I had heard great things about Scotland, and in particular Edinburgh. I was really looking forward to seeing it for myself. Upon arrival, we clambered on to a huge two story bus that was lit up with white and pink fluorescent lights and was scattered with backwards and forwards facing seats with tables in the middle of them.
By then it was 11pm at night, and I wasn’t too sure if I was in a bus, a nightclub. Luckily the journey was uneventful and in about 45 minutes later we were in Edinburgh and safely checked into our hotel.
Edinburgh is an old city. The old town boasts beautiful gothic style buildings and the castle sits high above the town on top of an extinct volcano. It was here we chose to venture first. More like a walled city than a castle, the complex hosts a range of buildings varying in nature from the Scottish Crown Jewels, to a museum dedicated to war.
We had a stunning day of 19 degrees and sunshine so we sat out in the sun for a light lunch. Being a long weekend, the city was alive with music and a parade and more than its fair share of bucks and hens parties parading about in fancy dress (lets just say some of the costumes clearly revealed ‘what’ was under that kilt!).
The Edinburgh festival scene is active all throughout the year. Most people have heard of the Edinburgh Comedy Festival, but it expands much beyond this and is a city rich in arts and culture. We spent a great couple of days in Edinburgh before it was time to head out to the Highlands.
Unfortunately, Sunday was not predicted to be as nice as Saturday, so we decided to head out on the train and explore Glasgow. I can honestly say other than a few statues that had been vandalised; having lunch at the pub was the highlight.
Glasgow is a city of much change and subsequently it has very little architectural evidence of its history still standing. Unlike the historic and majestic Edinburgh, it just simply did not have the same appeal to us, so we headed back after a few hours.
Monday meant saying goodbye to Pete (alas, some of us have to work) and heading out on my tour. Things did not start well, with us walking half way up hill I might add) to the meeting point for me to exclaim, “I’ve left my handbag behind”. Being the obliging gentleman that he is, Pete volunteered to run back to the hotel to get it for me so I wouldn’t be late for my check in. Fearing being chased by the police for running through town with a ladies handbag, he took the sensible step of catching a taxi back to meet me. At least it made for a funny introductory story when I got on the bus!
It was time for our road trip around Scotland to begin. We quickly made our way out of the city and headed towards Loch Ness. I had always pictured Loch Ness to be small enough that you could essentially see its boundaries and for it to be covered in green rolling hills. The view was quite different and it turns out Loch Ness is massive. I guess that makes finding Nessie all that much harder.
Now you can’t visit Loch Ness without taking a boat tour to search for Nessie herself. These days depth finders and GPS equipment takes a little fun out of the search as TV screens display images from the bottom of the lake throughout the cabin, leaving Nessie little place to hide!
The highlands are as beautiful as you have imagined. Their villages are steeped in mythology and there are plenty of stops to explore fairy rings, wishing wells and lucky pools. One such well involved a muddy hike up to a ‘fairy pool’ where the participant had to take a mouthful of the water, walk back down the hill and only once they were back down swallow the water. The mud made this rather impossible and the sight of people getting stuck and landing in giant mud puddles did remove some of the magic, but none of the hilarity!
Places like the Glencoe valley feature soaring cliffs and lush green valleys and are a hikers delight. Despite the rain, we managed to get out for a few short walks and when we were rained on weren’t all that fussed as our attention was firmly on the pristine wilderness around us.
For those amongst us who are Harry Potter fans, a ride on the Jacobite Steam train – aka the Harry Potter Train is also a highlands highlight. It is a stunning 2 hour journey though Scotland’s rugged highlands, peaking with a ride across the Glenfinnan Viaduct, pictured below. Even for those who aren’t Harry Potter fans, the views and the side of the viaduct make the train journey worth it!
Isle of Skye
Being a big fan of the TV series Outlander, and having just finished series 1, I was keen to head to the Isle of Skye. I’d had the theme song in my head for weeks and wanted to see what this island was all about.
There are a lot of things to do in Skye. It is known for its fairy pools and cascading waterfalls, Skye didn’t disappoint. In true Scotish style, it rained constantly during the course of our stay, so our sightseeing did consist of a lot of dashing on and off the bus! On a positive note, the rain made the waterfalls and the magical fairy pools all the more spectacular, and the green misty hills just a little more mysterious
The bridge from the mainland to Skye is also notable as once it was the most expensive toll bridge to cross. The loophole was, it was free to cross if you were carrying livestock. In true Scottish style, farmers set up stalls on each side of the river and cheaply rented out their sheep to travellers to carry in their car across the bridge in order to avoid the fine. The sheep was returned at the other end and the government soon revoked the toll!
The round up
We had originally entertained the idea of moving to Scotland instead of England, but after this trip, I am really glad we didn’t! The highland weather is extremely unpredictable, and although it is beautiful, the number of warm, clear days is limited to about 20 a year.
One thing is for sure, the skies are certainly bluer, the landscape more dramatic and the clouds drift across the sky in more complex colours and patterns than you would ever see back in Australia.
If you don’t have a lot of time, or want to see the best of Scotland, I would recommend this trip. If you’re a fan of getting off the beaten track, The Isle of Muck, one of the most remote areas of Scotland that is worth a visit! If you’d like to get out of the city, but only have a few days, why not try Haggis Adventures Isle of Skye tour, which at 3 days is a little more manageable.
This trip I: Cruised Loch Ness (I spotted her…honest!), danced at a Ceilidh, ate Haggis, saw Edinburgh (in the sunshine no less), met new friends, enjoyed the spectacular scenery, rode over the Glenfinnan viaduct on the Jacobite Steam train, woke up to the sun at 4:30am and not having it set until 11pm (only good if you have good curtains!), saw ‘Highland Coos’, ate a deep fried Mars Bar (naughty but good – thanks Kate!), Loved Scotland!