On my 10-day trip to the UK and Ireland, we took a daylong tour of the Highlands with Rabbie’s Tours. I’m always a bit skeptical of group tours, especially ones in buses, just because I like to control where and when we stop and don’t want to miss out on insider knowledge. However, I was very pleasantly surprised with our tour and wouldn’t hesitate to go on another Rabbies Tour.
Why go on a group tour?
- You can’t drive or are uncomfortable driving on the other side of the road, possibly on single track roads
- You can’t or don’t want to plan the logistics of going on a road trip
- You’re alone and want to meet new people
- You want to learn about the location without having to do the research yourself
Our experience and journey with Rabbie’s Tours
We took the Oban, Glencoe, Highland Lochs & Castles tour departing from Glasgow. Departing at 8:30, we arrived around 8:15 and took the second-to-last row of seats in the 16-seat coach. It seemed relatively new and was very clean inside. I was a little worried sitting towards the back since I get carsick, but our row was up a little step so I had a view straight out the front window. With my ginger Dramamine and sea bands, it was really only an issue for 30 minutes or so.
On our coach was John, the driver, a Scot from just outside Glasgow. He was a wonderful guide, gifted with the Scottish strength of storytelling and he had a sincere passion for nature and the Highlands. He told us his love story with his wife, his grade school sweetheart. We learnt of their trips to various beaches and lochs, his passion and skill at craftsmanship (he finds beautiful sea glass on the beach), his dogs, his travels with his grandson, and much more.
Also on our coach: an American woman who was living in Japan, an older couple from the States, an older couple from the West Midlands, two English women living in Aberdeen, two French girls in university, one woman who had arrived in Scotland just the evening before, and three girls from Norway.
Stop 1: Bonnie and Ben Café
Our first stop outside of Glasgow was a little café along the shores of Loch Lomond called Bonnie and Ben Café. I had a much-needed tea and bathroom break and took the 15 minutes we had to soak in the sun(!), which was reflecting beautifully off the loch.
On the road again, we learnt that the chateaux and other large houses were built during the Victorian times to houses those traveling up who needed somewhere luxurious to stay.
Stop 2: Rest and Be Thankful
Our first official stop was Rest and Be Thankful. On the way there, we drove alongside Loch Long, which was used for long-range missile testing during World War 2. There are old docks on the shore from that era. At Rest and Be Thankful, you can see the old military road that was built by the English in 1750 following the final Jacobite rebellion. John, our driver, joked that it also helped mobilize the Scots and connect them more than ever before. Rest and Be Thankful is the highest part of the A83 and separates Glen Kinglas from Glen Croe (not to be confused with Glencoe, a stop later on during our trip).
Stop 3: Inverary
The first town of the day was Inverary (in Gaelic, inver means mouth of). I opted from visiting Inverary Castle, as I knew we would see more on our travels. Instead, I spent time walking around Inverary’s whitewashed buildings and stunning lochside views. John pointed us in the direction of Loch Fyne Whiskies, one of his favorites.
Stop 4: Kilchurn Castle
Kilchurn Castle was owned by the Campbells (meaning crooked mouth – apparently they were a pretty shady clan). We had some time to walk up to and explore the castle (it is free to enter). First constructed in the mid-1400s, the castle is now in ruins. Nevertheless, much of it is accessible and it was a great way to stretch our legs. Not to mention visit with the sheep and Highland coos.
I should also note that Kilchurn Castle is relatively empty but they are building a more accessible road and car park so I expect it will get more crowded in the future. Right now, it is inaccessible to large coaches.
On the way to Oban, our lunch stop, John told us about the history of the Clyde puffers, coal-powered boats traveling lochs and canals to take whisky from Oban to Glasgow. We learn how the boat crewmen were usually wasted from skimming whisky from the boats. Apparently, there is still one functioning Clyde puffer left at Loch Ness that can be hired for a working holiday if you’re interested!
Other random trivia learned on this leg of the trip: dun means fortress, the prefix Mac is Scottish and Mc is Irish, with both meaning ‘son of.’
Stop Four: Oban
Oban is a thriving port town famous for its seafood. It was sunny and very warm and seemingly everyone was outside enjoying the beautiful weather while it lasted. We went and got fish and chips and ate them on a bench on the main patio by the port, watching the ships and ferries come and go and walking around a bit before we had to get back on the coach.
On the way out of Oban, we drove by Dunstaffnage Castle, a fortress where Flora MacDonald was held before being sent to the Tower of London for helping Bonnie Prince Charlie in his escape from Scotland.
Stop Five: Castle Stalker
From Oban, we drove to Castle Stalker. Unfortunately, our coach was not allowed to drive on the private road so we instead settled for a further lookout.
Stop Six: Glencoe
The rain was rolling in as we drove on to Glencoe. The inky grey clouds covered the tops of the mountains, bringing mist and fog and rain with them. We stopped for a surprise stop: the filming location of Hagrid’s Hut in Harry Potter! It was just up the side of the mountain path opposite Clachaig Inn, in the grouping of pine trees. I walked slowly up the path but didn’t want to have to rush there and back. Instead, I focused on taking pictures of beautiful Glencoe.
On the drive through Glencoe (the town and the pass), John told us of the Glencoe Massacre, including how the Three Sisters Mountains were named after the three women who died in the massacre. We drove by the cairn stone, which marks the death of every MacDonald who died during the massacre.
Once we made it through the pass, we drove through the Moor Iglen, along the same route my family and I had taken last year. John talked about how the long stretch of land between us and the next road, with Glen Lyon, the Valley of the Sun God, in between.
At Crain Larich, we turned to continue on the A82. The road was bordered by stone walls called drystane dykes, meaning they are held together just by the virtue of the stones themselves.
Driving alongside Loch Lomond again, we passed by Pulpit Rock, a hole carved into a rock by shepherds to take the place of an altar because they wanted priests to give them sermon without having to travel the long distance it would take them to go to the nearest church.
Stop Seven: Luss
Our final stop was in Luss, a small town known for its slate quarries. The church in Luss was constructed in 1875 and has over 1500 years of history. It has 15 listed ancient monuments in its graveyard, including an original Viking grave!
We then drove back into Glasgow at around 6 pm, exhausted but happy from the day.
Rabbies Tours Final Review: Worth it?
All in all, I’d say Rabbie’s Tours is very worth it. For a full day of sightseeing in a comfortable, not-too-large coach, with plenty of time to explore and stretch your legs, it can’t be beaten. Our driver guide John was very personable and knowledgable about the region and I certainly learned a lot – and got a lot of insider knowledge I either wouldn’t have been able to find or would have had great difficulty in finding.
I’d tell anyone going to Scotland who isn’t comfortable driving to book a tour with Rabbie’s Tours ASAP. They have several one-day tours leaving from both Edinburgh and Glasgow, as well as a few multi-day tours I’ve got my eye on for the next time I’m in Scotland! They also have tours in Ireland, England, and Wales, another fact I’m keeping in mind for my next trip across the pond.