Scotland the Brave

I’m planning a trip to Scotland and England for the summer of 2014. Currently I am trying to decide upon what I actually want to see before I dig into the details of price, schedule, transportation, etc. I thought this would be the fun, easy part but it’s proving more difficult than I anticipated. As is the case in most areas of my life, when given too many choices, I can’t focus.

From the outset I knew I wouldn’t want to spend a large amount of time in London itself, since I’m uncomfortable in big cities, but so far the only must-see thing seems to be taking a ride on The Eye. There is an abundance of history in London but when weighed against other options with time constraints in mind, I’m fine with not indulging in it. As long as I get a photograph of those iconic red telephone booths and a “mind the gap” sign, I’ll be satisfied!

I think I’d rather spend that time driving through the Cotswolds, with it’s charming country cottages, and possibly touring Bath. This revelation surprised me a little, for I always imagined myself going in the opposite direction, through Jane Austen country. No matter, this is good. Bath has a rich history and peeking in on nearby Oxford will please my intellect (because it’s where Harry Potter was filmed!)

As I move on into Scotland though, the heart of why I am willing to endure a nail-biting oceanic flight and be away from my kids for more than two days, choices become more important. I have been in love with Scotland for many years now, thanks in large part to Diana Gabaldon’s historically abundant Outlander novels. But what do I absolutely have to see?

I’m most interested in the scenery, but what stops do I want to make along the way? I don’t believe I’ll be required to go as far north as Inverness

My hearts in the Highlands, my heart is not here; My hearts in the Highlands a-chasing the deer.


but I do desire a stop at Culloden battlefield, I think. I’ve read several books about the subject of the 1745 battle and the events that led up to it. Will standing on official ground distract me from the fact that it’s still just a simple field?

And speaking of Prince Charlie, what about the Isle of Skye? It looks breathtakingly lovely, and is how I always imagined Heaven to look like, as a child. Should I leave that innocent image untouched, or color it with an adult palette?

Speed bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing, Onward! the sailors cry. Carry a lad that’s born to be king, over the sea to Skye.


I’m not sure I really need to visit Loch Ness, I’d much rather see Loch Lomond, but I suspect my husband will want to. I won’t be going out on a boat (not because of the monster but because deep water makes me very nervous) so I’m not sure what the point would be, unless we visit nearby Urquhart castle.

It seems, after researching and contemplating, the place I’m most looking forward to visiting is Edinburgh. I don’t know why this surprises me. It’s a city rich in the kind of historical architecture that I adore and is overflowing with pure history itself. Edinburgh has beautiful vistas, ethnic charm, and multiple tourist opportunities.

The simple fact is: I’m nervous. Not only for the realistic fears of traveling and homesickness, but what if the adventure doesn’t live up to my expectations? Scotland is my dream, and it can remain safe if I keep it a dream.


While writing this post, I was reminded of an excerpt from a story I wrote years ago. It illustrated my fears, even then:

What if the images that had lulled [x] to sleep as a child, products of her grandfather’s bedtime stories, didn’t live up to his embellishments? She didn’t expect to encounter the Loch Ness Monster or run into any little people hiding among the fairy hills, but she did have certain hopes. [x] wanted to be engulfed by the barrenness of the Highlands and wrapped in the cool dense sweetness of the mist. Maybe the rocky crags would feel as rough as her grandfather’s beard, the bubbling brooks and burns sound as comforting as his lilting voice, and the deep blue-green lochs would be as beautiful as his eyes.

A little bit farther on in the story, I also found this:

The out-of-the-way places are best. There’s a pretty little village along the banks of Loch Lomond that is one of my favorites. Or the enchanting row of Mill-houses tucked under a bridge in Edinburgh, that’s a rare delight. The view from Arthur’s seat is quite breathtaking…

It seems I could have saved a lot of time trying to decide what to see, if I had just remembered this passage.



8 thoughts on “Scotland the Brave

  1. if you want to do only one sort of Tudor thing near London, I’d suggest visiting Hampton Court. They have historical interpreters there that are kind of fun. Tower of London=overrated and overpriced IMO. If you do only one museum, it should be the British Museum (think: Rosetta Stone, Elgin Marbles, Sutton Hoo hoard), although my parents liked the V&A just as much. Tea at Fortnum & Mason. Bath is good. IMO Stonehenge overrated. York also neat. In Scotland, I personally loved St Andrews. Edinburgh is also a really wonderful city. Arthur’s seat = worth it.

    On the whole question of traveling that far and possibly being disappointed — if you’ve made a trip like this before, I apologize for restating something that will be obvious to you — definitely go with your instincts and resist the desire to see everything, do everything, cram in everything b/c you may never go back. The best travel moments for me, anyway, have always been the little details I notice and memories I carry back from *around* the big monuments. I remember much less of the castle in Edinburgh than I do of teasing the guards to get in for free, and kissing my boyfriend in the WWI memorial; much less the structure of the main church than going to services there on Palm Sunday and singing a song about Jesus riding on a donkey; I remember the people we saw walking up Arthur’s Seat more than I do the view; I remember the food we ate one night late at a chippy (we were poor), and so on. I find that if I take the time to really look closely at details and engrave them in my memory, I enjoy a trip much more than if I’m checking off things on a list. Your list of things you want to do suggests you already know this — I just want to affirm that.


    1. thanks for your suggestions, and sharing your own memories πŸ™‚ I’ve not gone on a trip quite this large or this far before (never been across the ocean, let alone outside of the US!) I generally don’t like to see what “everyone else” seems to want to see. my husband takes the pictures while I watch the people and wander, so I doubt that will be any different this time around. I’m more about the experience than the destination πŸ™‚ (I feel that The Tower of London and Stonehenge are probably over-rated, so I’m glad to hear you agree πŸ˜‰ )


      1. There’s this weird thing w/ coming back from international travel, too — I’ve observed it twice now. Most people who go do in fact do the “big” tourist things. So when you come back and want to talk about how amazing the trip was (first, beware, most people don’t want to hear these stories, oddly — I am an exception), there’s this effect of saying, “oh, I saw [say] the Tower of London, too, what did you think?” and then you can have a great conversation because of that shared experience. If you go somewhere notorious, but don’t do those things, then people you talk to afterwards can be sort of flummoxed because they don’t know what to talk about with you. Did you really “see” London if you didn’t see the Tower? Or Rome, if you didn’t see the Sistine Chapel? etc. So it may make sense to do at least one or two things that everyone does because it can be a valuable experience to talk about things with people when you get back. But it’s all contextual. When I took my folks to England, they *loved* Stonehenge. *Loved* it. It was a highlight of the trip for them (whereas I was bored and annoyed we’d spent a whole day on that due to the required travel time.) And part of that is that they can talk with their neighbors about having seen it. Whereas my favorite memory of England with them is going to Easter services in Westminster Abbey and hearing my mom say, “Wow, the organ sounds like a jet engine.”


        1. I’m getting a lot of this already because people can’t fathom why I wouldn’t want to see the popular places, and yet have no idea what I’m talking about when I mention what I do want to see. I guess I’m coming at it backwards in a way because it seems that a lot of people pick a destination and fall in love with it through visiting, while I’ve fallen in love with these two countries little by little through the years so that it’s not just a visual thing for me. it’s the people, the customs, the history, the language that happens to be set in a particular location, not really the location itself. I’m surprised how many people are under the assumption that London *is* England or that Scotland is more than bagpipes and castles, nothing against London of course and I happen to love bagpipes, but you know what I mean πŸ˜‰


  2. Maybe you should look into travel options that put you in contact with local people. I’m not sure what they would be in the UK but they must exist.


    1. I’m too shy to interact, I just like to observe πŸ™‚ I know a few people from the UK from my on-line interactions, I’ll be relying on them for food suggestions and places to stay, etc. πŸ˜‰


  3. I saw the UK by car for a little over a month. Even though the train can sometimes be quicker than a car, I felt taking a car afforded much more freedom to go places off the beaten path, and given the train routes, I know that’s true. I did visit some of the tourist places, but that is not what I majored on. I love history and have long been a student of it and especially British history, and so many places that I felt were must sees were not overrun tourist places. I also love people and when I travel, I like to spend a lot of time with local people. That’s what I did as much as meander around old castles or houses or gardens, which was all great too! I went some places in the UK where lots of the local people had never actually seen an American in the flesh. This was fantastic and the people were lovely.

    As for Scotland, it was wonderful. I liked its wide open spaces and its extreme nationalism. Yes, I really said that. They cling tenaciously to their heritage and are willing to talk about it — without even being asked. I loved this! And they’re still not fond of the English. LOL! I laugh, but know that my heritage is predominantly English with some Welsh thrown in.

    I stayed primarily in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Perth, and Perth was the
    best place as it was central enough to take plenty of rewarding day trips. I stayed at a great bed and breakfast, which are the types of places I stayed for most of the trip.

    Definitely skip Loch Ness. Very commercialized, and Loch Lomond is beautiful but be sure to stay through dusk. One of my personal favorites in Scotland is Glencoe. I had always wanted to see where the massacre took place, and I was not disappointed. Stirling was another favorite place as it has Stirling Castle and the Wallace Monument. I found these two places extremely interesting with respect to Scottish history and of course Culloden, which is in far north Scotland. If you do go to Stirling, you might as well go on over to St. Andrews on the coast and eat lunch of dinner by the sea. It’s 45 minutes away.

    Edinburgh was great, but I enjoyed Glasgow more. I think it’s because I was in Edinburgh during The Fringe, which is pretty much the entire month of August and is a great event (love it!), but it was covered up with people from other places and made getting around tougher and definitely made talking to the locals tougher. If I go back to Edinburgh, which I certainly plan to do, it will not be in August.

    The good news about traveling in the UK (or almost anywhere in Europe) is that it’s small geographically. To give you some idea of how small, you can drive across the UK from east to west in a few hours (2-3 hrs) in some places and several hours (5-6 hrs) in others. You can drive from the tip of England to near the top of Scotland in 12 to 13 hours (that’s with stops). Certainly a long day, but it can be done. I know ’cause I did it — Brighton to Dornoch. So the UK is a tiny place and therefore it’s possible to see a lot quickly. The problem, which is a good problem, is there is a lot to see. If you are into history, read some books before you go to get a feel for the places you want to see as you may get distracted by the sheer number when you’re there and miss on some you wish you had seen.

    One more thing off the top of my head. If you plan on visiting more than a couple of historic places that are owned or managed by the National Trust, it’s helpful to get a membership card. It makes entering those places much cheaper and if they’re places which have lines, you are often deferred to as a member of the Nat’l Trust. I got a card before I took the trip, but my traveling companion did not. The difference in cost was very noticeable. She finally bought a card when we were met with a horrendous line.


    1. well, we still haven’t made the final arrangements. I’m forcing the husband to sit down with me and make definite plans this coming week!!
      In Scotland I think I’m going to focus on Skye and Edinburgh, but make the scenic circle drive from Edinburgh up through the Highlands. England I’m still not 100% sure about. I think I want to do the Cotswolds/Bath with just a day in London itself but then I’m all like “what about Wales? what about northern England and that Yorkshire accent that I love so much?”
      the problem is that I’m limiting our time to around 10 days-2wks b/c I’ll be leaving my kids behind (which I’ve never done before) and I get stressed rather easily so this trip will be sure to wear me out!
      I do love my history though, and both Scotland and England are full of it. this will just be my first taste; when the kids go off to college my husband and I will take up traveling as a hobby…after we win the lottery πŸ˜› …and then I can focus more on seeing everything I want to see πŸ˜€


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