When I think of Scotland, I think of haggis, bagpipes, tough men in skirts (yes… kilts), Sean Connery and Gerard Butler 😉 But Scotland is of course famous for its impressive nature, the highlands, rough coast, serenity, relaxed atmosphere and more! I am finally going, thanks to Buro ScanBrit for an invitation to join a promotional trip. I cannot wait to visit this beautiful country, 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 is looking after 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 this night on board. We all have sea view cabins suitable for 4 (2 comfortable bunks). Since we get to share a cabin with 2 persons, nobody needs to climb up on the bunk bed. There are different types of cabins to choose from and in different categories. We leave our luggage in the cabin and go outside so we can see IJmuiden behind us as we are leaving. The distance between IJmuiden and Newcastle is approximately 100 km from Newcastle.
On board we discover the many facilities the Princess Seaways has, such as several bars, a night club, cinema and shop. And for the children there is even a kids club. We have a meet and greet with the captain of the ship on the bridge. There are various places to eat on board: a buffet restaurant, steak house and à la carte restaurant. We have a really delicious dinner at the à la carte restaurant and sit at our table long after dinner, chatting away while enjoying a cheese platter and a good glass of wine. I am pleasantly surprised. The food is really good and beautifully served. We have a good night sleep; the beds are not bad at all. Of course you can hear the ship and sometimes other passengers and you feel you are moving. But I sleep well and wake up close to the coast of the UK. Before leaving the ship we have an extensive breakfast in the buffet restaurant. If you take this crossing, 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.
Our next stop is at Traquair House at Traquair/Innerleithen. It is a typical Scottish estate dating from 1107, 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 have a look around in the house and the brewery. We wander through the grounds maze and sit down in the Garden Cafe for a delicious soup and salad. It is a beautiful estate to visit; definitely worth to stop.
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 for going out, shopping and there are numerous pubs and restaurants to be found. New Town is more spacious. Edinburgh to me has a positive, mysterious atmosphere, in a Harry Potter kind of way (if that makes sense to you). With a bit of imagination you go back in time. When visiting places like this I wish I did have a time machine. We are lucky today, the sun is shining ever since we left Newcastle; it makes the city so much more inviting.
One of the highlights without a doubt is Edinburgh Castle. The castle towers over the city from its volcanic rock. The bus drops us of close to the entrance. Once at the castle we get to enjoy beautiful views of the city all around. We get 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 very interesting. I like guided tours. Of course you can rent an audio guide in your own language, but a “human” guide is so much better. You can ask questions, they know an awful lot and it is people like this who contribute to your holiday in such a positive way! After the tour we have some free time to look around and 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.
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, filled with shops, restaurants, pubs, visitor attractions and so on. We do not have a lot of time to look around, we have a ghost tour on our program.
The Ghost Tour is guided by a young student dressed in a black macabre cape. She takes us through the narrow streets and catacombs of the Royal Mile, so we do get to see some more of Old Edinburgh. 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 the city and the tour for sure is good for a laughing; 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 and there are great festivals, including the Edinburgh Tattoo. I suggest you get yourself an Edinburgh Pass. 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! You decide for yourself what you feel like doing when visiting.
In the evening we dine in the popular bar/restaurant Ghillie Dhu. It once was a church, now it is a hot spot; a trendy pub/restaurant with live music. They serve good food and their own beer and 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 groups. 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 place for us 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 from the hotel to the centre of the city. We quickly check in, we have a very comfortable room and I sleep like a log after the 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, but we admire the exterior before having a look in the shopping centre in front of the quay. We go back to city centre. We have to do a tiny bit of work. We visit Hotel The George, a beautiful trendy hotel which all of us book quite often for our clients. We get a tour through the hotel, see the rooms and suites, and we get cup of tea with yummie pastries and sandwiches before we leave Edinburgh. We can skip lunch, because there was plenty to eat 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 remember men throwing logs. The Highland Games also includes Highland dancing and music, bagpipes… it is 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. Now 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. 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 get a try all. I think children will love searching for gold and see the red deer. But this is a place for all ages. We end the afternoon with a jeep safari through the Scottish Highlands, what a delight. The Highlands are so incredibly beautiful, really stunning. Before we have to go back, we stop to enjoy the view. Our driver has brought some whisky and shortbread with him for us all to enjoy. Great combination!!! And OMG… I wish I never tasted that shortbread, because now I am addicted I think.
We arrive at Dunalastair, Kinloch Rannoch, a beautiful and atmospheric hotel, great interior. The floors creak, it is full of history 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 I go for a walk, want to stretch my leg 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… Dinner again is excellent, the food in Scotland is amazing. Afterwards we sit in the lounge at a fireplace and 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. It is one of the famous whisky distilleries. We get a guided tour by a sweet Scotsman, we watch a film with the history of the Dewar family, receive an audio guide for the accompanying museum. Then we have a guided tour of the distillery and, to top it all, the guide opens a barrel with 28-year-old whisky and we can taste it too. We get to taste some other whisky as well at the shop. Fortunately small bits, otherwise we would leave this distillery 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 beautiful every minute. We walk around for a bit 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 view on the falls is while standing on the bridge. The falls must be a decor for movies, advertisements, etc. I can watch 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 and 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 rooms (it 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 and take some 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 m. 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; 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 a truly beautiful castle hotel in an equally beautiful setting… it is a bit of a fairy tail.
The rooms are dreamy and beautifully 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 a bit, 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 and standing in the rain. The rain washes it clean though.
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 with 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 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, the 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 Holland, are comfortable, the heater works, there is hot water and they have all the facilities we 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 go to Loch Fyne, we have a stop on the way and our driver Marc makes us warm soup we just enjoy the scenery. It is misty today and it makes this beautiful landscape mysterious and spooky. We go 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 and I explore the village. We both love photography and Scotland is just so photo genetic. We end up at a old cemetery and it is such a peaceful place with beautiful tombs and tomb stones. We return to the hotel at the end of the afternoon. The hotel has beautiful, cosy rooms and what a lovely place to stay for our last night at Scotland. We have the dinner in the hotel, it is once again so delicious… I never expected to taste such good food in Scotland, but thinking that was a big mistake. We sit at our table for as long as possible and sleep well at night!
It is our last day, 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. So we enjoy the scenery once more during our stops and while being on the bus. We drive back to the east coast. We have some extra time on our hands now and 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.
It is so impressive and the family who manages the estate still live 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 movie (yes… I am not ashamed to admit I have seen them all!). There are many fun things for children to do, like broom flying lessons, archery, etc. It is not Harry Potter world and thank G for that, although you can find a few 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 what a choice of food. 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 arriving 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 beautiful 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 see and experience Scotland; you will not regret it!
Travel Blog by Elisabeth, One Lucky Traveller
May 23, 2011