In Scotland you could meet the Queen, try some of the sheep-gut dish known as haggis, toss a caber (wooden pole), climb a few Munros (hills), look for Nessie aka the Loch Ness monster, down a few malt whiskies and try to decipher the local accents.
It’s a country of enormous travel opportunities and experiences and over the last few weeks I’ve been privvy to all the above and more.
Scotland is definitely underrated on the tourist circuit which might be because of its remotish location in the UK, sort of way up there, and the huge attractions of places like Italy and France on the European continent. I have to admit it’s the first time I’ve been there in the years I’ve spent in Europe, and I really regret not going earlier.
As per the last blog, I started in Edinburgh at the Fringe Festival, which is happily the location of some of our VIP hostels. Other locations include Drumnadrochit or Loch Ness, Glasgow and Stirling. Glasgow, Stirling and Edinburgh are located in the southern belt of the country. While Loch Ness lies to the north towards Inverness. So with a VIP card you could easily do a good circuit of the country.
Here’s a few key things you could see in/around those places:
In Stirling itself you’ll want to visit the commanding Stirling Castle that lies above the town’s cobblestone streets and medieval quarter. You can also get to grips with the life and times of William Wallace – no not Mel Gibson, but the real Braveheart of Scottish history – by visiting the Wallace Monument on the outskirts of the town. You could also delve into another endearing hero, Robert the Bruce, a few miles away at Bannockburn, where his army overcame the superior numbers of Edward II’s English force. The other local hero in this area is Rob Roy and his grave is at Balquhidder, some miles to the north west.
From Stirling you can also access some of Scotland’s most beautiful Lochs such as Loch Katrine and Loch Lomond in the beautiful Trossachs National Park. Boats operate on both the lochs and there are numerous walking and biking trails nearby. Or you could climb the popular Ben Lomond peak, a good 4-5 hour hike.
This enormous loch stretches for 23 miles between Inverness and Fort William in the Great Glen of Scotland. While its waters are bitterly cold and its not as picturesque as some of the smaller lochs, visitors come here in their thousands to see the Loch Ness monster, although most usually just get to see the cardboarrd cutout forms at the monster exhibitions. Still it’s a good place to base for a few days.
You could take in the monster exhibits and then venture a little further afield. There’s the Great Glen Way for instance, a 73 mile footpath that can take you to Inverness or Fort William. There’s a similar mountainbike trail you could follow.
You could wander down to Fort Augustus at the northern end of the Caledonian Canal and see boats being raised or lowered through the five consecutive locks. Or go to Drumnadrochit to the Urquhart Castle.
The other major city in Scotland, and Edinburgh’s direct competitor, is the rather ballsy Glasgow which is renowned for the accent of its inhabitants, no-fuss working class background, fantastic Victorian architecture, stylish bars, fabulous live music and maritime heritage.
While you’re here you’ll want to take in the Glasgow Cathedral, the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, stroll along the Clyde Walkway down by the waterfront, the buzzing bar and cafe district of West End and nurse a few pints in some of the most atmospheric pubs of the country. In other words there’s plenty to do so don’t leave Glasgow off your itinerary.
While we’re on the subject of Scotland here are a few of my other favourite places:
Isle of Skye
The beautiful isle lies just of the western coast of Scotland is something of a walkers paradise with a number of unusual land formations to explore and some picturesque villages dotted with whitewashed cottages. The walking highlight is probably the Cuillin hills towards the centre of the island which features rather steep and shaley peaks. There’s some pleasant easy walks around the base of these, you are advised to get a guide to head up any of the hilltops. There’s also rather splendid walking up near Staffin Bay and Portree and over on the west coast cliffs of Durinish. Otherwise you can vist the spectacular Dunvegan castle, potter around a number of quaint towns or simply enjoy the seaside if the weather is warm enough.
Glencoe and the Western Highlands
Glencoe is famously remembered as the site where the Campbells betrayed and massacred the MacDonalds and indeed you can visit the memorial to the event in the village. But it’s also one of the most dramatic landscapes in the country with rather enormous, brooding mountain spurs and some knife-edged ridges. If you’re keen on hiking, and the weather is anywhere near decent, you’ll want to explore here. Just make sure you are prepared for the weather and poor visibility – this is not a place for the faint hearted. If it really is bad weather head to the pubs in either the remote King’s House Hotel, a good stop along the West Highland Way or the Clachiag Inn in Glencoe itself.
Braemar Highland Games, Aberdeenshire
If you’re wondering exactly where it was I saw the Queen, then head to the Braemar Games on the first Saturday of September. While there’s no guarantee the Queen herself will turn up, a royal representative will. At the Games themselves are all the Highland specialities such as tossing the caber, the various athletic events, sack races and marching bands.
In the next edition of the newsletter we head into northern England, so stay tuned…
Hope you’re enjoying the VIP Backpacker’s Travel Blog. There’ll be an update added every other Friday, so keep tuning in to keep your travel dreams alive! If there are any travel topics you want covered feel free to contact me, Jo, at firstname.lastname@example.org