Traveling With Ryan – Scotland
For those of you that don’t know, I moonlight at an escorted tour company in my native Rhode Island. One of the perks of working for the tour company is that I have the ability to travel more than most, and when I do travel, it’s usually with a tour guide who is experienced in the region or country I’m traveling to. Traveling is one of my favorite passions, and it’s a great way to experience a culture’s history, cuisine and lifestyle. I recently went to Scotland, so I’d like to share some of the pictures I took and the things I learned while I was there. If you have any questions or comments, comment on this post or reach out to me on Twitter @averagenobodies.
Scotland has somewhat of a bloody history, and pretty much every story you hear ends with someone getting hung, beheaded or stabbed. Luckily present day Scotland has slightly less hangings, beheadings and stabbings, and it’s a beautiful place to tour. My tour started out in Edinburgh and ended in Glasgow while we toured St. Andrews, Aberdeen, Inverness and Skye in between. If you look at the map below, the tour route ends up looking like a giant arch.
We toured battlefields, including the Battle of Culloden where the Royal Army under King George II squashed the Jacobite rebellion for good. They’ve preserved the battlefield, although it’s now about 1/3 the size it once was. It was still a surreal experience walking around where thousands of troops lost their lives fighting for what they believed in.
Outside of battlefields, the main sites are castles and palaces. We visited the ruins of Urquhart Castle off of Lake Loch Ness, a beautiful castle that was somewhat destroyed during the constant back and forth battles between the Scots and the English. Although it’s only partially preserved, it’s still a gorgeous site:
We also toured Kilchurn Castle in the Scottish highlands, another castle partially preserved after the constant warring. Note to anyone traveling to Scotland with older tourists: don’t ask them to take a picture of you in front a castle, because they will actually take a picture of you in front of the castle:
Thankfully, I also got some good pictures:
In between the Highlands and Edinburgh we visited St. Andrews, and I was able to walk the Old Course, which is where the PGA holds the British Open every year. At first glance the course looks relatively easy, but once you’re actually outside near the course, the winds are in excess of 30 mph. Any golfer knows those aren’t ideal conditions to play in, but it is a beautiful place.
We also toured the Blair Athol Distillery in Pitlochry. It’s an interesting place with a ton of history, and I’d strongly urge you to have a scotch tasting while in Scotland. After we toured the distillery, we partook in a tasting of their Highland Single Malt Scotch Whiskey, which you can only find in Scotland, Norway and Denmark. If I had to describe it in one phrase, it would be ‘I wanted to die’.
While the Scottish Highlands were beautiful, Edinburgh was the highlight of my trip. It’s a truly amazing city, and if you ever get the chance to travel to Scotland, make sure you spend a good amount of time in Edinburgh and plan the rest after that. Edinburgh is broken up into the Old Town and the New Town. If I had to recommend one, it would be the Old Town. That’s where I stayed, more specifically in the Grassmarket district, which used to be the main place for executions in the city of Edinburgh. While I didn’t see any killings during my stay, we did have a perfect view of Edinburgh Castle right outside our hotel:
The main thing to remember about Scotland is that the castles were for military defense while the palaces served as living quarters for the Royal families. Edinburgh Castle is right in the heart of the city and sits atop the Royal Mile (a street that starts at the Castle and ends at the Palace of Holyroodhouse). There are an insane amount of museums, pubs and restaurants, and it’s truly a surreal experience to visit a castle built in the 12th century and then drink a pint at a pub two minutes down the road. Once inside the Castle, it’s absolutely worth it to tour the Royal Palace, the Great Hall and the Scottish National War Memorial.
Any Harry Potter fans will love Edinburgh, because that’s the city where J.K Rowling started and finished writing the series of books. Edinburgh inspired most of the architecture that Rowling included in Harry Potter, and she started writing the books at a local café called the Elephant House. Rowling was a struggling writer at the time, and found it cheaper to pay for a cup of coffee rather than pay her heating bill at home. When she returned to Edinburgh to finish the series, she stayed at the Balmoral Hotel, which is only a 15 minute walk from the Grassmarket district.
Another cool site in Edinburgh is Arthur’s Seat, a 3 mile hike that I somehow completed even though I have the physical endurance of an asthmatic senior citizen. While the hiking itself wasn’t very fun, the views are worth the trip:
The food in Scotland was amazing, and well beyond my expectations. Yes, I did have haggis, and while it wasn’t great, it’s something I’d definitely recommend trying while you’re in Scotland. Their main cuisine consists of fresh seafood and vegetable soups, but I also had chicken, beef and lamb dishes that were out of this world. The pubs were a lot of fun, and although we were in Edinburgh on Sunday and Monday nights, it was easy to see that it’s a lively atmosphere once the sun goes down. Food and drinks were affordable everywhere we went (including hotels) and the people could not have been nicer.
While it’s impossible to sum up an entire country in one blog post, I hope that this was helpful to any future travelers who might be looking at exploring Scotland. It’s a beautiful place, and well worth your time. Now, I’ll leave you with a video of ducks sliding down a slide while a dog looks on at a Scottish farm I visited.