The second leg of our overseas trip was a visit to Scotland for just over a week. As mentioned previously in my post on Rome, Scotland ultimately proved to be our favourite destination. Our time there consisted of two parts. The first half we spent travelling north by car from Edinburgh, past Inverness to the town of Dingwall before returning back to Edinburgh after a stop at the Loch Ness. The second half of our stay in Scotland was half a week in Edinburgh itself. It was the time in the Highlands that we particularly enjoyed.
Our Scotland leg didn’t start of in particularly spectacular fashion. Leaving Rome via Ciampino Airport wasn’t an overly comfortable experience due to the Airports relatively spartan nature. That was compounded with the stress induced when we were informed by Ryan Air at the baggage gate that passengers are expected to check in on-line before hand, otherwise they must pay an additional 40 Euro per a ticket to have them do it. We fortunately had arrived at the airport outside of the two hour window and could thus check in on our phone before proceeding, but it was a rude shock and really struck home just how much Ryan Air operates on a penny pinching platform. With that being said, we got to Edinburgh without any incident.
On arriving in Edinburgh our first stop was the car hire dealer to get the vehicle that we would be using for the next few days. In what was an amusing break down in communications, no one bothered to check we were even licensed prior to our leaving despite my best efforts to get them to review my license. Everyone we tried showing our licenses to insisted that it was someone else’s job to check it. No matter, I believe we had the required paperwork if needed.
We were handed the keys to a lovely Mercedes, a far cry from the Kia Rio I was expecting to get. We did have an additional stressful moment when neither Ali or myself could work out how to disengage the handbrake (tip: After asking, it turned out to be a two way switch to the right of the driver. Pull out to disengage, push in to engage). Besides that bit of confusion, it was a lovely car to drive and made the four hundred miles or so of driving we did rather comfortable. The car ultimately makes my own Ford Fiesta at home feel rather inadequate. Something to fix in a few years.
Perhaps foolishly I didn’t read up much on UK roads before leaving other than to get the default speed limits. The last moment of stress for the day occurred in our initial fifteen minutes behind the wheel. No one had bothered to mention that Scotland had four to five lane roundabouts with both entry and inner traffic lights. Certainly not a nice surprise for someone in the wrong lane. Two or three trips completely around and we eventually found ourselves on the M90 headed towards our first nights stop, The Glenfarg Hotel. As an aside, we passed an Amazon warehouse on the way, which was a pretty exciting life moment for two little Australians.
When booking the Glenfarg Hotel I’d had my concerns that it was located just off the M90 and thus would be a rather noisy and unpleasant place to stay. This couldn’t have proved to be further from the truth. It turns out that despite being fairly close to the motorway the area required several miles of highway detour to reach and was far enough that noise wasn’t a concern either. That and the fact there was little there apart from residential housing meant the area was very quiet. We had a very pleasant afternoon spending our first afternoon in Scotland walking around the suburb admiring the cute houses and sampling a few lollies from the local corner store that we couldn’t normally get in Australia.
We ate dinner that evening in Perth, situated about twenty minutes north which was pretty quiet being a Sunday afternoon. It was perhaps a shame we couldn’t visit Perth while things were open. As for the hotel itself, it was very lovely with a very spacious and comfortable room. Feeling exhausted we settled down and watched some UK Big Brother. It was noted that they seemed far less prudish when it came to censoring what was shown on the program at relatively early hours. After a comfortable nights sleep and a continental breakfast, we were back on the road.
The following day involved driving up north past Inverness to the small town of Dingwall. On the way we stopped off at a the Highland Folk Museum in Newtonmore. Here we got to see various examples of old Scottish architecture. The employee also took great delight in pointing out that some of the buildings on display were around before Australian was settled. It was a quaint little place yet exceptionally cold for what should have been the middle of summer. By all reports it was well under 10 degrees that day. This was later reflected when on further driving we got to witness snow upon some of the mountaintops.
The cabin where we spent our second nights stay was set amongst the very scenic mountain sides with a small single car road leading to it. This was our first experience ever with Air BnB and I must say it left a glowing impression, as did the later places we stayed at that were booked through the service. The cabin itself was about 20m from the main house and was completely self contained with cooking equipment, heating facilities, a small bathroom and a loft bedroom. It was a very quaint place and I do regret not being able to spend longer there. We spent the afternoon walking through a forest area situated just behind the cabin which was rather lovely. That evening we payed Dingwall itself a visit to do some grocery shopping, and Ali got to fulfil one of her lifelong dreams by visiting a Tesco supermarket. That was probably the first and last time she’s been excited to go get groceries.
The next day we set off for the Loch Ness, where we were to spend our third night near Drumnadrochit. Rather than pay to visit any of the Loch Ness themed attractions, we spend the day doing 2 – 3 bush walks in the surrounding area. We really didn’t do much else for most of the day but it’ll probably go down as my favourite day of the trip. Not only was it absolutely beautiful walking around Loch Ness, but in generally it was one of the most chilled and relaxed days of the entire trip. We did go past Urquhart Castle at one point but it seemed to be mostly ruins and hardly worth paying to visit. We did get a decent look from the car park however.
We spent that evening in another Air BnB, this time in a house belonging to a lovely lady by the name Jenny. Given up to this point our interactions with other people had been rather minimal, it was very refreshing to spend a few hours just chatting to Jenny, learning about the area as well as hearing her various stories. On her recommendation we visited a small nearby bar/hotel called the Benleva Hotel for dinner which had the rather unusual (for us) quality of having a few rather large resident dogs walking through the bar at their own pace. I suspect OHS in Australia would never allow it, but over there no one batted an eye lid.
Our final evening in the Highlands was spent in the Glengarry Castle Hotel. It was one of Ali’s wishes that we at least visit a castle, and we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to not only see one but spend a night in one. The entire place was rather lovely. Nestled on the Loch Oich, the grounds also housed the ruins of the original castle which was unfortunately in a state of disrepair and as a result, completely fenced off. Still it was nice to go for a wander both around the castle as well as the grounds. By this point our constant one night stops had taken their toll on me however, so I didn’t really have the energy or interest at the time to further explore the castle grounds, instead opting to settle in to what was a rather relaxing bedroom before enjoying a three (or was it four?) course meal later that evening. I put on a poor effort of actually eating it all, but it was very nice.
Glengarry Castle Hotel was our final night in upper Scotland. We spent several hours the following day headed towards Edinburgh where we were due to spend the remainder of our stay in Scotland. Along the way I commented on how wonderful the mountains looked at that point in time due to the low cloud cover so Ali suggested we pull over for photos at the next stop. It just so happened that the next stop had a memorial dedicated to war veterans, as seen in the image below.
After an hour or two more we hit Edinburgh and returned the car. We were lucky to arrive on an overcast day (one of only a few over our whole trip however). We quickly worked out the bus system (which was far simpler than anywhere else we visited) and made our way to another Air BnB where we were due to spend the next five nights. We were greeted by a lovely couple who over the next week made us feel very welcome and who we spent one or two nights with watching Glastonbury with on TV along with having a few good chats. Again we really lucked out with our hosts and couldn’t have asked for nicer people to stay with.
Our time in Edinburgh was pretty relaxed. Highlights involve the two walking tours we did, the first being the City of the Dead/Edinburgh Underground tour one evening and a free Harry Potter tour that took us past some of the inspirations and other key locations involved in the writing of Harry Potter. Both of these tours were very enjoyable, with the Harry Potter one in particular surprising me given the book has never interested me all that much. The photo of The Elephant House is of the Cafe where about half the books were written. They also serve a killer desert.
The other activity that really left a mark was a walk to and up Arthurs Seat. At a couple of hundred meters above sea, the mountain gave a fantastic view of the surround and the walk itself was surprisingly pleasant and no where near as bad as it had seemed from the base. We were hit with a surprising amount of wind once we got to the top which made keeping a footing and subsequently the taking of photos difficult, but the walk was well worth it and one I’d definitely recommend it to anyone visiting the city.
A park with the Water of Leigh running through it was also a nice little gem in the middle of town and the Edinburgh Museum wasn’t too bad either despite our visit to it being very brief.
Other than that we spent some time walking around the city, but didn’t really do too much of note. We considered visiting Edinburgh Castle but decided we were content to walk around the outside and take in the view from the parks at its base rather than pay to go in. It’s not a decision I really regret given the city itself was quite nice and there was plenty else to see.
One nice feature that I’ve never experienced before is that the buses in Edinburgh included free WiFi. More places definitely need to include that!
Scotland, particularly the first half, was the least planned and least committed portion of our holiday which made the entire thing rather relaxing. The only thing I’d change next time (and we’re determined there will be a next time), would be to stay in one spot for longer than a night while in the Highlands. When we go back I’d make sure we get out to places like the Isle of Skye etc. Certainly upper Scotland seems like a place I could easily go to retire, although I’m saying that without having lived through one of their winters.
Anyway, the next destination is Ghent where we spent a week with friends in lead up and celebrating my good friends wedding. Until then, beware of the Cavapoo! (Whatever that may be)