Scotland: The Festivals, The Highlands, The Food, The Weather

by Nora on September 23, 2010

Having spent 10 days in Scotland, I’m intrigued. Scotland – like so many other places – is now on my list of destinations to return to, and experience slowly.

Scotland panorama

 

Here are some of the highlights:


Edinburgh: Festival Central

The minute I stepped off the train in Edinburgh (by the way, taking trains and ferries all around the UK and Ireland is the way to travel – but more on that in an upcoming post), my jaw dropped.

Edinburgh streets

“Edinburgh is kind of like York on crack,” was the demure explanation given to me by one fellow before I arrived. I wasn’t entirely sure what that meant – until I disembarked and found myself standing in a sea of large five-story stocky buildings of inexplicable grandeur and character. Where York’s architecture could be called quaint, Edinburgh’s is grand.

Edinburgh Fringe

Add to it the festival vibe – each summer consisting of numerous music and arts festivals including the Edinburgh International Fringe – and I was in heaven.

Fringe vibe

Granted, if I lived in Edinburgh, I (like most residents) might come to dislike festival season, what with the hoards of people milling about aimlessly and generally getting in the way. But since I was happily one of the hoard, I simply gave in to the experience and loved every minute of it; the street buskers everywhere, casts promoting their show with various antics, and giant stage setups at every turn.

Aside from Edinburgh’s formidable festivals and constant activity, the city is absolutely gorgeous. Surrounded by giant green craggy hills (seven of them in fact), there are many opportunities to get up high and see a panorama of the city, replete with a castle in the centre, ocean at the side, and a solid collection of buildings and parks all around. My biggest regret was not bringing my camera to one such central hilltop at sunset; to see the well-placed lights illuminating the gothic features of this dense city as the sky darkened is a memory that will last a long time.

The parks are manicured to within an inch of their lives and are very useable. Although I hear the cost of living in Edinburgh is formidable, it also strikes me as a very “livable” city.


The Highlands of Scotland

The highlands

After a few days in Edinburgh, it was off to the highlands for me. Being an avid hiker (“hill-walker” as is one of the local terms), I was not disappointed. I rented a car with a friend, a loose plan of where to go, and a totally inappropriate map for the journey. Much fun was had by all.

highlands hiking

We drove through national parks, aside innumerable lochs (including none other than Lock Ness), around countless ports, and across islands. We toured distilleries (as a Scotch fan I had to see at least one distillery), stopped wherever we wished, and hiked our little hearts out.

highlands summit


The Food

Yes. I had haggis. No. I didn’t think about what haggis is really made of while I ate it. And yes. I loved it.

Aside from Scotland’s iconic meaty haggis (which is a compliment to any meal of the day) I noticed another trend in Scottish cuisine; something I thought was attributable more to the English (what with their deep-fried bread instead of toast as part of a traditional English breakfast), but something which the Scottish seem to have a significant and creative handle on: fried foods.

fried food heaven

You can get just about anything fried in Scotland. I remember hearing about deep fried Mars bars many years ago with an equal amount of horror and morbid interest. And although I didn’t sample any odd deep fried delicacies myself, I visited a small take-away in Edinburgh that is reputed to be one of the best. In addition to all the regular fried foods you can imagine, here are a few of the more bizarre fried foods they had on offer:

  • Full rack of barbecue ribs
  • Cheeseburgers – bun and all (I’m pretty sure they held the lettuce)
  • Haggis
  • Calzone (filled with haggis)
  • Chocolate bars


The Weather

Since arriving in the UK, I saw almost no rain. In my three weeks in England, only two days were rainy in any substantial way; the rest of the time there may have been small isolated showers here and there, but really nothing to speak of. In fact, sunshine was more the norm.

The same went for Scotland. In 10 days, I saw one day of rain. Sadly it put a damper (hardy har har) on a 16 mile hike I had planned for the day, but I chose to view the sheets of water falling from the sky as a challenge to return to Scotland and complete the hike at another time.

Ireland as well (which you’ll read about shortly) – was over two weeks of sunshine, with only two days seeing any rain at all.

This constant – and uncharacteristic – great weather that has pretty much followed me through all of Europe has gotten me to thinking: I have a very special talent here. Everywhere I go, the sun shines…even in England, Scotland, and Ireland. I think there could be money in this.

As such, my services are now up for hire: bring me to your home town, and I’ll bring the nice weather. Pretty good deal, huh?

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kate September 23, 2010 at 7:41 am

First, I told you would love the Edinburgh Festival. Second, I believe you know someone who lived in Scotland for 4 years and you had an open invitation – just saying 😉 LOL

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2 AJ Leon September 23, 2010 at 10:35 am

Great post, Nora. I’ve hung out in Scotland once, but only briefly. This post makes me want to return! now ! 🙂

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3 Aidan Jones September 23, 2010 at 8:02 pm

I’m glad you enjoyed your trip 🙂 Was nice meeting you [uhm, in person]!

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4 theprofessionalhobo September 24, 2010 at 2:05 am

@Kate – You were right, as usual! Thanks for the recommendation of the festival… 🙂

@AJ – I too want to go back and spend at least a few months there.

@Andy – Ditto! Are you on the road yet?

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5 Faraz September 24, 2010 at 1:05 pm

The last time I returned to my homeland, I hiked in the Highlands as part of a time trial. The weather was horrendous. You seem to have the sunshine following you wherever you go! Do you know what areas of the Highlands you visited?

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6 theprofessionalhobo September 24, 2010 at 9:30 pm

@Faraz – The weather has actually been pretty terrific wherever I’ve gone in the last number of months – even through my 6 weeks in the UK!! In fact, I think that there could be money in this “talent” – pay for me to visit your home town, and I’ll bring nice weather with me!! (smiles)

As for where I visited in the Highlands – I covered a lot of territory on both the mainland (but nothing north of Inverness) as well as the Isle of Skye.

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7 Globetrottergirls September 25, 2010 at 6:50 pm

Your post makes us miss Europe! Scotland is one of our all-time favorites and we can’t wait to go back. You were lucky with the weather, such a long time without rain is pretty rare 😉 Driving & hiking through the Highlands is fantastic… and stopping at various destilleries, of course 😉

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8 Keith September 25, 2010 at 6:49 pm

I had the same experience the first time I visited Scotland – i.e., that I had to return. And I have, three more times in the last 5 years. The country is beguiling and secretly steals and hides your heart away. My favorite place in the world.

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9 Mikeachim September 26, 2010 at 8:50 am

Great summary, Nora. 🙂

Love Edinburgh. Simply adore it. And even though it’s even more expensive to live in than already-expensive York…I have to, one day. It calls.

Delighted you liked Haggis – as vile as it sounds when described, it’s unbeatable with tatties and ‘neeps (mashed potato and mashed turnip). And the frying thing? Yes. I’ll never get used to what the Scots are willing to fry. (And I’m English, we’re known for our kneejerk frying ability). To your list I’d like to add “Deep-Fried and Battered Macaroni Cheese Pie” which fulfils all the major food groups of Fats, Fats, Fats, Carbohydrates, Fats and Carbohydrates.

It’s raining heavily in England at the moment. Bucketing down. And you’ve left the country.

That’s you blamed, then.

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10 theprofessionalhobo September 27, 2010 at 10:11 pm

@Keith – Any favourite spots in Scotland?

@Globetrottergirls – When were you there? Any plans to go back?

@Mikeachim – Fried mac & cheese, huh? Actually, I seem to remember seeing them on a menu…fried mac & cheese on top of a hamburger if I’m not mistaken…(shudder)….

As for the weather, I bring the good stuff with me! Guess you’ll just have to await my return…one of these days… 😉

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11 A. Wannabe Travelwriter September 28, 2010 at 12:29 am

I need more scotch whiskey with this story.

My wife and I will be going to the U.K. next fall. Please keep those dates open to accompany us to facilitate favorable weather conditions.

I suppose travel via a steamer trunk is out of the question.

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12 Keith September 28, 2010 at 8:53 am

Some of my favorite places include: Dunkeld, Arran, Portree, all of Orkney, Pitlochry, and Grantown-on-Spey.

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13 theprofessionalhobo September 28, 2010 at 3:13 pm

@Frank – Mmm…scotch whiskey….(which incidentally they simply call “whiskey” in Scotland, and I call “scotch” everywhere else)…
I’ll try to keep those dates open….for a fee….(!)

@Keith – I made it to some of those locations….Portree in particular rings a bell as being beautiful…

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14 Leigh October 1, 2010 at 1:53 pm

I too went to Scotland for the 2nd time this summer and hiked the West Highland Way (which is available as a free download BTW off my website). Gorgeous country, even when it’s misting rain. The view from the top of Conic Hill (near Drymen) of the islands along the West Highland Fault was stunning. I’d like to do the Edinburgh Fringe Festival one day and immerse myself in plays for a week…or two.
I saw Haggis pizza on the menu but gave that a pass! I still don’t know where they hide their fruits and vegetables in Scotland.

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15 theprofessionalhobo October 2, 2010 at 6:57 pm

@Leigh – It was seeing the deep fried haggis-filled calzone that was bigger than my head that made its deepest impact on me in terms of the perils of Scottish cuisine. I was hanging for a salad after just watching it being made! (smiles)

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16 Derry Ironside October 26, 2010 at 9:55 pm

Glad you enjoyed Scotland – where they make whisky; no “e” please.
I lived there for 30 years before coming to Canada and ending in and around Toronto. Love it!

Scotland is a nice place to visit – but I would not want to live there!

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17 theprofessionalhobo October 27, 2010 at 8:25 pm

@Derry – It’s funny: I’m used to calling Scottish whisky just “Scotch” (as you will know they refer to is as such in Toronto and other places in the world)…I had to try hard not to do it in Scotland, where it’s referred to as whisky.

Why wouldn’t you want to live there? You can’t say the winters are worse in Scotland…I’ve lived in Toronto! 🙂 Is it the rain that keeps you away?

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18 Derry Ironside October 28, 2010 at 10:02 am

Yes and no (about the rain).
It is more that in Toronto and the Ottawa Valley where I lived for 5 years, one knows the summer will be warm and the winters cold.
I think in Scotland it is the uncertainty.

I remember the local paper headline – it would be 1947 – Heat Wave! Temperature soars to 64.3F

Showing my age!

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19 theprofessionalhobo October 28, 2010 at 7:12 pm

@Derry – Ha ha! I hear you on the uncertainty of the weather. Too bad things are becoming increasingly uncertain everywhere. At least there’s still some certainty in Toronto seasons (depending on who you talk to!).

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