We woke in the flat in Edinburgh and prepped ourselves for the long day ahead. Jacqueline and Annalise walked out to the railway station to pick up the hire car we had parked there, and Krittika and I went over to the nearby Sainsbury’s to find some food for breakfast for the next few days. Filled up with bags of food, we then ferried all of our luggage down to the street and waited for Jacqueline and Annalise to return with the car. Annalise would be our only driver for the trip: neither Jacqueline nor Krittika know how to drive a manual car having grown up in North America, and I was legally too young to drive a hire car in the UK.
The car arrived and we loaded our stuff in. We waved goodbye to Megan, who had been a wonderful host the past few days. We drove tepidly out of Edinburgh, through all of the start-stop city roads, and out to the motorway. We were heading to the Scottish Highlands.
When driving along the motorway, we saw signs indicating the exits towards the Falkirk Wheel. I suggested that we go and check it out, and Annalise made a last-minute decision to exit the motorway. There was a few more minutes of driving after that, but we eventually turned down a narrow road that lead to the car park for the Wheel. The Falkirk Wheel was built in 2002 as the UK’s largest rotating boat lift. It connected the canals between Glasgow and Edinburgh for the first time, replacing a long series of locks that had been dilapidated over 70 years ago. There was an artificial pond at the bottom, and an aqueduct at the top leading along into a canal tunnel. The Wheel had two equal-sized boat containers and each end of the contraption, which could rotate under gravity to keep the water levels equal. The two containers would rotate around a central point, one going up and one going down. Hence, there was no change in the potential energy; the only power it needed was to overcome any friction and stop any braking.
We sat on a bench overlooking the Wheel and ate some of our breakfast items. We walked up to the top of the aqueduct to see a canal boat coming out of the wheel, and then another one going in. Both were tourist boats, with rows of elderly people happily waving out of the window. Before the Wheel turned, we went down to the bottom, where there was a café and a gift shop. We sat and watched the turning of the wheel. It was much faster than I had expected, and within a few minutes the two boats and changed positions.
After a quick pit stop, we returned to the car and headed on our way again. We rejoined the motorway for a while, before turning off towards the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. Here, the mountains started to grow around us, and the scenery turned into a rich, forested green. We stopped for coffee in the town of Callander, just inside the National Park. We found a car park next to a millennium old fortified mound and wandered down the High Street. Among the many interesting places, there was entire shop selling boutique Christmas decorations year round.
We went to a coffee shop in an old bank building, and were pleasantly entertained by the soft Scottish accents of the waiters. I had a rhubarb crumble, the rest had soup and/or coffee. Just as we were leaving, the shop was overwhelmed with an influx of patrons, so we had just missed the lunchtime rush.
Our drive through the national park continued, each of us amazed by the gorgeous scenery. Our journey took an impromptu turn when we saw signs to a waterfall and decided to make a detour. We drove a few miles from the main road to the town of Killin. In the centre of town was a large, single lane, stone bridge, which crossed over a series of short waterfalls, each a few feet high. On the rocks next to the falls were several other tourists exploring and taking photographs, so we parked nearby and followed suit. We began to get faux artsy with out pictures, posing out on the rocks next to the rushing water. In the background there was the constant calming noise of rushing water. We briefly wandered around town for a bit, noting a working mill with waterwheel and a small shop where Annalise bought a large stuffed-toy highland cow.
Our journey and we left the national park, but the scenery only became more gorgeous. The drive between the Bridge of Orchy and Glencoe was the most stunning of the trip so far. The mountains rose high into the clouds, and the road snaked through the unforested, grassy landscape. We stopped at a lookout to take in the view, but ended up playing around with the camera and a blanket. The road descended down to sea level and we parked at the town of Fort William to wander around a little and get some cash out for the night’s accommodation. There was consensus to continue on to a place for dinner rather than stay around town too much.
We drove along the beautiful Loch Lochy, until we reached Fort Augustus, which was on the banks of Loch Ness. There were a series of locks through the centre of town, which had been made into a pleasant civic area. There was a restaurant and a pub on the side of the locks, and we browsed through the menus of both. We settled on a place where I had some bacon and cheese coated chicken, which would have been better had it been crumbed. Annalise and Jacqueline had some mushroom pie, and Krittika had the salmon.
After wandering around the town again, we made our last journey of the day: driving along the banks of Loch Ness and up one of the feeder rivers to our accommodation. We were staying in a bunkhouse in a rural area, and checked in and packed our stuff into our four-bed room. Once we were settled, we headed out to walk around the nearby area. We ended up crossing a bridge onto a narrow country road and mucked with more photographs until the sun started to set. Finally, we headed back to the room for a relaxing evening, hoping to get a lot more sleep than the previous few nights.