A day in Scotland – Loch Lomond, Inveraray Castle and Luss
Greenock is jumping off point for Scottish Highland adventure
When our cruise ship docked at Greenock, Scotland we hoped to hire a private driver and venture into the Scottish Highlands once on shore. If we could not get a driver we would find transport to Glasgow 45 minutes away.
We avoid cruise ship tours when we can, finding them expensive and preferring to be more in control of what we see and how long we stay. We were traveling as a group of four, which made hiring a private driver a no-brainer at half the cost per person of a cruise line big bus tour.
We often research and reserve drivers ahead of time. Other times we wing it, wander ashore and take our chances. Non-cruise excursions run the risk of not getting back to the ship in time, but our drivers have always been mindful of traffic conditions and find alternate routes if accidents of backups occur.
Good fortune shined upon us as we disembarked and discovered Gordon from Inverclyde Taxis. The company has a greeter and drivers at the Greenock port on cruise days and offers preset or custom tours for £30 per hour (minimum four hours). After the fact, we discovered that cruise passengers can reserve a tour in advance via the website, which we recommend.
Scotland’s Loch Lomond
Our first taste of the Scottish Highlands was something to remember. The sparsely populated region is home to rugged mountains and deep lochs. It has a mystical feel of history, tartans, kilts and the clans who once ruled the land. Gordon entertained us with the region’s history and folklore, as we saw farms and tiny villages that dot Loch Lomond and date back hundreds of years. Loch Lomond is the largest freshwater body of water in mainland Britain and is featured in the Scottish love song we all know “Bonnie Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond.”
Our first stop was Inveraray Castle, built in the 1700s and the ancestral seat of the Duke of Argyll, chiefs of the Campbell clan who have resided in Inveraray since the 1300s. One thing that made this so special is that the current Duke and Duchess of Argyll live in the home with their children. The Duke is often found working in the gift shop and autographing books to the delight of castle visitors.
We’re big fans of the PBS series Downton Abbey, so it was exciting to learn that Inveraray Castle served as the fictional “Duneagle Castle” in the two-hour 2012 season finale. Home of Lord Grantham’s cousin, Shrimpie, the show used interior and exterior castle locations, plus the surrounding countryside.
A 1975 fire did major damage to the castle, but it has been meticulously restored.
The Armory Hall is iconic to the castle. The ceiling, at 21 meters, is said to the highest room of any house in Scotland. The walls display 1300 pieces of 16th and 17th century pole-arms, muskets, broadswords and axes. Much of the display comes from the Argyll Militia and was used at the Battle of Culloden.
Rooms are preserved in time
Many of the castle rooms look much like they would’ve when the castle was first inhabitated. The State Dining Room features elaborate paintings, tapestry dining chairs, table and sideboards commissioned especially for the room in the late 1700s. The Tapestry Drawing Room is decorated in Parisian style and still retains the original set of Beauvais tapestries in the setting specifically designed for it.
Town of Inveraray and Loch Fyne
From the castle, it’s a quick trip to the town of Inveraray, Scotland. The current town was designed and constructed at the time of the castle, and little has changed. It’s grand Main Street fronts Loch Fyne. We had lunch at the George Hotel, originally built as two private homes and combined into a hotel in 1860 by the Clark family, who seven generations later still reside in the hotel.
Luss – a village of stone houses and flowers
Luss, a popular village an hour from Glasgow, was our last stop on our day of touring. Its neat lanes of stone homes once housed workers for the nearby slate quarry and sawmill. Often regarded as the “prettiest village in Scotland,” Luss is a designated conservation area to preserve its historical charm. Covered in flowers, the houses lead to a pier where many come to tour Loch Lomond.
Luss Parish Church
Luss can get crowded with tourists. A great escape is to tour the 19th-century Luss Parish Church. This has been the site of a religious settlement for hundreds of years and its grave markers reveal that history, including an 11th-century viking grave marker known as a hogback stone. The Luss Pilgrimage Centre, just next door, tells the story of St. Kessog who, legend says, came from Ireland and established a monastery more than 1,500 years ago.