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.

The Fairy Glen of Skye Scottish Highlands Scotland’s North Coast

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View from Castle Ewen of The Fairy Glen below

Deep in the farthest reaches of the Scottish Highlands. Tucked between the gold, amber and brown monolithic peaks of t-Eilean Sgitheanach. Across winding, single track, sheep filled roads. There is a land that the Fae call home.

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A fairy trail below Castle Ewen

The Fairy Glen

Where eerily ridged and ragged, irregularly shaped hills and dales are flocked by mossy green vegetation. An alien world, amongst an already seemingly alien background of monochromatic tones and craggy mountains.

There it is, blanketed in a lush and vivid velvet verdancy. Castle Ewen calls to you, so you begin to climb. You wander through the worn paths of those that graced this mystical expanse before you.

Castle Ewen and the highest peak in the Fairy Glen

Time stands still, sheep bah and graze. New lambs bleat, suckle and frolic in the sun. As you  climb you periodically gaze up at the flat topped peak, drawn.

At certain angles the tower above appears to be man made (Fae made?) as do the miniature rock fronted burrows below (Fae den?).  As a result of the scenery, atmosphere or perhaps something even less tangible, you get a sense of magic.

The hills are steep but not too daunting. You stop to catch your breath. A calm falls upon you. A cool wind kisses your cheek and there you are at the apogee of The Fairy Glen.

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The Ferry Glen from above

Gazing out across the greenery, to the brown and golden ranges that surround you. Waterfalls, pastures, bluffs, lochs and roadways are all in view. Yet none of what you see beyond the point at which you stand is in any way as green or as lush.

The Fairy Glen Skye
View of distant waterfalls from the Fairy Glen

 

 

The Fairies of the World

There are so many things one could say about the Fairy Glen. If only one could find the words. So easy tis it, imagine magical, delicately winged creatures living here. Like “The Glen” in Ireland, it is simply surreal.

As you stand there, communing with whatever it is that seemingly created this magical place, it is hard not to believe that if the Fae lived anywhere, this would be a place of choice.

Each little  mound, sculpted by their wee fairy hands and tamped down by their wee fairy feet. Every rock flown by iridescent wings and tapped into place with fairy spit and fairy dust.

It takes little imagination to know this place as The Fairy Glen.

Geological anomaly, The Fairy Glen
A Fairy Glen or a geological anomaly

Science? Magic? Or a Little Bit of Both

In the non magical world, The Fairy Glen is a geological anomaly. An ancient landslip, that landed in just the right location to create a semi micro climate, allowed simple mosses, grasses and lichen to flourish and grow on the rock. As the plants broke down and rock eroded, the rocky base became rich with fertile soil, encouraging a normally much more hostile environment. Years of sheep poop likely helped too.

Yet even though the rational mind knows the scientific rationale behind the flourishing surroundings on which you stand. It remains difficult not to feel a sense of the unreal and revel in the magic of such an pleasingly atmospheric quarter.

Directions to The Fairy Glen:

The Fairy Glen is located in the North West of the Isle of Skye. Sadly, it is not as obscure as it was once, so to get there you can simply enter it into your GPS as The Fairy Glen.

It will likely take less than an hour to get there from anywhere on the Island of Skye by automobile.

Take A87, which at one point turns into Dunvegan Rd (but also remains A87). Just follow it around until you see the sign for the Fairy Glen. You will see cars parked about 1/2 mile before the actual location, but I was able to park on a dirt patch directly in front of the sight.

Please PLEASE do NOT park in any passing places. It is illegal, dangerous and just plane rude. Do not park in a way that obstructs the road, obvious sheep crossings, or that in any way negatively impacts the locals or the environment.

To Know When Visiting The Fairy Glen:

There is no admission fee or attendants there. There are no toilets or parking specifically for The Fairy Glen. It still can get very crowded. Even tour buses show up there.

There is really no need for a walking map once there, but here is  a link nevertheless.  If you get turned around, just a small trek up one of the hills will allow you a view to anywhere you need to go. It is easy to traverse the area by meandering. Some may find it difficult to get to the top, but that is ok, there are plenty places to walk that are only mildly hilly. It is worth the viewing, even if you do not intend to, or cannot walk around.

I think kids would enjoy it there just as much as adults.

Although you could essentially walk for miles around The Fairy Glen, you likely could walk around, climb and photograph within an hours time. I personally spent 2 hours there and enjoyed it.

I suggest you wear hiking shoes if you have them, it can get pretty muddy.

A rain jacket is also suggested.

Photography Advice for The Fairy Glen:

When on the road facing the glen, there is a hill behind you. This hill is an excellent location for snapping shots, as is the top of the glen itself atop Castle Ewen.

Good to Note:

Be careful that your GPS does not confuse The Fairy Glen in Uig with the Fairy Pools in Glen Brittle (also on Skye), nor the Fairy Glen Park in Wigan, or The Fairy Glen Hotel in Penmaenmawr.

Other places to visit when in the area Dunvegan Castle and the Fairy Pools.

AirBnB Benefits All Especially The Solo Traveler

Gorgeous kitchen of my AirBnB in Glasgow

As is obvious, I am an avid solo traveler. Although my posts are currently focused on my most recent trip to the U.K., I have traveled much more than that, long before there was AirBnB or blogs for that matter.

Arnisdale House, Scotland AirBnB Scottish High;lands

Having traveled for most of my life, in looking back through my past adventures, perhaps I should have been much more cautious. But hey, I was young, fearless and determined. Often youth is a time less focused on concerns for welfare.

Now in my midlife, I have a greater realization of the potential hazards around me. I do not tend to allow such dangers to greatly sway or hinder my passions, either in life or travel. Yet today, I am much more cognizant of potential issues. AirBnB has become a bit of a safety net for me in that respect.

Solo Traveler Advantages of AirBnB

There are a lot of advantages to AirBnB and similar sites and apps, that help support ones desire to travel. I will share some of those advantages here, but one in particular stands out to me.

Gorgeous kitchen of my AirBnB in Glasgow
Gorgeous kitchen of my AirBnB in Glasgow

Retrospectively I realize, I’ve either been extremely lucky (since I certainly was far from cautious) or perhaps the world is just a safer place than many people think. I’ve gotten into strangers cars. Slept on their couches, floors and beds. I have walked through dangerous neighborhoods like Compton, where I clearly stood out. But in all of those years traveling alone, I never thought about who would have noticed if I’d gone missing?

CBGBs not an AirBnB
CBGBs not an AirBnB

Hell, at 13 I would walk from Grand Central Station to CBGBs and back, in the wee hours of the night / morning. That NYC was a far different place than it is today. I’d sneak out the window and take the train into NYC. Essentially, no one would know where I went or that I’d gone missing until morning.

Road to Arnisdale House AirBnB
Road to Arnisdale House AirBnB Arnisdale Scotland Scottish Highlands

So what’s this all about you ask? Well, it is about AirBnB and similar types of hotel disruptive apps. It is how AirBnB increased my sense of safety when traveling alone simply by knowing there was someone at the other end expecting me.

Utilizing AirBnB has saved me a shitload of money for more reasons than you may think. But it’s sheer existence has changed the way I travel. AirBnB quite literally opened up a new world to me, within the world, I thought I already knew so very well.

AirBnB cottage. Dublin
AirBnB Cottage, Dublin Ireland. Superb! But no coffee maker.

The Power of Alternatives

When AirBnB started, it was the idea of a place for guests to stay that was cheap and safe, yet also provided extra income for those willing to host with very little costs or middle men, so to speak.

Such a perfect AirBnB in Glasgow. I’m booking it again!
Gorgeous Glasgow AirBnB. The host, delightful

Like other disruptive services, AirBnB opened a up a window of opportunity for those looking for alternative ways to make some money. It also opened up a new world to both the guests and the hosts. Today, AirBnB can be a cash cow for many. Although the prices are at times like that of hotels, they still offer unique benefits that seem to help one save quite a few bucks.

View from AirBnB Miramare, Agerola Italy
View from Miramare AirBnB Agerola Italy

With me, traveling on my own often means driving. Driving for weeks and months at a time. Therefor having someone on the other end expecting me is a huge plus.

A hotel isn’t going to freak out if I don’t show (for the most part). If the host of the AirBnB I book does not intend to be there, I give them specific instructions to expect me to ping them upon arrival. If I don’t contact them in a reasonable amount of time, they are to contact me.

Arnisdale, Scotland AirBnB
AirBnB bedroom in Arnisdale. The wine was a nice touch too!

To think of me meandering through Bali, at 17… on my own. No one even knew I was there. I could have vanished into thin air and it would have taken months to track me down. So this is one really big perk of AirBnB. On top of this unintentional perk of AirBnB, there are so many other pluses in utilizing them and similar sights, over hotels, motels and hostels.

Wonderful kitchen. Arnisdale Scotland AirBnB
Fantastic kitchen Arnisdale House, AirBnB. Scotland

Home Cooked Meals & Traveling with Pets

Some of the more pragmatic perks involved in utilizing AirBnB, is the option of cooking for yourself or ‘self catering’ as it is more commonly referred to overseas. Sure you can still eat out, but you’re not forced to eat out at every meal.

Doo the cat. AirBnB Chapel hill North Carolina
Chapel Hill North Carolina, Doo the cat enjoys the AirBnB

This not only saves you money, but offers more healthy options and more control of your calorie intake. It also lets you eat when you want. Make snacks to take with you or sandwiches for picnics, you get the gist.

When traveling with babies or pets, I consider this an ideal situation. Yes many AirBnBs allow pets. Some are even ok with babies.

Full Scottish Breakfast AirBnB Inverness
Full Scottish breakfast. AirBnB Inverness

It’s good to keep in mind that although self catering is a huge AirBnB perk (when it is offered), that it does not always mean full use of the kitchen, especially outside of the US. I do not believe AirBnB has stringent criteria for what this means.

It also doesn’t always mean there is a stove. Some may not have an oven. It could mean access to a microwave or even only a fridge. I searched AirBnB for specific criteria and couldn’t find anything. Because of this, it is best to check and not to assume that you have access to an entire kitchen. Also check if you might be sharing said kitchen.

AirBnB Arnisdale Scotland. Real coffee!
Real coffee thank God at Arnisdale House AirBnB

What to Know When Booking an AirBnB

I suggest you ask if they have a can opener (especially if traveling with pets) or a coffee maker. If you’re like me and going to need them. Coffee often means that shit some people consider to be coffee called Nescafé, especially outside of the US.

Shockingly, in the U.K., Ireland, and similar places abroad… many people do not have coffee makers, or even French presses for that matter. The inhumanity! It is all about the tea.

Groceries. Dublin, Ireland AirBnB
Groceries. Dublin, Ireland AirBnB

Before you go, do make sure there is access to food either already there or at a place to which you can get. Some AirBnB locations can be pretty darned remote. Since I mostly drive, I can pick up groceries for remote areas. If you’re in a remote area with no transport and the kitchen is empty, it’s sort of redundant.

Scottish breakfast. AirBnB Kirkwall Scotland
True Scottish breaky Kirkwall AirBnB. Kept me going all day!

Complimentary breakfast is a great AirBnB perk, but not all comp breakfasts are created equal. In some places, like Scotland, a good Scottish breakfast can go a long long way. Seriously, a true Scottish breakfast will keep you going well to tea (dinner) time and the chance to interact with others is most often a plus.

But breakfast to some is tea and yogurt. Which is fine, but it will less likely tide you over to dinner. Also, a plus is when along with breakfast, comes conversation with other guests or your hosts. It’s an added bonus for a solo traveler like me.

Breakfast by AirBnB host day 2 Edinburgh. Delish!
Breakfast by AirBnB host day 2 Edinburgh. Delish! Scottish oatmeal

Do make sure if you’re expecting a comp breakfast, that they can meet your dietary needs. In Italy I was once offered only custard, donuts and tea for breakfast. I ate an apple and had an early lunch. When asked if they could provide alternatives like oatmeal, eggs and fruit… they happily obliged the next day.

Since I generally walk many miles in a day, covering most cities on foot, so a hearty meal makes it easy to keep going without being focused on my next meal.

A Place to Park & Advice From Locals

Free parking is a fantastic AirBnB bonus, if you’re a driver like me. When a staying in a major city, a promised parking spot can save you a ton of money and aggravation. Downtowns New York City, London, San Francisco, Boston, Paris etc… can be an outrageous expense for parking.

In Florence and Rome car break ins are rampant and finding any parking can be an absolute nightmare. Oh, and try parallel parking with 2 inches of space in front and back while newly driving on a different side.

London parking in front of AirBnB
Look at that parking job in front of London AirBnB

One of my favorite perks of AirBnB is the opportunity to get a true locals advice on where to go, what to do, where to eat and when.

Roseleaf in Edinburgh. Suggested by AirBnB host
Roseleaf in Edinburgh. Fantastic pub, suggested by my AirBnB host. Kedgeree, yum!

Without AirBnB I would have never found the Roseleaf in Edinburgh. I’d have never gone to Gellions in Inverness, I’d never have forgone driving into Dublin’s city center and taken LUAS instead. And I’d never have driven out to Brough Birsay on the Orkneys (one of the best parts of that fantastic journey)

Washing Machine AirBnB Durness Scotland
Durness Scotland AirBnB Washing machine! Yay!

There’s No PLace Like Home / But AirBnB Can Come Close

OMG! I almost forgot. A washing machine. After 3 weeks on the road, I was glad to see this washing machine in Durness. So glad, I almost kissed it. (I actually may have).

It’s crazy expensive to have your knickers washed at a hotel and time consuming in a laundromat. (although it’s a great way to meet the locals). Since I carry only a backpack, I often must rinse my clothes in the sink. To actually wash them? Joy of joys.

Not so important to me is the TV and cable access that many AirBnB provides, even in remote locations lacking much infrastructure. But for me the access to decent Wi-Fi, so I can post, or download pics or video is a huge bonus.

Bathroom Glasgow AirBnB
Glasgow AirBnB bath!

Lastly, being able to plunk down on a couch in your jammies with a glass of wine is a true pleasure. Doing so after a nice hot bath, with your clothes churning in the wash even better. Ultimately having all of that while nibbling on foods you enjoy in a place that feels like home, makes all of the difference in the world on a long excursion.

AirBnB & Extended Stays

Staying at an AirBnB for at least a week. Getting to know the neighbors or if in a remote area, the camels or sheep. Having time to yourself in your own space, is such a different experience than just “staying” somewhere, because you become part of the community instead of just observing it. For me it’s the best addition to my traveling life that has occurred beyond the advent of GPS.

Oh and I must admit, I too love a good stay in a nice hotel. Fine food, lots of catering to your needs. I am all up for that. But for me, that’s vacation, not travel. I can go anywhere and obtain fine service in a fine hotel. Travel to me is melding into your environment and becoming as much a part of it as you can. There certainly are benefits to all sort of travel and quite frankly, I’ll take any sort of travel, pretty much to anywhere over almost anything else.

Killdrummy Castle Hotel not an AirBnB but amazing
Kildrummy Castle Hotel aka Kildrummy Park Castle Hotel. Picture by Elizabeth Whitener, Aberdeenshire Scotland 2017

Unexpected Benefits of AirBnB

A really unexpected perk of AirBnB has been the locations. Although I have stayed in some amazing places such as Miramare (which is an actual BnB, in Agerola Italy). The neo gothic half ruin in which I stayed in Fiesole Italy (sadly no longer available) or in Arnisdale Scotland (I will return there) were just as magical as the journey itself.

These places took me to places to which I never would have been if not searching out places on AirBnB. My stays there were as wonderful as the journey that brought me to them.

Fiesole AirBnB
Gothic Revival half ruined estate Fiesole Italy AirBnB

Lastly, the enduring friendships, interesting people, the exceptional conversations I have had while staying in AirBnBs have added to my travels so significantly, it is hard for me to imagine traveling without it.

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.

Tower Houses of Scotland aka Scotland’s Castles

“ABC!” he said to the women in front of him, with the tinge of a cockney lilt. We were all standing in little stone room utilized as the gift shop / lobby of yet another of Scotland Castles, Drum Castle, awaiting the tour to begin.

“ABC!!” he said louder to her back and pretty much all of us this time….

He was a handsome guy. Tall, lanky, pasty white. He looked black Irish to me, definitely a Brit. He had that haircut I love on men his age. Shaved on the sides long on the top, reminiscent of a 1930s style. It added to his boyish charm. His tone was playful.

His girlfriend or wife or whatever she was to him had her back to him (and me), but I could tell she was rolling her eyes as she paid the lady at the counter. His brown eyes twinkled, he was complaining but with mirth. The small crowd in the low ceilinged room was silent.

Having paid she slid by him and out the front entrance, leaving him with an audience staring at him in muted suspense.

“Another Bloody Castle!” he asserted, smiled broadly, swept the long piece of hair from his eyes swooping it back over his head and walked out the door to await the tour guide.

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Drum Castle. One of Scotlands oldest tower houses

They call them castles all over Scotland, but actually, they are tower houses. Referred to as castles, pretty much all over these days. Even by the National Trust of Scotland which owns and maintains many of the castles aka tower houses of Scotland today. These fortified estates were built with the defensive nature of castles in mind. If you know much about the history of Scotland, you understand the need of such castle like structures.

They initially appeared in the middle ages, mostly in Scotland and Ireland, later turning up in Spain, Italy and France. Built in more remote or mountainous regions, (which at the time was much of Scotland) where people were often left much to their own devices and raids of one’s home was common place.

Craigievar Castle (tower house) Scotland tower house
Craigievar Castle (tower house). A pink harled structure near Alford, Aberdeenshire Scotland. Photo by Elizabeth Whitener aka januarymoon 2017

The high middle ages was a time of great extremes in Scotland and seriously tenuous relations between many europeans. Great Britain changed allies more often than the king changed his hat. There was a rapid and sudden population increase, a mass exodus from the rural areas to the cities, endless wars, economic strife and then the plague aka Black Death… which is suspected to have killed upwards of 50% of the population. Things were a wee bit unstable. For Scotland, perhaps even more so.

Castle Fraser
Castle Fraser (tower house). The most elaborate Z plan castle and truly grand inside and out. Located near Kemnay in Aberdeenshire, Scotland

Tower houses were simply large homes, built to maintain the safety of those within, with limited man power or forces. They became popular with aristocrats for obvious reasons, and were often stark and foreboding on the outside while filled with the comforts of the wealthy inside. They popped up all over Italy, England and Spain during times of strife, but today Scotland seems to maintain some of the finest examples of such residences.

Some of the tower houses of Scotland are now owned and managed by National Trust for Scotland. Others remain privately owned. But there are so very many you can visit throughout Scotland that continue to be intact. It is so worth visiting as many as is possible.

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

Driving Scotland Tips for your Scottish road trip

Scottish Highland Sheep

Driving Scotland; 2000 miles of Scotland at that, was one month of my life I shall cherish for an eternity and I learned some things I hope will help you on your journey driving Scotland.

First off, you do not need an SUV or 4WD truck in order to drive the Scottish Highlands, unless you’re hauling sheep shit, or maybe a gaggle of screaming kids. But I got talked into a plug in hybrid Mitsubishi Outlander… ironically making me an Outlander in an Outlander.

Outlander at Brough of Birsay Orkney Driving Scotland
Mitsubishi Outlander. Brough Birsay, Orkney Mainland Scotland photo by Januarymoon aka Elizabeth Whitener

I flew into Gatwick and stayed in London for the first 5 days of my month long journey of mostly driving Scotland. Quite frankly, driving in London just outright sucks. Last thing you need is something long, heavy and wide with 500 controls you don’t understand and I’ve driven in Rome, Berlin, NYC, Boston without even batting an eyelid. I say avoid driving London at all costs. If you must, avoid the rush hour and definitely get a small and easily maneuverable vehicle.

If you are comfortable with a manual stick shift, I still suggest you pay the extra money for an automatic. I have no issue driving a stick, I rent stick shifts in countries all over the world… but driving in traffic on city streets or navigating one track roads with unexpected wildlife crossing your path, on a different side of the road than you are accustomed is asking for trouble and I do NOT recommend it. The start and go style of traffic in both of the above mentioned scenarios, will making shifting gears a huge and potentially dangerous pain in the ass.

Parking (as in any major city) even more than outright sucks and seriously, anyone that tells you driving on the other side is easy, is an asshole.

Parking an Outlander in London before driving scotland
Parallel parked my Mitsubishi Outlander in London on first attempt

You do get the hang of it. Once you’ve hit a few curbs, and lopped off a couple of side mirrors. By then, if no one has been decapitated or mutilated you’ll likely be right as rain. But it isn’t easy. Yes you’ll get the hang of it, but still it isn’t easy. The second you’re a wee bit tired, or have taken even a short break, it’s a little daunting again, and you’ll find yourself chanting “left side, left side, left side” for a bit. Remember, driver is always closest to the center line, wherever you may go.

When driving Scotland, the motorways are ok. You’ll get the hang of them pretty quick. But only pass on the far right lane, don’t dawdle there. It really pisses people off if your not hauling ass in the fast lane. They will tail you within inches. Flustered in the fast lane, on an uncomfortable side of the road,  is not where you really want to be when driving Scotland.

When driving Scotland after England, expect traffic to drive 10 miles per hour faster than what you got accustomed to in England. If you are not confident enough to drive at least 10 miles over the speed limit, then stay out of the far right (the fast lane) once you’ve hit Scotland.

If you’re driving in London or Birmingham (God help you) or into the countryside… last thing you need are distractions. Rent a car similar to the one at home. If you drive an SUV or truck at home, rent a similar make car. Then gag the kids, put the damned phone away (or have it set only for GPSing), stick some reminder in front of your face on the windshield to stay left, and you’re on your way!

Make sure you know if you’re running on diesel or not. Petrol nozzles are interchangeable unlike in the US where diesel nozzles won’t fit into non diesel tanks (and still people manage to make the error here). There are a ton more diesel cars there. The noxious scent of diesel permeates every truck stop with glee. If you make the error, DO NOT START THE CAR. For an exorbitant fee most garages are ready and willing to drain your tank. That’s far less expensive than ruining the rental car with the wrong gas. You’re not covered for it either.

Most onboard navigation systems created for automobiles outright suck. Where do bad UI designers go once the game industry has snuffed them out? They go on to make onboard automobile navigation systems, or so say my UI industry friends. So if you have a decent data plan (and are NOT relying on ATT) then WAZE is by far the best navigation option, google maps is second. Both are free, easy to use and extremely reliable, as long as your service provider is NOT ATT.

NC500 Rainbow Driving Scotland
North Coast 500 rainbow, not a lot of signal out there

You need a local provider, especially when driving Scotland. Anywhere North of Inverness with ATT (and likely other non UK providers), there are times when you are shit out of luck. If you put a map of Scotland in front of you, take a ruler and line it up with Inverclyde and Inverness then draw a line across from ocean to ocean. When driving Scotland, north of that line, is pretty much where your connections will get dodgy, and even non existent the further North or East driving Scotland that you go. You need a solid local provider, direct, not through your provider if you plan to rely on your cell service anywhere North of that line. In places like Durness, the Orkneys, deep in Glenelg to Arnisdale or way up in Skye you’re still going to struggle with signal at times.

When off of the highway, even the main roads in the U.K. are skinny, windy, at times surprisingly congested. Many roads are expected to manage two way traffic, when only one vehicle barely fits. Many roads (London) are built for horse buggies (London), and now carry anxious and impatient motorists (London), from sunup to sundown. Did I mention London? Oh and Birmingham (holy shit, Birmingham) what a cluster fuck. Next to the word Clusterfuck in the dictionary, should be traffic in city center Birmingham.

London is a driving nightmare. Logistically speaking not only are there far more motorists than it can handle, London drivers, especially in the business districts, are relentless and impatient. They know you’re a tourist driving the wrong side of the road, and they don’t care! In fact I think they hope you die. I now know why they have such strong gun control in the U.K., otherwise there’d be hourly gun battles in the streets of London and Birmingham.

Driving Scotland’s more remote roads are skinny, often one track for two way traffic and many are open range. If you see a sign that says “Sheep Road” or “Feral Goats” expect to soon come upon said creatures in the middle of the road, usually after a blind turn.

Scottish Highland Sheep Driving Scotland
Surprised sheep in Arnisdale

Surprisingly (especially for an American where the entire US road system and infrastructure is crumbling beneath us) the roads in the U.K even many of the remotest roads in Scotland are very well maintained. Here’s the fun part though, the speed limit on most of these roads is 60. Yeah, you read that right. And I mean 60 mph, not those silly kphs the rest of Europe so much enjoys screwing up Americans with.

Passing Place Scottish Highlands Driving Scotland
NC 500 near Glenelg, Scotland Highlands Photo by Elizabeth Whitener 2017

On the above picture yo can see a “Passing Place” sign, these are here for you to let people pass on one track roads. Be courteous, pull to the left and let them go, especially if you are not willing to go the speed limit. Visit Scotland has a great guide to utilizing passing places and driving safely on the other side of the road.

I found Edinburgh, Inverness and Glasgow fairly easy to navigate. Driving was not stressful and signage was clear and abundant. At the time I was driving Scotland, there was no excessive traffic. I was able to find parking in all three cities with ease. Although I was there off season and I assume it is more difficult during season especially when it is festival time.

You’ll find that a great deal of the remotest areas when driving Scotland, the Borderlands, the country roads of Aberdeenshire and along the NC500, roads are freshly and recently paved, I simply don’t recommend that beyond the obvious reasons, such as a larger group of people, that anyone needs an SUV when driving Scotland.

Seems to me the entire country, especially the “wilds of Scotland” and the North Coast 500 aka NC 500 have been trampled on well enough from tourist driving Scotland, tour buses and the like. Just take it easy. Treat the areas you visit with respect. Park in designated parking areas as much as possible and be aware of where and on what you are parking when you choose to pull over in areas with no parking. Be alert so as not to block anyone’s way, and move over to the left at passing places if someone wishes to pass, and you’ll be good to go.

Also, Lallybroch doesn’t REALLY exist. Jamie isn’t hanging out at the other side of Clava Cairns. Midhope Castle  aka Lallybroch (which isn’t  castle at all) is often overrun by overzealous tourists, causing havoc with the locals and the busy farming community. So let them be. How’d you like people parking all over your neighborhood, running over the local livestock, flora a fauna and blocking your way in and out all day and night. Sure you can visit these places, but just be considerate… please.

Outlander in an Outlander Driving Scotland

I’m not sure that the Mitsubishi Outlander was named after the series or the book, or if it’s just a coincidence. I cannot imagine it’s named after the movie Outlander, which really kinda sucked and had nothing to do with Scotland. I’m not sure if the Hertz guy had a sick sense of humor or just needed to move out extra inventory, but there I was… an Outlander in an Outlander. Hogging the road in an unnecessary SUV.

I semi enjoyed the vehicle in some ways, but not that I allowed the Hertz guy to talk me into it last minute. It was after midnight, I’d just flown 8 hours and I just wanted to get into London, connect with my Airbnb contact, have a big glass of wine and sleep.

“Only $75 extra” he said. It sounded great until I realized he meant $75 a day (that’s a standard Hertz upgrade trick, so beware)

“But I’m driving Scotland for a month, that’s a lot of money.” I replied.

“I’ll give you a great deal!”

… now I know this trick well. I’ve rented cars a lot. They will give you a deal on a sports car or SUV when they have an abundance of them and are light on or actually out of the car you had reserved. Always haggle at this point! ALWAYS (especially if you’re footing the bill). I knew this trick. I don’t know what happened. I was tired. It was after 1am now. I just wanted the fucking car and to be on my way. So nearly $700 later, (far more than I could  spare) off I went into the dead of a moonless, starless night driving from Gatwick into the heart of London, in a plug in hybrid (not even knowing what that was) with all sorts of buttons and levers, driving the other side of the road for the first time in almost 30 years.

Learn from me! And enjoy!

Great Britain, Ireland & Colin Farrell (What You Didn’t Know About The UK)

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Johnny Rotten wants to save the Queen

The Union Jack is the flag of the United Kingdom of Great Britain.

That is Johnny Rotten standing in front of said flag… to me he is about as British as one can get. He really has a thing for the Queen. Although he goes by John Lydon these days and he lives in LA. LA is in fact not part of Great Britain.

Now the flag of Great Britain, consists of the English flag

St. Georges Cross
St. Georges Cross aka The English Flag

The flag of Scotland

Scottish Flag
St Andrews Cross aka The Flag of Scotland

and Northern Ireland’s flag

St. Patrick's Cross
St. Patrick’s Cross aka The flag of Ireland

Wales, you don’t get a mention.

Already united with England when the Union Jack was created, Wales ends up screwed and does not get a represent! (You’d think for stickin’ it out with the imperialist monarchy for so long, they’d at least get a mention.)

GB Great Britain
GB ‘Great Britain’ logo

Great Britain is not a country. Really, it’s not! It is an island consisting of England, Scotland & Wales.

The U.K. (United Kingdom) is a country consisting of four (4) nations or perhaps provinces, that are really also technically countries depending on to whom you speak.

For centuries many Scots have resisted being part of the U.K. and pockets of daring souls have periodically risen up through time against the English to gain their solidarity.

Kildrummy Castle
Kildrummy Castle. Kildrummy prospered for centuries until that little English rebellion bit.

Scottish rebellion against the English pretty much has always lead to the complete ruination of everyone involved including ancient dynasties…

Ireland is NOT a country. It is an island, like Great Britain. It is mostly not part of the U.K., beyond that wee little Northern bit. Many of the Irish had rebelled against English rule for centuries.  The Irish Free State officially gained their absolute independence in 1922 when both parliaments ratified the Treaty, formalising independence for the 26 county Irish Free State. Ireland dropped the “Free State” part in 1937, and declared itself a Republic in 1949. The 6 county Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom.

Map of Ireland
Map of Ireland

Cork is in Ireland and it makes great gin. Colin Farrell is from Castleknock, which is 2.5 hours from Cork and completely irrelevant to this post, but now you know. Remember it! Oh and I’m pretty sure Colin lives in LA. LA is not in Ireland.

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Colin is not a Brit.

Ewan McGregor is a Scot and as you can see, wears a kilt. He is also a Brit. I kinda think he may also live in LA. LA is not in Scotland.

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Ewan is a Brit and a Scot. He doesn’t look unhappy to be in a kilt

I have no fucking clue why Colin Farrell is wearing a kilt. He certainly does not look very please about it.

Colin Farrell in a kilt
Colin Farrell is not a Brit, is not from the UK, is not a Scot.

As mentioned before, Ireland is made up of two (2) provinces or countries, depending on to whom you speak. Northern Ireland is part of the U.K., The Republic of Ireland is not.

Everybody knows this but for Americans. As in those from the United States, not North Americans, because Canadians know this. They learnt it in school. Unlike Texans, who learned Texas history over US history.

Now I’m not sure if Mexicans know this, because I’m American and know little to nothing about Mexicans, even though they boarder us and I’ve visited there a few times.

What I do know is that all of Great Britain and all of Ireland (even those in the Republic of Ireland) and likely even Ewan Mcgregor and Colin Farrell… maybe even John Lydon, drink far too much tea. Not that yummy herbal stuff but that caustic, tannin filled, black, black tea shit you must add milk to or die. They also almost all think Nescafé is actually coffee and not an insult to coffee.

coffee in a tea cup
Coffee; not that very black tea shite and not that crap called nescafe’

That’s real coffee in that enormous I ❤️ Tea cup. Thankfully my Airbnb host in Arnisdale Scotland provided me real coffee, yet also provided the ironical cup.

In much of Great Britain, showers look like this.

British shower
Shower in Great Britain (actually Glasgow Scotland)

< lt; lt; lt; lt; lt; lt; lt; lt; ne dials the power, the other controls temp. And they don’t have clothes dryers. Clothes dryers are made up of clothes lines with clothes pegs (not clothespins)

bathroom heater towel warmer
Bathroom heater/towel warmer

< lt; lt; lt; lt; lt; lt; lt; lt; ut they do have bathroom (aka toilet) heaters that function as towel racks. Which don’t suck! Many Brits end up hanging their wet laundry bits to dry upon these heated racks. Apparently, dryers are not energy efficient, but turning your heat up so that your knickers dry quickly, is.

Wine Glasses
Wine in Great Britain

< lt; lt; lt; lt; lt; lt; lt; lt; hen you order wine in the U.K. they ask you, small, medium or large? I’m not kidding! Order the large. It’s the American way. Oh yeah, they also drive on the wrong fuckin side of the road. And their yield signs say ‘give way’. (how polite)… and you can’t fucking turn right, you must circle first. Once miscounted, you must turn about the fucking circle again. There are rules to this, but no one knows them. They just close their eyes and pray to the Queen. In Inverness a roundabout ends you up at the police station, because it imitates exit number 4, when actually it’s the damned police station. I did it numerous times and shared the experience with confused tourists every time and likely a few Scots as well. But it was Sunday so the police station was closed. Because police stations actually close in the UK. But Inverness is quite lovely, once you’ve found your way out of the damned police station car park.

Glasgow scene
Inverness

< lt;lt;lt;lt;lt;lt;lt;lt;ell so, I’m in Glasgow. Three (3) large wines in, filling the tub as the towel rack warms and have little more to give than this post. Hope it suffices.If not “give way” man. Give way!<<<<<<<<< t;<<<<<<< lt;<<<<<< <<<<<< ;<<<<< t;<<<< gt;<<< ><< p>< /p>