In the last week or two, I’ve been thinking a lot about Scotland, one of our very favorite places in the whole wide world to visit. I’m not sure why it was on my mind, maybe because it was May 2016 when we were last there, our first being 2014. Or maybe, despite the continuing risks related to the pandemic, I’m ready to travel somewhere distant, preferably across an ocean. Somewhere like Scotland!
What is so special about Scotland? I don’t have a drop of Scottish blood in my veins, unless a wayward ship of Scottish warriors made a port call in Prussia (now Germany) or Norway or Sweden back in the 1700s. No, it’s something about the people, the land, and culture that attracts us. If we had to live any where outside the United States, it would be the Highlands of Scotland or just about any place in this country, a part of the United Kingdom. Click here, here, and here for a few of my previous posts on Scotland.
Compared to the US, Scotland is small. It has about the same land mass as South Carolina, the 40th state in size. Nearly 5.5 million people call Scotland their home with about one-fifth living in the two largest cities, Glasgow and Edinburgh.
On this reminisce tour of Scotland, I’ll take you on a quick visit to Edinburgh and the Highlands. Hope you enjoy the tour!
For my Traveling Partner and I, every visit to Scotland began and ended in Edinburgh, a city we love. It has the look and feel of London without all the people and traffic. Edinburgh is the seat of the Scottish government that has limited power to legislate. They can decide on matters related to education, social services, and transportation. The real governmental and political power is in London.
If you recall recent history, Scotland voters went to the polls in September 2014 to vote on a referendum of Scottish independence. We were in Scotland leading up to that vote, everyone took a side and had an opinion. The vote failed 55% to 45% with an astonishing 85% turnout. A few years later, while in Scotland for the second time, the Brexit vote was occurring in the United Kingdom. The vote to leave the European Union passed. Scotland voted to stay mainly because of jobs. Lots of Scots found good jobs on the Continent, with the vote to leave most of them would return to the UK to less economic opportunity. This vote split families and pitted neighbors against neighbors. It was not a pretty sight, not unlike the current political climate in the US.
In addition to being the capital, Edinburgh is also the banking, finance, and insurance center of Scotland. Five university campuses are at home in the city, including one of the topped rated in the world, the University of Edinburgh. The city is filled with tourist and cultural sites. Such as the Edinburgh Castle, Scotland’s most famous landmark and one of Britain’s most visited tourist attractions. Add in the Palace of the Holyroodhouse (the Queen’s official Edinburgh residence), the Parliament Building, Arthur’s Seat, Calton Hill, and the National Museum of Scotland, there’s plenty to keep visitors busy for four or five days.
A leisurely stroll up the Royal Mile from Holyroodhouse to the Edinburgh Castle will take you past historical sites, churches, restaurants of all types and flavors, whisky tasting rooms, clubs, and shops of all sorts.
Here are few views of Edinburgh.
This view is of the city looking towards the Firth of Forth in the distance background. Calton Hill is to the upper right.
This photo was taken from Calton Hill towards Edinburgh Castle in the upper center.
The tour of Edinburgh Castle is a must do while in the city. Our favorite part was the memorial to the Scots that died during the Great War. It a was very moving tribute. It was worth the entrance fee just to see the display.
The Edinburgh Castle from the back.
Arthur’s Seat in the distance, rises over 800 feet above the city. The view from there is spectacular. This photo was taken from St. Giles Church on the Royal Mile.
One of our favorite places to lounge and people watch is the Princess Street Gardens. Around lunch time, workers come out of their nearby offices to eat lunch and catch a few rays. We joined them for lunch after purchasing sandwiches, crisps, and drinks at the Marks and Spencers shop across the street. Note how orderly and socially distanced the Scots are during ordinary times.
Like every city, town, and village in Great Britain, Edinburgh offered up their young men to service during the Great War (WWI). The memorial below was given by Americans of Scottish descent to honor Scots who fought in the Great War (World War I).
One of the many shops was one that specialized in kilts, the traditional dress of men and boys in the Highlands.
This photo shows the manufacturing and sale of tartan cloth. Each Scottish clan has a specific color and pattern plaid fabric as a way to identify their clan. Just the other day, I saw an article that one tartan cloth maker created a special design in blue and yellow to raise money for Ukraine. Hope they do well.
This was a quick tour of Edinburgh, a must see city. We haven’t been to Glasgow, it sounds like it has a different vibe, less formal and more boisterous than Edinburgh. Next visit we’ll check out Glasgow and what it has to offer.
Our first look at the Highlands was in 2014, when we took a day long (365 miles round trip!) bus tour northwest from Edinburgh. We went as far as Loch Ness at Fort Augustus. No we didn’t see the monster but we did look! There are excursions that take visitors on a cruise down the Loch, we opted out to relax in warm sun and wander the quaint village.
At Fort Augustus, there is an actual lock that small watercraft use to navigate the many lochs (lakes) connected by rivers. In the photo below, the boats below entered from the higher river and lowered to the level of Loch Ness. I’m sure they are looking for the monster. Good luck!
We were so enthralled with the Highlands during our bus tour that we vowed to return to spend more time. In May 2016, we made that happen. We rented a car in Edinburgh for a twelve day visit. Yes, the car was a right hand drive with a manual transmission and GPS. Reminder to self: Next time reserve an automatic!
From Edinburgh, we travel north to Inverness, a city on the River Ness with a population of nearly 50,000. Our lodging was ten miles east of Inverness at the Balblair Cottages. The cottages were on a small working farm with horses, cows, and sheep. Being country kids at heart, we loved this place, it was so quaint and quiet. In fact, the cottages formerly houses the pigs, so I guess you can say we slept in the pig pen!
The nearest village to Balblair was Nairn where we enjoyed a delicious lunch and window shopping along High Street.
Inverness is a mix of the old and the new. We like the old better. Note the two churches fronting the River Ness.
Down the way was tavern with three guys having a smoke outside. I like the saying above their heads. Those Scots do relish those sips of whisky. I enjoyed it too!
Another memorial to those soldiers that died in WW1.
One day during our stay near Inverness, we ventured south of Inverness about 50 miles to the Cairngorms National Park. In the lower part of the park, it was sunny and pleasant. We drove to the high point, there was still snow on the mountain and skiing was in progress. After picking up snacks and checking out the gifts shops, we returned to the car just in time for it to start raining, sleeting, and snowing. It felt like home! At the bottom, we stopped at Aviemore, a tourist town just outside the park.
After a wonderful six days in the Inverness area, we headed to the western coast of Scotland to Lochcarron located on… well, Loch Carron! This village of around 1000 people stretches for about two miles along the loch. The highway through town connects to the Applecross Peninsula and the road is also part of the North Coast 500, Scotland’s Route 66. Below is a view of the loch from the beach in Lochcarron.
Our lodging was at the Loch Dubh, it’s the little house at the top of the driveway. It’s run by the Mackenzie family of the Clan Mackenzie. Wonderful hosts and delightful accommodations if you should find yourself in the area. I should note they are on the hill overlooking the loch and the village. So a walk down to the village requires a strenuous walk up! But definitely worth the work.
During our stay, we drove the highway around the Applecross Peninsula. The road is paved but narrow with passing places every few miles should you meet a car or someone is tailgating. I should note the speed limit on some of these roads was 20 km per hours, equivalent to 12 mph!
Along our drives we saw lots of sheep and a few Heilan coos (Highland cows in Gaelic).
Once we got up close to a stag (deer) standing right beside the road.
The rugged scenery in this part of the Highlands is so spectacular. We never tired of the villages, crofts (small farms), mountains, rivers, and the sea.
We enjoyed touring the Eilean Donan Castle at the confluence of three lochs. Once inhabited by the Clan Mackenzie it’s now owned by a charitable trust. Certainly worth the stop and tour.
At the castle we saw this WW1 memorial to the Clan Macrae that at one time was connected to this castle. It was the Canadian Scotsman, John McCrae of this clan, that wrote the famous war memorial poem, “In Flanders Fields.” He died near the end of the war.
Much too soon, it time to make our way back to Edinburgh for our flight home. We often talk about our time in Scotland, it’s provided us with so many good memories. We yearn to return, maybe next year. A few tips for folks thinking of traveling to Scotland. Check out the posts by a fellow blogger Samantha Grant. She’s an authority on unique getaways and interesting places to stay. You can find Samantha and Casper, her wee white dug (dog) at https://theweewhitedug.com. Don’t be afraid to rent a car and drive. You’ll enjoy getting off the beaten path. Chat up the locals, to a person they have a gift of gab that is incomparable and a joy to the ear. Stop at some of the old cemeteries, a lesson in history. And as always, enjoy the scenery.
Hope you enjoyed the tour. Come back next week for another edition of Traveling With Tom.
Until then, happy travels!