The Highlands and Lowlands of Scotland
Walk your way into the land of mountain wilderness and let it sweep you off your feet, says Manish Mehta
Post the Paris Sojourn in 2015, the travel bug in me started to itch again. So, in 2016 it was a five-day trip to the land of Rob Roy Mcgregor, Harry Potter and Single Malt—Scotland. You may be wondering, five days again in Scotland? Isn’t it too much? It depends on your itinerary actually. If only Edinburgh castle and whiskey trail is your agenda then three days are good enough but if you add Inverness, Glasgow, the highlands and the lowlands, then even five days are insufficient.
Staue of a bagpiper in front of the Royal Scots Dragon Guards
Queue outside the Edinburgh Castle
So the trip started with a train journey from London. One could rent a car and drive too but I preferred the train, giving us all the time to enjoy the beautiful country side of England. The Virgin Trains East Coast from Kings Cross Station is your Hogwarts Express to Edinburgh. It is a comfortable 4.5-hour journey even without the masseuse you would find onboard the Virgin Atlantic flight upper class. Whilst in Edinburgh, you will have many options to stay including hotels, Airbnb, etc. We chose a hotel on the Royal Mile which is like the famous Mall Road we have in most Indian hill stations. At one end is the Edinburgh castle and the other end is the Palace of the Holyroodhouse. This stretch also houses the St. Giles Cathedral, Scottish Parliament and some very pretty historic architecture besides multiple options of pubs, restaurants and tourist shops selling the famous woolen products, shortbread biscuits and the bagpiper man.
Edinburgh castle Esplanade with tattoo seating
The city offers hop-on hop-off tour options but we would recommend exploring the city on foot by opting for the 1.5-hour historic ‘foot on tour’ which starts from St. Giles cathedral. The folks who conduct the walk are funny, keeping one involved all through the walk and you tip them depending on your experience. Some of the other interesting walking tours are the pub walk and dungeon walk. For the diehard Harry Potter fans, this walk through famous landmarks where the author J K Rowling began writing the series in the 1990s, for e.g. The Elephant House which brands itself as ‘The birthplace of Harry Potter’, The Balmoral Hotel where J K Rowling stayed to finish Harry Potter and the deathly hallows and many more such places that she drew inspiration from.
The Famous Gleneagles Golf Course which hosted the Ryder Cup 2014
There are many interesting museums to visit like the HMY Britannia and the National museum. The museum of the Mound which is housed in the former Royal Bank of Scotland building focuses on money, coinage and economics (apt for the readers of this magazine). If the city and its history was overwhelming, the country side is another experience altogether. One could rent a car and explore the countryside but the GPS may end up leading you through the A9 (the main highway to travel up north) and one may miss out exploring some of the beautiful sights on the interior roads. Hence, I preferred to do a bus tour to explore the serene countryside and the many freshwater bodies called Lochs or Lakes in modern English.
St Gile’s cathedral on Royal Mile
There are tour companies like Timberbush, Rabbie’s and Highlands which conduct 1-3 days bus trips covering the highlands and lowlands of Scotland. The most famous one is the visit to Loch Ness, Glencoe and the Highlands. Though a very long tour but the sheer beauty of the lakes, mountains and nature can take one’s breath away. The other tour I recommend would be the Highland Whiskey, Woodland and the Braveheart tour. The visit to the single malt distillery was a great experience. Interesting trivia on how ‘whiskey on the rocks’ term was developed—in olden day farmers would relax by the river side to enjoy their hooch after a hard day’s work and drop a rock from the cold waters of the river in their drink—that’s when the term ‘whiskey on the rocks’ was formulated.
These tours can be booked online or at their offices in the city. If you ‘check in’ through your Facebook page, you get £2 off. One can also visit Glasgow to enjoy a day amongst the beautiful architecture. One can get there by a one-hour train journey on Scot rail.
Ancient statue of Adam Smith
Food options are aplenty in the city and there is enough for the vegetarians too. Most exhilarting experience was to come across a handful of restaurants serving both Indian and Thai food run by the Bangladeshi community. For shoppers, Princess Street is the place. I would suggest a walkthrough the Princess Street gardens with the castle in the back drop. If one is flying into Edinburgh, make use of the efficient bus service called Airlink 100 express. It’s a 30-minute bus ride and costs £4.5 for a single journey.
The Fore Well
A canon on the walls of Edinburgh Castle
After spending five days in the city and experiencing every bit of it, my wanderlust was still perturbing me. My heart wanted to explore more. Now I wished we had stayed for two more days to ramble beyond the highlands which locals say have beaches comparable to the Caribbean. Well the consolation is that I yearn to come back to this place; so for the time being I have updated my to-do list as I continue to traverse through the other wonders of the world and keep documenting my ordeals!
The writer is National Head— Sales & Distribution Alliances, Kotak Mutual Fund