It was another long travel day today as we continue our circuit around Scotland in 14 days, following roughly the route below.
What the map does not show are the ferries we are taking, the twisting mountain roads we’re driving, the remote villages we are passing through…. or the sheep on the roadside that we are avoiding. Additionally, each day our driver checks the weather and road conditions and adjusts our route accordingly. If the weather is good, he may detour us to places he particularly likes, or that are only accessible in good weather. For instance, this afternoon a storm was coming in from the west, so he switched from coastal roads to a more sheltered inland route.
This morning we left Ullapool with an ultimate destination of the Isle of Skye. Our first pitstop was Corrishalloch Gorge, where we walked across a short suspension bridge – marked “Warning! 6 People Maximum” – to the opposite side of a gorge with a beautiful waterfall and stream, and from there to a viewing platform with the same stern warning. It was worth it though!
In the picture, you can see the bridge and waterfall as they appeared standing on the viewing platform.
From that idyllic setting, we drove along the 34 mile stretch of road known as “The Road of Destitution”. After the defeat of the Jacobites, commanders of the victorious government troops that had supported George the First were given large land estates in Scotland as a reward for their loyalty. Once they realized that they could make more money from grazing sheep than from farming, they forced the Scots Highlanders off their land and onto tall ships waiting to take them to various British colonies. In some cases, they were taken from their homes with no warning, leaving everything behind – even food on tables.
As we tour the Highlands and see how rugged and remote (although beautiful) the landscape is, and hear the history of centuries of oppression, we are beginning to understand why Scots are so fiercely proud of surviving, why they waste nothing, and why they insist on conserving their resources. They’re not cheap; they’re thrifty, and they have become that way through necessity.
We continue to see sites that were important during WWII. As we drive through Dundonald, we are on a road that was a secret Ministry of Defense “no go” area, above the harbour that was the main re-fueling port for the Baltic fleet supplying Russia. Two sections of the coastline are called simply “First Coast” and “Second Coast”, so that no one could pinpoint them on civilian maps. Huge fuel tanks were buried in the hills, and in later years came under NATO jurisdiction.
Just past the “secret” area we stopped to take a picture of the Summer Isles in the mouth of Loch Broom.
Our next stop was a tour of Inverewe Gardens. You can read more about that – and check out some of the amazing plant life – in our previous blog “A Scottish Interlude”.
After lunch, it was time to continue on through Gairloch, around Loch Maree, past a still operational Victorian era train station at Achnasheen, and to our afternoon destination: Eilean Donan Castle in Dornie.
Unfortunately, as we arrived at the castle the afternoon weather turned more typically Scottish: pelting rain. The original was destroyed in 1719 after the defeat of the Jacobite and Spanish troops located there. It stood in ruins for over 200 years until 1919 when it was rebuilt, restored and finished in 1932 by John MacRae-Gilstrap. The rebuilt castle stands high above the water and is truly imposing. While the stone steps and courtyard were soaking wet, it was warm inside – and quite spectacular. The 4 metre thick stone walls with inset nooks and windows were incredibly impressive, as were the “secret” listening a viewing slots cut into some of them. The castle is filled with displays of Scottish clan memorabilia, MacRae family portraits, furnishings, and a model kitchen with life-sized figures of cook, scullery maid, butler – and Mrs Macrae-Gilstrap – preparing and overseeing the food for a banquet. There are two 18th century ladies’ gowns that the MacRae family continued to wear into the 1970’s, with fabrics beautifully preserved. Perhaps most moving, though, was an original plaid from 1715 that had actually been worn into battle! Sadly, absolutely no pictures are allowed inside the castle.
The rain changed to drizzle as we re-boarded the bus, and within half an hour we came within sight of the bridge onto the Isle of Skye. True to its reputation, it was misty…
… but we did get a rainbow to end our day!