We started way too early, wheeling suitcases (noisily) through the village to pick up the feeder coach at 8am, only two pickups on the way (which was nice) and into Stretton (near Warrington) then after a wee wait onto the coach all the way up to bonnie Scotland (with extra pickups at Lancaster and Gretna).
It's funny how your mind plays tricks on you, imagining that the journey is nowhere near as long as it actually is, my hat really goes off to those dedicated professional drivers who put in so many hours behind the wheel and still have their faculties about them- I'd be a basketcase! It doesn't take forever to get to Gretna Green (famous as the border town to Scotland and hence the place in years gone by where runaway wedings took place); but Scotland is a really big place!
This little character is called Hamish.
He's the star attraction at our second pit stop, outside Sterling. We got there around 4.30pm and still had a couple more hours to go before we reached Fort William and our hotel for 2 nights. After a substantial dinner (with a little air of farce of the service!), we had a walk in the town centre then crashed out in our room which was at the back of the hotel, a little dark in the day but lovely and quiet.
Our hotel was really close to the shops and the first night it was really busy, there'd been a world rally cycling race so the town was decorated with bicycles strung across the road! The atmosphere was a little surreal, as is the thought that they'd been biking all the way up Ben Nevis only to throw themselves down again at frightening speeds! Not my scene at all!
The next day (after a giant bowl of Branflakes!) we spent time around and about the area, starting with Fort William itself, just outside the main town is the start of the Caledonian canal which stretches all the way from west to east saving ships from travelling around the tip of Scotland.
The canal joins up the lochs that stretch across Scotland but as some are much higher than sea level, it was necessary to make a set of staircase locks (in the centre of the pic) to bring ships to the right level. In the background you can see the Nevis range with the tip of Ben Nevis shrouded in mist (there was quite a bit of that!). The weather really added to the atmosphere making things really mean and moody and bringing out the colour in the foliage.
Next we travelled the few yards down the road to the Treasures of the Earth exhibition to see all the amazing gems and minerals (and pick up a few little ones for the collection!). We'd been there before a couple of years back but it was still nice to look at the exhibits once again.
Next, we followed the road to Mallaig, stopping en route at the Glenfinnan visitor centre where the monument of the Highlander (often mistaken for Bonnie Prince Charlie) is located. There's an interesting walk up the hill to this viewpoint.
Here's part one of Sweaters on Location! A little speck in the distance is the viaduct that anyone keen on the Harry Potter movies may recognise, it's the one that the Hogwarts express travels along! A lot of Harry Potter has been filmed in this region, either filming a place then CGI'ing the castle etc. in the background or using it in its entirety.
This is the Highlander monument looking out over the loch and the mountains that crowd together in the area- it's a particularly beautiful route especially at this time of year when Autumnal tones are starting to creep in. The road leads to Mallaig, a fishing port but more excitingly, the site for the short ferry crossing to Skye! We didn't see the ferry in action that day (it was Sunday!) but we strolled down the pier to snap this..
You'll have to excuse the slant, I'm still breaking in the new camera! It was a lovely if quiet village and we had a lovely bowl of cullen skink for lunch. Unfortunately, the mocha coffee I had with it set to haunt me on the winding and bumpy journey to the next pic. Being on the last row of seats and in line with the rear axle, we got the worst of the twists and turns and I was rather green by the time we snapped this shot! I blame the trees planted by the roadside, rushing past at speed, your eyes can't process the blur fast enough and make you travel sick.
We stopped to watch the little ferry travel across Loch Linne before reboarding the coach and travelling the few minutes to the other side saving roughly 4o miles?
Understandably, I was somewhat glad to get off the coach back at the hotel! We did a quick turnaround (after some antacid!) and scoured the local shops, picking up a smart new jacket (which you will see in later photos) and some pretty celtic jewelery that DH bought me.
We had another huge evening meal before turning in early to pack our cases and set the alarm for the early up and out travelling up to Skye before taking the ferry over to Harris and then Lewis, more about that next time!