Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Scottish Isles: Dal Riada

In the 6th century an Irish tribe known as the Scotti, established their kingdom of 'Dal Riada' at Dunadd, among the lands of the native Picts. Later the 'Kingdom of the Isles' was to preserve the culture of the Gaels in Western Scotland. The tranquil glens, wooded hillsides and breathtaking beaches of Antrim, mid-Argyle, Kintyre and the Isles, still echo to the voices of these ancient peoples.

The Isle of Arran is known as 'Scotland in Miniature' and is a superb location for a hill-walking holiday. The Arrochar Alps allows for some great sightseeing, walking and whiskey tasting. "Soft water, through peat, over granite" may make for great whiskey, but it also makes for splendid scenery. This is a land of castles, eagles, deer, and tradition as old as history itself.

Between Loch Lomond and Loch Fyne lie Dal Riada's highest mountains, the rugged and rocky peaks of the Arrochar Alps. Here summits of 600 metres are the norm while the area boasts no less than 6 munros, (mountains over 3000 feet or 900m).

Ben Arthur (the Cobbler) is the most spectacular, its summit resembling a cobbler bent over his last, and is the most recognisable of all Scottish mountains. To reach the very highest point involves crawling through a rock window,'Argyll's Eyeglass'. Legend recounts that every Campbell chief had to prove his manhood by gaining the top. Above the northern reaches of Loch Lomond sprawls twin peaked Ben Vorlich. From its summit the whole 34 kilometre length of Loch Lomond can be viewed to the south, while northwards stretch endless highlands..

There is a fine low level walk from Loch Long to Loch Lomond through the heart of the Argyll National Park and of course we climb Beinn Ime the highest of the Arrochar Alps at 1011m. Inverary Castle and Gaol are among the sights we visit on the easier days. This is one trip where you don't want to forget your camera! Our hotel offers a choice of more than 500 malts and the music and craic is Scottish style!

An eleven night/twelve day holiday sampling some of the best walking in the ancient Celtic Kingdom of Dal Riada.You don't have to be a whiskey drinker as sampling the products is not compulsory!
While the Irish may have discovered whiskey (or "whisky" as the Scots spell it), the Scots claim to have improved upon it. Nine hundred billion litres of rain fall on Scotland every year and of that, nine hundred million litres of whiskey are produced.

The distilleries all have a unique approach to both their product, and how they welcome their visitors but all have a tasting session at the end and for a few moments, we can be the experts! This tour begins on the Irish Coast. We visit Ireland's only World Heritage Site, the Giant's Causeway and the dramatic rope-bridge of Carrick-a-Rede. Our first distillery is the oldest in the world, Bushmills. Our journey by sea takes us to mainland Scotland and the beautiful Arrochar Alps near Loch Lomond, and the distillery at Oban. We sail on to the Whiskey Island of Islay and walk the majestic Paps of Jura.

Our last Island is the Isle of Arran, known as 'Scotland in Miniature'. Glen Rosa and Goat Fell await us. This is one of the greatest holidays that we've ever been on!

Arran is a mere 30k by 15k and yet its high mountains and fertile coastline make this a paradise for hillwalkers. The Isle is rich in archaeological remains from stone circles and chambered graves to ancient forts. We walk in the Claughland Hills near Brodick and its castle, known for the beauty of its Garden. Above

Kilbrannan Sound we hike through the Pirnmill Hills, habitat of deer and Golden Eagles.

The remote Glens are abundant in cascading rivers and offer views that are enjoyed by so few. Glen Rosa and Goat Fell are breathtaking in their natural beauty. The Holy Isle off Lamlash is now a retreat for a community of Bhuddist monks.

In keeping with all Dal Riada ventures, the local cuisine plays an important part and 'The Taste of Arran' will not disappoint you. The Isle is famous for its cheese and of course the newest distillery in the world at Lochranza. We'll lunch at the distillery and take a walk to the source of its pure water. No island holiday would be complete without a coastal walk and we ramble the wild coast of Sannox Bay and the 'Cock of Arran'.

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