The Loch Ness Monster

An Encounter With the Loch Ness Monster
in Scotland

British Isles Destinations

Must See Destinations in the British Isles

If you’re planning a trip to the British Isles, be sure to include theses destinations on your itinerary.  These are some of my favorite cities in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland.  Click on the heading for more details and photos.

Shrewsbury, England:  A picturesque river city in Shropshire with a medieval past.

Shrewsbury School Across the River Severn

Shrewsbury School Across the River Severn

Conwy, Wales:  A beautiful little coastal town in Northern Wales with an awesome castle.

Conwy Castle on the North Coast of Wales

Conwy Castle on the North Coast of Wales

Inverness, Scotland:  A city in the Scottish Highlands near Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle.

Inverness Castle, Inverness, Scotland

Inverness Castle, Inverness, Scotland

Galway, Ireland:  This eclectic city on the west coast of Ireland is the gateway to Clifden and Connemara.

Galway Cathedral on the River Corrib

Galway Cathedral on the River Corrib

 

British Isles Itinerary

A Good Starting Point for Planning Your British Isles Itinerary 

This summary of the itinerary for my recent 18 day trip through the British Isles will, hopefully, help jumpstart your own trip planning process.  I’ve just completed a detailed series of postings featuring each city I visited, including where I stayed, how I got there and what I saw at each stop along the way.  If you decide to follow this itinerary you’ll get a good overview of England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, while keeping the travel times each day to a minimum.  For me, getting there is half the fun, so I love riding the trains and buses through the countryside from one town to the next.  This is often a great way to meet people and it’s wonderful to be able to leave the driving to someone else when you’re on vacation.  If you’re traveling in a group of two or more, however, it may be more economical to rent a car, but remember, driving a car with manual transmission on the opposite side of those narrow roads is not for the faint of heart!

London, England

London, England

Customize to Fit Your Own Schedule

A word of caution…as a solo, budget traveler, I like to squeeze as much as I can into my trips, so this pace may be a bit fast for some.   If that’s the case or if you don’t have three weeks, you can use any portion of this schedule and tailor it to fit your own timetable.  One possibility, for example, would be to separate it into two trips, the first just concentrating on England, Wales and Scotland and the second just on Ireland.  Another suggestion would be to do England and Wales in one trip and Scotland and Ireland in another.  By dividing the trip in this manner you would have time to spend two nights in some of the major cities like London, Edinburgh and Dublin and at major scenic destinations like the Cliffs of Moher and the Ring of Kerry in Ireland.

Conwy, Wales

Conwy, Wales

City by City Itinerary 

As you can see from a quick look at the list below, you will be traveling to some of the most famous and interesting destinations in the world…and getting from one place to the next will take you through some of the most beautiful scenery on the planet.  Here goes!

1)  London, England

-arrived by plane from SFO

2)  Bath, England         

-by train, 1 hour 45 minutes

3)  Cardiff, Wales

-by train, 1 hour

4)  Shrewsbury, England       

-by train via Swansea, 8 hours

-scenic Heart of Wales train journey

5)  Conwy, Wales                             

-by train, 2 hours 30 minutes

6)  York, England                                     

-by train, 5 hours

7)  Edinburgh, Scotland                            

-by train, 2 hours 30 minutes

8)  Inverness, Scotland                     

-by train, 4 hours

-scenic Highlands train journey through Cairngorm Mountains

-LochNess

9)  Glasgow, Scotland                      

-by train, 4 hours

10) Belfast, Northern Ireland           

-by train and ferry, 6 hours

11) Londonderry, Northern Ireland  

-by train, 2 hours

12) Sligo, Ireland                             

-by bus, 2 hours 30 minutes

13) Galway, Ireland                         

-by bus, 2 hours 30 minutes

-Clifden and Connemara

14) Limerick, Ireland                       

-by train, 2 hours

-Cliffs of Moher

15) Tralee, Ireland                           

-by bus, 2 hours

-Dingle Town

16) Killarney, Ireland                      

-by bus, 1 hour

-Ring of Kerry

17) Cork, Ireland                             

-by bus, 1 hour 30 minutes

-Blarney Castle

18) Dublin, Ireland                          

-by bus, 4 hours 15 minutes

Loch Ness, Scotland

Loch Ness, Scotland

Summary of Expenses

Airfare: (San Francisco to London and Dublin to San Francisco) $807.00

Land Transportation: (trains and buses) $613.00

Lodging: $1,327.00 (average $74.00 per night)

Food: $144.00 (doesn’t include breakfast which came with most hotels)

Incidentals (including entrance fees): $73.00

Total Expenses: $2,964.00

Londonderry, Northern Ireland

Londonderry, Northern Ireland

Las Vegas or Europe?

Depending on what part of the country you’re coming from, a round trip plane ticket to Las Vegas can cost anywhere from $200 to $500.  For just a few hundred more you could fly to the British Isles and see something new and exciting.  Remember, either way you still have to eat and sleep, so the expenses once you get to either destination will be similar.  The choice was a no-brainer for me!  Considering all the fantastic things I saw, the wonderful people I met and the awesome accommodations I had on my nearly three week trek through England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, doing all this for less than $3,000 was a great value for this budget traveler.  Be sure to check out the other articles in this series for more details on planning your trip to the British Isles.  Tally Ho and Cherrio!

The Ring of Kerry, Ireland

The Ring of Kerry, Ireland

Ferry to Ireland

Getting to Ireland from Glasgow, Scotland

          The six hour journey from Glasgow, Scotland to Belfast, Northern Ireland could not have been easier for me last May and was one of the best travel bargains of my trip.  After a train excursion through England, Wales and Scotland I ended up in Glasgow, which turned out to be a great jumping off place for Ireland.  I was able to buy a one way ticket for $29 at the Glasgow Central Train Station which covered the entire trip, including both rail and ferry, delivering me right to the Port of Belfast.  The train went from Glasgow to Stranraer on the Scottish coast where we hopped on one of the Stena Line ferries.

Ferry from Scotland to Ireland

Ferry from Scotland to Ireland

A Recent Change of Ports

          After using the port of Stranraer for more than 150 years, the Stena Lines moved their operations five miles up the coast to just north of Cairnryan in November, 2011.  This will not be a problem for those traveling in cars or tour buses as there is good road access to Cairnryan.  Since the train does not go directly to Cairnryan, backpackers like me will now have to take a train from Glasgow to Stranraer and then catch a bus from Stranraer to Cairnryan or, perhaps more expeditiously, take a bus directly from Glasgow to Cairnryan.

Leaving Stranraer, Scotland

Leaving Stranraer, Scotland

The Irish Sea

          The ferry trip across the Irish Sea took three hours and while sailing out of Stranraer we had a great view of some beautiful Scottish coastal scenery along the natural harbor of Loch Ryan.  That day the ferry was packed with youth soccer teams heading for a tournament in Ireland, so passengers were kept on their toes dodging the youthful travelers cavorting around the passageways playing hide and seek.  Some passengers whiled away the hours watching a movie in the theater, but most seemed to spend the time enjoying the bar and restaurant.  As a former sailor in the U.S. Navy, I spent most of the time out on the prow watching the waves and chatting with fellow travelers.

Lighthouse on Loch Ryan, Scotland

Lighthouse on Loch Ryan, Scotland

Getting into Belfast

          The ferry to Belfast was about an hour late in sailing, so we didn’t arrive at the Port of Belfast until 7 PM.  Since it is the busiest ferry port in Ireland, all the buses were full, but I was able to share a taxi into town with another solo traveler named Joe who I had met on the ferry along with three young ladies.  Two Irish fellows already ‘in their cups’ by this time joined us at the last minute and entertained us with their proverbial ‘gift of gab’ along the way.  This enjoyable two mile ride into the city center of Belfast with the seven of us squeezed into a small cab was my first introduction to the friendly Irish people and I must say, it set the tone for the next eight days of my trek through the Emerald Isle.  Join me as I travel Ireland by train and bus from Belfast to Dublin.

The Scottish Coast on the Irish Sea

The Scottish Coast on the Irish Sea

Glasgow, Scotland

Late Train to Glasgow, Scotland

          After an exciting encounter with the Loch Ness Monster it was time to leave Inverness and head south for Glasgow, Scotland.  For the first and only time during my three week trip throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland, the train was late…an hour and a half late!  After finally getting underway, the nearly four and a half hour train ride, with the ticket costing $15, took us back again through the beautiful Cairngorms National Park, with stops in Perth, Gleneagles and Stirling, before arriving in Glasgow at 3:30 PM.

Glasgow, Scotland

Glasgow, Scotland

Glasgow Patter 

          Glasgow is Scotland’s most populous city and its major sights are concentrated on the north side of the River Clyde.  Its inhabitants are known as Glaswegians and even speak their own dialect, known as Glasgow patter.  Jings Crivens.  Help ma boab!  This exclamation of distress is an example of the Glasgow Scots dialect which derives from both Highland and Irish influence, the latter resulting from the large number of Irish who immigrated to this area, particularly after the Irish Potato Famine of 1846-7.  On a personal note, my great-great grandfather, Samuel Roe, who later added the ‘w’ to our name, was among those who emigrated from Ireland and settled in Scotland during this period.

City Union Railway Bridge Built in 1899

City Union Railway Bridge Built in 1899

On the River Clyde

          Due to its strategic location on the River Clyde, Glasgow has a long history dating back to prehistoric times.  Through the years it has been an important industrial, shipping, trading and educational center.  Not surprisingly, the Glasgow Central Station, built in 1879, is the busiest railway station in Scotland and is known for its unique architectural features, including the glass-walled bridge that crosses over Argyle Street.  As one of the oldest universities in the English speaking world, Glasgow University is the pride of Scotland, ranking among the top 100 institutions of higher learning in the world.  Founded in 1451, the splendid architecture of the main campus is befitting a university with a world class reputation that attracts top students from around the globe.

Glasgow University, Scotland

Glasgow University, Scotland

Many Sights to See 

          The Glasgow Cathedral with its gothic architecture is a short walk east from the center of the city.  Built in the 12th Century, it is located on the site where the patron saint of Glasgow, Saint Mungo, built his church and where he now rests in the lower crypt.  Directly behind the cathedral is the Necropolis, a cemetery opened in 1833 which contains an impressive number of monuments and affords an excellent view of the city…definitely worth the hike.  Also on the east end of the city is Glasgow Green, the city’s oldest park dating back to 1450, located on the north side of the River Clyde.  On the West end of the city, along with Glasgow University, is the Kelvingrove Park which straddles the River Kelvin just before its confluence with the River Clyde.  Created in 1852 this verdant 85 acre park is a haven for wildlife and urban dwellers alike.  As would be expected in a city with such a cultural and intellectual heritage, Glasgow has many museums, cathedrals and art galleries, many of which offer free admission to visitors.

Glasgow Cathedral, Scotland

Glasgow Cathedral, Scotland

Where I Stayed 

          Arriving in Glasgow late due to the delayed train, I didn’t have a lot of time to look for a place to stay.  After all, my first priority was to get out and start exploring this beautiful city.  Just a short walk from the train station, I found a vacancy at the Novotel Glasgow Centre for $107.  While this was more than I usually like to pay, it was a very nice room with private bath and the location was ideal.  Although it did not include breakfast, it did come with a complementary beer at the elegant bar that also served ‘spiced haggis nachos’.  How’s that for an international combination!

View of Glasgow, Scotland from the Necropolis

View of Glasgow, Scotland from the Necropolis

The Loch Ness Monster

A Close Encounter with the Loch Ness Monster

          Getting a glimpse of the Loch Ness Monster is at the top of the list of every visitor to Scotland and, of course, I was no exception.  Inverness is a picturesque city up north in the Highlands and is the best jumping off place for an expedition to see Nessie.  The train ride from Edinburgh to Inverness took us through Perth and the beautiful Cairngorms National Park in the heart of the Scottish Highlands…and the cost of the train ticket for this spectacular ride was only about $26.  Arriving in Inverness in the early afternoon, I found a great bed and breakfast called the Winston Guest House straight away.  It was located just across the bridge from town right on the River Ness and for about $74 I had a nice room with private bath and it came with a wonderful breakfast.

Inverness, Scotland on the River Ness

Inverness, Scotland on the River Ness

Loch Ness Connects to the North Sea

          The River Ness flows north from Loch Ness through Inverness (which means mouth of the River Ness) and then empties into the Moray Firth on the North Sea about 8 miles to the north.  With this close connection between Loch Ness and the North Sea, it is easy to understand how such a large sea monster came to reside in an inland lake.  Both Loch Ness and the River Ness are large, as lakes and rivers go, accounting for the monster’s ability to navigate and thrive in these waters for so many years.  It is an interesting fact that the first recorded sighting of the monster was actually in the River Ness in 565 AD.

The Spires of St. Andrew's Cathedral Across the River Ness

The Spires of St. Andrew’s Cathedral Across the River Ness

Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness

          As soon as I had checked into my room I headed to the nearby bus station to purchase the $15 round trip City Link ticket from Inverness to Loch Ness.  After a beautiful bus ride through the Scottish Highlands we arrived at Loch Ness and I disembarked near the Urquhart Castle Visitor Center since this is where most of the sightings of the Loch Ness Monster occur.  To get close to the water’s edge from this location it is necessary to purchase the $9 entrance ticket to the castle and visitor center.  I have to say, it was well worth the price of the ticket to have a chance to explore this fabulous old castle and take advantage of the breathtaking views of Loch Ness and the Great Glen, the large valley in which it lies.  The Great Glen was formed by a geological fault that runs northeast-southwest through the Highlands, virtually dividing Scotland in half.  Although much of the castle lies in ruins, visitors are allowed access to most areas and can even climb up into the main tower (Grant Tower) overlooking the water.  Dating back to the 13th century, Urquhart Castle gives visitors an interesting look into what life was like in medieval Scotland.

Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness, Scotland

Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness, Scotland

Venturing Down to the Water’s Edge 

          After exploring the castle and visitor center, I was anxious to hike down to the water’s edge for the best possible chance of seeing the Loch Ness Monster in the short time I had.  Perhaps I should have been a little more concerned that none of the other visitors were venturing away from the safety of the high ground near the castle.  When I reached the water I immediately noticed a boat offshore that looked like it might be carrying a group of scientists who were probing the waters.  As I stood there searching for any sign of Nessie, I had the distinct feeling that something was watching me from beneath the water.

Inverness Castle, Inverness, Scotland

Inverness Castle, Inverness, Scotland

Nessie Makes an Appearance

          For quite a while the water was completely still and I was beginning to think maybe this whole ‘Nessie thing’ really was just a legend.  Then I heard someone climbing down the embankment behind me so I turned to see who it was, hoping to have some company during the rest of my stake out.  I focused in on the face of a young woman just as her features were turning from excitement to horror.  She suddenly turned around and ran back up the hill towards the castle screaming like a banshee.  Hearing the sound of a loud splash, I swung back around to see what she must have seen and found the water churning with the motion caused by several large concentric rings of water ripples.  I could barely make out a large dark area in the water, just as a large wave hit the rocky beach where I was standing.  With my shoes and lower pants now wet, I scrambled back up to a perch near the foot of the castle and watched as the boat with the scientists quickly moved in for a closer look.  I stood there transfixed, hoping for another chance to see the monster, and probably would have stayed much longer had it not been that the last bus back into Inverness left at 6 PM.  Nonetheless, it was quite a thrill to have gotten that close to Nessie.  I think maybe she’s had a bad rap all these years being called a ‘monster’.  She actually seemed quite friendly and it was as though she just wanted to say ‘hello’.

Site of Loch Ness Monster Sighting Below Urquhart Castle

Site of Loch Ness Monster Sighting Below Urquhart Castle

Inverness

          Still reeling from my near-sighting of the Loch Ness Monster, I wandered around Inverness that evening in somewhat of a daze, checking out the many interesting sights.  Considered the capital of the Highlands, Inverness has a number of historic landmarks, although some were destroyed during several of the ancient battles that took place nearby.  In its earliest times Inverness was occupied by the Picts, a group of late Iron Age people who populated Northern Scotland.  Several beautiful bridges cross the River Ness at Inverness and afford stunning views of the surrounding city.  The Inverness Castle is perched on a hill overlooking the river and was built in 1835 on the site of an 11th century defensive structure.  On the other side of the river from the castle and the main city is Saint Andrew’s Cathedral built of red stone and completed in 1869.  A walk through the rest of Inverness reveals an impressive variety of architecture and historic buildings.  While its location way up north in the Highlands of Scotland may discourage some visitors, I would definitely recommend making the effort to explore this beautiful city and surrounding region.