Series so Far
This is part three of a five-part series outlining our 2016 Europe trip.
- Jet lag recovery: Bordeaux, France
- Basque Country Tour: Bayonne, France; Pamplona, Spain; San Sebastián, Spain; Bilbao, Spain
- Scotland, pt. 1: Edinburgh, St. Andrews, and Inverness. You’re reading this right now!
- Scotland, pt. 2:. Isle of Skye, Oban, Stirling, and Glasgow
After the Basque portion of the trip, we met up with Brian and Amber for a fortnight exploring Scotland via car. The idea of a followup to our 2013 Ireland Trip has been floating around for a few years now, and when we originally envisioned this journey it included all of Great Britain. We quickly realized that most of our destinations were in the Scottish Highlands, and condensed the plan to include less geographic area so we could spend more time exploring the area.
September 29th, 2016: Edinburgh, Scotland
The stately capital of Scotland was the logical start to the trip. After flying in and meeting at the airport, we took the tram to the center of the city before settling in at our apartment near the Royal Mile. We ate pizza, drank cider, and did nothing else of much note for the rest of the day. Everyone had been up way before dawn, and we all crashed early.
September 30th, 2016: Edinburgh
Most people choose to do the Royal Mile on their first day of Edinburgh so they can get the touristy parts done while simultaneously getting oriented. Since it was going to be rainy all day, we decided to spend our time at the Scottish National Museum.
After the museum and a nice hot baked potato for lunch, we continued on towards the Maison de Moggy: a cat cafe. Checking in for our scheduled time, we quickly set ourselves loose exploring the various cats that lived here. Although Fabian the Norwegian Forest Cat, Pauline the Maine Coon, and Sebastian the British Short Hair were all popular, Elodie the Sphinx was the star of the show.
The cats basically ignored us and slept unless there was food available. The Sphinx however, was rumored to be an outstanding cupcake snatcher and we were adamantly warned not to let any food unsupervised: even for a moment.
Being mostly hairless, the Sphinx loved to live in a basket next to a heater. Unfortunately for the hairless creature, the other cats were extremely aware of this wonderful heat source and would steal the seat every chance they got.
After a much too short hour, we reluctantly parted from our furry relaxation for some more serious matters: whisky tasting.
Dinner was Indian food from the place below our apartment. This resulted in us getting curry grease all over the apartment and our clothing for the rest of our stay.
October 1st, 2016: Edinburgh
Cat cafe and history completed, it was time for the Royal Mile! Except we were doing it backwards and starting at the Scottish Parliament and then working our way up to the Edinburgh Castle. Why? Because our Parliament tour was scheduled for early in the morning!
A recent building, the Scottish Parliament was an outstanding piece of modern architecture’s take on what a democratic institutional building looks like. Airy and light, it embraced eco-friendliness and open government while hiding little symbols of Scottish Nationality throughout.
Making a leisurely stroll up the Royal Mile, we soon bumped into the Edinburgh Castle. Naturally we went inside.
The military value of Edinburgh Castle is apparent as it the volcanic plug it is constructed on looms over the entire city. With three steep sides on the hill, there exists only one approach to the castle itself. They needed this advantage, as the castle has been the site of numerous sieges over the centuries.
October 2nd, 2016: Edinburgh to St. Andrews
Today is the day to pick up our 2008 manual transmission petrol Peugeot or similar rental car. When we showed up to pick up the car, turns out the only thing they had available was an automatic diesel DS 5 by Citroen. Free upgrade? Sure! With Brian in the driver’s seat, we pulled out into midday Edinburgh traffic and headed off towards St. Andrews.
The town of St. Andrews serves many roles. It’s the home of the Old Course at St Andrews Links, which is more-or-less considered the spiritual birthplace of golf. Founded in 1413, the University of St Andrews lives within the city as well.
Arriving on Sunday, we lucked into a particularly good day to visit St. Andrews. For you see, on Sunday the Old Course is open to all to wander around: there is no golfing. Naturally we took advantage of this situation and wandered around a bit in the glorious Scottish sunshine.
After wandering around the course for a bit, we pulled out our guidebook and started a walking tour of the town. Home of the ruined St Andrews Cathedral, the town still retains many characteristics of a pilgrimage destination. All of the main roads lead towards the cathedral, and only small secondary alleyways called “wynds” run perpendicular to the main streets. Following a few of these as they run past backyards and stone walls, we inched our way closer to the cathedral grounds.
Reaching the evocative ruins, we poked around at the few remaining walls and towers that still survived.
We were kicked out of the cathedral grounds when it closed, and made it to our luxury Premier Inn in Dundee for the night.
October 3rd, 2016: Dundee to Inverness
As we traced our way through the heart of Scotland, the first stop of the day was the small town of Pitlochry. Home of two whiskey distilleries, we visited the extremely small production facility of Edradour for a tour of the distillery.
Nestled between two small streams, the whiskey product is the original small batch distillers. They were hipsters before it was cool.
Further along down the road, we kept our eyes peeled for a small sign next to the highway for the Leault Working Sheepdogs. The only real instructions we had was that it started at 4pm, and to just show up. Turning down the dirt pull off, we’re suddenly alone by ourselves in a small grass parking lot in the middle of a field. Soon another car ambles down the path, and exactly at 4pm a tour bus shows up as well. We all get out in the chilly air and wait around when the owner appears and starts shouting commands punctuated with whistling. As the dogs raced around the field, they locate and consolidate a small group of sheep. Responding to the mixed commands, the dogs would quickly pop up to their feet, run around, and then drop back to a crouch when finished.
Within a few minutes, all of the sheep had been herded back to our general direction.
Wading into the flock, he suddenly pulls one away from the others.
After shearing this 🐑 sheep 🐏 , the owner started talking about what they did at the farm and the tradition of shepherding. Soon enough, he launched into an anti-EU regulation speech that led us to refer to him as “Mr. Brexit.”
Shearing completed, Mr. Brexit grabbed a number of plastic water bottles with rubber nipples on the end and handed them out a few of us. Almost immediately a large cluster of lambs were running down the path and eagerly brushed aside everything in their path to the delicious milk.
The cuteness wasn’t over. A litter of puppies was brought out and distributed.
Herding, lambs, and puppies complete, we piled back into the car and made it the rest of the way to our home for the next two nights: Inverness. Checking into our condo, we cranked on all of the heaters and settled in for the night.
October 4th, Inverness
Although not a particularly exciting city, Inverness is considered the capital of the Scottish Highlands and is a convenient base station for visiting nearby sites.
First stop of the day was the Culloden Battlefield. In 1746, the Jacobite forces were decisively defeated by loyalists in the Battle of Culloden. The end of the Jacobite uprising, the battle represented the final military action opposing British rule over Scotland. Laws were put in place to help weaken the clan system.
The grassy battlefield was windy and cold, and was an evocative sight as visitors followed the audio guide throughout the contours of the battle. Near the site of the final charges, small engraved stones represented the locations where the highlanders of various clans fell.
After Culloden, we headed back to Inverness for a brief lunch. While digesting food, we wandered into Leakey’s Bookshop, which was a bookstore located in a former small church. With a wood burning fireplace in the center, spiral staircase, and books stacked everywhere, it was a peaceful place to browse.
Bookstore urge scratched, we headed South towards Loch Ness and drove along the shores for a bit before arriving at Urquhart Castle. Situated near a strategic point on the lake, the semi-ruined castle was surrounded by beautiful scenery and was a good place to wrap up the day.
October 5th, 2016: Inverness to Skye
After visiting the “Highlands Capital,” we were on our way West towards the Isle of Skye.
First stop of the day was the box canyon of Corrieshalloch Gorge. A steeply dropping canyon, the Gorge was viewable from a suspension bridge hanging far above the river channel, and from a platform that hung over one of the gorge sides.
A short trail connected the bridge crossing to the viewing platform further downstream.
Perhaps even more exciting than the gorge was the detour we took to get there. The road traced along a wide array of water projects, all drenched in the stark Scottish sun.
There was one more stop before reaching the highlands: Eilean Donan Castle. It’s hard to miss, and we couldn’t resist the chance to stop by and take some pictures.
Refueled and ready to go, we crossed the bridge over to the Isle of Skye. The largest member of the Inner Hebrides, Skye features a large number of geological features, and as we went further inland, we passed by the volcanic remains of the Cuillin in the center of Skye. The clear skies and sunny day ensured maximum visibility. Stopping in the town of Portree for resupplies, we kept going North until we managed to find the caravan where we would be staying for the next three nights.
What’s a caravan, you may ask? It’s a single-wide mobile home. It was simple, but offered a great view, remote location, and plenty of heat. After watching The Fellowship of the Ring (Extended Edition), we went to bed and rested up for the first day of Skye exploration!
Want to see more? The Flickr album is what you seek.
Next up? Join us as we explore Skye, Oban, the Isles of Mull and Iona, Stirling, and Glasgow.