Tales of Travel: Scotland

May Bank Holiday weekend, 2009. The weather in London was scorching hot. We went to Scotland.

It rained.

After a night in an Edinburgh hotel with the worst food in the history of the world (for once, I was compelled to complain, and they sent us a letter apologising for the shoddy food! Really, who smothers delicious Scottish salmon in a jar of tomato pasta sauce??!), we wandered around this gorgeous city amidst legions of (mostly drunk) Leinster and Liecester rugby fans who were in the city for some important final match.

It was slightly surreal to be walking up George Street and onto Hanover Street/Leith Street/Heriot Row/Moray Place, and we could see why Dunedin’s settlers called it the Edinburgh of the South – the views looking out across the city and down the harbour were so familiar to us.

Edinburgh Castle

We went for a wander through the Princes Street Gardens which separate the old and new towns, and played like little kids in the Camera Obscura illusion rooms. The Royal Mile was full of old and quirky shops and pubs, and Edinburgh Castle was an awesome sight perched atop the craggy hill at the end of the mile.

Illusions inside Camera Obscura

We caught a bus back to the airport to pick up our rental car; usually the journey takes 25 minutes, but we were driving through the rugby-going hordes so it took a lot longer! They made for amusing drive-by entertainment though, especially the ones being told off by a little old lady for peeing against the wall of the building next to her cottage! Once we’d picked up Flossie, our rental car, we cruised on up to Inverness.

John O’Groats to Bluff!

Compared to Edinburgh, Inverness was grey and boring, a little chavvy and a little depressing. The next day, we drove up to John O’Groats, the northernmost point of mainland UK – the coastline was very reminiscent of New Zealand, speckled with gorse bushes and rugged beaches. There wasn’t much to see at the top, unsurprisingly, so we took a couple of photos and then drove on. We headed across the top of Scotland, stopping in Caithness for the Castle of Mey (the late Queen Mother’s residence in Scotland – definitely one for the scone-toting oldies!) and somewhere near Durness for lunch…which at 3pm on a Sunday in Scotland was coffee and cake at the only cafĂ© open for miles! Almost out of petrol, we had to detour to the only 24hr petrol pump around, then drove back down Loch Shin, through rugged, yet beautiful green and lush hillside. It may have been raining, but that only made the scenery even more dramatic.

That night, we made the potentially fatal decision to eat in our hotel again….and ended up having the most amazing meal, which Tall still talks about now, three years on!

Castle Urquhart and Loch Ness

On our last day, we drove down the mists of Loch Ness in search of Nessie (but she was away for the long weekend), stopping at the ruins of Castle Urquhart which is on the edge of the loch. The setting was very dramatic and eerie, with the mists rolling across the lake. We carried on down to Fort William and onto Crieff, where we went to the Glenturret Distillery. The tour was interesting, and we met possibly the laziest – and fattest – distillery cat in the world. Her predecessor, Towser, was 24 years old when she died, and currently holds the Guinness World Record as the world’s best mouser. I can’t stand whisky, but Tall tasted a wee dram, with minimal facial scrunching. Then it was back to the airport, bidding a fond farewell to Flossie and bonny Scotland.

So it was sunny in London. Pah. Scotland wouldn’t be the same without a bit of rain, would it?