I visited the most beautiful area in Britain just after I came to live in this country. It happens due to almost total solar eclipse, which I was keen to watching. Read about this more in this article.

We set in the late afternoon from Cambridge, our living and working place. The fast Great Northern train took us quickly to the King Cross, from where we went through the Greater London. It was quite long overcast evening, because we had to wait for a Megabus to Edinburgh, which departs daily at 22:30.

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Pic.1 London, The 30 St Mary Axe.

Due to forthcoming eclipse I was checking the weather nearly until midnight and all services shown the passing front across the Scotland mainly during the thursday night with a bad weather on friday morning also. According to the forecasts weather was going to improve around friday’s late morning in the western parts of Highlands region.

Scotland map
Pic.2 Our first trip to Scotland (Google Maps), A – Edinburgh, first port of call visited on Thursday’s 19th morning and Saturday 21st March, B,G – Inverness visited on Thursday 19th and Friday 20th, C,E – Ullapool, main place of staying for solar eclipse observation, D – Achnahaird, observation of almost-total solar eclipse on Friday 20th March and F – Drumnadrochit and Loch Ness visited after the eclipse observation.

The Scotland greeted us with lovely weather. I was watching the sunrise above the North Sea from the bus window. The sky was completely free of clouds. In Edinburgh, where we approached around 8.30 in Thursday March 19 the Sun was shining very nice, the sky was veiled by thin cirrus only.

Our first day was aimed at reaching the Ullapool, situated nearly on the opposite side to Edinburgh, in th west part of Highlands region, where ferry to Outer Hebrides departs daily. The way from the capital of Scotland was quite long. We had to to spend another 3,5 hours in the way to Inverness and another at least 1 hour to our destination – Ullapool (see map above).

We set from Edinburgh just around 1 hour after arrival from London.  First place worth to see just after leaving the Edinburgh is the Forth Bridge, situated on Firth of Forth (Pic.4).

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Pic.4 View on the Forth Bridge from the Forth Road Bridge.

The Forth Bridge is considerated an iconic structure and symbol of Scotland and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The total length of this bridge is 2467m. Until 1917 it was the longest single cantilievar bridge span in the world, before Quebec Bridge in Canada was completed. Now is the world’s second-longest single cantilevar span. Construction of bridge began in 1882 and finished in 1890. The bridge was a first major construction in Britain to be constructed of steel. When you are en route from Edinburgh to Perth, you are able to see this amazing construction on your right hand side. On your left hand side you are able to see a brand new Queensberry Crossing. This is the road bridge, which is being biult alongside the Forth Road Bridge (Pic.5).

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Pic.5 The Queensberry Crossing build in progress, 19th March 2015.

Its role is replacement of the existing Forth Road Bridge (Pic.6), which has a planned design life of 120 years and his capacity is routinely exceeded. It was designed for up to 11 mln vehicles per year, but in 2006 the bridge carried around 23 milion vehicles. This route is very important, because it forms a crucial part of the corridor between south-east and north-east Scotland.

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Pic.6 The Forth Road Bridge.

Once we passed Perth, the weather started to going down. Thick, high-level clouds covered the sun, although it wasn’t raining. The setting were still clear and sunlight was visible above a south horizon. During our long trip to Inverness we were looking at beautiful Grampian Mountains rural landscape. Many pasture lands with sheep, scatter villages and snow-covered mountain ranges were simply amazing (Pic.7,8,9).

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Pic.7 Scottish rural landscape in the River Tay valley with snow-capped Cairngorms Mountains beyond.
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Pic. 8 Agriculture in the River Tay valley with Athol Palace Hotel (Pitlochry) and Creag Dhubh (638m) in the background.
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Pic.9 View on the Blair Athol surroundings with snow-capped Cairngorms Mountains beyond. From the left: Beinn Mheadhonah (901m), Carn a’Chlamain and Braigh Coire Chruinn-Bhalgain (1070m).

This is a post-glacial area with many erosional and depositional landforms. The most popular glacial landforms, which we could see during the way to Inverness were U-shaped valleys and kettle lakes. Being in the Aviemore area we could admire a beautiful Carirngorms Mountains with the Ben Macdui crag towering above the region (Pic.10,11).

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Pic.10 View on the Cairngorms Mountains from the north west.
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Pic.11 The Ben Macdui community, the highest in the Cairngorms and he most prominent part of the mountains above the Aviemore area.  The Ben Macdui falls a big crag – Cairn Lohan (1215m) into the Glen More valley situated on the northern side.

Ben Macdui is the second highest mountain in the United Kingdom (1309m) after Ben Nevis and the highest in the Cairngorms.

We approached to Inverness Bus Station around 12:30 and instantly went through the city centre. I was always trying to chase some wi-fi connection to check the weather satellite images to assess current situation. When I found it and toke a look into the sat24.com, I noticed very thin clouds above east Atlantic. Besides low-level clouds above the Inverness started to disappear and Sun went out. It lifted my spirit qiuckly.

Inverness is the capital of Highlands. The city is situated in the mouth of the River Ness and at the southwestern extremity of the Moray Firth, quite close to the Loch Ness. The most beautiful  part of the city is stretched alongside the river. We could find there a few interesting buildings, of which the most prominent is the Inverness Castle. This landmark sits on a cliff just above the river and contains red sandstone structure (Pic.12). It was built in 1836 o the site of an 11th-century defensive structure. Except to the castle Inverness can boast the St Andrew Cathedral and Old High Church with a beautiful graveyard (Pic.13).

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Pic. 12 The Inverness castle.
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Pic.13 The Old High Church in Inverness.
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Pic.14 View on Inverness city centre from the south.

We stayed in the Inverness till 15:00, when after hiring a car we went towards the Caledonian Mountains (Northwest Highlands). The weather unfortunately got down, because sun disapeared and new clouds came. Moreover it started to getting a little bit dark due to thick low-level clouds, which covered majority of sky after 4pm. During our way from Inverness to Ullapool we saw many remarkable sites based on the post-glacial area. It was really worth to see many roches moutonnees, glacially-plucked rocks, U-shaped valleys and moraines (Pic.15,16).

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Pic.15 The Black Water Altan Dubh river bed prepared in paleosoic gneisses.
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Pic.16 The post-glacial character of Northwest Highlands, the main road goes through moraines.

Aside from glacial landform we could see a beautiful Loch Grascarnoch and Loch Droma Reservoir (Pic.17,18).

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Pic.17 Loch Grascairnoch with the Caledonian Mountains beyond.
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Pic.18 Loch Grascairnoch, view downwards.

Before the Ullapool we turned left and went to see the Little Loch Broom surroundings (Pic.19,20,21).

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Pic.19 The U-shaped Dundonell River valley with picturesque srcrees and extended crags just beneath the Carn a Bhiorain (507m).
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Pic.20 The Little Loch Broom marshland seen during the low tide.
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Pic.21 Dundonell – small lakeside village.
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Pic.22 Rhododendron is the most popular evergreen plant in north Scotland (on the right). You can see the Gorse (Ulex) also, typical in western Europe, where winters are very mild. I was shocked when I saw those plants. The winters there are less strong than in Poland.

Unfortunately it started raining, but sky was changing the hues from dark grey to faint yellow. I couldn’t see any sunny spells, neverthelles I knew, that clouds aren’t thick as before. During the sunset around 18:00 the sky became grey-yellow, then I relayed thinking that the worst its over.

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Pic. 23 Abandoned house near Fainmore village.

We came to Ullapool during the twilight. Before the check in in the hotel we saw a small iluminated ferry (Pic. 24), from which daily departs 3 boats to Stornoway, the capital of Outer Hebrides.

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Pic.24 The Ullapool ferry in the evening.

I noticed a small hole in the clouds and patch blue sky beyond. My hapiness gone, when I saw the newest infrared weather imaginery with subsequent cyclone heading for the Scotland. Neverthelles I was looking forward a better weather during the Friday’s morning, because each cyclone went so qickly…

Read the eclipse part here

… On our way back to Ullapool we still met a lot of tough-looking sheep and we had to stop often and give them way. Weather were worrying again, since I’ve lost an crescent sun I saw it only once for maybe 2 minutes, around 30% eclipsed. Therefter it was definitely gone, even quite big section of sky dissapeared and started rain again. Neverthelles the Caledonian Mountains looks still very nice during the bad weather (Pic.25,26,27).

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Pic.25 The Sgoor Tuath tor covered by nimbostratus clouds.
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Pic.26 View on the Loch Lurgain and surrounding mountains from the narrow road to Drumrunie.
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Pic.27 View on the Loch Lurgain from the north.

The scene was straight from the horror, when low level, scattered stratus clouds were passing quickly above our heads covering every prominent tor. After joining the beaten track relation Wick – Inverness we admired a dazzling white dwellings scattered alongside the road. This is typical rural landscape of mountainuous Scotland (Pic.33).

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Pic.33 The small dwellings alongside road in Drummrunie.

Just before Ullapool we saw quite big shaft of sunlight above Loch Broom. It was a really nice to stop there for a while, because we could clearly see the picture-perfect U-shaped valley filled up long Loch Broom (Pic.34).

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Pic.34 View on Ullapool and Loch Broom.

We were going the same way through Caledonian Mountains up to Dingwall, where we turned right and headed south. During this way we stopped a couple of times to see mind-boggling views of mountains with some weather phenomenas (Pic.35,36).

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Pic.35 Loch Droma.
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Pic.36 View towards Meall a’Chrasgaidh 933m. See the low level clouds (nimbostratus) encountering the windward facing slopes. The level of cloud is upper on the leeward side. Usually the rain outbreaks are more often on the upwind side.

The Caledonian Mountains are called as a Nortwest Highland Mountains. This mountain community is stretching alongside a very north west part of Scotland. The area is based on the oldest rocks in Scotland – Lewisian Gneisses. Those whole glacier-carved mountains are very steep and may remind high-montainuous area. Climate is very mild due to the Gulf Stream, winters are relatively short (even shorter than in Poland!), temperature doesn’t fall lower than few degrees below 0. It is represented by some evergreen plants like rhododendron and ulex (Pic.22).

Our next destination was legendary Loch Ness, where we came in the early afternoon. When stopped showering and the sun came out were nice and way was easier to encounter. Going through one of the highest mountains in Great Britain we have not seen many villages. I need to mention, that this is a sparsely populated area. You need to beat at least few miles to find some small settlement. The Highlands was poor area up to Napoleonian times. Napoleonic broughts some economical investments, while large-scale infrastructure spending like the Caledonian Canal project. Caledonian Canal is the main navigable way in Scotland. It is baset roughly between the Grampian Mountains and Caledonian Mountains (Northwest Highland Mountains) on the Great Fault (Great Glen Fault). The Great Glen Fault is running for nearly 100km from the Inverness to the edge of Moray Firth. From north east to southwest 8 natural waters are located, while Loch Ness. Loch Ness is largest by volume british lake. Is long itself, because amounts 37 km (2nd in Britain after Loch Lomond) and very deep. It deepest point is 230 m. Loch Ness is the best known lake in Scotland for alleged existence of cryptozoological and legendar Nessie. The legend has it that this monster inhabits a deepest surface of the lake, has a long nail and is very large in size. It was brought the world attention in 1933. Basically nobody proved, that this monster exist. If you are coming from the west, what is more likely due to main road you can see a picturesque Uruquart Castle towering above the lake.  This biulding is concluding around XIII-XVI age and consisted an medieval fortification (Pic. 37).

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Pic.37 View on the Uruquart Castle towering above west bank of Loch Ness.

We didn’t want to pay for admission because it was nice to see this castle from upstairs. The picture-perfect landscape was stressed by strong rainbow (Pic.38).

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Pic.38 Loch Ness with amazing rainbow.

I had to give our car back at 15:00, so right after amazing view towards Loch Ness with lovely rainbow on the foreground we set towards Inverness. After 15:00 we had another 3 hours to carry on sightseeing the biggest city on this lonely area. The biggest amazement for me were flowering cherries! In Poland I could see the earliest flowering cherry trees after 20th April (Pic.39).

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Pic.39 Flowering cherry tree in Inverness in the spring equinox day.

It’s not hard to spot an Scottish language everywhere. This is a Celtic language family, more similar to Irish and Welsh (Pic.40) which  is spoken as 2nd language in whole Highland area.

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Pic.40 Road signs in Scotland are  always bilingual. Yellow text represents the Scottish language always on the top as an the most important language. English language is below.

We rounded off our walking around Inverness close to the Kessock Bridge (Pic.41). The Kessock Bridge divides Moray Firth (Pic.42) and smaller aside Beauly Firth (Pic.43). The total length of this bridge is more than 1km, so it makes it such a remarkable object.

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Pic.41 The Kessock Bridge in Inverness is nearly 1km long express road A9 bridge.
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Pic.42 The Beauly Firth with Inverness ferry and Claig Phadrig hill beyond.
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Pic.43 View on the Moray Firth and Ardersier village on the opposite bank.

On the way back to city centre was raining again, but we couldn’t resist to visit Caledonian Canal inside Inverness industry area. After this we went to bus station. We departed from Inverness at 18:30 and after 3,5 hour journey arrived to Edinburgh…
Next part of this trip in the next article, immediately following this one.

 

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