Scotland's Islands and Highlands
Rick Steves' Europe: Episode # 107
In Scotland, legends of Bonnie Prince Charlie swirl with pipers and kilts around crumbling castles. After tossing a caber (log) at a Scottish clan gathering, we remember Highland massacres. We play hide-and-seek with the Loch Ness Monster, tour a whiskey distillery, and take a ferry to sacred Iona.
- Read the script from the show.
Oban's Whisky Distillery
The 200-year-old Oban Whisky Distillery produces more than 14,500 liters a week. Their serious and fragrant tours explain the process from start to finish and include a sample. The exhibition that precedes the tour gives a quick, whisky-centric history of Scotland. This is the handiest whisky tour you'll see, just a block off the harbor and better than anything in Edinburgh (tel. 01631/572-004).
Iona and Mull Bus Tour
Here's the game plan: You'll take a ferry from Oban to Mull, ride a Bowman's bus across Mull, then board a quick ferry from Mull to Iona. The total round-trip travel time is about 5.5 hours, all of it incredibly scenic. Buy your set of six tickets — one for each leg — at the Bowman's office in Oban (1 Queens Park Place, a block from train station, tel. 01631/566-809 or 01631/563-221).
Upon arrival in Mull, you'll find your tour company's bus for the entertaining and informative bus ride across the Isle of Mull. Your destination is Mull's westernmost ferry terminal (Fionnphort), where you'll board a small, rockier ferry for the brief ride to Iona. Unless you stay overnight, you'll have only about two hours to roam freely around the island, before taking the ferry-bus-ferry ride in reverse back to Oban.
Glencoe and North Lorn Folk Museum
The huggable Glencoe and North Lorn Folk Museum is filled with humble exhibits gleaned from the town's old closets and attics (which come to life when explained by a local). When one house was being rethatched, its owner found a cache of 200-year-old swords and pistols hidden there from the British Redcoats after the disastrous battle of Culloden (call ahead for hours, tel. 01855/811-664).
Jacobite troops under Bonnie Prince Charlie were defeated at Culloden by supporters of the Hanover dynasty in 1746. This last major land battle fought on British soil spelled the end of Jacobite resistance, and the beginning of the clan chiefs' fall from power.
Culloden's new Visitors Centre, opened in spring 2008, is a state-of-the-art £10 million facility offering multimedia displays and an essential audioguide. Wandering the desolate, solemn battlefield outside, you sense that something terrible occurred here (drivers coming from Inverness should follow signs to Aberdeen, then Culloden Moor; buses from Inverness get you to the Culloden Moor Inn, a 200-yard walk from the battlefield, tel. 01463/796-090).