After months of planning using maps and a highlighter pen, magazine articles and the internet, campsite and ferries were booked and we could finally set off for an 8 week trip to Scotland including some of the Western Isles. The route we decided on would take in a stop off to see family in Shropshire, followed by a long drive to Silverdale close to the RSPB site at Leighton Moss. The weather had been dull and wet the previous day, but we were lucky it changed to a windy but sunny day for our walk around this wetland reserve notching up 44 species. The most spectacular birds were a pair of marsh harriers floating over the reed beds, also great crested grebes with their black and white striped chicks and a kingfisher with its striking iridescent turquoise plumage. The air was full of bird song especially willow warbler and blackcap, yellow iris glowed in the sun with many damselflies, butterflies and bees making up the sound of summer.
Driving up through the Lake District along the edge of Windermere and Ullswater, the grey sky and rain made it all rather bleak. Taking the interesting and narrow road over Kirkstone Pass, the scenery was of drystone walls surrounding the fields and snaking up over the hilltops, veiled by low cloud and rain. At one of the highest points was a small white stone pub at 1,481 feet above sea level, sitting forlorn and closed in the hills, with only herdwick sheep dotted around trying to shelter by walls and everything was wet and squelshy.
Finally arriving at our first stop in Scotland just over the border at Bigger, we enjoyed views of the hills around us and walked the disused railway line alongside a golf course. Catching up with my cousin Roger and his wife Jo, we spent a wonderful evening at their house, great food and wine and lots of chatting. Plans were hatched for walk around Camp Reservoir with a picnic enroute. We were so lucky as the day dawned bright, sunny and definitely breezy, the hills surrounding the reservoir were scattered with ewes and lambs while crows and jackdaws floated across the landscape in the wind. The colours were bright with many different greens of grass and trees, the wind rippled water reflecting the sky and clouds and further along the pathway, towering white wind turbines with their long tapered arms circling around.
Driving north cross country we gave Glasgow and its conurbations a very wide berth, where we finally picked up the road towards Aberfoyle in the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park. The off-road track through Three Lochs Forest Drive was really calm and tranquil and shortly after a couple of miles we found our stop for the night on the side of Loch Drunkie. (Permit required.) From our pitch among the pine trees we looked directly down a ‘finger’ of the loch from a raised vantage point.
Being woken up in the early morning by a cuckoo calling was a wonderful moment, and with morning drinks in hand we watched a heron glide in on open wings to stand like a statue at the edge of the loch. Taking a walk after breakfast we followed the forest trail through the tall pine trees on stoned track with steep sides in places, yellow broom flowers and purple rhododendrons added splashes of colour, and then the loch appeared. Bluebells, foxgloves, stitchwort and red campion to the sides of the forest road, trees and grey sky reflected in the loch while mallard and teal still rested on margins allowing a lone common merganser to patrol the waters. Walking through the forest, the ground between the trees was like a green carpet of sphagnum moss, on fallen trees darker varieties of moss and ferns were everywhere, tiny violets and speedwell grew on the track edges. Birdsong was all around; wren, song thrush, chaffinch, great tit, blackcap, willow and garden warblers all striving to be heard, it was an amazing experience to be miles from anywhere and no traffic noise to compete with nature.
Relocating to the side of Loch Lomond we stopped off at Firkin Point for the night with a view through trees. After a walk along the old road listening to garden and willow warblers, dodging a few midges and finally settling in for the night it was most strange to hear both cuckoo and tawny owl calling at 10pm, may be it was the light nights in Scotland as it isn’t dark until around 11pm.
Heading for the A83 scenic drive through the Argyll Forest Park, around the top and along the north shore of Loch Tyne, the fairy tale turrets of Inveraray Castle came into view as we crossed a humped back bridge.
Although the day was grey, some blue sky emerged for fleeting moments along with pale weak sunshine, so we made the most of exploring the gardens. Immediately around the castle were manicured lawns and formal flower beds full of colourful lupins and iris.
To one side were rhododendrons and an arboretum with huge specimen trees. A vast spreading horse chestnut tree with a branch down to the ground that had sent up a new tree, and a close circle of pines with one in the centre had a high canopy like a cathedral.
Inside the castle, we found it was still occupied as a home and thought of as a palace as it had never been used as a fortification. The entrance hallway leads to a formal dining room decorated in a light and feminine style having hand painted floral wall panels and elaborate ceiling with two elegant chandeliers. To the opposite side of the hall was the Tapestry Room, the walls hung with large and detailed works, arched and panelled shutters were painted with botanical images which echoed the tapestries on the chairs and two more large chandeliers hung from the ceilings. In one the circular corner rooms was a lovely, floor to ceiling display of fine china and porcela In in from as far apart as Worcester (UK) and China apparently some was still in use
An amazing Armoury took pride of place in the centre of the palace, it had been ordered by the 5th Duke in 1783 and consisted of 1,300 piece. Every square inch of wall was filled with displays of muskets, pole-arms, axes, pistols and broadswords in which were last used at the battle of Culloden in the mid 18th century.
A large drawing room overlooked the gardens, the walls hung with multitudes of portraits and artefacts were displayed with relevant information, it was darker than other rooms and not my favourite. Moving upstairs, a legend says that a magnificent four-poster bed was moved from the old Inverary Castle after a young Irish harp player was murdered; the bed now stands in a large and well lit room, but is still haunted by the boy’s ghost. The heavy double layer of drapes make it look cosy, but I don’t think I’d like to sleep in it.
Finally in the Clan Room we saw a beautiful display of regimental drums, each decorated and gilded. A family tree has been painted with The Campbell branches of the family all the heraldic emblems, tracing the Clan back to 1477. There was a list of surnames that were accepted descendants of the Campbell’s, the largest Clan in the world, and Harris was one of them; so we are related to them …. maybe!