Charlotte from Tickets & Travels joined our driver-guide Aileen on our 1-day Stirling Castle, Loch Lomond & Whisky tour.
In June 2017 I was lucky enough to go on the Stirling Castle, Loch Lomond and Whisky trip with Highland Experience Tours. We arrived bright and early on the Royal Mile where we were greeted by the HEX Tours team and our wonderful guide Aileen. As soon as we were on the bus we were off on what was set to be a truly Scottish day out.
The first stop on our tour was Stirling Castle, about an hour from Edinburgh. During this first hour Aileen told us all about the Battle of Stirling Bridge between Edward I and William Wallace and the significance of the Wallace Monument. Aileen also interspersed her stories with relevant Scottish music, which allowed plenty of time to take in the scenery along the journey.
Once in Stirling, we had two hours in which to explore the Castle and its grounds, or alternatively explore Stirling itself. Before entering the castle, Aileen recommended the best bits to visit where all the facilities were, allowing us to make the very best of our time there. Stirling Castle dates back to the 12th Century and sits atop Castle Hill, a large volcanic formation, overlooking the city. Unlike Edinburgh Castle, Stirling has much more of a palatial feel with less emphasis on its military background. The castle itself is beautifully decorated with large stained glass windows and tapestries and is most definitely worth the visit. It would also be great for anyone with children as there is a great activity area and many actors throughout the castle rooms who definitely bring it to life.
After leaving Stirling Castle we made our way through the Trossachs National Park towards our lunch stop, however Aileen had a treat in store for us on the way. Wanting us to have the full Scottish experience, we arrived at a small field to be greeted by two beautiful Highland Cows, Fiona and Catrin, and their lovely calves! Aileen had also come well prepared with a bag of carrots, allowing us to feed the cows and have a really unique experience. I think I can say that this was definitely the highlight for many on the tour and it really does show how the driver guides will go above and beyond to ensure a great experience.
We continued through The Trossachs along the Duke's Pass, which was created by the Duke of Montrose in the 19th Century and is said to be one of the most beautiful drives in Britain.
We had a short stop in Aberfoyle for our lunch before continuing on our journey to Loch Lomond. Unfortunately, the rain set in but Aileen kept us all in good spirits and didn't let it dampen our spirits. Although the poor visibility at Loch Lomond prevented us getting the best view we were all struck by just how beautiful the area was. Loch Lomond has the largest surface area of all of the 31,000 plus Lochs in Scotland and must also be considered one of the most picturesque.
Our next stop was to be the Glengoyne Distillery, for a tour and tasting of a traditional Scottish whisky. Glengoyne is one of the smaller distilleries in Scotland and also one of the most unique. The whisky brewed at the distillery is classed as Highland Whisky due to the stills being in the Highlands, however, the casks themselves are actually matured in the Lowlands, in another part of the distillery just across the road! The tour of the distillery was very informative and made light of the processes involved and how they affect the final flavours within the whisky.
The statues of The Kelpies at Falkirk were set to be our last stop of the day. According to Scottish myth, Kelpies are a kind of water spirit that inhabits the lochs and pools of Scotland and take the form of horses. The statues are located within the amazing Helix Park which is home to cycling trails, water activities and canals as well as the Kelpies themselves which are actually situated over a specially constructed canal lock. The Kelpies are amazing to see and are a definite must-visit if you happen to be in the area.
We returned to Edinburgh at 18:45 after a jam-packed and very informative day that was thoroughly enjoyed by all. The members of our group were of a variety of ages and nationalities which made for very interesting discussions throughout the day. Some of the members had also just returned from another 3-day tour with Aileen, which shows just how much the tours are enjoyed. The day trips offered by Highland Experience Tours are without a doubt the best way to see a lot in a short space of time and learn the most about the history of Scotland. They also allow you to explore areas that might otherwise remain hidden to those without local knowledge and are definitely great value for money. I would not hesitate to book another!
Russell has only worked for Highland Experience for 4 months and in his first 4 months he has made quite an impression - He's proved to be incredibly popular both with passengers and the whole Highland Experience Team, being voted our first ever employee of month!
"I was shocked, I was on a 3-day Skye tour and I came back and was being congratulated - I thought, I've just done a Skye tour what's happened? They told me to check my e-mail and I've got to admit, I couldn't stop smiling."
Don't just take Highland Experience's word for it though, Russell has received a record-breaking number of positive reviews online, detailing his talents as a tour guide.
He's "friendly, knowledgeable and enthusiastic"
He's a talented storyteller... "Russ has so many stories to tell and he makes me so drawn in to them!"
He's great with kids "My kids really loved the trip and I would say that the credit goes to none other than RUSSELL as his live commentary along with his thorough knowledge on the history and every little point on the places mentioned was unbelievable. It seemed he had a microchip in his brain."
He even has good music taste... "Russell, the entertainer, was wonderful in giving Scottish history, telling stories, and playing Scottish music that gets us all in good spirit."
Why did you become a tour guide?
I'd been touring for a number of years and I love getting out on the tours, meeting people, and guiding.
Before you started guiding what were you doing?
I was involved in private security work, close protection, body guarding all over the world, so people are extra safe when exploring the highlands with me!
What's your favourite place in Scotland?
It has to be Loch Ness, I love the Loch Ness day tour. Loch Ness is a fantastic piece of water, the intrigue, the mystery with the monster - every single day I'm looking out for Nessie. Each day you are at Loch Ness there is a chance you can see the monster!
What's your favourite story to share with passengers?
You get people who are interested in everything, some people really love history, people who love little fun facts. One thing I do like sharing is William McGonagall, the scots poet, famed for his short and sweet little poems. Can you recite one? I will if you come on tour! But I can recite one I came up with myself in the style of McGonagall, it concerns the Highland coos...
On a hill I saw a coo
But he must of moved
'Cause he's no there noo
Describe being a tour guide in 3 words...
Fun, interesting and....exciting!