Aonach Mor

After a wander along the main street of Fort William, we drove to Aonach Mor to experience the Nevis Range. The 2.3km gondola ride up the north face of the mountain was exhilarating.

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650 metres up, the ski lifts were still slumbering

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but the light snow gave a hint of things to come.

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The heavy cloud promised more snowfalls and the shafts of sunlight painted beautiful hues through the Great Glen.

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We enjoyed a hot chocolate to warm up at the café and, fortunately, it was after 12 o’clock so we added a Drambuie chaser to fortify us for the trip down the mountain.

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The cloud had lifted a little and the scenery was spectacular. The Great Glen follows a 100km geological fault from Inverness to Fort William, bisecting the Scottish Highlands into the Grampian Mountains to the southeast and the Northwest Highlands.

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We returned to terra firma and continued on our northward journey.

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Argyll & the Isles

The inclement weather followed us from Gourock as we travelled north along the western shore of Loch Lomond. Often considered the boundary between the lowlands of Central Scotland and the Highlands, it is the largest inland stretch of water in Great Britain. We happened upon the village of Luss on the banks of Loch Lomond and through the mist loomed The Lodge on Loch Lomond, a luxury waterfront hotel.

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We walked along the river, the beautiful autumnal hues refused to be dampened by the deluge.

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The path led us to a magnificent Celtic cross, dedicated to St. Kessog who brought Christianity to Luss in 510AD and died a martyr at the hands of Druids in 520AD.

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We left Luss and Loch Lomond,

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our objective, the Island of Seil. We had seen an episode of “Build a New Life in the Country”, featuring a derelict tin church dating back to the early 1900s. The couple who bought it renovated it superbly and created not only their living space, but a self-contained apartment in the old vestry. I was determined to find it. We crossed the 18th century Clachan Bridge

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and had a pint at the Tigh-An-Truish Inn. The name means ‘house of trousers’ and this was apparently the place where islanders swapped their kilts for trousers after kilts were banned following the 1745 rebellion. For some reason, I don’t have a photo of the Inn but one of the tiny kiosk across the road.

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We drove around the island in search of the tin church. We did find it but again, I have no photos of it, just the rugged scenery of the island.

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We returned to the mainland and our northward course with no real destination in mind. We passed Castle Stalker, built around 1320 and well known for its appearance in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

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Fort William seemed like a good place to spend the night. We found a lovely hotel with spectacular views along Loch Linnhe,

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enjoyed a wonderful dinner and settled in for the night.

Stirling Castle

Soon after arriving in Scotland I discovered my trusty old hiking boots were no longer waterproof. There was nothing else for it but to seek out a new pair so we ventured to Stirling for the big event. Newly booted, we paid a visit to Stirling Castle.

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Dating from the early 12th century, the present buildings were mostly built between 1490 and 1600.

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Unfortunately, the Royal Palace was undergoing a £12 million refurbishment so there wasn’t a lot for us to see.

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Judging by the weather, the walkway between the Palace and the Great Hall was a necessity.

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Just outside the castle walls lies Ballengeich Cemetery and gorgeous views across the River Forth and countryside beyond.

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The inclement weather put a dampener on the National Wallace Memorial, standing on the summit of Abbey Craig.

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The 13th century Scottish hero, Sir William Wallace, is commemorated by this 67 metre high sandstone tower, built in 1869.

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We didn’t explore the monument as we were short of time. We had a dinner date back in Greenock with some of Michael’s long lost relatives.

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Next time, we will visit the monument and climb the 246 steps to the top, hopefully on a clear day.

The Falkirk Wheel

We had seen a documentary on the Falkirk Wheel some time before our travels and just had to see it for ourselves. Near the town of Falkirk in central Scotland, the Forth & Clyde Canal used to be connected to the Union Canal by a series of eleven locks. In the 1930s, the locks were demolished and for decades there was nothing to connect these two canals. The Falkirk Wheel, the only rotating boat lift of its kind in the world, opened in 2002 and reconnected Glasgow and Edinburgh via these canals. We walked along the Forth & Clyde Canal on a crisp autumn morning

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and were absolutely awed at our first sight of the wheel.

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The wheel works on Archimedes principle of displacement. The two gondolas are full of water. When a boat enters the gondola, it displaces a proportional volume of water so that the total mass is equal to the other gondola, whether there is a boat in it or not.

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The upper gondola is lowered as the lower one rises. Fascinating!

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The shape of the wheel was inspired by the Celtic double-headed axe. It is 35m in diameter and raises the boats 24m. More than eight boats can be carried at a time, taking around 20 minutes for a one way trip. Of course, we hopped on for a return circuit.

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I wish I had taken more photos, it was truly amazing.

loving the Lowlands

We left Carlisle on a clear, crisp morning, briefly stopping at Gretna Green on our way to Dumfries. We spent some time looking around the town and discovered this magnificent bridge. The original wooden bridge was built around 1270 for Lady Degorvilla of Galloway. Replaced with a masonry structure in the 15th century, it was severely damaged by floods in 1621. The single Gothic arch at the western end was retained in the rebuild but the new arches are semicircular.

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Old Bridge House was built in 1660 by a barrel maker and served as an inn in the 1700s. It became a family home during the 1800s and was converted into two flats in the 1950s. The oldest house in Dumfries is now a museum.

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We drove the Galloway Scenic route to Ayr, immersed in the breathtaking scenery of the Scottish Lowlands.

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We continued north, following the Firth of Clyde. Under a misty sky, the Isle of Arran loomed out of the water.

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The village of Wemyss Bay is the departure point for ferries to the Isle of Bute. The Inverkip Power Station chimney, Scotland’s tallest free-standing structure at 237m no longer exists. The site was cleared for housing and the last thing to be demolished was the chimney in July 2013.

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Our destination was Greenock, Michael’s dad’s old stomping ground. The views across the Clyde were stunning.

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We found a lovely B&B in nearby Gourock and enjoyed a fabulous meal at The Spinnaker Hotel as night fell over Dunoon.

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