Driving Scotland | On & Beyond the NC500 & Scottish Highlands

RootlessRoutes A838 Scottish Highlands 2018

Driving Scotland is a distinctive pleasure. Like a gift, you never knew you needed or even existed. A reward you cannot believe you ever lived without. The roads of Scotland wind through the most diverse and breathtaking bits of the United Kingdom.  Rustic, often single track, these roads allow for the thrill of maneuvering along formidable pavement through some of the most alluring scenery on the planet.

It was in the Scottish Highlands that I first fell in love with Scotland. But long before the NC500. Long before ever driving a single mile of Scotland, I was already smitten. Once I got behind the wheel and experienced actually driving through Scotland, Scotland then enmeshed itself in my heart, and embedded into my soul.

I’ve now driven over 5000 miles of Scotland. It was not enough. A month long, solo trip in Autumn. Almost a month with a friend in Spring. I cannot wait to return and do it all over yet again… and then some.

Driving Scotland in Aberdeenshire 2017 RootlessRoutes
Kildrummy / Alford Scotland Aberdeenshire. Unknown sheep road 2017 Driving Scotland RootlessRoutes

England is beautiful with rolling, winding country roads. Ireland lush and exquisite, with some quite notable roadways. But driving Scotland! Have you seen the Bealach Na Ba?

Driving Scotland is pure ecstasy! If you enjoy driving as much as you enjoy visiting castles, learning of history and taking in scenic views, you simply cannot miss out on the joys of driving Scotland.

Scotland is a Land of Remarkable Variety

Even if you know Scotland, live there or have visited it. You cannot appreciate the varied spectrum of characteristics it contains within its borders, until actually driving Scotland. The NC500 carries you along the outer roads of a magnificent coast, but to drive through the depths of the Scottish Highlands is an entirely different and equally spellbinding adventure.

Across the less lauded, yet beautiful Ayrshire. Up the West Coast or through the stirring forests of Argyle. Over the fantastic Churchill causeways to the divinely anomalous Orkneys. The castle strewn, unfairly disparaged Aberdeenshire with its wildly remote sheep filled roads. The ancient, historically rich roads of the quirky Scottish Borders. Through lovely Perth onto the Old Military roads. There are far too many varied places, roads and routes to mention here.

The melange of elements that make up Scotland, become as vivid as the landscape when driving through it. The spectrum of its variety becomes infinitely striking as you roll along the road. Within the 40 miles between Glasgow and Edinburgh, the glaring differences between the two ancient cities and everything in between is palpable. Inverness, only a two hour straight shot from Glencoe on A82. Yet the unique elements of one is nowhere to be seen in the other.

Sheep on A836 while driving Scotland 2018
Northbound sheep on a Southbound drive. Driving Scotland A836 near Tongue Scottish Highlands 2018

A land both abiding and tentative. The Scottish Highlands offer greatly varied and uniquely surreal vistas, megalithic mountains, rolling plains, beautiful beaches and some of the most exhilarating roads in all of Great Britain. The lush and isolated rural roads of Aberdeenshire and the Scottish Borders are equally unique, challenging and sublime. The diversity of the Scottish landscape can make you feel as if you’ve not only driven into another country, but onto another world. Yet the one absolute when driving Scotland today, are the sheep. They have become as enduring a part of the landscape as  the heather and sedges.

Limits, Expectations & Dangers of Driving Scotland

Driving Scotland is an unique experience. Undeniably beautiful to behold. Oddly barren yet lush. At times otherworldly. The roads are narrow, often one track. Largely barely wide enough for even one vehicle, yet considered for two.

The second you see that Welcome to Scotland sign, traffic seems to collectively accelerate.  The speed limit itself does not change, but if you are not driving 80 MPH in the fast lane on an M road (which is on the right BTW). Get the Hell out of the way. There are those speed cameras, but it doesn’t seem that they are much of a deterrent for Scots.

In most of Scotland, especially in the Scottish Highlands, the police are as few and far between as are the toilets, trash bins and AT&T phone signal. I saw a police car in front of the police station on the A838 at the Kinlochbervie turn off. It was after all a police station. There was also a toilet, a red telephone box, a trash bin and low and behold cell phone signal. I pinched myself. Yep, still alive.

With no police, few guardrails and limited places to pull over, maniacal white commercial vans speed your way undaunted. Daring you to make it to a ‘Passing Place’ quickly or lose  your side view wing mirror. Shit head tourists park in said ‘Passing Places’ to take pictures. Suicidal feral goats jump into the road from out of nowhere, at the crux of a blind turn. Right as you begin to contemplate the meaning of the “Feral Goats” sign.  Filicidal sheep graze their newest lambs at the edge of the narrowest, single track, again often right after a blind turn. And I fucking love it!

Don’t Freak Out While Driving Scotland

This may make some people totally freak out. But I don’t get nervous. Not even remotely anxious. I become exhilarated. My senses, innately focused. Honed in on my surroundings, distinctly alert to my driving and everything around me. I guess you could say, I become with one the road “Ohm” Yeah so… you get my point.

RootlessRoutes A836 Tongue Scotland 2018
A836 Kyle of Tongue. Scotland road trip 2018 Driving Scotland

The speed limit on A roads in Scotland is 60 MPH UOI (unless otherwise indicated). I’m talking about miles per hour, not those measly kilometers to which you Europeans are so accustomed. M class roads ( the major motorways) are 70 MPH  UOI. Most roads do NOT have speed limit signs, because you are meant to know this. B roads vary, but for the most part I found them to be 60 MPH.

Transport Scotland manages 95% of the trunk roads in Scotland. Scotland’s trunk road network is as diverse as is its scenery. The trunk road network is 3,507 km (2,179 miles) long, including slip roads and roundabouts. Ranging from the somewhat intimidating 10 lane M8 in Glasgow’s center, to the scrawniest of single track carriageways in the west Highlands. But there are far more roads there than this. God only knows who maintains them.

Police are few, because they are unneeded. Know the rules of the road and the speed limits. Drive courteously and with confidence and care. The lack of police does not mean it is an idiots free for all like in the US.

More to See & Do When Driving Scotland

To visit Scotland means an unfathomable variety of  places to see and things do. Castles, neolithic and historic ruins, the Scots themselves. A county full of rich history, ancient cities and equally ancient pubs. Vast open vistas, monolithic mountains, fairy pools, flags and glens. Azure water beaches, alien like landscapes, the list goes on and on. When driving Scotland you get to add the many grand roads and routes you can experience to this already jam packed list.

There are so many fantastic road trips and routes to take when driving Scotland. I will mention only a few here and as I post about them, I shall connect the information here as well. Let’s start with the mother of all Scottish roads, the Bealach Na Ba!

The Bealach Na Ba / Pass of the Cattle -Applecross Peninsula – Scottish Highlands

An extremely narrow, crazily winding, one track, mountainous road with near 20% gradients, deadly hairpin turns, blind spots and suicidal sheep. The Bealach Na Ba consists of a “High Road” and a “Low Road” to Applecross. Both are exciting, but obviously, the high road is a bit more fun. I had no choice but to take the low road up, due to the Bealach Beag cycling event. I took the High Road down and then headed over to Shieldaig.

Applecross itself is minute, but stunningly beautiful. As is Shieldaig. The drive was absolutely thrilling. Give yourself at least 2 hours and stop off for a bite in Applecross.

If you are not a confident left side of the road driver, do NOT do it. And if you are driving an RV up there, you are an asshole! The speed limit is 60 MPH and the passing places are NOT for stopping for a view or pictures.

“Narrow road – no more than three sheep abreast”

A836 Tongue – Tain  & Tongue – John O Groat – Highlands

Read about driving the A836 here

Considered the most remote category A road in Scotland. A836 narrows to nearly a bike path at some sections and opens up to a dual carriage roadway in others. It runs east west along the North Coast, as part of the NC500. The remotest part of the A836 runs north south. Straight through the middle of the Highlands, is this far less trafficked and wonderful driving route. You can do them both by taking the A9 to A836 all the way around to A9 again.

A838 Tongue – Durness –  Lairg – Tongue – Highlands

Connecting at A836 at Tongue, this wonderful drive that winds through some extremely challenging mountainous and wonderfully scenic road, then on to the gorgeous beach of Durness. Shortly from there it begins to head more south, through Laird and back to A836 where you can head North back to Tongue or South East to Tain on A836. You pass 5 amazing lochs on the A838. There is a rest stop,  at the turn off to Rhiconich.

A82 Inverness – Urquhart Castle – Loch Ness – Highlands

This 17 mile route runs along Loch Ness, giving you ample opportunity and well marked verges, at which you can stop and view the lovely loch. I believe it to be a dual carriageway the entire way and a fairly easy drive. A good test of your skills and confidence as huge tour buses speed by at what seems only inches to us more accustomed to wider roads.  The route blooms a bright yellow when the Gorse is in bloom and it has just enough winding and bending bits to offer a wee thrill. You drive right through the village of Loch Ness where you can stop for a bite and Urquhart Castle is well worth a visit for absolutely anyone.

A93 / A939 Perth – Ballater – Aberdeen or Grantown on Spey – Aberdeenshire (OLD MILITARY ROAD)

80 miles of sheer ecstacy to drive. I drove part of this route by accident and freaked out a little. Then went back to do the entire thing. My exaltations on the GoPro are hysterical. An easier, but thrilling ride on a well maintained road

Pick up A93 at Perth and head northeast for Braemer. At Bridge of Cally, your heart will start to race as the road rises. I believe this is where I exclaim to an empty car, “are you f***ing kidding me?” Once past Glenshee Ski Station, it is a jaw dropping ride towards Braemar. Check your fuel, use the toilet now, there isn’t a damned thing around until the next Ski Station at best.

You have a choice at Braemar to head to Aberdeen, which is a nice ride and driving through the rural sheep roads of Aberdeenshire is highly recommended.  Or turn north on A939 and head for Moray. If you follow the A939 and signs to Grantown-on-Spey, the drive becomes even more thrilling. The drop once past the ski station at Lecht is a thrill for cyclists, motorbikers and autos alike. (and for suicidal sheep as shown in the video). Once you think it is over as the scenery begins to dull, there is a short but spectacular drive onto Grantown-on-Spey.

A961 – St Margarets Hope – Churchill Causeways – Kirkwall – Orkney

I landed on Orkney in the wake of hurricane Maria, completely unprepared and ignorant of the Churchill Causeways. This series of four causeways link the mainland to the smaller islands. Built in the 1940s, primarily as naval defences, they now connect A961 to Kirkwall (where I stayed) and Burwick.

I braved the insanely rough seas with my trusty Mitsubishi Outlander Hybrid on the ferry from Scrabster to St Margarets Hope.  The causeway was insane. Huge waves slammed into the car so hard it pushed it from its lane. Through the rain, waves, mist and a wee bit of hysteria, I saw sunken ships within the wake. Of course my GoPro had just timed out.

RootlessRoutes 2017 photo courtesy of Ian Balcomb
How the barriers looked on my first  crossing it. BBC photo by Ian Balcomb

Going back to do it again once I had checked in I found that the weather had greatly calmed. Later I was told the waves often bring rocks with them that dent cars and break windows. Regardless, driving the mainland of Orkney is well worth the drive. I regret having only three days there. I drove every main road and road in between that I could find.

Aberdeenshire The Castle Circle

Rural unmapped farm roads with blind entrances, fearless sheep, gorse so high you cannot see around the bend and in the east, the unexpected view of a red ferrari in the rearview easily exceeding 100 MPH. Please check back for this thorough route. I will attach it here once complete.

Drive the Scottish Borders to Edinburgh | Scotland Road Trip

Scottish Borders Rootless Routes Scotland 2017

The Scottish Borders are quite different from much of Scotland, nonetheless distinctive from bordering England.  Additionally the Borders are full of exceptional wonders and unexpected gems.

Flanked on the Northwest by England’s Northumbria and Cumbria. The North Sea to the East, the Lothians on the North, with South Lanarkshire and Dumfries and Galloway to the West.

The boundary line between Scotland and England wavered riotously through the centuries, consequently creating an even more stormy relationship than the two countries already had.img_3926

Known for an impressive collection of abbeys, due to the Scottish Borders being the perfect location for Kings of yore to prove their dominance. How else to show who’s king then to erect enormous religious houses right along a regularly disputed border? This typically pissed off the English (especially Henry VIII) as a result, the Scottish Borders have one Hell of a bloody history.

Rootless Routes Scotland Road Trip 2017
the Scottish Borders are simply gorgeous in October.

Detour Through the Scottish Borders

My journey began from a friends house in Frodsham near Manchester heading for Edinburgh on the M6. Due to randomly deciding to make my way to a smaller roadway at about Gretna Green, I found myself deep in the Scottish Borders. A place I had not visited and knew little about.

Upon hitting the Scottish Borders on A7, I exclaimed to an empty car “Holy shit!” (I likely have it on my GoPro video).  It was the first time of many I’d expound to an empty vehicle because of the unbelievable beauty or wonders I witnessed in Scotland.

The Scottish Borders are magnificent, and largely unscathed by over tourism. Filled with so many things to see and do, it would take a week, if not more to see them all.  I don’t know why so few people seem to know of it, but hey… let’s just keep it a secret between you and I. At least for a little while.

Scottish Borders Road Trip Routes

Below is a list of some of the places I discovered. Some are fairly well known, many are quite obscure. There are far too many included for just a one day drive, so I ‘greened’ all of those that were my  favorite. I will create a second Scottish Borders Route that takes you along the coast once I am able.

I have shared links (where available) for all stops along the way. Do call ahead to make sure everything you wish to visit is open before you head out. All times and observations are approximate and subjective.


the Scottish Borders to Edinburgh

Road Trip Route I

Gretna Green to Edinburgh – Trail of the Stuarts – Interior Route

About 100 miles total (161 Kilometers)

  1. Gretna Green
  2. Hermitage Castle & Graveyard
  3. Jedburgh
    • Jedburgh Abbey
    • Mary Queen of Scots House
  4. Cessford Castle (not the most exciting on this list)
  5. Kelso Abbey
  6. Dryburgh Abbey
  7. Melrose Abbey
  8. Innerleithen
    • St Ronan’s Well
    • Traquair House & Brewery
  9. Neidpath Castle
  10. Edinburgh

1) Gretna Green – Gretna Green

In the mid 18th-century English marriage laws were tightened forcing couples to wait until the age of 21 before they could marry without their parents’ consent and their marriage had to take place in a church. Scotland, laws, well yeah, not so much. So with Gretna right there on the border, resulting in, well you can figure it out.

The ensuing new laws meant Gretna became a marriage hot spot. You could marry your first cousin, your sisters 10 year old friend. IN result, running off to Gretna with the stable boy, became a rather regular thing. It’s a fun little town to visit and check out. And as one may expect, it has an awful lot of wedding chapels.

Starting at Gretna Green you can follow the Borders Historic Route , yet none of the suggested stops along that route were particularly interesting to me, you may feel different.

Photo Alert: Plenty of great photo ops

Sheep Alert: Some sheep roam freely in the area

Parking Alert: Fairly abundant amount of free parking

Next Destination: Hermitage Castle Drive Time: 45 minutes


2) Hermitage Castle & Graveyard – Hermitage Castle

Newcastleton, Roxburghshire TD9 0LU

Hermitage Castle Rootless Routes
Hermitage Castle the Scottish Borders on my 1st Scotland Road Trip

Known as the “Bloodiest Tower House in Britain” this ominous ruin, located deep in the wilds of the Borderlands, is a beautiful drive and a quick but memorable visit. The area is abundant with wildlife. Click here for info Hermitage Castle

Photo Alert: Everything is extremely photogenic, particularly the castle interior

Sheep Alert: It’s the Borderlands expect sheep to show up anywhere and everywhere

Parking Alert: decent enough basic car park

Kid Alert: I’d keep an eye on the kids

Additional Information: about 600 feet (200 meters) from the car park you will see a grassy (sometimes muddy) path. Portions of the path are steep. You will pass the Visitor Center for tickets along the way to the castle. Watch your step. Steps into the castle are steep

Toilets: I believe there to be toilets in the visitor center

Worthy Local Stop: Jedburgh Abbey – Abbey Bridge End, Jedburgh TD8 6JQ

Next Destination: Mary Queen of Scots House Drive Time: 45 minutes



3) Jedburgh – Jedburgh

The Village of Jedburgh is a wonderful and ancient village but somehow I missed this Abbey. I drove around but could not find it. It’s freaking HUGE too.  I returned to visit it on my way back from the Highlands a month later. It was well worth it for the history itself, let alone the amazing condition it is in, but it was NOT as close to Hermitage Castle as I expected.

If you are short on driving time, I’d skip heading to Jedburgh. The journey ads 65 minutes total drive time to the trip. There are other similar (but not quite as impressive) Abbey’s along the way. Depends on how much you like Abbeys.

Abbey Bridge End, Jedburgh TD8 6JQ

The remains of this abbey are impressive and largely intact. Building started in the 1100’s, but continued for nearly 80 years. This long expanse of building time created a wonderful conglomeration of Romanesque and Gothic architectural styles.

Jedburgh is the largest of the four great abbeys including Dryburgh, Melrose and Kelso. They are all worth a visit for those of us who never tire of such things. When looking for it you will see the Abbey on the hill dominating the sky.

Alternately, Cessford Castle is sort of the least exciting Castle on this trip. If you skip Cessford, you make up  for at least half the time lost if you choose to do Jedburgh Abbey

Photo Alert: Great Photo ops here

Sheep Alert: N/A

Parking Alert: Adequate public car park

Kid Alert: N/A

Next Destination:  Drive Time: 

Next Destination: Mary Queen of Scots House Drive Time: 2 minutes


Queen St, Jedburgh TD8 6EN, UK

FREE TO VISIT or  £1 for an audio tour (it’s worth it)

A weird yet wonderful place in which Mary may have never actually stayed. Nevertheless, worth checking out. Opened in 1987 on the 400th anniversary of Mary’s death, this house belonged to the Kerrs of nearby Ferniehirst Castle, which is probably where she may have been cared for instead. The house has an interesting feature, a left-handed staircase built for the Kerrs (who were left-handed) in the 16th century, to enable them to wield their swords more easily.

Photo Alert: Not a top photo site.

Parking Alert: N/A

Kid Alert: Kids may be bored by this

Toilets: I’m pretty sure there are toilets there, if not there should be some close by

Additional Information: 45 minute tour is extremely interesting

Note: Be careful not to enter the Mary Queen of Scots BnB into your GPS

Next Destination; Cessford Castle – Drive Time: 20 minutes


4) Cessford Castle – Cessford Castle

Kelso TD5 8EG, UK

FREE TO VISIT

Atmospheric ruin of a formerly massive L-plan castle, entrenched in history. Rising to three storeys in the main block and four in the wing. Confirmed from the 15th century and likely earlier. There remains a portion of the large courtyard wall. It is deemed dangerous to enter, but people still do. Although the address says Kelso, this location adds 40 minutes to your trip and was not one of my favourites.

Photo Alert: Fabulously photogenic. Numerous great selfie spots

Parking Alert: Off road car parking only. Do not block anyone or park in a designated passing place.

Kid Alert: A lot of open space to run around, but the castle is an unstable ruin

Toilets: Nothing close by

Additional Information: N/A

Note: Visit and enter at your own risk

Next Destination: Kelso Abbey  Drive Time: 20 minutes


5) Kelso – Kelso

The ancient and simply sublime burgh of Kelso has been the focal point of painters since the 1600’s and remains as quaint and lovely today. A welcoming market town, the drive to Kelso is stunning. Worth stopping for a bite to eat or pre booking a place to stay during your road trip to Edinburgh.

40-44 Bridge St, Kelso TD5 7JD, UK

FREE TO VISIT

Scottish monastic architecture is unique and Kelso Abbey, is a prime and earliest example of style. It was one of Scotland’s largest and wealthiest religious houses. Founded by monks invited over by King David I in 1128

The abbey was founded by monks invited by King David I. Nothing remains of the actual monastery, but what remains of the church is considered to be one of the greatest architectural achievements in medieval Scotland.

The little burgh of Kelso is absolutely gorgeous, hence it is well worth the visit. If you’re interest in seeing absolutely everything on this road trip route, booking a place in or near Kelso would make a great middle point.

Photo Alert: Gorgeous photo ops at every turn

Parking Alert: Free parking in Kelso Town Center

Kid Alert: N/A

Toilets: At the visitor center

Additional Information: 

Next Destination: Dryburgh Abbey Drive Time: 20 minutes


6) Dryburgh Abbey – Dryburgh Abbey

St Boswells, Roxburghshire, TD6 6RQ

This abbey is a bit off the beaten path and not as popular with tourists. Hence why I like it so much. Found in a rather secluded forest. A wonderfully quiet and contemplative place. Established in 1150 by Premonstratensian canons in 1150. It is a lovely spot and worth the drive, since it is much less frequented by visitors than the other abbeys on this road trip route.

Photo Alert: Endless. Start looking for photo ops as you near the site.

Parking Alert: Small car park

Kid Alert: N/A

Next Destination: Melrose Abbey Drive Time: 20 minutes


7) Melrose Abbey – Melrose Abbey

Abbey St, Melrose TD6 9LG, UK

Not quite as obscure as some of the others on this journey. Yet right along the way and a really lovely place to have a look and see. A need to see if you are a Scottish history buff or a fan of romantic feeling architecture and lore.

Founded as a Cistercian monastery in 1136… and then the English … Rebuilt in the 1380s. Its active end came at the Protestant Reformation of 1560, the building is remarkably unmolested by the test of so very much time.

It is believed that the heart of Robert the Bruce’s is buried here. fabulous Medieval object collection in the Museum.

Photo Alert: Great photo ops

Sheep Alert: It’s the Borderlands expect sheep to show up anywhere and everywhere

Parking Alert: Pay and display public car park 75m from the abbey (Scottish Borders Council). On-road parking nearer the site. Free parking in Winter.

Kid Alert: N/A

Additional Information:  Watch your step. Steps into the castle are steep. This location can get quite busy

Toilets: At the visitor center

Next Destination: Traquair House Drive Time: 35 minutes


8) Innerleithen – Innerleithen

Innerleithen, a prominent golfing community and simply a lovely, if not quirky little town. Originally mostly an agricultural village. In the early 19th century, the sulphurous “healing” springs known as St Ronan’s Wells began drawing people to the area. The resulting Spa and Resort saw visitors such as Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott. Scott helped to popularize Innerleithen with his novel Saint Ronan’s Well. As St Ronan’s Well’s popularity grew, the need for a golf club became obvious. St Ronan’s (golf) Club started in 1827 with the first St Ronan’s Border Games that continue to this very day. The Innerleithen Golf Club was formed in in 1886.

3 Wells BraeInnerleithen EH44 6JE

Quirky little visitor center offers information on Innerleithen history, as well as the story of the wells. Situated on a hillside, overlooking the Leithen valley with pleasant gardens.  Here you can sip from the well or purchase bottle of water its water.  An interesting stop for those that enjoy quirky, historic and quaint. I love the entire area.

Photo Alert: Plenty

Sheep Alert: any sheep in the area appear to be fenced

Parking Alert: Plenty of parking

Kid Alert: Kids may like this funky little place.

Next Destination:  Traquair House & Brewery Drive Time: 10 minutes

Traquair House the Scottish Borders Rootless Routes Scotland 2017
Traquair House, long connected to the Stuarts. Innerleithen Scottish Borders Scotland Rootless Routes

Visit Traquair House | Just Do It!

My entrance to Traquair House began with stumbling on completely unperilous rocks on a flat driveway, resulting in landing flat on the ground on top of my iPhone. I entered the grand historic property, covered in mud, with ripped knees, bleeding and clinging to my disemboweled iPhone. The staff were kind and in return helpful. They all seemed sincerely concerned about my well being, upon seeing my disheveled state.

Traquair House is the oldest still inhabited house in Scotland and I absolutely love this place. The drive through Innerleithen is… “Holy crap!” amazing. The roads tight, with high stone walls on either side, make it an interestingly challenging drive for US Americans.

The history of Traquair House, especially pertaining to the Stuarts (later the Stewarts) is just about as rich with Scottish history as it gets.  Lived in for over 900 years. (Gosh, 900 years? I’m American. We think older houses were built in the 1950s.) With a quirky and extremely knowledgeable staff that all love the house and its historical background. I spent hours chatting with various staff members about obscure historical facts with glee.

  • Traquair House History

Gifted to James Stewart in 1491, who became the 1st Laird of Traquair. The famous Bear Gates were closed in 1745 after the Bonnie Prince rode out and the 5th Earl promised him they would never be opened again until the Stuarts gained throne. Consequently, they were never opened again.

Catherine Maxwell Stuart continues to call this extraordinary place her home and her recorded revelries in some of the rooms are just fantastic. The brewery is well worth the visit as well. Do not miss this hidden gem. I’d move in, if they’d let me!

Photo Alert: Limitless photo ops

Parking Alert: Nplenty of well signed parking

Kid Alert: I think Kids will enjoy this.

Food: Cafe and Tea Room

Shops: Bought a great handmade celtic not ring here.

Toilets: Bathrooms on site

Additional Information: Self designed tour and guides on premises to answer questions are just awesome

Note: Maybe go to the brewery first so you have time to walk it off

Next Destination: Neidpath Castle Drive Time: 20 minutes



9) Neidpath Castle – Neidpath Castle

Tweeddale, on A72Peebles EH45 8NWNeidpath Castle

Mostly utilized for films or as a wedding venue, but luckily, they were setting up for an event when I drove up. I was permitted to look around, but did not meet the owner or get a tour. If you call the owner they will set up a private tour, which is likely well worth it. Sadly my camera battery had died and I had just crushed my iphone at Traquair House so I was unable to take photos. Picture courtesy of the Neidpath Castle site.

Photo Alert: Holy crap, this location is fantabulous. You can get great pictures of the castle from the hill across the way

Sheep Alert: I did not notice any

Parking Alert: There is a car park there

Kid Alert: It’s pretty cool, I think kids would enjoy it

Additional Information: 

Next Destination: Edinburgh Drive Time: 50 to 60 Minutes depending on traffic and where in Edinburgh you are headed.

10) Edinburgh – Edinburgh

Read more about visiting Edinburgh below!

Edinburgh Above & Below:

Less Touristy, Obscure & Free Things to Do & See in Scotland’s Capital

Walking Edinburgh

Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle upon a bed of volcanic rock.! Photography by Elizabeth Whitener 2017 aka januarymoon.

End of trip

Outlander & the NC500 The End of Unexplored Scotland?

Devils Pulpit aka Finnich Glen 2018 by Rootless Routes NC500 Stirlingshire Undiscovered Scotland

I’m not Scottish.  In fact, it is likely not a single drop of Scottish blood runs through my veins. Yet Scotland calls to me. For this reason, I’ve been exploring Scotland for quite some time now. Especially the more remote parts of Scotland.

St Andrews Cross, Saltire
Scottish Flag. A flag of blue and white

Since I’ve had this love for Scotland for most of my life, I’ve been gobbing on about it and its wonders for years. As many times I have visited Scotland, I never tire of it. Yet inevitably my friends certainly get sick of hearing about it.

My Scotland?

So there I was…. sharing my love for Scotland, with the completely disinterested. Researching Scotland’s history as if it were of my own and visiting Scotland whenever possible. Accordingly, regaling friends with tales of of my Scottish travels. Reveling in the bits of unexplored terrain as I found them. Heartbroken over the challenges this country has enduringly had to face. Subsequently, I’d mention Scotland a lot. But for the most part, nobody cared!

Then it happened. First the Outlander series, then the creation of the NC500 tourist route. As a result, suddenly everybody loved Scotland too.

This led to a completely new reaction to my Scottish musings. Now when I’d mention Scotland, people got excited and to be sure,  everybody wanted to listen. Finally my friends took note of Scotland’s beauty. Undoubtedly it was Outlander & the NC500  that drove public interest to new levels  of interest and for that reason, Scottish tourism began booming.

Edinburgh Castle Interior Clock Tower Far from an Unexplored Scotland
Edinburgh Castle Clock Tower 2017 Elizabeth Whitener Rootless Routes

Beyond Loch Ness and the Loch Ness Monster, Loch Lomond, tartans, kilts, haggis and bagpipes, it seemed most people in the US knew little about Scotland, if it was not a part of their ancestry. But on account of Scotland’s new found popularity, that was no longer the case.

Royal Mile bagpiper, Edinburgh Photo by Elizabeth Whitener Rootless Routes Unexplored Scotland
Bagpiper in Edinburgh 2017 Picture by Elizabeth Whitener RootlessRoutes

I was happy that now people was seeing what I saw. But also, somehow Scotland wasn’t mine any more. Not that it really ever was.

Haggis for breakfast, Orkney Scotland
Yummy fresh made haggis with breakfast at Highland House BnB in Kirkwall Scotland Orkney Rootless Routes

NOT MY SCOTLAND

In consequence to its new found popularity, all one hears on travel blogs, in magazines, across the interwebs and beyond, are the praises about the magical land of Scotland. My Scotland. My unexplored Scotland. The proud and beautiful land with the flag of white and blue.

It’s like when the world discovers your favorite band. You are happy for the band but also feel cheated in some way. The band becomes no longer unique to you. You in no way aided them in their success. Your only connection was a love for their music. Happy for their success, yet you still somehow feel cheated. A need to mourn the loss of something unique to you in some way.

I am well aware that Scotland was never mine. I’m not even a Scot… And none of it is actually unexplored. Yet as the world awoke to the beauties of Scotland, I felt that a road trip was in order immediately!

My Scotland Road Trips / 5000 Miles of Scotland

That road trip turned into two (2), one (1) month long trips across, around and through Scotland. Covering both the well known and the most unexplored Scotland bits. One in Fall, the other in Spring. I learned a lot from these trips. I shall do my best to share the experiences that ensued.

But this post is about the result of all of this tourism. Tourism on a land that in many places that has remained (or been forced into remaining) simple and remote. A land that has never seen, and seems in no way ready for the masses appearing on their shores from day to day. And in result, the bits often referred to as unexplored Scotland, or hidden Scotland, obscure Scotland… become less and less obscure.

highland roadway near Glenelg Scotland
Single track ‘Passing Place’ along the NC500 route between Glenelg and Applecross and the tail end of my Mitsubishi Outlander Rootless Routes

OUTLANDER & THE NC500

It appears that Scotland’s sudden and well deserved boon came from a perfect combination of the popularity of Outlander & the NC500 craze, aided by the surge in travel in general.

The popularity of travel blogs added to the sudden mass realization of Scotland’s largely unappreciated, infinite and unique beauty.

Many Scots never saw it coming. Most of them had never even heard of Outlander (or Cross Stitch) until recently. They were unaware that Outlander romanticized the countries beauty and passion in such an idolized way, that soon crazy tourists would be blocking roads, stopping traffic to photograph sheep and cows, climbing into ancient dangerous holes, building campfires in the middle of Neolithic stone circles, driving poorly and with no understanding of the rules of the road and camping on private property. Unexplored Scotland was getting pretty damned well explored and exploited.

Visit Scotland’s “Scotland is now” ad campaign helms this Scottish tourism assault. Scotland is seemingly now on the tip of everyone’s tongue and it is also now teaming with tourists.

Atlas Obscura, Undiscovered Scotland, Culture trip, (my favorite travel source), Rough Guides, NC500. All great publications that hype the undiscovered and unexplored Scotland bits. But when everybody knows of the unexplored, how long can these places remain so?

Royal Mile Edinburgh 2018
Edinburgh’s Royal Mile off season. Elizabeth Whitener 2018 Rootless Routes

Scotland became a hot commodity overnight and I hadn’t even driven it yet.

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Dunnottar Castle. A true 16th century courtyard castle. Stonehaven Aberdeenshire. Photo by Elizabeth Whitener 2017 Rootless Routes

CASTLES CASTLES CASTLES and the BEALACH NA BA

Endless hiking, free camping, invigorating roadways, stunning vistas, otherworldly mountain ranges, all appreciated by driving and riding aficionados alike. Motorbikes, bicycles and hikers love the roads and paths of Scotland equally…  and don’t forget the castles. The endless array of castles. 

I drove every coast of this magnificent place and even after traveling a great deal of this planet, I must say… Scotland is truly magnificent. Both the explored and the unexplored Scotland.

But for me and likely for many, part of its magnificence comes from its remoteness.

How does Scotland maintain its most beautiful locations integrity, if they become no longer remote?

Kildrummy Castle Ruins 2017 by Rootless Routes
Kildrummy Castle – 13th Century ruin – photo by Elizabeth Whitener Kildrummy Scotland 2017 Rootless Routes
Craigievar Castle (tower house)
Craigievar Castle (tower house). Is a pink harled structure near Alford, Aberdeenshire Scotland. Photo by Elizabeth Whitener aka januarymoon 2017 Rootless Routes
Castle Fraser, Aberdeenshire Scotland Rootless Routes
Castle Fraser. 1636 preserved Z plan Tower House. Photo by Elizabeth Whitener, Inverurie Scotland, Aberdeenshire 2017 Rootless Routes
SCOTLAND: THE MOST BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY IN THE WORLD

Voted in the top most welcoming, as well as the #1 most beautiful country in the world in 2017, Scotland has long been high on the scale for offering many wonderful things, yet it remained a bit obscure as a major tourist attraction even through the 1990s when the first Outlander book, known as Cross Stitch in the UK, exploded in the US.

Outlander book cover. by Diana Gabaldon 1991
First edition Outlander book cover from 1991.

UNEXPLORED SCOTLAND

The more obscure, less explored places in Scotland touted online by so many travel blogs or in any way connected to Outlander, nowadays tends to be pretty damned well explored, no matter how remote. Some completely trampled on and in dire need for some sort of control by county officials, but amazing places to visit nevertheless.

I set out to discover if any of the “unexplored” still existed in this proud and enduring land and… I found it. But it isn’t just me and my tiny little unread blog that know of these places.

Soon they will be amongst the amazing places known as undiscovered, but are actually quite frequented by many, and often left to an disturbingly unknown fate.

THE DEVIL’S PULPIT – FINNICH GLEN

The Devils Pulpit aka Finnich Glen. This stunning and dangerous location, that has been here for millennia, is a perfect example of the plight of some these beautiful spots when overexposed and under maintained.

The best way to find it nowadays, is to follow the illegally parked cars and the trail of discarded socks.

Visiting the sight left me with very mixed emotions about Scotland’s new found popularity, even if my experience there was truly fantastic! For others the experience has not been quite as rewarding, as described in The Scottish Sun Outland-ish Behaviour.

The Devils Pulpit Finnich Glen as seen on Outlander
The Devils Pulpit. Photo by Elizabeth Whitener 2018 Rootless Routes

Climbing down into the Devils Pulpit is far more difficult and dangerous than many are led to believe. Apparently this place was highlighted in an Outlander episode, so now it is overrun with visitors.

Due to this new found interest, there have been numerous rescues from the site. Similarly numerous injuries have been reported and the steps, although they look like real steps at the top, are practically non existent just a few feet into the 70 foot climb down.

With no true car park or parking spaces specified, most park in a small public lot down the road. The local road is skinny, winding, quite busy and maintains a speed limit of 60 MPH, making it dangerous to park or walk on.

Since The Devils Pulpit was an Outlander location, as well as in the new movie King Arthur, the place is packed with people. Consequently it has become hazardous  nd apparently the perfect place to toss litter and wet socks.

I am quite certain the Stirlingshire council will do something about this soon. But this gorgeous place (that needs to be preserved) is the perfect example of how unready Scotland is for some of the insanity that the Outlander & the NC500 hype has created in their wake.

THE FAIRY GLEN UIG / PORTREE ISLE OF SKYE

The Fairy Glen, a magical place in Uig Skye is more remote. Not a particularly dangerous spot like the Devils Pulpit. Yet parking is scarce, not well signed and huge busses roll up right to the main curve, trampling the ground, often blocking the way for anyone to pass, and freaking out the sheep.

The Isle of Skye is so overwhelmed by tourists in Summer, that the police have been forced to make it illegal to visit the island without a hotel reservation.

Small, windy, poorly lit, pothole filled roads become jam packed with tourists both on foot, cycles, motorbikes and RVs.

Young people hanging out with no place to go, and no way to get around, walk alongside extremely perilous roads. Tragically a young girl was killed hitchhiking there last year. She is likely not the first, nor the last.

The Quiraing, amazingly was packed with RVs when I was there and bizarrely,  3 young Japanese tourists were walking along the edge, wheeling their luggage along some of the most dangerous parts of the Quiraing roadway, as cars, cows, sheep and cyclists rode by. (I have it on video)

Yet the Fairy Glen is a fantastical place to visit and free (for the time being). You could spend hours there, just walking, photographing and enjoying the unusual terrain. No place like it on the planet.

Fairy Glen Unexplored Scotland Uig
The Fairy Glen Isle of Skye Uig / Portree Scotland 2018 Elizabeth Whitener Rootless Routes

THE STANDING STONES OF STENNESS

itener Unexplored Scotland” src=”https://rootlessroutes.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/dsc00763-2.jpg” alt=”Stone Circle Orkney Scotland by Rootless Routes Unexplored Scotland” width=”760″ height=”640″ /> Standing Stones of Stenness Orkney Scotland Neolithic Stone Circle 2017 by Rootless Routes[/caption]
It was not until late in 2014, when the Outlander TV series rocked the US market and pushed the

It was not until late in 2014, when the Outlander TV series rocked the US market and pushed the Starz network into an unexpected new realm. The NC500 came shortly behind it creating the Outlander & NC500 tourism phenomena we see today. Both hold a significant role in boosting interest not only in Scotland, but of Scotlands Neolithic sites as well.

Outlander significantly boosted the interest in Scotland’s many standing stones and the NC500 helped to bring the traffic to these extremely remote locations

Orkney, a place so remote to Scotland, that some of those from there barely consider themselves Scottish. Now plagued with unprecedented traffic, the older locals look quite literally terrified at times and neolithic relics are getting trampled underfoot.

Standing Stones of Stenness. Orkney Scotland by Rootless routes, Elizabeth Whitener 2017

INVERNESS

As tourism soars, so does the economy. A much needed and appreciated boost indeed, especially in the highlands and the Islands. But with this came the blogging (just like I am doing here) and lesser known, unexplored Scotland bits started to see more and more visitors.

Even Inverness took awhile to boom, the self proclaimed capital of the Highlands continued to struggle with economic strife, until Claire and Jamie road through town and things changed quickly.

If visiting Inverness, remember that it is slowly growing to meet the tourism demands. Book a place to stay well in advance. Make reservations to eat ALWAYS. And please be kind to the grounds of Culloden. Many of the locals are already devastated over building that will soon go on near sights considered to be sacred.

Flora MacDonald Inverness Castle
Flora MacDonald statue in front of Inverness Castle. The heroine of the Jacobites, even if she may not have been a Jacobite herself.

Due to the surge in tourism, finding bits of Scotland that are less travelled or unexplored has become quite difficult these days. There is a variation of a similar saying that I heard locals proclaim while visiting the Highlands. It went something like “We were always here, you just now noticed us.”

FINDING UNEXPLORED SCOTLAND

In sharing all of the above, I actually was able to find some more remote and less explored fantastic locations, aka unexplored things to see and do in Scotland.

The surge in tourism has actually brought forth finances to renovate, restore and revive sites that had been neglected, ignored, even forgotten for centuries.

Many from the list below have benefitted from this bounty. I will add information to finding and visiting each of these locations and then link each post to the list below as my posts are complete.

I am also preparing routes that you can follow that will help you visit many of these sites in a single day with ample time to enjoy each one, catch lunch and return to where you are staying to relax for the night and prepare for your next days journey.

Castle Advreck - Lock Assent
Castle Ardvreck – Lock Assent

Ardvreck – Loch Assynt

RootlessRoutes 2018
Castle Sinclair Girnigoe by RootlessRoutes 2018 Scottish Highlands Sutherland Scotland
Ruins of Castle Varrich truly a part of Unexplored Scotland
Tongue Scotland 2018 by Rootless Routes Castle Varrich

Castle Varrich – Tongue

Portencross Castle Ayrshire 2018 RootlessRoutes
Portencross Castle Ayrshire / West Kilbide 2018 RootlessRoutes by Elizabeth Whitener

Portencross Castle – West Kilbride

Dundonald Castle RootlessRoutes 2018
Dundonald Castle RootlessRoutes 2018 South Ayrshire

DunDonald Castle – South Ayrshire

Wariston Cemetery Edinburgh 2018
Warriston Cemetery Edinburgh 2018

Warriston Cemetery – Edinburgh – Victorian Cemetery recently being lovingly restored by Friends of Warriston Cemetery a local group

Visit Scotland

In brief, do not hesitate to visit any part of Scotland. Just be conscientious and conscious of your surroundings and by all means, enjoy! Understand that people live here and love their home. Be vigilant, careful and respectful to the Earth, the animals (both tame and wild) and the people.

Do not park in passing places or block anyone’s path. Learn about the rules of the road ahead of time and follow them.

If driving on the other side of the road makes you nervous, don’t do it! Find alternative transportation. The speed limit on most of these back roads is 60 MPH and if you can’t drive that fast, let others pass you or simply do not drive. The locals have jobs and appointments and visitors need to be sensitive to these things.

Be smart and well prepared, be kind, take your trash with you (even wet socks) and enjoy beautiful Scotland.

After all what’s mine is yours.

Aberdeenshire: Scotland’s Castles, Other Coast & Hidden Wonders

If you are not from the UK, an archeologist, a paleontologist, an ancient or Celtic history buff or perhaps in the oil industry,  it is unlikely you have heard much about the Aberdeenshire region of Scotland. If you are from England, you likely think it is mostly a grey, dreary, wretched place. In fact it seems a great many Scots think this too.

Sunny Day in Aberdeenshire
A beautiful and sunny day in Aberdeen Scotland Aberdeenshire 2017 photo by Elizabeth Whitener

When I decided to drive around the entire coast of Scotland, shunning the typical “North Coast” route for one of my own making,  I was inundated with information about the route commonly known as the NC 500 . I found little about Scotland’s North East Coast beyond grumbles from my UK friends as to why I would even WANT to drive THAT coast.

The popular North Coast 500 is a lovely drive through my beloved Highlands, but you miss so very much stopping at 500 miles in. Yes you get to see the remarkable Highlands, but you miss out on most of the castles.

Arnisdale - Donan
NC 500 near Glenelg, Scotland Highlands Photo by Elizabeth Whitener 2017

The NC 500 part of my journey was truly spectacular. But Aberdeen and the surrounding area (Aberdeenshire) were equally full of splendor.  So much so, I plan to do it all again next year. All of it!

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Kildrummy Castle Ruins (a true castle) Scotland 2017 Photo by Elizabeth Whitener 

Since I am currently writing about my experiences as they unfolded, we’ve now left Edinburgh. I have much more to write about that city, but for now we are about a 3 hour drive Northeast-ish of there.

I only stayed at one conventional hotel during my month long journey. The rest of the time I stayed with friends or at AirBnBs.

I stayed at Kildrummy Park Castle Hotel for two (2) nights. It was at the tail end of the season, so the hotel was relatively quiet and I got a great deal from Booking.com. It was worth every damned dime.

Although rather remote and only accessible via some extremely rural roads, that is the general nature of such a journey anyway. It’s location made access to the numerous wonders in the area fairly easy and the view, service and food were simply stupendous. If you decide to stay there, ask for Fiona.

Kildrummy Castle Hotel
Kildrummy Castle Hotel aka Kildrummy Park Castle Hotel. Picture by Elizabeth Whitener, Aberdeenshire Scotland 2017

The hotel was built in 1900, partially from the ruins of the original 13th century castle that it now overlooks. It was turned into a hotel in 1950. Located near Kildrummy, which is fairly inland from the coast, but nothing in Scotland is really THAT far away (at least not to a road trippin’ American).

In Aberdeenshire, or let’s say the area between Edinburgh and Aberdeen (and a wee bit beyond) it seems one cannot drive more than 10 miles without bumping into an ancient castle. Now I am not talking about Tower Houses like the magnificent Castle Fraser, which is not really a castle at all, see my post about this here–> Tower Houses of Scotland aka Scotland’s Castles I am talking about castles, real Scottish castles!

Fraser full view
Castle Fraser. Magnificently preserved. Built in 1636 Z plan Tower House. Not a castle. Photo by Elizabeth Whitener, Inverurie, Scotland, Aberdeenshire 2017

Don’t get me wrong, there is a seemingly endless array of Tower Houses, Castellated Houses and Baronial House in the area. All well worth seeing as far as I am concerned. Some still in use, some well to moderately preserved and some in ruins dotting the landscape. But let’s talk castles, true castles.

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Dunnottar Castle. A true 16th century courtyard castle. Stonehaven Aberdeenshire. Photo by Elizabeth Whitener 2017

Magnificent Dunnottar Castle. A menacing ruin of a castle jutting up from a huge rock, surrounded by what is often a very turbulent sea. Fortified in the Early Middles Ages, the remaining buildings are from the 15th and 16th centuries.

Dunnottar is a little less than 2 miles south of Stonehaven, and you can make a day of castles and tower houses if planned well.

Castle FraserCraigievar Castle, Drum Castle and Crathes Castle (all actually tower houses by the way) are not so far away. They are all part of the National Trust of Scotland  so give them a call before you go. They are super helpful and every one of these properties have their own unique qualities.

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Crathes Castle & Gardens. The painted ceilings of this castle are wondrous. Built 1596 Banchory Scotland, Aberdeenshire. Photo by Elizabeth Whitener 2017

Check ahead that Dunnottar is open before you go. It is private and not attached to the National Trust. It was NOT open when I was there due to weather.

Also check schedules for events, as well as road closures along your route. Drum closes down to the public for special events and road closures happen frequently. I do not advise it, but I drove around the road closure signs after circling for too long. It isn’t uncommon for detour signs to lead you either in a circle or to nowhere, according to the locals.

Dunnottar is truly a marvel, and is a huge part of not only ancient but more modern Scottish history. This impressive group of structures belonged to the Keiths from the 14th century and was practically impenetrable until the shit hit the fan after the 1715 Jacobite rising. See my short post on the subject here–>  And then the English… 

If you wish to go a bit off of the beaten path, there are the Nine Castles of Knuckle, 2 of which are gone. From west to east, the castles are Dundarg, Pitsligo, Pitullie, Kinnaird, Wine Tower, Cairnbulg, Inverallochy, Lonmay and Rattray

  1. Kinnaird Castle (tower house) now The Museum of Scottish Lighthouses
  2. Winetower (?) – preserved
  3. Cairnbulg Castle (z plan tower house) – private residence
  4. Inverallochy Castle (true castle) – ruin
  5. Dundarg Castle – ruin
  6. Pittulie – ruin
  7. Pitsligo (keep) -ruin
  8. Lonmay Castle (gone)
  9. Castle of Rattray (gone)

True castles in Aberdeenshire to note. Click on them for further info. Some quite obscure.

Cluny Castle – Z-plan Castle – Built 1604 – Private Residence – South of Monymusk

Corse Castle – L / Z plan Castle – 16th Century – Ruin – Three miles NW of Lumphannan

Coull Castle – Fortress –  13th Century – Ruin – South of Coull

Findlater Castle – Courtyard Castle – 14th Century – Ruin – Sandend

Inveralochy Castle – Courtyard Castle – 13th Century – Ruin – Inverlochy Inverlochy Castle Hotel looks like a great place to stay.

Kildrummy Castle – Castle of Enciente – 13th Century – Ruin – Kildrummy

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Kildrummy Castle – 13th Century ruin – photo by Elizabeth Whitener Kildrummy Scotland 2017 (quite a sunny day too)

Lauriston Castle – Courtyard Castle with later additions – 13th Century – Private Residence – St Cyrus (right outside of Edinburgh). A beauty with fantastic gardens and views. Lots of people walking dogs! Lots of wonderful little benches and hideaways.

lauriston Castle view
View from Lauriston Castle. True 13th century courtyard castle with additions. Private residence. Look, another sunny Aberdeenshire day! Photo by Elizabeth Whitener 2017

Toluqon Castle – Courtyard Castle – Built 1589 – Ruin (Historic Scotland) – Pitmedden

Scotland, ALL of Scotland, has so much to do and so much to see. Plan your journey well and be open to making changes as you go.

Scotland is just a beautiful place. Its diversity is as unique as is its history, its flora and fauna and its people.

Closing yourself off to one part of this country, to me, is like getting a glimpse of a small corner of a masterpiece and calling it a day, never getting a full view of all that you could have seen.

Edinburgh Above & Below: Less Touristy, Obscure & Free Things to Do & See in Scotland’s Capital

 

Edinburgh. One of my favourite cities. For me a mix of everything that makes a city great!

Edinburgh
Edinburgh – a city of Scots

Edinburgh is a completely walk-able city, brimming with art, literature, food and music. Set within a rich and ancient history. With its lush gardens and well preserved architecture, Edinburgh is just as vibrant and diverse as its hills are old… and don’t forget the best part of Edinburgh … it’s full of Scots.

Edinburgh Castle
Tourists at the entrance of Edinburgh Castle. Edinburgh 2017

Alas, I am not alone in this sentiment, which means this famous festival city is often teeming with visitors from all over the globe and heavily laden with commercial tourist traps. Also, although I consider Edinburgh to be a very affordable city, it is certainly not exactly cheap, especially in peak season. With this is mind I have devised a list of unique or lesser known places to see and things to do, some off the beaten path, some right in the middle of the city, some on the cheap, some completely free and some just kinda weird.

Now, don’t get me wrong, visiting the most heralded locations, if at all possible, is well worth anybody’s time. Yet if you are there for only a short visit, have already visited the most common sites, simply cannot stand crowds or are on a highly restricted budget, there is plenty to do or see.

Two Cities One Edinburgh

Commonly broken up into two (2) sections. Edinburgh is made up of the highly populated Old Town.

EDINBURGH CASTLE stands as the venerable head of OLD TOWN. THE ROYAL MILE cuts its grand way down the middle, ending at the PALACE OF HOLYROODHOUSE and HOLYROOD PARK.

The most common and popular sites are the aforementioned Edinburgh Castle, Royal Mile, Palace of Holyroodhouse, St Giles Cathedral, The National Museum of Scotland,  The Scottish National Gallery.

Extremely popular in the NEW TOWN is PRINCES STREET & PRINCES STREET GARDENS AND THE SCOTT MONUMENT.

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Royal Mile Close

There are so many more popular things to see and do, I simply cannot share them all, but TRIPADVISOR is a great place to find out about what might best suit you.

Now onto my list of less touristy, more obscure or unusual haunts.

  1. King George V Park (Eyre Place): Located in the Canonmills area, this is a fantastic park to cut through while walking from one end of the city to the other. With playgrounds for kids (Scotland Yard) and fabulously lush walkways, it is a beautiful stroll with fantastic photo opportunities. It leads you to a lot of other cool and entirely free stuff

    Leith Walkway Edinburgh
    Leith Walkway
  2. Rodney Street Tunnel (aka Heriot Hill Tunnel): This old railway tunnel, built in the 1840s, was abandoned and sealed from the 1960s to 2009. It is is now a walkway connecting Scotland Yard Park playground with the Canonmills-Leith pedestrian-cycleway. It takes you over Warriston Cemetery, offering fabulous photo opportunities along the way. A lovely walk along a tree lined path filled with cyclists, joggers, prams and dog walkers. Culminating at a really nice and modern Tesco Food Market (Super Store), it is an excellent alternative to the busy intersection at Broughton and Rodney Streets.
    Rodney Street Tunnel View
    Rodney Street Tunnel
    Rodney Street Tunnel Art Edinburgh
    Rodney Street Tunnel Art
    Rodney Street Tunnel Art
    Rodney Street Tunnel Art

    Rodney Street Tunnel Tag
    Rodney Street Tag and Art
  3. Warriston Cemetery:  Located (I think) at 36 Warriston at the Water of Leith   a Northern suburb, built by the Edinburgh Cemetery Company in 1842. It has been sitting derelict and ignored until fairly recently and it is glorious. With about 14 acres of Victorian gardens, filled with tens of thousands of macabre and ornate gravestones and tombs. The neo Tudor, Gothic, Edwardian and Victorian style of this magical place is… well magical. It is a worthy place to visit. The wildlife, from foxes to birds, is rampant. Buried there you can find notable Victorian and Edwardian figures, the most eminent being the physician Sir James Young Simpson. It lies in the Inverleith Conservation Area, is a designated Local Nature Conservation Site and is protected as a Category A listed building.
  4. South Bridge Vaults: Found just a bit south of Edinburgh Castle, you can see the arch of this bridge, built in the late 1700’s, where it crosses over Cowgate. But South Bridge is actually made up of 19 arches that are amazingly enclosed in buildings all along the way. The bridge has a history of folly and went out of use a mere 30 years after it was built. The vaults created by these arches were filled in with rubble around 1820. In 1985, a chance excavation revealed the labyrinthic network of rooms and dwelling spaces contained within. These spaces have lost none of their original atmosphere. They are still dark, occasionally claustrophobic and, when it rains in Edinburgh they can still be very damp. They’re mainly frequented by ghost tour companies today. Go check them out.
  5. Dunbar’s Close: Along the Royal Mile. I cannot believe how few people know that if you follow it all of the way down, it leads to an amazing little public garden. A perfect respite from the tourist laden and hectic areas above.
  6. Mary King’s Close: Along the Royal Mile. Possibly one of the more well known closes,  long shrouded in Scottish legend. Closed to the public for many years, it actually consists of a number of closes which were originally narrow streets with tenement houses on either side, stretching up to eight stories high‘The Real Mary King’s Close’ tour group, takes you on a journey through time, traversing a warren of hidden streets, frozen in time, beneath the Royal Mile. Led by a costumed character guide the tour tells the real stories of the people who lived, worked and died on these now hidden closes. Not as obscure as some of the above, but truly worth the hour tour.
  7. Gilmerton Cove: Located at 16 Drum Street (a bit outside of central Edinburgh, I did not walk). This is truly just bizarre. Although vastly researched, no one really knows what the Hell it is (or was). Its entrance is through an old mining cottage, turned welcome center. Guides lead you down to a huge and surprisingly extensive assortment of hand carved passageways and chambers that lie deep below ground. Maybe it was a place to hide Covenanters or Jacobites. A smuggler’s lair, a secret drinking den, or something to do with Knight Templars, no one knows. It opened in 2003 and it is a wee bit campy, but it is deliciously creepy down there, a wee bit scary and really fun. TO NOTE: Tours are limited to 12 persons per tour. Definitely book ahead. But that pretty much goes for all tours in Edinburgh.
  8. Innocent Railway (at Arthur’s Seat): Located by Holyrood Car Park. It is underneath Holyrood Park Road bridge. It is just a tunnel, but it is a pleasant walk before or after checking out Arthur’s Seat and the Craigs. If you walk to the main road it will take you to the next suggestion
  9. Dr. Neils Garden: Found on Old Church Lane in Duddingston Village. Tranquil, and serene winding paths through lush foliage. Right next to Duddingston Kirk (worth visiting as well) at the lower slopes of Arthur’s Seat (next on my list). Open to all for free 7 days a week (they do rely on private donations though) A sanctuary, built out of dedication and love, filled with trees, flowers and other plants, bridges and lovely private areas where one can sit in the sun, watch the wildlife, read or what have you. Just a wee but down the road is a wonderful and very old Inn where you can grab a bite and a pint. The Sheeps Heid Inn. Check out their website for a schedule of events. Keep in mind it can get brown, muddy and grey in the Winter anywhere in Scotland.
  10. Arthurs Seat: Located within Holyrood Park (a 640 acre Royal Park) and only a short walk from the Royal Mile, this significant volcanic mountain  is the parks highest point offering not only wonderful (if not at time a bit strenuous walking / hiking trails), but unbelievable views and photo opportunities of the city and much more. There you will find one of four hill forts that are over 2000 years old. It’s unusual diverse range of flora and geology makes it a site of Special Scientific Interest. Nearby are also a 15th century medieval St Anthony’s Chapel and the unique 150 foot cliff faces dominating Edinburgh’s skyline known as Salisbury Craigs.
  11. Old Calton Cemetery: Found at 27 Waterloo Place on the Northeast side of city center. This cemetery built in 1718 has spectacular examples of the Victorians obsession with death and the occult. Quirky, creepy, elegant and just outright bizarre. The graves and mausoleum of this Scottish “Pere Lachaise” cemetery vie with each other for the title of most quirky and elegant.

Walking Edinburgh

Edinburgh. Majestic, ancient and lush. The capital of Scotland and the first UNESCO city of literature in the world. A fascinating city, that offers something for absolutely everyone and a fantastic walking city.

Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle from Cannongate. Photography by Elizabeth Whitener aka januarymoon. Scotland 2017 All rights reserved

An inspiration to poets, rebels and revolutionaries. Home to kings, writers, rogues, jacobites and saints. Edinburgh is one of a kind.

Water of Leith walkway, Edinburgh
Great walk through King George V park & Rodney Street Tunnel to Water of Leith walkway Photograph by Elizabeth Whitener aka januarymoon All rights reserved

Today the “Athens of the North” is brimming with an eclectic mix of multicultural people, hewn from every social class and drawn from every country.

Truly an international city. Beautiful to behold. Warm and welcoming to visit. Edinburgh is affable and affordable (at certain times of the year), safe and completely walkable.

Princess Street Gardens
Sir Walter Scott Monument. Princess Street Gardens. Photo by Elizabeth Whitener aka januarymoon. All rights reserved.

Less exalted and often neglected behind the more romanticized European cities, Edinburgh is a unique gem. Known for its thoughtful layout, diverse architecture and bountiful greenery.  But the greenery is purely seasonal. It can be pretty gray and muddy in colder, wetter months.

“Edinburgh is what Paris ought to be”. Robert Louis Stevenson

Edinburgh Castle, a stone sentinel. Eternally keeps watch from its strategic location, atop the venerable heart of a long extinct volcano. It’s the only castle of its kind that continues to stand its ground in such a way today! You could spend almost an entire day in the bowels of this ancient beast. The photography opportunities are endless.

Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle upon a bed of volcanic rock.! Photography by Elizabeth Whitener 2017 aka januarymoon.

Rich in culture, with a robust collection of art that spans every corner of the city, and heralds from nearly every point of history, Edinburgh’s also offers an eclectic young artist community, including the culinary arts, with a wealth of excellent food, from fine dining to traditional pubs. Endless are the various museums, churches and various sites, and its is pretty much safe to walk anywhere, at any time of day or night. Expect heaps of Scottish hospitality.

Kedgeree from The Roseleaf
Near Leith, a little bit off of the beaten path is the Roseleaf. EAT THERE! Trust me!

Locals and tourists alike appreciate Edinburgh’s variety of attractions. Scotland’s National Museum, Holyrood Abbey, Arthur’s Seat, The Royal Mile and more obscure and even rather macabre attractions are pretty much all reachable on foot.

Advocates Close
Advocates Close. Believed to be dated from 1544. From the Royal Mile to Cockburn Street. Devil’s Advocate restaurant. Photograph by Elizabeth Whitener 2017 All rights reserved

Beyond Edinburgh’s cultural diversity, vivid landscape and wealth of history, it is the pervasive Scottish wit and charm emanating from every crook and crag, that transcends it far above other more readily heralded ancient cities .

And then of course, there are the bagpipes. Can’t leave out the pipers now can we?

Royal Mile Piper
Royal Mile piper. Please feel free to tip them well. Photograph by Elizabeth Whitener aka januarymoon All rights reserved

New & Old

In general the city is referenced by two (2) sections. Old Town (Auld Toun) built mostly around the 1500s and New Town, built 1767 to the mid 1800s.

Old Town has well preserved much of its reformation era architecture, cleaned up and updated in the late 1990s, it is truly magical to see… yet it also tends to contain a much larger proportion of tourist traps and pre fab Scottish “experiences”.

If you can look beyond the endless tartan shops, Old Town and the Royal Mile offer so much medieval charm, you just need a little imagination to fully appreciate it.

You can find the outrageously post modern Scottish Parliament building at the edge of Old Town. I won’t picture it here. You just have to witness it yourself.

Royal Mile
Just try to avoid anything with the word “experience” or tartan in its shop title along the Royal Mile and you’ll be fine. Photograph by Elizabeth Whitener aka januarymoon All rights reserved

New Town isn’t very new. It is generally Georgian / Victorian era and it is also quite architecturally awe inspiring.

A true marvel of urban planning, it is very simple to navigate. I walked from Leith, across King George V park, through the Rodney Street tunnel, through New Town and up to Edinburgh Castle, then down the entire Royal Mile and back to Leith. Took a wee rest, then headed to Roseleaf for dinner. It was a grand day!

The Royal Circus New Town Edinburgh
The Royal Circus, part of the New Town, built in 1823

I just adore walking a new city. You get to understand it in an entirely different way beyond just being a visitor. I try to walk every new city, town, village, wood to which I travel if at all possible. Edinburgh is really a great walking town, it is really easy to walk it from end to end. I use my phone gps, but its grid is simple and Edinburghers (apparently that is what they are called) are always eager to help you find your way if you get lost.

Arthurs seat has an amazing tunnel running through it (sadly those photographs were lost on my journey) The Innocent Railway.

King George V park is filled with just one discovery after another. From Warriston Cemetery to Rodney Street Tunnel. If I had not taken the time to walk, I would have missed out on so very much. The graffiti in the tunnel is true art in and of itself.

Rodney Street Tunnel. Edinburgh 2017. Photography by Elizabeth Whitener aka januarymoon All rights reserved
Rodney Street Tunnel from the King George V Park Photograph by Elizabeth Whitener aka januarymoon Edinburgh 2017 All rights reserved

The locals (ahem Edinburghers) walk and utilize the very many pathways throughout the city. Sadly, it seems less common for tourists to make such use of them and little mention of what a fine walking city Edinburgh happens to be.

But because of this, walking about allows you to meet so many locals. Walking their dogs, strolling their kids… it brings you so much further inside the heart of a city this way.

So get yourself a map. Grab a sharpie highlighter, put on some comfy sneaks, map it out and there you go.

To Know Before You Go

Although most of this great city can be traversed by foot and much of the streets and walkways are fairly flat, for some, the hillier nature of certain parts, especially if heading to Edinburgh Castle, may prove exceedingly strenuous.

If need be, it’s really quite an easy city to drive, when off season. Parking is rather reasonable. But don’t let your meter run out, even for a minute. Those meter watchers stand as dutifully on guard as the castle itself and it’s REALLY expensive!

What To Wear

Wear comfortable shoes. Heels and platforms are unforgiving on cobblestone paths. Thin bottomed shoes (like my trusty Vans) may lend to feeling every stone underfoot.

If it’s warm, bring a jacket anyway, if it’s cold, wear layers. It may (and likely will) get suddenly warm if chilly or vice versa. Always be prepared for rain. It’s always likely to rain no matter what the weather report says.

The Canongate Royal Mile
It doesn’t look steep, but the continuous incline to some roads can prove trying to some. Canongate / Royal Mile Edinburgh 2017 by Elizabeth Whitener aka januarymoon All rights reserved

Plan to trudge up long and at times deceivingly steep inclines to get to Edinburgh Castle and a few similarly popular locations, especially near The Royal Mile.

When To Go!

Edinburgh is always busy, but the population swells in June, peaking in August due to the International Festival  (the largest arts festival in the world). The streets team with visitors from all over the globe until September’s end and gears up again during the holidays.

Be sure to plan ahead, especially if visiting within these months. Popular eateries can become jam packed. Lines to enter attractions, long and arduous, especially in the more commercially driven hot spots like castles and museums. You can find yourself turned away at some places if not booked in advance.

It easily takes a week to make a decent go of it in Edinburgh. Personally, I’d give it a month… but that’s the way I roll. Plan, plan, plan… so that you can get to see the most important things for you. There just will never be enough time to do everything unless you live there. there is absolutely no possibility you will ever run out of things to do.

Castle Clock tower
Edinburgh Castle Clock Tower