A Travellerspoint blog

Scotland

Days 14 to 16

From Onich to Loch Lomond

semi-overcast 14 °C
View A maiden holiday in Scotland on SteveJD's travel map.

Our hosts had recommended a visit to Dunstaffnage Castle, so we decided on a drive south to Kilmartin. Our first stop was at the viewpoint for Castle Stalker. The view is great but I can't recommend the coffee! This castle featured at the end of the film "Monty Python and the Holy Grail".

Castle Stalker from the viewpoint

Castle Stalker from the viewpoint

First World War memorial bench with the castle in the background below

First World War memorial bench with the castle in the background below

We continued to Dunstaffnage Castle which is a ruin but well worth the recommendation. We were able to walk around the castle interior and also to get up to the Wall Walk. The castle dates back to the 13th century, built and owned by MacDougalls until they sided with John Balliol and lost their castle to Robert the Bruce in the ensuing battles. The castle remained in royal hands for 150 years and then was passed to the Duke of Argyll who installed the Campbells as captains. In 1746, after enabling the escape of Bonnie Prince Charlie, Flora MacDonald was imprisoned in the castle. The Campbells remained in charge of the castle but after a devastating fire in 1810 and subsequent gradual decay, the 21st captain and the duke agreed in 1958 to pass the castle to the State. It is now an Historic Scotland property.

Approaching the castle built on very solid rock

Approaching the castle built on very solid rock

Dunstaffnage Bay from the Wall Walk

Dunstaffnage Bay from the Wall Walk

Inside the castle with the 16c gatehouse on the right

Inside the castle with the 16c gatehouse on the right

Aerial view of the castle, courtesy of Historic Scotland

Aerial view of the castle, courtesy of Historic Scotland

Close to the castle there is a chapel, also in ruins.

The ruined chapel in the woodland

The ruined chapel in the woodland

We continued to Oban where we stopped for an unmemorable lunch in a lovely harbourside restaurant. While there, I googled Kilmartin Museum and Arduain Gardens only to find that both were closed, the museum until 2023 because of renovations and the garden until they could make the place safe after storm damage!

The harbour, just outside the restaurant

The harbour, just outside the restaurant

Nonetheless, we continued as planned and stopped at Arduain Gardens as there is a great viewpoint looking out over numerous islands in the loch to the distant Western Isles.

Panoramic view of the loch below the gardens viewpoint

Panoramic view of the loch below the gardens viewpoint

In Kilmartin, the idea had been to see Bronze Age items and to be able to look out of the window to see the site where they were found but also the local church housed a collection of carved stones (Cross Stones as seen from other Pictish sites graveslabs and tombstones) dating from the 900s to the 1700s. The Church was closed as it was in an unsafe state but the carved stones had been stood out in the graveyard in a covered enclosure, a bit like the inside of a barrow before being covered with earth! Other collections of stones were laid out in the open.

10th century stones

10th century stones

Ornately carved stones with sword included

Ornately carved stones with sword included

18th century graveslabs

18th century graveslabs

Selection of graveslabs in the graveyard

Selection of graveslabs in the graveyard

Rather than return along the same road, we chose to take a narrow minor road along the eastern banks of Loch Awe. This was stunning. We had heard of Scottish Bluebells and seen some lovely displays but along this road frequently the bluebells were growing in masses from above us down to the road and then from the road to the loch shores. Sadly, we were unable to get a photograph which did this sight justice but it was truly beautiful. In other areas, the woodland was decidedly spooky with thick mats off mosses and lichens dripping off trees. We did get some photographs but we simply couldn't find a way of showing the beauty of these forests or the gnarly growths that look as if they came from one of Tolkien's worlds.

Deep moss underlying tall pines

Deep moss underlying tall pines

Where angels fear to tread?

Where angels fear to tread?

A path through the woodland to.....

A path through the woodland to.....

Was this a dog, or a small person - in these woods, who knows?

Was this a dog, or a small person - in these woods, who knows?

I hadn't noted that our route would take us through Glencoe Valley but it did and it was truly stunning. We were travelling in the right direction and the light was magic but there was never anywhere to stop when we wanted, so we just absorbed it and went home very happy bunnies.

Sad though we were to leave Onich, we drove out and into Glencoe Valley. Sadly, it was cooler and the light was pretty flat so lacked the "Wow" factor of the previous day. We stopped at the National Trust Scotland centre where we heard about the history of the famous massacre of 1692. A reconstruction of a turf hut gave a feeling of what it would have been like to live there in the 17th century - not for me!

The hut reconstruction and the gloomy valley

The hut reconstruction and the gloomy valley

The valley was used in the filming of the James Bond film "Skyfall" and also featured in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail". We stopped for a walk at An Torr, although we as usual were not up for climbing! Some lovely woodland was appreciated though.

Crossing the River Coe

Crossing the River Coe

A view downstream

A view downstream

Some fine coniferous woodland

Some fine coniferous woodland

The path to the tor itself

The path to the tor itself

A grotesque tree root

A grotesque tree root

We stopped at the Glencoe Skilift for coffee and snacks. This was a very bare bones place but the food and coffee were better than many other smarter places.

The last viewpoint, very crowded, looked down over our route past the Bridge of Orchy.

Our drive took us down the west side of Loch Lomond and this was one of the twistiest roads I have been on for quite some time. Probably very scenic, although we were experiencing a bit of rain at this time. As we were a little early for our check in, we visited RSPB Loch Lomond where we found a super friendly volunteer who filled us in with all the best places and things to see. We only had time for a short walk through bluebell-carpeted woodland, a lovely place for a return visit.

Never too may bluebells!

Never too may bluebells!

Finally, we headed on to the farm where our AirBnB awaited us.

The following day, I had been feeling a bit washed out, so we took it easy and after a trip into town returned to RPSB Loch Lomond where we saw Sedge Warblers, Linnets, Siskins and many other lovely birds. We were a bit later getting there than intended, then spent more time than we had allowed around the pond area, so there was no time to walk down to loch shores - we shall have to return!

large_20220518_P1200223_Judith.jpgMore bluebells, with starry white flowers

More bluebells, with starry white flowers

a Sedge Warbler

a Sedge Warbler

A male Linnet

A male Linnet

A male Chaffinch

A male Chaffinch

A female Siskin

A female Siskin

Posted by SteveJD 22:24 Archived in Scotland Tagged birds castle lochs glencoe bluebells dunstaffnage onich castle_stalker kilmartin loch_awe Comments (0)

Days 12 and 13

Inverness to Onich

semi-overcast 14 °C
View A maiden holiday in Scotland on SteveJD's travel map.

We returned to the Black Isle but this time headed along the north coast where we stopped at RSPB Udale. This is just a layby with a hide next to it! However, the bird watching was excellent and helped by the presence of a chap who knew the birds in the area better than we did. We had good sightings of Red-breasted Mergansers as well as numerous other waterfowl, including a pair of Mute Swans defending their territory.

View from hide at RSPB Udale to offshore rigs near Cromarty

View from hide at RSPB Udale to offshore rigs near Cromarty

Red-breasted Merganser

Red-breasted Merganser

Intruder being chased off

Intruder being chased off

Splashdown after seeing off the intruder

Splashdown after seeing off the intruder

We couldn't linger long so soon set off along the road towards Cromarty but we had hardly started when we spotted some birds close to the road and these turned out to be Eiders - another first for us.

What a handsome bird, a male Eider

What a handsome bird, a male Eider

We continued round the island, heading back to Rosemarkie. We stopped just outside as we spotted a sign to Fairy Glen - you have to investigate don't you?! It is on the edge of the town and is a lovely wooded glen with bluebells flanking a pretty stream. We had an appointment so couldn't stay long so didn't get to the waterfalls where, at this time of year and maintaining a tradition, school children plant Spring flowers under the waterfall. This keeps the fairies happy and in turn they ensure that the water is clean. Both parties must be doing a good job as the stream was crystal clear and sparkling.

Steve walking by the stream

Steve walking by the stream

Judith on the boardwalk

Judith on the boardwalk

View along the sparkling stream

View along the sparkling stream

Our appointment was at the Groam House Museum (appointments needed as it is small and we were still having to wear masks in enclosed spaces). After a quick look at what was Marine Hotel (where Judith's mother was billeted) and is now a block of flats called Marine House, we made our way to the nearby museum (everything is nearby in Rosemarkie!). This had has a great collection of Pictish art, in particular a large cross stone which had subsequently been used as a paving slab in a church. As a result, the cross side was quite worn but the decorative side is well-preserved. I mentioned Picts when we visited Aberlemno but didn't say who they were. I don't know! All I know is that they inhabited the north of what is now Scotland, apparently had no written records but left some beautifully carved stones. They are believed to be the "painted warriors" the Romans mentioned. They could have been tattooed but also used woad to dye their skin blue. They appear to have been absorbed into the various peoples who subsequently settled Scotland. I am reading up and trying to find more about the early people of Scotland as I have found this all so interesting. Anyway, history lesson over.

The decorative side of the Pictish Cross stone

The decorative side of the Pictish Cross stone

The worn side with cross still deeply carved

The worn side with cross still deeply carved

View of Rosemarkie from Chanonry Point

View of Rosemarkie from Chanonry Point

On a whim, we decided to drive further west into the mountains and headed for Aultguish Inn - an arbitrary choice pin-pricked from the map! Some way along the road, we stopped at Rogie Falls where we had a pleasant walk (in some parts a clamber!) through beautiful woodland to the falls. We had intended to cross the suspension bridge and walk back the other side but, as you will see from the photos, the bridge is in need of repair and we were barred from that route.

The suspension bridge from beside the falls

The suspension bridge from beside the falls

Rogie Falls

Rogie Falls

We continued on to the inn, which is in the middle of nowhere cowering under a huge dam which holds back Loch Glascarnoch. We didn't need a meal and they had no snacks, so we satisfied ourselves with coffee before starting our return journey.

Aultguish Inn

Aultguish Inn

Looking over the car park to the dam wall

Looking over the car park to the dam wall

We had been told that there were Red Squirrels all over the car park at Contin forestry area. We drove in and Judith caught a glimpse of one climbing a tree but it rapidly ran round to the back of the tree and that was our last sighting of a Red Squirrel in Scotland!

The following day we left Inverness and headed south, driving along the "slow" road on the eastern shores of Loch Ness. With no sign of Nessie, we stopped at Change Point (so named as this was a point where travellers would stop to change their horses) where we had views up and down the loch and could just make out Castle Urquhart on the opposite side.

View across Loch Ness

View across Loch Ness

Jet Set was with us again

Jet Set was with us again

A selfie by Loch Ness

A selfie by Loch Ness

A view down the loch, no sign of Nessie

A view down the loch, no sign of Nessie

Shortly after this, near Foyers,, we stopped at one of the best tearooms we have ever been to, The Camerons Tea Shop - if you are ever in the area, give it a try, great food and drink in a lovely setting.

Camerons Tea Shop

Camerons Tea Shop

We drove inland and up to a viewpoint giving views along The Great Glen. It was quite "breezy" so we did not dwell long!

20220515_120958_Judith.jpgViews along The Great Glen

Views along The Great Glen

Just after passing Fort Augustus, at the southern end of Loch Ness, we stopped at the Bridge of Oich which crosses the Caledonian Canal. The old cantilever bridge is still maintained but only in use for foot traffic, it is an engineering masterpiece.

The cantilever bridge from the "modern" bridge

The cantilever bridge from the "modern" bridge

Barge on the Caledonian Canal

Barge on the Caledonian Canal

Judith on the cantilever bridge

Judith on the cantilever bridge

The snapper snapped

The snapper snapped

The "modern" bridge from the cantilever bridge

The "modern" bridge from the cantilever bridge

Our route took us on down past Lochs Oich and Lochy (really!) then took us away inland where we stopped at Spean Bridge to look at the majestic Commando memorial (unfortunately fenced in!) and the even more majestic mountain range which included Ben Nevis as a backdrop.

20220515_P1230288.jpgBack and front views of the memorial

Back and front views of the memorial

Ben Nevis and her sisters

Ben Nevis and her sisters

Not being climbers, we had hoped to take the cable car up to see Ben Nevis from a high point but unfortunately that day it was closed due to high wind so we continued to Glenfinnan. Just before the small village, we stopped at a viewing point where we climbed some awkward steps to get a distant view of the famous viaduct (featured in Harry Potter films) to the north and, to the south, a beautiful view over the Bonnie Prince Charlie monument to Loch Shiel. We had thought about a trip on the Jacobite steam train which runs from Fort William to Mallaig, crossing the viaduct en route, but by the time we checked, the earliest booking was August!

The Glenfinnan Viaduct

The Glenfinnan Viaduct

Loch Shiel and the Bonnie Prince Charlie monument

Loch Shiel and the Bonnie Prince Charlie monument

We drove along to the village where we walked up to the station and enjoyed much needed cake and drinks in one of the old railway carriages.

View westwards from Glenfinnan Station

View westwards from Glenfinnan Station

Finally, we found our B & B at Onich, part of a cottage on a small farm owned by a lovely couple, Gary and Mhairi. Our bedroom was small but comfortable and the newly built bathroom was very spacious and one of the best fitted bathrooms we have used on our stay. The cottage looks out over the farmyard, across Loch Linnhe to the mountains beyond.

View from our bedroom window

View from our bedroom window

Our next booking was for Stirling but when we (re-)checked the details and contacted the owner, we found that parking was not to be guaranteed and if we were not lucky we would be carting luggage quite a long way. We cancelled this hotel and booked an AirBnB on a farm at Gartocharn on the south east side of Loch Lomond and only an hour from Stirling.

Posted by SteveJD 12:14 Archived in Scotland Tagged birds scotland lochs glenfinnan black_isle Comments (0)

Days 9 and 10 - From the Cairngorms to Inverness

Birds and the Black Isle

semi-overcast 15 °C
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We were a bit undecided as to where to go today, so headed up to Findhorn on the coast to the north of us. This is a very pleasant small fishing port and harbour. It was on the breezy side (where by the sea is it not?!) but we had an enjoyable stroll through the dunes to the coast and round by the side of the harbour. Apart from the pleasure of the coastline, we spotted Linnets and Judith found a stone surrounded by snail shells - clearly an anvil stone used by a thrush. We then spotted a lovely Song Thrush. We had arrived at high tide so there was a limit to where we could walk. We had heard mention of the Findhorn Valley (aka Valley of the Raptors), so decided we would try that.

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To my surprise, not being sure where the valley was, our satnav took us west to Inverness and then down the A9 to Tomantin where we turned off, negotiated some roadworks and found ourselves in a lovely wide valley with a river winding slowly through and with mountains rearing up at the sides. Given a day of good thermals, I can see how raptors would enjoy this. A short way into the valley, while still among a few scattered houses, we saw our first Red Squirrel - it ran across the road and disappeared over a wall. Judith only saw its tail! No chance for a photo but at last we had seen one. We have seen them before in Northumberland and, in my youth, much closer to home in the south. The valley was fascinating to drive through but the recommended car park at the end of the 9 miles stretch was in one of the bleakest and least wildlife-friendly areas of the whole valley! We stayed for a while but then headed back and about 4 miles down the track joined other vehicles in a gravelled area by a bridge. One of the chaps said there was a Grey Goshawk but, although I had glimpsed a bird high in the sky as I parked, I really couldn't say that I had seen this. I did however see a Grey Wagtail on the rocks and then a Dipper which turned out to be nesting under the bridge. As the day was mainly overcast with showers, it was not ideal for photography and the valley is much more impressive than our photos suggest.

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As a finale to a pretty good day, we spotted a sign to Lochindorb where there was another castle, looking more like a blockhouse!, on an island in a loch. When we got to the turn off, there was a notice on the side saying "Road Closed" but we decided to press on and were rewarded with a meandering drive through some lovely heather moorland along the edge of the loch. Along the way, we spotted quite a few different waterbirds but none close enough for good photography in the fading light. Generally, things are beginning to look brighter.

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Before this trip, we had never heard of a Slavonian Grebe and thus far had only mid-distance views. However, we were assured that Loch Ruthven was the stronghold in Scotland, so of course we set off in that direction. Once again, we set off along the Findhorn Valley but part way along, we took the Road to Farr, a very logical name since it took us to Farr! As we drove into the valley, before turning off, we spotted a Red-legged Partridge which is an unusual sight for us.

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The drive was very enjoyable taking us into high heather clad moors, very dramatic scenery.

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At one place we stopped and were lucky to spot a Snow Bunting but it did not stay for a portrait unlike, in Farr, a melanistic cock Pheasant. We had seen a partly melanistic hen Pheasant at Insh Marshes but this chap was very handsome.

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We finally reached Loch Ruthven and were told that there were two male Slavonian Grebes doing a "grass dance" but they were beyond the reach of our binoculars! It was an attractive but non-productive setting, although as we were leaving we watched an Osprey at the end of the lake, swooping then diving down and grabbing a fish.

Our next stop was Culloden, the site of the battle in 1746 in which the Jacobites under Bonnie Prince Charlie were finally defeated. It is a very bleak place and for those who have watched "Outlander" it is a pretty accurate portrayal. When we got there it was very windy and dull so we did not explore the site, so took a photo and carried on.

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Our main reason for visiting Inverness was to explore Black Isle, just across the water, not really an island as it is connected by a narrow strip of land. During WW2, Judith's mother, Dorothy, who was serving with the WRNS, was posted there in 1943 as part of a large team carrying out secret work on the preparations for D-Day the following year. She had spoken of her time there fondly so we felt that we had to check it out. It is delightful! Dorothy had sent a folding postcard to her father so we had some places to check out. One of the pictures was of Rosemarkie taken from the beach, with an X marking the Marine Hotel which is where she was based. I got a fairly close approximation.

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Inverness had been another accommodation change. Not long before we left, the B & B that we had booked contacted to say that they had to cancel our booking as they had a date for building works which would affect our room! At this notice, the best we could do was the Holiday Inn which was OK but not what we had planned.

Posted by SteveJD 15:47 Archived in Scotland Tagged scotland loch island culloden inverness findhorn rosemarkie dipper river_valley black_isle Comments (0)

Day 8 - Day 2 in the Cairngorms

The Cairngorms fail to live up to expectations

semi-overcast 15 °C
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We had been told that Avielochan was a great place to see Slavonian Grebes, a rare species. We had the hide to ourselves, though quite chilly as the wind was blowing straight in. With the wind blowing towards us, I thought we would have a good chance to see these grebes close to the hide, as other people we had met had done, Eventually, we did see one, possibly two but on the far side of the loch, just recognisable. The only other birds we saw there were Greylag Geese, Black-headed Gulls and Goldeneye but none close enough for acceptable photography, so I will include just the attractive view we had from the hide.

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RSPB Abernethy was highly recommended so we moved on there. The young woman at the entry "gate" told us much about how valuable this tiny relict part of the great Caledonian Forest is but, unlike other RSPB places we have been, did not offer a map and didn't seem to have much idea what we could do, other than go up to the Visitor Centre. This site is renowned for its Ospreys and when we reached the centre, we found that we could see nests, out on Loch Garten, through digiscopes or nest cams which we could have watched from home! We watched Siskins and other birds making good use of the feeder just outside the viewing window. There were some walk tracks but we had no idea where these went and, in any case, were still stiff from yesterday, so just wandered down to the edge of a body of water (possibly an arm of Loch Garten but without a map we couldn't say) where there some good views through the forest.

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The advice received from our hotel seems to be rather more hopeful than accurate! According to the blurb, at Loch An Eilein we could sit in our car and birdwatch (just up our street!) as with the bird feeders in the car park, we could be certain to see Crested Tits (one of our wish list, as mentioned). We happily and hopefully drove there only to find no bird feeders and mighty few birds! We settled for a walk along the shore of the loch to see the ruined castle on an island. We had to share this with groups of off-road cyclists who were incredibly noisy - it is a family-oriented place so I had half expected something like this but they were rather inconsiderate of others. We did find a quiet area by the loch where we watched a very smart Mallard cruise by, while Siskins and Pied Wagtails hopped around on rocks and shore.

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We then decided to try RSPB Insh Marshes where there is a circular hide from which we had panoramic, if distant, views of the marshes below us. We could make out some birds but not sufficiently well for photography. However, just outside the curved window was a set of bird feeders and on these we had close encounters with Chaffinches, Coal Tits and Blue Tits, Siskins, Pheasants (including a melanistic one - darker than usual plumage), a Great Tit and a Robin. This was an enjoyable spot and, if time had permitted, we would probably have made a return visit

As we left Insh Marshes, we spotted Ruthven Barracks - an imposing ruin which, after earlier castles had been destroyed, was created early in the 18th century as a defence against Jacobite rebels. One attack by about 300 rebels was repulsed by a dozen soldiers but when some 3,000 Jacobites, retreating from their defeat at Culloden, attacked they overwhelmed the fortified barracks and left them in the ruins which can be seen today. Unfortunately, like a few places we have been in Scotland, visitors are temporarily barred - mainly while renovations take place.

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A somewhat mixed day but overall rather disappointing. Even the scenery that we have seen so far has not been as impressive as expected, although it has been great to see some wonderful woodlands. We have relatively little woodland in Suffolk so it is really nice to see the variety of forest that exists in Scotland.

Posted by SteveJD 17:48 Archived in Scotland Tagged birds scotland cairngorms Comments (0)

Day 7 - Day 1 in the Cairngorms

A long walk

semi-overcast 15 °C
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One of the tips we were given was that we could see Dippers by the Old Spey Bridge. We walked out of the hotel and within a couple of hundred yards were in the Anagach Woods which are principally native pine woods but with a nice variety of broad-leaved trees for balance. These are very attractive woods dripping with lichen of all sorts. There was plenty of birdsong but not many that we could see, other than the ubiquitous Chaffinches and a Blue Tit. Before we came here, both of us had set our minimum aim at seeing (and hopefully photographing) Crested Tits, Crossbills and Red Squirrels.

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We continued for about 600 or so yards to get to the Old Spey Bridge. Before we reached it we had spotted a couple of Dippers the other side of the Spey, hopping around on rocks. However, when we walked under the bridge another pair was busy nest-building much closer. There was a clump of grass on the central arch support and we watched the Dippers fly up underneath into their nest cavity.

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Although we had so far only walked about a mile, my legs were very stiff but we decided to walk on in the hope that they would ease up. They didn't and we cut back on what should have been a 3 mile total loop but took a wrong track and found ourselves back at the Old Spey Bridge and between that extended loop.

Along this trek, we saw a Treecreeper which did not pose for photos and a Chaffinch which did, albeit behind twigs!

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This meandering, together with other walking that day, resulted in us clocking up about 6 miles, which I am ashamed to admit is a good deal further than I have achieved for quite a while. For the last mile, I was almost on my knees and took advantage of every "sit upon" that I could find! Once back at the hotel, both of just collapsed! This ended up in being a short day as far as the blog is concerned!

Posted by SteveJD 21:21 Archived in Scotland Tagged birds woods cairngorms spey dipper Comments (0)

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