Take the High Road and the Low Road with Rabbie’s Tours in Scotland

Urquhart Castle, Scotland“All Scottish stories are violent,” chuckles our driver, Graham, as we approach Glencoe, the site of a clan massacre in 1692. “They all end up with someone or other being hacked to death.”

Only a few hours into the aptly-named “Scotland in a Day” tour and I’m inclined to think he’s right. Using select music to illustrate his history, Graham’s already taught us about the geological difference between the lowlands—on which Glasgow sits—and the highlands to the north. He’s a natural storyteller, using dry Scottish humor to keep the sociopolitical machinations of the Jacobite uprisings engaging.  To my surprise, it’s working. I’m reluctant to leave the van when we pull over, but I’m enticed by the unmistakeable caterwaul of a bagpipe.

The sound is a little wobbly—wobblier than usual, even to my untrained ear— but I write the piper’s performance off to the uncharacteristically hot and sunny day. Even though it’s mid-July, it’s only the second time in two weeks that the weather’s not been wet and windy. Finally, the piper stops and wipes his brow.

“Does anyone have any water?” he croaks.

Scotland Bag PiperBack in the van, we continue our journey northeast through the Great Glen.

“In Scotland, we like to do things a little differently,” Graham says.

Outside of the 16-seat passenger van, lush green mountains rise up on either side of us. “There are no valleys here. We call them glens. And you see those mountains there? We use the word ‘ben’. For instance, Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in the British Isles.” We’re on our way to Fort Augustus on the banks of the Loch Ness. (There aren’t rivers in Scotland either, mind—only Lochs.)

St. Augustus ScotlandThanks to Nessie, the storied monster said to live in these waters, St. Augustus is a quaint tourist town. The one main street is lined with souvenir shops, B&Bs, and restaurants selling haggis. Some of our group take their leave for a one-hour boat tour, but I opt for fish and chips and a little wander—it’s the Scottish thing to do.

In Scotland, enshrined in law, is the “right to roam,” meaning there’s no such thing as trespassing, even on private land. Along with the region’s cross-country walking trails, this makes it an explorer’s paradise, and I see numerous long-distance wanderers with walking sticks and heavy packs milling about among the tourists.Scotland Loch NessAfter we all pile back into the van, Graham makes an announcement.

“I’ve been wanting to try something new on this route for a few months, and we have a beautiful sunny day. How do you all feel about a discovery adventure?”

Loch Ness from Dores

Photo: Duncan McNeil

The twelve of us cheer as Graham motors onto a winding, one-lane backroad snaking along the southeast side of the Loch. We’re in deep, mossy woods now, careering to the shoulder with each passing car. This region holds mysteries other than the Loch Ness monster, Graham tells us, then fills the time on the drive toward the village of Dores with spooky local tales.

We reach our northernmost destination at Inverness, but we don’t stop, using the city instead as a pivot point back onto the carriageway. The last leg of the trip back down into Glasgow is more of a straight shot than the way up, but Graham keeps us engaged with more history, politics, and culture—this time, the stories of William Wallace and Robbie Burns.

Scotland Golden HourThe sun is low as we approach Glasgow. The city looks different to me now than it did when I left it almost 12 hours before. It’s the golden hour—a woefully rare event in such rainy climes—but something else has changed, too. I realize I’m seeing the place with new perspective. Graham says he’s going to play the last song of the day, and the van fills with the joyous sound of The Proclaimers. Clapping along, we all affirm that we’d also walk 500 miles and then we’d walk 500 more.

Rabbie’s Tours run every day, year-round.

Eat Drink Travel was the guest of Rabbie’s Tours for their “Scotland in a Day” journey. Rabbie’s neither reviewed nor approved this article in advance.

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