It’s weird to reduce a city like Edinburgh to just a stopping off point to something else. The whole reason we ended up in Edinburgh was my wanting to take a ride on the Jacobite Express. Now, I am a bit of a train nut, and it seemed the thing to do to go on the Jacobite Express since I was visiting the UK. However, if you do not have your own transport, it is a bit of a pain to do, since you have to get to Fort William, which is easier said than done.
Thankfully, we found a tour that would not only let us go on the Jacobite Express, but also show us a bit of the Scottish Highlands, and we booked it forthwith. We flew into Edinburgh exhausted, and immediately retired to our hotel room where we rested in preparation for two days of Scottish goodness!
The next day, we made an early start, joining the tour for a run to Fort Augustus where we would spend the night. Our first stop was at the Firth of Forth, to take in the mighty bridges crossing it. We stood in the mist looking at the old red bridge (so old that it’s simply called the Forth Bridge, and was opened in 1890) and the shiny new silver one (which is so fancy it isn’t even called a bridge – it’s called the Queensferry Crossing!).
A word here about James Stewart, our guide who took us around and generally took care of us. He was the most genial person you could meet – a couple of inches under seven feet tall, with a bushy beard and a permanent smile. He was always dressed in a kilt and t-shirt, making sure we did not forget that we were in Scotland! He told us many, many stories of Scotland and Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites and the Campbells and the wretched English kings who never cared for the Scots. He had a languid, yet engaging storytelling manner that was so addictive – for several days after the tour, we caught ourselves imitating that style when talking to each other! He was a fantastic fellow – his deep knowledge of Scotland was rivalled only by his deep love for his nation, and it was fascinating to see someone so deeply patriotic, yet so accepting of the rule of a people who had for centuries heaped indignities on his motherland and his fellow countrymen.
The next place we visited was the Hermitage, a place on the banks of the River Braan in Craigvinean Forest. The trail was slick from rain and the forest was lush and green. By the trail flowed the muddy brown Braan – swift and powerful. It gave us a taste of wild Scotland with its tall fir trees and thick forests.
Our next stop was at the terrible battlefield of Culloden, where in 1647, an estimated 1500 to 2000 Scotsmen were killed in less than an hour by English loyalists. Today, the battlefield presents a sight so beautiful that it’s hard to imagine it has such a bloody history. We spent some time wandering around the place, taking in the atmosphere and trying to imagine how it would have been all those years ago.
From Culloden, we headed out to the famous Loch Ness. We took the ferry out to Castle Urquhart, and like millions of visitors, we did not see the Loch Ness monster. What we did see was the spellbindingly beautiful lake and its surroundings, especially from Castle Urquhart. During our time in Scotland, we spent so much time just drinking in the natural beauty of the place that when thinking back and trying to remember what we actually did – we were literally just looking at different views with our mouths hanging open!
From Castle Urquhart, we headed in to Fort Augustus, where we checked into the most quaint hotel for our overnight stay. We went walking around town, and again, just got carried away by the beauty of the place.
The next day dawned bright and early, and after a sumptuous breakfast, we were on the road again, this time to Fort William, where we would board the Jacobite Express. Considered one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world, the Jacobite Express shot to fame when it was filmed as the Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter movies. The vistas are spectacular, and the train takes you through some of the most beautiful landscapes in Scotland. Add to that the appeal of traveling by an actual steam train, and it’s easy to see its wide appeal to visitors of all kinds.
I am going to stop at this point, and write about the actual Jacobite Express journey a few days later!