Jenny here! I’ve been so crazy busy going from here and there and sometimes with very little wifi, and recently I’ve not been alone much, so I’m a couple of months behind on this post…
It felt only natural to head to Scotland to take in more history and incredible landscapes after my trip to Ireland, so off on a plane I went, bound for Edinburgh. I arrived in the evening and got settled into my hostel, which was at a perfectly central location close to High Street. What I realized when I arrived, was that I was there (unknowingly) during the most popular event of the year in Edinburgh, the Fringe Festival. This is the largest Arts festival in the world and it lasts about month, starting in early August. More on this later…
On my first full day in Edinburgh, my plan was to sightsee. I showed up on High Street for a 3 hour walking tour of the city and had a wonderful guide who told many stories and pointed out important landmarks along the way.
We started up the Royal Mile, which is the street that leads up to the Edinburgh Castle, which isn’t quite a mile long but is named that anyways.
We learned the story of Greyfriers Bobby, a dog who is quite famous in Edinburgh.
We walked through Greyfriers Cementary, where some famous people are buried, but more interestingly this is where the phrase “working the graveyard shift” came from. Long ago, families had to guard their recently deceased and buried loved ones bodies to protect them from people robbing the graves of their bodies to sell to the local medical school for research. The family members would have to stay by the graves until the bodies started decomposing, and were no longer of value to the thieves and school. Hence, working the graveyard shift. Another fun tidbit about Greyfriers Cementary is this is where J.K. Rowling got inspiration for characters in her book series that you may have heard of….Harry Potter. That’s right, she apparently spent lots of time brainstorming and writing in this very cemetary and you can find names of people here such as Riddle and Mcgonagall. This cemetery is also located next to a school and overlooking a castle with a large stadium next to it….inspiration for Hogwarts and the quidditch pitch?! I have only recently read the entire book series (yes, for the first time) and was quite giddy to learn this information.
The street that inspired Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter book series
We ended the tour in the Grassmarket, which is a lovely area now full of pubs and places to eat, but in the old days it was a much more gruesome place. This is where they held all of their public executions, of which there were many.
After this tour, I grabbed some lunch and headed off to the meeting point for my next tour. This time, I was taking a guided tour of the Edinburgh Castle. There is so much history here, and the views from the castle are also spectacular. I spent close to 4 hours wandering the grounds and immersing myself in Scottish history.
The next day I decided to immerse myself in the madness that is the Fringe Festival. I walked the streets watching free street performances and sat down for some lunch and a glass or 2 of wine on the Royal Mile. Then I decided to find a Fringe ticket office and selected 3 performances to attend throughout the remainder of the day.
I attended 3 incredibly unique shows, including a cirque show, an improv type show where it felt like you were in a regular old bar, but the people at the tables sitting amongst the crowd were actually a part of the show, and lastly, a standup comedy show by a hilarious blind Scottish man who had me in tears laughing so hard. The festival was such a wonderful surprise and I feel so lucky to have found myself in Edinburgh to see what it was all about!
The following morning, I packed up and headed out of my hostel in search for the Haggis Adventure Tour office, where I was heading out on a 3 day tour of the Scottish Highlands. I met some super sweet girls immediately, and knew it would be a great time. Our guide/bus driver, Duncan, was a hoot and I knew we were in good hands with him at the wheel and leading the entertainment. We took out on the bus heading for the Isle of Skye, where we would eventually stay the night in Portree.
Our first stop on the tour was at the ancient capital, Sterling, where there is a huge William Wallace monument. We got out and walked around and up to the monument, to stretch our legs a bit after a few hours on the bus already.
Winter Fell Castle
Once back on the bus, Duncan pointed out a castle that we would drive by…which may mean something to those who watch the tv series Game of Thrones…we cruised right by the Winter Fell castle.
The scenic views from the bus were simply incredible. Along the way, Duncan told us old Scottish tales and facts, otherwise had dramatic music playing that seemed to match the scenery.
A famous Highlands cow…long haired to protect itself from the harsh weather!
We stopped here for a picnic lunch in Glencoe – incredible scenery for a meal!
The tour took us next to the most famous castle in all of Scotland, or at least the most visited, the Eileen Donan castle. We all got out and wandered about getting pictures from all sides.
Eileen Donan castle
Eventually, we made it to the Isle of Skye, where we checked into our hostel for the evening. Some of us went for fish and chips by the water, then headed to a pub nearby where quite the crew ended up having pints for the rest of the night.
Day two the tour started with what Duncan called a “walk” up a mountain, but what the rest of the world would call a hike, up to the incredible rock formation known as the “Old Man of Storr”. The views were oh so worth the effort put in to the hike!
Old Man of Storr
Louisa and me at the top of the hike
The whole Haggis tour crew at the top!
On this tour, I made good friends with the girl that sat in the seat next to me on the bus, Louisa, who happened to be from Boston! We kept saying the entire time that we knew at some point while in Scotland we HAD to try the specialty known as haggis. It was now dwindling down to just a couple of days left in the country for the both of us, so we figured that lunch was as good a time as ever to give it a shot. We placed one order of “haggis with neeps and tatties” i.e. ground up meat and who knows what other kinds of body parts with turnips and potatoes…and hoped for the best. One bite in, and we had a winner! It was actually super tasty….similar to a form of meatloaf is the best way to describe it.
We were soon back on the road and making stops along the way to hear more Scottish stories which were always super intriguing and sometimes unbelievable.
A famous river where supposedly the water is the fountain of youth!
Our second night would be spent in Loch Ness, or Fort Augustus. We got checked into our hostel there, had dinner, then headed out for a Loch Ness cruise in hopes for a Nessie sighting!
By day three we were all exhausted but still excited for more dramatic and beautiful scenery that we would encounter on the bus tour. We drove through Inverness and ended up at Tomatin Whiskey distillery where we had a private tour and got to sample some Scottish bourbon whiskies….which surprisingly didn’t make me cringe!
The last stop on the tour later that afternoon was at the Dunkeld Cathedral. We wandered about the grounds and soaked up our final hours in the Highlands before heading back into the city of Edinburgh.
I had the most amazing and magical time in Scotland. From the ages old gothic-style buildings and history of Edinburgh, to the craziness and hectic streets during the Fringe Festival, to the incredible beauty that is the Scottish Highlands, my time in Scotland was unforgettable!