My posts about my vacations tend to come very late since I usually come home and jump right back into real life. This time was no exception, as I got back from Scotland and immediately had to deal with my car that wouldn’t start and a busy week at work. Welcome home! I’ve had some time to gather my thoughts and look through my photos, so better late than never!
I decided to do a late season trip to Scotland because it was cheaper, but I knew the weather might be dicey this time of year. I’m happy to report it was just about perfect, for me at least, and any time it rained seemed to be when I was on the tour bus or overnight. The weather gods were definitely smiling. It was actually colder in Virginia than it was in Scotland!
I had been to Edinburgh and did a brief trip into the Highlands back in 2007 on a trip to the U.K. with my parents. That trip really kicked off my love of travel, and being an Anglophile, I always want to go back. I’m fortunate that this was my second trip to the U.K. this year, and I always come away feeling like I truly belong there. The weather, the history, the horse culture (and the accents!) just really make me feel connected.
This particular tour had a lot of free time built in, and I think it was probably the best one I’ve been on. Our guide was absolutely hilarious, and a photographer, so we had a lot to chat about.
It helped that it was a small country, so the driving times in between sights was never longer than a couple of hours. The time change is a bit rough this time of year, and it got dark pretty early, but we arrived to every place with plenty of daylight left, so I didn’t feel shortchanged.
I wanted to step out of my comfort zone a bit on this trip and connect a bit more to the local culture when I could with my free time.
I went a day ahead of time to Glasgow since it’s the second largest city in Scotland. As usual, I did the Hop On Hop Off bus to get oriented and because I was operating on about two hours of sleep.
It’s a very gritty and modern city with lots of interesting street art. It’s a great representative of modern Scottish life and culture, so there weren’t a lot of big sights to see, but I made some time to go into the gorgeous Kelvingrove Museum and take a quick morning trip out to see The Kelpies and the Falkirk Wheel.
In the afternoon I grabbed a quick pizza and explored the grounds of Glasgow Cathedral, which features a sprawling necropolis high on a hill overlooking the city. I really hadn’t ever seen anything like it (until I went to New Orleans last week!). It was a mish mash of mausoleums, headstones, crosses and monuments that seemed to stretch for miles.
The quick trip out to the Kelpies was really fun. The horse heads stand 30 meters high and represent the working horses that helped build Scotland. They’re right on the canal, and it was a lovely morning to just stroll.
The Falkirk Wheel was fun to watch as it rotated, but I was actually more intrigued by the remnants of the Antonine Wall throughout the town, which was an early version of Hadrian’s Wall made by the Romans to keep the early Scottish tribes at bay. It was mostly just built up earth, but it was still fun to imagine what it was like back then.
My tour started the next day, and we headed to a distillery to taste some whisky. Definitely not my thing, especially at 9 a.m., but it was lovely to see some countryside. We headed to Stirling Castle next, and it was a shame it was so foggy that day because it was hard to see it looming on a hill in the distance.
Once up top though, even with the fog you could see quite a distance. The interior of the castle was gorgeously decorated in the style it would have been in its heyday. We didn’t have much time to explore the city of Stirling, but it was still great to spend time at the castle and listen to a really entertaining local guide talk about its history.
We headed to the highlands the next day and stopped at Loch Lomond on the way. It’s in a national park, so it’s really popular with locals for hiking and fishing. The leaves were still on the trees, so we had some lovely fall scenery.
As we kept driving into the highlands the landscape changed dramatically. It almost looked like the surface of Mars; barren and brown. We stopped for a quick photo at the Three Sisters, which are three peaks jutting out of the landscape. We also stopped at the Commando WWII Memorial in Lochaber for a view of Ben Nevis, but it was a bit foggy.
Remembrance Day was Nov. 11, so there were poppies at the monument and lots of locals were wearing them.
We drove by Loch Ness, which is 24 miles long! Can you imagine trying to find Nessie? The evocative ruin of Urquhart Castle were right on the banks, and I wish we’d had more time to explore them, but it was just a photo stop.
We ended the day at Culloden Battlefield. I’ll honest, I know about the battle mostly because of Outlander, but the visitor center had a great museum that I walked through first to truly understand that day. The battlefield had stone monuments to the fallen Scots and Brits and had flags marking where each side lined up, which really helped me visualize how it all went down.
The sun peaked out right at the end of the day, and the wind picked up. It was just a really eerie feeling walking through, listening to the wind and the birds and seeing the untouched and untamed vegetation.
We spent the night in Inverness, and a girl I’d befriend came to a local pub with me to listen to some live music. It was a quiet night, so not many musicians show up, but it was fun to have a drink and see how the locals live.
I took a quick walk around Inverness in the morning to grab a few photos of the castle and the cathedral, then we headed for Edinburgh via Pitlochry, which was a small town that had some good shops.
It was basically a coffee and restroom stop, but I got a few Christmas presents and a really delicious hot chocolate and pastry.
We passed through Dundee as well, which houses a new branch of the Victoria and Albert Museum in a really modern looking building.
We also made a stop in St. Andrews, which was one of my favorites. It was blustery and cold being on the east coast of the country, but we had a chance to wander around the historic golf course, and I made the 20 minute walk to the ruined cathedral and stopped at the ruined castle on the way.
It was really fun wandering around the cathedral site, and I wish I’d had some more time to take the self-guided tour.
We took a driving tour of Edinburgh on our way to the castle, which I’d been to back in 2007 for the military tattoo. There wasn’t a ton to see in the castle, but the views were stunning, and we even got a rainbow over the city. Last time I was there it was so foggy you couldn’t see a thing!
My new friend and I did some shopping on the Royal Mile and made a very uphill trek to Calton Hill, which I hadn’t done the last time I was there, for some truly stunning views of the city and lots of interesting monuments.
The final day was an Outlander tour, which took us to the village of Culross, the Bo’Ness train station, Linlithgow Palace and Blackness Castle.
Linlithgow was probably the coolest ruined castle I’ve ever seen. I felt like a kid on a playground wandering in and out of the empty rooms and going up and down the spiral staircases. It had some truly stunning views high up, which kind of made my legs shake, but it was definitely worth the climb. The cathedral next door had some gorgeous stained glass, and the town was really cute.
Blackness was also pretty amazing. I could actually remember some of the scenes shot there, and we were greeted by a gentleman who played us the theme song on the bagpipes!
I love learning something every time I go on vacation, and this was no exception. I think it was one of the best I’ve been on, and I can’t wait to go back someday.
When I got home I had three days before I was off to Ocala to cover the CCI, then took a break for a bit to compete at the Loch Moy Donation Derby.
It was wet and cold, but we had a near-perfect round, which is not something I say often. We hit almost every fence out of stride, and I didn’t realize until the end because I was having such a good time that I should try to get closest to the optimum time to win. Oops! We finished third, but it was still a great way to end the season.
I headed to New Orleans next for the USEA Convention last weekend. I went a day early to tour the city, and as always I wish I’d had a bit more time. I did the Hop On Hop Off bus, did a lovely walking tour of the Garden District and a nighttime ghost tour. I also had dinner with some friends at the famous Muriel’s on Jackson Square and strolled down Bourbon Street, which was definitely an interesting experience! Let’s just say I’ve done it once, and I’m cool with that.
There’s a lot more to explore in the city, but for now, that’s one more state checked off my list!
Now for a few relaxing days at home, then Christmas in Ohio, and looking forward to lots of travel in the new year. I’ll have a year-end wrap-up post up soon.