Scotland. The land of haggis, castles and mythical water creatures. It also happens to be one of the places that I am most thankful for visiting on this trip. I have spent a lot of time in England and to be perfectly frank, with the exception of visiting family, don’t find it overly exciting. If I never visited London again, I wouldn’t be too disheartened. With this I ventured over the border to the north without the highest of expectations and was very quickly proven wrong.
I was fortunate enough to arrive into Edinburgh at the end of the Fringe Festival, the world’s largest arts festival that spans over the last 3 weeks in August. I missed a lot of the main attractions but the atmosphere of the beautiful city was still buzzing and the 45 minute closing firework display I watched from atop Calton Hill with several Germans was certainly something to remember. The city is steeped in history, with a notable focus between the Scottish and English War of Independence at the end of the 13th and start of the 14th century and as you walk along the cobblestone roads and alleyways, it’s not a far stretch to imagine yourself in those times. The castle is a must visit attraction, boasting incredible views of the city and surrounding countryside, as well as a chance to learn a lot about Edinburgh and it’s proud Scottish history. I could’ve spent days just walking around the city as there are lots of little treasures to discover, on top of the fact that it is just a wonderful place to spend time in and explore. For example, I found a weir and a little river which snaked its way through a lot of the city which would have been magnificent to run in a kayak, but alas, Edinburgh isn’t exactly known for its urban ‘yaking.
On top of beautiful cities and rich history, Scotland boasts stunning landscapes, something that certainly captures my attention more effectively. After Edinburgh, I ventured north up into the Scottish highlands and to Loch Ness, or more specifically Innverness, the main township located near the loch. The three and a half hour train trip there is certainly one of the more picturesque to date; it even rivals that of my train trip through the French Alps. Torrenting rivers, standalone mountains and forests galore are some of the few wonders to inhabit your attention as you head towards one of Scotland’s more famous attractions. iPod in, eyes glued to the window and the train journey just flew by. I spent 2 of the next 3 days solo paddling the loch, with an overnight campsite, right on the shores; I nearly had the loch lapping in the vestibule of my tent! A lovely fire, a good hearty meal and a golden sunset to top it all off? It really doesn’t come much better than that. I certainly recommend proffering yourself as Nessie bait in a kayak, a great way to explore the loch without feeling like a tourist on a boat.
The beautiful landscapes were to be continued after Loch Ness as I ventured cross country to the Isle of Skye. If you are heading to Scotland, go to the Isle of Skye (and on your way check out Eilean Donan Castle, one of the most picturesque places in the world). Just do it. It is breathtaking. Like my train trip, the bus from Innverness to Portree I was glued to the window and questioning how I got so lucky to be chasing the life I am. It actually inspired me to write my first blog article about why I travel. I arrived into a fantastic sunset and lucked out with clear blue skies (a real luxury in Scotland) for much of the next 3 days. I genuinely do not want to say anything more about it because I will not do it justice and I don’t want to spoil the surprise. Just go, plain and simple.
The Scottish people are also incredibly kind and friendly. Admittedly, I’ve learnt this is a pretty common trait whilst travelling but that doesn’t stop it being a nice thing to experience. When I hired my kayak, the bloke organising it and his wife invited me into their home for coffee, ferried me around between hostels, departure points and ATMs as well as discussing a lot of the outdoor adventure industry in Scotland and his business as a kayak and ski instructor. He pointed me towards potential job opportunities, helpful websites and even travel suggestions such as hitchhiking with truckies (I’ll discuss this and the accompanying story in a later post) and Scotland’s access legislature (next paragraph). Also in Innverness, I was lucky enough to head to a great pub, Hootananny’s, which I learnt about after matching with a girl on Tinder in Edinburgh whose father owned the joint. There was a wonderful atmosphere here as it was a live music session where anyone could show up with an instrument and join in. Here I listened to a Canadian guy play his bagpipes along with a British guy and several Scottish locals; violins, guitars and flutes all making an appearance. To listen to this, in the company of travellers and locals alike was fantastic. Admittedly, I didn’t do any hitchhiking in Scotland but heard from nearly everyone I met outside of the big cities that, like Iceland, it was really easy and a lot of people were willing to help you out.
Finally, as an avid adventurer, Scotland has a wonderful piece of legislature regarding access which “means that everyone can go camping wherever access rights apply, as long as it’s done responsibly. There are a few reasonable exceptions to where you can camp – you should avoid camping in enclosed fields of crops or farm animals, or near buildings.” In other words, you can camp basically anywhere at all in Scotland! The guy who leant me the kayak did say that there was an unwritten rule that you should be travelling without motorised transport but I haven’t delved into that as it is an issue that isn’t too big an issue for a backpacker. The other thing to bear in mind here is the responsibly fact. I guess this mostly applies for private property and public areas. For example, the excessive consumption of alcohol and causing a ruckus wherever you stay probably isn’t viewed as responsible and if a farmer asks you to vacate his paddock, you should probably apologise and be on your way. But with that, just about anywhere you want you can camp, something I definitely intend to abuse on return trips! (plus I hear they have amazing caves in Scotland, gotta go scour those bad boys one day.)
Scotland has a lot to offer, from its rich history, “lovely” haggis (not the biggest fan…), cobblestoned streets and castles galore but get into those highlands where all those wild men lived for years. There’s a reason they defended it so passionately! It is a haven for wilderness adventurers and historians alike. My trip to Scotland stays with me fondly and it exceeded my expectations more than any trip I have ever been on.