I have wanted to see Scotland for ages now, and with more and more TV shows being set or passing through Scotland the wanting just grew. So last year, we decided that our holiday this year would be a round trip of Scotland. We chose for a guided trip because we wanted to get a view of Scotland without having to make many trips. So once we decided Scotland was the destination, I started looking into the different travel organizations that do guided trips. As there are three big bus travel companies I know in Belgium, I started looking at the itineraries and I chose Carolus Bus travels because this holiday is ten days long and passes Culloden Battlefield (which I want to see since I have read “Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon). Once decided and booked the wait was on since it was still half a year’s wait before we would make the journey.
Day 1: Hasselt – Ijmuiden – Newcastle
This was a very uneventful day. We left the bus depot and drove to Mol to pick up the rest of the group we would travel with. After this, we had to drive for about two and a half more hours to arrive in IJmuiden, where we would be taking the boot to cross over towards Newcastle. As this boat takes about fourteen hours to get to the UK, we were given cabins to sleep in. We had a cabin without a window but as you only spend time in there to sleep and use the bathroom this is not so bad.
Day 2: Newcastle – Edinburgh
After an unrestful night, we awoke early for breakfast. The beds were not that fantastic, every time I turned around I felt the springs in the mattress move. After leasing the boat we drove towards Edinburgh. This took approximately 3 hours. On our way, we stopped at Carter Bar, where we crossed the border of England to Scotland. This meant we were now on Scottish ground.
Once arrived in Edinburgh, we tried to go for lunch, but something had gone wrong when calling to postpone the reservation which meant we have to wait a little longer. We were given half an hour of free time, to browse the shops on the royal mile (I didn’t buy anything but I am going to order online). After this, we visited St Giles Cathedral. It’s a very sober church.
Now it was finally time for some lunch at Howie’s on Victoria street. We had a two-course meal consisting of roasted chicken with kale and a potato stack followed by banoffee pie. I had my first Irn Bru in Scotland too.
After paying, we made our way via Grassmarket to Edinburgh Castle. This meant we had to climb a lot of stairs, and this made me glad to have done some training in advance. Before the entrance, there was a big tribune for the Edinburgh tattoo that will be held in a couple of weeks. Inside this tribune, there was more seating as that evening there would be a performance. We didn’t visit all the buildings in the castle but we did visit the hall with the Scottish crown jewels. Next to the jewels in the same case was the original stone of destiny(more about that tomorrow). We also visited the grand hall. We got some more free time and I took the opportunity to go to the gift shop and buy an information booklet about the castle.
We left the castle and walked down the royal mile to the other end where the Scottish Parliament and the palace of Holyroodhouse are located. The latter being used by the Queen when she is staying in Scotland. Here we also could see Arthur’s seat.
We returned to the bus and drove to the hotel (Courtyard by Marriott). This was situated in a couple of Georgian buildings and as it was built against a hill the reception was not on the ground floor but on the fifth floor. We enjoyed a three-course dinner, where we could choose out of three different options for each course. I chose differently from most of the group for the first two courses and chose as a starter the chili squid and as a main the halloumi salad, for dessert I had a brownie and some caramel ice cream.
Day two over, I turned in for the night and hoped to get a lot of sleep to make up for the sleep I lost on the boat.
Facts about Edinburgh Castle:
- The castle houses the crown jewels of Scotland
- Every day at one pm they fire the One o’clock gun. It used to be a help for the boats in the bay as this would tell them the time.
- Belgian pride: the castle has a six tonnes weighing cannon that was forged in Mons
- The views of Edinburgh are fantastic from the castle
Day 3: Edinburgh – Inverness
I call this day, castle day. After breakfast and loading the suitcases back into the bus, we left Inverness and visited Scone Palace and Blair Castle. Both castles have had Queen Victoria as a visitor and one time. First up was Scone Palace. I had seen a tv programme earlier this year that had an episode at this palace and was looking forward to seeing it in real life. When I saw it on the itinerary I didn’t know we would be visiting the inside too, I thought it would be the outside and the grounds. But we visited the inside as well. What I didn’t know was that they have china libraries with their collection of porcelain. The Murray tartan was proudly present throughout the rooms as the curtains were of their family tartan. Outside there is still a chapel with in front of it a replica of the stone of destiny. Originally the stone would have been in the Abbey. On the grounds, there was a music festival so you could see the tents of the people that were staying over.
After the visit, we went for our lunch at the Mercure hotel in Perth. We had a nice meal consisting of a melon salad, turkey with vegetables and potatoes and a mango delice with raspberry coulis.
In the afternoon, we drove on to the Queen’s viewpoint, we stood in Queen Victoria’s shoes and looked out over the Scottish wilderness.
When we left here, we drove on to Blair Castle, the home of the Atholl Highlanders. On their grounds, an international scout meeting was being held. This castle is even more open to visiting. We visited every room we could. As this castle was shown in the TV series Victoria, they’ve taken the liberty to show this off. There were costumes of the show displayed in a few rooms. I didn’t expect these pieces to be here, so I was pleasantly surprised. If I had to choose one of the castles to live in it would be the first one we saw.
After we left at Blair Castle we had quite a long drive since our next hotel (Jurys Inn) was in Inverness. We would be staying here for three nights and this meant no more dragging the suitcases along for a couple of days. Once more we had a choice menu and my choices were the haggis balls (a bit croquet like), frittata and a sticky toffee sundae. This was the first time I tried Haggis and in this form I liked it.
Facts about Scone Palace
- Scottish royals were crowned here before there was a United Kingdom
- The stone of Scone was moved to London to crown kings and queens, the last one being crowned on top of the stone was Queen Elisabeth the second
- The original stone is displayed at Edinburgh Castle where it has been since 1996
- Legend says that when the English conquered Scone they had hidden the original stone and that the stone that is now known as the Stone of Scone is a fake
- The palace is still a lived-in home, the rooms that are open to the public still get used by the family
- Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visited the palace at one point, the furniture is still on display now
- There used to be an abbey where the palace now stands, apparently, the wooden floors that are in the long gallery are still the original floors from when the abbey was at this location.
Facts about Blair Castle
- They were granted permission by Queen Victoria to have a private army, which they still have till this day.
- The current Duke of Atholl lives in South Africa most of the year, but his half-sister lives in the castle and runs the estate.
- Whoever rules Atholl, rules the highlands. This was said as it’s at the gate to the highlands.
- Queen Victoria visited the castle during her first visit to Scotland.
- Filming of the ITV series Victoria also took place at Blair Castle itself.
Day 4: Aviemore
I’ve given this day also a name, it’s nature day! After a Scottish breakfast (hashbrowns and porridge made by morning), we got in our bus again and drove westwards. On our way to Poolewe, we stopped at a few viewpoints to take some pictures. But Inverewe garden was the main star of the morning. This garden with tropical plants has a microclimate and some very nice places. To get to the farthest point we did have to climb somewhat but it was not that bad. There were some known but mostly, for me, unknown plants in this garden. We didn’t have the time to really see everything but went for the highlights.
We left the parking lot of the garden and just around the corner we went for lunch at the Poolewe hotel. Here we ate a tomato soup, salmon with vegetables and potatoes and as dessert a piece of chocolate fudge cake (the chocolate I needed).
After lunch, we made our way to Corrieshallog gorge. We had some more stops to take pictures of the landscape on our way. At Corrieshalloch gorge, we went to see the waterfall. This meant going down a bit and then crossing the gorge. The bridge was high up, not good for my vertigo but I had to cross this to get to the viewpoint to take a picture. As the bridge and viewpoint had a warning that no more than six people should be on it at one time it didn’t feel so safe. I was once more happy to have walked this last half year, not for the distances because they were not that big but for the descending and ascending we had to do. This was the last visit of the day.
We made our way back to Inverness. We had been able to choose our dinner the night before and for me, that was lentil soup, mushroom risotto with pesto and a steamed Dundee marmalade pudding with custard.
Facts about Inverewe Gardens
- The gardens were created by Osgood Mackenzie in 1862. Everyone thought he was crazy for setting up a botanical garden in Scotland
- The garden is kept up by volunteers to the National Trust of Scotland
Facts about Corrieshallog Gorge
- There is a viewing platform to take pictures from
- The bridge and the viewing platform can only carry six people at a time
- It’s about 60m deep and 1.5km long and the falls are called the falls of Measach
Day 5: Aviemore
Once more after another big breakfast, we left for Cawdor castle. This castle is to the northeast of Inverness. It looks like a very sturdy castle. There is still a drawbridge but the moat has gone dry (not by recent heat but by draining it). The castle is still lived in and the interior is a mixture between modern (let’s say 80s-90s modern) and very old period pieces. All over the castle, there are still tapestries. After the tour of the castle, we went to see the garden, which is a very classic British garden including a maze. We went for a drink and visited the little bookshop. I asked the lady in the shop if the castle was haunted. She said she hadn’t seen or felt anything supernatural but that the owner and the other girls that work there had seen movement and felt strange things. So no conclusive answer!
We got on the bus again and drove to the Knockomie inn. We were served a roast beef with potatoes and veggies. The dessert was a sticky toffee pudding (one of my favorites).
We took the scenic route to our next visit. At one point we drove by a small road and got out to take some pictures. our guide and driver surprised us with a wee dram. It was the first time I tasted single malt whiskey and it’s an acquired taste. We then decided to walk part of the road, the bus following closely. We got on the bus again and drove on. On the way, I did see a highland cow in a field, those animals are so cute. Our afternoon visit of the day was Culloden battlefield. This is one of the reasons I wanted to do this trip. As an avid TV watcher and an Outlander fan I just had to visit this. Our guide gave a 20-minute explanation about what happened on this moor in 1746. I already knew the history and was jumping to find the clan stones, the Fraser stone in particular. I found it and it’s a good thing that it’s close to the Culloden memorial cairn because I don’t think I would have found it in the time we received if it was spread all over the grounds. I think a lot of people who’ve seen the show and visit the site are looking for that stone. In the shop, they are smart enough to have some Outlander goodies because they know they will sell it and of course I couldn’t resist.
As it was only about 16h30 when we left at Culloden, we were driven into Inverness. It’s not a huge city like Edinburgh, but it has some charm. I think I would visit it again in a one day tour of the city, I don’t think I’d need more time. After 45 minutes in the city center, we got on the bus again and drove back to the hotel. After a quick jump into the shower, dinner was served. For me, this meant: a potato salad, filled tomatoes and a fruit pudding with custard. This was our last night in this hotel.
Facts about Cawdor Castle
- The family didn’t always live in this castle, they lived a few miles away. When they went looking for a new location they released a donkey with a holly branch. Where he stopped the new castle was built
- The holly tree was planted and died from the moment it was deprived by light when they build around it
- It’s wrongly linked to the Shakespearean play of Macbeth, it’s historically not possible that a person that was born in the 11th century could have stayed at a castle that was built in the 14th century
Facts about Culloden Battlefield
- This was the last battle on British soil
- The battle was between the Jacobite Rebellion army of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the English
- The Scottish army had fewer men than the English army, they were hungry and tired as they had tried to surprise the English army the night before during the celebrations of the Duke of Cumberland’s birthday
- The aftermath of the battle and defeat meant that the Scottish had to give up their traditional tartans, bagpipes, and way of living (lairds and ladies).
- Since many traditions were told and shown to the next generation, a whole generation wasn’t learned how to wear a kilt or how they lived before the battle that cost them their country.
Day 6: Aviemore – Oban
We left our hotel in Inverness and drove south via Loch Ness. We had a short photo stop at Urquhart castle. We didn’t visit the castle though. We got on the bus again and we drove to Fort Augustus. Here we visited the clansman center. We were given a demonstration of how Scottish people lived in the old days. The Scot who explained everything also asked for two volunteers, a man, and a woman, to show how the traditional clothes were worn. After the man was completely dressed. I volunteered to get the women’s clothes fitted on me. I had expected a full skirt, but it was a full shirt with a piece of fabric that was fitted to the back to make the behind bigger but which also doubled as a cape. I couldn’t see myself but I’ve seen pictures.
We drove on to Fort William where we had our lunch at the Moorings hotel. They served a tomato soup, fish with vegetables and a fruit salad with ice cream.
In the afternoon we drove towards Oban via the scenic route. In Oban, we first dropped off our suitcases at the Oban Bay hotel and then went to the Oban distillery. We had a tour of the distillery and got the chance to taste two of their whiskeys: the Oban 14 and the Oban little bay. This time around I enjoyed the taste more. As I usually don’t drink, I might have already been tipsy from the alcoholic vapors. We walked back to the hotel and after freshening up, we had our first dinner in this hotel.
It was once more a choice menu, I choose smoked salmon, pepper filled with couscous and a creme brulee. I went to bed early as we needed to get up earlier than usual the next day.
Day 7: Oban – the Isle of Mull – Oban
I got up at five and breakfast, which was rather a continental than a full Scottish one, was served at six. Only 45 minutes later we already had to be on the bus to go to the ferry harbor of Oban. We took the ferry to the Isle of Mull. This took about 45 minutes. Once on Mull, we had to drive to Fionnphort to go to Iona. At the harbor, there were highland cows on the beach. This is the closest I’ve come to these magnificent beasts.
The transfer only took about 10 minutes but there was a code yellow water for choppy water, this meant that maybe some ferries that day could be canceled. We visited Iona Abbey and this religious hotspot is very beautiful. I do understand that there are still pilgrims visiting this day.
After the visit, we took the boat back and went for lunch at the Argyll Arms Hotel, where they served a potato and leek soup, gammon with potatoes and vegetables and a chocolate eclair.
After lunch, we got on the bus again and took the most scenic route of the Isle of Mull. There were sometimes sheep on the road but they already know to move out of the way when a vehicle comes by. The route was sometimes even difficult for the bus, but we had a fantastic driver who made sure we and the bus got back to the Craignure harbor without scrapes.
Back on the boat and on to the hotel! Once we deboarded the boat, I decided to walk back to the hotel. The main reason for this was the Waterstone’s in Oban. I can’t resist a bookshop and hadn’t expected one. After browsing and buying a few books i made my way to the hotel, to freshen up before dinner.
For me, dinner consisted out of a fish cake (nice, firm and fully filled with fish), fillet of pork with potatoes and vegetables and bread and butter pudding with a summer fruit sauce.
Facts about Iona Abbey
- St Columba founded a monastery on Iona, which is now known as the Abbey
- The crosses from the harbor to the Abbey, are Celtic crosses
- In the cloister, there is a modern sculpture by a Lithuanian artist
- Behind the Abbey and cloister, there is a museum
- The Nunnery is now in ruins
- The monks that used to live there were Benedictine and the nuns were Augustine
- It’s still a pilgrimage location to this day
Day 8: Oban – Dunblane
The last full day in Scotland. As we had had a continental breakfast the day before, we now had the first full Scottish breakfast in this hotel. They don’t do a breakfast buffet but serve per plate. We got a full platter with eggs, tomato, bacon, sausage, black pudding, and haggis. This was the first time that I ate it in this way, not in a breaded ball. I liked it but it’s heavily spiced.
We loaded up our suitcases again and started out way down Scotland. In the morning we stopped at Loch Lomond to take some pictures and drove on for our lunch.
The in. Where we ate had a very scenic decor, it seemed to be an old-timey wimey banquet hall. The food was a lamb stew (supposedly with a minted sauce, but I didn’t taste that) and as a dessert a raspberry cheesecake.
Back to the bus and on to Falkirk. We had two more stops on the agenda, the Falkirk wheel, and the kelpies. I had thought we were just going to see how the wheel functioned but we got on to the attraction and traveled up the wheel in the basin, after a short trip, we descended again. Although it is high, I didn’t have any issues with it. It seemed to be scarier to watch it turning than to be on it.
Last stop for the day was only 6kms away, the kelpies. This sculpture was on my list of must-sees. We had only a short stop of half an hour to take some pictures. I had seen pictures before but if you see them in real life they feel even more spectacular.
We drove on to the hotel, our last hotel for the vacation (Hilton Doubletree at Dunblane).
We had our last dinner on Scottish ground, parsnip soup, chicken with mash and a coconut pannacotta. It was very yummy. This is the last night of sleeping in Scotland and I slept like a baby.
Facts about the Falkirk Wheel
- Besides being a working boat lift, it’s also a tourist attraction as daily there are tourist boats that go up the lift for a short ride.
- It connects the Union Canal with the Forth and Clyde Canal.
- It replaces 11 locks. Boats still need to travel through some locks but due to the boat lift it doesn’t take as long as it used to anymore
- There is a 25m difference between both Canals.
- It takes about 15 minutes to travel up the lift
- How does it work? A boat navigates into the lower or upper basin. These basins are called gondolas. There is a gate that closes behind the boats. Due to the Archimedes principle, both gondolas are in balance throughout each journey. The wheel starts to turn and the gondolas containing boats turns up (or down) to the other canal. Once at the opposite side, the gates are opened again and the boat can go through
- Above the tunnel that’s on the Union Canal side, there are the remains of the Roman Rough Castle and Antonine wall.
Facts about the Kelpies
- The monument was created by the Scottish sculptor Andy Scott
- He based the look of the horses on Clydesdale horses
- They are modeled after two Clydesdale horses that worked for the city of Glasgow
- They are constructed out of steel
- The monument is 30m high
- In mythology, the Kelpies were sea horses that enticed people to sit on their backs. Once on the back, they would drag you down to the bottom of the sea to drown. Then they would have a fantastic meal eating you up.
Day 9: Dunblane – Newcastle – Ijmuiden
After breakfast, we packed up the suitcases again and started driving south. We only had one stop left on this vacation and that was the famous town of Gretna Green. No, I didn’t get married there but there were a lot of marriages going on. For me, it’s the iconic place from Pride and Prejudice where Lydia elopes to with Wickham. There really isn’t a lot see there but we were free to have some lunch here. We didn’t go for a lot of food, only a scone with raspberry jelly and clotted cream. After this, we drove to Newcastle, and after a few miles, we drove into England. Bye Scotland! We got on the boat and had some waiting before having dinner. After dinner, we went to one of the bars where entertainment was foreseen in the form of a band, a music quiz, and bingo.
Day 10: Ijmuiden – Hasselt
The water was very choppy during the night and we felt ourselves moving around in our beds. This time I did sleep better than at the beginning of our travels. The bed was much better! We had breakfast early on and just before 10 o’clock we arrived back in Ijmuiden. The last part of the journey was the trip back home from Ijmuiden to Hasselt.
While writing this, I already am starting to miss Scotland. We were very lucky with the weather, we only had one day of rain (while we where on our bus) in the eight days that we were there. Even though we had foreseen being bitten by the dreaded midges, we didn’t once see or hear one, let alone be stung by one.
You might wonder what it is exactly what I’m missing? I think I can’t put it down to one thing. It’s best to list everything: the castles, the vast wild nature, the cows (yes, I’m in love with Highland cows), the accents (I just love a Scottish accent, and haven’t once had difficulties understanding someone), the history that just pours out of every poor of the land and lastly, the food.
It’s very pretty there and I do recommend everyone to visit it at least once in their lifetimes!