Thursday, 10 October 2013

Haggis, Neeps and Nessie: My Tour of Scotland on The Ness Bus!

When I received an email back in August with the subject heading 'Portis Wasp, someone is hiding from you...', I was of course curious to read more. I'll admit, as I began reading about Loch Ness and the mystical 'plesiosaur-like' creature that many believe resides in the world's most famous body of water, I wasn't thinking that this would be an opportunity to slap on some sunscreen and go for a day trip around Scotland in search of Jurassic Park-style thrills. No, I thought it was just another generic spam email, and that at the foot of the email I would be met with a link to click on which would then try and sell me some mood enhancing drug that promises to bring out the pleasureosaur in me for up to 7 hours at a time.

Turns out, Lyndsey, the Marketing Officer for the Ness Bus tour company had done her research, and this was not an email that promised euphoria in the form of a little green pill. Instead, I was being invited to travel with the Ness Bus company in one of their buses for the day which would take in the many great sights that Scotland has to offer, with the focus of the tour centering on the mystical banks of Loch Ness and a tour of a Whisky Distillery, located in a glen over 1057 feet above sea-level.

As you well know, big green monsters and alcohol rarely ever mix well together, so one should give serious thought to such a proposition before committing themselves to a day filled with running away from very big things that are trying to eat you whilst trying hard not to spill the contents of your glass all over your best Harris Tweed. But being the pleasureosaur that I am, I immediately said yes to this. I have watched Jurassic Park, like, so many times, so I know all the things you shouldn't do when a big beast is running at you. Also, I'm Scottish, so I knew I'd be safe around Nessie. Everyone knows it's only the English (and Ted Danson for making that beyond boring Loch Ness film in 1996) that need to properly fear the famous water beast. 

The tour started in Edinburgh.  It was an early start,  I believe my monster hunting assistant for the day, aka my little sister, picked-me up at 6.30am to travel to Edinburgh as we live just over an hour's drive from the Scottish capital and didn't want to risk missing the bus which departs the city centre punctually at 8am.  For your convenience, the Ness Bus offers a complimentary local departure service from 7.10am until 8.00am, so you can choose your departure point from several locations around the City.  Fortunately, we only had a five minute walk to our collection point from where we parked which was very central.

Now, what I need to make clear before you lose your marbles over how fabulous this little bus is, which is quite the luxury affair as tour buses go when you're inside it, is that this bright orange Hairy Coo bus wouldn't usually zoom you around Scotland on this tour.  Apparently, the Ness Bus got too close to the banks of Loch Ness the week before our tour and subsequently ended up in the garage where it is now undergoing various vehicular spa treatments to help ease the pain of three large bite marks to its body. So, usually, for the tour I am telling you about certainly, and this might please you immensely, your tour bus will be bright green.

As you can guess from the pictures dotted about this post, the bus when full can only hold a small group of people, 24 in total I believe. This for me is a very good thing, as the tour feels intimate. The interior is super comfy, the ride is at all times Lana Del Rey-smooth, and if you feel the need to fill your pie hole with Scooby Snacks and cans of Irn-Bru in-between stops, and why wouldn't you, you're totes allowed to so don't feel like you need to create an elaborate diversion by shouting something nonsensical like 'NESSIE!' at the top of your lungs whilst pointing towards one of the numerous Munros (mountains) you will pass over the course of the day. Nessie lives in water. Witches live on Munros.

The first stop of our tour took us to the Perthshire village of Dunkeld. We didn't have a lot of time to explore the picturesque village as we needed to work our way up the hills for our tour of the whisky distillery that we were booked into, but we did have time enough to take in the breath-taking scenery from the gorgeous bridge you have to cross to get into Dunkeld, take one too many selfies on the gorgeous bridge, and grab ourselves a coffee to go.

I should also add that I fell instantly in love with the group of Italians on our tour who no sooner had they departed the bus, lit up their cigarettes and aggressively chain-smoked until it was time to board the bus again. This ritual would be repeated at every stop of the tour. It's just a shame I can't speak a word of Italian as I would have loved to hear what they were saying about the world famous blogger who they were lucky enough to be sharing this amazing adventure with.

And so began the climb to Dalwhinnie Whisky Distillery, which is situated high in the Grampian mountains. The distillery was built in 1898, around the same time I began writing this review, and was built where it is because of a number of deciding factors. There is an abundance of water nearby from the Lochan an Doirre-uaine, an upland loch high in the mountains, an ample supply of peat, and good communications by road and rail. The site of the distillery is very isolated but that's what makes it such an impressive location to visit.

On arrival we were split into two groups (I bagged the Italians!) and were shown around the distillery by a friendly tour guide who told us super important things like, 'This is how you make whisky', and, 'Don't touch that, it's hot'. The finale of the tour, which probably lasted around 45 minutes in total, answered the only question I had going into the tour, 'When do we get to drink it?’

And so, in a beautifully lit corner of their beautiful building we sampled Dalwhinnie's 15-year-old single malt, and I have to be honest with you, I was not expecting to enjoy it as much as I did. Light, sweet, and super enjoyable with the spot of chocolate they gave us to munch on whilst drinking it. It really does make perfect sense that they would refer to their whisky as the `Gentle Spirit` of the glen. Their whisky tastes like a warm bear hug...

Next stop... Loch Ness!

Fort Augustus sits on the banks of Loch Ness and was our destination for lunch, an optional hour-long boat cruise, and more selfies. Although tempting, we chose not to go on the boat cruise as we weren't very keen on recreating that scene from Jurassic Park 3 where they're on the boat and a very big dinosaur attacks them and there's all that stress over the satellite phone and trying to call for help. Also, I have an iPhone, and if you have an iPhone too you will agree that the battery life is rubbish. I just couldn't justify wasting precious battery life - that I would need for 7 more hours worth of selfies - on trying to have a conversation with a disinterested toddler who is pissed at me for interrupting an episode of Barney the Dinosaur.

It won't take you long to walk around Fort Augustus but it is well worth visiting if you fancy a casual stroll down by the water or a spot of lunch in one of the pubs that line the main street. We chose to fill our faces with tasty Scottish fare in 'The Bothy', choosing Cullen Skink, which is a thick and creamy Scottish soup made of smoked haddock, potatoes and onions, and haggis, served with toast and a rich Drambuie sauce, because I now need everything I eat to come with a healthy side serving of alcohol since my life-changing visit to Dalwhinnie. We may have also ordered some fresh smoked salmon baguettes and a side order of chips for good measure. My photographs certainly suggest we did but all I can remember is spooning large servings of that delicious haggis into my mouth. Yummy.


After lunch we took a walk down to the Loch, passing Fort Augustus Abbey - which has now been turned into luxury apartments - as well as quite a few boats, big and small, that were waiting to pass through the lock system that leads onto the Loch.  

The weather was glorious so it would have been a perfect day to pick for a boat cruise, which part of me wishes we had, but then I guess I wouldn't have discovered how much better haggis tastes with a Drambuie sauce poured over it!  Such a Sophie's Choice, I know, but I really think I made the best choice for me on reflection.  You also might be wondering why Nessie has been slightly side-lined in this portion of my review, and that's because I came away from 'The Bothy' feeling slightly love drunk from the fumes coming off my lunch.

Whilst I took a moment to gaze across Loch Ness and take in the sheer vastness of one of Scotland's most impressive locations, all I could think of was, if Nessie came bursting out of this Loch right now and gobbled me up, at least I would die having tried the haggis with Drambuie sauce from 'The Bothy'.  And then before I knew it, we were on the bus again and off to our next destination.  Bye Nessie!

The journey south turned out to be a showcase of Scotland's finest scenery. Stopping at the Commando Memorial at Spean Bridge we were able to look out for miles and drink up the fabulous landscape, before continuing onwards to Fort William.

One thing to note is that the Ness Tour would usually stop at the Ben Nevis Whisky Distillery at Fort William, but on the day of our tour they were unable to host our group so that's why we visited Dalwhinnie instead.

We then travelled along Loch Linnhe until we reached Glencoe, the most magnificent and famous valley in Scotland.  So magnificent in fact, that the final scenes from Skyfall were shot on location in Glencoe, as were scenes for Harry Potter, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  I can't tell you how astounding it is to be surrounded by such imposing beauty.  I can appreciate a lot of people probably get that same feeling when they stand next to me, and that makes me a little bit sad to be honest.  You will really come away changed after visiting this part of Scotland and the scenery will stay with you forever.

Beware though, if you have sensitive skin like me you might find that you return home from Glencoe covered in midge bites.  My sister thought I was being overly dramatic on the bus when I started freaking out about pink dots appearing all over my arms not long after we left Glencoe.  Which I probably was being, but I was more worried at the time that my body was slowly beginning to shut down as a result of me eating some random berries that I found earlier that afternoon in a forest when we stopped for 5 minutes to stretch our legs!  That's right folks, I really am that person who can't even be left for 5 minutes without putting something in his mouth that might just kill him.  And if you are feeling concerned for my me, fret not, the pink dots have now turned into proper ugly lumps so they are most likely the result of bites.  I can't imagine berries could be as cruel as to cause such an offensive reaction.

Half an hour later, and now itching furiously, we reached Tyndrum, a really small village that lies in Strathfillan, at the southern edge of Rannoch Moor, which provided another chance to stretch the legs and have some dinner before we set our sights on returning back to Edinburgh. The village is notable mainly for being at a junction of transport routes, and is mostly used by hill walkers who I expect would be doing much the same as we did, which was to order a very large pizza and check to see if the shop sold copies of i-D magazine.  I'm sure they did, only I got distracted by all the different varieties of Haribo sweets that they sold and the man behind the counter who looked to have borrowed David Dickinson's face for the day.  We gathered ourselves onto the bus again, and off we went, with the last stage of the tour promising views of Stirling Castle and the famous Wallace Monument.  But there was one last surprise in stored, and it was one that got us all super excited when not too far from Tyndrum we paid a local celebrity a visit...

No tour of Scotland would be complete without a meet and greet with some Highland Cows, and I was very excited to get to reconnect with my good friend Hamish, Scotland's most famous Highland Cow. He's, like, a proper celebrity in Scotland and for a cow he has fitted a lot into twenty years, having starred in several films and tv shows. He even opens local supermarkets, which I imagine he does with a lot of panache, casually cutting ribbons with his horns like it’s no big deal.

Unfortunately, it was just after 7pm when we pulled up outside of his field, so Hamish wasn't really feeling like he wanted to play with us so instead pretended that some old hag had come along just before us, cast a spell on him, and turned him to stone. Whatever Hamish, it's not like you were ever nominated for an Oscar! Thankfully, his adorable hairy coo companions, Honey and Hamish Jr., were much more interested in our offers of love, affection, and fruit, so were more than happy to pose for photos as the night began to drawn in around us.

A couple of hours later we arrived back into Edinburgh, which I must say felt a world away from the Scotland we had spent the best part of the day sightseeing. But this is what makes Scotland such a desirable location for tourists. You never have to travel far out of a city in Scotland to feel like you are in the middle of nowhere and when you return to the city later that day for drinks, and dancing, or maybe just your car so you can then travel for another hour to get home to your bed, you might just pass a celebrity or two as they come out of the Filth premiere, which you weren't invited to, but that's okay, because you got to try haggis with Drambuie sauce earlier in the day and it was the best thing ever!

Well, maybe the haggis wasn't exactly the best part of the day for me, but it most certainly ranks as a close second.  For me, what made the Ness Bus tour such an enjoyable experience is the one crucial element for a successful tour that I haven't yet mentioned to you in this review.  The tour guide!  Ours was called Donald, and I cannot emphasise enough to you what a great a job he did of entertaining us throughout the day with his wonderful stories and super educational yarns on Scotland's rich history.  At each destination of the tour you are pretty much left to explore your surroundings as you please, but when you are on the Ness bus, Donald, whilst driving us to the next destination, is constantly talking.  I really don't know how he manages it to be honest, both to drive and go into such great detail with his storytelling, as well as remember when to tell the relevant story that marries up with where we are travelling on the road at the time.  He's such an anomaly, that guy.  What he does over the course of the day would be an incredibly hard ask for anyone, regardless of their driving skills or great banter, but Donald makes it all look incredibly easy, and here was me thinking men could only do one thing well at once?  Just me then.  I wouldn't want to spoil all the fun things you get told about Scotland when you are on the bus, but all I'll say is that even though I am Scottish I kept finding myself tapping my sister on the shoulder to ask her if what he was saying was true, so don't feel like you have to be from another country to enjoy this tour and actually learn something.  That being said, a lot of my friends like to tell me that I behave like I was born yesterday, so there you go.  Maybe you won't learn anything new if you are Scottish.  But did you know that Dunfermline used to be the Capital of Scotland?  Oh... you did?  Have I mentioned that I am half-Portuguese so allowances need to be made?

Oh, and whenever Donald feels like he needs to rest his vocal chords for a few minutes, he'll play you music by Scottish artists like Big Country, Runrig and Amy McDonald.  Which, as you would imagine, play very well as you are driving through the Highlands.

Oh lordy, are you all still with me?  At least the average time my reader spends on my blog will grow exponentially as a result of this post.  But I just couldn't not give you a passionate review of what is a really great way to experience what Scotland has to offer, and I want you to experience Scotland at its best.  Which is why, if you ever find yourself in these parts, I strongly recommend you book yourself a seat on the Ness Tour.  I sadly chose food over catching a glimpse of Nessie, but maybe you'll think with your head instead of your belly and discover more than just a ripple in the water at Loch Ness.

The Ness Bus tour is the only bus tour in Edinburgh that is solely dedicated to Loch Ness, and for all the information you need on booking a seat on the tour which runs on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays, all year round click here.

Video to follow.  xx



  1. Hi there, long time! Loved traveling through your words in this Ness bus tour. Somehow my brain is still repeating the words "haggis with Drambuie sauce", maybe one day I can experience it and be as fanatic as you! Great writing as usual!

    1. Hellooooo, how are you! Thanks for reading! lol xx

    2. Good, thanks! I have been reading more than you think although I'm more of a silent fan, until today, lol. xx


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