How do I try to summarise nearly a week driving around one of the most stunning countries in the world in just one blog entry?! I thought I’d tell you about it through 5 themes: views, weather, wildlife, food/drink and sport.
I remember years ago being in an RAF-type helicopter simulator as I was taken on a virtual journey swooping through the Scottish valleys, searing over the mountains and being taken aback by the surprisingly-good digitalised views. Well, it turns out that Scotland really is stunning. The country has 790 islands but its mainland is just to the north of England. With the Glencoe Mountains , Cairngorm National Park, scrubland as far as the eyes can see with huge bushes of bright yellow gorse and long stretches of sandy beaches, there’s something for everyone. I loved watching steam trains wrapping their way around the mountains like a huge train set. Four of my favourite views (and there are many to choose from) were Glenfinnan, Loch Lomond, the Ben Nevis Mountain Range (that I ascended in one of its mountain gondolas) and John O’Groats.
You may look at the John O’Groats sign and think “Eh, a defaced sign? How’s that good?!” Well, it’s an important sign as it marks the most northerly inhabited part of mainland UK and marks the beginning or end of an endurance event where people cycle, walk, hop or find any other way of also going to/from the most southerly inhabited part of the UK, Land’s End in Cornwall. I loved the camaraderie with people offering to take photos of each other. It’s become a thing where people put a sticker on the sign so they can leave their mark showing that they’ve been there but these stickers get removed each winter, ready for the next batch.
Someone told me that I will probably experience all four seasons in just one day. Yes, that does happen! I was particularly struck when walking down the high street of Fort William that it was sunny when I started off, raining when I was about halfway along and then sunny again by the time I reached the other end! It really is a mystery about why there aren’t permanent rainbows in the sky. If heading to Scotland, you’ll be best prepared if you take along sunglasses, wellies, umbrella, gloves and the sun cream…..you may need them all!
Sheep! There are so many sheep which are quite happy to amble across the road and give you a look as if you’ve got in their way! Although people may that think that Highland Cattle are roaming all over the place, I got to see just one as I was driving along but they’re wonderfully impressive with their shaggy fringes seeming to cover their eyes. There were two places that I can highly recommend for anyone who likes animals: the Highland Wildlife Centre and whale watching in the Inner Hebrides.
The Highland Wildlife Centre is pretty cool as it’s partly a nature reserve when you drive round in your car, stop and take photos of the animals. Some, like the male polar bears, are in enclosures but others like bison, deer and elks, just roam. The other part of the centre is like a traditional zoo when you park up and then walk around. I can very highly recommend getting there just before 11am which is when the monkeys are fed as they were all gathered, waiting to hear the sound of a vegetable-packed bucket being brought by one of the staff for feeding time. Some had babies, including one born just 2 days earlier. The red pandas were hiding from me despite returning a few times in the hope that I’d see them but I got to see snow leopards and even Arctic foxes that turn completely white by the winter.
I also went on a 5 hour whale watching trip with Sealife Adventures very close to Oban where we saw golden eagles, red deer, seals, porpoises and, at the very last minute, a whale. I’d brought a coat especially for the road trip but the staff on the boat were fantastic at offering waterproofs, hats, gloves, binoculars, etc. There were 12 of us on the boat and I can’t describe the exhilarating feeling of hurtling at top speed as we weaved our way through the islands to the spots where the skipper knew we’d get to see animals.
Food and drink
It seemed like every town or city has a distillery and/or brewery! I tried haggis but I also tried something that’s seen to be very traditional in Scotland…..a deep friend Mars bar! Yes, you read that right! I ate the tiniest bit before being taken aback by the combination of batter, chocolate and the gooey innards as it was exceptionally disgusting but it did mean that I ticket off another bucket list challenge: to try 50 new food/drinks before turning 50…..more about that in the next few days!
The country seems awash with bikers, cyclists, hikers, ramblers, kayakers and every other conceivable sportsperson! With spectacular views, you can see why people throw on their hiking boots, pick up their rucksacks and discover places inaccessible by car. But in the winter, Scotland makes an amazing place for skiing.
Oh……and the absence of rainbows? Well, I saw just the end of one as I was heading out of Scotland;
After doing over 1,700 miles in less than a week, my scratch map of the U.K. is looking a bit different! Yes, this is another challenge where I plan to visit all of the U.K.’s counties, having reset the counter at 0 in August 2017.
Next on my bucket list? I’m spending time with Sussex Police this Saturday night doing a ‘ride along’ for a few hours where I get to see them in action and find out more about their job.