When I think of Scotland, I think of haggis, whisky, bagpipes and men in skirts (kilts) like Sean Connery and Gerard Butler 😉 But Scotland is of course famous for its impressive nature, highlands and rough coast! Buro ScanBrit, a Dutch tour operator who I work with, had sent out an invitation to join them on a promotional trip. I registered and am one of the lucky travel agents who got accepted to go on this trip. I cannot wait to visit Scotland, its capital Edinburgh, historic castles and mysterious Lochs. Scotland is the setting of world famous films, many I have seen and they are the reason Scotland is on my bucket list!
Day 1: on board of Princess Seaways
We are a small group of travel agents and we get together at the end of the afternoon at the port of IJmuiden. Buro ScanBrit’s sales manager Michel accompanies us on this trip together with Marc, the driver of the bus. We introduce ourselves before we go through customs and board the DFDS ferry Princess Seaways. The ferry will take us from IJmuiden across the North Sea to Newcastle in the UK. The crossing will take about 16 hours, which means we will spend the night on board. We all have sea view cabins suitable for 4 (2 comfortable bunks), but since we get to share a cabin with one more person, nobody needs to climb up on the bunk bed. On the ship there are different types of cabins to choose from in different price categories. The cabin you want to book depends on your budget and wishes. We leave our luggage in the cabin and go outside so we can see IJmuiden behind us as we are leaving for Newcastle. The distance between IJmuiden and Newcastle is approximately 500 kilometers.
On board we discover the many facilities the Princess Seaways has to offer, such as several bars, restaurants, a night club, cinema and shops. For the children there is even a kids club. We have a meet and greet on the bridge with the captain and we get to stay for a while to enjoy the view and to learn about how they work on board.
Then it is time for dinner. There are various restaurants on board: a buffet restaurant, a steak house and an à la carte restaurant. We have a really delicious dinner at the à la carte restaurant and stay at our table long after dinner, chatting away while enjoying a cheese platter and a good glass of wine. I am pleasantly surprised, because the food is really good and beautifully served (it does not feel like I am on a ferry boat). At some point the restaurant closes and we go to sleep. The beds are not bad at all I must say! You can hear the ship engines and sometimes other passengers walking through the corridors and you cam feel the ship moving. But I really sleep well and when I wake up, we are close to the coast of the UK. Before leaving the ship we have breakfast in the buffet restaurant. If you take this crossing, I can advise you to eat on board; it is worth the money!
Day 2: from Newcastle to Edinburgh
At Newcastle we have to go through customs; it does not take too long although luggage is checked thoroughly. We do not stay in Newcastle; we drive north-west towards Scotland’s capital Edinburgh. We stop at the border of Scotland. Hadrian’s Wall is a very old stone wall that marks the border between England and Scotland (and was very important in ancient times). A Scotsman is standing next to the sign playing his bagpipes; he welcomes us to Scotland.
From Hadrian’s Wall we go to Traquair House at Traquair/Innerleithen. It is a typical Scottish estate dating from 1107. It was originally a royal hunting lodge, visited by the kings and queens of Scotland. Traquair House has been lived in by the Stuart family since 1491 and therefore it is the oldest inhabited house, which is very unique. The majority of the estate is accessible to visitors. We visit the house and the brewery, walk through the maze in the garden and sit down in the Garden Cafe for a delicious soup and salad. It is a beautiful estate ; definitely worth a visit.
We leave Traquair House and drive further north to Edinburgh, where we arrive mid-afternoon. This beautiful city is divided into two districts by the river Leith (Old Town and New Town). In the southern Old Town you find historic streets, such as a Grass market and Canongat and a beautiful medieval alley network. The Old Town is very cosy; here you can go shopping, go for lunch or dinner in one of the many restaurants and afterwards you visit one of the numerous pubs. Edinburgh to me has a positive, mysterious atmosphere, in a Harry Potter kind of way (if that makes sense). All you need is a bit of imagination and you go back in time. When visiting places like Edinburgh, I wish I did have a time machine. We are lucky today, the sun is shining ever since we left Newcastle and it makes the city so much more inviting.
One of the highlights without a doubt is Edinburgh Castle and this is where we go next. The castle towers watch over the city from its volcanic rock. The bus drops us off close to the entrance of the castle. Once we enter the castle we get to enjoy beautiful a 360 view over the city. We go on a guided tour, our guide being a young (and very cute) Scottish student. He tells interesting stories, mostly about the history of the castle; all is very interesting. I like guided tours! You could rent an audio guide in your own language, but a “human” guide is so much better. You can ask questions, the guides know a lot, have interesting stories to tell and it is people like our guide who contribute to our trip in such a positive way! After the tour we have some free time to look around and we sit down for a tea in the restaurant of the castle. The castle offers public performances quite often, taking you back in time. And it is decor of the world famous Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. If you should ever want to see the Tattoo, you need to book your tickets and accommodation as soon as possible!
We leave the castle and walk over the famous Royal Mile into the Old Town. From the Edinburgh Castle gates to the Palace gates the street is almost exactly a mile (1.6 km) long and it ends at Holyrood Palace. The streets which make up the Royal Mile are Castlehill, the Lawn market, the High Street, the Canongate and Abbey Strand. The Royal Mile today is the busiest tourist street in the Old Town. We do not have a lot of time to look around, we have a ghost tour on our program!
The Ghost Tour is a daytime walking tour of Edinburgh’s most haunted vaults and this tour is perfect for a peek into the city’s ghostly past. I like it when things get spooky (although when watching horror movies I turn the sound off). First we meet a young woman who is a cloaked guide and she will take us through the shadowy closes of Edinburgh’s Old Town. We will descend into the depths of the city and listen in horror to its dark and sinister side, like torture, murder and hangings.
Our guide takes us through the narrow streets and catacombs of the Royal Mile, so we do get to see some more of fhe Old Town. We hear the most exciting and scary stories about the past of the city and its residents. It is a totally different way to learn about Edinburgh and the tour for sure is good for a laugh; we all enjoyed it!
I have been to Edinburgh before, but it was a long time ago. I came to visit a friend who I met during my working holiday in Australia. I remember I flew to London and took the train all the way up to Edinburgh. It is truly a great, atmospheric city for all ages. There is a lot to experience, you can attend great festivals, including the Edinburgh Tattoo. I suggest you get yourself an Edinburgh Pass upon arrival. It offers many benefits, such as free admission to a number of museums and attractions, but also discounts in many restaurants and shops. Another recommendation is the “Hop-on Hop-off” tour (which is popular in many cities)! You decide for yourself what you feel like doing when visiting, but take a least 2 or 3 days.
In the evening we have dinner in the popular bar/restaurant Ghillie Dhu. It once was a church and now it is a hot spot; a trendy pub/restaurant with live music. They serve good food and have their own beer; we have a good time. It is Monday night, so it is not too busy. We spend the night at the Holiday Inn Express, located on the outskirts of Edinburgh, at Leith Waterfront. It is an ideal hotel for travellers with cars or for groups on a bus tour. If I would just visit Edinburgh, for sure I would want to stay in city centre or at least close by. But we are seeing more of Scotland, so this hotel is perfect as we go further north tomorrow. At the hotel you can park you car and even if you want to enter Edinburgh without a car, you can take the bus to city centre. We quickly check into our rooms and I sleep like a log after having a few Ghillie Dhu beers 🙂
Day 3: from Edinburgh to Kinloch Rannoch
After a good night sleep and a lovely breakfast, we cross the street to have a look at the The Royal Yacht Britannia. Britannia was the first Royal Yacht to be built with complete ocean-going capacity and designed as a Royal residence to entertain guests around the world. We do not have time to visit the yacht, but we admire the exterior before having a look in the shopping centre in front of the quay.
Our bus takes us back to city centre. We have to do a tiny bit of “work” to do. We visit Hotel The George, a beautiful trendy hotel which all of us book quite often for our clients. The manager gives us a tour through the hotel, we see the various rooms and suites and afterwards we get cup of tea with delicious pastries and sandwiches before we leave Edinburgh. We can skip lunch, because we ate plenty to keep us going till dinner.
We go further north to Pitlochry, which is called the heart of Scotland. The Highland Games are held here every year. Tough guys in plaid skirts take part in sports such as caber toss, tug o’ war and the hammer throw. I mostly have visions of men throwing logs. It is really all about family fun, including food and craft stalls. So apart from watching giant Scotsmen showing their muscles, you can also enjoy Scottish dancing, accompanied by bagpipes and with a bit of luck an exciting sheepdog trial can be seen.
We continue our drive towards Aberfeldy, the heart of the Scottish Highlands. This beautiful area is ideal for walking, hiking and lots of other outdoor activities. The area is also very popular for its beautiful golf courses, also to be found in the rest of Scotland. By the way… golfing was invented in Scotland, just in case you did now know that! The golf courses are located in the most amazing sceneries, I would almost start playing golf myself. Almost…! I am so clumsy, I would probably hit myself, instead of the golf ball.
We stop at Highland Safaris where you can participate in various activities, such as mountain hiking, biking, a jeep safari and other activities. We have a lot of time, so we can try it all. I think children will love searching for gold and seeing the red deer, but this place is not just for children. We end the afternoon with a jeep safari through the Scottish Highlands. The Highlands are so incredibly beautiful, the scenery is truly stunning. Halfway through the tour we stop to enjoy the views. Our driver has brought some whisky and shortbread for us all to enjoy; what a great combination! And OMG… I wish I never tasted that shortbread, because that is simply too delicious and I need to get some to bring it home (if I manage to).
We arrive at Dunalastair, Kinloch Rannoch, which is a beautiful and atmospheric hotel. The floors creak, it is full of history, has lots of atmosphere and I love it! The rooms and bathrooms are very comfortable and fully equipped and I would love to stay here for a few days. Before dinner we have time to relax, but I go for a walk so I can stretch my legs a bit. The area is peaceful and serene and the people are so friendly. Scotland is the perfect holiday destination for those who need to relax, be one with nature, unwind…
We have dinner in the hotel and once more the food is excellent. Afterwards we sit in the lounge around a fireplace and drink a nightcap. Life does not get much better than this!
Day 4: from Aberfeldy to Corpach
The next morning I do not want to leave, because I love it here. But we need to move on! We need to have a good breakfast, because our first stop of the day is Dewar’s World of Whisky. What a great place to start the day. Dewar’s is one of the famous whisky distilleries in Scotland. We will get a guided tour around the distillery by a sweet Scotsman. but first we watch a film about the history of the Dewar family and we receive an audio guide for the accompanying museum. Then we go on the guided tour through the distillery. We learn about the proces of making whisky and… to top it all, the guide opens a barrel with 28-year-old whisky and we can taste it. Whoohoo… All this before 11:30 am! We get to taste other whisky as well at the shop, fortunately small glasses, otherwise we would leave in a drunken state before it is even lunch time. There is a great store at Dewar’s if you want to do some shopping and we all end up buying whisky. If you want to take a souvenir from Scotland; this is it!
Our next stop is at Killin, just 40 minutes away from Dewar’s. The drive to Killin is beautiful and I feel like the scenery is getting more impressive every minute. We walk around for a while in the village and visit the Bridge End Mill and the Old Mill. The river Dochart runs through the village and next to the Old Mill are the Falls of Dochart. The scenery is truly stunning and the best location to see the falls is while standing on the bridge. The falls must be a decor for movies, advertisements, etc. I can watch the water flowing for hours. On the other side of the bridge is the Clan Macnabb Burial Grounds. I do not enter, but it is quite a historical place.
We drive to the Isles of Glencoe hotel at the Ballachulish peninsula, located right at Loch Leven. We are so relaxed (must be the whisky) and we enjoy a late lunch of fresh Scottish salmon and potatoes. From the hotel we have a view over Loch Leven and a tiny island that looks like a private cemetery. Before we leave we have a look at some of the rooms (room inspection does not feel like work) and I am just thinking I could easily spend a few days here as well. We get back on the bus, but before Marc starts the engine, there is a double rainbow over the hotel. I have to get out of the bus and take some photographs. They will get used to me being the last one on the bus! Although there is another lady who loves to take photographs!
We continue our drive towards Fort William, formerly a military outpost. The location of this city is ideal for hikers and climbers. To the east of the city lies Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Great Britain at 1343 metres. We have a bit more “work” to do and stop at Inverlochy Castle Hotel. The tour operator does not have it in its program, but it is such a magical place; we need to see it! I know my clients will love it for sure. If you want to spend the night here, it will cost you! But it is worth it; staying in this beautiful castle hotel in an equally beautiful setting… it is a bit of a fairy tail.
The rooms are dreamy and warmly decorated. We would have liked to have stayed here for the night, but that is not going to happen. We have a cup of tea with tasty shortbread cookies and then there is time to have a walk outside. It is raining, but rain is part of Scotland and the reason the country is so beautifully green. We see sheep and a Scottish Highlander with a calf that has just been born. Poor thing, just born with still his/her umbilical cord showing and standing in the rain. The rain helps its mother though to wash it clean.
Well,,,, I try to stay behind at Inverlochy Castle Hotel, but the group drags me with them into the bus. We find ourselves a place to eat, although we are not really that hungry after the late lunch at the delicious shortbread we had with our afternoon tea. But we have a beer and nibble on something small. Edith (who has become a friend during this trip) and I think we see actress Frances de la Tour, who plays Madame Olympe Maxime in the Harry Potter movies. I try to take a picture from a distance and we seriously think it is her, but we are afraid to ask. I will not post the picture, just in case she is not Frances or Madame Olympe and I get sued for invading someone’s privacy ;-).
So far we spent the night on the ferry boat, at a city hotel and a lovely country hotel. Today we visited the Isles of Glencoe hotel with the most amazing view and the amazing Inverlochy Castle hotel. Tonight however we stay in… a mobile home in a holiday park at Corpach. Something different, but we need this experience as well. Actually, this place is ideal for families with (young) children and for sure a lot cheaper than the Inverlochy Castle Hotel. The mobile homes or caravans as we call them in The Netherlands, are comfortable. The heater works, there is hot water and they have all the facilities you could possibly need. Staying here is not too bad actually!
Day 5: from Corpach back to Newcastle
The next day we get up very early and after a hearty British breakfast in a local restaurant we drive along Loch Linnhe to Oban, where we visit The Scottish Sea Life Sanctuary. It is a small shelter for seals and otters. They have beautiful sea creatures in the aquariums at the visitor centre. They do a good job here, but it must not be easy to keep the sanctuary open.
From Oban we drive to Loch Fyne. We stop somewhere along the way and our driver Marc makes us warm soup and we just enjoy the scenery. It is misty today and it makes this beautiful landscape mysterious and spooky. We move on to Drymen, where we check in at The Winnock Hotel. The hotel is lovely and we have some time off to relax. Some enjoy the spa facilities at the hotel and Edith (the other photographer) and I explore the village. We both love it here and Scotland is just so photogenic. We end up at a old cemetery and it is such a peaceful place with beautiful tombs and tomb stones, so we stick around for a while.
We return to the hotel at the end of the afternoon. We stay in beautiful, cosy rooms and what a lovely place this is to stay for our last night in Scotland. We have the dinner in the hotel and again I cannot believe how good the food is. Dinner is once again so delicious. We sit at our table for as long as possible before we go to sleep.
It is our last day in Scotland, we get up early. We enjoy our breakfast and leave for Loch Lomond. We are suppose to do a boat tour, but the weather is not that great and we decide not to. At the end of the afternoon we need to catch the ferry boat back to IJmuiden and we cannot afford to get stuck on the lake in bad weather and miss the ferry boat (although I would not mind). So we enjoy the scenery once more during our stops and while being on the bus. We drive back to the east coast and we now have some extra time on our hands. Marc decides to take us to Alnwick Castle; what a treat! Now I can hear you think: another castle?! But this is the castle that can be seen in the first Harry Potter movies. And I am not ashamed to admit I am a fan of the movies. I did not read the books, but the movies are great.
Alnwick Castle is so impressive and the family who manages the estate still lives here. We have a look inside and walk around the estate, buy ourselves a sandwich and a drink. Especially the clock reminds me of the Harry Potter movies. There are many fun things for children to do, like broom flying lessons, archery, etc. Alnwick Castle is not Harry Potter World and thank G for that, although you can find a few Harry Potter things in the store.
We go back to the port of Newcastle. Our Scotland trip has come to an end unfortunately and DFDS Seaways will take us back to Holland. We board late in the afternoon and dine in the buffet restaurant Seven Seas and there is an abundance of food to choose from. We decide to enjoy the entertainment on board before we go to sleep, we do not want this trip to end. For sure I would love to turn the boat around and spend some more time in Scotland. Unfortunately the next morning the journey is over when we arrive in IJmuiden. We say goodbye, I have gained a friend and carry wonderful memories with me.
Conclusion: Scotland is beautiful, enchanting and overwhelming. In April and August the heather is in bloom and the mountains look purple. Scotland is a destination for young and old, nature lovers, hikers and sports enthusiasts. It is a top destination for golf lovers! The cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow are popular city trip destinations! There are classy hotels, castles and country houses, but also simple mid class hotels and Bed & Breakfast’s! The weather changes all the time; we have been very lucky, but it is not without reason that Scotland is so green, so it certainly rains. Water-resistant clothing is a must as well as good shoes and a sturdy umbrella! Go and experience Scotland; you will not regret it!
Travel Blog by Elisabeth, One Lucky Traveller
May 23, 2011