Twinkletoes in Britain Part 2: Into to the Scottish Highlands

I have discovered that it is infinitely hard to travel and stay up to date with blogging, so here is a post approximately 5 months late. Please pretend it is early June, the beginning of summer in Scotland, bluebells and foxgloves are blooming and the midgies are out in force.

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View over Kilmartin

After almost a week in the grey and grubby suburbs of Glasgow, the Highlands were beckoning. We had spontaneously booked a hire car the day before, and it was a brilliant move; for just £12 a day we had the freedom to explore. The company we booked through (InterRent) were hard to find and understaffed but the car proved brand new and aside from a propensity to skip second and third gears (nothing to do with the driver I’m sure…) it was perfect.

As I mentioned though, InterRent were hard to find; we followed the google maps directions and ended up in the cleaning depot of Europcar. We were pointed back the way we had come and began the slog back to the airport with our bags. But we hadn’t gone far when a car pulled up beside us and a friendly old Scotsman rolled down his window and said something indecipherably Scottish to us. The meaning was clear though; he worked at Europcar, had heard our plight and was offering us a lift to the correct place!

 

The correct place turned out to be the Europcar returns centre – a desk inside handles InterRent. One man was processing all InterRent customers while half a dozen Europcar employees stood around watching him work and watching us wait.

We were handed the keys, given instructions on where to find the car and were now in possession of a brand new Vauxhall; bright red and with only 500 miles on the clock. After a few false starts and bunny hops we were out of the carpark and on our way to Ford!

Ford is a tiny spot, not really even a village. It lies about 2.5 hours northwest of Glasgow and the road to it is through some of the most famous countryside in Scotland. We passed Loch Lomond and felt the thrill of exploration once more upon us; a feeling that can very rarely be found in cities. Rainclouds threatened us but it did not rain as we passed through a series of lochs, hills and mountain streams crossed by ancient stone bridges. Sea lochs and salt water lochs sit side by side, the line between sea and earth is blurred here by the inlets and islands and wavering coast. Small Settlements of brightly coloured homes cling to the edge of lochs under dark and misty hillsides.

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Butterbridge, Glen Kinglas in the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park

It wasn’t long till we reached Ford. The whole village appears to consist of 3 houses; a red phone box, a post box and a large Victorian guesthouse (where we were staying).

 

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Ford town centre

The following morning we were treated to a breakfast of locally smoked salmon and eggs! Though Ford itself offers very little in the way of tourism, the surrounding area is full of history and amazing scenery. So, armed with our Historic Scotland passes and a local map, we set off. First stop was Tarbert, a charming fishing town, we then continued  around the nearby peninsula. The whole area was sunbathed under blue skies, edged by turquoise seas and the lanes were often treelined (rare in Scotland). The roads were single file and twisting, so we had to drive slowly and as a result had the chance to really admire each new vista.

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Further around we came to a series of white sand beaches, the sea loch absolutely calm and surprisingly warm. It was tempting for a quick skinny dip – until a bus went past! Britain is endlessly amazing, somewhere as remote as this back home wouldn’t have dreampt of public transport.

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Our map proved vague where roads were concerned but appeared to include every single standing stone and farmhouse. We were hoping there was a through road to Castle Sween, but if there was we missed it.

The last stop was Carnassarie Castle, by now it was 9pm, but the days are so long in Scotland in June that the sun had not yet gone down. Carnassarie sits atop a small hill just North of Kilmartin and has free entry and is never closed! That’s the big bonus of visiting places somewhat off the tourist track like this, a castle of this size and completeness near Edinburgh would have been several pounds for sure. Carnasserie is a renaissance castle built for prestige rather than defence. Although it is a ruin now, we were able to climb the tallest tower, up a tight spiral staircase. The sun was just ducking below the horizon and the fields of sheep below us were bathed in golden light.

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The next day, our last in Ford, was also spent exploring the surrounding area; highlights were Dunadd Fort and an amazing baking honesty box!

Dunadd Fort was just a short walk up a rocky outcrop, sitting on a wide flat plain it is visible from miles around and has commanding views in all directions. Entry is free to this 1200 year old stronghold of the Kings of Dal Riata. While the majority of the fort is crumbled and collapsed with age, still clearly visible are the well and the stone used to ‘crown’ kings. The stone features a footprint shape and supposedly rather than an actual crowning, the king of Dal Riata was created by standing with a foot in that print.

Further from Ford, through Crinan, along the canal and through Tayvallich we came upon the honesty box of baked goods! These are common enough selling fruit and vegetables, but how often can you select a treat from a range of home baked biscuits, cakes and scones? We chose custard crèmes… a delicious sugary treat!

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The peninsula we were on was also beautiful. The otherwise barren coastline was decorated with yellow iris, it was a stark contrast to the previous days scenery. We spotted a seal not far off shore, and visited crumbling, abandoned crofters cottages – a reminder of the highland clearances – long ago but not forgotten.

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Scotland really feels connected to its past, like the land and the people stubbornly remember. The landscape in this region is littered with ancient reminders; it seemed every few miles there was another site featuring the mysterious cup and ring (carved) stones. The set which we visited were in a forestry park named Achnabreck. The stone carvings are more than 4500 years old, while they are incredible in theory (just for being so old) in reality they are underwhelming to visit. No one knows what they signify, the Historic Scotland information boards list multiple theories, each as unlikely as the next! But what was exciting (for a Kiwi visitor) was the warnings of snakes! Signs were up saying ‘Beware! Adders common in this area!’ And in fact the following morning in Ford I spotted something slithering off through the long grass by the car!

We left Ford feeling as though our adventure was now properly underway. We were out in the wilds and heading deeper.

 

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