Last week my wife and I returned from an amazing trip. We traveled to Scotland for 7 days. The trip was a much needed reprieve from the hustle and bustle of life at home. We also had some amazing travel companions! My in-laws came with us on this epic expedition across the pond and my wife and I couldn't have been happier to have them along for the ride.
For anyone who has ever been to Scotland, this trip was set up as more of a travel vacation rather than a lounge-around vacation. I highly recommend that you visit Scotland with the same agenda. Your first visit should be focusing on traveling around and seeing all the different sights first, then when you plan on going back (which you will because it's amazing) you know where to plant your feet and relax. We stayed in 4 different cities over 7 days; Edinburgh, Dunblane, Inverness, and Oban. We were remarkably lucky with the weather. Normally in Scotland, you find a lot of rain and dreariness, but luckily, not during the small window in late August when we went. We had sun nearly everyday that we were there, with temperatures circling around 75 degrees.
Our visit started off in the capital of Scotland, Edinburgh. We stayed here the longest (which was only 2 nights) but it was the best place to start your Scotland adventure. The timing couldn't have been more perfect. We were there during the iconic, Fringe Fest. The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the largest arts festival in the world and takes place every August for three weeks.
It gave us some awesome entertainment on the streets since the festival invites traveling entertainers to perform in front of the masses in the city. We got to see things like comedy shows, magic acts, or musicians playing on the streets. It surely added to the flavor as we were walking around town and getting to know the culture.
Near the end of trip in Edinburgh we got to witness the epic ceremony that is the Scottish Military Tattoo. This is a great ceremony that takes place next to the iconic Edinburgh castle that is perched on top of a dormant volcano (dormant by a millennia, phew!) in the center of the city. The ceremony is a display of military skill and precision where other countries come to display their military proses by means of military march and music. Of course, the Scottish army was there in full swing, but other countries were involved as well. Such nations as Jordan, New Zealand, England, and of course, the US were in attendance and gave quite a show. My favorite was New Zealand, they rocked it!
For anyone looking for a quick trip to an amazing place but only have a small period of time, I highly recommend just visiting Edinburgh. The city is only a 6.3 hour flight from JFK airport and, if you time it right, you can leave the night before and get in that next morning. The city itself is very easy to commute in and everyone speaks english, so there is no problem there. There is so much to do and see there, but the best part of the city is it's people. Scots are amazingly nice and cheerful. Things like security and theft are things you seldomly have to worry about while walking around the city.
After Edinburgh we headed north to Stirling Castle. What am amazing castle. As many of you know, Scotland is the land of castle. So if you're a castle nut you might want to book a trip for the highlands. This was the only day the weather was not as great as it could be, but all in all, we really enjoyed this smaller town outside of Edinburgh. We shacked up in a cozy town called Dunblane just a 5 minute drive away from Stirling. The hotel we stayed at there was a old war hospital and was comparable to a large manor. It was freaking amazing. Oh I didn't tell you!? We drove everywhere! We rented a car and ended up driving all over the country. My father in law was the master at the wheel and he crushed it! Driving in Scotland is the same driving in England, so you are driving on the left side of the road. Even more challenging we rented a stick shift, so the shifter was in reverse. Fun fact, all speed limits are in MPH in Scotland, bet you didn't know that (your welcome trivia night you). Hats off to Roland though, driving like a champion all over Scotland. All nerved were cooled at the end of everyday with a rich Scottish meal and a class of scotch to wash it down.
After Stirling we made the long march up north towards Inverness. We stopped in several places along the way to break up the trip. We first stopped at Loch Rannoch. Maybe some of you know this, but Loch Rannoch is where many of the awesome scenes from "Outlander" were filmed. I only just started watching this show after getting back from this trip, but if you haven't watch it yet, you should because its pretty freaking good. The loch was beautiful and my picture there does not do it any justice when displaying the immensity that is that view off in the distance. It reminded me of a scene out of the hobbit with the lonely mountain off in the distance.
My favorite part of the vacation was actually not a stop we did overnight, but a small town that we stopped at after Loch Rannoch. The town was called Aviemore. We needed a break to stretch our legs and heard that this lovely city had a pretty epic hiking trail. They were right. The pic above is just a glimpse at the fern covered trail that was covered in lush colors of green with lichen that was a beautiful purple color. It was a very serene place with little lakes tucked away form the noise of the road. It was very peaceful. The city itself is something like a mountain city in Colorado. It is adjacent to the biggest natural reserve in Scotland, so many people vacation there and jump on ski slopes in the winter or brave the beautiful hiking trails in the summer. What a place! I whole-heartedly recommend!
At the end of that day we reached Inverness and stayed at our first B&B there. When my folks and I lived in Europe when we were younger, we staying at a lot of B&Bs when we traveled. But this was the first time my wife and I stayed in one, what a great experience. The service was wonderful. After a long day on the road, and an early morning wake up, we used this stop to refuel and recharge. We could've spent more time there, but ... c'est la vie!
The next morning we departed Inverness and started heading back down south along the famous Loch Ness. The drive was beautiful. We drove along water for 90% of the drive, so the views were pretty epic, like the one above. We also passed the tallest mountain in Scotland on our drive. The mountain is called Ben Nevis and was snowcapped when we passed it.
The reason for our early departure was to attend the Highland Games in Oban. Oban is about a 3-hour drive down Loch Ness from Inverness and is known as the gateway to the Scottish Isles because it acts as a ferry town that provides transport to and from different islands. It's right on the water and has an amazing view of the surrounding isles and waterways. Luckily, the Highland Games were scheduled to occur during the week that we were there, so we caught that. I could really write a whole blog post on the Highland Games, but in a nutshell, its a competition of sorts that is city-specific (meaning all cities in Scotland have their own games where the locals compete against each other in traditional sports, music, and dance competition). Aside from the competitions, there is food, crafts for sale, family-oriented events, and township groups representing various voting initiatives. It felt more like a local event than anything, which as a traveler, is what you covet most when you travel to learn more about the culture. I loved it!
After the games we were all wiped after all the driving and all the sightseeing so you cozied up at our one and only reservation at a castle. The Barcaldine Castle is nestled about 10 minutes outside of Oban is one of those place, that if you have a chance, you have to stay there if you traveling in or around Oban. This one of a kind castle has trap doors, rich mahogany smells, and a copious amount of old painters with dead people on it, ... you know, totally legit. Aside from the atmosphere, the views are spectacular, the staff is happy to answer history and local questions, and finally the food is amazing. Lindsey and her mom had a chance to have high tea while they were here. I am not a tea guy, but dang, it was awesome!
Lindsey and I knew that when we were planning this trip that by the time we were at this point of the trip, we would be looking to splurge a bit. So we ended up buying the most expensive room in the castle. We took a lot of pictures of the room, but if I were to put all those pics up, then it would take forever for you to see how awesome it was. But this pic of the bed is just a taste, it was the softest bed I had slept on in years. What can I say, when I woke up I felt ready to lead the serfs and commoners to battle!
After Oban, we drove through the Trossach Forest preserve westward towards Edinburgh but stopped along the way at a couple of places. We first stopped at a town called Callander ( pronounced like "colander", that's right, like the pasta strainer) because there was a beer fest going on at one of the local pubs. Again, another example of perfect timing on our part. Having a belly of beer and bar food, we walked around the town, did some shopping, and enjoyed a smaller quant town that is nestled in a dense ever-green forest. Our last stop of the day was at the iconic Doune Castle. It might not look like much, but this castle has been featured in many movies over the years. The one you might remember if from is "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" or if you are a bit younger, its the castle from "Outlander". Its awesome and well preserved. If you go, make sure to pay a little extra for the audio tour. It's orated by the main actor from Monty Python and has little snippets about the filming of Outlander.
I highly recommend Scotland for an amazing trip. It was very easy to get around the cities, order food, and feeling like a local. The only culture shock we dealt with was the road. Other than driving on the wrong side of the road, there are no freeways north of Stirling. That means most roads we drove on where on single lane roads with another lane of opposing traffic driving by you in a tight squeeze. I was lucky not be driving, but I did pray a couple of times to myself for Roland :).
This was my second trip to Scotland and I loved it. The next time I go I will likely stay at the Isle of Skye for a week long trip. That island is one of the many island surrounding northwest Scotland, but it's known for it's epic views and isolated atmosphere. All in all, the timing of the trip couldn't have been more perfect, .. I say that like 5 times in this post. Perfect weather, events, festivals, and scenery.