Wherever I wander, wherever I rove, The hills of the Highlands for ever I love

Return trips for me are rare, but Edinburgh is a nice place. Forget all that sunshine, beaches, and warm weather in Spain – not sure how anyone tolerates all that. I’ll take this constant sea of 60 degree mist any day. After arbitrarily choosing a hostel, upon arrival I realized it was the same one I stayed in over three years ago. I get older and the kids in here stay the same age. JK it’s an old person hostel.

It was the end of the internationally-renowned Fringe Festival, attracting people from around the world to see the comedy shows and events. I walked around in the busy old town area, but liking neither comedy shows nor events, I did not go to anything in particular. I think I got a Macaroni and Cheese pie somewhere. But in general, I could (and did) wander around this medieval city for hours.

Dad arrived a couple days later, and thus began a couple weeks of quicker travel and posher accommodations.

We started the trip in Edinburgh, doing the walking tour and some more wandering. We went up Carlton Hill, so here’s a picture of the city from there.

Carlton Hill, Edinburgh
Named after the dude from Fresh Prince

We stayed near Haymarket station west of Princes Street by this pretty church and old buildings. It was a bit of a walk each day, but it was a pleasant one and we were able to stay out of the main hullabaloo.

Car in Edinburgh
Car in Edinburgh
Edinburgh Castle
View of a castle-looking thing from somewhere in Old Town

Something I was sad I wasn’t able to do on my first visit was walk up Arthur’s Seat, so we did it on this trip. The sun was even visible for a few moments, which was nice for a change.

View from Arthur's Seat
Arthur has a fine choice of sitting locations
View from Arthur's Seat
Legend has it if clear days existed you’d be able to see Ireland

After a couple days in Edinburgh, the real journey began. After waiting in line for a car rental for a couple hours to start us off behind schedule, we began our journey across Scotland. Navigation issues caused us to take the slightly less scenic route through Glasgow, but after that it turned sufficiently scenic again as we drove through Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park.

Loch Lomond is the biggest of the lochs, but it doesn’t have a fictional sea monster in it so no one cares about it. We stopped for a quick picnic (after driving along it for quite a while).

Loch Lomond
Maybe there is a Sea Monster, but it looks like a boat
Loch Lomond
It’s pretty, if you’re into lakes and mountains and skies

Our car beeps whenever you drive too close to the median or shoulder, so between the narrow roads and me being unaccustomed to driving on the left (or really driving at all for quite a while), we were constantly serenaded with the annoying warning beeps. It was a real buzzkill, but on the second day I sent a solid 30 minutes without a beep and it was the greatest thing ever.

We settled ourselves in Oban, the seafood capital of Scotland, for a few nights, using it as a central base to explore. Stayed in a small hotel, complete with a cheerful Scottish host who was happy to give suggestions.

Oban had a nice Wetherspoon’s (unsurprisingly, this chain became a Dad favorite) right by the port. I also quite enjoy it, mainly for the good WiFi and because the servers don’t bother you. The cheap beer and nice view didn’t hurt either. But sadly, it doesn’t seem I took any pictures of the actual town of Oban.

But anyways, we did a loop one of the days, driving along the water to drink in the nice coastal views, and stopping a couple places to see collections of old rocks. Kilchurn Castle was pretty neat – terribly run down (and free!) – but nicely situated on a lake. No surprise someone built a castle here.

Kilchurn Castle
This is considered a beautiful Scottish day
Kilchurn Castle
Peering out a window at the lake. Although the castle is mostly “window” now.
Kilchurn Castle
I would totally buy this castle

Next on the trip were just some old rocks. They had some significance, I suppose, but the main point was that they were really old. I think they were situated based on the sun. Maybe if Nicolas Cage comes with an ancient amulet he can find the Ark.

Old rocks in Scotland
Rocking my sweet Scottish cap

Also on the loop was a castle in a bit better shape. Inveraray castle, in Inveraray. Aptly named. I’d classify it more of a dollhouse castle, like what little girls play with (or boys, it’s 2017), like a normal house but with towers on the corners. As far as I’m concerned, if there’s no murder holes, is it really a castle?

Anyways, it’s more recently famous for being a Downton Abbey shooting location. Pretty sure I didn’t see it, because I had read a spoiler that Matthew dies during the episode and I just couldn’t have that, so I chose not to watch it and haven’t watched it since. And I’m not going to.

Inverness Castle
A siege of admiration from Downton Abbey fans could conquer this thing
Inside Inverness Castle
A little more fanciful than my grandpa’s “guns on the wall” collection

Behind Inveraray Castle, there was a hiking trail. Dad needed to get his steps in for the day, so we went for it despite it looking rather high. It turned out to be a pretty lovely walk that provided a view over the castle and the surrounding area.

Hike near Inverness Castle
This loch is inhabited by the ghost of Matthew Crawley
Hike near Inverness Castle
Panorama shot, so you can see additional grass, lake, mountain, and sky
Hike near Inverness Castle
Trees are dope
Inverness Castle
Solid shrubbery work, 10/10

Since we’d been doing a pretty solid job viewing Scotland’s old rocks, we decided to change things up and go on a tour of a few islands on the west coast of the island. Specifically, Staffa, Iona, and Mull.

And we found more rocks! These are naturally reoccurring rocks through. The hexagonal basalt columns are similar to to the ones at the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland and Vix in Iceland. They were formed millions of years ago when Jesus spilled hot oil on some rocks and angrily pushed them in different directions. And he put puffins on this one!

Staffa Island
Do you see the puffins? I certainly don’t.
Staffa Island
A giant, angry puffin hibernates in there
Staffa Island
You can see layers for each time period. Like a cake. A layer cake, or possibly angel food.
Staffa Island
The left island looks like the fancy, gelled hair of a giant rock golem

The actual cave is called Fingal’s Cave. Legend has it Finn built the causeway between Scotland and Ireland and then named it after him. For being such a small island, lots of famous artists have mentioned it in things.

Staffa Island
Fingal is Einhorn.
Staffa Island
Einhorn is Fingal.
Staffa Island
Who wouldn’t want to write some poetry after seeing it
Staffa Island
I bet Matthew Crawley would have liked this place

No one lived on that island, but it’s Scotland, so you can actually camp on top for free. It looked like a group of hippies had done just that the previous night. Don’t think I could have gotten dad on board for that experience though.

The day included a number of ferry rides, so we next went from Staffa to Iona. A bunch of dolphins decided to follow our boat and jump in the wake along the way, and they’re quite difficult to take pictures of. This is the most dolphin I got in like 20 attempts.

Ferry ride to Iona
Fun fact: Scottish dolphins have beards

Iona island has some people living on it, and is known as the cradle of Christianity for Scotland. It has an old abbey and nunnery that people like to visit. Entrance was kind of expensive though, and it was just a regular abbey not a Downton abbey, so we decided just to wander around the island instead.

We walked up to the beach where the vikings liked to land when they wanted to murder a bunch of monks. It was weird standing on a beach with such a sorrowful history, because a beach? In Scotland? Not exactly sunbathing weather, but the water was a very clear bluish green.

Iona island
Decent place to be a Monk if that’s your thing
Dad on Iona Island beach
Didn’t see any scuttlers though

Our bus ride back took us through the Isle of Mull, which looked like another place you could spend a few days exploring. But time is short and you can’t wander over every countryside, so we carried on. But it was nice to see from the bus.

It was time to leave Oban, and I was basically designing our trip based on what accommodation I could find. What I found was a hotel in Drumnadrochit, which I practiced saying during the several hour car ride there.

On the way, we explored the Glencoe area a bit. I’d stopped before on my day trip last time, but we had a little more time to walk around the area this time. Like most Scottish places, it’s the site of a famous slaughter. It was the inspiration for the “Red Wedding” sequence from Game of Thrones, which I still haven’t seen any of. But spoiler alert, all your favorite characters die, like if the stampede had killed Mufasa’s entire pride or if that car decided to run over Matthew Crawley like 6 times.

Glencoe, Scotland
A very peaceful, serene place for a mass murder
Three Sisters in Glencoe, Scotland
Famous mountains (three sisters) in Glencoe

After the Glencoe area, we drove North along Loch Ness to Drumnadrochit. Situated right off the Loch, it was also close to Urquhart castle. Our hostel had a bar with a lot of whiskeys and beers to drink, so we sampled some of those while playing the UK version of Trivial Pursuit that was made like 40 years ago. That proved to be a challenge for the two of us, a 19-year-old Scottish guy and an Australian. In the end, my team lost to dad’s, which had me pretty depressed.

But anyways, we saw this castle too. Never can see too many castles.

Urquhart castle
They blew up their own castle before they got conquered
Urquhart castle
These guys knew how to pick good castle locations
Urquhart castle
Loch Ness. I didn’t see the monster, but dad did a few times

The Isle of Skye had grown in popularity a lot since the last time I was here (and it was the main reason I wanted to come back), so we were lucky to even find a hostel on the island. These are very much “traveler hostels” so we weren’t out of place at all not being 19-year-old students, but still I was proud of dad sucking it up in shared accommodation for a couple days (the cheapest hotels were like $250+).

On the bridge to the Isle of Skye is the Eilean Donan castle. Who would have guessed! Another castle. This one is the most photographed castle in Scotland, and it was quite photogenic, like Matthew Crawley’s face. But true to form, apparently I only took one usable picture of it, and it was from far away (I think dad took some better ones, but I’m too lazy to get them).

But again, it’s nicely situated amongst the lochs and mountains, and it doesn’t look as broken down as some of the other castles. It has a sweet bridge leading up to it as well. Certainly worth the stop.

Eilean Donan Castle
Probably more photogenic when the tide is in. It kinda just “got up like this”.

Our first day we visited the Fairy Pools and the Talisker whiskey distillery. As usual, we didn’t book a tour ahead for the whiskey distillery and they were sold out for the day, which as usual, didn’t really break our hearts. We wandered around and read about the whiskey making and looked at the expensive bottles. I’ve had Talisker many times before, and I don’t love the smoky flavor anyways.

We did get to see plenty of fairy pools though. Dad claims to have found a few fairies, but all I saw were naked dudes swimming in them. Something you can say you’ve done, I suppose. That said, I had absolutely no desire to go swimming.

Fairy Pools in Skye, Scotland
This is where the fairies live
Fairy Pools in Skye, Scotland
Honestly, all I know about fairies is Tinkerbell-related

The next day, we stopped in Portree on our way to explore the rest of the peninsula, starting with standard Scottish breakfasts at Cafe Arriba (dad is getting pretty used to eating Haggis at this point). It was a cute town with a lot of fish and souvenir shops (separately, that sounds like a horrible combination for a shop). Anyways, from there we did a bit circle to see the eerie Skye countryside.

First stop was to see the Old Man of Storr. Some malevolent being turned him and his wife into rocks for some reason or another. We hiked to the base here, and then dad relaxed with a Welsh guy while I went up to get a closer look.

Old Man of Storr - Skye, Scotland
Misty, foggy rocks. Standard Scotland
Old Man of Storr - Skye, Scotland
I think this was the wife
Old Man of Storr - Skye, Scotland
The Old Man couldn’t be happy with anyone else, like Matthew and Mary
Old Man of Storr - Skye, Scotland
I made my own story about them, which I call “here are rocks on a cliff”

There are a number of stops along the way, of which we chose to take a few. It’s all rather similar from a picture perspective (it is a beautiful area), but here are some coastline pictures.

Old Man of Storr - Skye, Scotland
They used to get beer ingredients down there
Storr, Scotland
The rocky coastline of Storr

One of the main stops is Kilt Rock, which has nice overlooks of the coast in both directions and a waterfall. But there’s only one good spot to stand for pictures of the rock waterfall, which is annoying given the number of tourists. Anyways, I got a nice rainbow picture of that.

View from Kilt Rock, Skye
Ocean, beach, rocks
Kilt Rock - Skye, Scotland
How can you not like a waterfall/rainbow combo

Now, we did try to go to Quiraing as well, which is a little more ambitious a hiking spot with great views. However, it was pouring, and there were tons of people there, so ultimately we decided to just enjoy the countryside from the car.

After Skye, we started our journey back towards the lowlands. At this point, after hundreds of miles of driving, I’d like to mention that dad was still genuinely pointing out sheep as we drove past them.

We stopped in Stirling to see – you guessed it – a castle. This is one of the more famous tourist attractions as it’s closer to the city, and it’s very well-maintained and kept. It’s also close to the William Wallace monument, as some famous battlefields are nearby.

We even did the castle tour and learned things. Famous things still take place here; I think the queen had visited fairly recently.

Sterling Castle, Scotland
“Can you manage without your stick?” “You are my stick”
Sterling Castle, Scotland
Maybe it’s because I’m getting old, but I appreciate a good flower garden

We had a couple extra days towards the end of our journey and decided to stay near Glasgow and see that city before it was time for Dad to head back. We ended up staying a 15 minute bus ride north of the city in a nice little suburb. It had an outdoor mall I could visit to work (Starbucks and Costa!), and a nice park with swans in it that I ran around a couple times.

It was an easy trip into Glasgow, so dad got a good walking tour in and we saw the major sights, from the big bridges to the cathedral.

Glasgow Cathedral
Giant cathedral. There was a wedding going on while we were here

Behind the cathedral was The Necropolis, a cemetery on the hill that gave a great view of the city. And below that, there were a couple breweries. We went to the Drygate Brewery for a beer before heading back to the hotel.

That wedding that was at the Glasgow Cathedral? They had their reception at our hotel. Sadly not exactly a wedding full of attractive people (I mean, it was Scotland, but still), and a couple older drunk Scottish guys tried talking to me while I was working in the sitting area. They were very friendly, but I did not understand a thing they were saying.

And then we headed back to Edinburgh for one more night before dad had to leave in the morning. Pretty full trip, but we got to see a lot. So, after a little more souvenir shopping and a last meal at a Scottish restaurant (dad went with the traditional Haggis, Neaps, and Tatties), dad had to return to normal life and I settled into solo travel life again.

I stayed at a hostel in the university area that was much more low-key, right on The Meadows (basically a big park next to the University). I’d wander around the city a bit, cook in the hostel (they had a couple nice kitchens), work at the coffee shops, hiked Arthur’s Seat once or twice, and that’s about it. There was a rotation of students on study exchanges staying there looking for apartments, a Spanish guy from the Canary Islands in Edinburgh to work construction, and a Ukrainian MMA or UFC fighter guy working at a gym I guess, who I beat up a few times because he’d occasionally not put his food away. I didn’t end up leaving Edinburgh again, but a few things I saw:

Writer’s Museum – There is a writer’s museum in one of the really old buildings in Old Town dedicated to Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns, and Robert Louis Stevenson. It’s not huge or anything, but it’s free and worth a visit. no JK Rowling yet, but boy do the tour guides here like to talk about all the Harry Potter stuff around.

Black Medicine Coffee – This one is right off the royal mile and has great coffee, a lot of space downstairs, and good pastry choices. It’s often really busy with college students though.

Frederick’s Coffee Shop – A smaller place on the second floor in the new town area, the baristas here were super nice. Incompetent, but nice. Like, seriously some of the worst latte art I’ve ever seen, which luckily had nothing to do with my ability to stare out the window, drink my coffee, and get some work done.

Peter’s Yard – Another busy university coffee shop, with good selection of coffee and pastries in a very clean and modern space. Ha! Look at that description! I could totally write brief business summaries.

Red Box Marchmont – This place is out of the way, closer to where I was staying for my last two weeks in Edinburgh. Nice breakfasts and coffee to get out of the hostel for a while.

Lebowski’s – Dad and I went to trivia night at Lebowski’s bar. We didn’t quite come in last – the music category really killed us. They have a wide selection of White Russians (we each had one), the movie playing on a loop, and a nice atmosphere. It was a fun, normalish evening.

My carry-on bag is about 1cm too tall for the requirements for RyanAir, so I was pretty worried they were going to charge me $35 for the bag. I even started taking off the wheel. But they didn’t say anything and just me go right though, so crisis averted. Back to uncharted territory, as I head to Portugal for the first time. [Its] lived [its] life and I’ve lived mine. And now it’s time we lived them together.” – Matthew Crawley, Downton Abbey.

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