January 2015. My Husband and I had not long moved up to Linconshire and it was a bucket list trip.
We decided on a whim to just do it. Just plan it, book a night in a hotel & drive for 2 days... just to see it. Just to see the mountains and Lochs of Scotland.
We were new to roadtrips back then, we hadn't yet learned how to turn our car into a comfy bed for the night, or how to plan trips by finding out where all the 24 hour supermarkets are (for toilets and washing facilities), or Costas for when you just REALLY need a good cup of coffee on the road.
We just planned a trip, and one dark winters night we jumped into the Travelling Wilbury and wound our way up North. It was actually the middle of the night as we were so excited and unable to sleep, so we set out much earlier than intended.
I recall driving the wild, dark and windy roads across to Cumbria and wondering if the vast looming silhouettes of the landscape would be as spectacular in daylight as they seemed in the early hours of the morning.
Pausing in a layby for a coffee and sandwich we noted how close we were to the Lake District. Signposts to Kendal were calling me... this too was another dream location & it was almost worse being so close and peering out into the darkness wondering what it would look like!
We crossed the border into Scotland and gave a cheer!
So long we had talked about this, and never really believed we would make it this far. From Cornwall it would be a mighty long trip.
We arrived in Stirling around 5am. No problem finding our hotel... but as we sat parked in the car park we were unsure of what to do next.
It was dark. It was wild and rainy. It was dark.
"Lets just go to Loch Lomond... so we can be there to see the mountains at sunrise!"
And so we drove, through the dark villages & alongside the oh so dark waters of Scotland. In the wind and the rain. And it was terrifying and exciting.
When you can see nothing but the shapes of trees and huge looming black things you can only assume are mountains and hills it feels like walking around with your eyes closed. As though you cannot see what is ahead... after all, this was unfamiliar territory to us. We had never seen a real mountain in our lives!
Very few street lights. None at all mostly.
I recall driving through the darkness of tree lined single lane roads and seeing water glistening alongside the road. A Loch? Oh the excitement.
The hilly road that took us splashing down into flooded sections of the road, and left my knuckles white with a worry that the next splash would be too deep for a our car.
Finally we climbed... we were sure there must be mountains surrounding us. We could see their shapes against the night sky. Just.
We parked and put our seats back to snooze for a while, and await the morning light.
We had a long wait... dawn did not want to awaken as early as us.
But then at last... a glimmer of white... yes. A snow topped mountain gradually formed before us. We were out of the car... dancing and laughing. MOUNTAINS! SNOW TOPPED MOUNTAINS!!
(*Click to enlarge images)
As the sun reluctantly rose over The Trossachs National Park http://www.lochlomond-trossachs.org/, we were astounded by it's beauty. We drove in awe. And I've never seen anything more spectacular than that first sight of the mountains at dawn. Even a grey, murky Winter dawn.
Driving around Loch Lomond we stopped in a small village called Balmaha. Nothing was really open as it was so early, but a lovely man who was off to work called out to us "Morning... Can I help you folks?"
We asked what time the shop would be open... or the cafe.
He directed us to the pretty Loch - side pub opposite, The Oak Tree Inn, and suggested that we go round the side entrance as it's open early for locals to get breakfast before work.
We did... and found a wonderfully warm Scottish welcome. Hot, strong, fresh coffee and bacon rolls to refresh us after our night of driving.
We exclaimed at the amount of rain (flooding locally) & the lady remarked "Ah yes, there's a few puddles" :D
We set off, wide eyed and excited for a day of exploring & drove... and drove... and drove... one side of Loch Lomond then the other. There are so many photos I didn't take because I was too busy staring :D
One minute the sun was out and it was blue sky... the next it would be misty, the next it would snow!
What a stunning place. So much more we could have seen, but mid afternoon we returned to check in at our hotel in Stirling and then took a wander around the town itself.
Just up the hill was the magical Stirling Castle.
One of Scotland's most important Castles, it was the childhood home to Mary Stuart and also where, as a young child she was crowned Queen.
Mary Queen Of Scots.
"Stirling Castle was the key to the kingdom of Scotland, dominating a vast volcanic rock above the river Forth at the meeting point between Lowlands and Highlands.
Its origins are ancient and over the centuries it grew into a great royal residence and a powerful stronghold.
During the Wars of Independence, which were civil wars among the Scots as well as a struggle between Scotland and England, the castle changed hands eight times in 50 years.
And it is no accident that famous battles such as Stirling Bridge and Bannockburn took place within sight of its walls.
In times of peace Scottish royalty came to Stirling to enjoy its comforts, the superb hunting and to hold court – the castle was often the centre of government.
Royal building projects like the Great Hall, the Chapel Royal and the Palace of James V, marked it out as one of the most important places in all Scotland."
The castle wasn't open much longer for the day, so we chose not to enter. Instead returning to our cosy warm hotel room for dinner and hot baths. Luxury at The Stirling Highland Hotel ;)
We had the most amazing view from our window and as we stared out, the sky began turn a very odd colour... within minutes it was a snowstorm!
Next morning we were treated to a proper Scottish cooked breakfast. Oh my. Now I love good plate of bacon, sausage, toast, egg etc. But when you add in Haggis to the mix... *yum*.
We checked out of the hotel noting that when it snows in Scotland, people treat it very differently than in England.
The staff are outside immediately with brooms, sweeping the pathways and roads clear! No hassle. No hold up's.
We put bags into the car & walked up the street back to Stirling Castle. It was a beautiful morning. But so cold. Colder than down South that's for sure :)
On the approach to the castle there were people with brooms already out clearing the car park. But as we reached the castle itself it was already snowing again.
And if there is something else you rarely, if ever see living in Cornwall... which is at the very opposite end of the UK... is a blizzard.
Its wasn't busy, but when the snowflakes began to grow larger... and thicker... and heavier... we were the only mad ones left walking around in it with huge grins on our faces.
A Scottish Castle in a snowstorm. You can't get better than that.
There is a waiting point in the courtyard, where tourists can gather to meet a guide who will at certain times of the day take a tour of the castle.
We weren't sure if it would be running at this particular moment, given the blizzard... and the fact that it was just us. But a smiley lady showed up and we laughed as she offered to give us a personal tour regardless of the weather.
She said secretly that we were doing her a favour, as it got her out of sweeping the snow with the other staff members. lol
It was a fascinating tour. So much history. Fascinating to hear more about Mary Queen Of Scots too, as somewhat ironically, this was the place of her coronation as a child, and we live a stones throw from the castle site at Fotheringhay, Northamptonshire, where she was executed.
She was buried in Peterborough cathedral for a time, before being moved. I was born & grew up in Peterborough and never really knew all this amazing history back then.
"Mary’s father James V died when she was only six days old, leaving an infant queen on the throne. Her coronation was held nine months later at Stirling, one of the most secure places in the kingdom.She would spend most of her childhood here and return frequently during her adult reign. The sumptuous royal palace commissioned by her father was still being completed, but this and James IV’s vast great hall made Stirling the grandest of Scotland’s royal residence"
She left us to finish exploring and the snow flakes thinned. It was such an amazing place with so much to see. We spent much longer than we'd anticipated.
We guessed that the roads would be as carefully cleared as the pavements, so we had no concerns about driving across to Edinburgh before our return journey back down through Northumberland.
Less snow to be found in Edinburgh. And we walked up through the old streets to Edinburgh Castle. Wow.
We hadn't planned on going inside on this trip but we really couldn't resist.
"Sitting atop a dramatic volcanic crag, formed around 70 million years ago, and protected on three sides by sheer cliffs that rise steeply to over 400 feet, the Castle has played a leading role in the history of Scotland for many centuries, with occupation of the site going back going back as long ago as the bronze age in 850BC.
Edinburgh Castle has played a pivotal role in Scottish history, both as a royal residence – King Malcolm Canmore (r 1058–93) and Queen Margaret first made their home here in the 11th century – and as a military stronghold. The castle last saw military action in 1745; from then until the 1920s it served as the British army's main base in Scotland. Today it is one of Scotland's most atmospheric and popular tourist attractions.
The brooding, black crags of Castle Rock, rising above the western end of Princes St, are the very reason for Edinburgh's existence. This rocky hill was the most easily defended hilltop on the invasion route between England and central Scotland, a route followed by countless armies from the Roman legions of the 1st and 2nd centuries AD to the Jacobite troops of Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745."
You would be hard pushed to come across a Scottish Castle which doesn't have connections in some way to the enigmatic Mary Queen Of Scots, but Edinburgh, along with Stirling is a big one.
There is beautiful suite of rooms where Mary lived for a time, and you can walk in the very room where she gave birth to her only son. James VI, who would one day become the leader to unite the kingdoms of Scotland and England.
"As the great-granddaughter of Henry VII, Mary also had a strong claim to the English throne. By producing a son with her second husband, Lord Darnley, she both secured her succession and strengthened her dynastic position. James – the future king of both Scotland and England – was born in a tiny room at Edinburgh Castle"
We had a few brief snow showers there, but the cold was biting. I've never known cold like it. We stood on the very top of the castle battlements looking out to the sea and the mountains beyond and by golly did my face hurt.
The icy wind was cruel up there.
Leaving Edinburgh late, around 4ish, meant that by the time we had reached the rugged landscapes of Northumberland it was growing quite dark.
Then the snow storm began in earnest.
Oh dear. Those hills and roads are not fun in fresh snow. When you can't see anything but white out of the windscreen. lol
We had planned to stop off and visit friends who live there, but for fear of getting stuck we had to keep going and it took hours.
Finally reaching home in the very early hours. Tired, but very happy to have seen our beautiful Scotland.
Being so close to the Lake District had made us long for that visit too... and so the very next week it was booked. A February trip just after Valentines day.
The roadtrips continued... we had got the bug :)