Kilts, Whisky and Bagpipes – A Day in the Scottish Highlands

As part of my trip to Edinburgh, I decided I wanted to explore a little bit more than just the city surroundings. I found a tour that would take me to the Scottish Highlands, all the way from Edinburgh to Glencoe to Loch Ness and back again, in just a day. It’d be a long day (the tour started at 8 am and didn’t return to the city until 8.30 pm), but worth it. The organisation I went with, is called Timberbush tours. They offer day trips, but also longer ones. I would heartily recommend this tour operator to anyone wanting to do something similar. It was on time, and even with the (unpredicted) snow the tour still went ahead, it was comfortable, there were lots of other solo travellers and the bus driver provides you with lots of actually interesting information. Our driver was also hilarious, by the way. And his Scottish accent made it all even better.

But here goes, an overview of a wonderful day, in a magical place. I will let the pictures do most of the talking.

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Our first stop was somewhere on the way, for a quick breakfast stop. Everything just looked so beautiful because of the snow. I considered myself very lucky to be able to see the Highlands in these circumstances. After that, we continued our drive toward and eventually through Glencoe. This was my favourite part of the day. No picture can invoke that same feeling of being so small in comparison to the amazing nature that surrounds you.

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We stopped at the side of the road to get a better look at what is called the Three Sisters (three peaks), which you can see on the picture below. It was freezing cold, it was snowing, it was kind of amazing.

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Scotland really is the place of sudden weather changes. One moment it can be bright and sunny, 2 minutes later it can be snowy and gloomy and another 2 minutes later it can be rainy and dark. If the Scottish call rain ‘liquid sunshine’, well, then there was plenty of that.  But while it can be kind of annoying (scarf on, scarf off, hood on, hood off, gloves on, gloves off), it is also something I loved about Scotland; the sky has a 1000 different colours, the light is ever-changing.

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After our lunch break, where I had whisky and haggis (quite an event on its own), we continued onwards to Loch Ness, which was disappointing. It’s a lake like any other. Good thing the exhibition was at least moderately interesting and gave us some more information. We made an additional stop at one of the (many, many) castle ruins. If there’s one way I would describe the highlands, including its lakes, is that it is a mystical place, that asks more questions than it gives answers. And I like that.

Now, off you go, discover. And let me know all about it, of course.

Until then,

Love,

Silke

 

 

#43 on the Bucket List AKA Eat Haggis in Scotland

If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll probably have noticed I’ve been spamming everyone’s feed with pictures from Scotland, using the hashtag #belgeniusbackpacks. Well, good news, I am back! And I promise there will be no more Scotland pictures after this (unless of course on Throwback Thursday). Danger has subsided.

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So here goes, a full report on my solo citytrip to Edinburgh. I will be treating my day in the Highlands as a separate subject, though, just because I’d like to share more pictures. Will link it here as soon as it is up. I will not be doing the usual day-to-day blogposts about my trip, simply because I think it’s handier for you guys to read if you’re ever visiting Edinburgh yourself. Brace yourselves, a very long blog post is coming…

Where I stayed

I stayed at a hostel called Castle Rock Hostel in a 4 bed female dorm. If you’re not interested in a full review you might like to skip this part. The hostel has been chosen as the most popular hostel in Edinburgh of 2016 and was nominated in the category best large hostel worldwide, and I can see why. The staff is very friendly, mostly run by internationals staying there longterm. They have everything for hire that you could possibly need (adaptors, towels, hairdryer,..) and are very willing to give you any information you need. The hostel itself is spacious (including the rooms), with lots of rooms to explore and relax in and enough bathrooms so you never have to queue. You get a free locker and bed sheets, which is nice if you’ve been sleeping in your sleeping bag for a while. WIFI is fast, without having the hassle of a password. Showers are great and very clean (I swear, I’ve never seen such clean showers in any hostel); hot water and enough shower pressure, which is something I appreciate! The kitchen, too, is clean and spacious and has all the utensils you need if you like to cook your own meals. Also, how cool is their home page?! Location wise, it’s located right off the Royal Mile, which is the main street throughout the City and from which it is very easy to navigate to other places.

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What I saw

Arthur’s Seat is what used to be a volcanic hillside, but is now known to many as the best lookout point (from a height of around 250m) over the city of Edinburgh. The walk is relatively easy (I can attest to that, being absolutely terrible at walking uphill, hiking or anything remotely related to that), provided the weather isn’t too bad. I went on my first day and besides being blown away by the views, I almost literally got blown away by the wind. I imagine this place to be gorgeous on a crisp, sunny autumn day. It takes about an hour to go all the way up. Recommend!

Holyrood Palace aka the Queen’s residence in Scotland is rather a pricey place to visit, at least I think so. If you only visit the palace, it’s £11 for a concession ticket, which is around €14. If you want to visit the gallery that is attached to it as well, it’s even more. You do get a free audioguide though, which is good, because it tells you some interesting stuff about rituals they perform at the palace, what the rooms are for and a lot about the history of Mary, Queen of Scots. If you’re not all that into history, royalty or just this sorta thing, I don’t think it’s worth the ticket. Still glad I went though, it was nice and warm inside after a rather adventurous hike to Arthur’s Seat (see above picture). On the other hand, the café, which you can visit without having to pay for entrance, had really nice scones and tea.

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The Royal Mile is the main street in Edinburgh. Note, however, that this is not its official street name but rather a name for the collection of street names that make up the one mile. It goes all the way from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace and it takes about 20 minutes to walk its length. There’s some really old and pretty buildings on the way, and the small shops just give it that really cozy atmosphere, even though it is a really busy street. It’s also where all the souvenir shops are located.

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On that same street you will find two churches. The first one is called St. Giles Cathedral.
This one is free to visit, but if you want to take pictures, they ask you to pay the small fee of £2, which go back into the church’s upkeep. I liked to just take a break from walking and sit there for a couple of minutes to take in the beautiful arches.

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The other church is called Tron Kirk. However, it is no longer used as a church, but now houses a very cute little hipstery market. A very cool idea, if you ask me.

Another street that is worth exploring is the bend that is Victoria Street. It’s not far from the Royal Mile and is part of what is referred to as the old town. It has a lot of nice looking restaurants and is a very colourful sight to see. A treat for the eye.

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On a rainy day, which there are many of in Scotland, let me tell you, it’s nice to go out to one of the museums. The first one I went to is the National Gallery of Scotland. Unless you stop and read every sign about every painting, it doesn’t take very long to make your way through the different rooms. But then again, it’s a free museum, which is always great. The second one I went to is called the National Museum of Scotland and this one gets a big thumbs up from me! It’s free too, which is amazing, because it’s a beautiful building on its own, filled with lots of very interesting exhibitions, mostly about history, culture and science. I honestly think I spent more time looking at the ceiling and the beautiful floors, though. This one will take you a tad longer to get through, considering it’s a lot bigger.

Edinburgh Castle is probably the most prominent feature of the city and therefore worth a visit. It’s got some good views, good exhibitions and an audio guide that lets you pick what places you want to learn more about by typing in the according number.

Where I shopped

As a fulltime shopaholic, the brand and shops that we don’t get in Belgium, was something I had also been looking forward to as part of my trip. Some of my favourites included: Space NK (for more high end make-up and skincare), Boots and Superdrug (for drugstore make-up), River Island, Next, Topshop (for the accessories), Debenhams (for its interior), Jenners (for its exterior), Paperchase (for its gorgeous notebooks), Scribbler (for its postcards. I actually didn’t buy any because it was simply too hard to choose) and last but not least Waterstones (for its book inspiration). Most of these can be found around the Princess Street, George Street area. Happy shopping!

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What and where I ate and drank

Considering the title of this blog post, I obviously had to try haggis. Although I initially wasn’t very keen on it, because I have a tendency to not like meaty things – and really, how meaty can something get? – but I did try a little bit of my new friend Viv on our Highland trip and though it wasn’t anything but salty. Later that night, we tried some more at a restaurant called The Cellar Door. The food there was divine (I had fish and chips, de – li -cious) and even the haggis wasn’t too bad. It reminded me a lot of bitterballen actually, and Viv, who lives in Amsterdam, agreed.

For some great fika (tea, coffee and cake), I’d recommend Patisserie Valerie. Probably not as British or Scottish as it gets, but the best carrot cake I’ve had in my life. For real. I initially planned on having tea at the cafe next door, The Elephant House, known for being the place where J.K. Rowling wrote her first Harry Potter book, but the selection of cake next door just looked so much better, I couldn’t resist…

If you’re looking for a good place to get a traditional  High Tea (which I didn’t do, because they are always made for two or more), Holyrood Palace Café, the Signet Library or Patisserie Valerie is the place to be. These are traditionally served between 12 and 4pm.

On Sundays, it’s nice to go for a Sunday roast. Or so I had read. I found it nearly impossible to find one. I’d nearly lost all hope, when I came across the Beehive Inn. Made my day.

If you like Italian food, I recommend Bella Italia (a chain) or Pizza Express.

Oh, I also tried some whisky, because I felt I couldn’t leave Scotland without. Let’s just say it’s not my cup of tea. Haha.

 

To sum up

I really, really enjoyed Edinburgh. Especially as a solo traveller, going places can be quite intimidating at first (“Table for one, please”) and I always felt the need to sort of apologise for showing up somewhere by myself. But no more. In our current society, where “me time” is such a central objective, I don’t see why I should not be allowed to take that time somewhere public, without judgement. I feel like Edinburgh was just the place for that. I’ve never met so many solo travellers, both in and outside my hostel. And Scotland’s friendly atmosphere makes it really easy to meet people; everyone, from shopkeepers to restaurant owners and people you meet in the street, are genuinely nice people. And all of a sudden travelling solo doesn’t seem that daunting anymore, and one (solo traveller)and one (solo traveller) makes two (not so solo travellers).

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Now, go explore!

Love,

Silke

PS: For more pictures check out my Facebook album or Instagram