My Roadtrip and Ten Days in Scotland
Ten Days in Scotland
I’m just completing the end of my ten days in Scotland. My original plan was to only spend a week there. After my first 5 days in Edinburgh I was tempted, and gave in to the temptation, to go further north. I really didn’t want to take a train or bus as that would limit me to staying at a hostel. All the Airbnb’s are a bit more remote in the north. The solution was to get a rental car.
Today i’m back in Edinburgh and getting ready to return south to Manchester and London. The weather the entire time in the north was overcast, chilly, and grey. But from what I understand thats pretty typical so I feel my experience in Scotland has been pretty authentic.
For my first 5 days in Scotland I stayed in one of the most awesome hostels I’ve ever stayed in. If this is the average level of hostels in Scotland then I can’t imagine how awesome the high end ones are. I stayed at the Safestay Hostel right off the Royal Mile in the center of Edinburgh. Within walking distance of the hostel I could easily make it to Edinburgh Castle, the Scott Monument, and Calton Hill. Many different bars and restaurants are also in the area. It’s a super convenient and comfortable place to stay.
The Safestay is a pretty large hostel that has more of a hotel feel about it. Except the rooms are dorms instead of private. But the rest of the place is roomy, modern, and has an amazing bar and restaurant. In fact i’m sitting in the restaurant as I write this! Great food, wide selection of booze, and most important power outlets near most every table, and BLAZING FAST wifi! Check out the test I just did with Speedtest.net. This is the fastest internet connection I have ever tested in any of the hostels I have stayed at over the last year
After a quick search on Meetup.com I was able to find a photography group to hang out with and photograph the Samhuinn Fire Festival. This is a festival that celebrates the start of winter. Its held on October 31st but has nothing to do with Halloween. People do dress up in costumes of demons and run around screaming at spectators. Great fun! Oh, and there’s lots of fire.
This year the rain started about an hour before the parade. This kept attendance low but also made it super difficult to get some good shots. I ended up shooting a bit, then switched to video instead.
My favorite places typically come down to where I like to eat or drink a pint of beer. The most authentic Scottish pub I went to was the Sandy Bells on Forrest road. After the festival we all retired to the there for a pint or three. One of the great things about the Sandy Bells is that most every night they have live traditional music jam in the back.
Another great pub is the Albanach pub on High Street. I went for a pint and dinner on my first night in Edinburgh and ended up meeting other travelers. I told the bartender I was sitting at the table outside to the left of the door. The table was empty when I walked in. By the time I got my order in and back out with my pint I found one of the seats occupied by an Italian woman named Claudia. We ended up talking and drinking for a few hours. It was a great and friendly way to spend my first evening.
As typical with how I plan my travels its usually done at the last minute. For this road trip I started looking at Google maps a day before I started the trip. I searched around and for places that might look cool or places I felt I really wanted to go. I ended up taking the route shown on the map below starting in Edinburgh and going counter clockwise. Total 591 miles of driving.
My stop in Aberdeen was decided simply because it was the closest place I could get an Airbnb to the Dunnattor Castle. This is a super cool castle located on an outcropping that is virtually impregnable. Just ask Cromwell. He tried and failed to take the Scottish Honours (crown jewels). The site had visitors like Mary Queen of Scots, and William Wallace. Though William also happened to burn 4000 English soldiers on his visit so it was more a business trip than pleasure. Or maybe a good reason to mix business with pleasure.
Aberdeen is where I found the Black Friars Pub. While the beer was good, the plate of lasagna I ordered was obviously microwaved and not very well either. One whole side was cold still. So I had some whiskey to celebrate the Cubs win and get over the disappointing lasagna.
This is where I found myself in a snowstorm. You can imagine how I felt, considering that avoiding winter and snow is one of my goals. Fortunately I was carrying enough cold weather clothing to deal with the situation.
Balmoral Castle and Lochnagar Distillery
What is a visit to the Scottish highlands without visiting a couple of whiskey distilleries. The first one I went to is the Royal Lochnagar Distillery and is right next door to Balmoral Castle. Unfortunately I missed the official tour. However, the nice lady at the desk let me watch the intro video and sample some of the whiskey anyway.
Also unfortunately Balmoral castle was closed to visitors. I found that out after I had walked onto the castle grounds and got within 100 feet of the castle itself. I was informed that I wasn’t allowed to be there. And that I most definitely could not take a photo of the castle. All I have to say is that the security sucks if I was able to get that close while carrying my camera and tripod on my shoulder. They didn’t arrest me so I guess it all worked out ok.
My luck changed when I went to the Glenlivet distillery. This is distillery I really wanted to see because their whiskey is just so darn yummy. I had plans to visit three more distilleries, but due to being so late in the season they were all closed for tours. The Glenlivet tour was awesome, and so was the whiskey. I sampled their Nadurra which means Natural. So its not watered down to the typical 43%. Its cask strength. I can confirm it has quite the kick to it at about 65% alcohol. Due to Glenlivet policy I was not able to take any photos while on the tour but here is one in the tasting room.
I loved my stay in Cromdale and my Airbnb hosts were super awesome. We had some great conversations about politics, conspiracy theories, and science fiction. I would have loved to stay another day, but I had limited time so on I went to Loch Ness.
Another place I couldn’t miss on a trip to the Highlands is Loch Ness. Of course I had to put in a bit of time looking for Nessie while I was in the area. I found a remote and rustic Airbnb high in the hills just above Loch Ness in Abriachan. The place was so remote that neighboring houses were at least a mile away. Very quiet, peaceful, and beautiful scenery. I never did see Nessie, but I saw a whole bunch of ducks and explored the beaches one afternoon. One of the highlights was putting my feet in the water. Just to say I did it 🙂 The photo below is taken just out back of Dores Pub right after I dipped my feet. Dores Pub is another place to have a pint with a cozy atmosphere. And its located right on the beach.
Paisley (Just outside of Glasgow)
The stop in Paisley was really just a convenient place to stay on the way back to Edinburgh. I did find a nice pub called Hamishes Hoose and had some especially good linguini and of course some local Scottish Ale. I didn’t have any time to walk around and do any shooting. On my walk to Hamishe’s I could see that there was some spectacular churches and other old buildings but without my tripod I wasn’t able to get any usable shots. Next time I get to Paisley I’ll definitely take some time to explore and photograph some of these buildings and surrounding areas.
Top 3 Highlights of Scotland
- Putting my feet in Loch Ness – Gave me the chills. And not just because the water temp was just above freezing. I thought Nessie might nibble my toes!
- Glenlivet tour – While my plans to visit many distilleries did not come to pass at least I got to see the one I wanted to the most.
- Dunnattor Castle – Not sure why, but I really like old ruined castles. I get the feeling the ghosts are still hanging around.
Bottom 3 Lowlights of Scotland
- Not necessarily a lowlight, but learning to drive a manual transmission car on the left side of the road with a left hand shift, on small Scottish roads, in a snowstorm… Yeah. Maybe I should put this one in the highlights section?…
- No photo of Nessie.
- Nasty lasagna at Black Friars Pub.
I really had to scrape the the bottom of the barren to come up with any lowlights and that speaks well of Scotland. I can’t wait to return when its warmer.
Overall I really enjoyed my trip to Scotland. I feel I really need to spend some more time here. Preferably in the summer time when it won’t be so cold and I won’t run into any snow storms. I was’t able to fit a trip to the Isle of Skye this time, but it’s definitely on my list of things to do the next time i’m here.
Tomorrow I head off to Manchester for a couple of days. I plan to go for a pint with another photographer I met through Facebook. Looking forward to another day of travel tomorrow!
If you have any suggestions of things I should see in Manchester let me know in the comments!