Written by: Julia D’Orazio from www.theroamingflamingo.com
‘Look! There’s a mountain!’
‘Over there – An old castle!’
‘That’s huge! Sure that lake has some kind of monster in it?!’
‘Oh my, the Harry Potter bridge.’
It isn’t stuff you would typically say or expect to see on a road trip but here in Scotland, it was the norm.
It was like watching an ongoing tourism advert but in real time. It had me glued to the window of a bus for five days eyeing off the sights of Scottish Countryside. Road tripping, new friends and Scotland; when you put the three together, you will see that it makes for the perfect adventure.
I took part in a small Haggis Adventures tour that got right into the thick of the Scottish countryside that would also venture to the Isle of Skye. I have to admit I had been pretty naïve on Scotland’s offerings; I was just familiar with the stereotypes and Edinburgh being impressive (which it was). But as I found out, there is more to Scotland than bag pipes, fringe festivals and those kilts.
The tour kicked off from the alluring medieval city of Edinburgh. This city deserves a lot of time in itself for its fascinating and complex history. Brace yourself by hearing gruesome tales of medieval times, getting scared out of your wits by ghost spotting in the underground tunnels or checking out the views on top of a dormant volcano bang in the heart of the city. Catch yourself by wandering the hilly and winding cobbled streets surrounded by characteristically brown medieval architecture. Or catch the wind and impressive views from either Edinburgh Castle or Capital Hill overlooking the city lights. Either way, you would have already made your mind up on day one that you would like to return to this city.
It was time to take the helm of the adventure out of the city. This was a tour with a twist as the tour leader had freedom to take us to his personal favourites. Of course there were certain things he needed to cross off as part of our booked itinerary but it was those off beat places that really gave the tour a boost and one of which was unlike no other tour I have done before in terms of its flexibility. It wasn’t going to be about cutesy towns or visits to pubs downing whisky (of course they were going to be frequented), it was going to be bigger and better than that; literally.
The bigger the better couldn’t be truer with an introduction to the Scottish countryside. First things first were a trek up the steep hills of Killiecrankie to check out the views of the Railway Viaduct Pass. Next was spying the ‘parallel roads’ of Glen Roy, the impressive workings of the last ice age and one of Britain’s most natural viewings. These two places made me realise that Scotland has impressive natural sites in spades!
Despite breaking down mid journey, the day wasn’t going to be ruined by some monster event. The holy grail of day one was casting eyes on the Loch that is home to the infamous legend, the Loch Ness monster. The affectionately known Nessy teased us all and failed to make an appearance but she didn’t let the team down, the loch was ever so impressive even without her attendance as the sheer size of it and surroundings (mountains and a still lake) was postcard perfect as is.
One thing I cannot get enough of is seeing castles and ruins and this tour certainly supplied Scotland’s finest off beat attractions. Step aside Stone Henge, there were plenty of Bronze Age ruins to check out without the tourist circus and price tag. The relatively unknown Clava Cairns allowed for nature to take its course over the mysterious remnants. Sitting on a rocky peninsular overlooking Loch Awe, the 15th to 17th century Kilchurn Castle ruins provided many great photo opportunities with its perfect setting and lonely existence being in the middle of nowhere.
Road trips can be exhausting and its those weird and quirky sites that can perk your adventure levels up again. Take a stroll through Clootie Well and you will be forgiven for thinking you have stumbled upon a fairy squatter party. The area oozes eeriness with odd bits of cloth tied onto tree branches amongst junk and unwanted travellers’ artefacts. This offbeat roadside practice is inspired from ancient traditions dating back to pre-Christian times in -Scotland and Ireland which pilgrims would make offerings to cure illnesses. With an alternative take on its traditional roots, it really was an odd sight to behold.
Odd sights aside, it was time to get acquainted with a familiar one. What better way to celebrate road tripping adventures with new friends than participating in an old Scottish pastime; whisky. After being whisked away to a local distillery (Scotland has plenty of them), I learnt that there were many different forms of whisky and none that failed to impress; that is if you like the strong stuff!
Whisky, castles, Haggis, lochs and pristine nature aside, the road tripping adventure was a detox. It was a humbling experience to be passing through the countryside admiring glass looking lakes, mountain after mountain and seeing history alive in the present; And what better way to share the adventure of Scotland with new friends on a tour that was really did allow you to see the best of this surprisingly beautiful country.