A few years ago, my fiancé surprised me on Valentine’s Day with plane tickets to Scotland. It is somewhere both of use had always wanted to visit; tourist reasons for me and genealogy for her, the history buff. We set off in early March for our Scottish vacation.
We landed in Glasgow early on a Tuesday morning, picked up our rental car, an aubergine Peugeot, at the Glasgow Airport and checked into the Crown Plaza. The hotel is in a prime location next to the Clyde Auditorium overlooking the River Clyde and the BBC Scotland.
After a quick nap, we set out exploring the city. Glasgow is a fun college town, with a vibrant nightlife. That first evening, we went out around 10:00 hoping to find something to eat, and did we ever! On Sauchiehall Street, right in the middle of the pubs and nightclubs, there it was. Our tiny little restaurant was jam-packed with students and served pizza, burgers and fish n’ chips until the wee hours. The food was fresh, delicious and just what we were looking for.
The following morning, it was back downtown to Buchanan Street for shopping and sightseeing. There are various landmarks in this area including the Gallery of Modern Art and the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. This are is also home to the Buchanan Galleries Mall, music stores and souvenir shops. Some say that Buchanan Street is second only to London in the category of “Best Shopping Area in the United Kingdom” and I am inclined to agree. That day, I bought many things including a designer suit that I still wear, although it may or may not be out of style now.
Later in the week my fiancé and I hopped in the Peugeot and set off for Edinburgh. This was before GPS devices were standard and we had to rely on old-school paper maps and printouts from various online sources. Edinburgh is only about 53 miles from Glasgow; we found the city just fine, however finding our hotel was nearly impossible. We kept getting turned around, ending up on one-way streets, lost in roundabouts, and I thought we’d end up camping out in the car. Finally, FIVE hours later, we found it on the corner of Rutland Street and Lothian Road across from the Princes Street Gardens: The Hilton Caledonian. We must have driven past it at least 10 times, and how it went unnoticed, I will never know. The place is huge!
By the time we were all settled in, both of us were exhausted and slightly annoyed, so we ordered room service and stayed in. On Friday, we set out to explore Scotland’s capital on foot. In the Grassmarket I found some great clothes at one of the second-hand stores. We had lunch in the same area, just below the Edinburgh Castle at a fabulous eatery called Maxie’s Bistro. The service was great, the food was filling and the wine was delicious. Afterward, we went exploring and discovered the Scottish Genealogy Society. My fiancé was so happy, I thought she might cry. We didn’t end up with much information on family history, but the gentleman who was helping us regaled us with stories of Edinburgh’s past for at least an hour and we enjoyed every minute of it.
As we headed up to Edinburgh Castle, I spotted the Tartan Weaving Mill just outside the castle’s parking lot. Here, you can watch the entire process of tartan weaving- from the shearing of a sheep, to the dyeing of its wool, and the sewing of a kilt. In addition to the tartan production, there are a number of gift shops and even a photography studio located inside the mill.
Sunday morning came and we drove north to Inverness, which was by far my favorite place in Scotland. Inverness is a small city, but it is so charming and offers visitors much to see and do. There is plenty of shopping at the Old Town’s Victorian Market, and after a short drive out of the city, we found ourselves standing along the banks of the world famous Loch Ness. Inverness is also known as the Gateway to the Highlands; exploring the roads that twisted and turned throughout the highlands was a day trip in itself.
There was much more to our trip to Scotland; we stayed one night in a castle in Dornoch and another at a lighthouse just outside a tiny village called Gairloch. We got snowed in at a resort hotel in Ballater and enjoyed dinner and dancing at another hotel in Dunkeld. We came across a roadblock consisting of a few dozen sheep and I took some photos of the adorable, shaggy-haired Highland cattle. We met so many nice, friendly people throughout our whole stay. It was the best vacation I have ever taken and I can’t wait to go back.
Wes Davidson is a photographer and travel writer from Portland, Maine. He recommends Kemwel for cheap car rental in the UK.