NOTE – This tour was taken in the winter. Summer ones would be very different weather wise.
As much as I love spending time in Edinburgh, I do like to get out of town from time to time see other parts of my country. Earlier this week, I opted to take a day tour with a friend visiting Edinburgh with Timberbush Tours. I decided to leave the car at home in this freezing weather, let someone else do the driving and sit back, relax and absorb the beautiful countryside.
I chose Timberbush due to an Australian friend’s excellent experience with them in the summer when he did their 3 day Skye, Highlands and Loch Ness tour from Edinburgh. He thoroughly enjoyed himself and said they were extremely professional and provided him with fascinating information about Scotland.
There is a great selection of tours to choose from and the meeting point couldn’t be easier to find if you are a tourist, it’s right beside the Castle. Booking is essential and although there can be places left on the tours at short notice, it’s best to book in as far as advance as you can.
My trip left at 9.15am and we took our seats on a comfortable 16 seater coach and headed West out of the city. Our tour driver introduced himself as Billy and was Scottish, but with a clear accent that everyone could understand. He apologised for the weather (not exactly his fault) and said he would attempt the tour as per the itinerary, but obviously it may have to change if the roads were closed. Billy gave us a friendly reminder to put our seat belts on (and every further time we got on the coach) and talked through a microphone which could be heard through speakers by everyone. He gave little bits of information about Edinburgh as we left the city behind and onto the motorway. As we passed Linlithgow Palace, he explained a basic history of Mary Queen of Scots who was born there.
His historical information was simple but good, without bombarding us with too much information. As we drove we passed Stirling Castle and the Wallace Monument (which could be seen from the bus) he pointed them out and explained their historical background, encouraging the passengers to visit them another time.
Our first official stop of the day was Doune Castle, a wonderful 15th century castle, but more recently famous for appearing in the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. This was a brief photo stop only, not a visit inside the Castle.
We continued along the road until we came to a cute little town called Callander and our next stop at Kilmahog, to see Hamish the highland cow. This was also a bathroom stop, which I took advantage of. It was at this point I began to truly appreciate the wonderful snow capped hills, including Ben Ledi which seemingly rose out of nowhere considering we had been on the motorway minutes earlier.
Some locals were feeding Hamish as we arrived, so we got to see him up close as he chomped on apples and parsnips. He may look a friendly cow, but you need to be aware of his horns. Hamish is the ripe old age of 17 now and is definitely a little bigger around the waist than he used to be, despite his vegetarian diet.
We drove past Loch Lubnaig which was almost frozen over, taking in the surrounding scenery as we travelled. Billy told about one of Scotland’s most colourful characters from the past, Rob Roy. He also explained where Scottish words came from throughout the day, such as ‘Glen’ which means a valley, to help everyone on board understand where names of the places we visited originated from.
As we caught a glimpse of Ben More, standing in the snow covered countryside, I felt so proud to come from a country which has such majestic scenery.
We knew we were arriving further north in Scotland as the roads signs were written in both Gaelic and English. This, coupled with Billy playing some “dramatic countryside music” as the roads wove through the Glens and alongside Loch Awe (longest loch in Scotland) was one of the highlights of the trip for me. The sky was completely clear and bright blue – making it a perfect winter’s day.
Arriving in Oban around 12.30pm, we were allocated just over an hour to explore, feed and water ourselves and on Billy’s recommendation, I tried the fish and chips! There were hardly any traces of snow in town, apart from on the hills as we looked across to the Isle of Mull.
Our journey continued back through the Pass of Brander and I was in heaven as I looked at the snowy scree-covered hills reflecting in the perfectly still Loch. We changed direction and onto new roads and stopped at a beautiful viewpoint over Kilchurn Castle.
Billy explained that this whole area belonged to the Duke of Argyll and we caught a glimpse of his home, Inverary Castle, as we drove through Inverary town and alongside Loch Fyne. The last of the daylight hid behind the hills at the Rest and Be Thankful Pass and the scene of another photo stop.
We followed Loch Long southwards through Arrochar and everyone caught their first sight of Loch Lomond (I have seen it before). We had another bathroom stop at the picturesque village of Luss on the edge of Loch Lomond, but considering it was minus 4 Celsius at this point, no one dipped their toes in the water.
Luss is where the tour concluded it’s scenic part, and Billy drove us back to Edinburgh via the motorway and finished the tour on time.
The whole day was fantastic and my New Zealand friend was so impressed with the scenery and everything that we had seen in one day, that he went on another trip the next day!
I am highly impressed with Timberbush’s professionalism as our safety was paramount in these extreme conditions. All information and history given to us was relevant. If Billy is an example of their staff, then you would have a good tour guide as well. I think it helped that he is Scottish as his passion for his country definitely shone throughout the tour, despite probably having driven the route many times.
Other passengers seemed to have a good time and came from a variety of countries, including another from Scotland. This is not a backpacker tour and there are no activities forced upon you such as introductory speeches or posing for group photos. The bus I was on was separated into a row of single seats and a row of doubles, so if you are travelling on your own, you wont have to sit with a stranger for the day.
Bearing in mind this tour was done in the midst of the winter season, when daylight hours end at 4pm – it’s a fantastic way to see the country if you’re short on time and don’t want to go through the hassle of hiring a car. Even if you are a local in Edinburgh, don’t rule out letting Timberbush do the hard work whilst you sit back and enjoy the ride.
Black framed photos copyright of Matt Dale
Suitable for disabled ? Not for wheelchairs, but if you have mobility problems but can still transfer onto a coach, then they are suitable. Please bear in mind that you will get on and off several times throughout the day.