A long 11 hour economy class flight later, I’m back in Hong Kong after a week in Scotland. It’s been two days and I’m waking up at 1 pm and falling asleep at around 3 or 4 am. Jet lag is such a wonderfully predictable thing. I’m just going to go ahead and write about my personal experience there and sort of just let go in a stream of consciousness.
I grew up in Canada, where life is far more similar to Scotland than where I live now, but have long since adapted to Hong Kong life and gotten used to the hectic neon lights rush hour bustling culture. That means that first and foremost, the fact that most stores closed at 5 or 6 pm (a bit later in Edinburgh) surprised me a whole lot. I visited a lot of small towns (all of which were very lovely) which became quiet and mainly void of traffic after about 7 pm, which was odd when I’m used to buses coming and going outside my apartment even at midnight, but it was nice too. I love visiting different countries and cultures because it always pleasantly surprises me how different lifestyles and habits can be in different places. Even the atmosphere and vibe you get is different, and it takes a little adapting at first, whether that be your conduct, language/slang, culinary habits, or anything else.
I went with family and stayed in B&Bs all over- just off the top of my head we went to Glasgow, Fort William, Pitlochry, Stirling, Glenfinnan, and Edinburgh. You see I’ve never actually stayed in B&Bs when travelling before (then again I’ve never stayed in any big hotels either)- usually campsites or youth hostels. B&Bs were a nice change- like a mini motel situated in someone’s home, where everything is more personal and very cosy. They also cook you breakfast!- (hence, the second B in the B&B…needless to say) I had some really nice traditional Scottish breakfasts’ including pretty much all of the following: porridge, sausages, bacon, fried eggs, fried mushrooms, grilled tomatoes, baked beans, black pudding, and toast. All at once. Me? I’m used to eating a small bowl of noodles or a sandwich in a blurry rush on my way to school in Hong Kong. Nevertheless I most definitely enjoyed the change in style (and quantity) of breakfast food.
We visited a lot of tourist attractions and some less-visited ones. I’m just going to quickly talk about a few of the ones I remember now most vividly.
Okay as an avid Harry Potter fan visiting the viaduct where the famous Hogwarts Express train scene was filmed was pretty cool. It was a rainy day but honestly I didn’t mind that much. Course I was kind of getting chased by small flies climbing up the mountain but hey- it was worth it for a spectacular view. I also walked for 20 minutes to touch the viaduct.
Pitlochry- a small town- was so beautiful. Think riverside cafes, small bridge, flowers, mountain air, quiet streets, lakes and rivers kind of beautiful. It’s not a busy tourist place, but if you really want that authentic feeling of peace and tranquility you should go there. Go visit the dam, walk across the bridge, take a few dozen photos of everything. We also saw a Scottish traditional bagpipes band playing highland music. It sounded incredibly nice and grand as well- then again I’m a sucker for almost any type of music. Nearby there we also visited The Edradour, the smallest distillery still running in Scotland. Whiskey is a big thing there, and reading about its history was quite interesting as well.
Drove down into Glen Lyon to see the oldest tree in Europe- a Yew tree that is said to be 5000 years old. It’s located in one of the smallest towns I’ve ever seen, on the edge of a road so small only one car can go down it at once (if another car is coming down the other direction, you have to pull over and let them pass or vice versa). A lot of it has been chipped away and damaged but it’s now fenced and protected next to a small church, and it’s humbling thinking of how much history has occured and how much this tree has witnessed in its lifespan. How many other people living hundreds of years before me have touched it and passed by it?
Now-Glen Lyon. Probably my favourite part. We were recommended it by a very nice woman from our Pitlochry B&B who called it the “longest, loneliest, and loveliest Glen in Scotland.” (Shout out to her for recommending us drive down it, because we wouldn’t have done it otherwise. Probably the best decision the family has made on holiday ever). I have no trouble believing it’s the loneliest and loveliest (not to mention the longest, but I’m not complaining), because it is literally like driving through a dream. It was quite a cloudy day but that just added to the haunting atmosphere. The first 30 minutes or so we passed by a few farms, large plains with sheep and horses and cows grazing, then after that we saw-literally- almost 0 sign of human life whatsoever. We passed maybe one car the entire two hour drive. I saw a tiny cottage situated at the bottom of a valley, and how anyone gets there I really don’t know- other than walking, but it really is miles away from civilization. We saw towering mountains, flowing rivers, small waterfalls, vast, stretching plains and grass to all sides, and a lot of wandering sheep resting beside the very (very) narrow road. This winding route through the valley is probably one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in nature. We stopped the car a few times, and looking up and down the winding road at the stretching wilderness almost feels like looking up at the night sky dotted with stars- the humbling insignificance and awe of it all. No noise except for the wind and the occasional bleating of a sheep in the distance. If anyone who happens to read this ever goes to Scotland for a visit- I cannot recommend this enough. Of course you have to be extremely, extremely careful driving there because the road is narrow, there are a lot of turns, and a lot of dips and rises in the valley. Also watch out for the sheep crossing, because they are not scared of you at all, and a lot of them didn’t budge even when we were driving down. We had to wait for them to get up and leisurely saunter away. They were really adorable though. Anyways-you can’t go through the glen with a bus a large truck or even a very big car- it won’t fit and you’ll be too big for the path, and it’s too dangerous doing so. You can probably walk through it at a reasonable pace in maybe 4 or 5 hours, but even then you’ll only reach a highway afterwards and have to travel for quite some more before reaching civilization. But yes- if you really want to see the Scotland highlands and nature, go through there…safely.
Now that I’m done being an avid fan of Glen Lyon, The Royal Mile in Edinburgh is pretty great as well. My parents love going to tourist destinations which means the very famous tourist road down this city was a must. Lots of shops up and down the road, and we popped in to see the Edinburgh Castle at the end of it as well. There were a lot of talented street performers and musicians, and it was a nice stroll, more populated of course than the other small towns we went to, because it is a more popular tourists’ destination. I also went to see the Museum of Childhood and The People’s Story there. The Museum of Childhood is full of nostalgia and old toys/collections from the past, while The People’s Story is a museum in a very old building detailing the history of Edinburgh day to day life.
I have definitely not covered everything because we went to a lot of places in Scotland during a one week span, but above are the few that I found really quite nice. Honestly though the journeys from destination to destination were just as wonderful as the destinations themselves. We saw lots of lochs, some great scenery, mountains, plains- The Scottish Highlands- and lets not forget an abundance of animals. I also spotted a herd of wild reindeer (at least I think they were reindeer- I’m really not so much an expert on this). The nature there is breathtaking, and reminds you of how amazing this planet is sometimes.
Last but not least, for restaurants/places to eat I’d really recommend Giraffe in Glasgow and The Old Mill Inn in Pitlochry, both of which we went to for dinner. Really nice service and some great food. For someone like me used to eating at fast food diners here in Hong Kong, the atmosphere and the style of the restaurants in Scotland were a nice indulgence. Also- get fish and chips. They’re good. Instead of fast food stalls selling siu mei, garlic noodles, dumplings, and dim sum, they have fish cakes, chips, hot dogs, and pizza. Hey- I like them all.
It was a great trip all in all, and Scotland is an amazing country with some incredible history and culture. I’d be happy to go back to visit again someday.