It was a long weekend – the Easter weekend in the month of April. I booked myself on a train to Edinburgh. All this while with a prayer on my lips – hoping for a sunny weekend. They say climate in Scotland is usually gloomy. Sun god obliged and I had a memorable 3 days in the Scottish Highlands with a quick tour of Edinburgh.
I landed in Edinburgh around lunch time. The sun was shining brightly. The first impressive building that I took note of in Edinburgh was the lovely Bank of Scotland building with a green dome on top. Since I had kept only half a day for Edinburgh, I headed straight to the heart of the city.
Royal Mile at Edinburgh
I am a sucker for old towns – the older the place more it fascinates me. So in Edinburgh, my biggest fascination was Royal Mile. It is a mile long road that in a way connects two historic places of Edinburgh. The Edinburgh castle and the Holyrood Palace. A steep gradient between the two ends never lets you forget that you are in Highlands. Not just me, Royal Mile is the hot favorite of most tourists visiting the Scottish capital. I walked the entire length of the road. I was so lost in admiring everything around that I did not realize I was walking on an incline.
Scotch Whiskey Heritage Centre
As an Indian, the first thing that you hear about Scotland is the Scotch Whiskey. How could you not stop at The Scotch Whiskey Heritage Centre? There is a demonstration of how whiskey is made from Barley. You can, of course, buy some from their extensive collection. You can take a tasting tour or dine in their restaurant that serves the authentic Scottish cuisine.
Tartan Weaving Mill
Next thing that we associate with Scotland is its woven Tartans in different patterns of checks. I used to love the red and black checks. So my next stop was Tartan Weaving Mill. This is where they showcase the whole process of making the famous Tartans. It is a working factory. You can see the process right from the wool from sheep to weaving various patterns. It is here that I learned that each Scottish tribe has its own pattern. If you like you can dress as a Scott and get clicked.
Our guide shared stories about the Scottish tribes and he shared a common saying. Never trust the Campbells. It took me back to the Indian caste system where each of the communities has something to say about other communities. I enjoyed my exploration of Tartans as I feel textiles are such an integral part of a culture.
Street art on Royal Mile at Edinburgh
While walking around the Royal Mile, I stopped in front of the relatively new statue of 17th CE philosopher and thinker David Hume.
Alexander Graham Bell, Adam Smith, and Alexander Fleming are other famous Scots.
Royal Mile is where I first met the bagpiper player wearing the traditional tartan skirt. And an open suitcase in front of him. I would keep meeting them throughout my exploration of Scottish highlands.
A visit to Edinburgh is not complete without visiting its towering castle sitting proudly on a hill. Archaeological evidence says that this region was inhabited since 1000 BCE. We do know that the castle exchanged many hands during its lifetime. Even today it is a working military establishment for Scottish division. What you must see from the castle is a view of the Edinburgh city.
Driving around Scottish Highlands
Next morning we started our exploration of Scottish highlands. On our agenda was Isle of Skye, Loch Ness, and Inverness.
Scottish castles can be seen just about everywhere. They come in all shapes and sizes. Some castles are so small that they look like a one-room stone house. While the others are big just like we know castles to be. The castle we spent some time at was Eilean Donan castle located about 6-7 hours drive from Edinburgh. You might remember this castle from some Bollywood film songs shot here. The most famous being the title song of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai.
Eilean Donan is a rugged stone castle standing on a tiny tidal island where three Lochs meet. A footbridge was added later. I assume for the ease of the tourists, but it looks lovely. I remember walking around the castle – through its rooms and laughing out at the mock kitchen setup right there right with utensils falling and the table laid. In other rooms, there was classic wood furniture and vintage oil paintings. I walked through its ruins outside surrounded by water all around.
Lochs, Lakes & Ghost stories
Scotland is made up of Lochs that lock up some land here and there. It resembles a Riviera if seen from the top but the water bodies you see here are arms of the sea.
Loch is the Irish and Scottish Gaelic word for a lake and a sea inlet.
Loch Ness is one of the most popular Loch in Scotland. A trip to Scottish highlands is not complete without paying your respects to the famous Loch. You can sit by its banks and enjoy the view. It is a large lake for all practical purposes. However what makes it interesting is the myth of Loch Ness Monster. Loch Ness Monster also called Nessie is a mythical aquatic animal that supposedly lives in the waters of Loch Ness. If you speak to the locals you would hear stories of the Nessie being sighted at various points in time by people. They would describe it as a giant creature that surfaces from the water.
Loch Ness contains more fresh water than all the freshwater lakes of the country combined.
Scientists, however, think of it as a cryptid – i.e. a creature whose existence is talked about but has never been verified. Several people have claimed to see the Loch Ness Monster and the only photograph of it can be seen at the Wikipedia page of Nessie.
Scottish Isles – Isle of Skye
At the Isle of Skye, the largest and the northernmost Island of Scotland, steep tall cliffs greeted us. The sheer blue water of the Atlantic ocean was unbelievable. Many years later, I shall see the Red Sea at Aqaba that had a similar blue color. I looked down from the edges of the cliffs – that must be at least a 100 feet high – the water was absolutely clear. I could see the underwater vegetation from the cliff top. White birds flying across looked perfect against the blue backdrop. I remember I risked falling down the cliff when I lied down on the steep slant to capture a bird in flight. Years later I would write about my stupidity in a post ‘Is it worth that picture?‘
Here and there we stopped at random waterfalls to enjoy this bounty of nature in the Scottish Highlands. Our guide pointed us to some hills as private hills. Imagine owning a hill at the edge of a mountain overlooking the blue Atlantic.
It was April when I drove around Scotland. This is the time when the flowers bloom and you can see bunches of yellow everywhere. What remains in my memory is the tulips – a flower that we do not see very often in Indian plains.
After India and after London, the roads of Scotland were a heaven to drive on. They were narrow as are most roads in the Scottish Highlands. They were scenic. There are small curves jutting out of the roads at regular intervals. I wondered for a while what was the purpose of these road extensions. But as the day rose and along with it traffic increased, I learned that these extensions are meant to enable the two-way traffic on a single lane road.
We met Scottish cows not exactly on the roads but quite close to them. These stout cows with long hair look very different from our almost hairless cows. What was interesting about the tourism economy of Scotland is that they charge you to click pictures of these cows or even Scottish huts around which these cows are tied. I wondered how much money would have flown to India if Indians charged for the cows clicked on the road.
Somewhere on our way back, we heard the myth of seven sisters where we could see layers of hills one behind the other.
Our guide played some nice country music and I found an instant connect with the folk music of the land. Something that plays in the background every time I remember this lovely trip. What I want to explore next time is some Inverness Highland Games.
Driving through the rolling hills, interspersed with water bodies and the colorful flowers make Scottish Highlands a perfect destination for a relaxed road trip.