As we weave our way through the Glasgow city centre traffic towards the motorway, Graham, our driver/guide has managed to point out historic buildings of note, cover Glasgow's history from medieval times to shipbuilding in the 70s and even managed a few laughs. This is quite a feat and the sign of an experienced guide, a promising start to my first Scottish tour bus trip.
I had chosen to join a Rabbie's small group day tour exploring Stirling Castle, Loch Lomond National Park & Glengoyne Whisky Distillery. Tales of romantic Scottish figures including Rob Roy, Robert the Bruce and William Wallace while travelling through some stunning scenery sounded amazing enough, the promise of a wee dram at the end was all the convincing I needed that this was the tour for me! I was not alone as eight other sightseers of various ages and nationalities from countries as diverse as Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada and Sweden had joined me for this mini Scottish adventure.
Our first stop of the day was Stirling Castle and as we arrived the cloudy sky opened up and the rain began to fall. I felt a bit disappointed as the views from the Castle are some of my favourite and it was hard to make out the landscape beyond the drizzle. Graham reminded us that Scotland needs rain to keep it looking so lush and beautiful and while this is true I was still secretly hoping the sun would suddenly appear along with the views.
We had two hours to explore the castle or you could easily enjoy a walk around the historic streets of Stirling if you preferred. The entry fee to the castle is not included in the tour cost although there is a discounted rate for those with Rabbie's. Everyone on my bus opted for the visit to the castle and despite the rain their spirits didn't seem to be dampened as they all headed off to explore this grand historic structure. I decided to hire an audio guide and found this a relaxing way to learn more about the castle at my own pace,
Two hours passed surprisingly quickly although I felt like I had covered all of the parts of the castle that I wanted to see. I rejoined my group who all seemed delighted with their visit and as we made our way through the winding, cobbled streets of Stirling out onto the open road, Graham entertained us with stories of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce and put right the facts and myths from the Braveheart film.
Coincidentally our next photo stop was another castle and another location associated with film and TV. Doune Castle was built around 1400 and it's previous claim to fame was as the setting for Monty Python and the Holy Grail. More recently it has been used in the Game of Thrones TV series, however there is no doubt that it's feature as the fictional Castle Leoch in the new Outlander series will attract a huge new wave of global visitors.
Outlander fans may be interested to know that Rabbie's are offering their first Outlander Themed Tour from October 2014 with more dates available in 2015. The 7 day tour will take you to both filming locations and places that have inspired the series of books and as a special treat your guide will be a kilted Scotsman called Jamie (yes that really is his name!).
As the rain dried up and the skies began to brighten we continued along our way through the Trossachs from Lowlands to Highlands with a couple of photo stops at Loch Venachar and at the three lochs car park viewpoint. Our journey was interspersed with Scottish music, learning a few words of Scots Gaelic and information on Scottish culture and landscape.
With tummies beginning to rumble we headed to Aberfoyle for a spot of lunch. I joined up with fellow solo traveller Daniel and we enjoyed a good chat at a local tearoom. I was curious as to what brought a cardiologist from Brazil all the way to Scotland and why he had chosen to go on not one but three day tours with Rabbie's during his week long stay. It turned out his grandmother was from Scotland and like many others I have met it had inspired him to visit her ancestral home and he subsequently fell in love with the country. Day tours provided him a convenient way of getting around and seeing alot of Scotland in a short space of time.
From my own experience of solo travelling in other countries I know I found group tours a great way of travelling independently whilst providing company and the chance to meet new friends. As it turns out travelling solo on a bus tour in your own country offers exactly the same opportunities and by the end of lunch I felt like Daniel was an old friend and we exchanged contact details with a kind invitation to get in touch should I be visiting Sao Paulo. He is planning to return to Scotland next year and I hope I get to show him more of my lovely country. One of my favourite things about travel is meeting new people and throughout the day I got to chat to most of my fellow passengers and found they all had interesting stories to tell. If you have never travelled solo I can't recommend it highly enough and tours like this are perfect for meeting like minded people.
We left Aberfoyle to stories of Rob Roy MacGregor and his legendary Robin Hood ways and followed the road to Balmaha on the shores of Loch Lomond An optional short but steep climb up Craigie Fort hill provided us with rewarding views over the loch and a chance to walk off any excesses enjoyed over lunch! The group seemed suitably impressed with this renowned part of Scotland and I was reminded our scenery is the reason most people travel from all over the world to visit and if they had another reason it is the scenery that usually starts the love affair that makes them want to return.
On reaching the bottom of the hill we were met with a bride and kilted groom having their wedding photos taken, you would almost have thought our guide Graham had arranged it!
After a busy day everyone was ready for our final stop which seemed the perfect way to end our Scottish roadtrip as it involved drinking whisky! A tour of Glengoyne Distillery is optional and although the cost is extra you do get a small discount as part of a Rabbie's group and it does include one or two drams depending on which tour you choose, result!
The tour lasts for an hour and you start off by sampling their rather nice 12 year old single malt while watching a short video about the distillery. You are then taken around the various rooms following the process from barley to bottle and as with all distilleries you discover what elements provide Glengoyne with it's unique taste. A distillery tour is a great way of observing the creation process of Scotch whisky and gaining a deeper appreciation of the water of life. After a couple of drams my group certainly seemed to be appreciating it alot!
The tour not surprisingly concludes in the shop where you have the opportunity to purchase some special editions and admire some of their bottles prices at four figures for those with a larger bank balance than mine!
With the group literally in high spirits the journey back to Glasgow was filled with banter about Irn Bru, the myth of deep fried mars bars and Graham even entertained us all with a verse from 'Address to a Haggis' by Robert Burns.
As we pulled back into the city and bid farewell at George Square I pointed my new Brazilian buddy in the direction of a well known whisky bar where he could continue his sampling and I headed for the train home, tired but still smiling, perhaps the effect of the whisky or more likely from the memories of a fun day out and a new found friend.
Rabbies's is a multi-award winning small tour group with a maximum of 16 people on each tour. Various trips are available in not only Scotland but also England and Ireland. Day tours run from Glasgow and Edinburgh and are an ideal way to sample a little bit of Scotland. For those with more time they also offer longer vacation packages. Visit their website for more info http://www.rabbies.com/
I was invited to experience this tour by Rabbie's, however all opinions, experiences and new found friends from Brazil are my own.
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