Capital of Scotland, home of Harry Potter and also my home. Edinburgh is a vibrant city with lots to do and see. But if like me you live here and you’ve had your fill of taking visitors around the usual haunts, the Holyrood Palace, Arthur seat, the museums and every place JK Rowling mentions that relates to the Harry Potter books, there is always the option to escape the city. The Hairy Coo tour operator has three 1-day tours which have a similar itinerary to other operators but they also have a 1- Day Free Scottish Highland tour. I don’t know about you but the word free is extremely alluring. My friend Nichol was visiting and as both of us were pretty tight on cash we decided to go for it. My thoughts were if it’s not as extensive as the other day tours, it would at least give me a taster of The Hairy Coo operator is made of. I booked the tour online and arrived at the meeting point at 8.30 sharp. At first, it was just me and Nichol waiting on the frosty steps of a closed pub for the tour bus to arrive. Slowly sleepy eyes joined us and soon we were an eclectic bunch all gathered together on the Royal Mile. Our Tour guide and driver turned up soon after and off we all went.
First stop: Scotlands Wonder
The Forth Bridge was voted Scotland’s greatest man-made wonder in a survey by VisitScotland (Edinburgh Castle, The Kelpies and the Glenfinnan Viaduct were top of the polls just in case you were wondering). The bridge is 127 years old and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Even on a cold winter day the bridge and the Firth of Forth are still something to see.
Is that you up there Stirling Castle!?
Stirling Castle is one of the largest castles in Scotland. The castle sits atop Castle Hill and was used by many of the Scottish royal residences before the union with England. Several Scottish Kings and Queens have been crowned at Stirling, including Mary, Queen of Scots. There have been at least eight sieges of Stirling Castle, including several during the Wars of Scottish Independence, with the last being in 1746. Unfortunately, the image below was as close as we got to the castle on the tour. The tour stops on the roadside and offers you a view of the castle from below the hill. From this angle, I think it resembles Edinburgh Castle (also VisitScotland’s survey list) what do you think?.
The National Wallace Monument
I think it is safe to say that most people (not from Scotland) know about William Wallace and his quest for Freedom from the famous film ‘Braveheart’. The National Wallace Monument is a tower standing on the summit of Abbey Craig (a volcanic crag) in Stirling. It was constructed with the money raised by a fundraising campaign, kinda like how people crowdfund for random things like the watermelon holder but instead, it was to preserve history which I think is definitely worth funding not like a contraption to hold watermelons. A number of artefacts believed to have belonged to Wallace are on display inside the monument, including the Wallace Sword, a 1.63-metre (5 ft, 4 inches,) long sword weighing almost three kilograms. The man wielded a sword that is taller than my entire body. I probably couldn’t have even dragged it if I needed to. The original Victorian statue of Wallace stands on the corner of the monument which I did not get to see. As I said we were on the budget tour and decided to roam the area surrounding the monument instead of paying £9.99 to enter.
After visiting Wallace we took a break in Aberfoyle village for a quick bite to eat. The village is pretty standard and had a few places to eat and a few stores to check out. After we were fed and watered we were back on the road.
I’m going to skip Glen of Trossachs/Duke’s Pass and the waterfall (both are normally on the tour) and jump over to Loch Katrine, as we didn’t get to do that part of the tour due to the weather.
Katrine is a freshwater loch in Trossachs area. The loch is 13 kilometres long and 1 kilometre wide. Sir Walter Scott’s poem ‘The Lady of the Lake’ was inspired by this loch and the name of the Loch is derived from the term cateran from the Gaelic ceathairne, a collective word meaning ‘cattle thief’. The most infamous cattle thief was Rob Roy MacGregor the Highlands version of Robin Hood. In 1995 the actor Liam Neeson portrayed him in the film ‘Rob Roy’. There is a Loch cruise that sails along the water but sadly it was closed when we went so we settled for a stroll along the walkway.
Below is a photo of the cruise ship that was not running… I guess we will have to just imagine what it would have been like cruising down the freshwater loch listening to its history while being served hot chocolate with whipped cream and a shot of Bailey’s. OK, I’m not sure they serve any of that but it is my fantasy. What would yours be?
When the snows fall and the white wind blow. The lone wolf dies but the pack survives -George R.R. Martin
Doune Castle was a medieval stronghold near the village of Doune. The castle deteriorated through the 18th century, and by 1800 Doune was a roofless ruin and it remained this way until the 1880s. Now the castle is maintained by Historic Scotland. What is cool about this castle is that it has been used as the location for Winterfell in the ‘Game of Throne’s series, Castle Leoch in the series ‘Outlanders’ and the comedy film ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’. When we got to the Castle it was closing in 15 minutes (closes at 4 pm). As last entry into the castle is 30 minutes before closing we were not permitted to enter. The ticket prices for adults is £6 and kids under 5 go free.
The hairiest coo in all the land
The last stop on the tour is probably the reason that people booked their ticket. The highland cattle are the most famous and dare I say the cutest cows grazing on the green grasses of the Scottish highlands. They have long lushes ginger hair and two pointy horns jutting from their heads. We waited hands outstretched to receive a slice of white Scottish loaf from our tour guide. Their long tongues zealously flicked out of there mouths and whipped the bread from our hands and into their open mouths. Quite literally the longest tongues I’ve ever seen. They would give giraffes a run for the world record for the longest tongue. To busy being mesmerised by these hairy creatures, some of the group had forgotten the wise words from the tour guide. He warned us all before we approached the cows to not get too close as their horns have been known to spontaneously whack a person in the head. I observed at least three people get a whack off of those big horns and from their reactions I gathered it hurt.
These two cows below started wailing for more bread and when they realised the feast was over they lost interest and turned their butts on the crowd and walked away.
The photo below is out of focus but I threw it into the mix because… Look at its wee face! It looks confused and also adorable.
We arrived back in the city around 6 pm. This is when (if you haven’t already) you realise that the tour isn’t actually free. Similar to free walking tours throughout Europe the tour is advertised as free but there is an expectation that if you enjoyed it then you pay the expected rate. The website did note the price the tour is worth £37. Nichol and I scrapped our money together and paid £30 each. We subtracted some numbers as we didn’t actually go to every place advertised and we were too late to enter Doune castle.
Overall the trip wasn’t half bad. We got a brief look at interesting historical sites and fed some cute cows. The making of a great day don’t you think?
If you like hiking check out my post on Ben Lomond a superb hiking trail by Loch Lomond.
Link: Ben Lomond
Have you gone on any free tours? What did you think of the quality of the tour?
What is your favourite historical site in Scotland?