The day after we spent an afternoon checking out Dunnottar Castle (see more here!), we headed up to the Highlands for a bit of a hill walking adventure. We were trying to figure out what we wanted to do with our second day off in the middle of the week, but seeing how it needed to be a day trip, we couldn't go too far. Hugh suggested Glen Clova, as he had friends who had been hill walking there the day before and had even seen snow, so we decided to give it a shot.
We left at a pretty decent time in the morning, and the drive was beautiful. It took us just about an hour, if I remember correctly, and as it was our first time driving north (at this point we'd only been on trips to the grocery store in nearby Arbroath and Forfar, as well as on an overnight to St Andrews), we couldn't get enough of the sheep (upon sheep upon sheep!) on the green hills, against what looked suspiciously like mountains (but technically not tall enough to be classified as such).
D - There are some places that make driving seem like a chore and some places that make driving seem like a privilege, and Scotland (at least the parts I've driven) is definitely the latter. I've now driven hours upon hours and hundreds of miles here and I still often find myself amazed by the simple rural beauty. Especially on some of these earlier trips though, I definitely drove a bit slower so that I was able to take my eyes off the road and steal some quick glances around.
We found the parking lot easily and got started - it was chilly, but there were blue skies and we were ready for our 3.5 mile walk. Since Hugh and the sign posted at the beginning had both called the trail a "hill walk" I figured it wasn't hiking, it was walking. You know, in my mind, there's a difference between hiking and walking - one is fairly flat and mild and one may involve going uphill quite a bit and a variety of terrains and is frequently much more demanding. So, I was expecting something more of the walking variety, but not long after we started, I felt quite deceived. What we were doing was indeed hiking in my mind!
D - I think around this point Shannon was growing quite weary of all my exclamations that this was one of the most beautiful places I've ever been (and other stuff like that), and was trying to remind me that we're from Colorado. I'm don't know though...maybe I haven't done enough hiking in Colorado but one feature I really love is how, because the hills in Scotland are not as tall as mountains, you can really view them easily from top to bottom. They seem to sprout straight out of the earth and just shoot into the sky, beckoning you to come and release your inner highlander.
Just as we got to the top, it started clouding up and spitting rain and snow a little bit. We walked around the edge of the lake (or loch, if you're in Scotland), and then took a muddy trail down to the base of the lake.
Before long we couldn't stand the wind any longer, so we ate our granola bars, took a few more photos, and started our walk back down (which was much easier than the way up, since, naturally, it was all downhill!). The wind continued, but thankfully the spitting rain subsided a bit and the (partial) blue skies returned!
As we started driving back, I hatched up a plan to make a stop by Glamis Castle, since our time in Glen Clova was a bit shorter than I had expected, due to the day being so chilly and blustery (and I don't think we were really prepared for a big hike either - we hadn't brought many snacks or water to carry along). We put it in the phone, and aside from a slight detour (we may have gone in a circle and back where we started before going in the right direction - oops!), we were on our way.
We arrived, paid for our tickets at the gate, and drove on through. I think immediately I was impressed. To arrive at the castle, you drive down a long lane lined with tall trees and daffodils, as well as a few highland cows. We were on a schedule - we needed to get home in time for supper - or else we might have tried to stop a few times on our way to the castle to admire the flowers or get closer to the cows - it was hard for me to resist though!
Glamis Castle (pronounced glams) is unique because it's rather old (built in the 15th century), but it's still inhabited and the public can still tour it - not the rooms that are currently lived in, but nonetheless. It also has quite the recent royal history - the Queen Mother (Queen Elizabeth II's mother) grew up at Glamis, and gave birth to her second daughter, Princess Margaret, at Glamis as well. The castle isn't available for self-guided tours, so we walked around the outside for a little while and then joined a one hour guided tour at 3:00pm.
We really loved our guided tour. Our tour guide really made the tour, I think. She knew her stuff, she gave a lot of interesting background information, and she was entertaining - I think we even found ourselves laughing a few times. One of our favorite parts was that even though the castle is fairly old, it has some semi-modern updates and furnishings (people still use a few of the rooms we saw for entertaining and special occasions) and I enjoyed seeing pictures of the Queen and her family in and around Glamis. Unfortunately, no photos were allowed inside the castle, so I suppose you'll have to look up photos online or just visit yourself. After our tour, we visited the cows as well as the gardens - both were quite nice - and drove back to the farm.
D - Having been a tour guide myself in college I'm pretty hard to impress, but our tour guide was really good. It's funny that we weren't allowed to take any pictures because when we walked into the first room it was the first thing I wanted to do. I told Shannon that it was one of my favorite castles that we've ever visited and she reminded me that I say that after every new castle that we visit, but my tendency for exaggeration and extreme statements aside, it was definitely really cool.
I really enjoyed our combination of being outside and doing a bit of hiking with an afternoon of lower key activities. If you ever find yourself on the central west side of Scotland, I think Glen Clova + Glamis make a great day trip, especially if the weather cooperates. Glen Clova has so many walks (read: hikes), it seems there's something for everyone - waterfalls, lochs, hills, forests, streams - in the area. Glamis is gorgeous and could be a good rainy day activity (always good to have a list of those when in Scotland!), although we enjoyed being able to visit the gardens, so I'd recommend going on a day that you can at least be outside for a little bit - they're not too extensive. The typically Scottish weather aside, a great day...Scotland has so many fun treasures to explore!