Jan 08, 2015 Leslie Jerden
Sometimes we just luck out on the timing of a tour. This was one of those times.
We were thrilled to be in Scotland during a politically historic event. Scotland voted for its independence from the United Kingdom during our stay. Our first stop was Edinburgh, in the heart of activity for "The Vote." Locals were out in force to voice their opinion on the matter and rally support. Small peaceful parades, locals standing on makeshift soap boxes to be heard, and blue and white colors were rampant in the streets. Everyone I saw was calm, patriotic, and while enthusiastic about their "yes" or "no"...very respectful of different opinions as well. Locals in the pubs and restaurants were warm and eager to tell their stories. Each passionate about their opinion on the subject. The energy in the city was amazing. Several of us picked up a local newspaper with the vote results on the front page. It was an excellent way to remember our time as witness to political history being made in another country.
The city was damp, cool, and foggy. It created an overall feel that you were in an old historic place, rich with architecture, and possibly a vampire hopping out from the fog. The cathedrals rising from the fog looked as if their stones were black-streaked and weeping. It made for some beautiful photos.
Dunrobin Castle was a place I would visit again. The inside of the castle is stunning. Rich tapestries, hand-carved gold leaf crown moldings, amazing decor from floor to ceiling. It's everything you think a castle will be. Grandeur doesn't stop on the inside of this castle, it continues into the gardens. There, you can also watch a live Falconry display by the castle's Falconer. He lives on the grounds and takes care of many falcons, an owl, and a few other species of birds. The falcons and the owl delighted us by flying inches above our heads at top speeds.
Pitlochry was a stop we made to visit a sheep farm. I was skeptical at first of this gimmicky sounding stop. Surprisingly, this turned into one of my favorite memories of the tour. The sheep herder was incredible with his well-trained dogs. Each had their own specific whistle and would obey his command from miles out in the field. The sheep herder's wife was a delight and told us about their daily lifestyle. Each person who wanted to take part was allowed to shear off, by hand, some of a sheep's wool. This was actually pretty cool. I came away with a new respect for the lifestyle of a sheep herder and his family working for the "laird", meaning Lord or Land Lord. The Ring of Brodgar was another amazing site. It sits inside the Orkney Islands and is part of The Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site. It dates back to between 2500 and 2000 B.C. It is a spectacular stone henge circle. This area is beautiful and so is the ride over by ferry. Double rainbows and gorgeous landscape pictures were some of my favorite shots taken here.
An interesting tidbit about Scotland — the country's official animal is the unicorn.
You can't leave out stops to see the serene Lochs, including Loch Ness. The area is beautiful. There is, of course, your fun Nessie store nearby. There is a fantastic cafe inside the visitors center. As a matter of fact, the coffee throughout our tour was fantastic everywhere! Even the convenience store had a set up that looked like a mini Starbuck's station.
Which leads me to...food. Sidewalk cafes were abundant in the cities. You would walk in and see the daily breads and pastries displayed in open baskets and shelves. Fresh and tasty fish and chips, or hot-pressed paninis were my personal favorite orders. A breakfast buffet in a hotel has Scotland staples, like pancakes with fruit toppings, haggis, sausages, tatties, black pudding, and porridge. I would call the haggis "interesting" and would not recommend the black pudding. However, if you find yourself in Scotland, you should give their favorites a try.
There was so much to see and do on this tour of Scotland. I have only touched on a few of the things I enjoyed the most. We were fortunate to see many different areas. The people are very welcoming, which makes for an even better experience abroad. I enjoyed visiting and would absolutely go back again.