Tuesday, August 18, 2020

A trip to the Scottish highlands

Having spent the past five months locked-in at home, we were itching to step out. With the Covid situation in seemingly better control in the UK, we decided to take a break up north to the Scottish highlands. 

The first leg to Glasgow was by flight, and we were rather worried by the risks we would face. (Had to take the flight as the driving license agency in the UK hasn’t yet reopened, preventing me from renting a car, which would have been a better option). However, the trip via Heathrow was well managed - there were enough distancing and masking controls in place, and we were quickly whisked across security checks. It was a surprise to see the crowds travelling along though, as the terminal seemed rather crowded; most seemed to be taking European trips. 

The flight to Glasgow was about three-fourths full, but there were lots of sanitary measures in place, including the need to wear masks through the journey. The weather was glorious and sunny as we left; I was glad to be back on a flight after a year of staying away.

We had booked three nights in Glasgow, and in a hotel right in the centre of town. In retrospect, I wouldn’t spend as much time in the city, and for sure not stay at the town centre. For one, most of the museums, travel attractions and even good restaurants were still shut. For another, central Glasgow is a rather compact area and can easily be covered within a day. However, we made good use of the time and walked all over the centre and the West End. The western side is clearly more verdant and prettier - loved the areas around the University of Glasgow, the Kelvingrove park and the botanical gardens. Those visiting Glasgow are better served being based on the Western side, as a lot of the attractions are nearer.

On one of the days, we took the train to Balloch, on the shores of Loch Lomond, among the largest lakes in the UK. The day turned out to be sunny, with the result that the town was rather crowded with visitors. It is a small, yet beautiful town with an incredibly pretty walking trail around the lake and bordering the castle. M loved playing in the park around the castle grounds. We also took a boat ride on the lake; It was interesting to hear that the lake spans both the lowlands and highlands, and that it has played a historic role from the times of the Vikings to William Wallace to the recent past with Michael Jackson and other celebrities visiting hotels on its shores. Balloch is definitely a neat little town, and it has enough to spend more than a day in.

The next leg of our journey took us to Inverness - a town we have come to love - through a 4 hour pretty ride across the verdant Scottish highlands. Set at the mouth of the Ness river, Inverness is a compact, yet rather pretty town. It’s often used a stepping stone to stays and explorations across the Scottish highlands, but given our lack of access to a car, we had to be based here and make use of public transport to explore around - not a bad idea in retrospect. 

We had originally planned to spend three days here, but ended up spending five - due to a combination of inclement weather and a rail accident related disruption which made us ditch our planned trip to Edinburgh. 

We made a number of exploratory trips within Inverness and beyond. The Whin park and Ness Island, which are situated on the river present a beautiful walking area and garden - M loved it particularly because it had a neat kids park. 

The cruise on the Loch Ness river, in search of Nessie, is a must do - we loved the natural beauty around (but it got M rather bored). We did a day trip to Rosemarkie and a walk up to the Fairy Glen - a really pretty area of woods with waterfalls, which M loved; it also has a beach and a kids play area - so enough to keep the kids occupied. 

On another day, we did a walk up a wooded area called Craig Phadig, which is a 30 mins bus ride from central Inv, but has a great walking trail up to a fort, and presents great views of the sea. Finally, we closed with a train ride to Aviemore (a 45 mins ride from Inv) and an hours walk up to Craig through a nature park. 

Whew that seems a lot in retrospect! Walked about a 100 kms too!

In sum, a great trip and much needed break up to the hills. Got us to disconnect from work for a while and reconnect as a family, discovering a new love for hiking in the process. Flights and public transport are not probably the best means to travel Scotland (there is a lot where a car can help), but its very doable and there are some really great places to explore.

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