If you’ve been following me for a while, I’m sure you know that I have a bit of a thing for Scotland, especially the highlands. I got married up there and spent my honeymoon driving around in a camper van. It’s probably one of my most explored countries, but I don’t pretend to have seen it all. I will happily go back to places that I have already seen. And that’s what I’ve done and will do again. This time I took a Macbackpackers tour to explore the highlands, their 3-Day Loch Ness And Isle Of Skye tour. It was actually my second trip with MaccyBees, you can read about my first trip with them here.
On this tour, I went to places I have already explored and got taken to places I have not even heard of. I stayed in brilliant hostels and was told myths and legends of Scotland. Read on to find out more.
Disclaimer: I was hosted on the Macbackpackers 3-Day Loch Ness & Isle Of Skye tour in exchange for honest and unbiased coverage. Therefore all views are my own and not influenced in any way.
After a not very good sleep, thanks to a couple of rustlers in the room that came in late and left even earlier than us, the day of the tour dawned. We had to be up nice and early to walk across to Castle Rock hostel before 9 am. And as I’m one of those that likes to be early, we were up with plenty of time.
Checking out of the hostel we started the short walk across the Grassmarket. On the way, we stopped into Hula Juice Bar (one of my favourites in Edinburgh, check out the reviews here). I bought Sunshine In A Cup, which was mango, peach, pineapple and orange. A yummy and energizing way to start the day!
Castle Rock Hostel is up the hill from the Grassmarket, so after getting our juice up the stairs we went. I hate this journey with my backpack, it’s not the first time I’ve had to do it and I always dread it. Can’t be helped though, when the hostel is on the top of a hill you’ve got to go up at some point, right?
Starting The MacBackpackers Tour
So, me being me, we arrived nice and early, 8:30 am to be precise. Luckily the guys at Castle Rock let us into the common room to wait for the start of the tour. Every time I go in this common room I feel like I’ve come to a second home, I love this hostel (book Castle Rock here).
Anyway, so we sat in the common room, chatting, watching others appear and guessing who would be on the tour (because we are literally that cool). Then at about 8:45 we got the call for the tour, so back out we went.
At this point, we realised that we’d seriously overlooked something and had a massive backpacker fail. We had only brought our backpacks, we didn’t have a day pack. Useless! So we had to grab everything we might need (waterproofs, sun cream, water, snacks) out of the bags and walk onto the bus with everything bundled in our arms after our backpacks were in the boot. You’d think after all our travels we would’ve thought about this, but no… Utter fail.
A False Start
As we all got on the bus, well all that were there, our bus driver looked in and saw the half-full bus. At this point, he told us that half the customers were still missing. So we had to wait for a little. Can’t believe people were late! This is why I always get to places super early! I’d hate for the tour to have to wait for me. It’s just selfish.
As we were waiting, our driver started with introductions. He was called Dave (I’ll call him Bus Driver Dave, so you don’t get confused with t’other half), he was a Scottish Kiwi or Kiwi Scott. What’s the correct term here? Anyway, so he as he was chatting, two girls randomly asked if they had time to get coffee. It was 8:55 am, we were meant to leave at 9 am. I couldn’t believe it!
But since we were still waiting for others, Bus Driver Dave pointed them in the direction of the nearest coffee shop and let them go. I don’t think I could’ve been so nice if I was him.
Leaving The City
I have no idea what time it was when we finally got on our way, but in the end, we did. Bus Driver Dave was very chatty as we set out. We went past the castle and he told us a few stories; such as bits about the castle, Ian Flemming (did you know he also wrote Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) and Sean Connery.
After we had driven for a while Bus Driver Dave put some music on and we travelled onward to our first stop. One thing I love about these tours is the music is always linked to something, either Scotland in general or where you are on the tour. I just think it’s a nice touch.
The Kelpie Sculptures
Our first stop wasn’t too far from Edinburgh. It was the Kelpie Sculptures just outside of Falkirk. I have been here before, but I was glad to come back.
As we pulled up Bus Driver Dave told us how long we had here, where he would meet us and all the little bits and bobs he has to say. He also advised us not to buy food from the cafe as it’s expensive and our next stop would be for food.
The Kelpies are the largest equine sculpture in the world. There are two horse heads that make up the sculpture but don’t be mistaken into thinking they are horses. Although the sculptures are modelled on real Clydesdales and named after them, they are kelpies, not horses. Kelpies are a type of faerie. They are water faeries that shapeshift, often into the shape of a horse. In this form, they convince a human to ride them, but once mounted the kelpie takes the human into their watery domain and eat them. You can read more about these sculptures in this post.
So we had a bit of time to wander around. You can get pretty close to the sculptures, they are pretty impressive. It is possible to do a tour, but you have to book. Check out reviews of the Kelpies here.
The Border Town
After stretching our legs, it was time to get back on the bus and head to the next stop. Luckily, this time everyone managed to get to the bus on time.
The next stop was the town of Callander, which is on the border of the low- and highlands. It used to be a cattle market town but now is a nice little tourist spot.
Out of the bus, we decided to grab something to eat. So we headed to a cafe called Taste Of Trossachs (see reviews here). We’d not been to this cafe before, last time we were here we went to M’hor (click here for reviews), so we decided to mix it up.
As we walked in, we noticed a girl from our bus was sat at a table on her own. So we asked if she minded us joining her, she was happy for the company. For me, this is what these backpacker buses are all about. Her name was Carly and she was an American comedian, conversation flowed easily. We had fun when she asked us to explain what a bacon roll is.
Our Fault This Time
A lady came to take our order and it turned out that they were only serving breakfast. Not a problem. Me and Dave both decided to try the breakfast pie; when the menu says that it’s award-winning, how can you not? The pie had a filling of bacon, Lorne sausage, egg and beans.
Our drinks were brought over in no time and we chatted for a while. But soon our thoughts turned to having to get back to the bus. And our food hadn’t arrived. We had all nearly finished our drinks. So we asked; it turns out they had actually forgotten our food! It came out not long after, but eating was a bit of a rush (the pie was still yummy though).
After wolfing down our food it was a rush back to the bus. We literally just made it in time and everyone was waiting for us… Oops.
The next stop was one of my favourite stops of the whole trip, and somewhere new to me. Not far from Callander, we stopped off to meet a VERY important family. Hamish and his family (wife and child). These were coos! And big coos at that! You know the big, hairy, horny Scottish cattle, yep them. And Hamish was massive!
All three of them loved tourists, as their owners have a shop (for reviews click here) where they sell peelings for you to feed them. So as soon as a bus pulls up all three are right against the fence and Hamish starts making a lot of noise. Very excited cattle.
A few of the bus bought some peelings and we all had a go at feeding them all. Hamish was very greedy, constantly pushing to get the food. It’s weird watching them take the food from you, they use their massive tongues to get a hold of the peelings.
There were actually two fences between us and the cattle. This is because Hamish has no spacial awareness and his horns are just a bit dangerous. Not that he’d deliberately harm someone, he’s just big and clumsy.
No More Food
Once the food had all gone, the family of highland coos had no interest in us at all. Literally. They checked to see if each one of us had food and didn’t hang around to be stroked when they realised we didn’t. All three of them moved back just out of reach as if to say “we will come to you when you have food” Hamish was making his thoughts known by being noisy too.
Before we drove off, Bus Driver Dave decided it was time for an icebreaker. I hate and love these. They’re a great way to get people chatting, but I hate doing them. Throughout the icebreaker Bus Driver Dave was making jokes and trying to get us to gel.
Driving off bus Driver Dave told us a funny story, well, hilarious to my mind. Apparently, once when he came to this stop someone complained saying that he had lied. A customer said that it was two male coos and a female, as the two big ones with horns must be male and the small one without horns must be female. This is not true at all. It’s not just the male that has horns in many species for heaven’s sake. For me, this is hilarious, as I do not understand how people can not know this. I guess it just shows how far removed we are from nature and other animals.
On The Road
As we drove up into the highlands, Bus Driver Dave told us stories and pointed out things of interest. For instance, as we drove past Rannock Moor he told us that this is the highest swamp in the UK and that it was the filming location for films such as Skyfall and Trainspotting.
Soon we were in Loch Lomond National Park, which meant we went past the infamous loch. Obviously, the choice of song was Loch Lomond, as I said, he liked to link the choice of music to the place. He also told us the story behind the song, which I didn’t actually know. I knew it wasn’t a romantic song, as many people mistakenly think. But then again I guess it depends on what you class as romantic.
Anyway, the story is that during the Jacobite Rebellion two brothers were captured. When in the English prison they were given a choice, one must be executed, the other would be freed to go back home to Scotland. Obviously the brothers argued, both said that they should be executed and the other should go free. The younger brother argues that his sibling had a wife and children to go home to, the eldest said that he has had all the experience and happiness in life that his brother still needs to have.
In the end, the brothers decided that the youngest would be executed. However, after the younger brother had fallen asleep the eldest volunteered himself and was executed as the younger slept. The legend goes that he left his brother a note, part of the note has become the chorus for this song.
Meeting Old Friends
Our next stop was a quick toilet stop at the “nicest toilets in the highlands”, seriously, the Green Welly (see reviews here) has won awards! There’s also a shop, a cafeteria and more at this stop. But you must go in to see the toilets!
As we came out of the Green Welly, we noticed that Bus Driver Dave was talking to someone. I thought I recognised him. And I was right! It was Graeme, our tour guide from the last Macbackpackers. It seems that whenever we go to Scotland we bump into him. We even bumped into him on our honeymoon!
So we had a great catch up as we waited for the others. It turned out he was going the opposite direction, so we said we’d contact him when we were back in Edinburgh to see if he was around. This is what I love on these tours, you really can make some great friends.
My Favourite Spot
Well, at least one of my favourite spots in the highlands was the next stop; Glencoe (find out about this valley here). As we pulled up Bus Driver Dave told us about the massacre of Glencoe. I won’t go into full details, as I have written about this before here. This is when the Campbells betrayed the MacDonalds and killed them even though they were being hosted (said to be one of the inspirations for the Red Wedding of A Song Of Ice And Fire). The order was that all under seventy years old would be killed, in those days barely anyone lived that long, so it was kill everyone. Some MacDonalds did escape into the Hidden Valley, but a hard winter took its toll.
This has had a huge impact on Scottish life. The Clachaig Inn apparently still has a sign that says “No Campbells” (though I still need to get there to see it).
We had enough time to take one of three paths from here. The choice was to go right and then left to find a waterfall; right, right and left to go up above the valley or three rights to go to the stream in the valley.
Above The Valley
Me and Dave opted for the second option, to go above the valley. Although we have gone up this way before, the views are great. We were able to do this much quicker than on our honeymoon as there was no ice this time! The rest of the group walked to the waterfall.
Dark clouds and descending mist added to the mood of the valley. It was sombre and quiet. Truly matching the valley with its dark history. The heather was blooming and it was beautiful. We got quite high, think we actually got further than last time and were rewarded with spectacular views. The nearby mountains were shrouded in cloud, making them look like Tolkien’s Misty Mountains.
It was raining, damp and dark, slippery and not an easy climb. But it was worth it.
On walks like this, me and Dave always overestimate how long it takes to get back. So we turned around a bit earlier than we needed to. No matter though. I still need to get back here and walk into the Hidden Valley. Turns out I’m a little weirdly obsessed with the dark history of Glencoe.
Arriving back at the carpark we met quite a few of the people on the bus. No one was really wanting to leave their groups at this point. A bit of a shame, but sometimes it happens.
As we had a bit of time we enjoyed the view of the Three Sisters that rise over the valley. I’ve always meant to find the story behind the name – there must be one surely. There’s one for everywhere else. So if anyone knows the story, or if there isn’t one, please leave it in the comments below. It’s not even on the sign telling you about Glencoe; that just tells you all the facts and not a single myth.
Heading off to the next stop, Bus Driver Dave told us a bit about the Jacobite Rebellion. A common misconception is that the uprising was Scots vs English, but this is not strictly true. In fact, it was the Jacobites vs the British Government, there were plenty of English on the Jacobite side.
We were heading to the Glenfinnan Viaduct, which is the location of the Bonnie Prince Charlie Monument. It is said that when Charlie came over this is the exact spot where he landed.
A Famous Viaduct
The Harry Potter fans will love this next spot, but probably for different reasons than me (look, I have nothing against Harry Potter, I just think it’s overrated, there are so many better books out there). Anyway, we stopped at the Glenfinnan Viaduct (read some reviews here). This Viaduct was used in the film of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the scene with the flying car and the Hogwarts Express.
From the car park, you can walk up a path that leads you up a small hill. It doesn’t take long, but from the top, you get an incredible view of the viaduct. The path has been really improved since I last came here, last time it was a complete scramble and it was only me, Dave and a couple of friends that climbed up. It really wasn’t a path like it was now, had a sign and everything.
So the whole group went up for the view. And even if you’re not into Harry Potter, it is worth it. One day I will manage to time it so that I actually see the Jacobite Steam train… And maybe even ride the train… One day.
Be sure to look the other way at this viewpoint though. The opposite way gives you a great view of the Bonnie Prince Charlie Monument and the Loch that it is on the edge of.
Climbing back down, me and Dave just had time to head up to the monument. Or as I like to say the REAL history of this place. (It annoys me sometimes that film locations and even tedious links overtake the real history).
So we took the walk back down, across the road and to the edge of the Loch. This area is looked after by the National Trust for Scotland (you can join them and read about the monument here). The monument not only remembers Bonnie Prince Charlie, but also the clansmen who fought in the uprising.
We had a bit more time here than we thought. It’s a nice place to just be. And a great place for skimming stones (or trying if you’re like Dave).
A Myth Or Not
Setting off again we had a quick pit stop at a supermarket – Bus Driver Dave told us that where we were staying tonight is in the middle of nowhere, so there are no local amenities. We would all have to cook tonight. And if we want to drink, we will have to pick some up. I was really liking the sound of the hostel.
As we drove to the hostel, Bus Driver Dave told us about what is probably Scotland’s most famous legend, the Loch Ness Monster.
One thing I didn’t realise is that the first sighting of Nessie was ages ago. And I mean centuries. Can you guess when? It was by an Irish Priest named Columba in 565. Yes, you read correctly 565. And this sighting is the only record of violence by the monster towards humans that we have.
The Story Of Columba And Nessie
Way back in 565, Columba was staying near Loch Ness with some Picts. As he was there, the locals were having a burial. Columba asked what had happened to the man they were burying and the Picts told him that he was killed by a water beast whilst swimming in the River Ness.
Columba decided to fix this. So he got one of his followers to swim across the water. This attracted the monster. When the monster appeared Columba made the sign of the cross and told the monster to back off and not harm the man. This worked and the monster fled and has never harmed a human again.
It has only been since the road was built around Loch Ness in the 1920s that more sightings started being reported. Makes sense, more people equals more sightings. There are all sorts of theories about the monster, from dinosaurs to time travel.
On The Shores Of Loch Ness
As we pulled up to our hostel I couldn’t believe where it was. I know I was told it was in the middle of nowhere on the shores of Loch Ness, but WOW. Maybe I didn’t quite believe it was on the shores of Loch Ness, even though it’s called the Lochside Hostel, but it definitely was. (Check the Lochside Hostel out on Hostelworld.)
We had to queue to check-in, but it is a busload at once, so makes sense. Me and Dave were in a four-bed with another couple. After getting our keys we went to put our stuff in the room. And we had an amazing room. The view! It was straight over Loch Ness. Absolutely stunning.
The hostel was awesome. Not only was it on the shores of Loch Ness, but they had really thought through the whole being in the middle of nowhere thing. There was a massive common room, complete with a pool table, you could buy beers and some limited food at reception (if memory serves it was frozen pizza). But my favourite bit (other than the location), the spice rack. The kitchen was huge and the spices they supplied, unseen in a hostel! I love cooking, and miss my herbs and spices when we travel. So to actually be able to flavour things. Wow. Just wow.
A Private Beach
I digress… But the spice rack! Anyway, back to the story of what we got up to…
It was still early, so we headed outside behind the hostel, to find that there was literally a private beach. Alright, it was very pebbly, but what do you expect on the edge of a Loch?
I have a bit of an obsession when I’m on a beach (and this one counted), that I had to get my toes wet. A word of warning, Loch Ness in September is FREEZING. So cold, I didn’t last long. Some girls in our group actually managed a quick swim. Not for me, it was far too cold.
At this point, the group still stayed very divided, which was a bit of a shame. But sometimes that’s just how it goes. Luckily me and Dave had the solution. So we dried off, went to our room and came back with the trusted friend maker. Whisky. Never fails.
An Evening To Remember, Or Maybe Not
So with the whisky flowing, me and Dave got talking to three Aussies on our bus, plus an extra Aussie who wasn’t on our bus. We sat on the shores of Loch Ness and had the experience which is why I love these group tours. Simply making friends, getting to know each other and having fun.
After a rather disappointing sunset (can’t be helped, oh well) we headed back inside to cook. So we kind of all separated again, but luckily we had down the friendship groundwork, so we soon regrouped. Me and Dave, the Aussies and a German girl (who confusingly called herself Swiss, she did tell us the story as to why, but I can’t remember) stayed up drinking and playing games. There was whisky, the reception sold beer, so we took it turns to get rounds in. The reception even came and told us they were closing so we could make sure we had enough.
A Bucket List Item Ticked (If I Had One)
At some time in the night, me and Dave decided that we would definitely regret it if we didn’t swim in Loch Ness and we only had the one night. Whisky had obviously made us brave, and we did. The only issue we that we didn’t have swimming gear, so I can happily say I’ve been skinny dipping in Loch Ness. And if I thought it was cold before, the whisky didn’t make it any warmer!
As we were getting dressed the rest of the group appeared and they decided to go in, so back in we went. Though this time we all stayed partially dressed, we didn’t know each other THAT well yet.
Back in the hostel, soaking and cold we all had a hot drink and played pool. Someone had a polaroid camera and pictures were taken.
Did we get a little too drunk? Yes. Did we stay up too late? Definitely. But did we have a good time? Of course, and that is what makes these tour, the friendships you make.
A Delicate Morning
The next morning we had to get up for breakfast (when it’s provided, you can’t not, can you). So feeling a little delicate, we headed down and joined some others in the group. Some who were a little worse for wear like us.
The breakfast was basic; toast, cereal, juice and caffeine. But it did the job, well, would have done if I wasn’t so delicate.
As we drove off, the day started with a story about a certain MacKenzie. It is told that MacKenzie looked like Bonnie Prince Charlie. After Culloden, the Prince went into hiding, and during this time MacKenzie was also escaping the battle. MacKenzie was found by the King’s soldiers, who thought he was a royal fugitive. But MacKenzie refused to be taken alive and so was shot, whilst he was dying he shouted, “You have murdered your Prince”. As there was a reward for the Prince, the guards chopped of the head to take to Edinburgh. During the time it took them to get to Edinburgh, Bonnie Prince Charlie was not sought out, as they thought he was dead. This allowed Bonnie Prince Charlie to make his escape from the area.
On To The Island
It wasn’t long before we had a short pit stop, we pulled up at Eilean Donan Castle (take a look at the reviews here), which gives a spectacular view. It is really impressive. I keep meaning to actually go in and explore but never seem to find the time or turn up when it is closed. There wasn’t time at this point.
We had a good day for it, the sun was shining so we had clear views of the castle and the scenery. It’s not often you get that in Scotland!
This was just a short pitstop, for the incredible view. So we were soon back on the bus (though some people were a little late) and heading across to Skye. Crossing the Skye Bridge, Bus Driver Dave told us about how this route used to be tolled and that if you walk over this bridge you are walking over the Atlantic Ocean. I’d never thought about that before.
A Journey With Stories
Bus Driver Dave chatted a lot on the next drive. He told us about Alexander III and the Vikings, which is the story of how Scotland got rid of the Norse. The Tale of Saucy Mary and her toll was recounted (I’ve already written about this story here).
As we came up to the Cullins he told us about how and why these mountains are loved by mountain climbers and geologists alike. He mentioned how the roads are suffering on the island, as they were not built for the mass tourism that now comes here.
The story of the formation of the Isle of Skye that he told us is linked to the legend of Sligachan Bridge. During the fight between Cullin and Skeith, the mountains and valleys were formed.
The journey passed by quickly with some storytelling.
Pools, But Not The Faerie Pools
Pulling up at Sligachan, Bus Driver Dave told us that there is a walk nearby to some pools. One of the group asked if it was the faerie pools that we were seeing, but we were not on this trip, as we don’t get there early enough.
Bus Driver Dave walked with us for a bit of this walk. He took us along the road to a point where you can take a path into what looks like the middle of nowhere. Following this path, we soon came to a river and walked along it.
The walk wasn’t too far and soon we were by some impressive pools. Personally, I was really glad to come here, but I have visited the Faerie Pools before. The pools here were just as pretty, with the backdrop of the Cullins. But there were no crowds, in fact, it was just us. I never would’ve been here if it weren’t for this tour.
There was a bridge over the pools, so there was plenty to explore. You could get really close to the water too. Though it was a little slippery!
Third Time Lucky
Me and Dave took a different path back (yes, we got a little turned about and lost). Isn’t it weird that when you walk back from somewhere, more paths seem to appear? But as we just had to generally head towards the road, it wasn’t difficult. Tough we ended up going over more hills…
Once at the road we didn’t go straight back to the bus but instead headed to Sligachan Bridge (for reviews, go here). I love doing anything that is meant to have ‘magical’ effects. So for the third time, I dipped my face in the magical waters here.
As we arrived back at the bus, we discovered that we weren’t the only ones to get wet, though at least we deliberately dipped our faces in the water. One of the Aussies had actually fallen in the pools, as I said, it was a little slippery! I think the pools run into the river, so does this mean that he got the magic too?
The Closed Bakery
We drove on to our next stop, listening to the Peatbog Faeries (my request), through weather that was worsening. They really aren’t lying when they say Scotland can have four seasons in one day; we had gone from glorious sunshine to heavy rain clouds in just a matter of hours.
The lunch stop of the day was Portree, pretty much the only place to stop on Skye, as the village has some options. Though I was very disappointed to find MacKenzies Bakery was shut, as it was Sunday. I was looking forward to having one of their pasties, but it was not meant to be…
The Views Of Portree
Portree is a pretty town, and where James V came to treat with the MacDonalds and McClouds. There are some good viewpoints of the town. This time me and Dave decided to walk up to the opposite end than usual. See the view the other way. We had plenty of time here, so we enjoyed just walking around.
As the bakery was closed, we had to find another option for lunch. Luckily, we found a good replacement for a pasty. We went to Relish (click here for reviews) and got some soup. Soup was perfect for the day that was just getting colder and colder, and it was so yummy.
With our soup we went to our favourite viewpoint of Portree, you know the typical Portree picture with the pretty colourful houses? Yeah, that’s it. Though I’ve never seen it during a beautiful sunny day like in the typical pictures… One day…
The Old Man
Back on the bus, we continued with our journey around Skye. As we came up to the Old Man Of Storr, Bus Driver Dave told us that the weather was too bad to climb it, but he knew some places where we can take advantage of the weather. So, fair enough.
Driving past, he told us a legend about the Old Man. And as I love a story, I’m going to tell it to you.
Apparently, the Old Man was once a giant who hoarded lots of Viking silver. However, there were three giant women who wanted his silver. So on a Saturday night, the three women threw a party and invited him.
At a quarter to midnight, the old giant sat down, as at midnight it would be the sacred day of Sunday and therefore he should not be partying. One giantess managed to convince him to have a nightcap, whisky obviously. However, she spiked his drink, then she started dancing and invited the giant to dance with her, which he did. Just before the last stroke of twelve, the giantess sat down, but the giant continued to dance. So God smote him. The giant was struck so hard that he was all but buried into his plunder and turned to stone. So even though the giant was defeated, the giantesses could not recover the treasure.
The spooky part; in 1890 the largest amount of Viking treasure was found under the Old Man Of Storr.
The Hidden Waterfall
I wonder how many times I have been past our next stop and missed out. It’s definitely one you should get to on Skye.
We stopped at a tiny car park (though it looked like they were making it much bigger), there was only our bus. No one else was there. Before we got off, Bus Driver Dave gave us quite the safety brief, rocks are slippery, the weather is windy and rainy, be careful, only go as far as you feel comfortable, you know, the usual. Is it just me, or does getting a proper safety brief make everything seem a little scarier?
Setting off on the path, we soon discovered the reason for the brief. We hadn’t walked far before the path became steep and slippery with loose rocks. At this point, it was clear that some of the guests hadn’t read the fact that they would be doing walks and the warnings about the Scottish weather as they were the most underprepared I have seen. So some people had to turn back.
As we walked we were treated to a gorgeous view over the sea. Though you couldn’t stay to look for long as the wind was really picking up. At the bottom, the path became level again, turned a corner and there was the end of the path. Leading to a pool with an incredible waterfall dropping into it.
This is Lealt Falls (check out reviews here) and it is beautiful. Honestly, I couldn’t believe that I had never heard of these falls before. The wind created mists and the pool rippled, adding to the aesthetics. We stayed at the pool for a while, chatting to Bus Driver Dave and the others. Watching people nearly falling in as they battled the wind and rain for the perfect picture.
Soon it was time to tackle the steep path back up. It was much worse going back. The weather was getting even worse and you could barely see in front of your face. By the time we got to the top, you could barely see the top of the waterfall. So we all quickly bundled ourselves back into the bus and Bus Driver Dave cranked the heating up for us.
Mermaids And Dinosaurs
Bus Driver Dave certainly knew how to make use of the bad weather. Kilt Rock (have a look at some reviews here) was our next stop, which is where you can hear the mermaids wailing when it’s windy. The noise the wind makes is definitely creepy! It is actually the fencing that makes the noise, but let’s go for mermaids, makes it more magical.
Kilt Rock gets its name as, obviously, it looks like a kilt. Basalt columns rest on a sandstone base that makes the rocks look like tartan. Mealt Falls cascade over the side and it is a beautiful place. Though at this point the wind made it a little difficult to get to the viewpoint.
Near the viewpoint, there is also a cast of some dinosaur footprints. These are a cast of those that were found at Staffin Beach.
Wind Is A Good Thing
The next drive took us even further north on the Isle of Skye, I have never been this far up. We went all the way to the northernmost point of Skye, Duntulm Castle (for reviews follow this link). Bus Driver Dave told us that this is the best place to come when the weather is bad. And it was definitely fun!
There was a small path across some fields leading to the castle ruins, the fields were open to the sea. And the wind was incredible. You could stand facing the wind, lean forward and you would not fall, the wind pushed you back. I have never been in wind like this before. Definitely a good place to come in the wind! Walking straight was even difficult, the wind beat at us from the side, so no one was able to stick to the path for long.
Once at the castle ruins, you can actually follow the hill down and come to the shoreline below the castle. Here was more sheltered, so we had a bit of respite, though not much. The sea down here was incredible, waves crashing on nearby rocks and the view of the castle from below, wow. I thought it was the best view of the ruins.
Back on the bus, we were all soaked to the skin and freezing. But it had been worth it.
A Clan Story
We had a while to the next stop, so Bus Driver Dave filled up the drive (in the lovely warm bus) with the legend about the McDonalds who lived at this castle.
There were two main clans on the Isle of Skye, McLeod and McDonald, between these clans there was a lot of rivalry. To try and bring the clans together a marriage was arranged, the son of the McDonald chief wedded a highborn McLeod. Sounds like a good plan, right? Well, the marriage back then was handfasting, which is actually for a marriage and a day, it is then renewed if the marriage works. But things didn’t go quite to plan…
Like all married couples, they argued from time to time. But during one argument the wife fell and banged her head (some tales say that he hit her, which caused her to fall). Because of her injuries, she has to have an eye removed. Unfortunately, the MacDonald chief decided that a one-eyed woman was no match for his son, regardless of her high birth and the fact that it was an accident. And he was very rude about it. He sent her back to her clan tied facing backwards on a one-eyed donkey, led by a one-eyed man with a one-eyed dog (apparently having an eye out was quite commonplace).
McLeod was not happy about this, it was a huge insult, so he told his men to kill any McDonald that comes onto their land.
Now, the husband actually really loved his wife and wanted her back. So he went to ask for his wife back and was refused. Next, he tried to sneak her out but was shot and killed on sight.
A few years later the McDonalds abandoned Duntulm Castle and it was left to ruin.
One Last Stop
Our final stop for the day was a quick one and I think we only just made it before they closed. We stopped off at the Skye Brewery in Uig. The drive down to this port town has some incredible views. Winding roads take you down some hills, giving a beautiful view, though we couldn’t see much through the rain.
Uig is mainly a port, so there’s not much here, other than the brewery. We didn’t stay here long, as it was close to closing time.
All the beer at Skye Brewery is made at the shop, or behind maybe. Either way, the brewery is where the shop is (don’t forget to check out the reviews here). The shop itself is quite small, but everyone had a good look around. If you like beer it’s definitely worth buying a bottle or two.
We were still all soaked to the bone, so after a quick shop, we were all happy to be on the way to the hostel for the evening.
The Skye Boat Song
It was quite a long drive home, from Uig to Kyleakin, so Bus Driver Dave told us a few stories as we wound back up the hill. He told us about when the island of St Kilda was evacuated, but the story I liked the best was about Bonnie Prince Charlie and Flora MacDonald.
When Bonnie Prince Charlie needed to escape Scotland, he needed to get to Skye, to then escape further. Flora MacDonald helped him to do this. She dressed the Prince as a woman and during a storm, they sailed across to Skye. However, as they were sailing during a storm they looked suspicious and so were stopped. The authorities questioned everyone, but Bonnie Prince Charlie refused to say anything as his voice would give away his disguise. Luckily Flora jumped in and told the questionnaires that the woman was her maid who couldn’t speak English. So they were allowed to go on their way and Bonnie Prince Charlie escaped to France.
The end is not so good though. A few weeks after Charlie escaped, the sailors started boasting (probably once they had a few drinks), so they were arrested. All the sailors were executed, Flora was also arrested, but not executed. She was locked up in the Tower Of London.
After telling us the story, Bus Driver Dave put the Skye Boat song on. I had heard this before, but never really listened to the lyrics. It’s weird, isn’t it, how knowing a story behind a song can make all the difference when you listen to it?
We Thought We Were So Clever…
Arriving at the Lochbuie Guesthouse, which is part of Skye Backpackers (check them out and book on HostelWorld), which was to be our home for the night. Me and Dave thought we’d be really clever and beat the queue to get our room keys. So we left our bags in the bus and checked in. We figured there’d be a queue to the bags, so went up to our room. Here we were treated to another great view over the loch.
As people were starting to come up with their bags we went down to get ours. Only to discover the bus locked and Bus Driver Dave gone! Backpacking fail! We wouldn’t normally be too bothered, but due to the weather and adventuring, we were both in need of showers. Luckily, we remembered he’d mentioned that he’d be going to the pub for tea, so we decided to try there. The King Haakon Pub (you can find reviews here) is only a short walk away, so seemed like a good idea. Even though we were still soaked and looked like drowned rats.
And we were correct! Bus Driver Dave gave us the keys, asking us to come back with them asap, which we promised to do. So it was a quick run back to get our bags into the room.
By this time the showers were all taken! So our plan of doing everything first was foiled.
The Two Daves
As we’d promised to get the keys back sooner rather than later, Dave decided he would run the keys back, rather than waiting around and hopefully there would then be a shower free. I decided to wait around.
And I must say, I find the showers in this hostel a little weird, they’re basically wetrooms. It very much seems like they were squeezed in wherever possible. But that just adds to the character, right?
After I was showered there was still no sign of Dave, so I waited in the common room. Slowly everyone else came down, but no Dave. We had said that we were going to the pub for food, as were quite a few of the group. So I tagged along with them to the pub. They all asked if I was worried as to where he’d got to. But I wasn’t, I told them all he probably just got chatting to Bus Driver Dave when he took the keys back.
And I was right. He was just where I expected him to be, chatting with Bus Driver Dave.
Another Good Night
There was quite a big group of us in the pub that night, we all ordered food and drank. Last time we were here, me and Dave had a Seafood Platter sharer and so we had that again. The seafood here is literally as fresh as it gets, so it is worth having a taste.
Us, the Aussies, Carly and a few more of us stayed in the pub. Pool was played, chats were had and a good time was had. When the pub closed they poured what drinks we had left into plastic cups to takeaway (genius, though I hope they are now using a recyclable cup instead). So we stumbled back to the hostel, even though we weren’t ready for sleep. Luckily, there is a big common room so me, Dave, the three Aussies and Carly stayed up playing cards. Once again, we probably stayed up too late, but that’s what these tours are all about, right?
The last morning was, well, painful; should’ve gone to bed earlier… It was an even earlier start for the last day of the tour. Breakfast was laid out for us and consisted of toast, cereal, juice and caffeine.
After trying to force some food down, it was time to get packed up and back on the bus for the journey back to Edinburgh (with plenty of detours, stops and stories along the way). We left the island by going back over the Skye Bridge and past Eilean Donan Castle. As we passed the castle, Bus Driver Dave told us a spooky story about the place.
The castle was owned by the clan MacKay but was destroyed in the Jacobite uprising. Years later a MacKay wanted to rebuild the castle, but he had no idea what it should look like. Luckily, the architect that he hired dreamed how it should look and built it that way. The spooky bit is that years later they found drawings of the original castle and the architect got it pretty bob on, about 95% of the new castle is the same as in the drawings.
The first drive of the day was quite a long one, but luckily Bus Driver Dave had plenty of stories. One of my favourites was when we passed through Kintail, the tale of Jordie MacKay, who is said to have been the luckiest and unluckiest man in Scotland.
Be Careful What You Wish For
The tale goes that Jordie lived with his seven daughters, who learnt to do many different things. They helped around the house, learnt trades and just did everything for him really. One day, the eldest daughter, Moray was off fishing when a wrecked boat came to shore. The Captain and his younger brother had survived, they came from Ireland and asked for help in repairing the boat.
Morag allowed the captain and his brother to stay in the family home whilst she fixed his ship, isn’t Morag lovely? During this time, the captain and his brother fell in love with the two youngest siblings and asked for permission to marry them. However, tradition states that the eldest daughter must be married first and so they are refused. The captain tells the father that they have five other brothers who would marry the other older sisters. Jordie agrees to let them take the two youngest with the promise that they will bring their brothers back to marry the rest. But, they never return.
After a year of waiting, Jordie went to the woods witch for help. He requested that his five remaining daughters should stay youthful until the sailors return. The witch said she would sort it and so Jordie went home and was a little disappointed that nothing had changed. It seemed like everything is fine until he woke up the next day… He could not find his daughters anywhere. The witch had turned his daughters into mountains when the sailors return they will become young women again.
As we drove, Bus Driver Dave pointed out the Five Sisters Of Kintail.
A Mountain And A Memorial
Still driving, we passed Loch Cluanie. Bus Driver Dave told us how this is not actually a real loch, but has been made by a hydroelectric power station. During years of low rainfall, you can actually see the roofs of houses, as they essentially drowned a town (I assume they evacuated it first).
Finally, we got to the first stop of the day, the Commando Memorial (click here to read reviews). This area has a brilliant view of Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest mountain. Though it is very distant and actually looks smaller than the closer mountains, it’s still a great view.
The Commando Monument is dedicated to the British Commandos in World War II, they were trained around the Lochaber region, which the memorial overlooks. Every time I have been here there are wreaths of poppies placed on the monument.
Our next drive wasn’t as long, which was good as we all needed to get out of the bus for a bit! But during the shorter drive, Bus Driver Dave told us a weird story about Trump time travelling. It was a really interesting conspiracy theory that involved blueprints of a time machine by Thomas Edison and some books that foretold everything that has happened recently. However, I don’t think I can do the story justice, so you’ll have to go on the tour and get Bus Driver Dave to tell it to you.
As Bus Driver Dave finished the story, we pulled up a Spean Bridge (for reviews click here). We were to have an hour here to grab some food and have a wander. There’s a cafe and a small shop, he also pointed out a path that would take us down to the river.
Me and Dave headed into the cafe and bought some coffee and a haggis roll each. We hadn’t had haggis on our Scotland trip yet, so this needed to be fixed. Then we headed down the path to the river.
The path wasn’t the easiest to go down, slippery and muddy. But it was worth it; we found a lovely spot on the river to have our haggis rolls and coffee. It made a great picnic spot. Though getting back up the muddy, slippery path was even more difficult.
Another Long Drive
The next drive was another long one, filled with music and stories. Bus Driver Dave told us about John Knox, who was important during the Reformation and helped with making school free for the poor. He told us about the Caledonian Canal, which was once important for trade, but now for tourists.
Whisky was a subject for a while too. He told us how Scotch became so popular. It was during the American Prohibition; the mafia starting importing whisky due to the high demand. The Scotts gave them cheap blends, which caused Scottish whisky to become a massive export. In fact, 90% is exported (so Bus Driver Dave said).
Do you know what makes a Scotch whisky? It only has three ingredients; malt, barley and water. The whisky has to be aged for three-years minimum and then be left for one day in an open cask to allow the methanol to escape.
Still driving… Like I said, this was a long one. I think this was the longest drive we had on the tour. Anyway, still driving along, we went through the Cairngorms. This was the second and is the largest National Park in Scotland (take a look at some reviews here). It was granted National Park status in 2003; I always thought National Parks were much older.
On a side note on National Parks, did you know they were invented by a Scot, John Muir. He moved to the USA and was an advocate for protecting wilderness. The first-ever National Park was Yellowstone, which became a National Park in 1872.
As we drove through the Cairngorms, Bus Driver Dave told us about Ben Macdui, which is the second-highest mountain in the UK and the highest in the Cairngorms. It is believed that the mountain is home to the Grey Man or Am Fear Liath Mòr. The story goes that a farmer tried to climb the mountain, but the weather turned bad and he had to turn back. Visibility on the mountain got worse and worse, but as he turned to go back, he thought he heard someone further up the path. He shouted, in case it was someone who needed help, but there was no response.
The farmer thought nothing of this later. It wasn’t until he became the chairman of a hillwalking committee that he told his story. And he was surprised that others said that they had a similar experience.
Behind The Shopping Centre
Finally, we pulled up! And I was a little shocked to see that we had stopped at a shopping centre. Not what I expected at all. However, Bus Driver Dave soon told us that we were not here to shop, but we obviously could if we wanted to.
It turns out that just behind this shopping centre there is a path. This small circular walk takes you to the Falls of Bruar (you can check out reviews here). I never would have found this without Macbackpackers and it really is a hidden gem.
Walking along the path there was plenty to see. A pretty bridge (which we came back across) and a bench that has part of a Robbie Burns poem carved into it. The poem is actually about this area and is meant to be the voice of the water begging the 4th Duke of Atholl to plant trees along the river banks. When Burns died the Duke planted the forest in memory of the poet.
There were also mushrooms and evidence of plantation and cutting. The path took us up and around, finally coming out on the upper bridge, which is above the waterfall.
Across the bridge and the path makes it way back down to the lower bridge. Just after this bridge, you can get a closer look at the falls and this is probably the best view. The falls are beautiful and very well hidden behind the shopping centre.
Slowly, we all made our way back to the bus. But once again, some had to be late and this time they were really late. Bus Driver Dave tried to ring them, he couldn’t get in contact at all. I can’t believe people do this, it’s so inconsiderate. He told us that he wouldn’t leave them here as there’s not much by way of public transport. I guess this is really hard for a tour guide, do you leave people? You’ve got to look after the rest of the guests, who want to continue the tour. Certainly stuck between a rock and a hard place, I’m really not sure what I’d do.
Luckily, they finally turned up and we were able to go on our way.
Vikings And Thistles
Our next stop was Dunkeld. It was because of this town that the thistle became one of the symbols of Scotland.
The legend tells that way back in the day some Vikings planned to raid the church in Dunkeld. So in the dead of night, they started their raid. To ensure that they were quiet and so wouldn’t be heard, they decided to sneak up on the village barefooted. However, what they didn’t realise was that to get to the town they had to go through a field, which was covered in thistles. So their plan backfired, they cried out as they stepped on the thistles and woke up the town. And so the raid failed.
Getting out of the bus and stretching our legs we went to explore the Cathedral. It is a pretty building, even though there are works going on (seems like there are always works here, or maybe I’m a curse, who knows?)
The Cathedral is actually considered to be one of the most picturesque in Europe, and with its location on the banks of the River Tay, it’s hard to disagree. Inside there are lots of little pretty features. There’s also a small museum which tells of the Cathedral and the town’s history, plus its connections with the Dukes of Atholl. In fact, above the entrance to the museum, you can find the Atholl Coat of Arms.
It’s only a small museum but crammed with lots of information, so definitely worth a look round. (Don’t believe me, see what others think here).
A Nice Touch
After exploring the Cathedral we went out to the river. It was a nice day and we still had some time left. Here we chatted with some others on our tour and generally had a relaxing time.
As we got back on the bus, Bus Driver Dave had a nice surprise for us; he had printouts that listed everywhere that we’d been. And there was one for each of us. I think that this is a really nice little touch, it means going through photos later everyone can actually make the connect and know the name of each stop. So grateful for it!
And then it was time to set off for our final stop, Edinburgh.
Approaching Edinburgh, we had to cross the Forth Bridge. As we came up to this Bus Driver Dave told us a bit about the bridges over the river, there are three in total.
The Forth Bridge was designed by Thomas Bouch, who also designed the Tay Bridge in Dundee. The Tay Bridge is famous due to its collapse in 1879, known as the Tay Bridge Disaster. This ruined Thomas Bouch’s reputation and is apparently where the term “botched-job” comes from (as his surname sounds similar).
The Tour Comes To An End
We finished our journey where we had started, at Castle Rock. Getting our bags we all said goodbye to each other and went our separate ways, well almost. This was the one sad thing about this tour, as it finished on a Monday, most people were going onward or home the same night or the next day. Whereas the other tour I did ended on a Friday, so most stayed for the weekend and we all had a night out.
Me and Dave were booked into Castle Rock, as was Carly. The three Aussies had a train to Glasgow later in the evening, so we all decided to have some food together. Dave, Carly and I checked in to our rooms and dropped our bags off; the staff let the Aussies use the bag storage, which was really nice of them.
Dave and I actually had plans that evening, we were going to watch Graeme E. Pearson. We always do when we’re in Edinburgh and we find one of his gigs, so we invited the others along. So we headed down to the Grassmarket to grab some food.
There are quite a few pubs in the Grassmarket to get food, the first one we tried was full so we ended up in Maggie Dickenson’s. This was a mistake. It was cheap, but certainly not cheerful. We ordered food but if I’d have gone to the toilets first I wouldn’t have. When the food came, some of it was cold and it took forever to come. I had haggis, neeps and tatties, which was ok, but I’ve had much better. Maybe we just caught a bad day, who knows, before you make up your mind check out other reviews here.
I like the namesake of the pub, Maggie Dickenson was a real person. She was condemned for hiding her pregnancy and so hanged. However, she survived the hanging. A nice touch after surviving hanging is that you are technically dead and so never have to pay tax again.
A Great End To The Night
Anyway, after the horrific food, we finished our drinks and headed to the Black Bull (see what people think to this pub here) as we wanted to get some good seats (Graeme E. Pearson does fill the pub). We managed to get a table and got some more drinks. The Aussies by this point had missed the train they were planning to catch and stayed later and later. But unfortunately, they did have to leave before the music started.
So, in the end, it was just me, Dave and Carly left. She wanted to see some live Scottish music and believe me, Graeme E. Pearson ticks all the boxes. He plays old Scottish songs such as Loch Lomond and the Skye Boat Song, as well as newer pop, such as 500 Miles. It’s not just the singing though, he puts on a great show and really gets the audience going. It’s impossible not to stay until the very end and so that’s exactly what we did. We even convinced him to play Skittery Dog (a song that he has written and has a bit of a cult following – go see him and ask for it).
The Final Three
Tired and happy we made our way back up the hill and back to the hostel. This is where the last of the tour group said goodbye, as Carly had an early flight to catch (I have no idea how she managed it). It was said to be saying the final goodbye after a good night, hoping to see each other again someday.
I absolutely love the MacBackpackers tours (in case you haven’t guessed). The stories and the places, the tour group culture and the laughs. Hidden gems and main tourist attractions, the tours have it all. Would I do another one? Yes, I’d even happily do the same tour again. Macbackpackers are a great way to visit the Highlands – you can book a tour with them here.