Scotland is mostly known for the Loch Ness Monster, bagpipes, kilts and whiskey. You will not forget this, but Scotland has so much more to offer, and my perception was, that not many people travel there, so that was just one more reason for me to go. I went for a week in end of June 2017, and this would be my first vacation with my girlfriend, Cecilie.
It started as a reaction to Roskilde Festival presenting a terrible music program. Even though we had both enjoyed the festival for many years, we starting leaning towards not going this year. However we couldn’t be sitting at home, watching everybody else being at the festival, so we had to do something else. Scotland was within reach, a new destination for both of us, and turned out to be an amazing country.
Except for the three largest cities Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen, most don’t know much about Scotland other than Loch Ness, whiskey and bagpipers dressed in kilts. Most travel tips we found, was renting a car or ride a train in any direction through the highlands, so we did both.
We touched grounds in Edinburgh Monday evening being slightly delayed, and decided to have a look around before going to bed. At Google Maps we found a small square building labeled “Tynecastle”. It had to be a small castle (it was right there in the name, and Scotland is famous for its many castles), so we went to have a look. We were both surprised to experience, that Tynecastle was a local football club, so there was mainly stadium stands to see, and the big sightseeing tour had to wait until Tuesday.
It was raining (obviously) most of the day, but we didn’t expect it differently, so we came prepared. Edinburgh did not really have a lot to offer in my opinion, but we had a few places we wanted to go. We started at the old Edinburgh Castle, towering over the city from a rock. The castle is in the old part of Edinburgh, which besides some very old government buildings and churches was mostly a tourist magnet. However it is pretty, and you might see a bagpiper or two here. We found cover from the rain in St. Giles Cathedral, before heading to our target from the guide book – Calton Hill. I tried to shoot the same picture as in the guidebook: From the top of the hill, Dugald Stewart Monument in the foreground and the view over Edinburgh in the background. The photographer must have been a patient man – one who was willing to wait for a moment with sunshine and no tourists. My attempt is above: One from day 1 in the rain and one from day 7 in nice weather.
The rest of the day we went to National Museum of Scotland, which had free entrance and dry surroundings.
It wasn’t much about Scotland, but there was a nice giraffe =) Later that day we got on the train and headed for Kingussie in Cairngorm National Park.
Out here we found the Scotland one would dream of. We stayed at a little inn called Silverfjord. It had just a restaurant, bar and 5 rooms in a town with around 1500 residents. I couldn’t dream it better: The train station was one of them small ones with a little building and the platform, and a little bridge connecting the two platforms. Next to the station was a small stone fountain, and the little old stone house next to the creek was the hotel. The town was surrounded by mountains and enormous sheep folds offering beautiful hiking trails.
We found the first hike somewhere online, and once we found the start around Ruthven Barracks just south of Kingussie. we just hiked the way we please along the trails across the highland. The weather was great, and we hiked between sheep, rabbits and deer. We ended up at River Tromie behind the hills, and had to turn back. It was a total hike of around 16 km.
The second hike was a little more adventure-like than planned. It was raining during all 22 km, and in the higher grounds it was so windy, that the rain fell horizontally. We held our heads high, and reminded ourselves that at one point, we could no longer get colder or wetter, while imagining how the view would have been like, if the visibility had allowed us to look further than 20 m. We couldn’t help sending skeptical look at the sheep, that were crazy enough to walk all the way up there. I know it doesn’t sound very nice, but it was a good day. Later that day we shared a 1 L ice cream and had some hot chocolate to get warm.
But it was getting wilder and more dangerous than this… Friday we got a car, and I was behind the wheel… I was a bit nervous (cause, you know, they drive on the left hand side in Scotland), but it actually went pretty well. I did slam my hand into the door a few times though, until I learned that the gear knob was at my left. From Inverness airport we drove south along Loch Ness, and made a stop at the castle ruins Urquhart. A great place to admire Loch Ness (and perhaps the Loch Ness Monster), besides the ruins of the once beautiful castle right by the lakeside and the museum next to it being quite interesting and fair priced. After the break we continued to our final destination – Isle of Skye. There was a minor detail – we did not have a place to stay overnight. We stopped at a B&B in west Scotland, that seemed to have a vacant room. At the very moment we pulled the car over, a member of the staff came out the door, at flipped to sign to “no vacancies”. We had to drive on, slowly uniting with the idea of sleeping in the car. But we only got a few hundred meters before we found a place. There was a house just by a lake between the mountains. It was owned by an old lady, and she had a vacant room. She served a huge full English breakfast the next morning, and we chatted with the guy in the other room. He was working on a bulding project close by, where the prince of Dubai apparently had decided to build a palace with a helipad and 25 bedrooms.
We left early the next morning to go find a place to stay in Portree, before exploring Isle of Skye by car. It wasn’t difficult to find a place, and so we went on to what was probably our favorite experience on the trip: The Old Man of Storr. I admit that we weren’t very well prepared for this, but the guide books recommended this. From the pictures it looked like a 5 meter pinnacle of rock, that had been pushed up by volcanic activities. Now it stood there as part of a legend. But we were about to be pleasantly surprised…
It was cloudy and windy when we parked the car, and a group of wet tourist came down the trail, as we were just about to begin. It was raining sideways and I was almost blown of the trails a couple of times. The path was steep, and the visibility was getting worse and worse. All of a sudden we could see the outline of a gigantic rock rising up from the rest of the mountain. Some had turned around due to the weather, and we didn’t quite have the feeling that we were almost at the top. We were really happy that we braved the Scottish weather but all of a sudden, the rain stopped. As we reached the Old Man of Storr it cleared up, the clouds went away and a hidden treasure appeared up there. What was all grey clouds became blue skye above, the Atlantic Ocean behind us, large green plains with small lakes and sheep around, and what was the outline of af rock was now a massive rock, towering 50 meters into the air in front of us. The struggle with the sideways rain had been forgotten, and we stayed for a few hours on the mountain, that had become almost deserted. Unfortunately the pictures don’t do this place justice, even though we took many more that could fit in this article.
Bottom line is, that Scotland is an incredibly beautiful country, and that is basically the story for the rest of the holiday. With the car we were free to go where we wanted, so we made a lot of brief stops around Isle of Skye:
Kilt Rock Viewpoint, where Loch Mealth runs over the 60 meters tall cliffs and into the ocean, moving on to Staffin Beach looking for dinosaur footprints (without luck) and to Waternish for dinner at Stein Inn – the oldest inn in Scotland, opened in 1790 more or less in the middle of nowhere.
We spent Sunday driving across Scotland, and stopped as many times as we could on our way back to Edinburgh. We had a short walk between the mountains at Fairy Pools, lunch at Eilean Donan Castle, a brief halt a Bridge of Oich and The Well of Seven Heads. The legend has it, that Colonel MacDonnel of Glengarry ordered the execution of six men and their uncle, to revenge the killing of the colonels own two suns. Their sevens heads were put on poles, and displayed as proof of the avenging. Many years later, seven heads was found in the ground, which could indicate that the story is true.
We drove back through Cairngorm National Park, and after a few hectic hours driving in the mountains we had coffee at this strange little place in the middle of nowhere called Caoldair Coffee and Craft Shop (Yummy Things). The last stop before Edinburgh was Queens View – a small opening in the trees high on the hill side with a stunning view over Loch Tummel. Before long the roads turned to highways, the folds to neighborhoods, the trees to houses and we were back in Edinburgh. We hadn’t yet seen the center of Edinburgh in the dark, and many of the old building were quite pretty with the lights on them. We even got to experience Edinburgh bathed in sunshine, and had to see some of it once more, now without rain. And of course we found a bar to try some of the Scottish whiskey.
Thank you, Cecilie for a great trip!