Just five days after entering this beautiful country, I’m back at the airport, getting ready to depart. It feels as though I blinked, and like that, my time in Scotland flashed before me. Despite jam packed days full of amazing sights, time continues to speed by. Here’s how I filled my days in the land of Scots.
I first arrived at the airport in Glasgow early Saturday morning. After grabbing a bus from the terminal and dropping my bags at my hostel, I headed out into the city to explore. Initially, I stayed in the commercial downtown area, walking along the river and main shopping streets admiring some of the impressive architecture (such as the city chambers) but mostly underwhelmed by the tourist packed area full of shops that I see most days in Chicago. It wasn’t until I ventured out of this area that I really began to appreciate Glasgow. My initial destination was the Kelvingrove museum. This stunning building centered in a park was once an exhibition hall for a World Exposition, but now houses a museum full of exhibits of art, natural history, and Scottish artifacts. The information inside was very interesting, I particularly enjoyed the art section featuring many Scottish painters who went to art school in Glasgow, but the beauty of the building is what drove me to walk away from the museum, in hopes of getting a better view to take it all in. Eventually, I was rewarded with said view, but along the way I discovered the University of Glasgow was right next to me, and as impressed as I was with the Kelvingrove, the massive clock towers, castle like buildings, and medieval-esque quads sucked me into the campus. I spent a couple of hours walking around in awe, regretting not applying.
Leaving the university behind, I made my way back into the city center, in the direction of Wellpark Brewery. Along the way I made a pit stop to admire the city’s cathedral, and then arrived at the brewery. Tennent’s Lager has been a Scottish classic for centuries. Originating over 600 years ago when the monks building the cathedral were looking for an after work refreshment, the brand has existed for generations. Throughout all this time, Tennent’s has been brewed exclusively at the Wellpark Brewery, and the history of the buildings is clear despite its many changes the factory has undergone. After an hour tour, a pint of the original lager, and a couple of tastings of different beers, I was glad I made the trip over to the brewery.
The following morning I rose early from my hostel bed, walked over to the train station, and caught the 8:30 to Edinburgh. 45 minutes later and I had arrived at Waverly station in the heart of the city. When I stepped outside the station, I was amazed at the sights around me. It seemed in every direction there were countless incredibly beautiful structures. My eyes didn’t know what to focus on, and they wandered from the Scott Monument to the Balmoral to New College to Carlton Hill to the Castle. On top of it all, it was a miraculous day, the sunny blue sky occupied by only a few puffy white clouds and the temperature hovering in the low 60’s. I quickly walked to the hostel, as to not waste a minute of my time in the city, dropped my bags, and set out to get to all the sights.
I began by walking down the Royal Mile, passing by countless shops full of Scottish souvenirs, and kept walking toward Holyrood Palace, the Queen’s residence in the city. After admiring the castle like building from the outside (I wanted to avoid the £18 pound entrance fee), I took a quick stroll to the base of Arthur’s seat, a massive volcanic hill which overlooks the city. The views from the top were remarkable, making the hour climb well worth it. With vibrant yellow flowers, vivid green grass, cool blue water of the ocean, and the entire city skyline, the panorama was a memorable one. I descended down, and headed back upwards, up Carlton hill, the summit of which is home to both the Nelson Monument and the National Monument, two beautiful structures.
Following a delicious lunch break of fresh Scottish salmon, I continued with my adventures, walking through Princes Gardens, taking in the perfect weather and gazing at the towering volcanic hill on which sits Edinburgh Castle. Venturing back into the old town, I walked to the castle itself, and through the gates, unable to skip this despite the £18 entrance fee. I also purchased an audio guide, and spent the next three hours roaming around the cobblestone paths of the castle grounds, hopping in and out of buildings, captivated by the information flowing through my ears. It was amazing to me, how much history can be packed into a single structure. The castle has survived everything, from the dark ages to WWII, from Cromwell to Elizabeth. Between the Crown Jewels, stone of destiny, war memorial, castle prisons, the great hall, and the countless other structures that form the castle, I was walking with purpose in an effort to hit it all before it closed. I finished just in time, and headed back to the hostel to get some rest.
Haggis Adventure Tours
My final three days in the country were spent on a tour of the highlands with Haggis Tours. 20 of us, representing 9 countries, and our tour guide/bus driver Fiona, piled onto a big yellow bus with the words “Wild & Sexy” painted along the side. Together we drove north into the highlands.
What followed were three amazing days full of countless stunning views, Scottish folklore and history, tasty meals, whisky tastings, and a great deal of laughter. The first highlight was certainly Loch Ness. The beautiful lake is world famous, but while most people know it for the monster, the sheer beauty would be enough to make it well known. The lake (and the entire great glen) was formed when the North American and European plates collided and formed two mountain ranges, descending into a deep valley in between. After the ice age, the ice melt lead to the formation of the lake. We drove around every inch of the 23.5 mike long lake and then took a boat tour along the water. While we unfortunately did not spot Nessie, we learned all about the origin of the legend, the scientific evidence behind it, and the geography of the lake itself.
The second day of the tour was spent pretty much exclusively on the Isle of Skye. I think I still have marks on my forehead from keeping my face plastered to the bus window, awestruck by the beauty of the island around me. I simply couldn’t get over what I was seeing, from jagged cliff coastline to incredible geologic rock formations to snowy peaks to the crisp ocean to historic castles to heavy flowing waterfalls. I was so in love with the place that when our bus was sideswiped by another bus and the driver side window was shattered, I wasn’t too upset knowing that we would get a few bonus hours on the island. We did resolve the issue, and unfortunately had to leave Skye behind.
While Skye was certainly a bit more special than the rest, the highlands as a whole emitted a similar beauty. The morning fog hovering over the irregular peaks and the contrast between dark rock and green hills made for constant pleasure for my eyes. Glen Coe in particular fascinated me and felt other worldly, or as if I was on a movie set. All of this paired with the very long history of the area, full of legends and myths, led to an awesome three days. I loved hearing Fiona’s fairy stories, learning about the Royal drama of the 1500’s, and dunking my face in Scotland’s icy river of youth for seven seconds or carrying water in my mouth from the top of a waterfall to the bottom for ten years of good sex. When our history back home only goes back a few hundred years, it’s fascinating to hear tales from a millennium ago. It was also very nice to be a part of a group again. There’s something comforting about seeing the same faces three days in row. When I’m traveling, there are so many unknown things that are constantly changing, so to have one thing stay the same (the people I’m with for example) makes a big difference. Even after just two days on my own, I was excited to have others to talk to, to crack jokes with, and with whom to appreciate the surroundings.
All in all, my time in Scotland was better than I could have ever expected. As always, I am sad to leave it behind, but beyond excited for my coming travels. For now, I’m grateful for the five fantastic days I was treated to.