Three Day Highland Tour & New Friends from Hong Kong

Ben Nevis right there!

One of my favourite memories was my 3-day-bus tour of the Highlands in Scotland. An amazing experience of so many beautiful spots in Scotland. We started out having lunch in Inverness and then Clava Cairns, continuing to Cairngorm National Park and then Culloden Battlefield, at sunset, where the golden sun in the gathering of trees and stone walls, and in the long green fields, was magnificent. Later in the evening, at dusk and as the light was getting dim, we made it to Loch Ness (did I see Nellie?) and Urquhart Castle, and then Fort Augustus, where we stayed for the first night, at a lovely B&B. The next morning we headed on towards Eilean Donan Castle (my favourite part of the trip), Sligachan, and Skye! Once on Skye, we stopped for lunch in Portree, a colourful autumn-world harbour town, where my Hong Kong friends got lots of pictures of the orange and red trees. Glen Coe mountains came next, with bagpipes playing a beautfiul Amazing Grace in our bus, and a moment of tremendous emotion in me as I looked in awe at the magnificent mountain range. Inverlochy Castle, a castle in ruins, was wonderful to explore, and it’s walls and openings became the spot for a fun photo session for all. For the first week of November, we had beautiful sunshine, and no snow in the mountains–we were lucky indeed. There were many other places we visited, too many to count, but my camera captured it all, as did my heart.

Great new friends.

What made the tour so special and unforgettable, were the people on the tour with me. From the moment I arrived at the tour bus stop, I was joined by a group of 7-8 people from Hong Kong, who were all travelling together. This group quickly befriended me and treated me like I was part of them. We had an amazing time together, exploring the Highlands, singing songs on the bus from our countries (yes a little like camp)… plus many, many photos taken of ourselves, each other, and all of us together. Tourists we were, from beginning to end. It is always a little strange and nostalgic to be with new friends on a short travel journey–you bond quickly and feel like family and friends within hours because you are seeking and experiencing very similar things–both places and emotions. There is a heightened closeness, and at the same time, you know it won’t last; I am always keenly aware of meeting special people along the path. Some would say angels.

Best travelling companions ever!

I loved our first evening eating together after checking into our B & B at the close of Day 1. We were warm and cozy in a nearby pub, and one of the Hong Kong travellers suggested we play a game of ‘who do you think is…’ See, they had known each other for years, some of them their whole lives, but to me, and two married American Professors also in our group, they still looked quite a bit alike, and hard to tell apart. They knew this and had fun with it. They asked us to guess… who do you think are sisters? Who do you think are social workers? Who do you think are a couple? Who do you think went to high school together? The game went on and on. We were wrong most of the time, and there was much laughter and squealing with joy and mischief, and by the end of the game we knew each other quite a bit better and the bonding had begun. I will never forget this group of travellers on the journey with me…their warm hearts and bright spirits. They also loved my camera, and wanted to use it to take pictures of me. Travelling photos were very important to them, and at every bus stop, they jumped off, immediately snapping shots, especially of all the fall colours. You can imagine I felt quite at home.

Here are a couple of photos of the lovely B&B we stayed in the first night. Cozy, warm, and inviting. Too bad it was only one night… could have easily stayed longer in this lovely place.

I almost ordered a second plate.

One of my beloved moments on the tour was the very fresh fish and chips at a tiny, tucked away restaurant pub–best I’ve ever had. Well, I’ve actually only had fish and chips in Ireland and Scotland, so not much to compare it too. Dreamily delicious!

Something I am struck by in Scotland wherever I go: the warm golden sun. The sun here seems to have a different quality than back home. It’s softer, warmer, easy on the eyes, the heart, the spirit, the camera. Perhaps it’s a geographical quality, or maybe only my imagination. But the late afternoon sun along the roads, pathways, stone walls, and trees is breathtaking, and makes you feel like you’re in a magical place, far away from home. I can feel it’s warmth healing something inside of me. I will never forget the Scotland sun.

A magical place.

Another morning of beautiful bright warm sun was Eilean Donan Castle. Possibly my favourite spot on the tour, other than the Glen Coe mountains. It was early morning, the water like glass, with a slight mist, and the sun over the water was bright and welcoming… a dream come true. The castle was lit in rays, and we could see Sky in the distance. A spiritual moment for me, as I took in the incredible beauty of our world. A private tour was beginning in the castle, and my group had to call me several times before I could leave this scene behind. I will think of that morning often, as the ‘perfect morning’ in Scotland–a symbol of joy and peace.

Eilean Donan Castle glowing in the morning light.
Unbelievable beauty.

And more pictures of friendship during my travels…

Hong Kong Friends!
Lovely professor from Princeton, on the tour with us.
Couple on the tour with us, both professors.
Photos were a big part of the trip!
The colourful harbour village of Portree.
Beautiful place, beautiful people. I miss them.

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Some stories from home, some from travel adventures (usually in autumn), some happening in community, friendship and faith, and some about the vulnerable, lonely and excluded. To honour them because they have changed me for the better and taught me how to love more fully and be loved more fully. Some days are great, some good, some not always good. But overall, it's been a beautiful journey so far, and I feel more like myself every day. -- Debra, writer / photographer / blogger / traveller

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