Europe Trip: Scotland

After having great time on tour in Ireland, I continued the Celtic leg of my holiday with a car trip around Scotland.

Fridge magnet count: 3 – one of them was a clan magnet for Clan Mackintosh, which I bought because it had an angry-looking cat as a crest (and the motto Touch Not The Cat Bot A Glove).

Haggis, aye or nay? I have no reservations about consuming sheep’s heart, liver and lungs, so I thought it was delicious. My favourite thing was the locals fooling the tourists with a story of haggis referring to a native Scottish three-legged animal. One restaurant even listed “freshly caught haggis” on its menu.

Our car: brand new Ford Fiesta. Mum and I were stoked to discover its best feature, the heated seats!

Weather: forget the sun and blue skies, our definition of good weather in Scotland basically narrowed down to “no rain”.

Edinburgh

Edinburgh is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve been to. Its stately sandstone architecture gives it a distinctive look, it has a magnificent don’t-mess-with-me castle on a hill, and thanks to my Scottish friend I caught up with I also got to explore its gorgeous quieter spots like Stockbridge and Royal Botanic Garden. The Royal Mile in Edinburgh’s Old Town might as well be renamed Cashmere Mile, because most of the shops on the streets were selling cashmere scarves, sweaters and the rest. We also had a fun night out at the Edinburgh Playhouse, where we saw Agatha Christie’s Mousetrap (I already knew who the killer was but that didn’t dampen my enjoyment).

Castles, Castles, Castles!

It’s fair to say that we planned our car trip around the castles we wanted to visit. Counting Edinburgh Castle, we explored seven of them (we also went up to Stirling Castle but didn’t go inside other than the gift shop… so maybe seven and a half?). You could roughly split the castles into two categories: a) opulent stately homes with enormous grounds and manicured lawns, and b) castles that are mostly remarkable for their stunning natural setting.

Balmoral Castle, the Scottish residence of the Royal Family since Queen Victoria, was unquestionably the prettiest castle of them all. Its interior is off limits to the public, but on the outside it looks like a beautiful grey cake. We were very impressed with the interiors of Glamis Castle, however Blair Castle was even more showy, and earned extra points from us for actually allowing inside photography.

Of the “scenic” castles, Dunnottar Castle looks exactly like you’d imagine a romantic Scottish coastline to be; it was worth battling the rain and bitter wind. Urquhart Castle is another picturesque ruin on the shores of Loch Ness, while Eilean Donan Castle turned out to have a well-furnished and cosy interior. However it’s mostly notable for its surrounds, which were gloriously atmospheric and moody on the day.

Isle of Skye

We weren’t even sure if we were going to make it to the Isle of Skye, but it turned out to be a huge highlight of the entire trip, with some of my favourite scenery. It easily invites superlatives like majestic, epic, awe-inspiring and so on. We were so caught up in it that we didn’t realise until too late that we weren’t going to make it to our next accommodation before the check-in closed, but in hindsight it was better to spend more time on Skye, even if we had to scramble and make last-minute plans for a hotel back in Inverness.

The only thing I didn’t love were the single track roads that permit two-way travel with the use of passing places. This means travelling in a jolting start-and-stop fashion that did nothing for my motion sickness. I was mentally prepared for the winding mountain roads, but by the time we got to the Fairy Pools walk I was on the verge of nausea.

Hairy Cows and Loch Lomond

Highland cows are absolutely adorable, and we saw a couple briefly on the Isle of Skye, but we really got to see them face-to-face on our way to Loch Lomond on the last day. We also made the most of the miserable weather with a cruise on Lake Katrine, and a short hike along beautiful Loch Lomond. Our last stop before driving back to Edinburgh was Stirling; we thought that Stirling Castle basically looked like a smaller version of Edinburgh Castle, so we satisfied ourselves with the walk up to the castle walls, and a nice view of the valley below and the National Wallace Monument.

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