On Wednesday morning, Erik and I climbed onto a bus driven by a very loud man in a kilt and drove up to Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle.  It was an amazing drive, though frustratingly difficult to record with my borrowed camera due to movement and rain.  I did the best I could and came away with a respectable hundred or so pictures of the journey.

Let’s start with this delightful image:

What, you don’t recognize it?  Really?  Anyone who has seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail should appreciate this lovely castle!  Sadly, we never stopped moving, so I didn’t get a clear image, so I suppose your lack of recognition is understandable.  Doune Castle was the imposing edifice manned by French soldiers in the movie.

While summer tours are likely brighter, warmer, and more enjoyable in their way, I was thrilled with our drive up into the Highlands because we were able to see the mountains covered in snow.  It was worth the chilly air, cold rain, and driving wind to see these beautiful hills and mountains.

Our first stop was in Callandar, which is considered one of the ‘gateways’ to the Highlands.  The mountains  look distant before you get there, but somehow loom right above you as soon as you turn the corner and leave the town.  We bought coffee and hot chocolate at a little place called Hamish’s.  They normally have three highland cows in residence, but they were down south for the winter, so I didn’t get to see them.  I saw this sign, however.

Squinty and blurry, but there are mountains in the background!

I deleted a good three quarters of my window pictures because they were simply too blurry and fogged and not worth keeping.  I saved a few, just because I wish they were better and I want you to see what we saw looking out those windows.

It rained pretty much the entire day, but since we were in the bus for the majority of the trip, it was still very pleasant to stare out the window at the scenery without having to brave the weather all that much.

I was getting a bit fed up with all my blurry pictures and desperately wanted some good ones, but luckily the driver stopped at a photo point overlooking these mountains and let us take a few pictures.  I immediately felt better.

The lens kept getting drops of rain on it.  Hence, the blurry spots.

Our driver put on mood music (think bagpipes and friends) as we drove through the hills.

Somehow, the mountains became immediately more epic when they had a soundtrack.

Our second stop for lunch involved fish and chips at a little wayside shop.  The only seating was outdoors and all the benches were wet despite the coverings.  We did figure out that the tables themselves were dry, so we sat on those and ate very yummy fish and chips as we watched the rain fall.

After a few hours, we reached the castle.  We had the option of taking a few photos from here and then getting back on the bus and going to chill out at a hotel for a couple hours or we could buy a boat ticket and stay at the castle for an hour before taking the ferry back to the meeting point.

I pity those people who chose to just go to the hotel.  The castle was so much fun.

Beautiful Loch Ness.  It might be grey outside, but that seems fitting.  Blue skies would almost be unnatural.

Of course, if it had been sunny and blue, I would not have complained.

Possibly, I took a lot of pictures of the castle, but in my defense, besides the fact that it is a castle and therefore worthy of many pictures, I was also photographically deprived from the long bus trip and I needed to be able to take pictures of my surroundings.

So I did.

Before kicking the ginormous trebuchet ammunition.

After kicking the enormous trebuchet ammunition.

I swear, he has way too much fun with the weapons.

You might think I just run around taking photos and claiming castles for my own, but I do actually appreciate the plaques and historical significance of these places.

But mostly, I just love the castlely-ness of the castles.

Erik is in the dogcastle.

Standing in the portal to awesome.

Awww, how long has this guy been imprisoned here.

I am sad for the prisoner.

I claim castles.

Erik gets stuck in the nooks and crannies, mostly forgotten as I frolic through my new domain.

Poor thing.

I just like doorways, okay?

Joy.

So Napoleon has been sullen and snippy ever since the Northern Ireland trip when he wasn’t allowed to so much as see the castle, much less claim it.  And I’ve been practically ignoring him since Erik arrived.  Poor thing.  He’s lonely, but he won’t admit it.  I brought him out today and took an epic castle picture just for him.  He felt a little better.

Intact castles are, of course, more convenient and a little cozier during the bad weather, but overgrown ruins are just beautiful and I enjoy walking through them so much more than some stuffy castle with, you know, roofs and such nonsense.

They are flying the Scottish flag now, but just you wait.  Soon it will be my flag flying.

My flag was, alas, forgotten in my camera case, which I didn’t bring since my camera is broken.

However, in lieu of a flag, I gave the castle a hug.

We bonded.

It’s mine now.

‘But I don’t want to go to prison…’

Stuck in a corner.  Really, he was happy to be here.  I promise.

Somewhere, the hidden sun is setting.

On the top tower, an obliging fellow tourist helped us take a decent photo.  We’re getting better with the awkward arm stuck out with camera thing, but I do appreciate the ones that are backed away from us and actually have a background.

‘Stay in your nook!’

Nap in front of epic scenery.  He is a little less sulky now.

I found a locked gate and, as usual, gave it a tug and a push.  No luck.  Will try again, though.

Bare trees, misty sky, grey water, and looming stone ruins.

Somber, but gorgeous!

The sky was so pale that the stairs look like they lead into nothingness.

Insert goofy Erik pose.

I showed him how to tie his scarf properly.  For some reason, he was not appreciative.

Our ferry arrived exactly on time and took us away onto the loch.  Seeing the castle from the water was all kinds of brilliant.

Scoping out the loch for Nessie.  Obviously, we will see the  monster.  That’s just a given.

We finally arrived and I was a bit disappointed about missing Nessie until…

I found him!  He was just lounging on the beach for a bit! He’s very… purple…

Why purple???

In the end, I found my Nessie.  He goes with a mug covered in little Ness monsters.  My plushie is called Cool-Ness.  He is way cool.

Our drive back was dark and stormy and I dozed for most of it.  It may have been freezing cold, windy, rainy, and grey all day, but it was a fabulous trip.   The snowy Highlands are a beautiful sight.