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Scotland's Hebrides Islands, off its west coast, offer a wonderful range of different sights and experiences.

Our Scotland's Islands and Highlands Tour takes you 8 islands (via 11 ferry crossings and a steam train ride), giving you a great time seeing much of the Inner and Outer Hebrides as well as time in the Highlands.

Here is one person's account of her experiences on our 2010 tour.

 
 
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Scotland's Islands & Highlands Tour Diary

Day 7 :  Loch Ness and Fort Augustus
 

One of Scotland's best known icons and most popular attractions - ruined Urquhart Castle on the shores of Loch Ness

Back via two ferries to the mainland again today, then touring alongside and spending time at Loch Ness, but no sign of any monsters.

Part of an 11 day/page trip diary - click the links on the right hand side for the other days in this diary.

 

 

Jeanette and her husband Ken were on our 2010 Scotland's Islands and Highlands Tour, and Jeanette kept a detailed day by day diary of the tour.

She has very graciously allowed it to be re-published here, so as to allow you an unvarnished view into what the tour was all about.

The text is hers, which I've respected and not changed apart from a few subheadings and extra paragraph breaks and some Americanizations of her English spelling (they are from New Zealand).

I've sourced the pictures and their captions are also from me, not Jeanette.

You can follow along with her narration by tracking the tour on this tour itinerary page and the linked Google maps.

I hope this will encourage you to come on our 2011 Scotland's Islands and Highlands Tour.

Day 7 – Sunday June 20th 2010 – Fort Augustus and Loch Ness

Google Touring Map for the Day

It was Father's Day in Scotland.

I was woken with the alarm at 6:45am but Ken was already up and getting ready for the day. We had to be on the coach with our bags by 8:15am. No time for a hot breakfast as it only starts at 8am but they laid out muesli etc and fruit and toast so we managed to get some sustenance before Jay drove off at 8:11am (4 minutes early). We had a 30 minute drive then a 15 minute ferry from Fishnish to Lochaline, on the mainland.

We arrived at the ferry at 8:40am and had time to stretch our legs for a while before the ferry arrived. There are no bookings for this ferry so David was determined to be early to ensure we got in line before too many others. The breeze was fairly light but very chilly so we all returned to the warmth of the bus in plenty of time. The ferry arrived at 9am and sailed on time at 9:10am. We turned the GPS on and enjoyed watching the ship crossing the loch at 10mph. There were only 3 cars, a caravan, a motorhome and our bus so there was plenty of room.


One of the many one lane roads our coach drove us along - you can just make out regular passing bays in the distance ahead.  At least this part of the road was straight.

Once on the mainland we had to drive north to Ardgour to get the next ferry across Loch Linnhe to Corran. Even though this was an A road it once again was a single track with frequent passing bays. It was hilly country so the road went up and down a lot. The sky is a lot cloudier today and the air is quite cool. We saw a couple of deer close by the road, watching us pass by. We drove down to one loch where we saw a group of kayakers having a rest on the bank and happily waving to us. At the end of the loch we turned onto a normal 2 lane road so we could travel much faster, although still well below the speed limit of 60mph, and over a number of cattle stops.

While traveling along Loch Linnhe we could see the 4,406 ft (1,343 m) high Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Great Britain. There were no clouds over the mountain so we could see the top, which is fairly unusual. It was a very pretty drive with thousands of purple Rhododendron bushes along the loch in full flower. We arrived in Ardgour at 10:16am in good time for our next ferry ride at 10:30am. This was just a 5 minute crossing to Corran, once we were onboard with about 12 cars, 2 motorbikes and the motorhome and caravan we had met on the previous ferry.

We drove North and passed through Fort William about 10:52am. This was the first town in Scotland to get street lighting. Ken was time keeper for David to get the time needed to return to Fort William tomorrow to catch the train. The water from Loch Laggan comes through the hills in tunnels then down the hillside in a series of long pipes (15 miles) to the power station in Fort William. We drove on past the White Corries which is Scotland's main ski fields. There is even enough snow for them to be able to ski/snowboard tomorrow, Mid Summer's day, June 21st.

On our way up the Great Glen, we stopped at Spean Bridge at 11:05am for a 20 minute stop, in our driver Jay's home town. It was a very comfortable stop with plenty of room for the many buses stopping there. There was a very extensive shop with lots of Scottish clothing. Ken saw a model in full highland dress and decided he wanted to get a pair of 'flashes', which are fancy garters, to use when he is wearing long socks with dress shorts. Unfortunately they were out of stock.


The Commando Memorial, close to Spean Bridge.

Our next stop was a mile up the road at the Commando Memorial commemorating all the commandos lost in World War II. They all trained in the hills only 8 miles north of Spean Bridge. The memorial had 3 larger than life size men standing on a high plinth. They were models of actual commandos but no names were made public. It was most impressive and we had great views over the high hills around us.

At 11:45am we were underway again driving up a narrow valley towards Loch Ness, We drove beside the Caledonian Canal which joins the west coast at Corpach near Fort William to the east coast at Inverness through 4 Lochs (lakes), Loch Lochy, Loch Oich, Loch Ness and Loch Dochfour. The lochs are part of the Great Glen, a geological fault in the earth's crust. The total distance is 60 miles (96.5km) of which the man-made canal joining the lochs is 22 miles (35.5km) long.

Thomas Telford designed and built the canal. He also designed the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct on the Llangollen Canal, the Menai Straits Bridge in Wales and the Gota Canal in Sweden. The construction was commenced in 1803 and was finished 19 years later in 1822 with an initial depth of 15 feet (4.6 m). This was increased to 18 feet (5.5 m) when repairs were carried out in 1847. The canal has 29 locks, 4 aqueducts and 10 bridges. It was conceived as a way of providing much-needed employment to the Highland region. The area was depressed as a result of the Highland Clearances, which had deprived many of their homes and jobs. They were faced with laws which sought to eradicate their culture, including the right to wear tartan, to play bagpipes, and to speak Gaelic, so many were emigrating to Canada or to the Scottish lowlands.

In the meantime, shipbuilding had advanced, with the introduction of steam-powered iron-hulled ships, many of which were now too big to use the canal. The navy did not need to use the canal either, as Napoleon had been defeated at Waterloo in 1815, and the perceived threat to shipping when the canal was started was now gone. Commercially, the venture was not a success, but the dramatic scenery through which it passes led to it becoming a tourist attraction. Queen Victoria took a trip along it in 1873, and the publicity surrounding the trip resulted in a large increase in people visiting the region and wanting to travel on the canal. Even the arrival of the railway at Fort William, Fort Augustus and Inverness did little to harm the canal, as trains were scheduled to connect with steamboat services. There is a 73 mile (117km) long-distance footpath called the Great Glen Way from Fort William to Inverness which follows the canal and the lochs.


The staircase locks at Fort Augustus.

It was much sunnier in the afternoon with no rain all day. We passed through Fort Augustus at 12:12pm where we will be staying for the night at the Lovat Arms hotel, right near a flight of 4 locks on the canal. We drove north along the foreshore of Loch Ness (755 feet/230m deep with more fresh water than the rest of the lakes in England and Wales) to Urquhart Castle. The ruins were very impressive, standing on a commanding position overlooking the loch. St Columba visited this area around AD 580 on his way to meet with the King of the Picts in Inverness.

It is not known precisely when the castle was built, but records show the existence of a castle on this site from the early 13th century. The area had been granted to the Durward family in 1229, and they are thought to be the builders of the castle. From the 13th century, until its demise in 1692, Urquhart saw much military action. In 1296 it was captured by Edward I of England, known as the ‘Hammer of the Scots’. Thereafter, the stronghold passed back and forth between Scottish and English control. In the 14th century, it figured prominently in the Scots’ struggle for independence and came under the control of Robert the Bruce after he became King of Scots. In 1332, in the dark days following King Robert Bruce’s death, Urquhart remained the only Highland castle holding out against the English. Soon after the English threat evaporated the MacDonalds, Lords of the Isles arrived. Time and again, they swept through Glen Urquhart in their quest for more power. The castle passed back and forth between the Crown and the Lords of the Isles like a bone between two dogs. Their last raid, in 1545, proved the worst for the Crown. The Isles men got away with an enormous hoard, including 20 guns and three great boats.


The trebuchet at Urquhart Castle, with the castle ruins in the background.

In the twilight of its days as a seat of the chief of Clan Grant, Urquhart continued to prove its worth. It was last garrisoned in 1692, and legend claims that the towering gatehouse was blown up so that the castle could never again be a military stronghold for the Jacobites. Over a thousand years of stirring history were buried beneath the rubble. The castle soon fell into decay. Part of the Grant Tower crashed to the ground in 1715 during a violent storm. But attitudes changed, and during the 19th century the ancient stronghold came to be viewed as a noble ruin in a majestic setting. It passed into state care in 1913, and is now one of the most visited of all Scotland’s castles.

We started our tour at 12:40pm watching a short 8 minute film of its history before walking down the hill to the ruins, right on the edge of the loch. We passed a trebuchet (siege engine/giant catapult) which was brought here by King Edward I. Test firings show it can throw a 11kg (24lbs) stone ball 140m (459 feet) with accuracy. The largest trebuchet ever built, with a 20 ton counterweight, could throw the same stone ball 400m (.25 mile). We enjoyed the walk around the site and climbed the great tower for superb views over the loch and the castle ruins. We bought 4 books for 12.43 - “The Highland Clearances”, “Scottish History”, “Culloden 1746” and “Urquhart Castle”.


David and a model Loch Ness monster outside the Original Loch Ness Visitor's Center, which David prefers to the other one located almost immediately adjacent, also in Drumnadrochit.

At 2:30pm we drove to the Original Loch Ness Visitor's Centre, not the new modern centre. We were shown a 28 minute movie about Loch Ness and its monster which was interesting but much longer than it needed to be as there was a lot of 'filler' video of the lake showing nothing unusual.

We looked around the shop for a short while, took some photos with a mock-up of the monster then we were all back on the bus by 3:30pm for our journey back to Fort Augustus and the Lovat Arms hotel.

Our room 35 was a spacious room and bathroom in a separate motel like building in the grounds of the hotel. We hoped it would not be raining in the morning or we would be getting rather wet getting to breakfast.

We turned on the TV to see what channels we had as there was a sky box under the TV. We found the NZ vs Italy World Cup match in progress into the 2nd half so we watched that to its finish. The final score was an amazing 1-1 so NZ did very well against a previous world champion side. We then went for a walk down to the flight of locks and just missed seeing a group of boats passing through the bottom lock. The swing bridge was just closing as we arrived. We walked up the steps beside the 5 locks to see if any other boats would be coming down but the notice said the next traverse of the locks would be at 8:10am in the morning.

We went back to the hotel to shower and get ready for dinner at 7pm in the hotel dining room. I started with fresh local mussels in a white wine, garlic and cream sauce while Ken had hot whisky smoked duck slices. For our main course I had smoked salmon fillet with prawns and a salad while Ken had local rack of lamb with asparagus and carrots. We also had a side dish of broccoli and almonds, all helped down with a nice glass of Magners Cider. After dinner we took another walk down to the canal and visited a shop called 'The Clanmans Centre', which was still open at 9pm. It was full of things Scottish and was most interesting.

On returning to our room we collected our laptops and went into the lounge to get wifi internet access. We downloaded all 88 photos from Ken's camera and 395 photos from my camera. I had to adjust the time on all the photos as both cameras were an hour ahead, still on Germany time from our recent German/Austrian tour.

About 11pm (10am in NZ) I rang Mum and caught up with all the decisions she had been making for her newly renovated home while I had been out of touch. We talked for about 25 minutes then it was time to go back to our room for a hot chocolate drink. Many thanks to Ieva, next door, for the extra hot chocolate sachets. We swapped our coffee for her hot chocolate. I had quite a problem cough tonight and a headache so I hope I feel better tomorrow. Lights out about 12:30am.

Read more in the rest of Jeanette's Diary

See the links to each day of the eleven day tour/trip diary at the top right of this page.

 

If so, please donate to keep the website free and fund the addition of more articles like this. Any help is most appreciated - simply click below to securely send a contribution through a credit card and Paypal.

 

Originally published 7 Jan 2011, last update 02 Jul 2017

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
 
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