Scotland

Trip Summary:

Dates: July 29th – August 14th

Year: 2016

Transportation Used:   Rental Car, Ferry, Taxi, Shuttle Bus

Currency: British Pound (GBP)

Capital City of Country: Edinburgh

Accommodation: Hostels, Bed and Breakfasts (thru Airbnb)

Number of Photos Taken: 5775

Favorite Place: The Quiraing (Isle of Skye)

Average Cost of a Full Meal: 10 – 12 GBP

Average Cost of a Night per Person: 15 to 20 GBP (hostels), 30 to 40 GBP (B&B’s)

 

Introduction:

Scotland is one of the few places in the world that I’ve been that seems to have something for everyone. There are great cities, open landscapes, high mountains, steep valleys, lakes and rivers everywhere, and to make everything better, the people are consistently friendly and helpful everywhere that you go. The history of Scotland also makes it unique and it seems that everywhere that you go in the country you can find old castles and ruins, as well as legends and stories to go along with them, that all make your imagination run wild.

When I arrived in Scotland, I was coming from a trip to Iceland and the Faroe Islands. I flew from the Faroe Islands and met up with my girlfriend, Hilary, at the Edinburgh bus station. She had just arrived after her flight from Canada, and I was feeling exhausted after 3 weeks of steady travel, but we were both very excited to begin our Scotland adventure.

 

Edinburgh: (July 29 – August 2)

Immediately after landing in Edinburgh, I began to realize how cool the city was. Even on the outskirts of town and near the airport, the architecture was already amazing, and it only got better the closer I got to the city centre.

The amount of character and history that you find in Edinburgh makes it one of my favorite cities that I’ve travelled to, and exploring the old streets and buildings sometimes makes it feel like you’ve been transported back to the medieval times. Oh, and did I mention that the Scottish people are incredibly friendly everywhere that we went?


TIP: We stayed at the Castle Rock Hostel. It’s located near the Edinburgh Castle, so the location is really convenient for walking everywhere that you need to go, and the hostel itself was great. It’s quite a large hostel, and the back side of it opens up to Grass Market Square so when the windows were opened, you could hear the sounds of music, clinking glases, and voices floating up from below.


 

The city centre is split up into a couple of sections, namely the Old Town and New Town. The Royal Mile makes up the central feature of the Old Town and it is a wide cobblestone street that stretches along a ridge, The Edinburgh Castle is at the top of the ridge, and the parliament buildings and palace are at the bottom of the hill. The Royal Mile is mostly lined with gift shops, pubs, and restaurants, but it’s great to walk and explore.


TIP: As the Royal Mile can be quite crowded during the busy months of the summer, it’s worth waking up early one morning before all of the tours start (especially if you want any pictures along it) as you will have it mostly to yourself.


 

On either side of the Royal Mile, there are lots of streets, bridges, and alleys (or closes), to explore. The closes were my favorites and they all have different names with signs above the entrances, such as Anchor Close, or Advocates Close.

Then there is the new town (which, contrary to its name, is still very old) and it has some large shopping outlets, and lots of pubs and cafes. Sprinkled amongst the New Town and Old Town are lots of churches and cathedrals, parks, and squares.


TIP: During most of the month of August, Edinburgh hosts a major event called the Fringe Festival. It’s a massive art festival and there are different shows at different venues throughout the old town. Some are paid and some are free. We ended up being a few days too early for the festival, but things were being set up and the city was already becoming busier. If you plan to be in Edinburgh during the month of August, make sure to book ahead early as everything fills up quickly.


 

We didn’t go into any paid attractions, even though there are many, we found that there were always lots to explore without having to pay any entry fees. Some days we would get away from the busy streets of the Old Town and Royal Mile and check out some of the more local areas and neighbourhoods, which offered a nice change.

For food, we mostly ate from grocery stores. We were able to cut down on costs this way and the prices were generally very reasonable. If you are looking to get something on the run, however, we ate at a place called Oink that had great pulled pork sandwiches.

Some of my favorite things in Edinburgh were:

 

  • Walking from the Palace to the Castle along the Royal Mile:

At some point during your stay in Edinburgh, you will inevitably walk along the entire length of the Royal Mile. It tends to be quite busy during the peak of the afternoon, so it’s worth waiting until early morning or late evening if you want to see it when it’s quieter, and especially if you want any pictures. There are lots of shops, pubs, and cafes to check out, and there are usually quite a few street performers as well.

 

  • St. Giles Cathedral:

St. Giles Cathedral is near the top of the Royal Mile and you can hardly miss it. Make sure to stop in to take a look inside at some point.

 

  • Closes:

I had already mentioned this above, but it’s worth mentioning again. All along the Royal Mile are narrow alleyways called closes and each one has a different name. One of my favorites was Anchor close, and we would usually try to take different routes every time we went to or from the Royal Mile so that we could explore the different closes.

 

  • Edinburgh Castle:

The Edinburgh Castle is located at the top of the Royal Mile and is the centre piece for the Old Town of Edinburgh. We never went into the castle itself as you needed a ticket, but you can get great views of the castle from different places around the city. One of my favorite views is actually of the back side of the castle from the Prince’s Street Gardens, near the Ross Fountain.

 

  • Arthur’s Seat and Salisbury Crags:

At some point during your stay in Edinburgh, it’s worth setting aside some time to walk to the top of Arthur’s Seat. There are a bunch of trails up to the top and it doesn’t really matter which way you take up or down as they all go to the same spot. You can get a great view of the entire city from the top. If you’re looking for great sunset or sunrise pictures, I would recommend walking to the top of the smaller ridge in front of Arthur’s Seat, called Salisbury Crags, as I found the view even better than from Arthur’s Seat. Rather than looking down on the entire city from far away, you are closer and at eye level with the city which I preferred.

 

  • Calton Hill:

If you look at any photos of Edinburgh, you will likely come across a photo of the Dugald Stewart monument taken from the top of Calton Hill. You can get a great view from Calton Hill, and it’s an especially great place to watch the sunset.

 

  • The Meadows:

The meadows are a large park within walking distance of the Royal Mile. It’s very near the University of Edinburgh and is a large park where people play games and have fires. It’s a great place if you’re looking for a change from roaming the busy streets.

 

  • Victoria Street (and Grassmarket Square), and Cockburn Street:

Victoria Street and Cockburn street are two steep and curved streets off of the Royal Mile that I found to be particularly picturesque. They’re both lined with small shops and pubs and are fairly unique. At the bottom of Victoria Street is Grassmarket Square which is also a cool place to wander and has some colourful buildings that look great in photos.

 

  • Walkway of Leith and Deans Village:

A little bit outside of the New Town, you can find an area of Edinburgh called Deans Village, which has some cool streets and buildings to explore. Nearby is a stream called the Water of Leith, and you there is a walkway along it which, not surprisingly, is called the Water Walkway of Leith. If you’re looking for something new to see other than the old and new towns of Edinburgh, make sure to check these out.

 

  • Princes Street Gardens:

The Princes Street Gardens are in between the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh. When you get tired feet from wandering the city, they’re a great place to find a bench, some grass, or some shade under a tree. At one end of the gardens you’ll find the Ross Fountain and from there you can get a good view up to the back side of the Edinburgh Castle.

 

  • North Berwick:

North Berwick is a small town along the coast that is only about 30 or 40 minutes from Edinburgh. You get on at the Waverly train station and a ticket costs about 12 GBP. There isn’t a ton to see or do, but if you get overwhelmed in the crowds and people of Edinburgh, it’s a nice quick break for the afternoon to get you out of the city. There is a beach to explore, some walking and a small hill to climb, and a couple of streets with some shopping and cafes. You can also check out the Seabird Centre.

 

Fort William: (August 2 – 5)

After exploring Edinburgh for 4 days, we rented a vehicle and headed out of the city to see more of the country. As beautiful as Edinburgh was, it was great to leave the city and I’ve always found that the best parts of any country usually lie outside of the cities where you can see the natural landscapes. Fort William was our first stop and served as our home base for a while as we explored the nearby areas.


TIP: We rented a vehicle from Arnold Clark (through Celtic Legend) for 10 days and the total cost was 405.40 GBP. And, while I’m talking about vehicles I’ll also mention that fuel prices tend to be quite high in Scotland and the price was around 1.22 pound per litre when we were there. The freedom of having a car is definitely worth it, but those are roughly the costs that you can expect if you’re looking for an estimate.


 

It took us about 2 or 3 hours to drive from Edinburgh to Fort William and we made a few stops along the way as there is lots to see and the landscape changes quite quickly the further north that you travel.


TIP: The highland area of Scotland is very famous for it’s unique open landscapes and it starts just  north of Sterling. There are a few commonly used terms that are unique to Scotland that are worth knowing.

  • Loch: A natural body of water. A loch can be freshwater, like a lake, or saltwater, like a sea inlet.
  • Ben: A mountain peak.
  • Glen: A deep valley.

 

The only problem with renting a car in Scotland, if you’re like us, is that you have to drive on the left side of the road. At first I thought that this would be a minor change, but I didn’t realize how foreign it would feel until I tried it. We got used to driving on the left side of the road after a couple of days and it feels normal when you’re on the highway, but when you’re driving around the city taking lots of turns and roundabouts, it gets confusing quickly. If you ever get confused though and need to know which lane is yours, just sing Beyonce’s “to the left, to the left” in your head and you’ll have no problems.

The worst part though, is that the driver and passenger are switched as they are right-hand drive vehicles. This felt very weird as you had to shift with your left hand, and even the mirrors were backward so the rear-view mirror was on the left rather than right. More than anything though, I just felt off-centre being on the other side of the vehicle.

But the good news is that I only got honked at twice on the drive from Edinburgh to Fort william so, under the circumstances, I felt quite proud. The combination of driving on the left, the right-hand drive vehicles, and driving in a new city and country made it quite a challenge.

Fort William, however, turned out to be a great base for exploring the area, and during our time there, we stayed at the Chase the Wild Goose Hostel, just outside of Fort William.

The area around Fort William is beautiful and there is a ton to see and do. You could spend a lot of time in this area exploring all of the glens and lochs, and climbing the different peaks and ridges. You can also look at staying in Glencoe which is nearby Fort William and seemed like it would also be a great place to stay.

Also, if you find yourself in this area of Scotland, keep an eye out for the highland cows, or hairy coos. These are special cows that were first bred in the highlands of Scotland and have a coat of long hair, as well as large horns.

They aren’t overly common, but we spotted some around Sterling, as well as north of Fort William (on our way up to Isle of Skye), and south of Fort William (on our way down to Isle of Arran). If you keep your eyes open for them, you’re bound to come across them grazing in a field somewhere.

Some of our favorite things to check out in the area around Fort William and Glencoe were:

 

  • Sterling:

We stopped in sterling for a few hours on the way from Edinburgh to Fort William. If you have more time than we had, Sterling is definitely worth spending some time exploring. It’s kind of like a small Edinburgh and has some neat streets and shops. It also has a fairly large castle that would likely be worth checking out.

 

  • Ben Nevis:

Ben Nevis is a hike (or hill walk as the Scots call it) that starts just a few miles out of Fort William. At 1,345 metres, the peak of Ben Nevis is the highest point in the United Kingdom.

To access the hike, you drive to the Glen Nevis visitor centre where it costs about 3 pound to park for the day. On the day that we went, the clouds were quite low so we had great views and weather about half way up. After that there was no visibility and I can’t say much about the views that you get from the top as we could barely see anything, although I would guess that they are spectacular on a clear day.

The entire climb took us about 6 hours from top to bottom. It was surprisingly more busy than we thought it would be and there was nearly a stream of people steadily climbing. The path is wide and never gets very steep or tough. It is a long ways though and there is a lot of hopping between rocks and carefully placing your feet that gets exhausting after a while. It’s definitely worth the hike, but on a day when the clouds are low or the visibility is bad, it might be worth doing one of the numerous other hikes in the area that are at a lower altitude.

 

  • Glen Coe:

Just outside of the town of Glencoe is the valley with the name Glen Coe.  The highway goes right through Glen Coe and there are several pull offs along the drive that have great views. One of the times that we drove through it took us several hours because we kept stopping to take pictures and take in the views. You can also park and do a lot of walking throughout the area from these pull offs. It’s a really cool place to check out and explore and is very easy to access.

 

  • Glen Etive:

Glen Etive is a bit east of Glen Coe and has recently been made famous for being the film location for parts of Skyfall. The road through the Glen is a single lane road but it’s a really gorgeous place to explore and do some walking. If you feel like it, you can find the  location from the movie and try to replicate the shot. I’m a bit nerdy and that’s my favourite Bond movie so I couldn’t help myself

 

  • Castle Stalker:

Castle stalker is about 30 or 40 minutes from Glencoe (and about and hour and a half from Fort William) and is definitely worth a visit if you have time. It is a small castle built on an island just off of the coast and it was the film location for the Monty Python and the Holy Grail. There is no land access to the castle, which at first seems strange, until you remember that during the time that the castle was built, most of the travel was done by ship and by boat as there were very few roads along the shore.

You can get a good view from a pullout just off of the road by parking in a cafe parking lot, or drive down further to the parking lots of The Old Inn just off the highway that is near the water where you can get a different view. For a totally different view again, you can drive further south along A828 and take a right turn onto the Tyneribbie road where you will see the castle from the south side.

 

  • The Old Inverlochy Castle:

We didn’t have time to check out the Old Inverlochy Castle ourself, but it’s located just a few minutes off of the road that passes through Fort William. It might be something to check out if you’re in the area.

 

  • Glenfinnan (Monument and Viaduct Bridge):

There is a ton to check out in Glenfinnan and it’s definitely worth stopping here for a morning or afternoon. It’s about 30 or 40 minutes west of Fort William along the A830.You can pull off of the highway into a visitor centre and pay 2 pound to park for the entire day.

For the steam train (known as the Jacobite) crossing the bridge there are two times a day that you can see it. One at 11 and one at 3. Unfortunately we just missed the first crossing but we ended up staying longer than we had planned and had lunch in the area and then decided to stick around until the second crossing. It’s really cool to see, and if you didn’t notice, this is used as a film location for the Hogwarts Express train in Harry Potter.

We spent some time wandering around the bridge and seeing it from different angles, and my favorite view was from the east side. As you are walking towards the bridge, the main trail takes you to the west side, and that tends to be where most of the people gather to watch the train crossing. If you keep going past the main trail, however, there is a bridge that crosses the creek and takes you along a road to the east side. You can then climb a small hill to get a great view of the bridge.

Other than the train bridge, you can also check out the Glenfinnan monument, which is on the shores of Loch Shiel. There is a viewpoint above the visitor centre and then you can also walk down to the lake to climb the monument itself if you feel like it. It’s definitely worth spending some time here to take in the history, as well as all of the photo opportunities.

We stopped in an Glenfinnan on our way up to isle of Skye and continued on to Malaig where we planned to catch a ferry over to Skye. We didn’t realize that you had to book ahead for the ferry so we got there and found out that it was full. Unfortunately, we then had to turn around and drive over the Skye bridge to get to Skye. If you have time, however, the drive all of the way from Fort William to Malaig along the A830 is incredibly scenic and is worth the drive even if you’re not catching a ferry from Malaig.

 

Isle of Skye: (August 5 to 9)

isle-of-skye-quiraing-ben-campbell

The highland area of Scotland, and especially Isle of Skye, is quite popular and famous, and for obvious reasons. It really is a beautiful area of the country and has very dramatic scenery. The weather tends to be a bit rainy and foggy, but that adds to the drama.

Isle of Skye seems to capture all of the beauty of the highlands in one small package and it’s one of those frustrating places to travel because you know that there is an endless amount of things to explore, but with limited time you’re only able to scratch the surface. But, it’s a beautiful place, so take your time and see what you can see and you won’t be disappointed.


TIP: We stayed at the Skyewalker Hostel and loved it. It’s a really cool place but is quite a ways off of the main road so it’s nice to have a car if you decide to stay there. It’s nearby to the Fairy Pools and some nice beaches, but many of the main sights are about 30 minutes to an hour drive from the hostel. We enjoyed it though and the isolation of the hostel was quite nice after a busy day.


 

Because Isle of Skye is quite a popular place for tourists, we did find some of the sights to be busy. Many of the popular spots only had small parking lots that fit 10 or 15 vehicles, so in the peak of the afternoon there were usually vehicles parked all along the sides of the road around these spots. Like anywhere though, there is significantly less people if you go early in the morning or later in the evening, and you’ll have better light for pictures that way anyways! If you’re planning to go to Skye, make sure that you book ahead as accommodation is fairly limited and gets booked up fast.

The last thing that I should warn you about in the highland areas of Scotland are the midges. If you’ve never seen them before, they’re a little fly that are so small that you can barely see them, but they fly around in clouds and are relentless when they find you. They land on your face and fly into your mouth, ears, eyes, and nose and leave little bites. We didn’t have any bug spray with us, and when we were in a spot where they were bad, we would put up our hoods and try to stay as covered up as possible. So now you’ve been warned!

Some of our favorite sights on Isle of Skye were:

 

  • Eileen Doran Castle:

The Eileen Doran castle isn’t quite on the Isle of Skye, but it is very near to the Skye Bridge which takes you from the mainland to Skye. So, you will more than likely drive past the castle on your way to or from Isle of Skye as it is just off of the main highway.

We stopped at Eileen Doran both on the way up to Isle of Skye, as well as the way back down. There are lots of different angles that you can explore to get different pictures of the castle, so it’s worth giving yourself a bit of time here. If you can time your arrival for a sunset, you’ll be even better off.

This was also the only castle that we entered that had an admission fee. I can’t compare it to any other castles, but it was worth it to us to take a look inside. It’s a fairly small castle, so it doesn’t take long to see the entire interior, but it was worth checking out nonetheless.

 

  • Old Man of Storr:

The Old Man of Storr is a rock column that you can hike up to. It’s just north of the town of Portree and the first of the main sights to see along the Trotternish peninsula. There is a small parking lot along the highway, but as this is one of the most popular walks on the island, the parking lot is usually full and then the cars begin to line up down to road itself.

The hike up is brief and only takes about 30 minutes. If you hike all the way to the top of the ridge there is a little look out that gives you a great view back down to the rock pillars (called the Sanctuary, where the Old Man of Storr is the tallest pillar). There are a bunch of well worn paths around the top and you can spend quite a bit of time walking amongst, around, and above the pillars.

 

  • Kilt Rock:

Kilt Rock is just past the Old Man of Storr along the Trotternish Peninsula. It isn’t fantastic, but it’s worth stopping in quick if the parking lot isn’t full. You can see a small waterfall that drops into the ocean, and Kilt Rock itself is a set of cliffs that have vertical lines that make them look like pleated kilts.

 

  • The Quiraing:

The Quiraing is by far my favorite place on the Isle of Skye. To me, it encompasses the dramatic skies and landscapes that Skye is famous for and there’s something very magical about the place. We checked out the Quiraing during one of our first days on Isle of Skye when we drove the entire loop around the Totternish Peninsula, but I liked it so much that I returned to catch the sunrise here on our last day before we left the island. To catch the sunset, I had to wake up at 5:00AM and drive an hour from our hostel out to the Quiraing, but it was definitely worth it. The photo underneath the “Isle of Skye” headline just above is one of the photos from this morning.

It’s really easy to get to, and you simply follow the signs off of the highway and drive the single track road up to the top. When you’re there, you can head north below the rock face and towards the columns of rock in the distance (called the prison) and you will find a narrow path. If the upper trail is muddy and slippery, or if the upper parking lot is full, you can also park at the graveyard below and there is a trail from there that also takes you to the prison.

Besides walking to the prison, there are a lot of other paths and trails to explore. You can also walk to some other areas such as the table, the ridge to the south, as well as the cliff tops to the north.

 

  • Fairy Glen:

Fairy Glen is another cool little area along the western side of the Trotternish Peninsula. It’s not far off of the main road and is a fairly unique landscape. We didn’t have a chance to explore it much (or take any pictures unfortunately) as there was a torrential downpour and strong wind when we were there but there were a bunch of small conical hills and spires and a path that wound along between them. Lots of people said that the area looked like the Scottish landscapes in miniature, but they must have had a better imagination than me, because I didn’t see it. But I will agree that it’s a magical place that warrants some exploration.

 

  • Dunvegan Castle:

I never entered the Dunvegan Castle itself so I can’t speak to what it’s like inside, but it is a good option for something to do on a rainy day.

 

  • Neist Point:

The day that we went to Neist Point was very stormy, and storms seem to be even more exaggerated on Neist Point. It was so windy that even walking was difficult as every time you lifted your foot to take a step it got blown sideways. So to go straight ahead you had to point yourself at an angle to make up for the wind. The bonus, however, is that once you get to the tip of Neist Point, you can watch the waves crash against the rocks where they splash up in a huge wall of water.

 

From the parking lot, you can take a path down a steep hill that takes you all of the way out to the tip of the point where the lighthouse is built. There is another cool viewpoint that you can get to that gives you a great view of the entire point, with the cliffs on each side. Instead of dropping down on the path immediately from the parking lot, you head north along the cliff’s edge until you can see the entire length of the point.

 

  • Portree:

Portree is the largest town on Isle of Skye and would make a great place to base yourself if you’re staying on Isle of Skye. Otherwise, it’s definitely worth spending some time checking out even if you’re not staying there. There is a nice area around the centre of town with accommodation and shops, as well as a harbour lined with colourful buildings. To get the view in the picture above, there is a small pull off on the road that goes through Portree where you can get a view down into the harbour below.

 

  • Fairy Pools:

The Fairy Pools are another popular spot on Isle of Skye. They are a series of waterfalls and deep clear pools along a small stream of water that flows from the impressive Black Cuillin mountains. Just like most of the popular spots on Skye, there is a small parking lot that fills up quickly above the fairy pools, so during the middle of the afternoon, there are vehicles lining both sides of the single lane road above the pools. So, you’re probably best to visit the pools early in the morning or later in the evening if possible.

From the parking lot, there’s a small path that takes you down into the valley and then it follows along beside the stream. There are quite a few different waterfalls and small pools of clear water lined with colourful rocks, and if you’re feeling brave you can jump in for a refreshing swim.

 

  • Glenbrittle Beach:

A little ways past the Fairy Pools, you reach the coast where you will find the Glenbrittle beach. There’s a small campsite here and the beach is quite nice. If you’re near the Fairy Pools already, it’s worth driving a bit further out to visit the beach.

 

  • Talisker Beach:

Another beach on Isle of Skye that is worth checking out is Talisker Beach. I can’t say much about it as we never had a chance to make it there, but it’s near the town of Cabost on the west side of Isle of Skye and it’s supposed to be a great place to watch the sun set.

 

  • Cafes:

During our time on Isle of Skye, we noticed that there are small cafes everywhere you go. A lot of times, it would seem like we were in the middle of nowhere and quite far away from any of the main roads when we would come across signs for a cafe. If you’re wanting a quick coffee, tea, or a lunch, make sure that you keep an eye out for some of these cafes. One rainy afternoon, we stopped in at the Red Roof Cafe near Neist Point and had some great fresh baking, teas, and local cheese.

 

  • Elgol:

If you’re looking for a few other ideas for things to do on Isle of Skye, you can look at driving out to Elgol. From here, you can get a great view into the heart of the Black Cuillin mountains, and you can also take different boat tours from here if you’re looking to get out onto the water. We didn’t spend time at Elgol itself, but instead did some walking along some of the trails along the road out to Elgol.

There is a part of the road out to Elgol that wraps around the end of Loch Slapin that is particularly scenic, and near here you can find the walking trail that takes you up to the mountain Bla Bheinn. Beside this, there are a few other trails in the area and it’s a nice area to explore if you have some time.

 

Isle of Arran: (August 10 – 12)

After our time on Isle of Skye, our next stop was Isle of Arran. The drive from Isle of Skye to Isle of Arran was longer than we wanted to do in a single day, so we decided to stay one night in the small town of Ardfern where we were able to find a place through Airbnb.

One thing that we found about driving through this area of Scotland, is that the trees and vegetation are very dense and thick and seem to make a solid green wall on either side of the road. At times, the branches of the larger trees bridge right over the road, so it seems like you are driving through an endless green tunnel made from the trees.

Because of this, however, it’s hard to see around corners, and the roads are very windy and narrow to begin with, so we ended up driving a lot slower than the speed limit of 70 mph. The road is like this all of the way from Fort William down to Isle of Arran, so it ended up taking us a lot longer to drive this section than we had expected.

On the morning of August 10th, we caught a ferry from Claonaig to Lochranza on Isle of Skye and made our way to the Airbnb that we were staying at near the town of Blackwaterfoot.

 


TIP: If you head to Isle of Arran, you don’t need to book ahead for the ferry from Claonaig to Lochranza. We found out the hard way, however, that you do need to book ahead for the crossing between Brodick and Ardrossan. We had planned to leave Isle of Arran through the Brodick crossing but weren’t able to get any tickets and had to return the way that we had come, which added several hours of driving.


 

Unfortunately, during our time on Isle of Arran it rained from the moment that we arrived to the moment that we left. We didn’t mind too much, however, as we were quite worn out from the fast pace that we had been travelling since the start of the trip. Because of this, our time on Arran took on a slower pace and we spent most of our days reading, driving around the island, and doing small walks when the rain let up slightly.

The home that we stayed in was an old farmhouse with creaky floors and we had a simple room in the loft of the house. Just like everything in Scotland…it had history. During our time on Arran, it seemed like time slowed down a little and while the outside world buzzed around, we were in a quiet corner away from all of the noise. Maybe it was because of the rain and wet weather, or maybe the feeling of the old farmhouse and the hospitality of our Scottish hosts, or maybe simply because we were on a small island only accessible by ferry that seemed to be completely isolated from the outside world.

Whatever it was, it made me realize how travel can make things feel so simple and aligned. Our only possessions were what we had in our backpacks, and our only worries were what we were going to do for the day. That was the simple entirety of our life at that moment.

The people that we stayed with on Arran were an older couple that lived quiet lives as artists. Their home was very cozy and welcoming, but they didn’t have or need much. When I think back to our time on Arran, the feelings that always emerge are ones of quiet peacefulness and simplicity. There is lots to see, do and explore, but there is also no rush. It’s a contrast from where we had come from on Skye, and was a nice change.

If you find yourself on Isle of Arran, here are a couple of places that are worth exploring:

 

  • Glen Rosa and Glen Ashdale:

There is a lot of great walking on Isle of Skye, and likely two of the best places are Glen Rosa and Glen Ashdale. We didn’t spend much time in these areas because the rain was very heavy on the day that we went, but on a nicer day it would be a great area to explore.

If you are camping, there is a small campsite at the bottom of Glen Rosa as well.

 

  • Hiking Goatfell:

Goatfell is highest point on Arran at 874m, and sits near the head of Glen Rosa. We didn’t have time to climb it ourselves, but with some time and some nice weather, it would be worth looking into.

 

  • King’s Cave:

King’s Cave is along the west side of Isle of Arran and there is a large parking lot right off of the road. From the parking lot, it only takes about an hour and a half to walk to the cave and back. There are two trails so you can do a loop. The cave is right on the beach, facing out to water, and inside you can find carvings and pictures on the walls that date back many centuries.

 

  • Beaches:

Some of the best beaches that we saw in Scotland were on Isle of Arran. There are quite a few around the island and they tend to be quite wide with nice, fine sand.

 

Glasgow: (Aug 12 – 14)

Our last stop on the trip was Glasgow, as this was where we caught our flight home from. When we left Isle of Arran we were planning to cross on the ferry from Brodick to Ardrossan, but as the crossing was sold out for the times that we needed we ended up having to take the long way around by crossing from Lochranza to Claonaig, and driving along A83. This turned out to be quite a bit longer, but the drive was gorgeous and we drove through places like Inveraray, and along Loch Lomond. The town of Inveraray was especially nice and if you can squeeze it into your schedule, it would definitely be a great place to stop for anywhere from an afternoon to a couple of days.

When we finally arrived in Glasgow, we returned our car and then made our way to the place that we had found on Airbnb in the Southampton area.


TIP: When you are looking for a place to stay in Glasgow, you should aim to stay in the West End of Glasgow and as close to Byers Road as possible.


 

I had met a friend from Glasgow when I was travelling in Peru and I was able to get in touch with him. We met up several times during our stay in Glasgow and he gave us a ton of awesome tips about the city and was able to show us around different parts. There’s nothing better than getting tips about a place from someone who lives there, and I’ll share everything that we learned below.

Before I get into things to see and do in Glasgow, I should quickly compare Glasgow to Edinburgh, as they are the two major cities of Scotland. There seems to be a clear distinction between the cities, where Edinburgh is the tourist city, and Glasgow is more of the city where people work and live. This is mostly true in that the architecture and the sights in Edinburgh are more glamourous, and there seem to be more things to do as a tourist.

On the other hand, though, Glasgow is a great city to visit as a tourist as it has a very local feel to it and, even though there are a lot of museums, shops, and pubs, it feels more like a real city. There is a ton of music in Glasgow and lots of pubs, where you will likely find more locals than tourists. Both Glasgow and Edinburgh are great cities to visit and I can’t say that I preferred one over the other as they were both great. The contrast between them is interesting, but my point is that you shouldn’t disregard Glasgow because it is less set up for tourism. Instead, this is what sets it apart from Edinburgh and it may even work in Glasgow’s favour at times.

Anyways, let’s get into the things that are good to check out in Glasgow. Unfortunately, because we only had a short stay in Glasgow, we didn’t get to see a lot of the sights on this list ourselves, but here it is anyways:

 

  • Byers Road:

Byers Road is the main street that cuts through the West End. It’s lined with pubs and shops and has lots to explore. There is a little lane behind Byers Road called Ashton Lane that is also really cool (especially at night) so keep an eye out for that.

At the top end of Byers Road, you will find a pub called Oran Mor. The pub is actually in an old church, and the bottom floor has been converted into a bar. It’s really cool!

 

  • Botanic Gardens:

The botanic gardens are at the top of Byers Road and are worth stopping by if you have some time. There’s not a ton to see unless you’re really into trees and plants, but it’s a place to get a break from the busy streets and might be a good place to have lunch.

 

  • The University of Glasgow:

Even though we weren’t expecting it, the University of Glasgow was one of our favorite things that we saw in the city. It’s an incredibly old campus and the main building is absolutely beautiful. It has a Hogwarts kind of a feel to it, and it’s hard to believe that it’s a real, working univeristy because it feels more like a movie set or an old restored castle.

 

  • Hunterian Museum:

Within the main building of the University is the Hunterian Museum. It’s free to enter and has displays mainly focussing on the medical field. There are lots of surgical instruments, human and animal specimens, and other freaky things. If you’re not into those kinds of things, it’s at least worth looking in the building as the rooms themselves are very impressive.

 

  • Kelvingrove Museum:

The Kelvingrove museum is just below the University and is also worth taking a look through. We didn’t have much time and only went through a small portion of the exhibits, but it is a huge and beautiful building and the exhibits are quite interesting. Again, the entry to the Kelvingrove is free.

 

  • Transport Museum (or Riverside Museum):

We never made it to the transport museum, but it was a recommendation from my friend who lives in Glasgow so I thought I’d mention it quick.

 

  • City Centre:

The city centre of Glasgow is where a lot of Glasgow’s sights are located. The river Clyde goes along one side of the city centre, and walking along the water you will see the Science Centre, the SECC and other impressive buildings. Some other sights in and around the city centre are Glasgow Green, the Glasgow cathedral, and George Square.

 

  • Check Out a Football Match:

The last recommendation that I have would be to check out a football match. There were no matches being played while we were in Glasgow unfortunately, but it’s something to look into doing that you might not usually consider.

 

Conclusion:

Scotland is one of those frustrating places to travel because there is so much to see and do that you end up leaving a lot of places unexplored and untouched. It’s one of those places that you are constantly driving by places and regretfully looking in your rearview mirror or over your shoulder because you simply don’t have time to see everything that you would like to.

Whether it’s exploring castles and cathedrals, walking in the highlands, reading a book while it’s raining outside, or simply walking down ancient streets and alleys, Scotland has it all. If any of those things sound even remotely like something that you would enjoy, then Scotland should definitely be on your list of places to travel.

It can be quite busy during the high season of summer so make sure to book ahead for accommodation, ferries, and any rentals that you are planning. I would advise against doing any tours in Scotland as you can easily see everything that would be offered in the tours yourself and with far more freedom, but it is always an option if you are looking to avoid driving yourself, or if you have a very limited time.

The areas of Scotland that I mention above are only the places that we were able to travel to, but there are so many more islands and other areas around the highlands that look just as awesome. Because of this, I would love to return to Scotland again to see more of the country and hopefully travel to some of the quieter, and lesser known corners.

So, if you are at all intrigued by wide open landscapes, ancient cities, friendly people, and rich history, then Scotland has a lot to offer, and I promise that you will never run out of places to explore. The opportunities for adventure are endless in Scotland, and the only thing that will hold you back, is not having enough time to see it all.


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