In my mind, Scotland is the land of cruel misconceptions and nasty national clichés. I’d spent my life being told that Scots were stingy, unfriendly, ugly and hard to understand. So, one day I decided to pack my bags and go find out for myself, and hopefully meet William Wallace, bagpipes, kilts, haggis, whisky and all things Scottish along the way.
With lots of enthusiasm but not much cash, we (being myself, an Englishman and an Aussie girl) decided to begin our merry adventure in Edinburgh, without doubt the heart of Scotland. Right from the start, what really blew us away about the city is its history. It’s not confined to museums and dusty old encyclopaedias – it literally knocks you over as you arrive in the city! The buildings are grey and imposing, as if they’ve been there for 1000’s of years (which most of them have). The graveyard we walked past had a sign telling us this is where the original grave robbers stole bodies for medical research, while our evening pub had originally been used as a place for hanging people 500 years ago. While it’s true that most of these events do have a sort of gruesomeness to them, if you are willing to relax and soak up the atmosphere, Edinburgh really is an amazing city.
That being said, there’s a lot more to Scotland than just one aging and rickety city, so it’s worth taking the trouble to see a bit of the countryside. There are many whisky distilleries close to Edinburgh, most of which offer tours at a very reasonable price: a proper whisky fan could well be tempted to tour Scotland with a constant hangover, stumbling from one distillery to the next. However, there are plenty of other distractions: for example St Andrews Golf Course is well worth a visit, even if just to say that you’ve been to the oldest golf course in the world. As you travel further up country the days seem to blend together, which is always a sign of a nice relaxing holiday. I have no idea exactly when in our travels, but one day we were meandering along in no particular hurry when we passed the most beautiful loch, with a whole lot of canoes tied to a jetty. On the spur of the moment, and despite the rain (yes there is one rumour that can be confirmed – even in the middle of Summer, it rains just about every day!) we piled into the boats for a paddle through the pretty-near-freezing water.
Travelling further up country, the solitude, beauty and greenery of Scotland starts to take a hold of you. There are many amazing old castles scattered around, seemingly there to remind you that this is somewhere special. We decided to spend a night at the famous Loch Ness, although not because we seriously expected to find its famous monster. Travelling during July definitely has its advantages: one of the highlights of the trip was spending an evening sitting overlooking Urquhart Castle (in reality not much more than ruins) and enjoying a sunset over Loch Ness that carried on until almost midnight. The town of Inverness, also close to Loch Ness, was also where I plucked up the courage to eat my first meal of haggis. The content of this meal is too gruesome to not explain, so allow me to dissect this dish of culinary delights: haggis consists of the stomach bag of a sheep, into which the heart, liver and intestines are placed. Everything is then mixed together and cut up very fine, leaving a meat that tastes remarkably like boerewors sausage. Served with mashed potato, and without too much thought as to the contents, it makes a very good meal.
From Loch Ness we slowly cruised across to the Isle of Skye. The only fact I had heard about the Isle of Skye was that it boasted the most expensive toll-road in the whole world, so we were all pretty eager to hand over a ridiculous sum of money and see what was so special about this place. As it turned out, the speciality was in the nothingness. We drove around the whole island looking for something of interest – anything really, and only managed to find a sheep farmer with an accent so broad that he really was impossible to understand (another cliché confirmed – some Scottish accents really are unintelligible). That evening in the local pub we discovered that the locals were really friendly and were more than happy to have a drink with us – finally some clichés proved false: Scots are not stingy or unfriendly, and they don’t hate the English (at least not the one we brought with us). Sadly for us, work and normal life were calling, so we had to start heading south. The next day we drove down towards the English border, stopping off for a last night in Loch Lomond. A castle had been converted into a backpacker lodge, and the chance to finish off the trip with a night in a proper castle, with turrets and all, was the perfect way to end our Scottish adventure.