Dance Your Way Around Scotland

image courtesy Erik Fitzpatrick/Flickr CC-BY 2.0
image courtesy Erik Fitzpatrick/Flickr CC-BY 2.0

Many visitors to Scotland look forward to savouring a ‘taste of the country’. Food and drink like atholl brose, cranachan, the many fine malt whiskies or even Scotland’s ‘other national drink’ might be consumed and the historic castles of Dunrobin, Stirling, Edinburgh and others will be sought out and explored. Glasgow’s impressive Victorian architecture and the breathtaking scenery of glencoe and the islands will be much photographed and no doubt Scotland’s changeable weather will be the subject of some comment!

There is one other activity which visitors to Scotland who wish to ‘taste the country’ should consider and that is the traditional evening of music, song and dance known as a cèilidh. Derived from an Old Irish word a cèilidh (kay’lee) was originally any social gathering the purpose of which was, apart from entertainment, to allow young people to meet potential marriage partners.

That original purpose, which served the gaelic-speaking communities of both Scotland and Ireland well for many centuries, has now been superseded by more modern activities but cèilidhs are still held as musical evenings or parties, especially in rural communities, whenever a celebration is called for – or to party just for the fun of it!

A cèilidh can be held just about anywhere – the village hall, a pub, a hotel or, in the more remote areas, a farmer’s barn or as an informal occasion in someone’s house (if you are lucky enough to be invited to the latter event then you will find it a memorable occasion and a true ‘taste of Scotland’).

The bigger, organised cèilidhs generally feature a whole host of traditional folk music and songs (often in gaelic) performed by professional cèilidh bands playing traditional instruments like the fiddle, the flute, the accordion and, of course, the bagpipes and dances like the ‘Gay Gordons’, the ‘Dashing White Sergeant’, the ‘Eightsome Reel’ and the ‘Canadian Barn Dance’ will be performed at most cèilidhs.

Photograph by David Dixon/Geograph UK https://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/3910564
Photograph by David Dixon/Geograph UK
https://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/3910564

Because of the remoteness of some communities informal cèilidhs are more common on the west coast and the islands especially as part of wedding or birthday celebrations. Cèilidhs are also organised as public events which anyone can attend and one of the best of these is held frequently in the west highland coastal town and ferry port of Oban.

If you are interested in seeing and taking part in a modern version of a traditional Scottish cèilidh then the live music venue ‘The View’ located on Oban’s main waterfront road is well-worth a visit and since cèilidhs are family-friendly you can bring the youngsters. Don’t forget your dancing shoes because once you hear that fiddle music you simply won’t be able to stay in your seat.

You will be encouraged to take part in the dancing (it isn’t compulsory but it’s great fun!) but don’t worry if you’re not familiar with the steps since most cèilidhs have a ‘prompter’ or master of ceremonies to keep you on the right track and, with a little bit of practice, you’ll soon be ‘swinging your partner’ with the best of them! Just like you can see here:

URQUHART CASTLE

Between Fort William in the east and Inverness in the west lies the geological fault of the Great Glen – a deep, diagonal slash in the land. 62 miles in length, it cuts Scotland in half separating the Grampian mountains from the northwest highlands.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/Lying within this glen is Loch Ness and on the shore of the loch about halfway along you will find the ruins of Urquhart Castle. Close to the village of Drumnadrochit and located in a prominent position surrounded on three sides by water Urquhart Castle is famous for being the place from which the Loch Ness monster has most often been seen and photographed and, perhaps for this reason, it is one of the most visited castles in Scotland but the existence or otherwise of this legendary creature isn’t the only reason for visiting Urquhart Castle.https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/

Now under the care of Historic Environment Scotland the castle is steeped in history – there is evidence of a castle of some description on the site as far back as the reign of King Alexander II (1214-1249). One of the largest castles in Scotland in total area Urquhart Castle is easily accessible from the main A82 road which runs alongside the loch. The castle has witnessed some of the most significant chapters in the history of Scotland and, with a wild natural beauty and centuries of history behind it, offers a taste of the highlands at their most dramatic giving a glimpse of life in a medieval castle complemented by stunning views over Loch Ness.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/Overlooking the castle and the loch and discreetly hidden by the sloping hillside below the main A82 a new, modern visitor centre was opened in 2002. Accessed from the car park by steps or elevator the visitor centre comprises three main areas: the shop, leading to the viewing terrace and the path to the castle; an exhibition area which includes a large model of the castle and an audio-visual theatre.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/Be sure to visit the cafe for the views from the outside terrace are quite spectacular which is why it was once a popular wedding venue. Sadly, weddings are no longer conducted at the castle but happy couples are quite welcome to take photographs. Once into the castle grounds proper there is much to see including a full-sized replica trebuchet (a bit like a catapult), a fine example of a truly impressive siege weapon from a time before gunpowder.

Also in the extensive grounds you will find the remains of several buildings including those of the kitchens and the great hall. The Grant Tower, the best-preserved part of the castle, can be explored by a narrow and rather restricted spiral staircase. At busy times this can be quite congested and you may have to wait your turn but the view from the top over Loch Ness makes it worthwhile.

Even though there are many castles in Scotland larger or more complete than Urquhart Castle there are few with quite such a depth of history and even fewer located in such magnificent surroundings nor is there the possibility anywhere else, however unlikely, of taking a photograph which proves that a certain mythical creature does in fact exist. Can you imagine a wedding photograph with the Loch Ness Monster in the background?

More information on Urquhart Castle.

Click here for more on Urquhart Castle.

 

All photographs on this page were sourced from Pixabay

And a Youtube video

WELCOME TO FORT WILLIAM

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/Located at the western end of the Great Glen at the head of Loch Linnhe Fort William is often known as ‘The Outdoor Capital of Scotland’ because of its excellent position as a base for outdoor activities. With a population of about 11,000 this highland town is never quiet! Summer or winter thousands of tourists arrive in the area, many of them seeking adventure on the hills and mountains which surround the town.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/And what a collection of fine mountains there are! Ben Nevis (4413 ft/1345 m), the UK’s highest mountain, towers over the town – so close in fact that to get a decent view of it one has to travel a couple of miles outside of the town!

About two miles east of Fort William is Aonach Mòr (4006 ft/1221 m) where you will find the Nevis Range ski area which is well worth of visit even if you don’t ski since there is a gondola lift which operates all year round and is the easiest way to ascend the mountain.https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/

Both of these mountains (and many others in the area) are known as ‘Munros’ – a term which is used to describe mountains in Scotland which are over 3000 ft/914 m. Ben Nevis has an abandoned weather observatory on its summit and the observations taken there in bygone days were important for our understanding of Scottish mountain weather and Aonach Mòr has played host to The Mountain Bike World Cup for several years in a row. Climbing the Munros is almost a national sport in Scotland and, since there are 282 of them there are plenty to choose from.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/There are many adventures to be had in the great outdoors in the area from hillwalking to rock climbing, ice climbing, kayaking, wildlife spotting (on land and sea), fishing, diving, off-road driving and motorcycling, boat hire and more and all of these can be indulged in by yourself (provided you have the necessary equipment and expertise of course) or under the supervision of one of the various guided tours available in the area.

Fort William is also one end of two well-known long-distance walking routes – the West Highland Way, a 95-mile long route which has its other end in the town of Milngavie, near Glasgow, and the Great Glen Way, a 78-mile long walking/cycling route whose other end is the city of Inverness, on the east coast of Scotland. Many hundreds of people travel one or other of these routes every year.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/For those whose interests don’t lean towards outdoor activities Fort William still has much to offer. The gaelic name for Fort William is An Gearasdan which means ‘The Fort’ and many local people still refer to it by that name today and the remains of the original fort are still worth a visit. This was built by the English in an attempt to pacify the clans during the turbulent period of the various Jacobite rebellions which culminated in the Scottish army’s defeat at Culloden in 1746. In the town’s High Street the West Highland Museum is a great place to go to find out more of the history of the town and surrounding area.

Scotland’s ‘national drink’ and its most famous export, whisky, is represented in the town by the Ben Nevis distillery and no visit to the area would be complete without a tour of the distillery followed by a visit to the distillery shop and a tasting of the product itself, whose gaelic name is uisge beatha – the ‘water of life’. The huge water pipes which supply the distillery with pure, clean, highland water, can be seen running down the side of Ben Nevis. There are many pubs and hotels in the town and surrounding area which will supply visitors with a good variety of Scotch whiskies – so don’t be shy, sample a few!

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/ https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/Fort William lies at the western end of the Great Glen, a huge gash in the land running between Inverness on the east coast and the town of Corpach, close to Fort William, in the west. Within this gigantic trench lies the Caledonian Canal – a fully-navigable series of lochs and connecting channels which offer an easy way for small boats to pass from the north sea to the sea loch of Loch Linnhe and thence into the Atlantic Ocean. It is possible to hire a small cruiser and sail up and down the Caledonian Canal. There are several locks to negotiate along the length of the canal but none are difficult and the lock-keepers are on hand to help.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/The surrounding area offers spectacular views of mountains, lochs and rivers as well as some fascinating history and, if you chose wisely, you will be treated to the finest Scottish cuisine available in one of the several former castles (yes, that’s right, castles) which dot the area and are now hotels. Some of them take a little trouble to find but a visit to Fort William and the surrounding area will reward you with sights and experiences (and tastes) which will live in your memory for a long time.

Want to know more? Then take a look at these websites:

Undiscovered Scotland – Fort William

Visit Scotland – Fort William

Fort William is also the starting point for Britain’s only scheduled steam train, The Jacobite, which runs along the West Highland Line to the port of Mallaig from where a ferry can be had to Eilean a’ Cheò, the Misty Isle, better known as the Isle of Skye. This luxurious train passes over the Glenfinnan viaduct, a spectacular 21-span curved viaduct near the head of Loch Shiel which will be familiar to any ‘Harry Potter’ fan. This 41-mile heritage train journey is not to be missed but book early – understandably, it’s very popular!

Travel Scotland

 How to Plan Your Scotland Tour

There are many attractions that will take your breath away when you travel to Scotland. You’ll travel through some breathtaking scenery, see the historic towns and castles, and enjoy the food and drink of Scotland. Visitors have many options to choose between when planning their Scottish vacation. There are so many things to do when you travel to there.

Your first stop might be in the famous Inverness region. https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/Inverness is a city in the Scottish Highlands and is regarded as the capital of the Highlands. It is the most northerly city in the United Kingdom and lies within the Great Glen where the River Ness enters the Moray Firth. https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/

This area has many forests that are easily explored, some even with the use of mobility scooters. The six main forests are Reelig Glen (with Big Douglas, at one time the tallest tree in Britain), Craig Phadrig, the nearest to Inverness and with an Iron Age hill fort, Ord Hill, with another Iron Age fort and arguably the best views over the Moray Firth, Little Mill, a small wood with features formed in the last ice age, Daviot Wood, which is accessible by mobility scooter and has wide paths suitable for cycling, and Culloden Wood, which lies over part of the battlefield of Culloden and includes a wishing well for healing.

If you would rather go by water, you can cruise the Caledonian Canal, and sail on Loch Ness, though there is no guarantee that you will see the Loch Ness monster! This trip also takes in Urquhart castle.

A day trip you can take from Inverness will take you to the famous Isle of Skye to see Eilean Donan Castle and the Old Man of Storr.

For more information on what to do and see in Inverness, check out this site.

All images are available under the Creative Commons CC0 licence