Scotland – Just like home but with an accent

You don’t go to Scotland for the weather! Having said that it sounds like they were having a heat wave up here (mid-twenties) prior to our arrival and there seemed to be plenty examples of the “scottish tan”. This involved very fair skin with patches of sunburn in places the average kiwi would be tanned all year round.

We have spent just over two weeks in Scotland and have had a good time. The scenery and coastal areas are very nice, with a ruggedness we haven’t seen in the UK before.

We were quite active in our time here, we have been mountain biking twice, climbed Ben Nevis (the UK’s highest point) and even had a couple of hours ice climbing.

We ventured into Scotland via Carlisle, with a visit to the castle there. The castle has had a turbulent past with ownership changing between the English and Scots (depending on who was winning the fights) quite a few times. It had an interesting museum dedicated to the Highland regiments and the history about the Jacobite uprising in the 1700’s helped us to gain a better understanding of the Battle of Culloden, a site we visited later in our Scottish journey.

Once into Scotland we called into see some of my ancestors who are buried in Dalton cemetery. It was more emotional to be there than I anticipated and was a nice way to start our visit in my ancestral homeland. Our destination for the next couple of nights was Irvine on the coast south west of Glasgow.

Isle of Arran Ferry

While in Irvine we thought we would head out to the Isle of Arran for a day trip, we hired some bikes and had a very nice day cycling along the east coast. The things I liked about the Isle of Arran the most were, how picturesque it was, and the local ice cream, it was easily the best ice cream we have had on our trip (Kate may disagree as she had some good stuff in Spain).

Isle of Arran sky

Isle of Iona

The next stop was just outside Oban in the Western Highlands. The owners of the B&B told us about a day trip to an island on the western side of Mull that was worth doing so we headed into Oban grabbed a ferry, then a bus and then another ferry and ended up on the Isle of Iona. It was a nice day but it was still pretty wind swept. The island’s claim to fame is that this is where Catholicism first came to Scotland (from Ireland) and it was a popular pilgrimage site for the rich and famous back in the day. The day was about 1200 years ago 🙂 While we didn’t stop anywhere in the bus, Mull looked like it could do with a bit more exploring as it had lots of interesting countryside. The day was finished off with a pint or two of cider and fresh fish for Kate (you can’t beat seaside towns for good fish) and some Haggis, neeps and tatties for me. I’ve tried haggis in New Zealand and didn’t really like it, I’ve had haggis here half a dozen times and have enjoyed it. I’ve even had a haggis bridie which was very good.

Oban fishing boats

Then it was on to Fort William for a few days, we were too early to check in so we drove to the Isle of Skye to have a look. The Isle of Skye is pretty much like the Isle of Mull only bigger 🙂

Fort William Sunset

Fort William is a tourist town, it has a ski field, a cable car, the only World Cup Downhill mountain biking track in the UK and it sits under the highest peak in the UK as well. While we were there we went mountain biking (not on the World Cup track), indoor ice climbing and made some muscles ache a little by climbing Ben Nevis. The mountain biking was pretty bland (i’m sure the World Cup track is amazing but I’m not that good) but the ice climbing was absolutely awesome! It is something Kate and I have wanted to do for a lot of years and it was good to finally have a go. I think I’ll be trying it again very soon. Ben Nevis was not technical at all as there is a good path leading all the way to the summit, it does however make your lungs and legs work a little and is the longest climb (not the highest), at about 1400 metres gain, that we have done on this trip. The summit was shrouded in cloud and it started raining about 5 minutes before we got there so it wasn’t a long stay.

Ice climbing

Ben Nevis Summit

It was on to Inverness next. Inverness wasn’t what I was expecting, it was larger than I thought and had a really good vibe to it. We had a pretty chilled out time but we visited the Culloden Battlefield and Fort George while we were there. The history in this part of the world is very interesting and the events have affected Scotland ever since. Everybody with Scottish ancestry likes to think that they are part of a clan and have a tartan. We had a chat to a guy who explained a few things, if you are from the lowlands and have the name of Calvert the answer is “no you don’t”. Sounds like we were cattle farmers and came from over here with the Normans. If like Kate you have a name like Stuart you most certainly “do” have a tartan, a royal one!!

Inverness

You can’t come to Scotland without visiting Edinburgh and that was where we headed next. The “Tattoo” and “the Fringe” were on so the place was packed and pumping. We had a good look around the city, visited the castle, went for a walk up to Arthur’s seat, enjoyed a few ciders at a few establishments and had one of the best meals on this trip. You really can’t go wrong with either rabbit or venison if it is cooked well. We will visit Edinburgh again sometime.

Edinburgh Panorama

The final couple of days in Scotland were in the town of Peebles, it is very close to the Glentress mountain biking area. This mountain bike park would rival the best in New Zealand and we had a great day riding the berms and bumps. We both seem to enjoy the days that are active and outdoors. I’m pretty sure Kate didn’t stop smiling the whole time she was on the trails.

Scotland is a great place to visit, a lot of things are familiar to anyone who has lived in the south of New Zealand and I do enjoy listening to bagpipes being played.

Piper