Oh, bonnie Scotland, I will never tire of you. And this is my third time visiting you, great country! A country of kings and queens, clans and uprisings, writers, poets, scientists, musicians, with its wild nature, lakes and islands, you will need several lifetimes to explore all it has to offer. So do not put off your travels here! Come along, come with me on a journey to West Highlands this time, as I have previously told you about the Loch Ness, and Edinburgh, and Glasgow, and Scottish Highlands.
This time we’ll see the west of Scotland, with its own lochs (lakes), with its own magnificent nature, emerald grasses, dark and mysterious woods, winding roads, rain and sunshine, the fresh medieval air, the sights of kilts, bagpipes and fiddles and the accent existing only in this part of the world.
Scotland… where you can embark on ‘a stravaig’ through glens, and bens, volcanoes and hills with no particular purpose, because what is better than that? Well, maybe a cup of tea or a wee dram of whiskey while sitting by a fireplace in some tiny stone cottage looking out the window, watching the rain and mist come together in a mystical dance. And you are covered with a tartan lambswool blanket, with a fluffy Scottish deer-hound snoring at your feet, sipping your drink and enjoying the present moment, for each moment is fleeting, so let’s take delight in today.
You know, of the reasons I also went on this tour (with Rabbie’s again), was to see Doune Castle, as a filming location of Outlander. Right now, reminiscing of this place, I’m glad I haven’t heard of Outlander and Jamie and Claire before coming to Scotland, I got to see my own image, without Diana Gabaldon praising this amazing country. But you know what else? She was so right about it. And she didn’t even visit it when she started writing the books! Talk about great imagination!
Anyhow, you’ll get to see what’s inside when you get here, and you’ll hear Jamie’s (Sam Heughan’s voice) on your audio guide, imagine my surprise when I heard him in my ears! The entry to the castle is extra, but you do get a discount when you go with this tour company called Rabbie’s (named after the poet Robert Burns), and it is my third time with them, first one being about ten years ago, if I’m not mistaken.
For those who’s never heard of Outlander, this place might interest you as being a film location for Winterfell in Game of Thrones. But hey-ho, in the souvenir shop of the castle you will only see the Outlander merch and other stuff! Sorry!
I did take a few pictures inside the castle, but I wouldn’t want to spoil the entertainment of being inside and seeing it for yourself. If you want to see some photos, let me know in the comments.
So, What’s Inside?
For now, picture the great hall full of Regent Albany’s guests enjoying dinner and fun. You will be able to walk into the kitchen of Castle Leoch – home to Jamie’s uncle Colum Mackenzie and his clan. It is here Claire accepts her new tartan clothes after being found in the forest by her future (or should I say past?) husband Jamie Fraser. When you are in Doune Castle, you will step into the servery to imagine how grand banquets were made, as well as be in awe of the views from the battlements over the River Teith and towards the Menteith Hills and Ben Lomond.
The rooms are huge, the stairs are spiraling up and down, some ceilings are so low you have to bend to get through to the next hall, and some so big, you can hold tournaments there. The windows are small and the light is scarce, but isn’t it more magical?
But let’s drive to the next location, no matter how much we want to stay longer in this one. Just leave your audio guide, when you exit the gate!
Loch Lubnaig is a stunning freshwater lake near Callander in Stirling area. It is part of the Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park.
Lubnaig in Gaelic means crooked, because, well, the lake is probably like that, if you look at it from the top. There are cycling and walking routes to enjoy this outstanding scenery.
The serenity of this lake with the small drops of rain quietly falling down on the surface, that remarkable mist wrapping up the dark green trees, an occasional blow of wind surprising you with his December coldness; all of it grasps you and never lets go. You glide with the mist, over the emerald crags and think you see a Highland stag at the top of one of them. You wonder what the brown colours look like in the summer.
I could stay here forever just looking at it all. Later I learned that you can swim here, and even fish for wild salmon, and camp. I’m talking about wild camping of course, and I would absolutely love to try that. If you decide to fish here, remember to take the permit for that at the cabin at the lake.
I mean, who am I kidding, most of this post will be photos of Scotland and not that many words. But we’ll soon go off to our next stop! A slight detour from our itinerary. However, aren’t these woods spectacular?
Falls of Dochart
Our Rabbie’s tour guide Billy, a kind and very patient Scot, knows his history and his hidden gems of Scotland. We came here for a short while, to view the Falls of Dochart, a breathtaking series of rapids going through the village of Killin.
According to the official Visit Scotland website, you can find the ruins of the Campbell stronghold of Finlarig Castle and the Moirlanich Longhouse, “a rare surviving example of a traditional Scottish longhouse, maintained by the National Trust for Scotland”.
However, we didn’t have much time here, so we just enjoyed the rapids which were in full swing this time of year!
What I can say for sure about this place, it was a striking view of the water rushing through the mountains. I can still hear the sound of it in my ears. It is so alluring and magnetic. It pulls you close to water. You want to feel it on your skin, you run to touch the cold current and the sense of adventure envelops you. It’s even impossible to see the modern looking people around you. You simply gaze across the river and see the people of Clan MacNab, who were once dominant in the area.
You may not believe it but there is a stone circle here too, and if you still feel that adventure running through you, the cold of water making your hand searing hot, go explore. Maybe even bring along a gemstone like Claire Fraser. Who knows what will happen when you touch the stone circle. Maybe it’ll take you to the historic Jacobite rising again. Will you be able to change the course of history?
But let’s go on. Our next stop is another castle!
Oh for us, it was only a photo stop here. The weather wasn’t exactly great for viewing castles at great distances, plus I was a bit scared to go further through the watery grass, as it could have well been a swamp. Sometimes my sense of adventure just shuts down when I think of possible swamps around me. Alas, Kilchurn Castle itself is only open during warm months (April til September), and apparently only accessible by boat or by foot from somewhere very far from us that day. Oh well, next time, perhaps?
So yes, the lake, where the castle stands is called Awe. And you truly are in awe, when you see the ruins of this 15th century beauty. It was occupied by the Clan Campbell, of Glenorchy, who dominated the central Highlands for more than two centuries. The castle was abandoned in the 1700s.
Visit Scotland website says that “the castle comprised a five-storey tower-house at one corner of an irregular-shaped courtyard. The tower house still stands substantially complete, overshadowing the rest of the complex. On the ground level of the tower were a cellar and prison. There was a hall on the first floor and private chambers above”.
This place looks absolutely enchanting and we can only watch it stand there in a complete loneliness, guarded by the water and the mountains, keeping the secrets of the mighty Campbells of Glenorchy from the passersby.
The magnificent Inveraray Castle near the town of Inveraray in Argyll and Bute stands on the shore of Loch Fyne and is one of the finest stately homes of Scotland.
It is very fairytale like with its towers, walls and windows, makes for an amazing wedding celebration, just like the one on Downton Abbey, right? Only the one that ends well.
So unlike the previous castles, Inveraray is quite new, having been built in the end of the 18th century. Of course you can visit this place in the warm months! Again! From April 1st until the end of October.
There are many things you can do here, apart from visiting the famous Armoury Hall containing some 1300 pieces including Brown Bess muskets, Lochaber axes and 18th century Scottish broadswords (Visit Scotland website).
There are also swords from the Battle of Culloden, if you’ve heard anything about that. You can also go visit the State Dining Room and Tapestry Drawing Room which contain French tapestries, as well as Scottish, English and French furniture and many other magnificent artworks. In the Clan Room there’s a priceless collection of china, silver and family heirlooms that span generations.
And if you aren’t interested in history much, you can hang out in the Tearoom, where the Scottish-sourced menu includes the best of Mull cheddars and Arran Ice creams, while the Castle’s soups, quiches and scones are made daily on the premises and cakes and tray-bakes are made on the Estate (official website).
And if you aren’t into tearooms and gardens, you can just get married here! But the wedding comes in a package with the tearoom, and the gardens, and the Armoury Hall, so…you know.
Have a walk around (in the summer months), there’s beauty all around.
And after you’re done with the Inveraray Castle, come to Inveraray. It is a small town on the Western shore of Loch Fyne.
Town of Inveraray
Inveraray’s coat of arms shows five swimming herring on an heraldic shield. Inveraray’s main industry used to be herring fishing in this Loch. The Latin words underneath the arms read ‘SEMPER TIBI PENDEAT HALEC’.
If you pop into a gift shop in Inveraray, you might find some rare English china. As crested china became the most important type of British souvenir between 1900 and 1930 (National Museums of Scotland website). If you don’t find it, you can always get some IrnBru and fudge instead. But do look around, as it is Scotland, and the beauty is literally at every corner.
When you finish doing the sightseeing, head over to The George hotel for some hearty dinner, also recommended to us by our Rabbie’s driver guide Billy. He suggested some other options, but those options were all closed that particular day. And probably for the best!
Because The George Hotel was not one private house, but two!
In 1776 the 5th Duke of Argyll ordered that the ground floor flat of each of these private houses to be made into temporary churches for the Gaelic and English speaking congregations. These two churches are now covered by the Public Bar, Front Lounge and Church Hall. (The George Hotel)
When we walked in, we were greeted like the locals, with warmth and kindness. The lovely server girl took us to our table. We were lucky that they had a table for us. Because we finally noticed that the hotel dining room and bar were full with people dining and celebrating Christmas holidays. The fireplace was filled with crackling wood, it was cosy, with cute but subtle fairy-lights on the low ceilings with wooden beams. You’ll see more on my YouTube video (out later this month).
What We Ordered At The George Hotel
I had a trio of grilled pork belly, Stornoway black pudding, pork and leak sausage served with mashed potatoes, broccoli and a red wine sauce, which I mistook for gravy and drowned the whole dish in it. It was crazy good. Here, have a look.
I don’t know if you can see it in the picture, but the portion was huge. Actually had to leave some of it on the plate, please, don’t judge me, as we had to drive quite a lot after it on the winding roads. I wanted to feel conscious!
My mum ordered herself a Scottish smoked hake fillet served with mashed potatoes, seared spinach, Mornay sauce and topped with a poached egg. We were both very hungry, so the picture came out not so great. Forgive me.
This dish was large as well, I even tried some of it. Everything was cooked to perfection, and we didn’t even wait that long. I was truly happy to be in this lovely old hotel, with my mu, eating local food made from local ingredients. Whilst it was raining outside, we were sat in a beautiful place with plenty of history, enjoying tasty dinner.
I think each dish cost around £10-11. And that’s not much, considering, that for the same price, you’ll get a third of what was in that plate in London, or even Edinburgh.
Our Way Back To Edinburgh
After our dinner we headed towards Loch Lomond, in our lux Mercedes.
Mind you, by the time we got there, it started getting dark. It is winter, after all. We walked along the shore for a bit, strolled on the pier and headed back to the car. We listened to some more Scottish traditional music, and to the stories Billy told us, we saw the mythical Kelpies lit up during the night hours and safely reached Edinburgh.
I hoped you liked my stories in this blog post. And if you have any questions, please ask me in the comments, or send me an e-mail.
Also follow my Instagram for more photos.
Aefauldlie, Olya x
To book a tour with The Rabbie’s – visit their website https://www.rabbies.com/en
If you want to dine at The George Hotel in Inveraray – go here https://www.thegeorgehotel.co.uk/restaurants.php
Inveraray Castle Official Website https://www.inveraray-castle.com/