I have just returned from a far-too-quick trip to Scotland to visit with my daughter Chloé at University in Edinburgh and travel around with my sister, Beth. I have only been once before, in 1993, and Beth had never been to the land of our ancestors. This was not a comprehensive trip by any stretch, we left much to explore over the next few years while Chloé is in school. I anticipate returning again and again. In the meantime, I brought back wonderful memories and close to 700 photos.
Here are some of the highlights (and a little less than 40 photos*):
DAY 1: Edinburgh & the Castle
Arrival in Edinburgh about 7AM local time (2AM in Toronto). Even in Premium Rouge it was super uncomfortable which was not helped by my seatmate who took both pillows, both blankets, and was sound asleep from take-off to landing. (He apologized upon arrival but after 7+ hours in an uncomfortable seat I was a bit grumpy.) The Waldorf Astoria Caledonian is gorgeous and ideally located, as we waited for our room we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast – I called and woke up Chloé who joined us – and then went on a walk down Princes Street as we weren’t able to check in until 1PM. My back was not happy and I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it on to our Edinburgh Castle/Royal Mile tour at 2PM. Though daunted at the base of the winding road up to the Castle, I did it, but still feel badly for Nicky our tour guide and Beth who had to put up with my constant need to sit down! (My back never bothers me so this was a strange and awkward experience.) As much as I wanted to make it down the Royal Mile to Holyrood, I made it half-way then called it quits. Good thing – it was still a long walk back to the hotel. We both took a 15-20 minute nap and then met Chloé for a spectacular dinner at a place just across from the hotel called Kyloe Restaurant and Grill. Fabulous beef – and the carrot soup and mussels starters were delicious, too! Pooped and knowing we had an early start the next day we were in bed by 10PM where I promptly fell asleep while Beth got a second wind!
The view from our room:
Edinburgh Castle entrance:
The plants are just as hardy as the stone and people:
Not far from the hotel to the restaurant:
The great all-family tradition continues – feed the student:
DAY 2: St. Andrews
After another delicious breakfast (I need to add mushrooms and smoked salmon to my daily diet!) we met Les who was our driver for the next couple of days. The idea of driving on the opposite side of the road with a manual transmission was a bit much for me or Beth to consider so a driver was a must. I highly recommend hiring Les who was incredibly informative and funny. We went through a sweet town called South Queensferry and saw the bridges, stopped at the oldest church on the sea, low tide looks different overseas, the day was spent in St. Andrews and though everyone told us we needed only a couple of hours, Beth and I could have done with a few more – maybe even an overnight stay. It was lovely. Growing up we were familiar with the town because of The Open and Chariots of Fire (which we watched with our dad, on repeat.) We ate lunch at a lovely pub, popped into a few shops, then back to Edinburgh in time to have tea with Chloé at our hotel.
We arrived in St. Andrews:
The ruins up close:
Whenever I think of St. Andrews this gorgeous red building (Hamilton Hall) comes to mind:
5 o’clock champagne tea with Chloé:
DAY 3: Stirling
Beth and I are pretty casual tourists, neither of us need to experience everything-there-is-to-see-and-do at every destination so we decided to roll our visit to Stirling (originally our Day 5 plan) with our trip up to Fort William. Les was filled with stories and history of the area. We learned about the The Battle of Bannockburn (1314) and the strategic significance of Stirling Castle. Whereas Edinburgh Castle is more of a glorified garrison, Stirling is more of a “castle” with grand rooms, tapestries, gardens with the usual dungeon, canons and chapel to complete royal requirements.
Robert the Bruce welcomes visitors:
The Queen Anne Gardens are lovely:
The views are spectacular:
More cobblestones and canons:
Back to one more look at the gardens:
DAY 3 CONTINUES: Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park, Glencoe & Fort William
We strapped ourselves back into Les’ unmistakable green Citroën and headed toward Inverlochy Castle in Fort William. The scenery was incredible as we made our way through to the highlands. There is even a walking trail – the West Highland Way which is 96 MILES between Milngavie (Glasgow) and Fort William. We had a brief stop in a beautiful town, Luss, on the west bank of Loch Lomond. Les regaled us with stories – some even more gruesome than those told the day before which was hard to believe. We also got a good dose of Celtic music – some was fabulous, but after years of hearing the chanter I could have done without hearing that again! It was a long day with a lot of miles covered and Les took us to some interesting out-of-the-way (meaning a tour bus cannot access) places.
An ancient Norse burial stone at the Luss Parish Church:
The Drovers Inn has been in business since 1705! Lunch was delicious: meat and tatties for me.
The view from our room at Inverlochy Castle Hotel, Fort William:
DAY 4: Loch Ness & Urquart Castle
After an uncomfortable lumpy-bumpy sleep, we came downstairs for breakfast, walked the grounds then Les picked us up for 9:30AM. We knew we were going to see Loch Ness and Urquart Castle but Les had a few surprises. First stop was the impressive Commando Memorial. Following another gruesome story we went to see the ruins of Invergarry Castle. Then to Fort Augustus (Kiliwhimin to Les) on Loch Ness where boats are impressively moved up and down the Caledonia River as well as the impressive St. Benedict’s Abbey that has been converted to residences, you can even rent an Airbnb. Along Loch Ness we found our main goal for the day: Urquhart Castle which has a long and violent history, left abandoned years ago. (Amazing how many “key” locations and convictions were simply abandoned over the years.) Before we headed back to Edinburgh Les had one last surprise for us: a cairn. He even brought out his dousing rods! Then it was up through Inverness on our way back to The Caledonian. Beth was busy on her phone to the Concierge making dinner reservations at Cadiz where Chloé joined us for a seafood supper and a sleepover. The day was filled with many miles!
The parlor at Inverlochy Castle Hotel:
Invergarry Castle ruins, the back (Loch Oich) side:
Loch Ness (no monster sightings on this day):
Beth and me at Urquhart Castle (Les doubled as a fabulous photographer through the trip!):
DAY 5: Edinburgh
After a couple of days in the car we decided to take a day off to wander around Edinburgh. We had another delicious breakfast at the hotel then took a walk along the Princes Street Gardens. We ended up in the shopping district and went to Primark to pick up some pants Chloé had seen in the window. Then back to George Street to see a jacket Beth had spied in a shop the night before. Nothing for us but we did get a lovely and versatile dress for Chloé at AllSaints. By chance we happened to stop in for lunch at Contini and our great culinary luck continued. Either we’re super fortunate or Edinburgh is simply filled with stellar restaurants. We headed back to the hotel, stopped and picked up a Harris Tweed bag for Beth then packed up and changed for dinner. We went back to Kyloe (it was that good), this time with Chloé and two of her roommates, Izzy (the vegetarian – she had gnocchi) and Emma – I can’t believe I didn’t get a photo! And with that our visit was over.
The entrance to Princes Street Gardens:
Our first bagpiper!
Heading back to the hotel.
DAY 6: Home
A fancy Mercedes picked us up at 5:25AM for the flight home. What an incredibly efficient process between the drop off, check in and through security at the Edinburgh airport. I was very impressed with the whole process. The flight left on time and I got home at 11AM – leaving the whole day ahead of me.
Every day we enjoyed rainbows, three seasons (all but winter), lots of wind, exceeded my FitBit step goal, learned a lot of history and enjoyed experiencing it first hand.
Fire and rope were favourite tools for religiousdominance – both sides were brutal. Now churches struggle to stay open and can’t sustain attendance. Fascinating situation to ponder.
Hire a guide to find some undiscovered parts of Scotland you cannot access by coach.
Outlander has revived the tourist business which was built up after Braveheart and Rob Roy made Scotland a popular destination years ago.
Distance is in measured in miles, vehicles travel MPH but fuel is sold in litres.
Ginger and lemongrass tea is delicious.
My dad is right, there is not a dirty window in all of Scotland.
Pub reminders that Annie Lennox, The Proclaimers and Simple Minds are from Scotland.
If you don’t pay for it you don’t get to see it seems to be the attitude with homes that hide the views from the road blocked by high walls and thick hedges.
Our waiters in Edinburgh (Cadiz and Kyloe) are big Raptors fans – so random!
Scotland is made for short people! At 5′ 9″ most of the chairs made me feel like I was a giant sitting on the ground. My sister, on the other hand, stands about 5′ 2″ and she thought it was lovely.
ACCOMMODATIONS, MEALS & EXTRAS:
Both Beth and I are well traveled – certainly in terms of North American travel. Over the years we’ve been to many places, most of which would be considered elevated, quite chi-chi now that I think about it. That being said, we are always looking for good value for our money and time. This is how I would rate (out of champagne glasses, of course) our holiday:
Erica Tu at Love Tu Travel was (as always) fabulous to work with while planning this trip. It was one of those last minute “hey, I have six free days, let’s go to Scotland” and Erica made all of the arrangements based on my list of highlights to show Beth. (Rating: 5 champagne glasses)
Les, Private Driver and Guide was an absolute must. Not only did we have an opportunity to enjoy the scenery we were able to see “undiscovered” places not available to bigger vehicles. Les was knowledgeable and we were relieved not to do any of the driving. (Rating: 5 champagne glasses)
Transfers from and to the airport are so civilized. Someone waiting with your name on a board? Takes your luggage? Knows exactly where they’re going? Yes please. (Rating: 5 champagne glasses)
Waldorf Astoria Caledonia (Rating: 4 champagne glasses)
Concierge was lovely and attentive. They always seemed to know where we were! They had Beth’s cellular and texted to make sure things were going well. They made all of our reservations at Kyloe and Cadiz and made sure our bags were well secured for our excursion to the Highlands. (Rating: 5 champagne glasses)
Accommodations 1st Stay Lovely “Castle View” from room 306 was a lovely castle view. Spacious, clean and comfortable. There was enough space to unpack our bags. The shower was lovely and the towel warmer a treat. (Rating: 5 champagne glasses)
Accommodations 2nd Stay “Castle View” means you can see the castle out the window, not hoist yourself up on a ledge to look to the right. It was more “essence of castle” you know it’s there, you just can’t see it. We were only one floor up at 406 and the configuration was completely different. We didn’t even have a dresser. And they missed turn-down service the second night. (Rating: 2 champagne glasses)
Afternoon Tea at Peacock Alley at the Waldorf Astoria Caledonian was tasty and fun with a few modern twists to the sandwiches. The sweets on the other hand were a big flop. And it was expensive. (Rating: 2.5 champagne glasses)
Daily Breakfast was wonderful. We tried both the buffet and the to-order and both were outstanding. The service was friendly and accommodating. (Rating: 5 champagne glasses)
Inverlochy Castle Hotel (Rating: 3 champagne glasses)
Accomodations were dated and shabby. The bed was lumpy bumpy and the pillows did not compensate for the discomfort. The curtains in The Queen’s Suite threadbare. The tub was lovely and copper but the water was not clear – it had more of a green/brown tinge. It looks like the place was updated sometime when Dynasty was on the air the first time and then left to wear. It is definitely tired. (Nothing different from my visit in 1993 – and when I find my photos I’ll be sure.) (Rating: 2 champagne glasses)
Service was outstanding. Truly impeccable. (Rating: 5 champagne glasses)
Food delicious but fussy. (Rating: 3 champagne glasses)
Edinburgh Castle, St. Andrews Castle, Stirling Castle, Urquhart Castle (Rating: 5 champagne glasses, all were brilliant in their own distinct way)
Off the beaten path (Rating: 5 champagne glasses, Les showed us things we never new existed and certainly wouldn’t have found on our own or in a coach tour)
This was a lovely trip which I would give an overall rating of a strong 4 champagne glasses.
And with that, I encourage everyone to go to Scotland! I’m looking forward to my return.
*aA note on my photos: with the exception of the occasional straightening of the horizon, cropping or converting to black and white, ALL of my photos are always Straight Out Of Camera (SOOC) using no flash.