I woke up for the second time this morning at 5:15 – the first time was around 3:30 thanks to the group of drunk people yelling right outside of my flat – so that I’d have plenty of time to get ready, grab a bite of breakfast, and walk to the Haggis Adventures/Highland Tours office on the Royal Mile where the Loch Lomond-Stirling tour would depart. But in true “me” fashion, I spent twenty minutes internally debating whether or not to actually go. The forecast says it’ll be dreich all day. It’s supposed to be; it’s Scotland. And who knows when else you’ll get a chance to see those places? I’m tired. Sleep in tomorrow. What if no one else goes and I’m alone? Doubtful. And you may actually meet people. I’m scared. Be brave. Live a little. You might even have fun. So, I finally decided that I would go, got myself moving, and was heading up Grassmarket by 7:45…in the rain.
Of course, I ended up getting there early, so I loitered outside, watching the morning foot traffic hurry up and down the Royal Mile. Eventually, a few other people arrived and checked in, so I figured it was safe to do the same. Soon, our guide led us to our Mercedes sort of mini-coach. His name was Chris and he was absolutely fantastic…and rather cute. There were ten of us on the tour, six from the States. We slowly made our way out of Edinburgh through the morning traffic, Chris filling us in on some of the city’s history as we went along. Eventually, we were on the motorway and cruising through the heart of the lowlands on our way to Glasgow…and the rain picked up again. After about an hour, we reached Glasgow, passed over the River Clyde, and made our way north toward Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. We passed over the River Clyde again – the view was much more scenic the second time – and Glasgow’s sprawl soon gave way to more rural landscapes: green fields filled with ewes and lambs, lined with rows of yellow gorse bushes. After a ways, we began to catch glimpses of the loch through the trees and it wasn’t long before we reached the picturesque, historical town of Luss, located right on the bonny banks of Loch Lomond. We had about forty minutes to wander around and explore and I chose to spend most of those minutes down at the loch’s edge, snapping oodles of photos and taking in the beauty of the water, the numerous islands, and the surrounding hills. It really was breathtaking
Next, we headed for the town of Aberfoyle, essentially straddling the border between the lowlands and the highlands as we drove along, Chris continuing to fill us in on more bits of Scottish history along the way. The rain reached Aberfoyle when we did – it really did seem to follow us throughout our tour – but luckily I spent my chunk of time there having lunch in the Forth Inn, a warm and dry inn and pub.
After lunch, we got back on our comfy coach and headed for Stirling Castle. On our way, Chris filled us in with more history, most of it concerning the Scottish Wars of Independence and the role that Stirling played in them. Eventually, the castle rose up in the distance, strategically perched atop a rock like Edinburgh Castle is, and to the left on nearby Abbey Craig, the Wallace Monument stood out against the Ochil Hills. Our coach slowly wound its way up the steep, slick, cobblestone streets of the old city to the car park at the top and those of us who wanted to had about two hours to wander around and explore the castle; the cost of admission was in addition to the price of the tour, but the beautiful views and the magnificent – and old – architecture made it well worth the £14. Just as our guided tour led by one Stewart MacGregor started, the rain returned. With a vengeance. In fact, before our tour began, we could actually see it heading toward the castle. I must say that the Scots seem to be eternal optimists when it comes to the weather, though, and that that optimism is a bit contagious. They must know what they’re talking about because indeed, the rain didn’t last for too too long; the sun even came out a bit and I could see a rainbow in the distance near the Wallace Monument.
Eventually, the time came for us to depart and Chris carefully navigated us back down the cobblestones and through the traffic on the motorway and downtown Edinburgh, getting us back to our departure point on the Royal Mile around 5:30. On our excursion, I got to chatting with Chris and Jess, a mother and daughter from Virginia who are staying at a hotel on Grassmarket, right around the corner from my flat. We decided to grab dinner together and – after a stop at the Scotch Whisky Experience so that Chris could pick up a bottle of one of the whiskies that she’d sampled the day before and really liked – headed to Maggie Dickson’s, a pub named for a woman who allegedly was hanged by the neck but awoke later and could not be re-hanged as she had already served her sentence (I guess it was after that “until dead” was added). After a lovely visit with Chris and Jess, they headed back to their hotel so that they could pack and head to Waverley station to catch the Caledonian Sleeper to London and I headed back to the flat, exhausted but happy and very glad that I decided to go on the tour after all. Tomorrow is my last full day in Edinburgh and I plan to sleep in and then wander wherever my feet and legs feel like taking me.