My husband Dave, who turned 50 last year, loves Scotland. We named our son Scott after the country and have always enjoyed the local Highland games. So I ended up getting Dave a trip there as his big birthday gift.
It ended up being a trip of a life time for both of us.
We saw Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip and Prince William and wife Kate -- yes, in person and close-up -- on the Royal Mile on their way to a cathedral there. William was knighted that day as he entered into the Order of Thistle. A shopkeeper told us knighthood was a 30th birthday present from his grandmother.
Dave swam in 45-degree Loch Ness, while I took pictures of this daring feat, and we sampled the local food like haggis and salmon and did a little whiskey tasting each day, which was a nice change from California wine tasting.
Dave also played St. Andrews Old Course, which is a two-hour drive from one of the biggest cities, Edinborough, pronounced “Eddin-burg.” I toured Holyrood Palace’s art gallery and Scottish Parliament on that day because I’m not much of a golfer but I do love art and have an interest in how governments operate.
While there, I had asked why the palace was closed and the gallery guard said it was the Queen’s residence when she came to town. He added that the Queen was in the backyard entertaining 500 of her closest Scottish friends!
It rained most days but as we approached each main tourist attraction, it magically cleared up making our photographs spectacular and our walking and hiking most pleasant.
I chose early July for the trip because I knew we both could take off work at that time and because it would be relatively warm. Scotland’s summer is like Saratoga’s worst winter. You need a few clothing layers with you at all times. During the winter months, I’m told it’s wicked blustery, wet and snowy there especially in the highlands.
Flying during peak tourist season was expensive, but we used Hilton Honors points for the lodging, which saved a bundle. Our air options were Continental/Lufthansa and American Airlines/British Airways. Because the AA option meant 10 additional travel hours, we went Continental, which ended up being nice because we had free movies and TV shows. I watched six movies round trip!
Dave digs driving on the other side of the road and he’s great at navigating rotaries so we decided to rent a car. A rotary replaces an intersection and can save you a ton of time because you don’t have to stop. We got a silver MG which looked like my Camry. Using a stick shift was a bit jerky, but he quickly got used to it.
The other option would have been to just take day or overnight tours, which have meant bus rides to various sites. Many people we know stayed in B+Bs and took tours so they would not have to drive.
We stayed in the Edinborough Hilton, which is near Haymarket train station. By the way, there are two Hiltons in this town. I asked for a king-size bed so they gave us the best suite, which was palatial with a huge ceiling and a few rooms. They said only the best room had a king bed. It only cost us points so fine by us.
On golf day, Dave left at 4:30 a.m. to drive to St. Andrews, which was a couple of hours away. He didn’t have a tee time so he just waited for a group who needed a fourth. After a bit of a wait he found a group of three who’d take him. He said it was a dream come true playing the Old Course except the bunkers are really deep, up to 20 feet. He was smart to have hired a caddy because it was hard to see the next hole. He says it cost less than playing Pebble Beach.
The Scottish Highlands area is heaven on earth. The mountain areas, which are everywhere, look like a cross between the ones in Hawaii and Maine. The people are rough around the edges but hospitable and are quite different than in the city areas. Several thousand people still speak Gaelic but we didn’t meet any during the trip. There are sheep and long-haired horned Scottish cattle everywhere and in Glenncoe, we ran into a man in a kilt playing bagpipes. He suggested a pound for each photo with him.
We also stayed at the Hilton in a Highland city called Aviemore, which is in the Cairngorn Mountains, a popular winter ski resort town. The diners and pubs were plentiful and all of the workers were very friendly. They were constantly offering whiskey with each meal. One suggested we put whiskey in our breakfast oatmeal! This Hilton was family friendly with miniature golf and a lot of video games.
It was okay staying in Aviemore but in 20/20 hindsight we should have stayed in either Loch Ness or Inverness because it would have taken less time to drive to our main destinations each day.
Additionally everything is more expensive in Scotland than in the U.S. For example, a fast food meal that costs $4 in the U.S. would be $7 there.
We look forward to going back to Scotland and were glad that we kept our trip to one country because it allowed us to really take in the culture and relax a little.