Drumnadrocit to Crianlarich (Trossach’s Loch Lomond Natl. Park)
Most certainly, the highlight of the drive from Loch Ness to Crianlarich was our stop in Glenfinnan and our pictures relating to the Harry Potter iconic sites. However, before I get to that, we did pull over while driving down the western edge of Loch Ness so I could capture the following picture. Little did I know that I would be dealing with the fallout, so to speak, from that picture for the next week or so.
As I was trying to make my way down an embankment, my lead foot went out from under me when it slipped on a root. I proceeded to tumble head first not once but twice down the embankment. The good news is that I landed on vegetation, rather than on hard ground. The bad news – that vegetation was mostly full of prickers. My clothing and jacket protected most of me. However, my left hand instinctively tried to cushion my fall and it paid the price.
We planned to make the 30 mile or so detour off of our route to visit Glenfinnan. However, we ended up spending quite a bit of time there so we did not make any other significant stops on the way to Crianlarich. But the stop in Glenfinnan proved to be very memorable.
The main thing that we wanted to see was the Glenfinnan Viaduct – the iconic train viaduct that gained fame as the route to Hogwarts in a number of the Harry Potter films. Ideally, we might have tried to time our visit so that we could see the actual steam train that still regularly goes across that viaduct. However, that line stops for the season at the end of October.
We arrived at the Glenfinnan Visitor’s Centre which is situated between the viaduct on one side and the Glenfinnan Monument on the banks of Loch Shiel on the other. Even that side has Harry Potter significance as it was used for the long shot of Hogwarts with the Hogwarts castle being digitally added for the movie.
When we arrived around 11AM, there was a significant fog still shrouding almost everything. While that did allow us to take some dramatic photos, it almost prevented us from even seeing the viaduct.
While taking pictures from a hill above the Visitor’s Centre, it seemed to be apparent that the fog was in the process of rolling through. So we waited it out and we were rewarded with some very favorable skies. We needed to walk about a half mile or so to get right up to the viaduct. Then, we also took a path underneath and up and above the viaduct to get some great additional views.
We had a bit of difficulty finding our home in Crianlarich, which was located about a mile outside of the small village. However, we gained entry without issue since we had been told where the key would be left for us. Once inside, we found that we had probably the nicest of the places in which we stayed while in Scotland. It was a private, 2 bedroom, 2 bath home with a small family room and a wood burning stove. It also had a beautiful little sunroom in which Deborah was able to do some painting.
What was unexpected about our arrival was that we had quite a bit of difficulty contacting the host with some questions we had about heating the home, and about how to use some of the kitchen appliances. I once again struggled to get my phone to work so I ended up driving into the village of Crianlarich and calling from what I believe was the only hotel, albeit a very nice one, in the village. The host’s husband had actually stopped by and spoken with Deborah before I returned from making the phone call.
I ordered a take-away pizza while I was out and I had a pint of Tennant’s ale while I waited and talked with some very nice locals. I enjoyed that Tennant’s very much and would seek it out a number of times during the remainder of our trip. We even visited the Tennant’s brewery while in Glasgow.
We had the next, full day in the area. Deborah and I took a drive in the morning, with the plan to see a few things, then I would take Deborah back to the house where she would do some painting, and finally I would head out on my own again to try and track down a few more distant locations.
Under beautiful partly cloudy skies, together we drove east to another one of those “most beautiful villages” that I have mentioned in previous posts. This one was the village of Killin and it most definitely proved worthy of its designation. The downtown is very picturesque with a river flowing under an old stone bridge, all under the shadow of some snow-capped mountains. We also walked down a path to find an interesting stone circle not far from the city centre.
Between walking around and taking quite a few photos, I didn’t get Deborah back to the house until after noon which left me less than four hours of daylight for my afternoon solo jaunt.
I began my drive with three destinations in mind. I wanted to track down the grave of Rob Roy McGregor – a noted Scottish revolutionary made famous by Liam Neeson in the movie Rob Roy. I had also seen pictures of an interesting looking mirrored structure built in a field by two students from Glasgow University. Those two locations were quite near each other and about 10 miles from Killin.
The other location that I was keen to find was the actual location used to film the iconic Craigh na Dun from Outlander. The time travel producing stones were a product of the set designers. However, the hill used for filming was in a remote area of the highlands which I determined was about 45 miles in the opposite direction of Rob Roy’s grave. I also did not know exactly where it was – just the general area.
Since the first two locations were near to each other, I decided to track them down first. In retrospect, that was a mistake for a couple of reasons which I will soon explain. I headed for Rob Roy’s grave and, after only one minor missed turn, I found it in a small cemetery near the ruins of an old church and the newer church built right by.
I continued on the very narrow, single track (duh) road until I found that second, mirrored location. I ended up spending more time there than I should have, and it was most definitely not worth it in the end. What looked kind of cool on the internet was most definitely underwhelming in the flesh. Still, I tried my darndest to get some good pictures using my tripod, and braving some very cold winds.
So, given the amount of time I basically wasted at that mirrored box location, and the fact that I had more than 40 miles to drive to a location I was not exactly sure of, and I only had maybe an hour and a half of light remaining, my work was cut out to find Craigh na Dun.
I drove as fast as was safely possible on some very narrow roads, all the while watching the time pass, and my daylight wane. As I came close to what I thought might be the correct location, just as I drove over a rise in the road, I immediately recognized the hill where Outlander had been filmed. I parked and got out my tripod to take some pics from many angles as it got darker and darker. My best pic is still quite a bit dark and I could kick myself for not at least trying to insert myself into the foreground since I was using my tripod and a delayed shutter. The insert in the picture below is a picture captured from the actual TV series.
For those of you reading this who do not really know me, you very likely may be thinking … “Now why on Earth would he go to all that effort just to track down some damn hill?” However, for those of you who do know me, you will likely just chalk that up to Roger being Roger.
I safely made the long and dark drive back to Crianlarich and Deborah and I enjoyed a pleasant dinner at that lone hotel in the village where I enjoyed yet another Tennant’s.
Crianlarich to Glasgow
We made a few stops on our drive from Crianlarich to our next stop in Glasgow, but only brief ones. We once again took a chance on stopping at one of those supposed “most beautiful villages of the Highlands” – this time the village of Luss, near the shores of Loch Lomond. I’m afraid to say that this was yet another disappointment, and another village that paled miserably when compared to our recent experience in Killin. My guess is that Luss would fare much better in warmer, sunnier weather but then again, what village wouldn’t?
Moving on, instead of heading directly south and slightly east toward Glasgow, we took a side trip west to the city of Helensburgh and then south to Dunbarton. This was certainly an indication that we were heading out of the Highlands and back into “civilization”.
The areas began to have the feel of much larger cities, more like Aberdeen. However, in looking at population figures, Aberdeen is listed as the 4th largest city in Scotland, with a population of over 200,000. Helensburgh on the other hand only has a listed population of over 15,000, and Dunbarton about 20,000. However, it began to feel more like a metropolitan sprawl where you never really got away from populated areas from this point on until we arrived in Glasgow.
At this point, we definitely knew that our somewhat idyllic trip through the Scottish Highlands had taken a very different turn.
Our stop in Dunbarton featured the “civilized” activity of filling up our rental car and also visiting Dunbarton Castle which I had identified during my pre-visit planning. What is left of the castle is on a promontory overlooking the coast. A portion of the castle is located down at the base of the rock. We were told by a local that what remains at the top of the rock are the ruins of an old prison.
Knowing from research that we were close, we proceeded to try and locate the second of the Andy Scott metal sculptures on our list of ones to track down – our first having been The Leopard that I found inside that shopping mall in Aberdeen. This one is titled The Lomondgate Stag. We found it in the middle of a roundabout, which we soon realized was a recurring location that Scott frequently uses for many of his works of art.
From there, we continued on to Glasgow. Both the ever increasing development and the increase in vehicle traffic let us know with certainty that our visit had taken a distinct turn.
From reading, it was obvious that there are widely divergent views of Glasgow as both a city and as a destination. While some appreciate its history and its variety of activities and sights, others simply see it as the somewhat blighted, largest populated area in Scotland (over 600,000 compared to Edinburgh’s just less than 500,000).
I think I can speak for Deborah as well in saying that our lasting impression of Glasgow was definitely more positive than negative. In fact, after our short stay was concluded, I think in retrospect, we might have added an extra day to spend in the Glasgow area.
On our way into the city from the northwest, we stopped and walked a bit to find Ashton Lane and also the nearby University of Glasgow. Ashton Lane is a very small, 2 block or so, curving, quaint street with a number of restaurants, bars and year-round holiday lights strung over the street. After seeing it during the day, I later went back on my own to take a few night pictures.
After that brief stop, it was time to locate our next lodging which was just south of the Glasgow City Centre. We found a needed Wi-Fi connection in order to make the call to our host (from a McDonald’s, of course) and met our host Roseann without much difficulty.
Roseann showed us to our lovely, 6th floor apartment with a view looking west and north toward downtown. This unit was nicely equipped and quite comfortable. It also had a large screen TV which I was able to connect to the internet so that we were able to get some U.S. TV for the first time in about two weeks, albeit on a delayed basis.
We had one the next full day to spend in Glasgow. We took a city bus to the downtown city centre which is essentially George Square. We had a quick lunch before jumping onto our first of two Hop On/Hop Off Red Bus tours – the second being after we arrived in Edinburgh.
After riding a full circuit and scoping out things we might like to go back and see, we got off near the Glasgow Cathedral and began a walking tour which would eventually take us back to the city centre.
We began by visiting the Cathedral and then continued on to the nearby Tennant’s Brewery. That was the beer that for which I had developed a fondness.
While walking we passed by a number of full size, wall murals that I had read about before arriving in Glasgow. The murals are mostly located all around the central city of Glasgow. They began with a project initiated in 2008 by the Glasgow City Council to beautify the downtown and to eliminate some graffiti in the process. They have been created mostly by local street artists but some international artists as well.
While we saw only a small number of the many murals, our favorite was the one that is shown to the left – St Mungo. He is the patron saint of Glasgow and his mural is the work of an Australian street artist – Sam Bates, aka Smug. To me, the man pictured as St. Mungo certainly looks like actor Noah Wylie. You may remember Wylie from his role as young Dr. John Carter on the long running NBC TV series “ER”. If you don’t remember him, Google him and see if you too may notice the resemblance to St. Mungo.
Here is the Glasgow mural collage that I created for our master Powerpoint/PDF of pictures on our Scotland trip.
From the brewery, we continued our walk and eventually made it back to the city centre. One of my personal favorite areas was a large pedestrian mall – Buchanan Street.
Nearby was one of many statues of the Duke of Wellington on horseback, with the traditional traffic cone perched on his head (and in this case, the horse’s head as well). The traffic cone hat is apparently a tradition to signify the Glaswegian sense of humor.
Glasgow to Edinburgh
As we were leaving Glasgow the following morning, after our brief stay, we searched out the 3rd of our Andy Scott sculptures – The Rise. Unfortunately, my pic was not able to capture its beauty.
Our route for driving to Edinburgh had us first driving north toward another one of those locations that I had seen while doing research – Finnich Glen. It has an Outlander connection in that it was used as the site of the truth test that Dougal MacKenzie gave to Claire.
We found the general location and parked the car but it looked to be a bit of a walk and also likely involved some muddy trekking through some woods, so I headed out on my own. The path that I initially took led me along the top of a cliff looking down upon a narrow gorge probably 30-50 feet below. I kept on following the path and eventually came upon some treacherous looking stone steps leading quite vertically down toward what looked to be a narrow crevice. I started down very slowly but decided not to venture into the crevice.
I returned to the top and continued on the path which eventually took me down to the level of the stream that snaked back through the gorge. What I saw, however, was that there was no room on either side of the stream for a path. The sides of the gorge went right up to the water. So it would have been necessary to either have waders on or to take off my shoes and socks and roll up my pants, which I was not willing to do. I did see some women on the other side of the stream who had come to that same realization.
I decided to return to the car. On my way back, I saw a young couple exiting those rock stairs I had started to go down. They told me that just beneath that narrow crevice, it opened onto the stream and provided a view of what sounded like what I had seen on the internet. I reluctantly decided not to try to get all the way down, but I asked the couple to at least take a picture of me at the top of those stairs.
From Finnich Glen, we continued on a route toward Stirling. There we hoped to see the Sir Walter Scott Monument before attempting to follow the Andy Scott trail of sculptures culminating in Scott’s most memorable work – The Kelpies.
We approached the Scott Monument and I made the winding, walking trek up to the top, taking a few pictures along the way.
We then proceeded around the north of Stirling and found the first of the Andy Scott sculptures, Foxboy, built on a roundabout near the village of Menstrie. By the time we reached the Kelpies, we had found another five sculptures.
When we arrived at the site of the Kelpies, we could not have asked for better weather and sky conditions. There were blue skies, relatively comfortable temperatures and a beautiful late afternoon sun that showcased the magnificent Kelpie statues.
Kelpies have a significant place in Scottish history. A Kelpie is a mythical, horse like beast that supposedly had the strength of ten horses. That was significant to an economy that depended upon what they referred to as “heavy horses” to do the hard work of pulling wagons, barges and more to help shape the Scottish landscape. Besides being a significant tourist attraction, the Kelpies are a wonderful tribute to those mythical beasts.
We spent quite a bit of time at the Kelpies and, as a result, daylight hours were once again waning as we left and headed for Edinburgh. We had plans to try and make a few more stops, mostly at locations with more Outlander connections. The most significant of those was Midhope Castle, which was the site used as the exterior for Lallybrook – the home of Jamie Fraser’s ancestors. Since that was so close to Edinburgh, we decided to even pass that by, but to be sure to make plans to return at some time during our stay in Edinburgh. We did that on the last day of our trip before taking our flight home.
We wound our way into Edinburgh trying to avoid, as much as possible, what we anticipated would be very congested downtown traffic. Although not entirely successful in that regard, we did find our last apartment just after dark. After once again dealing with a few phone difficulties, we were met by the older couple who were our hosts, and shown around their VRBO. The apartment is the couple’s sole source of supplemental income in their retirement. While the apartment was small, and nothing extravagant to be sure, their care was obvious. The woman also greeted us with a number of home baked sweets which was a nice touch.
The location was great, on Old Tolbooth Wynd, less than a block from the Royal Mile which leads about a mile or so up to the top of the hill where Edinburgh Castle stands over the city of Edinburgh.
We decided to use our first evening walking down toward the Princes Street Gardens to see what we had hoped would be some significant holiday lights. I have to say that during our entire four night stay we were generally unimpressed by the Edinburgh holiday lights. While planning the trip, we had hoped they would be one of the highlights of our trip. Now that did not significantly affect our overall satisfaction with Edinburgh in general, but it was surprisingly disappointing.
The lone real exception to the lack of holiday lights was George Street, not far from Princes Street. The Dome Club had some beautiful lights both inside and out and the entire area had the best concentration of lights that we saw.
On our first full day in Edinburgh, we again took one of the double decker Red Bus tours of the downtown. I had taken a similar tour when I first visited Edinburgh back in 2001. In addition to seeing some of the sites during our stay, both from the bus tour, and again while on foot, we also visited Edinburgh Castle. We had deliberately not paid to take any interior tours of castles up to this point, because we had planned to take this castle tour. The location is spectacular, looming up over the center of Edinburgh. As such, some of our pictures from there were quite memorable, even given the dreariness of the skies.
An unexpected pleasure of our Edinburgh visit turned out to be a free walking tour that we took – the Potter Trail. There are more than a few Harry Potter tours available because of the significant connection that JK Rowling, and her famous novels, have to Edinburgh. This particular tour was extremely well reviewed on the internet and we were in no way disappointed.
The tour was led by our enthusiastic guide, Charlie, who had started this endeavor with a number of his friends. I’m quite sure that if his friends are as competent and knowledgeable as Charlie, they are doing very well with tips. The walking tour was concentrated in a relatively small area centered around the Greyfriar’s Kirkyard cemetery.
JK Rowling had lived as a relativewly impoverished, single mother in Edinburgh and had gotten many of her inspirations for her early Potter novels from things she had seen while there. In the little over an hour tour we took, we saw sights that inspired some of the most famous character names, such as the grave of a Tom Riddell (changed to “Riddle” in the books so it would be easier for kids to spell). We also saw views and buildings that took shape in the mind of JK Rowling as Hogwarts, Gringot’s Bank, Diagon Alley and more.
I plan to make another post exclusively about the Harry Potter sights we saw on our trip, including this fine tour that we took.
During our last full day in Edinburgh, we made that drive out to Midhope Castle that I had referred to earlier. Getting a few pictures at that iconic (at least to Outlander fans) location was a goal that I certainly wanted to achieve. As had been the case more than once before on this trip, finding the site turned out to be a bit challenging. We had long since dampened any expectations of finding multiple signs to lead us to our objective. But we found it and did our Jamie and Claire thing.
As with Harry Potter related sites, I plan also to make a separate post which will be dedicated solely to the various Outlander locations we saw during this trip.
Late on our last evening in Edinburgh, I headed out to try and find yet another location, pictures of which I had seen on the internet , and which had captured my photographer’s eye. The location was Vennel Street, which turned out to be a narrow, short, strictly pedestrian walkway not far from the location of the Potter Trail we had taken earlier. What set this street apart was its positioning beneath and with an excellent view of Edinburgh Castle. There had been a light rain during the evening which added an interesting sheen to the pavement, and these were some of my favorite pictures.
Our Scotland visit concluded with our flight back to Atlanta, via Amsterdam, the next day. After staying overnight near the Hartsfield Airport, we took a free flight on Southwest Airlines (thanks to my travelling days with API) back to Albuquerque the following afternoon.
Now almost a month later, after having relived the trip often while writing these posts, and while putting together pictures from the trip, both Deborah and I remain very pleased with how the trip turned out. Despite spending three weeks driving around all those often very narrow roads (and in a right hand drive, manual transmission car, no less), and finding and staying in nine different locations, often in quite remote areas, the trip really went off with no major problems and only a few very minor ones.
We may or may not make another trip to Europe – one never really knows. Our next major trip will likely be to Hawaii sometime next year. Since Southwest airlines recently began flying to the Hawaiian Islands, we hope to use our Southwest miles to make a number of trips to the islands during our further retirement.
The Christmas holiday is fast approaching. Deborah and I wish all of my readers a very blessed and merry Christmas and a healthy and fulfilling New Year ahead.
Thank you for taking the time to read these posts and to hopefully have in some small way relived this wonderful trip along with us.
To view Part 1 of this 4 Part series of posts on Scotland …
To view Part 2 of this 4 Part series of posts on Scotland …
To view Part 3 of this 4 Part series of posts on Scotland …
To view a PDF which includes some of our best pictures from our entire, three week Scotland trip …