Speculator Scotland: From historic cities to sheep-filled highlands
Updated: Jul 16
We'd only spent time in Edinburgh on our past travels to Scotland, so we were looking forward to seeing what the rest of the country had to offer. And boy, did it offer a lot! After a few weeks there we both came to the same conclusion, we love Scotland!
Our Scottish adventure started in Glasgow, the country's most populous city. A port city located on the River Clyde, Glasgow was bustling and there was so much construction going on. This city is obviously experiencing huge development, there were cranes and new buildings going up all over the place. The Christmas market was in full swing, but it was definitely one of the smaller markets we've visited, and after a few days we felt like we'd exhausted all there was to do in Glasgow.
We visited the Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum, a gorgeous building on the banks of the River Kelvin - there was even an outdoor ice skating rink right in front! The museum is like a crash course in all things Scotland - natural history, art, arms and armor, and more.
We spent the whole day browsing the collections and even enjoyed lunch in the museum's cafe. On our way back to our hotel, the Dakota, we stopped for a bite at Lebowski's, which we discovered was named after ‘The Dude’, from the The Big Lebowski. In addition to regular pub fare they offered about 50 different types of White Russians in honor of the movie. While we're glad we stopped in Glasgow, we couldn't see spending more than a few days there. By the time we set off on our quick 90 minute drive to Edinburgh, we were ready to go back to a city we love.
Edinburgh has so much to do! If you want more recommendations of must-do activities, like visiting the amazing Scottish National Portrait Gallery or Stirling Castle, visit our previous blog on Edinburgh. This time around, our kids were meeting up with us for Christmas week so we didn't venture outside the city.
We did all the things you should do in Edinburgh: stroll the Royal Mile, enjoy Edinburgh Castle (which had a really cool Christmas light show going on), visit the Christmas market, pop into some Harry Potter stores (JK Rowling wrote her first book here), and taste some local food (although only two of our group were willing - and adventurous enough - to dig into the haggis).
We even visited the Royal Yacht Brittania, the former royal yacht of the British monarch. It was in service from 1954-1997, when the cost of operating and repairs was so high they decommissioned it.
We were...underwhelmed! It wasn't nearly as lavish as we'd anticipated. We did enjoy hot chocolate and tea (and one of us felt compelled to have a dram of Royal Lochnagar scotch whisky, the official scotch of the royal family) in the Royal Deck Tea Room and our server told us she was on the crew of the Love Boat, so that was lots of fun to hear about.
For our final night together, our daughter booked us some time at The Cauldron, a bar where you make your own cocktail potions (and dress up in wizard robes). It was so much fun, the drinks were delicious, and we loved the gin cocktail-spewing serpent that dispensed his magical elixir with the wave of a wand! Then it was on to a final dinner at a great restaurant we discovered our first night, Côte...which happened to be right next door! While it is a French brasserie and not at all Scottish, it is delicious and definitely worth a visit (full disclosure: see were ready for some non/Scottish food).
On our last day we hiked up to Arthur's Seat, an ancient volcano that forms the main peak of the group of hills in Edinburgh. It was quite the hike, and pretty messy when it started raining, but worth it to get a bird's eye view of the city and to look out over the water across the hills.
We also passed the beautiful Holyrood Park on the way, a royal park that includes the palace of Holyroodhouse.
This is a great way to spend the day (and get some exercise) and it's probably even more beautiful when the sun is out!
Finally it was time to pick up our rental car and start exploring the rest of the country. As we made our way to the highlands for New Year's Eve, we got to see the rolling green hills, rushing rivers, mountains, and sheep - so many sheep - that characterize this beautiful part of the country.
On the way to Fort William, on the shores of Loch Linnhe, we stopped at the Dalwinnie Distillery for a Scotch tasting before heading on to the Isle of Skye. Turns out we'd stop at a few distilleries during our time in Scotland and we grew to appreciate the differences of each one.
There are over 790 islands off the shore of Scotland, and the Isle of Skye is the largest island in the Inner Hebrides archipelago.
Don't imagine that large means big or bustling, though. The isle is just small fishing villages, mountains, sheep and cows.
We couldn't wait to see the Hairy Coos for ourselves, a breed of Highland cattle known for their long shaggy coats.
But first we had to get there. We made a few stops along the way, first for a tour of Talisker Distillery, after which we went to find fresh oysters for lunch.
Only, we took a wrong turn and instead of finding the oyster shack we found ourselves high up on a hill overlooking Talisker Bay. What a lucky mistake, the view across the bay to the snow covered mountains was so beautiful!
Then we went to find the Fairy Pools on the River Brittle. In the summer you can swim in the pools, but December is meant more for boots and hats and mittens than swimming on the Isle of Skye. Even though we didn't get to enjoy a swim, we did get to see a rainbow as we hiked Glen Brittle, and it was definitely worth the journey (we didn't see any fairies though, bummer).
We were staying in the seaside town of Portree, the largest town on the isle (population 2,000), and arrived in time to celebrate Hogmanay, the Scots' word for the last day of the year. Our hotel, the Bosville, was made up of restored and modernized 19th-century cottages overlooking the harbor. The sunset view was gorgeous, even if sunset started around 3:30 in the afternoon.
When we arrived the town was quiet, to say the least. We wondered if there would even be a new year's celebration, but around 11:00 we went to the parking lot in the center of the town and suddenly people started to appear. A band was playing, joined by a bagpiper, and the place was getting livelier. Hogmanay had begun! (yes, the band is playing inside a truck)
People were singing along and several started to dance a traditional Scottish reel. By midnight the parking lot was full for the countdown to the new year and then the sky was filled with fireworks. We rang in 2023 by dancing and singing with strangers with accents so thick we could barely understand what they were saying, but we had a blast.
There was so much natural beauty to explore on the Isle of Skye, and not much else. We drove around the isle and stopped whenever we discovered a piece of history. This included walking out to Dunscaith Castle, a crumbling defense built for the Clan MacLoud in the 13th Century and surrounded by the sea and sheer drops into the water. We climbed the cliffs around Neist Point Lighthouse, which was first lit in 1909, and watched as a storm rolled in over the sea toward land and then caught us in a downpour before we made it back to our car. We probably should have left sooner but we both agreed that standing on top of the cliffs watching the storm was totally worth getting drenched.
And we (attempted) to do the Quiraing walk, a landslip on the northernmost summit of the Trotternish Ridge. The entire ridge was formed by a series of landslips and the Quiraing continues to move to this day, which means it requires repairs each year. There was lots of snow on the Isle of Skye when we were there, something that isn't usual - in fact, the weather was constantly changing from sun to rain to snow all within the same hour. We managed to drive up the thin, steep, winding road to the top of the Quairaing until about 20 yards from the summit...when we realized our car was not equipped for the challenge. We turned around, but not before another driver made the mistake of stopping on the steep incline.
Next thing we knew, we were helping a car of Spanish visitors figure out how to keep their car from sliding over a stone bridge and down the mountain. With the help of a few others we all finally managed to get the car out of the ditch so it could reverse down the mountain backwards... guess they aren't used to driving in snow in Spain!
We were sad to leave, but it was time to make our way back to Edinburgh as our stay in Scotland was coming to an end. We stopped along the way for a night at the Athol Palace in Pitlochry, a hotel that started in 1878 as hydropathic center for treating disease and today is a modern hotel with beautiful grounds, including a Japanese garden.
The next day, we wound our way through small towns and beautiful countryside.
Good thing we did! Because when we saw a sign for award winning chocolate truffles we had to stop. Turns out Master Chocolatier Iain Burnett has received over 45 national and international awards, including the best chocolate truffle in the world, and his shop was located right in Pitlochry!
We bought enough truffles to satisfy our love of chocolate and even had an entire container of frozen chocolate ganache, which we ate just like ice cream.
And right down the street we discovered Dewar's Aberfeldy Distillery! We had so much fun chatting with the woman who helped us sample the whiskies while learning all about the area, her rugby-playing husband, and Dewar's.
Finally, we only had one more place to go, and this one was a long-shot. Joe's great, great grandfather, William Foote Whyte, had written an autobiography and included many details about growing up in Kinross, Scotland...including the name of an inn where William's grandfather was the landlord. So, we set out to find it, and we did! We shared a drink with the current manager of the pub at the Salutation Inn and then, at her suggestion, went to the local cemetery to read headstones and see if we could find any long-lost Whyte relatives. We found a few Whytes, but weren't sure if they were actual relations (although we'd like to think they were).
And so our time in Scotland came to an end at the Edinburgh airport. We were on our way to London but could not stop talking about what an amazing country Scotland is and how glad we were that we had the opportunity to explore so many corners of it. Scotland is way up there on our list of favorite places, and when you consider the time of year and the few hours of daylight we had to appreciate it, that's really saying a lot!
Enjoy a taste of our travels with drink recipes on Instagram - Worldwide.Cocktails.
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A few of Linda's photos to get you excited!