Our senior short-haul product manager Joanna Roberts is back! She was lucky enough to venture out on our first tour of the year. Read about her fascinating journey through stunning Scotland in our latest instalment of Staff Stories.
On May 20th 2021, our first tour of the year departed. Having waved off our last customers back in October 2020, it was such a joy to see Newmarket customers travelling again. I was fortunate to meet our first three overlapping groups in Scotland, travelling on a mixture of our popular Scottish Highland Railways and Best of the Scottish Highlands tours.
A safe journey
I stayed at both the Highlander Hotel in Newtonmore and the Carrbridge Hotel in Carrbridge for a few nights. At both sites, I really noticed how hard the staff were working to be able to operate once again, albeit under COVID-19 regulations. Yes, that meant the visual precautions we have become accustomed to, hand sanitiser stations, wearing masks indoors, glass screens at reception, but it also involved efforts behind the scenes, such as leaving bedrooms empty for 72 hours between guests staying in them.
Everywhere we went in Scotland, I felt a strong sense of responsibility to re-open tourism safely and carefully, for everyone’s long term wellbeing and enjoyment.
Sunshine? In Scotland?
I overheard one customer say: “No-one goes to Scotland for the sunshine”. Somehow, we were blessed with some blue skies and sunshine to help us enjoy our time in the Highlands.
The excursions I joined offered an incredible variety of scenery by rail, boat, and coach. I’ve got so many highlights to mention. First up were the journeys by train, one journey from the city of Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh, where alighting from the train rewarded us with views of the Skye Bridge and the Isle of Skye itself.
We spotted red deer through the train window and tried to search for otters as we journeyed along the beautiful shoreline of Loch Carron. The scenery changed from that of a cityscape to a more natural backdrop, along the south side of the Beauly Firth, and views back to the Black Isle.
The epic Glenfinnan Viaduct
On another day, we boarded a Scotrail train at Fort William and journeyed to Mallaig. Our train conductor, aka ‘The Girl On The Train’ shares images of her train journeys on her Instagram.
The highlight of the trip had to be when the train slowed as we crossed the 21 arches of the Glenfinnan Viaduct. You might have seen this impressive structure featured in the Harry Potter film franchise. We watched canal boats descend Neptune’s Staircase on the Calendonia canal, which is a creation of Scottish civil engineer Thomas Telford.
We were told that the top of Ben Nevis is only visible 50-70 days per year and yet for us, the clouds parted and we enjoyed views of the peak from the Commando Memorial near Spean Bridge.
Where’s the monster?
Later in the week, we cruised Loch Ness, trying to spot the elusive Loch Ness Monster, sadly to no avail. (Unless you count the three model Nessies outside Nessieland at Drumnadrochit!) However, views of the ruins of Urquhart Castle more than made up for it, standing prominently on the shoreline.
A bird watcher’s delight
You can never really trust wildlife to perform on cue, and our dolphin cruise on the Moray Firth did not produce any on this occasion. We did spot plenty of birdlife and a seal who had been chasing a porpoise.
As our coach drove alongside the shores of the Black Isle from picturesque Cromarty later that day, dolphins were spotted swimming along in tandem with us. So much excitement emanated from the coach.
When in Scotland, visit a castle
We also paid a visit to the 16th-century castle and grounds of Brodie Castle. We were their first group of the year so we were allowed to park our coach right out front. As well as a tour of the interior, we marvelled at the huge beech trees in the surrounding gardens.
Then we hit the Moray Coast Road. For some of us, it was the first glimpse of the sea since pre-lockdown. Ice creams and a little paddle were the order of the day!
Upon returning to the Carrbridge Hotel we were unexpectedly greeted by Spud, a local bagpipe player. I was told that he played to Madonna and Guy Ritchie when they got married in Scotland. If it’s good enough for them, it’s certainly good enough for a Newmarket holiday!