Saturday, April 17, 2010

Battlefields and bottles of whisky

By Valery Garrett,
Updated 08:20 PM Apr 15, 2010

PHOTO: Loch Killin close to the southern end of Loch Ness near Fort Augustus.

The Highlands of Scotland look serene, but flip back the history pages and there's plenty of drama

There are few more peaceful places in the British Isles than the Highlands of Scotland, a real antidote to steamy Singapore. Misty mountains, glistening lochs and shadowy valleys; every vista a photographer's dream. But among this tranquility hides a history of battles lost and won dating back to the 13th century.

With genial guide Hugh at the wheel, the two-day, 650km coach trip from Edinburgh up to Inverness covered all the sights with none of the stress.

PHOTO: Stirling Bridge near where the famous battle took place in 1297.

Day 1

Stirling Bridge: Mel shows his mettle
Grey mist set the scene as we approached our first battlefield. At Stirling, Braveheart territory, Hugh related the grim story of the First War of Scottish Independence.

The Battle of Stirling Bridge, shown in the movie starring Mel Gibson, took place in 1297 when Scottish forces inflicted a shattering defeat on the English.

PHOTO: Glencoe where the MacDonalds were massacred in 1692.

The fog followed us over bleak and barren Rannoch Moor, the loneliest wilderness in Britain, and down to Glencoe, Scotland's most famous glen. We heard of more massacres, this time of the MacDonalds in 1692. Dozens from the clan were killed in a political move by soldiers who had billeted with them.





Fort Augustus: Monster mystery
We headed north along the Great Glen before stopping at the small village of Fort Augustus, which overlooks the southern end of famous Loch Ness. We sailed onto the lake, watching for the renowned monster. Ever since 1933, when a huge pre-historic dragon supposedly rose from the lake, Nessie has fascinated the world, yet numerous investigations and television documentaries have failed to solve the mystery.

PHOTO: Inverness and the River Ness.


Inverness: Haggis found ...
Inverness, capital of the Highlands, has many good restaurants, but we gave haggis, Scotland's best known delicacy made from sheep's innards, a miss and opted instead for scrumptious Scotch Pies (crusty pastries filled with minced mutton or beef), rich and tasty Aberdeen-Angus steaks and freshly caught salmon.

PHOTO: Loch Killin close to the southern end of Loch Ness near Fort Augustus.

Day 2

Culloden: Hour of blood
At Culloden battlefield, Hugh told us how in 1746 the last battle on British soil took under an hour to reach its bloody conclusion. Some 2,000 soldiers were either killed or wounded, with the Scottish army suffering the brunt of the casualties.

PHOTO: Neolithic burial chambers of Clava Cairns.

Close by, nestled in peaceful woods, is Clava Cairns, dating to around 2000BC. The three burial cairns, or chambers, are thought to be as old as Stonehenge.

PHOTO: Oh, shucks oyster sorbet for dessert?

Pitlochry: Water of life
We couldn't leave the Highlands without learning more about Scotland's most famous export, whisky. The last stop was just outside the town of Pitlochry at Edradour, the smallest distillery in Scotland.

The single-malt whisky is still handmade as it was more than 150 years ago, and the machinery unchanged since the distillery opened. Just three men produce a mere 12 casks a week, making the malt greatly sought after.

Pure malt whisky or single-malt like those produced here are highly prized over blended malts, a mix of single-malt and grain whiskies from different distilleries.

We ended the trip by sampling a wee dram of the "Water of Life", golden, smooth and creamy. It made a fitting toast to a fine trip.



  • The above trip can be booked at Scotline Tours, which departs from Edinburgh. Itineraries cover many of the places visited above. Prices per person for a two-day tour to Inverness, Loch Ness and The Highlands start from £155 ($330).
  • Scottish Tours has one-day trips that depart from Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness starting from £20.
  • Secret Scotland offers detailed self-drive itineraries and customised tours. Prices vary.
By Valery Garrett,