Highland Adventure - Day 3 - History, Harry Potter and a Wee Ferry Ride

Our third day began in Ullapool, a slightly rainy and cloudy one but still with undeniably lovely views across Loch Broom from our room. As with the two previous days on our trip it proved to be a mix of sunshine and showers and was perfect again for rainbow spotting. As we were nearing the end of our Highland getaway this was the day that we strayed away from the official North Coast 500 route, cutting off the final part, to take a slightly more direct route towards Fort William which we were staying near that night. We'll just have to venture up to this part of Scotland again at some stage to see the final part of the NC500 route and perhaps do the rest again at a different time of year.

Initially we headed in the general direction of the Kyle of Lochalsh passing through stunning backdrops of snow topped mountains, wide open lochs and tiny settlements dotted here and there. After seeing nothing more than just a few houses for most of the morning we eventually arrived at the considerably larger village of Lochcarron which, even though it wasn't, seemed huge in comparison to everywhere we'd seen previously. Here there is a small supermarket, petrol station and cafes etc. so it's a good spot to stop if you need to stock up, take a break or refuel. Hugging its namesake Loch Carron what it makes up for in amenities definitely doesn't lessen the still spectacular surrounding views all around you. 





From the village of Lochcarron we drove briefly back the way we had come to be able to drive along the opposite side of the loch giving us some great views back to where we had just been. You can see just a little of those views yourself in the video clip below. By this stage we had left the NC500 route behind us as it ultimately does a loop back across the country towards its starting point of Inverness. Instead we were on route for a stop at the incredibly photogenic and very recognisable Eilean Donan castle (I'm sure you'll have seen photos of it even if you've not visited this part of Scotland) which stands on an island where the sea lochs of Loch Duich, Loch Long and Loch Alsh meet.

Peek-a-boo - first rainbow of the day on the banks of Loch Carron




Eilean Donan castle was founded in the 13th century becoming a stronghold of the Clan Mackenzie and their allies the Clan Macrae. Since the first fortified castle was built, originally to protect the lands of Kintail against the Vikings who raided, settled and controlled much of Northern Scotland and the Western Isles between 800 and 1266, there have been at least four different ones built and re-built as the feudal history of Scotland unfolded. Throughout its history the castle has changed size too, becoming both larger and smaller. It was at its biggest during Medieval times when it encompassed nearly the entire island.

During the 17th and 18th centuries it was caught up in the Jacobite uprisings which ultimately resulted in its destruction. In 1719 the castle was garrisoned by Spanish soldiers who supported the Jacobites. They had established a magazine of gunpowder there and were awaiting delivery of weapons and cannon from Spain. The English Government became aware of this intended uprising and sent three heavily armed frigates to resolve the issue. The bombardment of the castle lasted three days with the Spanish eventually being overwhelmed. After they surrendered the English troops discovered the barrels of gunpowder which was used to blow up what remained of the castle. For around the next 200 years the castle stood in a state of ruin, neglected, abandoned and open to the elements until Lt Colonel John Macrae-Gilstrap bought the island in 1911 and spent the next twenty years reconstructing the castle to its former glory. 

As I said Eilean Donan castle is a very familiar Scottish image and was to me too despite not having previously visited it. Inside the castle there are extensive displays giving you the chance to learn more about the man who saved it, the family that lived there and who continue to own it. It's positively teeming with paintings, drawings and photos full of details and interest. The best part for me was definitely the reconstructed kitchen area, once again full of detail, but the castle as a whole made a pleasant stop on our route.

Eilean Donan castle and another well placed rainbow



From the castle we carried on our journey eventually reaching a suitable hotel/pub which had luckily just reopened for the season and made a good lunch stop. Sitting in their restaurant in the shadow of snow covered mountains as we ate made for quite a stunning backdrop. Once lunch was finished we continued on towards Fort William eventually reaching it later that afternoon. Staying in the Fort William area overnight meant we knew we were in the vicinity of the famous Glenfinnan viaduct, something that if you're a Harry Potter fan you'll be instantly familiar with from the films. It was just a short journey on from Fort William to visit it, we wanted to see it, so it was an easy decision to make the short detour before heading on to our base for the night.


A lunch stop with a view like this was pretty spectacular







When you get close to the viaduct you'll find the Glenfinnan visitor centre, here you can buy tickets to visit the Glenfinnan monument and also head into the visitor centre which has information about Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobite uprising. The monument (on the opposite side of the road to the centre) was erected in 1815 and with the figure of a kilted Highlander at its top stands on the spot where Bonnie Prince Charlie first raised his standard and rallied the Jacobite clans in August 1745, the start of his ill-fated campaign to regain the British throne ultimately ending in disaster at Culloden fourteen months later. We opted not to buy tickets to view the monument up close. The views from the road side with the stunning backdrop of the mountains and Loch Shiel as the sun was beginning to set were beautiful and more than satisfied us.

As you'd expect t
here is plenty of parking at the visitor centre but you have to pay to do so. If you park in the visitor centre car park (as we did) you might be a bit disappointed by how far away from the viaduct you are at that point. Luckily though we realised that lots of people seemed to be walking away from the centre and back to it from somewhere so we took a punt on it being a good idea to follow the crowd. We weren't disappointed! We discovered just up the road was another much smaller and free car park, though it's obviously a well known 'secret' as it was quite busy, but from there if you keep walking down the track beyond it you'll soon see the viaduct in all its glory and much closer. Given the time of year we were visiting we were lucky that despite there being more visitors here compared to when we were further north we still got to enjoy the views in relative peace. Of course the famous Jacobite steam train wasn't yet back running for the season so there were no photos of the viaduct with the train to be had, but despite that the peace compared to how busy I imagine it must get at the height of tourist season was a definite plus.

Glenfinnan Monument on the banks of Loch Shiel 



Glenfinnan Viaduct of Harry Potter fame and another rainbow too




On leaving the Glenfinnan area we drove towards our stop for the night, skirting the side of Loch Linnhe as we did with the sun setting beyond it. Our base was right at the edge of Loch Linnhe but what we hadn't appreciated was that it involved a short journey by car ferry to actually get there. Luckily they were still running, I admit to being a tiny bit concerned we may be too late for it or something. I later learnt though that it's a main route connecting the two sides of the Loch, so obviously even in winter time it needs to run regularly. As a result we didn't have to wait long for the ferry to return and we were soon making the barely five minute crossing.

A lot of the old car ferry routes in the Highlands have been replaced by bridges over the years but this is one of a few that has still survived. The ferry route lies on one of the ancient drove routes to Central Scotland and its cattle markets directly from the Hebrides. It made for a fun and alternate way to arrive at our accommodation, the Inn at Ardgour, that night. The inn is literally just opposite the ferry berthing on the opposite side of the Loch so you pretty much drive off the ferry and straight into the inn's parking spaces - perfect!

Sunset from the banks of Loch Linnhe


Waiting for the ferry (that's it in the middle of the loch) to return.




Underway

Home for the night

This was the last full day of our Highland adventure and it turned out to be full of everything I enjoy the most, stunning scenery once again, Scotland definitely doesn't disappoint on that front, history and lots of fun, especially with our little ferry ride at the end. We were lucky again with our choice of accommodation for the night which provided us with a very warm welcome and good wholesome food. As we had a wander around before going to get some dinner I especially loved how the residents lounge in the inn was packed full of board games etc. for when the Scottish weather is perhaps not being so kind to its visitors. Whilst we may have left the official North Coast 500 route well behind us by now we still had a thoroughly enjoyable day packed full of amazing beauty in the Highlands.

If you missed any of my previous posts about our Highland adventure, click here to catch up.

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