Loch Ness and Loch Dochfour. These four lochs and the entire length of the canal lie within the Great Glen, a geological fault in the Earth’s crust which pretty much cuts Scotland in half diagonally from south-west to north-east. The canal (which is actually a Scheduled Ancient Monument) was built as a way for small boats to get from the North Sea to the Atlantic Ocean without going all the way up and around the top of Scotland thus facilitating commerce between the two coasts.

Because it’s an inshore waterway the canal never really gets rough – certainly not as rough as the sea can get – no matter what the weather and this makes it ideal for beginners who have never contemplated cruising on a motor boat before and fancy a chance to be the skipper of their own motor cruiser.

There are several companies which offer charter boats for canal boat hire on the Caledonian Canal and they all operate in a similar way. You can choose from one of the many four-berth cruisers all the way up to 10-berth boats with dual steering positions – one on the upper deck for sunny days and one in the cabin for those not-so-sunny days.https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/

All the Caledonian canal boat charter companies offer training before they let you loose on the canal and I don’t mean a quick ‘this lever does this and this lever does that’ run through. Everything on board will be explained to you, and your tutor will spend as much time as you feel is necessary for you to be comfortable with running the cruiser including lessons on berthing at a pontoon, how to refuel, how to top up your water supply, etc., and what to do in an emergency.

You will be supplied with charts of the canal, and their use will be explained to you but don’t worry, if you can read a road map you will have no problem reading a chart. Once you are confident with everything then it’s time to explore the canal! https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/There are 29 locks on the canal all of which are manned by a lock keeper so all you have to do to safely navigate a lock is follow their instructions. You are free to roam up and down the entire length of the canal from Banavie just outside Fort William to the Muirtown Basin Marina just outside Inverness. Chartered boats are not allowed beyond either of these limits.

Sights To See Along The Caledonian Canal

Once you start to explore the canal what can you expect to see? You can expect to see sights like ancient castles, quiet towns, cosy lochside pubs and restaurants and to hear the sound of bagpipes drifting over the water and, of course, you can expect to see some magnificent scenery along the way. Since you are in complete control of where and when you cruise on the canal you will have the opportunity to take a whisky distillery tour or a tour of an historic castle. You can indulge yourself in fishing, wildlife and bird-watching all from the comfort of your cruiser and there are many other activities available along the length of the canal and, if you choose to traverse Loch Ness, you never know what you might spot! It’s entirely your choice as to what you do – you could even find a quiet spot to tie-up your cruiser and simply enjoy the peace and quiet for a few days.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/Those stretches of the canal which connect the four lochs together can be quite narrow and during the height of the season it gets quite busy. You must be prepared to meet oncoming traffic which could be anything from a cruiser the same size as yours to surprisingly big cruise boats and barges carrying dozens of passengers to small sailing yachts and even canoes. The rule when passing oncoming traffic is ‘keep to the right’ ie: when passing oncoming traffic they must be on your left. These narrow stretches of canal widen into the broad, open waters of the lochs where navigation is easy.https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/

Boat decks and pontoon surfaces can be slippery when wet so suitable footwear must be worn. Highland lochs are cold, even during the height of summer, so try very hard not to fall overboard! Your cruiser will be equipped with a lifejacket for every person on board and it’s a good idea to wear one whilst you are on deck. Be aware that lifejackets MUST be worn whilst negotiating locks – if anyone on deck isn’t wearing a lifejacket then the boat won’t be allowed into the lock. Your tutor will demonstrate how to properly wear a lifejacket.

Unfortunately, cruisers aren’t really suitable for disabled persons or those with mobility problems. Internal stairways are steep and simply getting on and off a boat can be problematic. Young children should be supervised at all times and should definitely wear lifejackets whilst on deck – including getting on and off a boat.

There is a speed limit on the narrow sections of the canal of five knots for all craft. That’s about a brisk walking pace. There is no speed limit on the open lochs but your cruiser won’t go much faster than that anyway so take your time and enjoy the scenery.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/There are plenty of berthing points along the canal especially close to the locks. Not all berthing points are equipped with fueling or watering points but the larger ones are. Shore power (240v) is also available at some berthing points.

You may need to run your cruiser’s engine whilst berthed to make sure the batteries are topped up but please do not run engines after 9 pm or before 7 am and do keep noise to a minimum late in the evening – there are many residential properties close to the canal and, of course, there will be other boats berthed close to you so be a good neighbour and keep the noise to a minimum.

If you have ever wondered what it is like going through the locks on a boat, as the water goes down and the lock gates swing open, watch this speeded up video of navigating the locks.

If you’re not impressed by the thought of captaining your own cruise boat then you could try one of the several cruise companies which offer cruises on larger boats on the canal. This is a great way to see the canal and experience the sights and sounds along the way without having to lift a finger! Whichever option you choose I’m sure you will have a great time motor cruising on the Caledonian Canal.