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 and hard to understand. So, without further ado we decided to head north to find out for ourselves, and hopefully meet William Wallace, bagpipes, kilts, haggis, whisky and all things Scottish along the way.
With plenty of enthusiasm but not many plans, we (being an Englishman, an Aussie and myself) decided to begin our merry adventure in Edinburgh, without a doubt the heart of Scotland. Right from the start, what really blew us away about the city was its history. It’s not confined to museums and dusty old encyclopaedias – it literally bowls you over as you arrive in the city.
The ancient cobbled streets give an atmosphere of importance, while 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 In Princes Street Gardens had a sign telling us this is where some of the original grave robbers stole bodies for medical research, while our evening pub had 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 put that aside and soak up the atmosphere, Edinburgh really is an amazing city.
Our accommodation in Edinburgh was amazing. We wanted to be close to the buzz of the city so chose to stay at the Cheval Old Town Chambers, close to the castle and right on the Royal Mile. Our apartments were spacious, luxurious and beautifully designed. And the self catering facilities were very useful, although on more than one occasion we succumbed to the delights of the Luckenbooths restaurant on the ground floor (the Scotch pancake stack on the breakfast menu proved particularly irrestible). With our dieting aspirations dead on our lips, we decided ‘in for a penny, in for a pound’ and also visited the sister property Cheval The Edinburgh Grand for the famed afternoon tea and champagne, which certainly didn’t disappoint.
Feeling very contented, we realised there must be a lot more to Scotland than just one city and so headed off to explore the countryside. There are many whisky distilleries all over the country, most of which offer tours at very reasonable prices: a proper whisky fan could well be tempted to tour Scotland with a constant hangover, stumbling from one distillery to the next. And 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 we travelled further up-country the days seemed to blend together into a happy mirage of lochs, greenery, solitude, stunning castles seeming scattered around, beautiful mountains and endless vistas – always a sign of a nice relaxing holiday.
We decided to spend a night at the famous Loch Ness, although not because we seriously expected to find its famous monster. However, we did find that relaxing by the shore of the loch and watching a sunset while overlooking the ruins of Urquhart Castle is just as good. 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 spicy. Served with mashed potato, and without too much thought as to the contents, it actually makes for a surprisingly good meal.
From Loch Ness we slowly headed west to the Isle of Skye. The only fact I knew 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 the 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, complete with turrets, was the perfect way to end our Scottish adventure.
Transport: There are many transport options for getting to and around in Scotland, including planes, trains and coaches. Visit Scotland are promoting responsible tourism, by encouraging tourists to travel green where possible, visiting the lesser-known destinations, respecting landscapes and supporting local communities. More info can be found here.
Best time to visit: June to August has the best of the summer weather and the longest daylight hours.
Must pack item: An umbrella and a warm jacket, no matter the season or the forecast. Also a good midge spray (midges are small, annoying insects found in the Scottish Highlands during the summer months) is a must-have item.
Accommodation: Cheval Collection are running a Christmas special for those considering a last-minute break. When booking a stay of at least two nights between 19th and 28th December 2021, guests will receive 20% off selected apartments as well as a Christmas hamper of goodies including crackers, candy, travel games and a hot chocolate bomb. Open plan studio apartments from £182 per night at Cheval Old Town Chambers, and £194 at Cheval The Edinburgh Grand.