Impressions of Scotland

Who I am
Martí Micolau

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The idea of ​​a trip to Scotland has always teased us, but has it concretely taken shape in a slightly different way. improvised and above all linked to economic reasons: during the Christmas holidays we wanted to have a nice trip but we had a limited budget, and for Scotland in winter? low season from a tourist and economic point of view. So yes? decided: Scotland on the road.
Before leaving, the perplexities? of a road trip in Scotland in the middle of winter were many: the cold, the few hours of light, and the fact that we were in the low season worried us a little.
Here are some very personal opinions, impressions and suggestions arising from our Scottish tour. Will not enter? in the details of the various attractions, which can be found in any guide, to give importance above all to the practical considerations that emerged from our experience.
Meanwhile, the tour: we had 10 days at our disposal, of which at least 2 (close to Hogmanay, the Scottish New Year) to dedicate to Edinburgh. We chose the classic tour of Scotland, counterclockwise. Here are the various stages in summary:

1 day

1? day: arrival in Edinburgh (around 13.00 pm), departure for Sr. Andrews, crossing the Queensferry bridge, and skirting the sea to the village of Crail. In St. Andrews visit the ruins of the cathedral and the castle (which we find closed, while the ruins can be visited freely) and a stroll around the town. Departure for Dundee and overnight in the area (Broughty Ferry).

2 day

2? day: departure for Stoneheaven, passing by Glamis castle (closed in winter, but from a side street, there is a secondary access whose gate is left open? perhaps by one of the many ghosts it is said to inhabit the castle?) and by the stones pitte (closed and not visible in winter, also poorly marked by road signs: detour that is not worth doing; many pitte stones are visible at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh). Visit to the village of Stoneheaven, Dunnottar castle (outside the village), lunch at the famous fish & chips? The bay? (on the sea, on the opposite side of the bay, from the historic center; crowded even in low season). We leave for Fraserburgh, to visit the lighthouse museum (which we find closed for the Christmas holidays, however for lighthouse lovers the visit is still worthwhile for the beautiful view of the sea, the lighthouse, the buoy deposit and the facilities to spread out fishing nets; there is also a fish shop which looks inviting but was closed). We leave along the sea to see the villages of Pennan and Crovie: two gems. Route to Elgin: we arrive late and the ruins of the cathedral are closed but also visible from the outside through the fence. The Elgin region deserves more? time. Arrival in Inverness and overnight at the Glen Mhor hotel, which I recommend for the service, the taste a bit? retr? and the enviable position. Inverness may not deserve a long stop, but have I found it a beautiful city? and the riverside? very nice and worth a walk.

3 day

3? day: from Inverness we leave for Loch Ness (we skip the whole series of attractions related to the monster: we do not care) and visit of Urquhart Castle (free with the Explorer pass and preceded by a video presentation on the history of the castle with a final panoramic view on the ruins: nice and interesting). Next direction Cannich and the glen Affric to the end of the road accessible by car (along the road there are various tourist points with possible trails highlighted: we did a couple of them, but honestly it is not much worth wasting too much time: better to get to the end to the road where the views are definitely worth more?). Short visit to the characteristic village of Tomich (almost uninhabited in winter) and to the golden retriever statue. We return to Invermoriston and cross the glen Moriston to the west coast and to the village of Dornie, where the Eilean Donan castle awaits us (closed in winter, but the view from the outside is very fascinating with the reddish colors of the external lighting that light up on the cold lights of sunset over the fjords). Overnight in Kyleakin at the Glenarroch (which I strongly advise against?).

4 day

4? day (Christmas day): return to the mainland, towards Plockton and then crossing the Baalach Na Ba pass (beautiful and disturbing, under the whipping wind and low and dark clouds) to Applecross. We continue along the coast up to Shieildag and Torridon: this? the pi? desolate and suggestive of the Highlands in our opinion: we only meet the famous cows (be careful, they often stand in the middle of the road), seals (seen in Shieldaig bay), long and silent fjords, villages that seem suspended in time and a lot of wind. Very beautiful. Note the importance of the tides, which move the sea for considerable distances. Return by the street pi? short, inland, towards the Isle of Skye. NB. This area, at least in winter,? very little tourist: can? it is not easy to find a place to eat or stay, the facilities are few and all closed.

5 day

5? day: morning lost to repair a punctured wheel the night before (pay attention to the pavements with the left side of the car!) with the necessary difficulties? given the desolate area and the holiday period (a demerit note for Europcar: the rented car was without a spare wheel and repair kit, and, although we also had the additional insurance for tires? luckily!? at our numerous calls always answered that? unfortunately? we could not send anyone to help us, in the end the owner of the Lodges where we were staying came to our aid who, again through Europcar, managed to get an equipped truck that replaced the tire ). Afternoon dedicated to the visit of the Trotternish peninsula with a ring road that arrives in Duntulm and back, passing through the kilt rock (near the road), and the old man of stor (reached with an uphill walk, the deviation to the left has a lesser slope, we did not get to the top because the clouds were too low, it was raining and the wind was very strong: useless to continue, we would not have seen anything). The Skye museum of island life? obviously closed. Near Uig the fairy glen? a delightful valley with very special hills, which seem straight out of a fantasy film. Portree? the main town of the island, pretty and obviously very touristy, given the large number of hotels and restaurants: but even here almost everything closed.

6 day

6? day: visit to the southwestern part of the Isle of Skye: Dunvegan castle? closed in winter and not visible from the outside except from a distance, from a promontory on the road leading to Claigan; from this village you park and continue with a half-hour walk towards the coral beach (beautiful landscape and beach). We leave for the Neist point lighthouse: the way to get there? a little? long and slow (narrow, with many curves) and the walk to get (and back) to the lighthouse? short but intense, but the view from the lighthouse? fantastic, one of the best seen in all of Scotland. Afterwards, towards Talisker and a guided tour of the distillery, and then towards Glenbrittle: on the road there is the parking area for the fairy pools, reachable with an easy half hour walk. We do it practically in the dark, almost running to be able to return with a minimum of residual light.

7 day

7? day: return to the mainland again by crossing the Skyebridge bridge at Kyle of Lochalsh (the morning ferry from Armadale to Mallaig was already full and had to be booked days before). We retrace the glen Shiel and its beautiful views (if you are looking for you will happen to see herds of magnificent red deer) to Fort William (not very interesting), then we deviate back on the coast to Mallaig (nice along the coast on the alternative route), passing from Glenfinnan with a short stop at the viaduct and the monument to Bonnie Prince Charlie (honestly, this detour, considering its length, in our opinion is not very worth it, especially if you have little time). Another short detour from Fort William? the one towards the glen Nevis, a beautiful valley, up to the parking lot for the Steall falls (reachable with a walk of an hour, too much for us since we have little time, so we leave). We continue along the coast to the south, taking a stroll in the Appin peninsula to Port Appin, where we find a restaurant that looks very interesting and has views of the islands. On the way photo stop at Stalker castle. Overnight at the Ballachulish hotel (large hotel with a very scenic antique taste).

8 day

8? day: from Glencoe heading towards the south center, towards Loch Lomond, passing through Tyndrum (nothing special), the beautiful characteristic village of Luss, we turn south of the lake (to Balloch) taking us eastwards, in the Trossachs region. Useless detour to Inchmahome priory: boat to the islet closed in winter. In Trossachs, we overlook Loch Katrine, where boats go around the lake, but we don't have time. However, the views to get there are beautiful. Route to Callander, very touristy and less interesting than I thought, and then to Doune, with a visit to the castle (open and free with the Explorer pass) and then arrive in Stirling: here we only visit the castle why? now? late afternoon and? all closed, but the center deserves a few more hours? why? very nice. We leave again in the direction of Edinburgh: along the road a short stop at the Falkirk wheel (closed at this time, so not in action, but this allowed us not to pay for the parking and get to see it very closely anyway; the deviation was not so simple because Falkirk is quite a big city and maybe our navigator got on the ball ..).

9 day

9? day: our two-day visit to the capital begins. A quick note on accommodation: prices in the city? are much more? high than the average of the rest of Scotland, so we chose a small B&B on the outskirts, in the Queensferry area, the one towards the airport, on Queensferry road: pro: the road? well served by buses, necessary to reach the center (we were told that it is prohibitive with the car), against:? a busy road, so not suitable for light sleepers. Another short note: after days of tranquility? and deserted and unspoiled landscapes, the chaos of Edinburgh initially stuns us: it will be? that we are in the days of the Hogmanay, but? full of tourists. The first day in Edinburgh we dedicate it above all to visiting the castle (with the free Explorer pass, and above all there is no need to queue for tickets, which is very long here; how long to see the castle count at least 3 hours, the visit? obligatory, but honestly very, too? touristized?), to visit the alleys around the Royal Mile and in the Old Town (note: the Real maryking? sclose was? fully booked? for days, if interested it is better to book), food stop in the Grassmarket square (if you want to eat or stop here you will find some possibilities for sure: the pubs in Edinburgh these days are almost always full, difficult to find a free table and you have to wander around a bit before catching someone who is gets up and walks away). We go down the Royal Mile, passing by St. Giles Cathedral, up to Holyroodhouse Palace, which we find closed for a change (closes at 15.15). Tip: the RoyalMile? long but above all it takes a long time to travel it why? we often stop for some shops, some photos, some curiosities, so it is better to do it downhill (from the castle to the royal palace) and above all by calculating the times well if you want to arrive on time before closing. We head towards the New Town, on Garden Street where ?? set up the Christmas festival (stalls, Ferris wheel, entertainment for children, outdoor pubs, etc.).

10 day

10? day: we dedicate the morning to the visit (too fast) of the National Museum of Scotland (a beautiful museum that certainly deserves at least a day dedicated only to this, also interesting for children, with many educational and interactive activities), to the Greyfriars cemetery (although you don't like visiting cemeteries, this is very impressive and offers a good view of the old city) with the statue of Bobby (right in front of the entrance) and then we head towards the Holyroodhouse (interesting, nice, but nothing more, also minimally accessible). In the afternoon the city? begins to come alive for the New Year's party. L? Hogmanay? a 3-day party: December 30th c ?? a procession of torches that crosses the center, on the 31st from about 19.00 pm onwards the city center? is closed (cordons of security officers clear the streets) in the Gardens and Gardens street areas, where in the evening a street party takes place involving various squares with shows and events. You can enter only with a ticket that must be booked (online) in advance: those for the street party (the cheapest) were sold out, only tickets for some events (Franz Ferdinand concert) were available which also allowed entry to the street party, obviously at a higher cost. very well organized and fun. Exceptional bus rides are scheduled for the night return every 15 minutes (the cost is obviously higher and pay attention to the stops, which are different from the usual line ones). On January 1st they celebrate the new year with a dip in the sea, but we missed it because? were we already? in flight for the return, sar? definitely for next time!

Point-by-point considerations:

Journey times: 10 days is a long time, but not enough for a complete tour of Scotland, especially in winter, when daylight hours are few and at 16.30pm? almost dark. We have covered many km, often with few and fast stops, to take advantage of the most? possible the few hours of light, and we came out rather tired. Especially our 2? day (from Dundee to Inverness) and the 8? days (from Glencoe to Edinburgh) have been drawn too long, would it be better to break them, perhaps sacrificing some stages of our 7? day, in our opinion the least beautiful. A consideration regarding Edinburgh: the city? ? very beautiful and has a lot of attractions and curiosities: 2 days are the minimum necessary to see it but it would take at least 3-4.

Explorer pass:? a prepaid ticket (purchased online) and allows entry to numerous castles and attractions: in winter there are few open ones compared to those available in summer, so consider what you are interested in seeing and if it is worth buying. In general I think it's worth taking it: with a short calculation already? visiting 3-4 castles, including that of Edinburgh (which even alone costs a lot?), you fall within the price of the ticket and more? you skip the queues at the ticket offices.

Season: this? the point on which I wondered the most, both before and during the trip. The winter?, As already? said, off season. This definitely means higher prices. low and above all fewer tourists around (and especially in the Highlands this is a great advantage: I don't want to imagine the narrow and slow streets of the Isle of Skye, jammed with cars of tourists!), but it also means almost everything closed. Pu? not be immediate then find availability? for overnight stays (it is advisable to book before leaving: the few hotels open are full) and for eating (but this is not always necessarily a limit: often we ended up in small village pubs, frequented only by locals, and even in a private party on Christmas day, and this added a touch of originality to the holiday). Winter for? it also means: cold, dark, reduced hours and little green. Let's go in order. Cold yes, but not extreme (the minimum we found was -3? C, on average we traveled on 3-5? C with peaks of 13? C; but this seems to be a particularly hot and little snowy year). Pi? what the cold? noteworthy is the wind, strong, cold and almost constant in every part of Scotland. Lots of humidity (after all, it's full of peat bogs!), so waterproof shoes are needed, but not a lot of rain (only 1 day out of 10). Dark: the hours of daylight in winter are few, in fact the sun rises late (around 10) and sets early (at 16.00 it is already almost dark, if it is cloudy even earlier). So consider driving many miles in the dark and seeing many landscapes in twilight. But the Nordic light, low even at noon,? very special (it always seems like sunset time) and very fascinating, especially for photographers:? always a? golden hour? ! The times of all activities? they are almost always reduced in winter: tourist attractions always close before 16.00 (often shortly after 15.00, or do not open at all), restaurants and pubs serve dinner until 19.30-20.00. So the days are short, that's why? we tried to make them particularly dense, in order not to lose anything. Little green: obviously the winter colors are different from those we are used to imagine when we think of Scotland, browns prevail, in a thousand different shades, on hills, mountains and meadows and the trees are almost all bare (but this may not be a flaw: many lochs are lined with tree-lined streets: in summer the lakes would not be visible from the road, in winter you can see through the branches! Furthermore, even the bare trees, with their twisted and dried branches, have their charm . To summarize: surely this trip in winter has some important weak points to take into consideration, but all in all we prefer to have avoided the presence of hordes of tourists in landscapes that have their tranquility. and uncontaminated naturalness the main strengths.

Driving: driving?, As in all of Great Britain, on the left. Apart from the first half hour of panic, then you get used to it. But be careful, how already? said, especially on the left side of the car: the measurements are not good and it happens to take the pavement (the rim of the left front wheel of the rented car was already scratched when we got the car!). The roads are generally well-maintained and salt appearances (they don't give chains to the car rental) but always wet, even if it doesn't rain. There are many one-lane roads, but "passing places" are frequent, even if we hardly ever needed them (another positive aspect of winter: zero traffic). The speed limits? are more? high than in Italy and not? easy to overcome (after all we see that the Scots are used to a high speed). A word of advice: there are not many petrol stations, especially in the Highlands, so I recommend not arriving with an empty tank.

Hotels: there are, especially in the cities, for all tastes and budgets. On average (to save money we have deliberately chosen fairly cheap accommodation), especially in the Highlands and outside the major urban centers, we found simple hotels, often visibly dated, but welcoming and often with an adjoining pub and small restaurant. Many B & Bs, but mostly closed this season. (Note: we didn't find elevators even in the multi-story hotels: I recommend traveling light).

Food: Scottish cuisine? good but not too varied. Lovers of burgers and steaks and fries? your homeland. Fish & chips are also ubiquitous. Among the typical dishes are noteworthy salmon (very good and quite cheap), shellfish (which we often found fried!), And some of the typical dishes: l? Haggis (minced sheep entrails with onion and pepper) ? a very tasty and thick national dish? served as an appetizer or as an accompaniment to meat (often an? alternative? black pudding, a kind of black pudding), and cullen skink (a soup made with cream, smocked haddock, potatoes and onion). To drink of course beer and whiskey; the water, order it in a carafe why? the bottles are very expensive.

Electricity: UK adapter needed (I recommend buying a good quality one, ours, a low quality universal adapter, didn't always fit the sockets found in some hotels).

Language and hospitality: given that ours? a "scholastic" English, we had, especially at the beginning and in the most? to the north, not a few difficulties? in understanding Scottish English. Many words are pronounced differently and if you meet someone who speaks fast, they can? not to be simple, even if the ear gets used to it and with the passing of the days the reception improves. There? however, the Scots are very welcoming, patient and helpful. Especially in the less touristy places we have found great sociability, informal cordiality? and generosity, in spite of the proverb that the Scots stingy!

In conclusion, Scotland? beautiful and? a destination that every traveler should put on their "to do list". The High Lands exude history and ideals of independence, honor and freedom. But above all they seem to doze in a unique atmosphere, suspended in time, silent and muffled like the low clouds and the fog that often accompanied us, but also wild, uncontaminated and energizing like the wind that dominates the coasts and the sea. Winter certainly not? the season pi? convenient for a tourist, but perhaps allows you to better grasp the real Scotland, its naturalness and originality. It deserves.

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