Scotland will forever be my first solo trip as a young independent woman. It was liberating. I made the 20-minute walk to the Chester train station at 5 a.m. to catch my Manchester Airport train. Well, it wasn’t that easy; there were a few connections.
Chester —> Crewe —> Manchester Piccadilly —> Wilmslow —> Manchester Airport
Before England, I had never traveled by train. I had no reason because I drove everywhere. In the country there are relatively large cars and even bigger trucks. Three months ago the idea of riding in a train, bus or taxi was completely unrealistic. Why in the hell would I do that?
Two hours before my flight departs. That should have been plenty of time, right? I kept my cool up until my bag had to be rescanned twice because I packed my contact solution, which was over 4 oz., into my carry-on suitcase. Here’s a tip for travelers: if they say one clear bag of liquids, they mean it. Make sure nothing is over the marked limit because, odds are, you will have to throw something out. I very reluctantly parted with my contact solution and Ireland perfume.
Fortunately I made my flight, otherwise this would be the tragic tale of how I didn’t go to Scotland. The End. This is not that kind of story. I stood in the gate queue for a good fifteen minutes, a cesspool of sweat and panic. I checked with the lady behind me to ensure that the flight was for Edinburgh. It was!
I arrived in the beautiful city of Edinburgh after a short flight (not the actual city, just the airport but close enough). It was intimidating doing everything on my own. I couldn’t turn to Cass or Manny. It didn’t take me long to realize that my stubborn I-don’t-need-to-ask-questions attitude wasn’t going to fly. It wasn’t hard getting out of the airport, but I needed to get to my hostel somewhere in Edinburgh.
I must have avoided the large line of people queuing for a bus to Edinburgh nearly ten times. My stubbornness really is a hinderance. I eventually made it to the city center. I was stuffed into a double-decker bus, standing in the aisle and trying to hold onto the luggage rack behind me with every once of strength I could muster. The driver was absolutely crazy!
The bus dropped me off in the middle of Edinburgh. All right, find High Street Hostel. I walked around a small portion of the city for thirty minutes until I realized my phone had ran out of data. I found an EE store and topped up my £10 plan then continued my hostel hunt.
High Street Hostel gets its name because it’s located on High Street in Edinburgh, just a few steps off the Royal Mile — a mile-long road leading up to Edinburgh Castle.
It was noon. Little Miss Early Bird had arrived two hours too soon, so I dropped off my suitcase and set out to find food. I hadn’t eaten breakfast, and my stomach rumbled in protest. I walked into Keno and ordered a mozzarella, tomato and basil sandwich with a tonic-cranberry water. It was delicious.
Not only had I arrived two hours early to my hostel, but I was in Scotland two days early for my Haggis Adventures tour. I wanted to enjoy Edinburgh, and enjoy Edinburgh I did (apologize for my Yoda-speak, I must).
I still had plenty of time to kill, so I went on a little adventure…
I walked around the city and hiked a “mountain,” working up a pretty good sweat.
Edinburgh is Beautiful Both Day and Night
What you don’t see during the day, you see at night. Even though the shops close at 6 p.m., the city is very much lively. I had a full day and night ahead of me; what is a girl to do?
Duh, plan a trip to Edinburgh Dungeons, of course! I rode solo through the whole thing. Everyone else was coupled up with a friend, a parent or a significant other. One girl remarked how brave I am to do the tour alone.
By 1:20 p.m. I was hungry but not for food. I decided to drink my calories instead.
“I’m sitting in Starbucks and sucked down a delicious 410-calorie grandé caramel frappuccino. I don’t regret it one bit, well…my stomach isn’t too happy. I can feel my intestines protesting the scrumptious drink. It’s a riot down there.”
I don’t know how I forget that I’m lactose-intolerant, but I do.
Then I hunted down the infamous cafe, The Elephant House, made famous by J.K. Rowling (yes, you Harry Potter nerds – don’t worry, I’m one too) as a place of inspiration where she wrote many of her earlier novels.
I just took a quick panorama because the line was ridiculously long, and I didn’t plan on waiting an hour to see where J.K. Rowling sat…no offense.
What else could I do but explore the city? As the day sped on, I stopped to grab a bite to eat and brought it back to the hostel. I laid back and relaxed, tapping away at my phone.
“I plan on getting into bed early tonight because I need to rise bright ‘n early tomorrow morn so I can begin the tour.”
Yes, people, I said that. I was in freaking Scotland, and I said that. I had a brief lapse of judgment, but then I stumbled upon a travel blog raving about The Stand Comedy Club. Whaaat? I had never been to a comedy club before.
There was a show for Craig Campbell at 7 p.m. that night. Hell ‘ya! I bought my ticket and scouted out the club because I didn’t want to be walking aimlessly in the dark.
BEST. NIGHT. EVER.
I’m going to make a point to attend showings at comedy clubs in the future. I always watch stand-up on TV, but it’s another thing to be there.
I laughed so hard my stomach hurt. That’s how hilarious this man was. I burst out laughing until I cried — tears poured down my face. I downed a few pints of beer at my own little table, enjoying my last night in Edinburgh.
The Glass Shattered but Our Dreams Didn’t
Our group consisted of Canadians, Americans and Aussies. As usual, when a huge group of strangers are tossed into a small bus there can be a little awkwardness. No one even knows the name of the person sitting next to them.
Scottish tour guide, Duffy, took roll call and introduced himself then we were on our way. He not only kept us informed, but managed to keep us entertained for five days.
“If you don’t understand what I’m saying then get your translator to help you.” – Fraser Duff
Our first stop, I believe, was this beautiful church built by the edge of a river.
We flipped between listening to traditional Scottish music and jamming to some 80s: Aerosmith, Huey Lewis and the News, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Elton John, Nazareth, etc. We even listened to some stand-up by Danny Bhoy the comedian.
We stopped in Oban, visited the Isle of Skye, slept in Loch Ness, ate lunch in Inverness, sampled Scotch whiskey, viewed the Glenfinnan Viaduct (AKA the Harry Potter bridge), explored Glencoe and walked along the Culloden Battlefield.
Somewhere in Scotland (could I get any more vague?) along a narrow rode, our bus snagged a rock. Well, more like a rock snagged our bus. We had to go to a nearby mechanic to get the shattered glass door taped up. Ah, a funny little moment in hindsight.
The sights in Scotland are just as breathtaking as the Emerald Isle (Ireland). I forget how old and rich in history Scotland is — a land marred by war and conflict.
You can bet your ass that I jumped off at every stop to snap a few shots. There was so much to see that I even resorted to taking pictures while on the bus.
There was a lot of twists, turns and bumps, so my pictures and videos aren’t of the best quality. Let me tell you, camera quality wasn’t the only thing that suffered. Of course, there hasn’t been a way to remedy my motion sickness, so I slept a lot.
“As we say in Glasgow, it’s a bottle of who the fuck you lookin’ at.” Duffy reffering to Buckfast.
Yes, I wrote down a lot of what Duffy said throughout the trip because it’s funny!
We can call them “duffyisms.”
The picture to the left is the northern tip of Loch Ness, we stayed at a hostel in Fort Augustus near the south of the loch.
Morag’s lodge was a warm and inviting accommodation for two nights.
Our noisy tour group got a little tipsy our second night. We danced on tables and chairs, fought a close dance battle and suddenly developed the bright idea to go swimming in Loch Ness at 2 a.m.
It was freakin’ freezing, but I can say that I went swimming in Loch Ness, which is pretty damn cool (no pun intended).
We started out as a bunch of strangers and ended as a group of friends.
I tried authentic Scottish haggis for the first time and then a second and third time.
We stopped for a bite to eat in Inverness before visiting Culloden battlefield. I tasted Cullen Skink for the first time. It’s a thick Scottish chowder made from smoked haddock, potatoes and onions. I was the first brave soul of our group to try the Scottish dish.
“It’s where I had my first pint with my grandpa…when I was six.” – Duffy
We visited Culloden Battlefield — the site of the last and bloodiest battle of the Jacobite Rising. The battle is highlighted in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. Anyone who knows me knows I’m a huge fan of the TV series and books.
Behind the inscribed stone lies a mass grave of Scotsman belonging to the MacLean Clan. Thousands of Jacobites died for the cause on April 16, 1746.
Below is Eilean Dorian, a 13th-century highland castle. It cost a fiver (£5) to walk the bridge up to the castle. Let’s just say that this was a good distance for me.
I’m not cheap, just realistic. Nah, let’s face it: I’m just cheap.
“The hair or ‘bangs’ on their forehead often covering their eyes is called a dossan.” – Tranquility Farm
This, my friends, is a hairy coo. I got up close and personal with this little guy. I don’t how he could see me, but he meandered over and licked my hand.
While in Scotland, taste the Scotch whiskey.
I tried Tullamore Dew in Offaly, Ireland; I sipped Jameson in Dublin, Ireland; and I have sampled Tomatin whiskey in Inverness, Scotland. I barely taste the difference because, in my opinion, it’s not good. Maybe I don’t have refined senses or my tastebuds are hypersensitive. I’ll just stick to beer and wine, thank you very much.
The legend goes: if you dunk your head in the river for ten seconds, your wish will come true. Duffy was the first to go. I’m in freakin’ Scotland, of course I’ll dunk my head in a freezing river! That’s exactly what I did, and it was surprisingly refreshing.
A hike in the Scottish highlands — absolutely breathtaking. I love the heart-shaped loch.
These are some of my favorite pictures, especially the blue butt sheep.
My Canadian friends, Evelyne (in blue) and Gabrielle (in green).
I refrained from taking selfies along the goat path. It’s not somewhere to trip and fall.
Nearly every night we had spent a good amount of money on a nice dinner at a Scottish restaurant. Liz, Evelyne, Gabrielle and I made spaghetti, tore apart a loaf of fresh baguette and sipped on red wine.
We were winding down toward the end of our trip. We had one more day night left in the lowlands of Scotland before we had to head back to Edinburgh. We enjoyed the hell out of every day; sang inharmoniously on the bus; and braved the elements.
“Scotland, where you have all four seasons in one day.” – Duffy
Below are pictures of Glenfinnan Viaduct. As Duffy pulled into the parking area, he informed us that we should return to the bus in a timely manner:
“It’s a quick walk. Only takes 5, 10, 15, 20 minutes. Well, depending on your level of fitness.”
Drinking is a way of life in Scotland. No matter where we went, we had a beer or some whiskey (well, I had just beer).
Before leaving the Isle of Sky, a group of us went into the brewery and bought some beer for the road. I grabbed it out of the refrigerator, so I had to drink it. Beer on the bus = good idea. I relaxed enough to fall asleep comfortably, but I woke up with killer neck pain.
I had the black brew, as you can tell from the picture. So far, it is the best beer I’ve ever tasted…ever. Actually, I love my Guinness, so I would have to say this is a tough contender.
“Without further adieu, I introduce The Scotland Chronicle Edition II: Taking Pictures of Some Family at a Castle. The poses were so candid, I just had to snap a shot.” – Stalker of the Year Samantha Barcomb
On our last night of the tour, I believe it was Thursday, I began to run a fever. I had been sick for a majority of the trip, but it hit me like a ton of bricks Thursday night.
Earlier that day I bought beer for the hostel and put it in the fridge with my name sharpied onto it. I woke up the next morning to discover one of the guys had drank my beer and decided to slip a fiver in the bottle as consolation.
Our entire group went out that night to drink while I wrapped myself like a burrito in the hostel bed. I lost my voice and all. Only to find out a week later that I had Tonsillitis, which I treated with penicillin.
The Highland Fling tour ended back in Edinburgh. We pulled up near Haggis Adventures at 5 p.m. and unloaded our suitcases. It was sad to see everyone go. I made some good friendships with great people.
I totted my luggage over to Starbucks and enjoyed one last frappuccino and killed a few hours. My train didn’t leave until 8 p.m. I arrived at the train station an hour early. The ride to Liverpool was three hours and thirty minutes; I would arrive in Liverpool at midnight. I decided to get a hotel because my connecting line to Chester didn’t leave until 5:30 a.m. and I wasn’t staying in the train station for five hours.
Evelyne was on the same train, just a few cars away, and joined me for the entire duration of the ride. She was a godsend because we chatted for hours, which kept me awake so I wouldn’t miss the connection.
Despite being sick, I had one of the best experiences of my life in Scotland. It was my first solo trip. I had to rely on myself for everything: money, planning, time-management, etc.
Many people say that traveling abroad changes you. You discover yourself. You learn what you are capable of doing. I have never felt more alive than I do right now.