One of my best travel adventures yet was a two week stay in Scotland and the Lake District of England. There are endless possibilities with a trip to these Celtic regions and it can be difficult to cram everything you want to do into such a short expanse of time. My journeys took me to the lower areas of Scotland. Someday, when I go again, I know I must make it to the Highlands, and so I recommend that if you have a desire to travel there, make that a priority. Also, as often as you can, take the train. This type of public transportation allows you to view the countryside in all of its hues of green and gray without the worries of driving and navigating yourself. European public transit is very affordable and easy to figure out. A few days spent in Edinburgh and Glascow are musts. These are relics in their own right, laden with beautiful old buildings intermingled by new shopping centers and fun pubs. Edinburgh and Glascow are also the places to go to get your fill of historic castles. Edinburgh is the site of the crown jewels and the place to be to see the changing of the guard. On my honor, one of the guards actually winked at my traveling companion through a steely guard face! Something to look for when you’re there! Tiers of glamorous shopping line the downtowns of these larger cities, but also make you feel like you could be in New York or Chicago, much of the Scottish culture is lacking.
St. Andrews is a day trip you don’t want to miss! Nestled on the coastline and frequently hidden beneath fog, it is an ancient town with loads of history and class. The first golf course is here and if you’re a golf buff, this is a pilgrimage of sorts. Walk the coastline and overlook the sea wall while listening to one of many of the lone bagpipers positioned on a street corner serenading you eerily through your walk. These bagpipe players are always fully decked in traditional Scottish tartan kilts and hats and they don’t seem to mind when you stand next to them to be photographed as they play. After a self-tour through town be sure to stop at some of the tourist shops in the downtown, stocked with somewhat cheesy Scottish memorabilia. If you have Scottish roots you can even find a shop that lets you research your clan’s tartan and motto.
For a more rural and realistic taste of Scottish life, free from the quagmire of tourist traps, head to Moffat, a sweet little town tucked into the Scottish lowlands– which are actually quite high. It is a gorgeous two hour drive from any of the major cities and gives you an experience that you really are in a foreign country, not just another big city. Quaint buildings lined with flowers, bake shops, friendly neighbors, parks, and misty afternoons make this town something to get attached to. The mountains surrounding Moffat are gorgeously green and fresh, and are speckled with sheep. From here you are only a few hours drive from the English Lake District, a famous area that is gorgeous and perfect for the day tripper or weekend excursion while you’re in the area.
The Lake District is more touristy but is more focused on cute tea shops, chocolate/novelty shops, water and the great outdoors. Fields full of bleating Scottish sheep and Highland cows line the district and boat tours that bring you around the shimmering lakes are affordable and worth any price. Hiking onto the looming, lush green mountains is another outdoor option and enables a person to see amazing vistas and views.
While in Scotland, be sure to experience a pub. Pubs are so much different than the American bar. They are social hangouts for people of all ages but are not just for getting drunk, although this inevitably occurs. They are places to meet people and to fellowship, to dance a jig, to listen to live, local music, to play large games of trivia with people you’ve never met, and places to laugh and eat hearty, warm meals. While in Scotland myself, my friends and I took part in a pub-wide trivia pursuit match that ended with a victorious prize of a bottle of wine- not bad for being in a foreign country. The best part was, it was an experience that helped me meet people native to Scotland, savor their delicious accents and fine food, and it’s what stands out in my mind above and beyond all of the tourist hot spots.
If you get a chance to go to Scotland, don’t delay, take the opportunity, and soak it up!