Over the last year I have been up to Scotland a couple of times; once during Christmas and again at the end of summer. Normally I wouldn't visit the same place twice in such a short amount of time, but there was a girl I wanted to see. Towards the end of the second trip, I found the girl I was flying halfway around the world to visit wasn't quite as interested in me as I thought. Shit happens. We all act like fools now and then. I am no exception.
Despite my last visit leaving a sour taste in my mouth, Scotland is wonderful. It is naturally beautiful with a deep historical richness. And what a history! You could say, in typical British understatement, that Scotland has a ‘bit of a turbulent past’. By that you would mean the Scots have been fighting over everything since time began, especially if the English are involved. In recent football matches between Ireland and Scotland, it was reported that both supporting crowds were chanting “We hate England more than you”.
The highlands of Scotland roll with heather covered hills and the moors appear empty and lonely. The lakes are a cold, iron grey, appearing deep, freezing cold and extremely uninviting. Only a Scottish monster would choose to live in one. Definitely a place worth visiting, just perhaps not for the weather.
It is easy to get around on trains, busses and ferries. New Zealanders can generally drive there without issue as all the road rules are very similar. Australians would likely agree, except for the notable lack of fridge-sized marsupials leaping eagerly into oncoming headlights. Looking at this website, it appears almost anyone can drive there, which seems rather trusting to me.
Here’s a list of things of the things I did in Scotland that I would recommend.
If you go to Scotland, you will likely visit the capital city of Edinburgh. There is plenty to do here, enough for me to write a separate article. I spent most of my time in Edinburgh and had the opportunity to get into a routine; buy groceries, eat dinner, go to a traditional céilidh. That’s pronounced KAYlee. Not SaeLEEduhuh. Just the normal things Scottish people do. I also managed to find coffee that wasn’t shit. You have no idea how happy this made me. Suffice to say, it is worth a visit if only to see the old town and the Castle. If you can, get along during August and check out the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
I've mentioned it in the Edinburgh article, and I will mention it again. Whisky! Regardless whether you believe whisky is liquid sunshine or the devil leading you astray, you’d be remiss if you didn’t have a dram or two of scotch while you were there. There are distilleries all over Scotland, many with their own tours, showing you everything from each stage of whisky production to the differences in tastes. Alternatively, you can plonk yourself down at any local bar, start at one end and work your way along. It is entirely up to you which of these experiences feels more authentic. Either will offer a complimentary Scottish hangover to go with your haggis and blood pudding breakfast.
A short drive north of Edinburgh, the hermitage is a rather pleasant walk through one of the gardens made famous during the 18th century. It is a beautiful place to visit and stroll through the grounds, inspecting the folly and various other buildings. There are old stone bridges, perfect for Instagram photos, and you can spend hours enjoying the peace....and the midges. Enjoy the midges.
The highlands are bleak and empty, with the kind of of cold, desolate beauty you expect from Scotland. Driving through the moors you can see why this land bred such a tough people. It is rugged, harsh and unforgiving.
While you will probably be thinking of William Wallace as there are mentions of him all over the place, I also challenge you to drop “there can be only one” into a conversation somewhere. If you don't get that reference, then you almost have no business reading this blog. You may not be old enough to have developed the sort of cynicism I expect from my readers. However, to be contradictory, I am an optimistic person, so I have hope for you yet.
Isle of Skye and the Outer Hebrides
I definitely recommend visiting the islands if you are able to. I wrote more in this article about Skye and the Outer Hebrides. The largest of the Inner Hebrides offers a huge number of trails to wander along, and the castles of Clan MacDonald and Clan MacLeod, both worth a visit. Again, dramatic scenery and landscapes...and whisky of course, at the Talisker Distillery. There are fairy pools on Skye which are nice, despite the notable lack of fairies. You’re welcome to try have a swim, in the fairy pools, or at one of the beaches. Please let me know how that goes. The Storr and the Old Man of Storr is an amazing trail with spectacular views. It’s a walk of a few hours and you will not be disappointed.
Eilean Donan Castle
Made famous during the filming of Highlander (there can be only one!!), this castle was rebuilt and restored in the early 20th century and there are now tours that run through the castle. You can also purchase a cup of tea or coffee from the small cafe. If you are heading to Skye, you should pass by. Eilean Donan means "island of Donnán". It is not named after a woman called Eileen, famously asked to 'come on' during the dark era of 80's music.
It is a lake. Quite a large one as far as lakes go. While I openly admit to not actually touching the water, I believe I have enough experience to state it was cold. The water is murky due to a high content of peat and thus visibility is very poor. Other than being a large cold lake, it is of course the home of the much debated Loch Ness Monster, whose existence has remained scientifically unproven since 565 AD when Saint Columba came across it feasting on a sailor and promptly banished it with a walking stick and the power of Christ. At least that is according to the story written a short hundred years after the actual event. Regardless of whether you are a believer or not, I guarantee you will still look out across the beautiful panoramic views, take in a deep breath of the cool, fresh air and keep a quiet lookout for the telltale ripples of Nessy swimming away.
The silent, eerie ruins of Urquhart Castle sit on the banks of Loch Ness and provide wonderful views of the lake, especially at sunset, which lasts about 4 hours during a normal Scottish winter. The castle had passed back and forth between the Scots and the English for hundreds of years until one side decided to just destroy it completely and be done with it. It is one of the most popular sites where people claim to have seen the Loch Ness Monster. I believe this is because there are park benches and the people who claim to have seen Nessy seem the sort who prefer sitting down a lot.
This is another lake. And it’s also big. It is also cold of course. It is also pretty. I know this isn’t going to do it much justice, because I can’t just add “this is amazing you should go here” to everything on this list. If you’re going to be wandering through Scotland, you’ll probably be interested in either awesome landscapes or a shitload of booze. You’ll find both of these things in Loch Lomond. Double hit. Boom Boom.
In 1746, the ragged remnants of the Jacobite uprising were soundly defeated, ending the last attempt to bring Charles Stuart to the throne. If that doesn’t make any sense to you, it will after you visit Culloden Battlefield. It was the last pitched battle on British soil. There is a visitor centre and some interactive displays. If you’re driving past, take a look and soak in some of the history of this place.
While there isn’t a great deal to see here, if you’re on your way into the Highlands, then you may pass by Glencoe, whereby you should stop and take in the details of this story, the Massacre of Glencoe.
Here is how it was told to us, though you must forgive me for paraphrasing as the storyteller was embellishing a great deal while playing this song over the loudspeakers.
In February, 1692 around 120 men led by Captain Robert Campbell were welcomed into the homestead of the MacDonalds. After several weeks of sheltering there,, they woke up one morning and started butchering everyone in a coordinated attack across the glen. The memory of this massacre has lasted 400 years. The full story includes a lot more plotting and subtext, which you will learn about in Glencoe...or on the internet if you’re interested.
There is still a pub in Glencoe that states it will not serve hawkers or Campbells. I smiled and assumed they were joking, but you never know with Scots. If you’re a Campbell, maybe keep the news to yourself.
Happy travelling. Go to Scotland sometime. If you are anything like me, you will love it.