Scotland – yes or no?

Definitely yes.

DSCF2700Don’t get me wrong. This post has nothing to do with politics. It’s just that all the people I spoke with, were wondering why I have chosen Scotland as my summer holiday destination. Having spent 6 days around Scotland and 2 days in Edinburgh, I have even more arguments FOR this choice of destination. Actually, 221 of them. This was one of the hardest photo selections in my life. If you go there, do try to combine it with Iceland just like we did.

It’s true, this might have been my last visit to Scotland as part of UK after today’s referendum. Or my last visit to the UK as such. The discussions with locals on the subject have been extremely interesting to me given my International Relations background. I will not go into details due to the political nature of the topic and my work. Funny thing is that next month I will be visiting… Catalonia’s main city – Barcelona.

Before I continue, I want to go back to what inspired my Scotland/Iceland trip. Many people were laughing but I got exactly what I was looking for: get out of the heat and find peace in lands where sheep are more than people. I was searching for nice islands for a road trip in Europe and the Scottish Outer Hebrides (Lewis and Harris) came on top of a best beaches ranking. In the end, we never got to them but what we saw was still spectacular. Let’s see if you would agree with me. This is my longest post so I guess a table of contents might be useful.

Day 1: Luggage-free ~67 miles drive
Day 2: No vacancies ~197 miles drive
Day 3: Glens, bens & lochs ~175 miles drive
Day 4: After the rain, comes the rainbow ~184 miles drive
Day 5: Rugged beauty ~275 miles drive
Day 6: The whisky trail ~148 miles drive
Day 7: Road to Iceland ~85 miles drive
Day 11: Royal reception
Day 12 & 13: Edinburgh

Day 1: Luggage-free

Long story short – my luggage was lost during transfer in Frankfurt and for four days I only got my checked-in bag. Inside it – a pair of sneakers and a sleeping bag (here’s the long story). After some administrative BS we were eager to get out of the airport and leave for our first destination. This was the only place where we had made a reservation – a mountain hostel some 70 miles out of Edinburgh. We got lucky with the rental car – it had only 2000 km on the odometer. By the end of our 6-day trip, that number had doubled.

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It was already getting darker and we were a bit worried what we will find at the end of the 4km gravel road. Loch Voil hostel turned out to be a great place – there were two other guests who welcomed us and gave us some good tips for the road. The host did not even show up. We got up quite early, left 45GBP at the counter (25 GBP/person was the average price of our accomodation) and took off, eager to explore more of Scotland.

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Day 2: No vacancies

The road ahead was pretty long. As I said, we covered around 2000 km. Woke up early, went to bed late and we did stop a lot.

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Usually it took us longer than expected because many roads were single-track or just very narrow. On one of the roads we took a 81-year old guy who was hitchhiking. When we checked the map, it turned out his destination was 30 miles away. He said he was planning on walking. Not questioning his determination, I am still happy we took him most of the way.

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Good thing is that there was not a lot of traffic. I mean humans. Well, no human trafficking.

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Break was often needed (at Glenlyon post office) and we tried to stick to a daily tea ceremony.

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Some places for lunch were also not bad. Most meals were supermarket-made.

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The A83 trunk road has for centuries been known as the Rest And Be Thankful. It was a well-worth detour.

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Inveraray City and the first major castle on our way.

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DSCF2555Stalker Castle, brought to fame by the Monty Python, is privately owned. I am curious.

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City of Oban, one of the few cities that we actually visited.

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Youth hostel in Oban. Later that day we regretted not staying there. However, we had decided that we want to get to Fort William and sleep there in order to be closer to our next stop – Isle of Skye. Along the way, even the most run-down motel had a “no vacancies sign“. That did not worry us until we started checking availability around 10pm. Booking.com – 99% full. Airbnb, nothing. Hostelworld, all booked. Finally, we called a hotel and they told us there’s one room. Double our usual budget but… Then at the reception the lady asked us “Do you want a room with a view or without a view?“. No comment.

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That’s the only “Vacancies” sign I had seen in a week. It was later that week in Edinburgh, after the end of the festivals.

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Day 3: Glens, bens & lochs

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Since we stayed at a proper hotel, we spent almost the whole morning using the wi-fi. Most of Scotland did not have good mobile reception, let alone any 3G internet. There were places without radio! So we used the room internet to do some work, trying to locate my lost luggage, booking accommodation for the next two days and learning that after 1000 earthquakes, there has been a code orange in Iceland. Still no problems for air traffic, four days before we had to fly there. If we could, we would of course drive to Iceland!

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Glenfinnan Monument was our only rain-free spot that day.

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Glenfinnan Viaduct, apparently a hit among Harry Potter fans together with a cemetery in Edinburgh. I admit, I had no idea who Thomas Riddell was but apparently J.K. Rowling stole some names from the graves to use for her characters.

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Eilean Donan castle is the most famous one in Scotland.

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Neist Point lighthouse did not have accommodation but we found a nice hostel in the Glenbrittle valley. The girl at the reception was full of useful tips for the next day on Skye and it was arguably the best day of our Scottish journey. Stay tuned.

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Day 4: After the rain, comes the rainbow

I don’t think there was a single day in Scotland without rain. Yet it was not that bad. We were prepared and also it brought some additional cosyness when we were stopping for afternoon tea and it was raining outside.

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I loved the sign in the middle. The walk around Elgol to get a nice view of Cuillin mountains was one of the best. Funny thing is that before I went to Scotland I thought that the Highlands were a joke, the highest being 1344 metres. Yet, when you start from the sea level, these mountains do seem impressive and quite high.

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Danger was lurking around every bend.

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The sun came right on time while we were walking to the beach. Yes, a beach.

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Somebody left a donation-based treat for weary travellers a.k.a. “Honesty Cafe”.

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A spectacular white sand beach at Point of Sleat. If only Scotland was 10 degrees warmer.

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After the gorgeous day on Skye, we drove to Inverness. Our hosts turned out to be serious GoT fans. Also, they were nice enough to meet my suitcase the previous evening and keep it until my arrival.

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Day 5: Rugged beauty

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The following day we broke all our records and covered 275 miles basically travelling through all Northern Highlands. The scenery was beautiful but it started raining the minute we were getting out of the car. That’s why I remember most fondly an “award-winning pie shop”, recommended to us by a local.

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Day 6: The whisky trail

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The day dedicated to whisky. Actually, we started the tastings at the inn the previous night.

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Bottle your own whisky at Glen Moray Distillery. Great idea but quite expensive.

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Glen Grant Distillery. Funny thing is that I bought such a bottle of whisky from… Frankfurt Airport. 30% cheaper. Even Bulgaria airport had cheaper Scottish whiskies than any Edinburgh shop or airport. Guess it’s a matter of taxes.

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All the places we visited allowed us to taste some of the whiskys. The guy at Aberlour was really sorry that we had missed the tour so he asked if we would like a dram of 16-year old single malt…

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Quiet please! Some very old whisky sleeping at Macallan Estate. These guys hold around 500 million litres of whisky at the estate and produce around 10 million new litres each year. Quite impressive. And quite tasty.

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We also did a free full tour at Glenfiddich Distillery with a 12/15/18-year old tasting at the end (the only not boring part).

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End of the day at Glenlivet. And two more free drams of whisky (Glenlivet and Strathisla) after a Q&A session with the girl at the counter.

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My friend was driving so he did not drink almost at all. Myself, on the other side, was quite tipsy and did not mind crashing a wedding… Unfortunately, we were way too early. Or too late. Don’t really remember.

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Just when we thought that we finished with whisky for the day, we met our AirBNB host. The lovely Kathleen offered us a welcome dram of whisky and we spent quite some time discussing politics, travel and life in general.

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Day 7: Road to Iceland

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It was time to head back to Edinburgh Airport for our Iceland flight. Unless Bárðarbunga volcano had other plans. But before that, we stopped by Stirling to see the place of the famous battle and hear how William Wallace became Guardian of Scotland. Keep in mind that locals are not thrilled with the Braveheart references and the movie “bears little resemblance to the real battle” (Wikipedia). And there are some locals I definitely don’t want to see unhappy.

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 Day 11: Royal reception

we’ll never be royals (royals). It don’t run in our blood… That does not mean that we cannot get a royal treat once in a while. Especially after 4 nights of sleeping in the car in Iceland. Royal is exactly how we felt at 2 Cambridge Street with our hosts Erlend and Helene. A friend of my recommended their house and I can only regret we could not stay longer (they had bookings for 2016).

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Day 12 & 13: Edinburgh

August is the best time to visit the Scottish capital. No, the weather might not be summery. But the mood will be. Because of Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the world’s largest arts festival, with the 2012 event spanning 25 days totalling over 2,695 shows from 47 countries in 279 venues (Wikipedia). Together with the Edinburgh International Festival, these two events apparently triple the population of the city.

Unfortunately I missed the best of both. Not only that but I also missed the fireworks that conclude the festivals. Too late for the festival, too early for the fireworks. I was so tired of the 3300 km around Scotland/Iceland that did not feel like planning much sightseeing. That’s why I decided to join some tours. Three of them.

First, Mary King’s close. The guide was playing the role of 18th century wine merchant. Quite entertaining and the displays were also totally worth it. Unfortunately, no photos allowed down there but highly recommended for a look at underground Edinburgh.

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After lots of gloomy scenery, those two were making the day a bit sunnier.

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Nextwas Free Edinburgh Tour. I remembered that when I did a Free Madrid Tour last year, it was our guide’s last tour because she was leaving for Edinburgh. I asked and Sabela was indeed in Edinburgh and doing quite well :)

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Our guide around Edinburgh was named Jonny and he was impressive. He was quite the actor himself and told the stories in such a captivating way that people did not mind the rain. His Scottish was funny (he kept adressing us with ‘laddie’ for the boys and ‘lassie’ for the girls). His way of speaking was very understandable, though, unlike most other people we spoke to.

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Then, it was a time for a short break and some traditional food with a couple of ales. I didn’t mind the haggis (on the photo) and the black pudding but let’s just say I am not a fan.

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The night was coming quickly. Fortunately, it was not dark and full of terrors.

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What to do at night if you are in a new city and you don’t know many people? Pub Crawl! There were 40+ people at the Edinburgh Pub Crawl and the guides were almost useless. Their only work was to make sure nobody got lost. In Sofia, the guides at the pub crawl would usually share interesting stories, make sure that nobody is alone and help you in any way. Here, the guides made you feel like you are a burden on their night out that they did not even want to have in the first place. Yet, there were nice vibe, nice places, nice people. And some nice drinks…

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Next day it was time to leave. Fortunately, Bárðarbunga did not object.

But before we go… Can anyone explain to me the pros and cons of two separate hold / cold water faucets in UK?!

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3 thoughts on “Scotland – yes or no?

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