The Paths of Fort Augustus

Waking up with a different view each morning is one of the best parts of tour guiding – and I like to use the dawn light to find new walks to share with the guests. In Fort Augustus, I borrowed my host’s dog, Bobby, a young black Labrador, who seemed intent on dislocating my shoulder. We set off as the sun rose over Beinn a’Bhacaidh; Loch Ness shimmered in the cool light.

We crossed the bascule bridge over the Caledonian Canal. A staircase of water locks stretched away to our right – boats waited at the top and bottom for the locks to open. Bobby’s ears perked up, his nose started sniffing like a chef sensing the soufflés were singeing. He hurtled along the canal path dragging me with him. 

We ran to the top of the locks where Bobby stopped. Beside us was the morning traffic. Put put pleasure boats jostled with grand tall yachts for pole position. Something was moving on an orange and green Dutch long-boat. Bobby whined as a furry face poked out from the hold. The scruffy terrier panted a couple of times, eyed Bobby, then disappeared below deck. Once the lock man woke up, these boats would travel on to Inverness and then out to the North Sea.

We headed back onto the pavement and walked past the monastery. Bobby span round my legs as a touring motorbike hummed by, then barked when it had turned the corner. An old stone bridge arched over river Tarff in front of us, to our left a path left the pavement. Bobby looked to me for confirmation, then headed down.  

A forest of mature oaks stood over a carpet of bluebells. The sun was up now; it evaporated the forest floor dew, warmed the wild garlic and white flowers. I could hear the baaing of waking sheep. We walked on till a meadow opened out before us – dozens of ewes and lambs lay in the grass. A farmer in his pick-up truck drove around the field checking his flock. Music was playing in the truck, and it floated over the air, slightly too quiet to recognise.

Bobby and I headed back into town. I dropped him off then went to meet the guests. The meadow path had certainly made it onto my recommendations for clients – Bobby had been a good companion. That being said, my shoulder was a bit raw.   

McKinlay Kidd offer a number of small group guided rail tours, including ‘Loch Ness, The Jacobite & Skye’, with departure dates in both 2019 or 2020. Reserve your place today, or call our team on 0141 260 9260 for more information.

A Journey along Scotland’s North Coast

On a chilly April morning, I woke up bright and early to explore a small slice of Scotland’s north coast. I must admit that I approached my trip to Easter Ross and Wester Ross with excitement but also some trepidation. Spring was running extremely late in Scotland with the recent snow and heavy rain, and I was hoping I wouldn’t miss any of the dramatic landscape as a result!

Our first stop was the village of Cromarty, just 40 minutes from Inverness, but en route we decided to stop at Chanonry Point between Fortrose and Rosemarkie on the Black Isle, as the weather was in our favour. This is widely regarded as one of the best and most reliable places to see bottlenose dolphins and seals playing in the Moray Firth. Sadly I wasn’t lucky enough to spot them this time but the small secluded beach and picturesque lighthouse made for a lovely stopping point.

Our arrival in Cromarty was captivating; I hadn’t expected the sight of the ‘oil rig graveyard’ across the Cromarty Firth. Rigs that were active in the 70s – when off shore oil drilling was at its most profitable – now lie dormant, waiting patiently for the industry to take a lucrative turn again. The result is a haunting yet beautiful view. Cromarty too was full of surprises – what I originally saw as a sleepy, friendly village in fact has a vibrant underbelly, with dozens of cultural events each year including a film festival.

Cromarty Oil Rigs

We moved on to our next stop on the west coast, enjoying the change in scenery from flat yellow meadows to the renowned dramatic and rugged terrain of Scotland’s western highlands. Coinciding with the first real sunshine of Scotland’s spring, we were blessed with clear blue skies and the sight of glittering granite cliffs and snow-capped mountains on the horizon.

We headed for Ullapool, a cheerful seaside town with a lot of character and activity despite its remote location. Ullapool’s hardworking residents have transformed it into a hub of culture – the town hosts a number of music and book festivals annually alongside frequent art exhibitions. Seeing the snowy isle of Lewis in the distance from the harbour was a highlight of the day for me, and there is good walking to be had nearby for those wishing to stretch their legs. We had a little spare time before dinner and so visited the Corrieshalloch Gorge on the River-Droma – a truly impressive sight, despite my fear of heights!

The last stop on our particular run of the North Coast 500 was Shieldaig and Loch Torridon. A warm bowl of seafood chowder in the Shieldaig’s acclaimed fish restaurant warmed my bones on this chilly afternoon as the sun continued to shine. Our passing Poolewe and the Applecross Peninsula provided a first for me– a sighting of a wild mountain goat! He and his mates considered us carefully before trotting off – a friendly encounter that concluded my trip off very nicely before the drive back to Glasgow. As ever always with touring trips, I was left wanting more – next time I will definitely allow time in Skye or Glen Coe before returning home.

I came away from my trip in awe of the beauty of Scotland’s North Coast. We may only have visited one part of this iconic road trip, but I’m very lucky because at McKinlay Kidd, I have the opportunity to help our customers fall in love with it every day! One thing is for sure; I will be back to experience the rest very soon.

Words and Images from Caoimhe @ McKinlay Kidd 

Why not take a road trip like Caoimhe’s and discover Scotland’s North Coast? We have a number of different holiday options, or we can tailor-make  your perfect Scottish driving holiday. 

Road tripping on the west coast of Scotland

Recently my colleague, Caoimhe, and I enjoyed a picturesque and slightly Harry Potter-themed adventure to the west coast of Scotland.

Setting off on a lovely Thursday morning we drove up north from Glasgow and past the breath-taking views of Loch Lomond. The burnt orange coloured leaves falling from the trees made our journey all the more beautiful. Every now and then the sun would pop out of the clouds leaving a beautiful rainbow over the glistening water.

Viaduct rainbow - Daniela
Rainbow over the Glenfinnan viaduct

Our first stop was the Glenfinnan Viaduct visitor centre, where we parked up and made our way to the top of the hill for the best possible view. We really were amazed. The viaduct is not only a work of art but for me as a Harry Potter fan, it brings back magical childhood memories. Once we had soaked up the views we made our way to the waterfront where the Jacobite monument stands proud, overlooking Loch Shiel. Something about the clouds gave the hills an almost blue hue and the water quite a spooky look which added to the ambiance.

After plenty of photo opportunities, we were back on the road and heading towards Mallaig for a spot of lunch in a lovely location near the ferry port. The prawn roll was simply delicious. Our next stop was Spean Bridge for the night which gave us another excellent chance to enjoy the phenomenal Highland scenery and hospitality.

The following day, well-rested and eager for the next part of our adventure, we headed to Fort William train station for a tour of the Jacobite steam train. Having never seen a steam engine before I definitely felt like I was taken back in time. I can’t deny that I was also excited to be on the train that inspired the Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter films. Walking along the platform surrounded in clouds of steam felt quite enchanting. It was lovely to see both kids and adults soaking up the experience in anticipation of the train’s departure.

The whole trip was very enjoyable. Driving through the Highlands was such a contrast to my normal journeys on motorways and around the city centre. The time seemed to fly by with so many wonderful sights to take in. I can’t wait to return to the west coast of Scotland again very soon!

Words and images by Daniela at McKinlay Kidd