Originally published October 16, 2014
"Not all those who wander are lost." J.R.R Tolkien
With a different bed every night, two islands, two cities a ferry and a lot of mileage in our Audi A5 we discovered the diverse landscapes, people and culture of Scotland.
I had a few cringes and eyebrow raises when I told people that I would be traveling with my in-laws, especially on a journey that had us confined to a car for hours at a time. Seasoned travelers themselves, I was more interested in what they would offer and contribute to my experience (ha selfish me), than the possibility of a National Lampoon style vacation. I give them huge props for going in blindly and trusting me with the itinerary.
We arrived in Glasgow via Reykjavik, Iceland. If you have not had an opportunity to fly with Icelandair, next one you get, take it. I have flown with them a handful of times and they always manage to exceed my expectations. They are quirky and unpretentious, but offer genuine feel good service. Plus if you have an extra day or two, you are able to stop in Iceland, at no extra charge.
In Glasgow, we were privy to the hot political scene and the leftovers of the 2014 Commonwealth games. The city immediately gives off the aura of a being built around the working class, a charm and delight for anyone wanting to experience Scotland without the bells and whistles that adorn many tourist cities. My hiking boots had their inaugural trek up to the Glasgow Necropolis where I was treated to a view of the city and the cathedral. We walked side by side through the sea of passionate Glaswegians as they rallied for the upcoming referendum vote. And it was here that I was introduced to Marks and Spencer's Percy the Pig.
Heading north, we made a detour from my original itinerary to stop at Stirling Castle, which was highly recommended by the customs agent as something we couldn't miss. On reflection we could have bypassed it, my schedule already had us seeing half a dozen castles, and I personally felt that Stirling was a great example of gaudy over-priced tourism. If your starting point is Glasgow head to Edinburgh Castle instead (20 minutes extra to your drive) the prison alone will make up for what you think you will be missing at Stirling. Up for a drive? Surrounded by mountains and three converging lochs, Eileen Donan Castle, is Scotland's most photographed and for good reason. Even if you don't have time to visit inside, the spectacular vista will be sufficient. Duvegan castle on the Isle of Skye is currently still a residence and is fully furnished, a living museum and has been home to the Chief's of Macleod of the MacLeod clan for over 800 years.
Have I mentioned that we had really great weather yet? Uncharacteristically sunny and warm, which made for great outdoor excursions. The Nevis Glen gorge is conveniently situated only a short drive outside of Fort William. With Ben Nevis in the foreground we hiked our way along a steep, rocky trail towards Scotland's second highest waterfall, Steall Falls. A few days later on the Isle of Skye we embarked on a little known (not found in our travel guide books) but incredible trek where we were led past a succession of crystal clear pools and waterfalls, known as the Fairy Pools. I may have been dehydrated but the landscape felt enchanted and mystical.
Everything was running so smoothly. We were now in the middle of our trip and as we drove alongside Loch Ness I refrained from blinking, hoping to share a moment with the famous resident Nessie. She was asleep, but instead of a sighting we were offered a fairy tale sunset, everything was perfect. We entered Inverness with hopes of rest. Unfortunately everything was booked; hotels, motels, B&B's, for no apparent reason Inverness was full. As our hopes and patience were diminishing, we were rescued not only by a beautiful guest house outside of the city but also a handful of really nice locals (seriously, one actually led us to the location in there car).
Do you have a travel wish list? I have one, but it is extensive; to be able to visit all of the UNESCO world heritage sites. A visit to the Orkney's, (a cluster of islands just north of the mainland) allowed me to check off a few. Skara Brae, the Ring of Brodgar and the Standing Stones of Stenness make for a mind blowing experience. Skara Brae (a neolithic village) is older than the Giza pyramids and the Great Wall of China, and was discovered by fluke quite recently. I was humbled by time. This was possibly my favourite part of our trip.
The conclusion of our trip found us in Leith, a suburb of Edinburgh along the waterfront, which was an ideal spot for us to plant ourselves. A quick bus ride to the Old City and a fantastic selection of restaurants nearby on a strip dubbed The Shore we were more than delighted to be a bit of distance away from the more touristy areas. A couple of my favourite meals on this trip were eaten in Edinburgh, a piping hot shepherd's pie at The Doric (with claims to being the oldest gastro pub in Edinburgh) and a hog roast roll with crispy crackling and apple sauce straight from the farm at Oink, a simple restaurant serving up a roast of pork, with different dressings. Visiting the Old City is easy, starting off early (avoid the lines) at Edinburgh castle and continue down the Royal Mile to Holyrood Palace. At dark we joined a haunted tour (City of the DeadTours, The Double Dead walking tour), that led into underground vaults where we were regaled with stories of ghosts and poltergeists. The tour concluded in the Covenanter's prison, a concentration camp of sorts with it's history of hauntings.
Oh my, I could keep going. With the small town hospitality of Fort William, Portree, and Kirkwall, to the landscapes, the food and the mythology, Scotland really has something for everyone. If you have any questions or would like more details, comment below. If you have been, what was your favourite part?
A huge, huge thank you to my in laws, you make wonderful travel companions. I will treasure this adventure for the rest of my life. And may you never have to drive 1000 plus miles on the left hand side again. Cheers to Scotland, you surprised me, you taught me and most importantly you welcomed me. I will visit again. Luv K8e