My husband and I have friends who live in Scotland and we had been planning a visit to see them for a couple of years as well as to do some sightseeing, so we planned an autumn trip for this year, hoping to also see some nice fall colors along the way. From our home in Gloucestershire, England the trip up to Forres, in the northeast of Scotland, is a good 500 mile drive, so we broke up the journey in a town called Moffet just inside the Scottish border. We spent four days with our friends in Forres and then headed west toward the Cairngorm Mountain range in the Highlands, with a stop at Stirling Castle, a night in the popular ski town of Aviemore, then down to Perth before crossing the border back into England with a night at Morecambe before returning home to Stroud. Here are a few photos from our trip:
The River Dee from the bridge in the village of Braemar, near Forres, Scotland
The village of Braemar
Randolph's Leap. A popular place to walk along the River Findhorn.
We visited The Highland Wildlife Park in Kincraig. They had several animals endemic to Scotland as well as other animals from around the world. Here are a couple that are native to Scotland.
Lynx. The Lynx is thought to have become extinct in the British Isles hundreds of years ago, but there are plans to bring the animal back in isolated parts of the Highlands.
Scottish Wildcat. Although they look similar to domestic cats, they are from a separate genetic line. While domestic cats evolved in the Middle East, these cats evolved in the British Isles. They are extremely rare (an estimated 400 remain) especially those that have not interbred with domestic feral cats. This one was named "Grumpy" (can you see why?) and with genetic testing, he was found to be 80% wildcat and 20% domestic. It was difficult to photograph these cats in their enclosures, but if you could see his whole body you would see he is heavier and has a much thicker tale than our pet cats. If you're interested to learn more, here's a web-site to check out:
The Cairngorm Mountain Railway
Unfortunately, it was completely fogged in, so we didn't get any views, but the visitor's center at the top was a welcome place to warm up, look at the Christmas decorations in the shop and have a cup of coffee, before heading back down.
We had a wee bit of a stroll around the area up on top and took a few photos.
A Red Grouse
You can take a tour and meet some reindeer up there. Reindeer are native to the Scottish Highlands, but became extinct centuries ago. A Swedish couple reintroduced the species to the Cairngorms in 1952 and the animals roam freely across the mountains and high pastures. It started to snow when we were there and I think the reindeer look right at home in this photo.
Native Scotts Pines in a patch of Caledonian forest. This is what native Scotland looked like before much of it was cleared centuries ago. A few remnants remain of these forests across Scotland. There is a plan to reinstate these forests in some places.
The Great Hall. Built within the protecting walls of Stirling Castle by King James IV. Completed in 1503, it is in the style of the French castles of the day and the striking exterior color was dubbed "Royal Gold".
Stirling coat of arms
One of the costumed guides in the castle. She did a wonderful job of recreating the speech and mannerisms of the period. She explained the embroidery she was working on as well as giving us insights into life in Stirling Castle in the middle ages.
Another of the costumed guides in the castle. These guides were extremely knowledgeable about nearly every aspect of life in medieval Scotland and in Stirling Castle.
The King and Queen were in residence when we visited too!
Back outside. Here you can see a bit of the surrounding countryside. Stirling Castle is on a very high hill with steep drop-offs on three sides, giving it a strong defensive position. A strategically perfect spot for viewing anyone approaching the castle. This part of Scotland is considered the place where the lowlands and highlands meet.
On the castle esplanade, the imposing figure of Robert the Bruce, Scotland's greatest military hero. He fought for and won independence from England in the 14th century.
View of the castle from below.