I'm back in the Netherlands after two wonderful weeks in Scotland. We were extremely lucky to have great weather for all but two days (in fact, the first week and a bit were so warm and sunny, we thought we would run out of summer clothes. E did. The two souvenir t-shirts he bought have been worn already).
I always thought we would like Scotland as a holiday destination but oh my, 'like' doesn't even begin to describe it. I fully understand it may be a bit harder to love the place when it's shrouded in its more usual garb of fog and rain, but what's not to love about a country where the rich history is served up in thick slices and every turn in the road reveals a whole new, stunning view?
There are things I will blog about later and in more detail but I thought I'd share some little tips now:
First of all: If, like me, you like history and enjoy exploring castles, ruins and country houses it's always worth checking (even before you travel) if there are any package deals available which will save on your admission fees.
In the UK, the vast majority of historic sites is cared for and run by large charities and as a member you don't have to pay admission. On previous holidays in England, we've had short-term memberships of the National Trust and English Heritage, depending on the sites we wanted to visit.
This time, Historic Scotland was the obvious choice, since the castles at both Stirling and Edinburgh (both major tourist destinations we were planning to visit anyway) are in their care. They offer an 'Explorer pass' for tourists and/or occasional visitors but we opted for the full membership.
That way, we also got to see other sites, like the amazingly located Kilchurn castle (this is actually and unmanned property so you don't have to pay admission but there are many other castles where being a member will save you money).
Oh, and even if you don't want to join, it's worth taking a look at their free app. It helps you find historic sites near you and you get the latest news about those.
Like events. I didn't expect much from those but we were very impressed with the, rather modest, 'meet the redcoats' event at the grim little tower house of Corgarff. This was not some silliness for children but a very interesting display by nice, knowledgable and skilled reenactors (costume post in the coming week).
Secondly: It's hard to visit Scotland and not see or do anything related to whiskey. E likes whiskey, so I had in fact planned on visiting a couple of distilleries.
I can recommend it though. Although the vast majority is now owned by big companies, plenty of them are still at their historic sites and there is still clear craft and skill involved in the production of this stuff. And that is something we can all relate to.
In a lot of hotels and guesthouses (especially in the Speyside region) you can pick up booklets with lists of distilleries which are open to visitors (including opening hours and cost of a tour). At some large ones, tours are free but if you're not obsessed with whiskey, a tour at a small facility is much more fun.
This is the Dalwhinnie distillery, located in the middle of nowhere (Ok, next to a very small village) on a kind of plateau in the Highlands. If you go there, you can sign up for another club called 'friends of Malt Whiskey' (which is free). This basically means you can do the tour at the other distilleries which are owned but the same company for free. We did this and ended up visiting several.
Out of those, I would recommend Royal Lochnagar. A small distillery next door to Balmoral palace with the most enthusiastic, nice and knowledgable tour guide of all. Of course, there are more guides than just the one we met, but they limit the amount of tours each guide does per day to three to allow them to be spontaneous and personalize the tours. Which has to be a good thing.
Other than visiting castles and whiskey distilleries, we've also had a great day climbing with a guide, we hiked and explored nice towns. We will definitely go to Scotland again. We realized, while on the way, that we could even travel to all the same places again and yet see all different things. And then there are still so many places we haven't visited...