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Cruising the British Isles ~ Day 5: The Scottish Highlands

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Jan115

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The names Rob Roy, William Wallace and Braveheart always come to mind when I think of Scotland. The beauty of the highlands portrayed in the Hollywood films has always inspired me to visit Scotland, and this was a priority of our day here in Greenock.

After many months of careful research, I gathered a group of fellow on-line cruise community fans and booked the Luss, Loch Lomond & Sterling Castle tour with Great Scot Tours for 15 eager passengers, a guide highly recommended by many seasoned travelers. We shared the cost of a mini-bus and saved more than half off the cruise line price. This would prove to be by far my favorite day of the entire week!

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We woke up to Greenock with the sound of bagpipers playing below our cabin on the pier and then, once off the ship, were treated to a dram of whisky (my husband got a double!) by a friendly Scottish welcoming party at the port. We were very impressed by the genuine hospitality all over the UK, but particularly here in Scotland.

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Our guide from Great Scot Tours, Gordon Ross, and his able driver, John, were waiting for us at the ship right on schedule and greeted us warmly as we boarded the mini-coach to set out on a full-day tour of the Highlands.

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The village of Luss, our first stop, is a quaint, pretty little town on the banks of Loch Lomond. Gordon refers to it as “Brigadoon” and we wholeheartedly agree. One feels a sense of quiet serenity in this idyllic place, and the view of the distant hills across the lake is one of timeless beauty. It was all very magical!

Back on board, we arrived in the Highland, at which time Gordon stopped at an overlook and let us sample an assortment of whiskies – just a wee dram … or two or three! This was not in the tour description – just a little extra something that this kind and thoughtful Scotsman adds to his tours.

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With his passengers now all warm and giddy, he took us on a scenic drive, pointing out many sites along the way including all the “white rocks” dotting the countryside. Except they weren’t rocks – they were sheep! Thousands upon thousands. I believe there are more sheep in Scotland than there are people. After sharing his vast knowledge and history of this beautiful country, Gordon brought us to the lovely town of Callender, where we could wander about and have lunch. While many in our tour chose a restaurant pointed out by Gordon, we chose a pub nearby for some fantastic fish & chips and black pudding.

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We then continued on to the final destination of our tour – Sterling Castle. As we came closer, the castle appeared majestic and formidable to us at the top of a rocky hill and was a fearsome sight to behold. There are no words to describe it. A walk through the castle and along the grounds is like a step back in time to the days of Rob Roy, Sir William Wallace and Sir Robert the Bruce.

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While some in our group toured on their own, Gordon led a few of us through the castle and showed us some of his favorite rooms – the jail, the great hall, the queen’s and king’s bedchambers, the kitchen, tapestries, and so much more. The distant views from the castle are spectacular, and it was humbling to look down upon the fields where fierce battles were fought to secure Scotland’s freedom.

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Our tour was now nearly at an end, and it was time to head back to the ship.

Gordon Ross was an outstanding tour guide, as well as a kind, intelligent and well-traveled man. Did I mention that he travels the world with his Celtic band? He is retiring as a tour guide after this outing, but tours will still be available with other guides from his tour company. Thank you to our fellow tour mates: Violet, Tom, Sharon, Cindy, Jon, Nancy, Dennis, Kathy, Cheryl & Mike. I couldn’t have found a nicer group of people!

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By the way, today was our 35th Anniversary, and our tour of the Scottish highlands was the perfect way to celebrate. Back on the ship that evening, just as with Jenn’s birthday celebration earlier in the cruise, there were balloons, a happy birthday sign on the door, a card from the Captain, and a cake complete with singing waiters at dinner to make it all special!

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