Falkland Palace: Scotland’s Ancient Royal Residence

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/Located in the Fife village of Falkland, about an hour’s drive north over the River Forth from Scotland’s capital city of Edinburgh, Falkland Palace has historic royal connections going back beyond the 12th century and saw most of the early Scottish rulers and the later Stuart monarchs. Originally a hunting lodge and later a castle, the 16th century Palace of Falkland was inspired by the grand châteaux of France and it was the Stuart monarchs James IV and his son James V who transformed this favoured retreat of the royal Stuarts into a fine example of Renaissance architecture. King James V, father of Mary, Queen of Scots, died there in 1542 and when Mary herself returned from her time in France she came to Falkland Palace as often as she could whilst carrying out her royal duties as Queen.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/The surrounding countryside was kept as a private hunting estate where members of the royal court and favoured guests would hunt wild boar and deer and fly falcons over the hills. As you explore the spectacular Renaissance architecture of what was, in effect, the country residence of the Stuart monarchs and walk around the magnificent gardens and orchard where you will find Britain’s oldest original real (or royal) tennis courts, the roofed spectator area of which is home to a number of nesting swallows during spring and summer (you may need to duck when they come flying in and out!), you will come to understand why this palace was a royal favourite. In the gardens you can still find some remnants of the 12th-century Castle.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/Sadly, in 1654, a fire partially destroyed the palace during its occupation by Oliver Cromwell’s forces, and it was allowed to fall into a state of disrepair. It was saved from total ruin some 200 years later by John Crichton-Stuart the 3rd Marquess of Bute who bought the estate and carried out a programme of restoration giving it a new lease of life. Work was done on the gatehouse, the south grange and the cross house. Parts of the palace are still in ruins but the original and reconstructed rooms contain 17th-century Flemish tapestries, elaborate painted ceilings and antique furnishings. The palace also has its own chapel.https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/

Although still owned by the Crichton-Stuart family, Falkland Palace (a Scottish Tourist Board 4-star visitor attraction) is now in the care of the National Trust for Scotland and guided tours start at regular intervals. Pre-booking is not required. Tours start from East Port through the impressive entrance archway with the keeper’s rooms and then on to the King and Queens’ bedchambers, the old library, the bakehouse and the tapestry corridor. The guides are knowledgeable and friendly and once you have toured the palace you are then free to wander through the gardens (don’t miss the glasshouses) following in the footsteps of royalty and admiring the palace from the outside. Exit is best made through the gift shop from where you are returned to East Port just a hundred meters or so away from where your tour began.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/But don’t just hurry through the shop! Stay a while and browse the well-stocked displays of Scottish history books, arts and crafts, delicacies like Scottish tablet (once tasted never forgotten), highland toffee (mind your fillings) and whisky marmalade (the breakfast spread of kings). You might buy yourself an ornamental spurtle (look it up) and, of course, this being Scotland you simply cannot leave without treating yourself to a miniature or two of malt whisky!

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/Actually, once you’ve toured the palace, the village of Falkland (Scotland’s first conservation village) is well worth a look. It has many interesting and historic buildings some of which have appeared in various movies over the years. Keep your eyes peeled for the ‘marriage lintels’ which appear in various places on several houses near the palace – they are an interesting and revealing insight into life in medieval times. The village also has hotels, bars and coffee shops where refreshments may be had.

Falkland village can become very busy during the tourist season – the palace is a popular attraction – and, once the main car parks are full, parking can be problematic so an early arrival would be a good idea. There are many companies who organise bus tours or private tours of both the village and the palace which will relieve you of the hassle of finding a parking space. Whichever way you choose to visit you won’t regret spending a day following in the footsteps of Scottish royalty!

For more information Visit Scotland:

 

Video tour of Falkland Palace:

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

Ben Cruachan: Scotland’s Hollow Mountain: Visit If You Dare!

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/Lying at the head of Loch Awe, Scotland’s longest freshwater loch, you will find a most curious thing – a ‘hollow mountain’. Ben Cruachan, one of Scotland’s Munros (mountains over 3000 feet) is home to the only underground, pumped, storage hydroelectric power station in Scotland.

Taking six years to build, Ben Cruachan Power Station was opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 1965. Housed in a huge cavern, big enough to accommodate the Tower of London, situated deep beneath the mountain this invisible power station is truly an awesome construction – and you can visit it!

Not only is Ben Cruachan power station a working industrial complex it is also a major tourist attraction with 50,000 people braving the underground journey each year. There is a well-equipped and laid out visitor centre with interactive displays showing how the power station works including a working model of a turbine generator.

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

Once you have taken all this in, you can then board the minibus (small charge) which will take you along the one kilometre access tunnel to a point close to the turbine hall (which was featured in the James Bond film ‘The World is Not Enough’). From there you must walk the last few yards to a viewing area.

A guide accompanies you and points out various interesting things like the tropical plants growing in the warm, humid atmosphere and the drips of water from the roof of the tunnel: water which has taken two years to percolate down from the reservoir lying in the corrie many metres above your head. It can be a little claustrophobic down here but don’t worry you’re perfectly safe!

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/Ben Cruachan Power Station can be found at the head of Loch Awe on the main A85 Oban to Crianlarich road. There is a cafe and picnic area where you can enjoy a light lunch in a scenic spot overlooking the loch as well as a gift shop and a large, free car park.

Note: For the energetic the mountain Ben Cruachan can be climbed from the visitor centre on a route which takes you past the spectacular dam and reservoir and gives great views down the length of Loch Awe but it’s a long, hard climb and full hillwalking gear and a good level of fitness is required – you have been warned!

TAKE A TRIP INTO THE HOLLOW MOUNTAIN – video

 

FOR MORE INFORMATION VISIT THE HOLLOW MOUNTAIN’S WEBSITE

 

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.

Oban – Gateway to the Isles

In a sheltered position in the Firth of Lorne on the west coast of Scotland you will find the ‘’Little Bay’’ of Oban.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/From its beginning as a small fishing village, today’s bustling town of Oban is now the main departure point for ferries to the Western Isles and much of the west coast of Scotland and during the height of the tourist season its normal population of about 9000 people swells to more than 25,000 most of whom stay for only a few days before moving on.

But Oban is far more than a mere stopping point or way station on a bigger journey. This picturesque town, lying in the horseshoe of Oban Bay, is full of history! The ruins of Dunollie Castle occupy a fortified position to the north of the town. With its roots in the early middle ages it has seen much strife and was, for many years, the most important fortress of the Chiefs of Clan MacDougall. It is now run by the Dunollie Preservation Trust and is open to the public.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/Prominent in the town, especially for those who arrive by sea, is a tall, red chimney with a black tip. It belongs to the Oban Distillery which is one of the very few distilleries in Scotland located in an urban setting, as it is, being just off the main road (A85) which runs along the seafront, making it one of the easiest to access and possibly the most-visited distillery in Scotland. Well worth a visit, Oban Distillery goes back to 1794 and was a major factor in the early development of the town. It is now owned by the Diageo group and has been designated a 5-Star Visitor Attraction by VisitScotland.

Oban has no fewer than two cathedrals. The red stone building of St John’s Cathedral, lies on the main road into Oban from the north. It is the Cathedral of the Scottish Episcopal Church. The other one is St Columba’s Cathedral. Situated on Corran Esplanade it is the seat of the Roman Catholic Bishop of Argyll and the Isles. The interior of both of these cathedrals is a ‘’must see’’ for every visitor to Oban. Located near the town’s north pier is Oban War and Peace Museum. Occupying the ground floor of what was once the local newspaper building, the museum offers visitors the story of Oban in wartime and in peacetime and is full of fascinating facts about the local area. There is no charge for admission to this completely independent museum which is run mainly by volunteers so don’t forget to buy something from the gift shop!

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/Probably the most prominent feature of the town is the Listed Monument of McCaig’s Tower, often known as McCaig’s Folly. Modelled on the Colosseum in Rome this unfinished structure stands on Battery Hill behind the town and is a favourite subject of the postcards for sale in the local shops. Intended as a family monument the tower was built by a wealthy banker, John Stuart McCaig between 1895 and 1902. His motives weren’t entirely selfish though. It was also his intent to provide work for local stonemasons. McCaig’s Tower is accessible by road (keep your eyes peeled for the signs – some of them aren’t easy to spot!) or, for the energetic, it can be reached by a hard ten-minute uphill slog from the town centre. First time visitors to the tower are in for a surprise. Inside, a grassy hillock provides a quiet public garden as a respite from the busy town and the location is a magnificent viewpoint from which to view the town of Oban and the bay and (if it isn’t too misty) further afield to the isles of Kerrera, Lismore, Mull and the peninsula of Morvern.

Speaking of viewpoints there is another excellent place from which to see Oban and the surrounding area. Pulpit Hill, to the south of the harbour is less than 300 feet high but offers great views. It’s a little harder to reach than McCaig’s Folly but is well worth the effort. There is a viewpoint indicator on the summit which points out various interesting features visible from the top. You can drive pretty close to the top and walk the last few yards or there is a path from a
point near the harbour. If you choose to drive be aware that the road is largely single track with passing places and some sharp bends. Care is needed to avoid oncoming traffic.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/Oban is also a major centre for those who enjoy sailing pleasure craft along Scotland’s west coast. Oban has a large marina but, curiously, it isn’t in Oban! It’s actually located on the island of Kerrera, the large island which shelters Oban Bay. There are several other smaller marinas in the area and transit berths are available at Oban’s North Pier. The town also retains a significant fishing fleet.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/Oban can be a busy and crowded town at times but visitors are well catered for in the shape of the many hotels, restaurants, cafes and bars to be found and there is nothing nicer than finding a strategically-placed coffee shop or hotel bar from where you may sip your favourite beverage, look out over the bay and wonder to which of the many hebridean islands that ferry is going. Just thinking about it might make you want to jump onto the next one leaving the harbour!

And here is a video from Youtube, showing Oban:

The (Rail) road To The Isles On The Harry Potter Jacobite Train

‘’It’s by Shiel water the track is to the west,
by Ailort and by Morar to the sea.’’

These lines are from a well-known traditional Scottish song ‘’The Road to the Isles’’ describing a weary travellers’ journey and the long road he must travel to reach his home on the Isle of Skye. You can hear this song in a video at the bottom of this article.

Today that journey is far easier and perhaps the best way to see what is surely the most scenic part of that long road home is to take a different kind of track – a railroad track – from the west highland town of Fort William to the west coast fishing port and ferry terminal of Mallaig.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/The West Coast Railways Jacobite steam train will take you in comfort from the foot of Britain’s highest mountain, to the mouth of Europe’s deepest sea loch. The only timetabled steam rail journey in the UK, the Jacobite passes picturesque coasts, mountains and glens on its spectacular 42-mile journey west.

It passes through an area which many consider to be one of the most beautiful in the UK (beaches in this area have been used in several Hollywood movies).https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/

From Fort William and Ben Nevis (the highest mountain in the UK) it passes the southern end of the Caledonian Canal and Neptune’s Staircase, a series of eight locks (the longest staircase lock in the UK) allowing boats down to the sea at Loch Linnhe.

It then skirts the head of Loch Shiel with its monument https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/commemorating the spot where Bonnie Prince Charlie raised his standard to begin the ‘45 rebellion and passes over the imposing 21-arch Glenfinnan Viaduct (which any ‘’Harry Potter’’ fan will instantly recognise) and on to the small hamlet of Lochailort where commandos were trained during WW2.https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/

Next comes Loch nan Uamh where there is another viaduct to carry the railway over the road and, on the shores of the loch, sits the Prince’s Cairn which marks the spot from where Bonnie Prince Charlie fled to France after the Jacobite army’s final disastrous defeat at the battle of Culloden in 1746.

A short distance further on is the village of Arisaig – another place involved in commando training and from where emigrants sailed to Canada and founded the small village of Arisaig in Nova Scotia in 1785.

Mallaig isn’t far now but before the Jacobite reaches it you can indulge in a little monster-spotting! Loch Morar, to the east of the railway line, is the deepest freshwater loch in the British Isles and is rumoured to have a rival to Nessie, the Loch Ness monster. Named ‘’Morag’’ the Loch Morar monster, is just as much an enigma as Nessie. She has (allegedly) been seen several times but no evidence has ever been found for her existence. Maybe she and Nessie have eloped together!

Finally Mallaig at the end of the railway line is reached but that isn’t necessarily the end of your journey. Mallaig (once the busiest herring port in Europe) is a bustling ferry terminal as well as a busy fishing port and onward travel by ferry is possible to the Isle of Skye, the inner hebridean archipelago of the Small Isles (one of Scotland’s National Scenic Areas) or south to Inverie a village on the mainland which isn’t connected to the rest of Scotland by any road and is home to Britain’s remotest pub. The only way to reach it is by ferry from Mallaig – or a long 17-mile hike over the hills.

As scenic railway journeys go, this ‘’railroad to the isles’’ certainly ranks up there with the best of them and any visit to the west coast of Scotland would be incomplete without a trip on the Jacobite steam train to Mallaig but book early because it is understandably very popular!

Here is the song “The Road To The isles”, sung by Kenneth McKellar: