Ten Reasons to Go on Holiday in Scotland
I recently returned from a two-week holiday in Scotland in August. I use the expression “on holiday” instead of “on vacation” because that is what the people in Scotland say. The people I spoke with just do not understand the expression, “on vacation.” They inquire, “But what are you vacating?” Ah, yes. If they only knew. Perhaps a situation that has become temporarily too unpleasant or stressful. But think about it. To get away, to go somewhere fun, exciting, new, and different; that is truly a holiday. My exciting holiday involved traveling around the Highlands by train and by bus. I did begin in Edinburgh, in the Lowlands, but I soon traveled to Inverness, located by Loch Ness and, well, I have to say it, home of Nessie. These ten reasons are based only on my experiences during this trip. I certainly have more than ten reasons why one should travel to Scotland. These reasons are the most memorable and colorful. This is not a Rick Steves’ type of list. Not that there is anything wrong with his books and information. I used one of his books to help plan my holiday. Now remember, these reasons apply primarily to my time in the Highlands. The majestic, glorious, rugged Highlands.
- The trains, ScotRail and BritRail, all of them, always leave on time, to the very second. That is wonderful. The schedule is completely reliable. Many people in Scotland use the trains every day to get back and forth to work or to travel to a neighboring town instead of driving. It does mean that you need to get on and get off the train quickly. No dawdling, no matter how much luggage you have. And do not expect any help with your bags from the conductors. There is, however, always some friendly, charming man or woman to give you a hand. Why can’t Amtrak be like this? An Amtrak train will be three hours late and the passengers just accept it. In Scotland there would be a wee bit of an uprising or even a brawl.
- There is nothing as exhilarating as cool, horizontal rain. Lots of it, every day. The faint of heart might describe it as cold. T’is a wee bit of a surprise when you first step outside.
- Need I point out the obvious? Men in kilts. Not just old codgers in kilts. Young men in kilts. Little boys wearing kilts, white shirts, and ties as their school uniform. Interesting history. In 1746, England wanted to end the Scottish clan system. So England outlawed speaking Gaelic (pronounced gallic in Scotland), playing bagpipes, and wearing kilts. Kilts were permitted again in 1782. They became extremely popular starting in 1822. I am so, so glad. Truly, nothing is quite as appealing as an attractive man in a kilt.
- The seafood is divine. United Kingdom—England, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland—has long had a reputation for terrible food. Haggis. Blood pudding, now usually referred to as black pudding. No wonder there. That is no longer the case in the U.K.—especially in Ireland and Scotland. Now the U.K. is known for its outstanding seafood. Particularly Scotland. Haddock, mussels, and scallops that are the best I have ever eaten. Especially the mussels. They grow them in the outer parts of the harbors of the towns on the islands (the Inner Hebrides) of the Highlands: Skye, Islay, and Mull, for example. I was on a quest to eat my weight in mussels. They serve them by the kilo. Sadly, I did not attain my goal. These mussels are the biggest and tastiest you will find anywhere—even in New Zealand.
- You will love it, and perhaps be a wee bit puzzled, when you realize that you have been carrying on a conversation with someone for a half an hour and do not have the slightest idea what he or she has been saying. You think you know a little, but you just cannot be sure. The Scottish burr is a tough challenge. It becomes nearly impossible to understand some Highlanders when they have been drinking their beloved, revered whisky. The common language of Scotland is called Scots, also known as Lowland Scots, to distinguish it from Gaelic.
- To attend a private scotch tasting is a divine gift. To attend any scotch tasting, such as those the distilleries offer during their tours, is also wonderful. Attending a private tasting, however, which requires becoming friends with the right people, is something you will never forget. There you are, minding your best scotch-drinking manners, when you come face-to-face with a bottle of 40-year-old single malt, distilled on the Caithness coast in the far north of Scotland. Definitely a taste of heaven. That is the night you take a taxi back to the bed and breakfast. Be warned: they take their scotch very, very seriously. Do NOT EVER make even the tiniest face when you taste the scotch. You have just become an outcast.
- For those who are traditionalists, you can still order a traditional meal at almost every restaurant and pub; everyone knows that the pubs have the best food. You can order savory dishes such as scallops with black pudding (locals say they absolutely must be eaten together for the best culinary effect), whiskey and steak—or Guinness and steak—pie with a puff pastry with carrots, peas, potatoes, and gravy (scrumptious), haggis, neeps, and tatties (no comment), bangers (weird sausages), white pudding (made from grease, actual grease), and Cranachan for dessert. This traditional dessert, made from oats, cream, whisky and raspberries, is fantastic. The Scottish have lots of delectable desserts that are all extremely sweet, like Toffee Banoffee. A good pairing with a mild single malt. We often make fun of what we consider to be odd or unappealing food, such as haggis and black pudding. Yet we have our own strange food items. In a spirited conversation with several people about Scottish food and ale, I warned them to never order Rocky Mountain oysters when they are in the United States. When I told them what this dish was, they were utterly grossed out. “And you Americans think haggis is awful.”
- The Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the largest arts festival in the world, is held every August. The population of Edinburgh nearly doubles. An amazing celebration of arts and entertainment. There are dancers, singers, mimes, music, theatre, impressionists, bagpipers, art exhibits, puppet shows, children’s entertainment, to name a few examples, everywhere—the streets, theatres, parks, restaurants, churches, indoor and outdoor venues. The Tattoo is this huge show involving over 8,000 bagpipers and drummers (so I was told, since I did not attend), lots of fireworks. The Fringe is an event that everyone should attend at least once. I was walking along Prince Street and heard a bagpiper playing the title song from Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here,” my favorite Pink Floyd album. Imagine that song being played by a bagpiper. I followed the sound and came upon a small band comprising three young men—guitarist, bagpiper, and drummer—playing in an open area in the street. It was great.
- Highland Games: big, rugged men playing contact sports and throwing heavy objects. Everything they did took great skill, strength and stamina. Impressive and unforgettable. Some of these men played in kilts. As I said earlier. . . .
- If you have a fear of flying, you can find a solution for that in the Edinburgh airport. Free scotch. There is a duty free whisky shop with dozens of brands of single malt. Scotch tasting is a part of this shop. You can taste many different whiskies. Can you imagine that in Denver International Airport? I do not know at what point the person serving the scotch cuts you off. No doubt you can get inebriated enough so that you have no more fear.
I loved my holiday in Scotland. I could list so many more reasons why you should travel there. This bonnie wee lass will save them for another time.